Malachi (/ˈmæləkaɪ/); Hebrew: מַלְאָכִי, Modern: Malʾaḵī, Tiberian: Malʾāḵī, "My messenger," is the traditional author of the Book of Malachi,
the last book of the Nevi'im (Prophets) section of the Tanakh.
According to the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary, it is possible that Malachi is not a proper name, but simply means "messenger."
The editors of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia implied that he prophesied after Haggai and Zechariah
and speculated that he delivered his prophecies about 420 BC, after the second return of Nehemiah from Persia, or possibly before his return.
No allusion is made to him by Ezra, however, and he does not directly mention the restoration of the Second Temple...
Opinions vary as to the prophet's exact date, but nearly all scholars agree that Malachi prophesied during the Persian period,
and after the reconstruction and dedication of the Second Temple in 516 BC.
More specifically, Malachi probably lived and labored during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The abuses which Malachi mentions in his writings correspond so exactly with those which Nehemiah found on his second visit to Jerusalem in 432 BC
that it seems reasonably certain that he prophesied concurrently with Nehemiah or shortly after. (Wikipedia).
1:1 An oracle. The word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
2 I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord. Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but I have hated Esau; I have made his hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals. 4 If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the Lord of hosts says: They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry for ever. 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!’
6 A son honours his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honour due to me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due to me? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favour? says the Lord of hosts. 9 And now implore the favour of God, that he may be gracious to us. The fault is yours. Will he show favour to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 O that someone among you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hands. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised. 13 ‘What a weariness this is’, you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.
2:1And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2 If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. 3 I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.
4 Know, then, that I have sent this command to you, so that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. 5 My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave him; this called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 8 But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, 9 and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.
10 Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob anyone who does this—any to witnessor answer, or to bring an offering to the Lord of hosts.
13 And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour at your hand.
14 You ask, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice?’
3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
6 For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7 Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11 I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts.12 Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
13 You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? 15 Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.’
16 Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lordtook note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name. 17 They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. 18 Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
4:1 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
4 Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.
Note: The entire text of Malachi is given here because Bible ilitteracy is so high in our day.
by Ray Stedman
Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, is separated from the book of Matthew by a silent period of more than 400 years, and yet, these two books tie together in a remarkable way. Historically, there was a long, long time when no voice spoke for God, no prophet came to Israel. There were no scriptures being written. There was no encouragement from God. The heavens were silent. Still, history was going on, and remarkable things were taking place in Israel and among the Jews. New institutions were being formed that appear in the opening of the New Testament, but none of this is recorded for us in the sacred history. Malachi is the last of the Minor Prophets and the last prophetic voice to speak to Israel.
The last three books of the Old Testament -- Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi -- were all written after the return of the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon. The people did not come back from Babylon in one great big happy throng. There was a straggling return in two or three groups, the first one beginning in about 535 B.C. At that time, a handful of Jews fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity would last for 70 years and they came back to the desolated, stricken city of Jerusalem. There they began to lay the foundations of the temple and it was Haggai's ministry fifteen years later to stir them up to continue that work and carry it through. The temple was completed during Zechariah's ministry and Ezra the priest then led another group back from Babylon.
The people had changed their entire way of life by that time. While they were in Israel before the captivity, they had been sheep keepers, for the most part. But in Babylon they learned to be shopkeepers, and they have been merchants and shopkeepers ever since. So Ezra led this group back and again they had difficulties which are recorded in the historical book of Ezra.
Finally, the last return was accomplished under Nehemiah who in 445 B.C. led a group back to begin the laying of the walls of Jerusalem. The fascinating book of Nehemiah records the exciting experience of building the walls once again. Shortly after Nehemiah finished this task, Malachi appears, and it is interesting to compare the book of Nehemiah with the book of Malachi. Nehemiah is the conclusion of the historical section of the Old Testament which begins with Genesis. That is all history. Following Nehemiah are the poetic books, and then the prophetic books; in Malachi we come into the same period as is covered by Nehemiah.
This prophecy of Malachi was given by a man whose name means "my messenger." It is most suggestive that this last book of our Old Testament centers around the theme of a messenger of God and a prediction of the coming of another messenger. In this, therefore, we have a direct tie between Malachi and the New Testament. Chapter 3, for instance, begins with this prophecy:
"Behold, I send my messenger [in Hebrew that would be "Behold, I send Malachi"] to prepare the way before me..." (Malachi 3:1a RSV)
And as you discover in the book of Matthew, that messenger was John the Baptist. He came to prepare the way of the Lord and to announce the coming of the second messenger from God. That second messenger is here in this prophecy in the next phrase:
"...and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant..." (Malachi 3:1b RSV)
It was the work of the Lord Jesus on the closing night of his ministry to take wine and bread with his disciples and holding the cup up to say, "This is my blood of the [new] covenant." (Matthew 26:28) The messenger of the covenant is the Lord Jesus himself.
"...in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. [That is, 'he burns and he cleanses.'] He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD." (Malachi 3:1c-3 RSV)
Now that was the trouble with the people in Malachi's day. They had forgotten the great and central message of God and, as we go back to the start of the book, we see that the prophet opens on that note (chapter 1, verse 1):
The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. "I have loved you," says the Lord. (Malachi 1:1-2a RSV)
And that is always the message of God's prophets. "I have loved you," says the Lord. But the amazing thing is that these people answer the prophet with the words, "How hast thou loved us?" This entire book is a series of responses on the part of the people to the challenges of God. Seven times you will find them saying, "How? How does this happen? Prove it." As we go through them you can see how they reveal the state of this people's heart. Here is an outgoing God -- and God is always this way, pouring out love -- but here is a callous people who have become so indifferent and so unresponsive to God that in perfect sincerity they can say, "We don't see this. What do you mean? Why do you say these things to us?" Throughout the book, this is the theme.
Now God's answer to their question, "How have you loved us?" is to remind them that he loved them even back in the beginning of the race with Jacob and Esau. He says, "Take a look at the whole race. Esau's history has been one of continual disturbance and disaster and trouble because," he says, "I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau. If you want to understand my love, look at one who has not been enjoying my love. Look at Esau and see how different his story is from yours, even though Jacob and Esau were twin brothers." Verses 2, 3:
"Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" says the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau." (Malachi 1:2c-3a RSV)
That troubles many people, but you find the explanation in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. There we are told that Esau was a despiser of his birthright and therefore was one who placed no value on spiritual matters. (Hebrews 12:16) He treated God with utter indifference. He viewed the things that God regarded as valuable as if they were trivial, and he treated them that way. It is because of Esau's attitude that God says, "I have loved Jacob but I hated Esau."
If you had known these two men, you would probably have loved Esau and hated Jacob. Jacob was the schemer, the big time operator, the supplanter, the usurper, the untrustworthy rascal. Esau was the big outdoor man, hearty, open, frank, strong, boasting in his exploits as a hunter and as a man of the out-of-doors. Of the two, he appears much the better man, but God says, "I loved Jacob because in the heart of Jacob is the hunger after the deeper things of life; Jacob wants something more than what is on the surface." That always draws out the heart of God. And this is characteristic of the nation as well.
God goes on to charge the Israelites with specific problems and each time their response is, "What do you mean?" (verse 6):
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name." (Malachi 1:6a RSV)
That is God's charge. You despise my name. They said, "How have we despised your name? We don't see this. What do you mean?" And the Lord answers (verse 7):
"By offering polluted food upon my altar." (Malachi 1:7a RSV)
"Your attitude and your actions toward me are shoddy. You are content to give me just the trash, the defiled things." But they pursue it further:
'How have we polluted it?' (Malachi 1:7c RSV)
And again God makes it very clear. Whenever you ask God how, he will tell you. God says (verse 8):
"When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor..." (Malachi 1:8a RSV)
"Will you get by with that?" God says, "You people that are content to be shoddy about your religious experience, try living that way in your business life and see if you get by with it. And yet you say you are honoring my name. You are claiming to worship me and to be my people." The God of reality always cuts right through all the excuses and all the flimflam of hypocrisy right down to the real issue.
You see it again in the charges that he lays against them concerning their attitudes in worship. They were being professional about their worship. They were utterly bored (verse 13):
"'What a weariness this is,' you say, and you sniff at me, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!" (Malachi 1:13a RSV)
Now what is wrong here? Where has all the excitement gone? Well, these are always the symptoms of a people who think God will be content with something less than love. The great commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind...and your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew. 22:37-39) Nothing else will satisfy God. But here is a people who have been surrounded by God's love and the recipients of his grace for centuries and yet their hearts have become so blinded that they cannot even see how they are offending him and insulting him with what they do. The reason this is so is that their own love for him has died. The death of love is always reflected in a callous attitude and this is what you see here.
As you continue. you see that they were being hypocritical. God lays that charge against them in chapter 2 and says that their hypocrisy was actually malignant. Their influence was turning others astray (verse 8):
"But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction,.." (Malachi 2:8a RSV)
"You are telling them things that are wrong because you do not even know that they are wrong." This is the horrible aspect of this kind of living.
Then God charges them with having failed in their moral standards. They had begun to intermarry with the tribes around them and forgot that God had called them to be a special people. Divorce was prevalent throughout the land (verse 13):
And this again you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards...or accepts [the offering] with favor. (Malachi 2:13a RSV)
And they ask, "Why does he not accept this?" Verses 14, 15:
Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. "For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel." (Malachi 2:14b-16a RSV)
Sounds modern, doesn't it? Malachi had to minister to a nation in which divorce was widespread, and more than that, to a society in which moral confusion and cynicism was rampant. The prophet says (verse 17):
You have wearied the Lord with your words. (Malachi 2:17a RSV)
They are amazed at this charge. They say (verse 17):
"How have we wearied him?" (Malachi 2:17c RSV)
The answer comes right from the shoulder:
By saying, "Every one who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD." (Malachi 2:17d RSV)
Just recently I picked up an article that suggested that obscenity, pornography, the free expression of toilet language and filthy words (and so on) is good to have out in the open, that it is wrong to suppress this kind of language or to censure it in our literature. Another article said that parental discipline is an evil thing. that it does harm to children and destroys their incentive, and takes away their ability to develop properly.
All this sort of thing clearly reflects the moral confusion of our own day. And this is always the result when people offer anything less than a fervent love for God, when they think that ritual and religious hocus pocus is going to satisfy the heart of the Eternal. These people were asking (verse 17):
"Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17 RSV)
Where is the God of judgment? Why, anybody can get by with anything ! What do you mean? There aren't any standards. Everything is relative. There is no God of justice who says what is right and wrong. You see, we think all this is new, but even four hundred years before Christ, it was already old.
