My 10-year-old said to me the other day that the last word in the Old Testament is "curse" (NRSV). He said, "Daddy, this is really bad, isn't it?" This got me thinking.
The last word in the Old Testament (Malachi 4:6; Hebrew: חרם ) refers to the things that are set apart to Yahweh for total destruction. It is used in Joshua 6:17, 18; 7:1, 11, 12,13, 15; 22:20 to refer to the total destruction of what has been set apart for God after victory in certain battles. I tend to think the word does not mean extermination, but that it is a fairly common ancient literary device to refer to the wiping out of enemy. (See here for further information.)
What is interesting to me is what Malachi is trying to say. Yahweh warns Israel to be faithful to him, so as to avoid their total destruction. And Malachi says that God will send the prophet Elijah to issue this warning. A similar warning is found earlier in Malachi 3:1, which says that Yahweh will send his messenger to prepare the way. Again, the message seems to be concerning the need for Israel to be faithful to the covenant (Mal 2:17-3:5).
This is where it gets really interesting. It is because Mark begins his Gospel by citing Malachi 3:1 in Mark 1:2-3 (which is in fact a composite citation of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3). Mark uses the Scripture to say that John the Baptist is the one who prepares the way for Jesus the Messiah (the Anointed King), who is the Elijah-figure that Israel is waiting for (Mk 9:11-13).
What follows in Mark's Gospel is of course that Jesus will fulfil his role as the Anointed King in the most surprising way. That is, he will suffer, die and be raised from the dead. And he calls his followers to follow the same cruciform life.
If we read the gospel of Jesus in light of the message of Malachi, then it is "good news" indeed. The "curse" of utter destruction for covenantal unfaithfulness is totally turned around. Those who responds to Jesus' call are participants of this good news. Those who resolve to reorient their lives according to that call and embody the value system of God's kingdom will find that their God is faithful and will not abandon his people.
Yes, the Old Testament ends with a warning, but not without a promise of God's deliverance. This promise finds its fulfilment in Jesus. It came with great price though, for the Son of God suffered and died - and was raised. He showed us the way of God. We can indeed rejoice in the promise of the good news of Jesus, and we are called to follow his way of life.