One of the many things I love about seeing Pearl Jam live is the unpredictability of their set-lists. They changed theirs up every night, and depending on the mood of the band, the energy of the crowd, Eddie Vedder—lead singer and in charge of the set-lists—generates a batch of songs that will work best for that evening. Of the choices made, the last song is important. This last song can leave the crowd pumped (a rocking version of the Neil Young penned “Rocking in the Free World” or the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly) or contemplative (the slow burn of “Indifference” or mellow “Yellow Ledbetter.” For the majority of the crowd, this last song is the tone they will recall the most, as it’s played last and closes the show.
Just as you don’t just pick any song to close a lengthy concert, you certainly don’t end your books with an arbitrary chapter. Therefore, The Book of Malachi, which ends the Old Testament, is a curious choice. And based on the content of this short book, it’s clear that it doesn’t stand out in the minds of modern readers of the Bible.
This last book of the Old Testament ends on a dark note. Malachi was annoyed at just how many people were going through the motions with their relationship with God. Too many, he felt, were doing the bare minimum.
He saves a good chunk of his venom for the priests, and as this was a popular topic in Zechariah, this was obviously a big problem during this era. Specifically, these priests are not acting in God’s name (as they claim and probably think they are). (2:2). He believes that priests ought to preserve knowledge, and from his/their mouth(s), men should seek instruction. But these priests have failed. They’ve caused many to stumble through their flawed ways (2:8). Their biggest problem? They “have shown partiality in matters of the law” (2:9).
The language here is very interesting. On one hand, the law probably refers to God’s law. Read another way, however, it seems that their advice/teachings have been tainted by bending to the laws (desires) of society. Basically, they’ve been unfaithful to God’s laws, picking and choosing which things are permissible to make people feel better about the choices they make in their everyday lives.
One of the issues the priests have allowed is in regard to divorce. God would like to be clear: he HATES divorce (2:16).
Unlike the few other areas of the Old Testament that touch on divorce—which allow for it when the wife has been unfaithful—this book makes no such exception. God hates it and orders people to keep their marriage vows.
God could not be clearer on this point, so this idea bears repeating: God HATES divorce.
In the words of Michelle Bachman, the Bible is VERY clear on this here, as the Old Testament closes.
So the Old Testament ends on a down note. I had hoped for—though didn’t expect—a more upbeat ending, one that would usher in the shift to the New Testament. Upbeat endings have the ability to inspire, but here, in the last few lines, the prophet Elijah will be sent to build better bonds between fathers and their children. If that fails, the lord intends to curse the land (4:6).
It seems the best way to inspire is through fear, not love.
If the Old Testament were a concert, I would scratch my head at this ending choice. I would leave the concert with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, feeling a bit cheated on the lack of emotional closure. But sometimes the mood is dark, and the choice reflects that. Not much can be done about the reality of what they had to work with back then. Still, with a concert, the last song hints at what you can expect the next time you catch the band—if you’re inclined for a next time. Ending here on such a down note, I’m not really pumped to get into the New Testament.