Then comes the great prophecy we have already looked at. Malachi lifts his eyes and sees that the heart of these people was so hardened that they could not be awakened even by these charges from God. They were utterly unaware that these things were happening. They had nothing to measure them against. So the prophet, looking across what turned out to be four hundred years, says, "The Lord will take care of this. He will send one to you who will wake you up, one who will tell you the truth. He will be a refiner's fire; he will burn through all the hypocrisy and the outward perfunctoriness of your religion and cut right through to the very heart of it. He will be like fullers' soap to those who are willing. He will cleanse them and set things right. You will be able to recognize him because a messenger will go before him to prepare the way, and then he will suddenly come to his temple." And of course, all of this is beautifully fulfilled in the New Testament.
Then comes another series of charges in which the Lord speaks again about their lives. He says to them (verse 7):
"Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:7b RSV)
And the people say, "How shall we return? We haven't gone anywhere. What do you mean return? We are serving you in your temple; we are bringing the proper sacrifices and offerings and we are going through the ritual, just as you outlined it. What do you mean, return to you?" In this response, they indicate the utter blindness of their heart. They did not realize that though the outward form is right, the heart is far from God.
Then God said, "You are robbing me." They said, "How are we robbing you?" God's answer was, "In your tithes and offerings. The whole nation of you is robbing me. You are using the money that I had blessed you with for your own purposes. Bring the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house." Now that verse is often wrenched from this Old Testament scripture and used to establish a legalistic pattern of bringing in all the offerings into the church as the storehouse. Well, that is a distortion. This verse is addressed to Israel, within the limits of the system under which Israel lived in the Old Testament, and yet the principle is exactly true of the church. We should never take all that God has blessed us with and use it for our own advancement.
And God says, "When you do that, you are robbing me. You are robbing me of my right to use you to advance my cause." That is what man is here for. It is quite possible for all of us as Christians to be quite perfunctory about fulfilling our religious obligations within the church and yet to live our lives out fulfilling nothing but our own self-centered goals. We may even achieve them and rise to the very top, but someday we will have to stand before the one who says, "All your life you have robbed me of my right to be myself in you." That is why the appeal of the New Testament is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice unto God; that is what we are here for. That is what we are called for, and anything less is robbing him of his inheritance in the saints.
He goes on to charge them with still other offenses (verses 13, 14):
"Your words have been stout against me, says the LORD. Yet you say, 'How have we spoken against thee?'" (Malachi 3:13 RSV)
The answer comes:
"You have said, 'It is vain to serve God.'" (Malachi 3:14a RSV)
"What is the use of serving God? He does not do anything for me. I do not get anything out of this. What is the good of keeping his charge or of walking in mourning before the LORD of hosts?" This sounds familiar, doesn't it? "Why, I have been trying to serve God; I have been a Christian now for ten years and I haven't gotten anything out of it." This betrays the philosophy that God exists for man, not man for God, which is really blasphemy. Now that is one side of the picture.
But beginning with verse 16 of chapter 3 there is a wonderful little spotlight turned on a remnant, a group within, who were pleasing God. Thank God these are always there and God's searchlight can always find them. They are described this way (verses 16-18):
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another; the LORD heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and thought on his name. (Malachi 3:16 RSV)
Then this beautiful verse:
"They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him." (Malachi 3:17-18 RSV)
Notice the two things that mark those who are faithful in the day of apostasy. First, they spoke with one another. This does not mean that they just talked to each other. It means that they opened up to each other. They shared with one another. They encouraged each other. They confessed their weak points and prayed for one another. They let others see what they were like. Ah, yes, but that was on the horizontal level, wasn't it? But there was also the vertical: they thought on his name. That is always the great resource of the people of God.
The name of God stands for all that he is, just as your name stands for all that you are. You sign a check and all that you are is laid on the line to the amount of that check because of your name. They thought on his name. There is not a week that goes by that there is not a flood of propaganda crossing my desk, telling me what is wrong with the church, analyzing its weakness, and presenting some gadget or gimmick that will take all the blood and sweat and tears out of living as a Christian. We are being assaulted today with solutions for the problems of the weakness of the church that are not solutions at all.
Here is the answer to the weakness of the church -- "to think upon his name," to reckon on the resources of God. You can take away all the props of the church, its buildings, its visual aids, its committees, its programs and everything else, and if you have a people who have learned to reckon on the name of God, you have not lost a thing. That is what this age needs to hear again.
Someone suggested recently that if we would introduce some of the electronic marvels that are available to businesses today, the job of preaching the gospel could be done electronically, and in just a few short years the whole world could be converted and our job would be done, electronically. I have also heard the suggestion that what we need to do is to take the words of the hymns and put them to popular, or rock music, and that is what the church needs. Now I know that many people would agree with this approach. They say we need to capture the spirit of the age and move with it and get modern -- that is the missing element. Oh! No. God is the missing element. We are to think on his name, reckon on his power. The church is never so strong as when in utter weakness it casts itself back upon the resources of God and moves in dependence upon him.
Now the prophet lifts up his eyes again to see the day that is coming, not only the day 400 years later when the Lord Jesus will stand on the earth, but beyond that, across the great reaches of the centuries to the second coming of Christ, when all of God's program will be fulfilled (chapter 4, verse 1, 2):
"For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall born them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings." (Malachi 4:1-2a RSV)
Now that is one cause with two effects. The Son of Righteousness shall rise. And for those who refuse him, there is a burning. But toward those who receive him, there is a healing. It is the same Son. (Verses 2-6):
"You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 4:2b-3 RSV)
"Remember the law of my servant Moses... (Malachi 4:4a RSV)
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6 RSV)
You will recall that it was the last verse that was troublesome to the disciples and they said to the Lord, "How is it that the prophecy says that Elijah the prophet must first come?" And the Lord's answer was, "Elijah has already come and you did not recognize him." He saw the look of astonishment on their faces and he made it clear that it was John the Baptist who came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17) and fulfilled his ministry in the initial coming. But he put it in such a way as to leave the clear inference that Elijah the prophet would still come before the second coming. (Matthew. 17:10-13) Many identify the two witnesses in the eleventh chapter of Revelation as Elijah and Moses. How true this is, I will leave to you to decide. But at least there is the suggestion here that in some remarkable way, God intends to supply a ministry like Elijah's before the second return of the Lord Jesus.
Now notice this last thing. It is not without significance that at the end of all the literature of the Old Testament, the last word is "curse." It is not a definite prediction, however, but a warning. This prophecy begins "Behold, I have loved you, says the Lord," and it ends with the warning that if the message of love is not received, the result is a curse. Now compare that with the last word of the New Testament. Leaving out the final salutation, it is the name of Jesus, the Lord Jesus. "Come, Lord Jesus!"
That is God's answer to the curse, isn't it, his answer to the curse of the law? He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Thus the full answer of God is grace and love that pours out even more blessing, bringing us into the light and the knowledge of Christ. All the blessing that is wrapped up in that name is to be ours, and that is why the task of a Christian is to learn to think upon his name.
By David H. Roper
1. God Loves You: They tell me that when Dwight L. Moody began a series of addresses on the Cambridge University campus he began by saying, "Men, don't think that God don't love you, 'cause He do." Moody, as you know, did not receive much more than an eighth-grade education, and yet God used that man mightily among university students. It was that statement at Cambridge, coupled with his message of the love of God, that began a great revival that swept through the university world in England. The love of God is the message that we want to talk about during the next few weeks. We want you to know that God loves you. He cares about you in a very personal and real way. We are going to learn about God's love from the book of Malachi, in the Old Testament. Strange, is it not, that the love of God should be presented just as clearly in the Old Testament in books like Hosea and Malachi as it is in the New Testament?
The book of Malachi can be found in the clean portion of your Bible. It is the last book in the Old Testament. If you can find Matthew, turn left. It is appropriately placed because it probably was written last of all the books in the Old Testament. It was written sometime around 450 B.C., a very interesting and significant time in the Mediterranean world. This was the golden age of Greece, the age of Pericles. This was when men like Aristotle and Socrates and Plato lived, and historians, poets, and writers like Thucydides. This was a time when the Greeks celebrated some of their great victories over the Persian armies, when Leonidas and his 300 Spartans held off the entire army of Xerxes for a period of time. These were golden days in the history of Greece.
Yet if you had lived at this time and had been looking at the nation of Israel from the Jew's point of view, this was anything but a golden era. They were terribly discouraged, bordering on despair. They had returned from exile some sixty to seventy years before. They had been in exile first under the Babylonian empire, and then under the Persian empire for seventy years. Now they had returned and had begun to rebuild, but their efforts were not too rewarding. In fact, they were downright discouraging. They were able to rebuild the wall, but they did not have enough men of military age to protect them against any sort of siege. There were probably less than 100,000 Jews in all of Palestine. They were living in huts, ill-protected from the rains. Their farms were not producing well, they had undergone several periods of drought, they were in economic trouble. They had rebuilt the temple, but it was certainly nothing like Solomon's temple. The Chaldeans had burned Solomon's temple, and all that was left was a burned-out shell. The Jews had been able to replace some of the interior, but they could not put back the gold and silver. Someone has estimated that between ten and twenty million dollars' worth of gold was used in building Solomon's temple. Of course the Jews did not have that sort of money; they were poverty-stricken. And they did not have a king, but an appointee from the Persian government who was their governor. They had very little freedom, and certainly no national pride. They were terribly depressed and discouraged, and if you had talked to them of the love of God, I am sure they would have said that God had forgotten them. God may love the Greeks. All they had to do was look at the morning newspapers--they were all quoting the Greek leaders. But nobody was quoting the prophets and poets of Israel. We are forgotten. God does not care. He has cast us aside in a kind of historical backwater, and history has gone off without us.
Jews had lost the sense of God's love for them as a people and, correspondingly, they had lost their love for one another. This always happens. Whenever we lose that sense of the love of God, life grows cold, we do not love each other, we do not love ourselves, we do not love anything. As John says in his little epistle, "We love because he first loved us." Every ounce of love we have comes as a result of his love for us. And when we do not sense that love, our own love atrophies.
This atrophy was spreading all over the land of Israel. The Jews were feeling it in their religious system, as their attitude toward worship became more and more desultory. They did not care, did not want to give wholeheartedly; the Jews did not love God because God did not love them. Their homes were feeling it. Husbands and wives could not express their love for each other and did not feel love for each other. Men were leaving the wives of their youth and, as Malachi will tell us later, were marrying their Canaanite secretaries, abandoning their homes. Open hostility was breaking out between sons and fathers. This alienation of the family carried over into every realm of society. A strange sort of relativism broke out, which Malachi described as calling good evil, and evil good. There was injustice in the courts, and oppression of minority groups, and the nation was cold and destitute of love because the Jews felt that God no longer loved them. So God raised up this prophet to tell them again of the love of God.
We want to look this morning at the first five verses, the introductory message that Malachi was to deliver
The oracle [or burden] of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
"I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How hast Thou loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation, and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the Lord of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever." And your eyes will see this and you will say, "The Lord be magnified [will be great] beyond [or above] the border [territory of Israel]."
He is contrasting the territory of Israel with the territory of Edom. The Edomites' territory will be a wicked land. I think the symbol is the same that we use in the expression "badlands," a desolation. But the Lord will be magnified, literally, above the territory of Israel. It struck me as I read through the passage this week, that we still call the land of Canaan "the holy land". Malachi says that Edom will be called the badlands, desolate and forgotten. We do not know who Malachi is. It would be nice to know, but his credentials are not given. In most of the prophets, a genealogy is given, and we know something of the prophet's family and where he came from. But that is not true of Malachi. Many people think that this is not a name at all, but a title, for the name in Hebrew means "my messenger," and that term occurs a number of times in the book of Malachi. It refers ultimately to Jesus, the Messiah, who was referred to as "My Messenger." It is also a prediction of John the Baptist, who was called "my messenger". So the prophet here is called "my messenger." I believe we are not to know who wrote this book. God raised up a messenger, someone through whom he could deliver this message. God often does this. He sometimes raises up a nobody and, through him, expresses a burden, a concern on his heart that he wants to transmit. The NAS version translates this word "burden" as an oracle. The oracle is the word of the Lord, but the term actually is a burden, a heavy load. It is a burden on God's heart, the sort of thing that weighs on his heart, and he wants us to know. That burden, as Malachi expresses it, is that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life. I bet you thought Bill Bright originated that idea! But twenty-three hundred years ago God expressed through the book of Malachi and others the first spiritual law: God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life. That is the message of this book, the love of God.
In this opening chapter, God contrasts the love that he has for Jacob and the hatred he has for Esau. Now that is strange, coming from a God whom we always identify with love. God is love; how can he hate someone? We need to understand again how the Jews looked at love and hatred. In Western thought there are gradations of love. We love someone a whole bunch, we love someone else a little less, we like someone, we tolerate someone, and we are indifferent to someone, right on down to the category of hatred. But the Jews did not look at life that way. None of the Semites did. If you did not love someone with all your heart, then basically you hated him. There is an interesting illustration of that concept in the book of Genesis. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was the favored wife, and Jacob loved her with all of his heart. He loved Leah too, and there were indications that he was very tender, considerate, and thoughtful toward her. But he loved Rachel more. It was said that Leah was hated, but Rachel was loved, because she was loved with the whole heart. This, of course, is the point that Malachi is making. God doesn't hate anybody in the way that we hate people today; neither does Jesus admonish us to hate our parents, and actually have animosity toward them. But his point in making that comparison is that we are to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind, and then our parents or whoever comes next. This is Malachi's point. God loves Jacob with all his heart, and his love is seen in something that God has done with Jacob, but his "hatred" is seen in something he has not done with Esau.
Now you have to know something of what is behind this paragraph before you understand it, and many of you, I am sure, already know what particular event Malachi is referring to. There are two names mentioned here, Jacob and Esau, two men who became two nations. Esau was the father of the Edomites, who lived southeast of Israel, just south of the Dead Sea. Jacob was the father of Israel. So when he talks about Jacob and Esau, he is really talking about the two nations that sprang from their loins. He goes back to an actual event that took place in the lives of these young boys, Jacob and Esau. They were twin brothers, sons of Isaac, and God made a choice between those two brothers. He chose Jacob, rather than Esau. Esau was the older by a few minutes, so in the culture of that time, no matter how close the time of his birth was to his brother, Jacob was the second son, and the inheritance would go to the firstborn son. So Esau should have had the inheritance. The inheritance, according to Genesis, was all that had been given to Abraham: all the land, and the promise that through his seed the whole world would be blessed (through the Messiah). These promises normally would have gone to Esau as his legacy; but it went instead to Jacob. For some reason that we do not understand, God chose Jacob rather than Esau, though he was the second-born. He is not talking about the relationship that either of these boys had with him. It is not that sort of choice, because both of these young men had the opportunity to respond to the grace of God and to know him in a personal way. He is talking, rather, about the inheritance they would receive. God had to choose one or the other, and in this case it was Jacob. Jacob, as you know, was the schemer. His name means "the deceitful one," the one who trips people up. He spent his whole life trying to con his older brother out of the inheritance, even though it was legally and rightfully his. Eventually he did so, and spent twenty years in Haran as a result, trying to hide from his brother. Yet, despite the trickiness of Jacob, there is the indication throughout Genesis that he was a man who sought God with all his heart. He sought in the wrong way, used all the wrong methods, but he really had a heart for God. In contrast, Esau never had a heart for God; he despised his birthright. Hebrews says he sold out for a pot of beans. He came in from the field hungry and wanted something to eat, so he sold out for a little pot of lentils. His heart was never hungry for God.
The subsequent history of these nations demonstrated the direction these two men were going in their early years. Jacob's heart hungered after God, and Israel's twelve sons, his descendants, became heads of the twelve tribes. The nation Israel, by and large, sought after God. But that is not true of Edom. Esau's descendants were the Edomites, and throughout history, the Edomites were the Israelites' enemies. First they engaged in border skirmishes, then actually became much more openly hostile toward them. Obadiah tells us that when the Chaldeans overthrew Jerusalem and destroyed the city, the Edomites lined up along the road and harassed the refugees. They even captured some of them and sold them into slavery to Greece and Phoenicia, and afterwards looted the city, siding with the Chaldeans. That is why, Malachi says, God hates Esau and loves Jacob, because of what they did to his people. If you want the full story, read the book of Obadiah, a prediction of the downfall of Edom, because of the way it treated its brother Israel. We know that, just prior to the writing of Malachi, some unknown group of Arabs from the Sinai Peninsula invaded Edom and absolutely destroyed it. So when Malachi was written, Edom had ceased to exist as a nation. Its capital city, Petra, is a tourist curiosity today. Here is this impregnable fortress, and yet it fell. Eventually the Edomites were assimilated into some of the Arab tribes south of Canaan and actually into Israel itself. Later, during the Maccabean period, the Edomites were forcibly circumcised and were taken right into Israel. They ceased to exist as a nation.
Through Malachi, God says to Jacob, "You want to know that I love you? Look at Edom. They are gone." But do you know how Israel would respond? The same way I would respond in that situation, and the way they responded in Malachi's day, by saying, "That's very unimpressive. Look at us. Do you mean to tell us that you hate Esau and love us, and prove it by saying Edom is desolate? Have you looked around Jerusalem lately? We're just as desolate." The point that Malachi is making is not that Edom has been destroyed and Jerusalem hasn't. The point is not that Jerusalem's circumstances are better, that the Israelites are healthy, wealthy, and wise, and therefore God loves them, while Edom is downtrodden and hated of God. No, Malachi's point is that Israel has a hope; Edom does not. It is that fact that demonstrates the love of God and has nothing to do with circumstance. The circumstances were dreadful, but Israel had a hope. Malachi says the Jews will see the Lord magnified over their territory. But right next door is a group of people whose territory is a bad-land. Notice what Malachi says? In verse 4 he puts these words in Edom's mouth, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins;" thus says the Lord of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down Edom had no hope. Malachi says the proof of God's love for us is that we have hope. It has nothing to do with our circumstance. It is the presence of God within his people strengthening them, operating through them to accomplish his purpose. God has a plan for Israel, and he is pursuing that plan.
Regardless of your circumstances, and the stress, and the difficult times you are going through, God is going to see you through to the end. He has a purpose for you. Is it not interesting that history confirms this fact? Where is Edom today? How many people have ever heard of the Edomites? They have no representation in the UN. They are nobody; they are forgotten. But Israel, for four thousand years, has endured. As a matter of fact, the prophets say that the continuance of Israel is linked with the continuance of the cosmic order of the whole universe. As long as there is the sun, moon, and stars, there will be an Israel. God will never forget his people, and he has not forgotten them for four thousand years. There are only two or three other nations on the face of the earth that have existed that long, and none of them has had as long a period of glory and impact upon the world as the Jews have had. God says, "I haven't abandoned you. I'm going to fulfill the work that I've begun. I'm going to accomplish every promise that I gave to Abraham. You have a future, as Jeremiah says, and a hope."
Now the Jews do not realize that God hasn't abandoned them, but God's love is what makes them so spunky. This is why they are so indomitable. I am reading Max I. Dimant's book on "Jews, God, and History", and, throughout the book, he tries desperately to determine the source of Israel's energy, and he misses on all points. God is at work in that people. Historians always allude to a monument that a Pharaoh left behind. His name was Merneptah, a thirteenth-century Pharaoh in Egypt. He carried out campaigns in Syria and Palestine, and when he returned, as oriental leaders are wont to do, he chronicled a list of all his victories. Near the bottom of this monument, there is a line which reads, "Israel is desolated; his seed is no more." I always think of Mark Twain's response when a newspaper put out a noticed that he had died. He wrote the editor, "The reports of my death have been slightly exaggerated." Here is one Pharaoh who missed the point;
Israel is very much alive. Its seed was not desolate. The Jews just keep turning up. Every time you turn around they are doing something else. They are indomitable people!
I saw a funny cartoon in Time Magazine a year or so ago. It showed a Jew standing on the banks of the Suez Canal shaking a Sten gun over head. The canal was filled with Arabs who were swimming to the other side. The caption read, "And if you come back tomorrow, I'll send my husband!" How do you explain that spirit in Israel? Well, you see, God has a future and a hope for those people, and he is at work in their life. Circumstances don't matter. The desperate conditions the Jews have been in throughout all of their history has not fazed them. They have a future and a hope, a hope that God has implanted within them. He is at work, even though they do not know it. It is that hope that is the sign of the love of God, and not their circumstances. The mark of God's love in your life is not your circumstances, but the hope that God has placed in your heart. That is what Paul says in Romans 5. Your circumstances may be very grim, very difficult. You may be questioning whether God loves you at all. And if you look at your circumstances you are bound to question the love of God. But the love of God is not seen in your circumstances, it is seen in your hope, the certainty that God is at work in your life to accomplish his plan, to make you more and more like Jesus Christ. That is the mark of his love. We are a people who formerly were without hope, Paul writes, but now we have hope. Paul says that he who has begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ.
John Landrith and I spent some time running around Greece a year or so ago, and we were struck by one particular sign that kept showing up all over the country. It took us awhile to determine what it was, but then we saw it said, "telos", finished, complete. Finally we discovered that these were various zones, such as speed zones. When you came to the end of the zone there would be a sign, "telos", fulfilled, complete. That is the term that Paul uses. "He that has begun a good work in you will bring it to a finish." You are completed. It does not matter what you have to go through, God will use every circumstance to complete his program in your life. And his love is seen, not in the pressures and stresses and the circumstances of your life, but in his indwelling presence, and his strengthening you in the midst of those circumstances. I had a friend who asked someone how he was doing, and the man replied, "I'm doing all right, under the circumstances." My friend said, "What are you doing under there?" That is the problem. So much of the time we are under the circumstances, bound by them and frustrated by them. They make us resentful and bitter, and we think God has forgotten us and shoved us off to the side, no longer interested in us. Everything is going wrong in our life. You do not see the love of God in the circumstances, you see it in the hope.
What a great illustration of this principle the life of the Lord is! When he began his ministry, the Father said, "This my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He never did one thing that displeased the Father, not one thing. He always did those things that pleased the Father. And yet his life was one series of traumas after another. He was misunderstood, he was rejected, ostracized, positively hated, eventually crucified. And we look at that life and say, "Now there's a man who pleased God, and look at all the terrible things that happened to him. God loved his Son?"' Yes. The love of God is seen in his working through the Son all that he had purposed. And at the end of his earthly life, Jesus could say, "It is finished." He did not say, "I am finished"; he said, "It is finished." The work that God had set out to do in his life was finished. Paul picks up this same thread in Romans 8, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come (nothing in this world)...can separate us from the love of God...."
A number of years ago, my wife Carolyn and I were sitting together on a sofa and we were distressed about something. I do not recall now what it was. Our boy, who was five at the time, crawled up in our laps. We were sitting so close together that he could sit on both laps. He had been listening to this discussion that had been going on for some time, and he put his arms around our necks, pulled our heads together and said, "Dad, let's sing 'Jesus Loves Me". We have thought about that so frequently. You know, "A little child shall lead them." That is how we need to look at life. We do not see the love of God in our circumstances. They can be terribly discouraging. But we see the love of God in the hope that he has given to us that, through the circumstances, he is going to provide all that we need. And he is going to accomplish in us what he has promised. So don't think that God don't love you, 'cause he do! And the proof of it is that he will be magnified over your life.
Father, how grateful we are that you love us. And again, it is not because we are lovely or lovable in the slightest. We want to thank you for your sustaining power, and for the hope that you give us. We thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.
2. The Cure for Boredom: I would like you to turn again to the book of Malachi. Recall with me. just briefly, something of the situation that occasioned this particular prophetic writing. The Lord is concerned about his people because they had lost that sense of God's love for them. They found it very difficult to believe what Malachi said, that the Lord really cared about them and was interested in them in a personal way. The lord raised up this prophet in order to show the Jews that he did have this sort of concern. and he calls their attention to the fact that God had judged their enemies, specifically the Edomites, as a token of his love. Israel, however, said that the judgment of the Edomites was not a demonstration of God's love because the situation in Israel was no better than the situation in Edom. In both cases, the nations were depressed. But Malachi says there is one significant difference. Though Edom may say, "We will rise again." they never will. They have no hope. They may try to rebuild, but God says, "I will tear down." In contrast, the nation of Israel has a future and a hope. God is going to fulfill in them everything that he has promised to do for the nation. Israel's destiny, not its circumstances, is the sign of the love of God. God is at work in the midst of his people to conform them to himself, and he is going to fulfill every promise that he has extended to the nation of Israel. It is the living presence of God in their life that is the proof of God's love. if they look at their circumstances, they might question the love of God; but they were to look not at the situation, but at the purpose that God had for them.
I learned just a few weeks ago that in Greek theater there were two classifications of plays. They were classified either as tragedies or as comedies. A comedy was a story that ended well, with the hero and heroine receiving everything they should receive. But in contrast. a tragedy ended tragically. No matter what happened throughout the story. the play was classified as either a tragedy or as a comedy, depending on the ending--not on the circumstances throughout the story. It struck me, as I read that description, that for us believers, life is a comedy. That does not mean that we are going to laugh our way through life, because there are many circumstances in life that are anything but funny Yet our destiny is fixed and certain. and God is at work in our lives to use even those tragic circumstances to conform us to the character of God. Therefore, for us life is a comedy. But for those outside of Christ, life is a tragedy. It does not matter how good their circumstances may be. This is what God is saying through Malachi to his people. God has a purpose for them. and he is at work to fulfill that purpose. Israel can cling to the knowledge that nothing is going to turn God away from that destiny. It is by that destiny, and the active work of God in their lives that the Israelites can see that God really loves them and cares for them.
Whenever people lose the sense of God's love, as did the Israelites at the time this book was written, certain things begin to happen. The first thing is that they fail to respond with love and warmth to the Lord. If they feel that the Lord does not love them, then it is very difficult for them to worship God acceptably. They do not feel love, and so they cannot respond in a loving way to the Lord. That was what was occurring in Israel. Their worship was cold, for they had lost the sense of God's love for them. The second thing that occurs whenever people lose that sense of God's love is that their family life grows cold. Beginning with verse 10 of chapter 2. Malachi speaks of the conditions in the Israelites' families. Husbands and wives were unable to respond in love toward one another, and so families were breaking up. That section continues through verse 16. In chapter 2, verse 17 through chapter 3, verse 6, he describes what was happening in society in general. This failure to recognize that God loves us eventually pervades all of society; not our families only, hut every aspect of life. He says in verse 5 of chapter 3.
"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me," says the Lord of hosts.
So all manner of antisocial behavior began to pervade the life of this people because they had lost that sense of God's love. It affects their lives in the temple. at home, and in society. We arc going to look at each of these areas in successive weeks.
First, let's look at what was happening to the Jews' worship, beginning with chapter I , verse 6.
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, How have we despised Thy name?' You are presenting defiled food upon My altar."
Now this was a word that was addressed to the priests, although the same words could have been addressed to all the people. It is addressed to the priests because the priests were representative of the nation, and stood in the place of the nation. Also, the priests were condoning what the people were doing. It is obvious what was occurring here. People were bringing blighted sacrifices into the temple. Instead of bringing the best, they were bringing the lame and blind and sick animals to be sacrificed. The priests did not own flocks. They were not allowed to possess fields or to own flocks of sheep, so it is not the priests' sheep, but the sheep the people brought, that the priests were sacrificing. Therefore the priests themselves were condemned because they were condoning what the people were doing. Malachi is saying that the priests represented all the people. And what was true of these priests was true of the nation of Israel in general. All were guilty of a perverted form of worship. He says that the priests were habitual despisers of the Lord.
I am sure the priests' response would be to reject the idea that they were despising the Lord. After all, their business was to represent the Lord to the people. They were paid to be religious; that was their function. They were going about their business in a way that they felt was proper. They punched in at the temple at nine o'clock every morning and stayed until five. They did what they were told to do. Yet they are described as despising the Lord. Their response, predictably, was, "In what way have we despised the Lord?" The sacrifices they were bringing were less than the best. In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy the nation was told the sort of sacrifice that was acceptable to God. They were to bring the firstlings of the flock, the very best. They were told not to bring an animal that was blind or lame or sick, the very terms that are used here to describe the offerings that the Jews brought. Malachi says, "In that you condone these sacrifices and allow these people to bring something less than the very best you are actually despising my name. You are taking lightly the table of the Lord." Verse 7,
"But you say, 'How have we deified Thee?" In that you say, 'The table of the Lord is to be despised.'
What God wanted was the very best, the firstlings of the flock. But they were using the best of the flock for themselves and were offering only half-heartedly what God required.
The counterpart of their experience today is not the offering of sheep and oxen, because we are not called upon to offer that sort of sacrifice. The sacrifice that we offer today is ourself. Paul says in Romans 12, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.The worship that the Lord looks for today is not the worship through sheep and goats, pigeons and doves. The only acceptable worship is ourselves, the offering up of our own lives to God. That is the only logical, reasonable sacrifice, Paul says, the only one that makes any sense at all, in response to what God has done. The only sacrifice that is acceptable is the sacrifice of the total self--body, soul, and spirit--to God. But so often we respond as the Jews responded, giving God less than the best. And we do so because often we are not aware of the love God has for us, and what he has done for us in the cross. That was what was happening in Israel. God said, "You're taking me for granted. You're taking the sacrifice too lightly, offering only a part when I want all."
He says an interesting thing in verse 8, which I think could just as well be directed toward us.
"But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? [You see, it is sin to offer less than we are.] And when you present the lame and sick is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the Lord of hosts.
The governor here was the Persian appointee, the political leader of Judah. God says, "Would you offer this sort of sacrifice to your leader? How would he receive you? Would he appreciate it?" As I read this passage I thought, What sort of offering do we make to our employers? That seems to be the counterpart today. Would we make the same sort of halfhearted response to the person who employs us that we make to the Lord? God is not thinking of the amount of time that is required in order to fulfill our responsibilities, but of our spirit. Many of us take very seriously our responsibilities toward the people who employ us. We spend a lot of time and effort and thought and dedication in that area of our life, and we are motivated by a desire to please. None of us would think of doing a job half way. We know more than that is expected of us. Malachi says "Does God expect any less? Does the Lord of the universe expect any less?" He expects the whole man, not just a part of our heart, but the whole man.
In verse 10, he says,
"Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you," says the Lord of hosts, "nor will I accept an offering from you."
Do you see what he is saying? It would be far better to close the gates, to shut down the temple, to stop offering, than to offer this sort of worship. No worship at all is better than a halfhearted sacrifice. That is an amazing statement when seen in the context of Jewish worship. For the Jew, worship only happened in Jerusalem. It had to happen there. God said, "That is the city upon which I have written my name." Three times a year Jews had to present themselves before the temple. Though throughout their history they worshiped in high places away from the temple, that was never acceptable. If they were going to act strictly according to the law, they had to present themselves at the temple. That was the only place worship could take place. And God said it would be far better that you not worship at all, than that you do so in this halfhearted way. Just shut the temple down.
But God explains why it would be better to shut the temple down in verse 11.
"For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations," says the Lord of hosts.
This verse has troubled many people, because it appears to say that it does not really matter which God you worship, as long as you are sincere. Acceptable worship can occur any place, any time, to any god, as long as it is an acceptable worship. People have used this passage to support that idea, but that is not what God is saying at all. In the Authorized Version or in the New American Standard, the verbs are translated in the future tense. In the New American Standard, the expression "will be", which occurs twice, is in italics, which indicates it is not found in the original text, but is the translators--understanding that this passage refers to some future event. It is clear that they see this as a prediction of the time when the gospel would go out to the Gentiles and the Gentiles would worship the Lord away from the temple. And that is a possibility. The Revised Standard translates this passage in the present tense, "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the nations," says the Lord of hosts. The present tense indicates these things were going on at the time Malachi was written. Actually, the passage is ambiguous. It is difficult to know exactly what Malachi meant, because there are no verbs in the passage except in one place, and there is no time in that particular verb. So it refers not only to the time Malachi was speaking, but to some future time as well.
I believe Malachi is saying, "This is a truism, something that is true in any time in history. Wherever you go, when you find people who are worshiping God in an acceptable way, their worship is pure." That would be astounding to a Jew of that day. Oh, they knew that Isaiah and other prophets predicted that eventually Gentiles would be included in the nation, but it would be something absolutely new to think that at that very time, in the fifth century before Christ, people outside of Israel were worshiping acceptably. But that is what God is saying. He says that there will be universal worship of the Lord, from the east to the west, "from the rising of the sun, even to its setting." Not only that, he says, but these Gentiles would be involved in a priestly ministry, because they offer up incense. The only one who was allowed to offer up incense in Israel was the high priest. Not only that, but their grain offering will be pure. The word used is not the word that is normally used for offerings that were ceremonially pure. He uses an entirely different word that has the idea of being acceptable, that God will accept your gift.
I believe God is saying that at any time in history there are people who have a measure of truth. Perhaps these people have heard through the message of the prophets or in some other way. But they had some degree of the knowledge of God and they were worshiping him on the basis of that truth. They were not doing it precisely the "right" way; they were not doing it in Jerusalem, or following the prescribed pattern. But their worship was accepted because their hearts were right, their attitude was right. God is saying, "You folks in Jerusalem believe that you have the only way. You've got the temple and the priesthood, and you feel that is the only acceptable place and way to worship. But I would rather have someone else somewhere else worshiping me in an entirely different way, but worshiping me in spirit and in truth, than to have you worship correctly but halfheartedly." In other words, the Lord is saying, "I like the way they are doing it wrong better than the way you are not doing it at all."
I believe the New Testament parallel to this passage is John 4. This is the well-known account of the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans despised the Jews, as you know. They believed that Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac at Mount Gerizim, not Mount Zion. They worshiped God at Gerizim, not at Zion. And when the Lord began to get to this woman, she (as we often do) engaged him in a theological debate. If you want to stiff-arm God, one of the best ways to do it is to discuss theology, as this woman did in John 4:19-21. "The woman said to him, 'Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain (i.e., Gerizim); and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father.' " Here he is speaking of the cross, his own death, burial and resurrection. On the basis of that action, Gentiles would be able to worship in any place.
Jesus continues in verses 22-24, "You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews [Now listen to this!] But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be his worshipers. God is spirit; and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." Looking forward to the cross, he says," The hour is coming," but then he says, "and now is," when God desires men to worship in spirit and truth. He is looking forward to the cross, because it is on the basis of that cross that men at any time in history can worship God in spirit and truth. This was the basis by which Abraham worshiped God. He did not know the name of Jesus, but the cross is a fact, not merely of history, but of something that transcends history and includes all of time. It gathers up all ages of mankind into one. And when anyone responds to the truth that he has, and begins to worship God truly in spirit, then that worship is acceptable on the basis of the cross. And God takes the initiative to get more truth to that individual until he comes to a full knowledge of God. It has to be on the basis of the cross. That is why Jesus said, "The hour is coming (That is true.) but now is." In any time in history, when men and women sincerely seek God, that worship is acceptable. It becomes God's responsibility then to get more truth to them. God says, ''I would rather have someone who worships me in the inner man, in reality, than to have people saying and doing the right things, but in their hearts offering up only partial worship." I believe that is what Malachi is saying. In the words of the hymn, "What shall I give Thee, Master? Shall I give part (or halt) of my heart, or shall I give all to Thee?" That is what God wants, the totality of our being. He wants us to say, in the inner man, "Lord, I'll do what you want me to do, be what you want me to be; I'll follow you wherever you want me to go." That is worship, true worship. John says, "The Father seeks such to worship him."
But that was not happening i-n Israel. They were offering a partial sacrifice, and they were bored to death with it. That is why, in verse 13, it says,
"You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!'"
How boring! What a drag! There is nothing more boring than trying to worship God when your heart isn't in it. It is far better to shut the gates. It is far better to go play golf on Sunday than to worship God when your heart is not in it. It is better to do almost anything than to worship God with half a heart. It makes for a tedious, boring round of activities. We have all been through this. We have been doing things, teaching Bible studies, going to Bible studies, reading Christian books, teaching Sunday school, bored to death. What a drag! That was what was happening with the priests. They just could not get into the sacrifices. The daily round of offering these animal sacrifices was getting to them. My, how tiresome it was. What a bore (verses 13-14).
"You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it," says the Lord of hosts, "and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" says the Lord. "But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King," says the Lord of hosts, "and My name is feared among the nations."
Here is the same argument. If you go throughout the nations, you will find men who are worshiping God acceptably; and I like what they are doing, God says, even though they are not getting the details right and may not be saying it the right way and do not have the right liturgy. But their hearts are right. They fear me, and that I respond to. Chapter 2, verse 1 continues,
"And now this commandment is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name," says the Lord of hosts, "then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart."
Then God gives this very graphic description of what was happening to the priests. There was a large table on which the priests sacrificed the animals, and as they sacrificed the animals, the blood and entrails, the refuse of the animals, would be spattered on their garments. God says that when the priests go out to take the remains of the animals to the garbage dump, they will be left with the refuse. The people will treat you like garbage. Verse 9 adds,
"So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways, but are showing partiality in the instruction."
When we do not take seriously our relationship to God, then no one takes us seriously. We lose our impact upon our friends and upon society. That is what Jesus meant when he said, "When salt no longer is salty, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." And that is what happens to you and me when we stop taking our relationship to God seriously. We lose our impact on society. People are disdainful of us; they ignore us. And my, how boring life becomes! We doubt that we have any significance at all.
There seems to be a pattern that develops, as Malachi spells it out for us. The priests did not respond to the Lord, and so they did not respond wholeheartedly to his Word. They took it lightly. And after awhile people began to take the Word lightly. That is what it means in verse 8, "you have caused many to stumble by the instruction (or in the law)." They actually began to despise the Word, and eventually they began to despise the messenger of the Word. They did not listen, they laughed at him and treated him like garbage. It all began because the priests did not take their relationship to the Lord seriously.
What a contrast to God's purpose for the priests, as he describes it in verses 5 through 7.
"My covenant with him [with Levi, the father of the tribe of Levi] was one of life and peace...
There was a sense of vitality to life. Life was peaceful and quiet. The Hebrew term for peace has the idea of well-being. He felt secure, vital, useful.
"...and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity."
Who of us does not long for that? To be the kind of person who goes into difficult situations and is redemptive and instructive, and turns people back. How often we go into those situations and have no impact whatsoever. One of my favorite stories is about a man who was visiting his friend in the hospital. The friend was in an oxygen tent, recovering from a mild heart attack, and doing quite well. As the man was talking to him, he noticed his friend was beginning to show signs of stress. Asking for a pad of paper and a pencil, the friend scribbled a note and passed it to him. The man read the note, which said, "Please, Charley, you've got your foot on the hose!" So often that is what happens to us. We want to be helpful, we long to have a redemptive effect on peoples' lives, but we are really causing them great distress.
How boring life becomes when there is no significance in our lives! We do all sorts of things to fill up the emptiness of our lives. We take karate classes. There's nothing wrong with that, but it won't make your life more exciting. It won't help to read Discovery Papers, or to go to Bible studies, or become involved in some Christian ministry. That is what we start thinking: "I've got to get busy! I'll start a home Bible class. I've got to do this, or that, or the other; and then my life will be vital. I need more training." But it doesn't work. Our lives do not become more vital, we do not have more impact; we just become more and more bored with the truth that we receive. There is only one answer, and he has given it in chapter 2, verse 2,
"Take it to heart, and give honor to my name."
It is just that simple. Start by saying, "Lord, I'm yours." Do it while you are washing dishes tomorrow morning, or diapering the baby, or on your way to work. "Lord, I'm yours, all of me, for whatever purpose you wish to put me to today." And then you will discover that God will begin to show you some very specific ways where you have to act out that submission. We like to keep it in the theoretical, but God gets very specific. "All right, here is where I want you to give me all of yourself." Maybe it is just to be peaceful while you dust the house, or work at a job that is terribly boring. Just accept that circumstance and let God be God, let Him be Lord in your life in that circumstance. Let him have all of you. That is the acceptable worship that he looks for.
It is not merely here at church that we worship; we worship everywhere. It may literally be at a sink full of dirty dishes, when the last thing you want to do is to wash those dishes! But you say, "Thank you, Lord, that this is the task that is before me, and you can have all of me to accomplish this task." That is worship, when we begin to take God's Word very seriously in specific areas of our life. And that is the life that begins to get exciting. God will bring into your life all sorts of circumstances and people and events that, as a friend of mine says, begin to put the fizz in the Pepsi! Life gets downright exciting. But we start at the other end. We say, "Lord, you've got to do something to make my life worthwhile," and so we start doing things to add meaning to our life, and nothing works. God says, "Look, start at the very heart. Give me the sort of honor that is due me, and then I'll make life exciting for you." I was speaking at a fraternity house a number of years ago, and a young Christian student came up to me and said, "I want God to have my life. I don't know what it's going to mean, but I want him to have my life. I want to be used." I have seen that young man grow in his relationship to God for seven years now. God has taken him into some of the most exciting things you can imagine and used him in a tremendous way to change the lives of others. It began with a desire to let God be God in his life. That is where we have to begin.
In the Old Testament there is an interesting account of the call of Gideon, whom God called to deliver his people. He was anything but a leader. He was hiding in a rock when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and addressed him as a mighty warrior. "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!" The first thing the angel required of Gideon was an act of worship. He had to make a sacrifice. He brought what he had. The people were terribly poor and poverty-stricken. They had been under siege for seven years and had very little to eat. But Gideon brought all that he had to the angel, who touched it with his staff, and the sacrifice was consumed. This was a symbol, I believe, of the same issue. Gideon brought his whole life, and the angel accepted it, because that was acceptable worship. The very next night God called him to tear down the Baal sanctuary in his father's house. His father was custodian of the Baal, and so Gideon had to act in his own home. That was the specific request that God made as a result of Gideon's statement of his intention to serve God with his whole life. Some months later, when the Midianites invaded again, God told Gideon to call the people together. Although Gideon said he was the least of his clan, and his clan was the least of his tribe, and his tribe was the least of the tribes in Israel, when he blew the whistle to collect the tribes, the whole nation followed him. Why? Because he had demonstrated in his own heart and in his own home that he was a wholehearted man. Isaiah 50:4 says, "The Lord has given me the tongue of the learned, that I might know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary." That is what we all long for, that sort of tongue. The very next verse says, "The Lord God has given me the ear of the hearer." It starts with listening to God as he reveals himself, then responding to that revelation. That is wholehearted worship. "God, here I am." And then God will give you the tongue of the learned, so that you will be a source of blessing and vitality and encouragement to others.
Lord, most of us are sick and tired of dedicating ourselves again and again. This is the sort of thing that we have done repeatedly, and we realize that that is not what you want. What you want is a submissive spirit, the willingness to say, "Lord, here I am, in my weakness--and in my inability. I know that in my flesh I cannot follow through, but here's my life, to do with as you see fit. Strengthen me to be your man, your woman." Lord, we thank you for the change that takes place in our life and in others--as that becomes true. May it be true in our life, Father. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.3. The Wife of Your Youth:Turn again to the hook of Malachi, chapter 2. Our last two times together I have pointed out that the problem this fifth-century B.C. prophet is concerned with is a loss of love within the nation. The Israelites' love had grown cold. They had lost that sense of the presence of God's love, and thus were unable to respond to his love. That lack of love was being felt in all of society, and particularly in their homes. It is this section that we are concerned with this morning, as Malachi takes a look at the Jews' home life, the relationship between husband and wife, and describes the coldness of their love in the home.
Every time you talk about the home it is a relevant issue because that is where we live. It is almost trite to say that our homes are in trouble and that we, as a people, in terms of our home life, are disintegrating. Our home life has been disintegrating for a long time. It is just more apparent today. I have a friend who describes homes of a generation ago as medieval cathedrals, supported by flying buttresses". Flying buttresses are external arches that were designed to support the structure of a cathedral from the outside, preserving the clean lines within. If buttresses were used, the cathedral would not have to be supported internally. My friend says this was the way homes were a generation ago. They were just as empty as they are today; there were no internal supports. But externally they were supported by society. There was a social consensus that husband and wife ought to stay together for life, and so homes were supported from the outside. But now, with the loss of these external controls, homes are crumbling almost overnight. Not only are people having problems in their homes, but they are actually questioning the institution itself. They are asking whether marriage is a viable institution for our age.
I was surprised to see an article in the Palo Alto Times a couple of weeks ago concerning a number of women, most of them middle-aged, who were having children, intending to raise those children without a husband or a father. These single women didn't accidentally become pregnant outside of wedlock, but deliberately chose to have children and to raise those children without a husband or a father. I suppose I was more shocked that I was not shocked. It is almost as though you would expect this sort of thing to happen.
Marriage, as an institution, is under fire. Is it relevant for today? Reading between the lines a bit, you can see where most of these women were coming from. Most of them either did not see a model of a husband or a father in their own homes, and therefore feel that a husband or a father is irrelevant in raising children. Or, in a prior marriage, they did not see a husband taking his proper place. This is the attitude that society is selling, but it is not one that we, as believers, can buy.
Marriage is an institution that God has established. It is the second relationship established in the book of Genesis. The first is the relationship to God himself, but the second is the relationship between a man and his wife. It is a divine institution, and is not really up for grabs or open to question. Paul says to do away with marriage is a doctrine of demons. Therefore we need to see what God's plan is, and to order our homes according to God's standards. This is what Malachi does in this section.
It has always been interesting to me that in the book of Exodus one of the plagues that fell on Egypt was the plague of darkness; the entire land of Egypt was dark. But interestingly enough, there was light in the dwellings of the Israelites. I believe that is symbolic for us today. In the midst of all this darkness, our homes need to be light, sources of truth and revelation and righteousness. And they can be if we follow the admonitions of this passage in Malachi. In this Old Testament book, tucked away in seven verses that normally are overlooked, some very profound things are said about the nature of marriage. There are two issues at stake. The first is found in chapter 2. verses 10 through 12.
"Do we not all have one father?"
The reference here is not to Abraham but to God. This statement parallels the next.
"Has not one God created us?"
Malachi is saying what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8, "Do we not have one God, the Father, who is over all things?" Malachi is talking about the Israelites' oneness as a nation under God. They had been created by God; he is their Father.
"Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? Judah has dealt treacherously [or faithlessly], and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves...
This is one of the few references-in the Old Testament where it is clear that it is the people of God who are the sanctuary, rather than the temple. The temple was merely the symbol of the greater truth, that God wants to dwell in his people. Here he clearly refers to the people of God as the sanctuary where God lives, and which he loves. By their action, whatever this action was, the Israelites somehow were profaning all of society, violating the relationship that this society had to God.
"...and has married the daughter of a foreign god."
That is the first issue. In the Old Testament idiom, "the daughter of" or "the son of" refers to relationship. The specific issue at stake here is marriage to Gentile idolaters. Israelite men were choosing as brides women from the Gentile world who were idolaters. Verse 12 says,
"As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts."
We are not sure what that means, "those who awake and answer", but probably it is intended to refer to the entire nation. We use expressions like this frequently. For example, when we say, "That's the long and the short of it," or when we say, "Everyone was there, the great and the small," we mean everyone. That is evidently what this idiom means. God will cut off anyone and everyone who does this. In other words, not only do these marriages affect society, but they will somehow affect the individual, resulting in destruction in his own life. The issue is intermarriage with idolatrous women.
We need to recall that intermarriage was not some racial hangup that the Jews had; their concern was spiritual. They were not prohibited from marrying Gentiles in general, and there are many illustrations in the Old Testament of marriages between Jews and Gentiles. The most striking, of course, is Ruth, who was a Moabite. She is in our Lord's genealogy, a Gentile. But the issue here is idolatry. Jews were not to marry Gentiles who were idolatrous. They could marry Gentiles if they followed the Lord God of Israel, as Ruth did. Ruth said to Naomi, "Your people shall be my people; your God shall be my God." She stopped worshiping Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and started worshiping Jehovah, and was incorporated right into the nation. So the Jews weren't racists. The God of Israel was concerned about the purity of the people of God, that they not marry idolaters. Now evidently the Jews were prohibited from marrying Canaanites because the Canaanites were so locked into their idols. But even among the Canaanites there were exceptions. Rahab the harlot was a Canaanite who worshiped the Lord God of Israel. The real issue was idolatry. Whenever anyone in Israel married an idolater from outside of Israel, it almost always resulted in chaos in the nation. Idolatry had destroyed the nation once before, and that was why Malachi was so concerned. They must not do this again.
This truth expressed in Malachi is found throughout all of Scripture: the basis of any marriage relationship is spiritual. The foundation of the relationship that I have with my wife is my relationship to God and her relationship to God. It takes three to make a marriage; two or four produce chaos. The Israelite cannot worship the Lord while his wife worships Asherah, or Baal, and expect to be able to have any unity or purpose of direction. They are going in two different directions.
That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship has the temple of God with the temple of idols?" That is a very strong statement, and it is not intended to be offensive to people outside the family; it is simply a fact. When you get two such temples together, they are incompatible and the result is distress to both members of the relationship, not merely the Christian. This prohibition is a provision of love. The statement in 2 Corinthians, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers," is drawn from a law taken right out of the Israelites' national life. The law of Moses prohibited them from linking together any two animals that had unequal gaits, such as a donkey and an ox, or an ox and a camel. It was a humane provision because the unequal gait would cause the yoke to chafe them both. A number of years ago
I was speaking to a group of college students on this subject and I made reference to that 2 Corinthians 6 passage, giving them the background to it. One student at the back of the room raised his hand and asked, "Is it all right to date a camel if you don't marry one?" But do you see what Paul is saying? God is trying to preserve both individuals in the relationship. The wife will see that her husband's allegiance is to the Lord and that if he follows his Lord through the years ahead, they will get farther and farther apart. This causes her distress because in the very area where she wants to share the most, at the deepest, spiritual, most intimate level of her life, she cannot, for he is going in another direction. So Malachi says you need to know what distress you are going to bring upon yourself and others if you marry an idolater.
God's plan is that one man and one woman be together, worshiping the same Lord, and that the man's headship be worked out under the headship of his Lord. As the ones responsible for the spiritual leadership in our homes, we men cannot do as we please. We cannot follow any direction we may feel we want to follow. We follow the Lord. We receive our instructions from him, and that qualifies us then to lead our wives, assuming that she also is tied into the same Lord and is willing to move in the same direction. That is what makes for unity. That is the basis of oneness in our relationship. We may be incompatible in any number of areas, but if we are one in Christ, then that relationship will go. Now that is where Malachi begins, with that foundational basis: as husbands and wives, our relationship with God comes first.
The second issue concerning the nature of marriage is found in verses 13 through 16
"And this is another thing you do; you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce," says the Lord, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the Lord of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."
Even without seeing the specific problem, as you begin to read these words you sense that any faulty relationship with your wife is going to result in a faulty relationship with God. It works both ways. Not only does our relationship with God determine the sort of relationship we have with our wife, but if we are not doing what is right in terms of our wife's needs, it will affect our relationship with God. Malachi describes this as "weeping at the altar, and God does not hear." We know from other passages in the book of Malachi that this was a time of terrible economic distress for the Israelites. The economy was falling apart; an extended drought was destroying their crops. The Israelites were beseeching God at the altar to change that circumstance, but he did not hear them, because there was something wrong with their relationships with their wives. This is reminiscent of Peter's words, "Husbands.. live with your wives in an understanding way... so that your prayers may not be hindered." If we do not live according to the truth in our relationship with our partner, then it will hinder our relationship with God.
The specific issue dealt with here is divorce. God says in no uncertain terms, "I hate divorce." The term is "sending away." "I hate a sending away." And notice, he does not say, "I hate divorcees." There is a vast difference. It does not matter how much ruin may be in your past, God can set it all right. Even if you cannot go back into the past and set one thing straight, you can begin right now to change your own life, your own relationship with your partner. God does not say he hates you, but he does hate divorce. The phrase, "him who covers his garment with wrong" is an interesting symbol. In the marriage ceremony (and this is true to this day in the Near East), husbands covered their partner with a long cloak, their outer garment, as a symbol of putting their wives under their protection. He says you are, in effect, covering your partner with a bespattered garment, a filthy garment, a garment covered with wrong. That is, not only are you unfaithful to the wife that you have, and are untruthworthy in the present relationship that you are involved in, but any new relationship takes on that same unfaithful spirit. You are not really committed to making it go. Your attitude is, "Let's try it for awhile; if it doesn't work, we'll do something else." That is like covering your partner with a garment of hardness, which is actually the term used here.
This passage is interesting when seen in parallel with Jesus' words about divorce. Jesus was asked, "Why did Moses allow divorce?" He responded, "Because of the hardness of your heart." But that was not God's original intention. A divorce is an admission that at least one person in the relationship has a hard heart and will not respond to God. For in Christ there is every possibility for making any marriage go, no matter how ruined that marriage may appear. Any marriage can be put back together again by God's grace, if we are willing to commit ourselves to the principles that are given to us here.
Now what are these principles for maintaining a marriage? Malachi says a number of very profound things about the nature of the marriage relationship. The first thing he says is that we should look at our wives as the wife of our youth. My wife is the wife of my youth, and my companion. That term really does not need definition. You can almost intuitively sense what is conveyed by the phrase. Malachi is saying I should treat my wife as I treated her in the days when we were young. You married her then because she was attractive, youthful, energetic. She has put you through school, washed your dirty socks, cleaned your house, taken care of your children, and that is bound to have taken its toll on her appearance. And, by the way, you don't look a bit better yourself! But you need to think of her in terms of the wife of your youth. She is the wife of your youth, the one who attracted you in the very beginning. And she is still the wife of your youth. She has not changed. When you are attracted by someone outside the marriage relationship who appears more youthful and more attractive, you are to stop and think, "That is the wife of my youth, that one back home." You need to cultivate the relationship as you did when she was young. There is an old adage, "Why chase the bus when you've already caught it?" That is one attitude we need to put away, once and for all because any love relationship has to be cultivated. As a matter of fact, any relationship has to be cultivated. A relationship that is taken for granted will always deteriorate. That is the trend, as a result of our fallen state. Isaiah says, "We are all like sheep; we go our own way." As fallen persons, our wills will separate us from our wives and everyone else around us unless we cultivate those relationships. So we need to cultivate our relationship with our wives as we did when she became the wife of your youth. And we are never to stop cultivating it, never stop doing the things that please her; we are to think of creative ways to let her know that we love her and care for her.
The second principle in maintaining your relationship with your wife is to "treat her as your companion." A companion is "one that you are joined to" -- your friend. Throughout the Old Testament a person's wife is referred to as his friend, whereas other women are referred to as strangers. The Bible makes a sharp distinction between the way you treat your wife and the way you treat every other woman in the world. Your wife is your friend; every other woman is a stranger. God is not saying you should be unfriendly and unkind and ungracious to other women; but there is a radical difference between the way you look at your wife and the way that you look at any other woman. It is your wife who is your companion. Your wife is the one with whom you share your most intimate thoughts. Your wife is the one from whom you receive counsel--not other women, regardless of how sensitive they may appear to be about your hurts and your problems. Your wife is your companion, the one you are linked to. Malachi says we are to look at our wives as our friend, our companion. She is the wife of my youth, and I need to cultivate that love relationship, never taking it for granted.
Malachi begins with that definition of love, but he does not leave it there, because love alone is not sufficient to keep a marriage together. We are fallen people, and love grows cold at times. So in verse 14 Malachi talks about a third element that is necessary in the home: a covenant relationship. She is your wife by covenant, and it is a covenant which God has witnessed. Proverbs 2 actually describes marriage as the covenant of God. When you took your wife as your partner, you actually made a covenant with her and with society. But more than that, it was a covenant with God himself, that you would live together for life, "For better or for worse. You cannot say, "Well, she's a lot worse than I took her for!" She is your wife by covenant. That was the word that you gave before God, that you would live with this partner for life, until death separates you. Now we are being told today that this contract is an invention of society and that it is very recent. That simply is not true. Marriage contracts go back into antiquity as far as we have any written records, clear back into the second millennium B.C. Before the time of Abraham there were marriage contracts. Abraham did not bash Sarah over the head with a club and drag her into a cave and cohabit with her; he married her by a contract. I have a number of facsimiles of such contracts in my possession. One sounds very much like our wedding ceremony, in that the man promises to live with his wife according to certain established laws and she promises the same thing; then down at the bottom, eight men, two women, two scribes and the king sign it. It is a contract. Society, even apart from God, recognizes that love alone is not enough. Sometimes the only thing that will keep a marriage together for a period of time is that contract. You have agreed (in the case of Christians) before God that you will love your partner until death separates you. It does not matter how unlovely she is. That is not the issue.
In one of his papers, Jack Crabtree very astutely points out that before marriage the dynamic that keeps a couple together is sexual abstinence; after marriage, it is the contract. You say those are harsh words, but that is the way we are. We are fallen people. Our love will grow cold. We get tired of struggling in a relationship and we will walk out, unless we recognize that we have contracted before God to live together for life. But it does not have to be a hard and harsh thing, because that marriage can be turned back into a thing of beauty, where love actually does reign.
Look at verse 15. Here is the fourth principle. If you have a New American Standard Bible, look at the margin. There are two different ways to translate this, and I think the text is terribly confusing. I cannot, for the life of me, understand the translation that we have in the New American Standard, but the margin translates it this way:
"Did he not make one, although He had the remnant? And why one? He was seeking a godly offspring."
He is referring to creation, going back to the time when God brought the man and the woman together. God created only one. He did not create four wives, only one. "Did He not make one (for Adam), although he had the remnant of the Spirit?" He could have made any number of wives for Adam, but he did not; he made one. "And why one? He was seeking a godly offspring." If you go back to the creation story, God shows Adam his need in a very graphic way. Adam first recognizes that he is alone, and then God brings out all of the animals, and Adam names all of them in relation to himself. God was trying to demonstrate that there was no animal that could meet his needs. There were beasts that could bear his burdens, there were beasts that could provide food; but no beast or bird could be a helper to correspond to him, who would be his supporter and encourager and partner in life. He could find no individual like that in the animal world. So God created woman from Adam's side and brought her to him. And the man's response was, "This is what I've been looking for!" She becomes his helpmate, his helper who corresponds to him. The point is, God did not bring Eve to Adam and say, "Adam, try her out for a year and if you don't like her you can trade her in on a brunette model next year." No, he made one, just one, no alternates, no other models--just one. And he said, "Adam, this is your partner." Why? In order that there might be a godly offspring. God's intention is that one man and one woman be together for life, and the result of that relationship be children that love God.
Now, even in the best of Christian homes the children don't always love God. (It did not happen even in Adam and Eve's home!) Because children have a will of their own, and they choose against the Lord. But that is the climate we need to provide. It makes it much easier for children to respond to the grace of God when they see it operative in their parents' lives. They may not respond to God; that is their choice. But what a privilege it is to be raised in a home where mom and dad really love each other, and really care for each other, and are committed to each other. And out of that security a child can respond to the love of God. Ultimately, isn't that what we want for our children: godliness? Our primary concern is not that they make it in the world economically, intellectually or physically--but spiritually.
One of my favorite stories has to do with an actress, Ellen Terry, who once proposed marriage to George Bernard Shaw with the idea that they would bequeath to the nation a child who would have both her looks and his brains. His response, as you can imagine, was, "But what if the child has my looks and your brains?" We have no way of knowing what our children will be like. But that is not the problem. The issue is, do we want our children to move out from our home knowing and loving God? Malachi says this is God's intention: one man and one woman together for life, in a climate of love and security where their child can develop in the knowledge of God. That is the created order.
Then there is a final principle for maintaining a marriage which I think gathers all these other principles together. It is stated first in verse 15 and then in verse 16,
"So take heed to your spirit."
I believe Malachi is saying that the issue really has to be solved in the inner man, in the spirit. Faithfulness to your wife is not merely an external thing. There are many men who are externally faithful to their wives, but internally unfaithful, internally uncommitted. They are living together, outwardly showing love, but inwardly unfaithful, thinking of other relationships, cultivating relationships with other women in their minds. So Malachi says, "Take heed to your spirit," which is the basis for any solid relationship with your wife. Your own thought life, what goes on in the inner man, is where it all begins. That is why in the New Testament, church leaders are described as "the husband of one wife". This does not mean he has only one wife at a time; it means he is a one-woman kind of man, the kind of person who, in the inner man, is faithful, true to his wife, who cultivates that relationship internally, who seeks that kind of union and commitment, who is committed to her. That is where it begins, and that is why Malachi says, "Take heed to your spirit."
I am convinced that if we, as men, will act according to these truths, we can revolutionize our homes. You notice that this passage is addressed to the men, as so many passages dealing with the home are. Occasionally a word is addressed to our wives, but the bulk of revelation is given to us. In the book of Hosea, this same issue was at hand, the women were not finding this kind of love in their homes, so they were looking for it outside their homes. They were the unfaithful ones, but Hosea says God is not going to judge the women; he is going to judge you men because you have failed to provide the sort of climate where your wives can feel secure. So the responsibility rests upon us.
Now, again, he is not talking about the past, the destruction we may have left behind us. That is all past, all forgiven and forgotten. He is talking about the present and the future. And if we are obedient to these principles, we can begin to change our homes, so that they are places of light, and the relationship that we have now is everything that God intends it to be. It does not matter how distorted our homes may be; God can set it right, if we, as men, will commit ourselves, by God's grace, to being this kind of man. Who would not want this kind of husband? And what woman could resist this kind of love and leadership? It would be very unusual indeed if she could. You say, "Well, you don't know how ruined my home is, how cold my wife is, how unresponsive she is! Or the wife says, "It's too far down the road! I can't stand him any longer."
There is an interesting verse in Jeremiah 31, just before the section that deals with the New Covenant. Jeremiah says, "God is going to create a new thing in Israel." The term that he uses is a term that is found throughout the Old Testament only when God is the subject. It refers to the creation of something where nothing exists, for God can create something when there is nothing. "God is going to create a new thing in Israel, and (listen to this!) a woman shall woo a man." The term means to surround him, to just love him to pieces. Now he is talking about Israel, who is the faithless daughter. For a thousand years the Lord cultivated his relationship, he sought Israel, and she was unfaithful. Jeremiah says God is going to do something new. He is going to create a new thing. Where no love exists, this woman is going to turn and pursue the husband. Israel will begin to woo the Lord. And I am convinced the same thing is true of our homes. Your love may have grown completely cold, it may be dormant. But if we are obedient to these principles, and if we, as husbands, begin to see our wives as the wives of our youth, and love them as our companions, and cultivate that relationship, and give them the sort of security and love that they have the right to expect, our marriages can be restored. If we commit ourselves as we did on our marriage day, till death do us part, and by the grace of God begin to deal with our attitudes in the areas of the inner man that inveigh against faithfulness--if we do those things, then God will restore our love, and will restore the love of our wives. God will give back to us the light that we must have in our dwellings in the midst of all this darkness.
Father, we thank you that it is the Lord's mercies that we are not all consumed, because who of us can say we have faithfully and responsibly done the things you have told us to do in our homes as husbands and wives? But we thank you that your mercies are new every morning, that your faithfulness is great, and that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we can begin this morning to be the kind of men that you have called us to be, and to establish the kind of relationship that will produce godly offspring. We thank you that your strength is adequate for that, and that the past is to be forgotten and forgiven, that we are not responsible any longer for the sins of the past, having asked forgiveness. We are free from guilt and can concentrate on the present. We thank you for your strength and for your resources that make possible that sort of commitment. We submit ourselves to you this morning to that end, and thank you in Christ's name, Amen.
4. Healing the Land: Lenny Bruce tells a story about a convention of Dodge and Chrysler dealers who held a raffle and gave away a 1958 Catholic church. It's a funny story and just as easily could have been about a Protestant church. The story is a spoof, of course, on the decline of spiritual values in the West. This is what C.S. Lewis calls "the unchristening of the West", the disentangling from spiritual or religious values. Of course, when we cut ourselves loose from God, there inevitably is a decline in society. This is what we are seeing today in the West. Life is becoming less and less worthwhile because we have disconnected ourselves from God. Without a personal, intimate relationship with God, life always declines in value. This is true of nations, and it is true of individuals. Jesus warned us that if we, the people of God, do not take seriously our relationship with God, then eventually society will trample us underfoot. We would be like salt that has lost its taste. The other day I heard someone suggest we build prefabricated churches so the next generation could dismantle them and reassemble them in a form more appropriate to that particular generation.
That instability is what we are seeing in our nation, and it is what Malachi tells us happened to Israel in the fourth century B.C. The Israelites were experiencing a decline in the quality of their life because they had lost the sense of God's immediacy, his personal and intimate love for them. Therefore, because they had no sense of God's love for them, their love for God became cold and mechanical, perfunctory. They were just going through the motions. They had a system of worship, but it was merely formal. Next, that coldness crept into their homes, and so their homes began to break up. Then there was a further degeneration. Whenever homes are affected spiritually and morally. society inevitably begins to feel the effects. There was a great social upheaval in fifth-century Israel which can be traced directly to the Jews' departure from the Lord. They never took him seriously and so the nation declined, until no one took the nation seriously.
In chapter 2, verse 17, through chapter 3, verse 12, Malachi outlines the way of return for the people. Of course, that is our concern, as well. How do you heal a nation? When spiritual values no longer mean anything, when the quality of life has declined as it has in our country, how do you heal that nation? How do you exalt it? In verse 12 of chapter 3, Malachi says, "And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land," says the Lord of hosts.
That was the hope of the prophet, that Israel again would become a delightful land. And our hope, as a nation, is that other nations of the world will call us blessed instead of "the ugly American", and there will be healing in our land. Beginning in chapter 2, verse 17, Malachi outlines for God's people the steps they are to take in order to heal their nation.
"You have wearied the Lord with your words."
God is saying through the prophet, "My patience with mere words is exhausted; it is time for you to do something about the situation, something redemptive." And then he begins to outline what those steps are.
But first, in the rest of verse 17, he calls to their mind two statements of principle, two philosophies, that the Israelites were holding.
"Yet you say, 'How have we wearied Him? In that you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good In the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,' or 'Where is the God of justice?"
Two philosophies prevailed in Israel at that time. One was relativism: they called good evil, and evil good, and said God smiled on both. This belief maintains that it does not matter whether a person's actions are righteous or not. Whatever a person chooses to do, whatever turns him on, whatever feels good, is right; God smiles on our actions, good and bad. Good and bad were relative terms to the Jews. The second philosophy the Jews were holding had to do with an attitude of pessimism. "Where is the God of justice?" the Israelites asked. Inevitably, when law and order break down, people become disillusioned and cynical about life. "Where is the God of justice?" They do not see justice in the land and so they believe that God has abandoned the land and is not acting justly toward them.
Relativism is always the result of a relationship with God that has gone sour because you cannot have morality in the land apart from a relationship with God. Men may attempt to maintain morality without God, and this morality will hold up for a few generations. But inevitably it begins to break down because, apart from God, there is no reason for morality. He is the basis for all morality in a nation. I understand that in Washington D.C., at the Bureau of Weights and Measures, there is a platinum bar on which all of our units of measure are inscribed, from 1/64 of an inch up to a yard. That is the standard for the measurements that we use. Now hardly anyone has seen it, but it is there in the vault (they tell me). Now, suppose through some accident that bar is destroyed or lost. For a few generations we might be able to exist without that standard because we all have measuring devices in our homes that we can use. but after a period of time, if there is no objective standard to appeal to, then we can begin to change those measurements. If I am selling property, I may decide that a yard is really only thirty inches. And if you are buying that property, you may come to me with a yardstick that is 38 inches long. After awhile, the unit of measure becomes whatever I want it to be, because there is no standard. And that is what is happening in our nation. Without God, there is no basis for morality, no objective standard, and so men make the law whatever they want it to be, whatever pleases them, whatever serves their interest.
The other problem is that without a relationship to God, it is impossible for anyone to have the power to measure up to any standard, or to have the desire to do so. The impulse to be righteous and the power to be righteous come from God, not from us. We do not have that capacity. So when you do away with God, you cannot keep the law. After a period of time, you don't want the law because it creates unnecessary stress, it inhibits and frustrates you. So you begin to do away with it by making good evil, and evil good. The law itself can never empower or motivate people; it is a dead instrument. The law may be a good thing, but it cannot empower, it cannot give me the desire to obey it, and therefore I am always two or three steps behind.
The other day I decided I was going to set up some new standards for running our house. Mornings are a disaster around our home. We all go five different directions. One child goes off to kindergarten, another to junior high, another to high school, I go to work, and Carolyn is busy doing other things. Mornings are like an explosion in a mattress factory, with each of us shooting off in a different direction. Last Monday was particularly traumatic; everything fell apart. So I decided things were going to change.
That afternoon I took a 4x6 card and wrote out a series of rules to get us organized. There were ten rules, if that is at all symbolic. When I got home, I stuck my 4x6 card on the shaving mirror and thought, "Now, tomorrow morning when I get up, I'll see my rules and I'll go down the list and get everybody organized." Tuesday morning I woke up. walked into the bathroom, and looked at my shaving mirror. I felt good; this was the morning we were going to get organized! I looked at my first rule. It was, "Get everybody organized the night before." It really was! I just had to laugh, because that is the problem with the law. You are always a dollar short and a day late. You never catch up. When Carolyn came into the bathroom and I told her what I had done, she just laughed. She said, "That's all right; we'll just try again. We'll start now." She did not say, "You dodo, what do you think you're doing?" There was an atmosphere of love and support and encouragement that made me want to try again. But apart from that climate of acceptance, the law is dead, it is frustrating, it cannot work. You see, that is the problem when you do away with God in a nation. The law doesn't mean anything, it doesn't work. You may hang onto it for a generation or two, but eventually the law begins to break down. There is no desire or power to keep it. Without a God, why bother to keep it? People begin to think maybe there really is no such thing as law, anyway, and man is free to do what he wishes.
Inevitably the situation gives rise to the second question, "Where is the God of justice?" As morality breaks down, people run amok and do what they please. Eventually this immorality creeps into the legal system of the nation and courts become corrupt and unjust, and men cry out, "Where's the God of justice? Why doesn't he do something?" Interesting, is it not? We box ourselves in, we create our own problems, then we blame God. We do that as a nation; we do that as individuals. I have often thought we could retell the story of the prodigal son, in which the young man takes everything that the father gives him and uses it for himself. He takes all the resources that are his, uses them for his own self-interest, and ends up destroying his life. There he sits in the pigpen, saying, "One thing I will never do is go back to my father's house because it's all his fault!" Basically, that is what we do. We say that it's God's fault our nation is in such a mess! People are saying, "God is not just." He didn't create the problem, but they blame him. If you know anything at all about the character of God, you know that he does not write people off because they have rejected him; he acts in redemptive, constructive ways. And that is what he does here. He proceeds in chapter 3, verse 1, to give the Israelites the solution to this situation within their nation.
"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me."
Literally, he says, Here am I, sending my messenger. You think God doesn't know what's happening and you're blaming him for being unjust. But here I am, sending my messenger.
"And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple..."
That has an ominous ring! He is going to appear suddenly, unexpectedly. At a time when you least expect it. He is coming.
"...and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, he is coming," says the Lord of hosts.
The Lord is coming. That is always the solution to any problem in a nation. God is coming; he is going to do something to change things. This morning I was having breakfast at a restaurant along El Camino and there were a number of men seated at the counter eating breakfast. They had been reading the Sunday paper and started talking about the Big Game. They all were bad-mouthing the Stanford team and coaches; they had a very negative attitude. To my surprise, who should come walking in the door but Jack Christianson, the head coach at Stanford. I thought, "Now this is going to be interesting!" This was the sort of moment that you dream about. He came in and sat down and you would be amazed at the change in the conversation! Those men were so solicitous, so concerned. I could not help but think, "What a change there will be when God turns up!" Things are going to change. He is going to put things right. This is the hope that the world has. This is the only thing that is going to change things, the presence of God on the scene.
There is an interesting parallel passage dealing with injustice in the New Testament, in James 5.
Four hundred and fifty years after Malachi wrote, there was still the same sort of injustice. James 5 says,
"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth."
This is the same term that Malachi uses so frequently, "the Lord of hosts." The Lord is in charge, he hears the cries of the oppressed. The oppressors think that they are going to get away with injustice, but the Lord hears. The passage continues, "You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter:" That is an interesting metaphor. I used to raise pigs, and we would put them in a pen and force-feed them to prepare them for market.
I used to stand there and watch those pigs eating. They would just get fatter and fatter, and I would think, "You stupid pigs! If you just knew what was coming! You're just fattening yourselves for the day of slaughter." And this is James' meaning here.The passage in James concludes, "You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. Be patient, therefore, brethren [the oppressed brethren], until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand." The only thing that will set this world right is the coming of the Lord. And James says to those who are oppressed, "Wait, be patient." He does not say to rise up and overthrow the oppressors. I do not see that anywhere in the Scriptures. There may be occasions when Christians have to act on behalf of others who are being oppressed, but the word to the oppressed is, "Wait. God is going to set things right. He is coming." This is Malachi's word. Every man is going to have to confront God. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus and asked, "Are you the coming one? Are you the one we should look for?" he was referring to this passage in Malachi.
Now the interesting thing about this section is that the coming, as described by Malachi, refers not merely to the second coming, when the Lord comes in judgment, but also to the first coming. Two messengers also are mentioned. The first, who is the forerunner, is certainly John the Baptist. Jesus, quoting this very passage in Malachi, said it referred to John the Baptist. So the messenger who precedes the Lord is John the Baptist. Then there is the messenger of the covenant, the Messiah. This is a reference to his first coming and it tells us something of our Lord's attitude toward injustice. He will do something; but he is patient, he waits. He comes first in grace and mercy, in a redemptive way, and he waits for people to respond. Only when men have so hardened their hearts that they are totally unresponsive, will he act in judgment. But first he sends the messenger of the covenant, which is the new covenant. He reminds them that God has promised to write the law on their hearts, to forgive them all of their sin, and to provide all that they need to be the kind of people that God desires them to be. That is the first message. It is only after that message has been rejected that judgment, in any final sense, takes place.
Helmut Thielicke, a wonderful old theologian and Bible teacher, was at Mount Hermon a few years ago at a college conference. Someone asked him what he would say to the Lord when he saw him. Dr. Thielicke's face broke into a smile and he said, "When I see him, I'll say, 'I thought you meant what you said.' " He is coming. He means what he is saying. In chapter 3, verse 2, Malachi goes on to say that there is another coming, and that this coming is one of judgment.
"But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand [his ground] when He appears? For He is like a refiner's tire and like fullers' soap."
You can hardly read those words without thinking of that section in Handel's Messiah, where this refrain is repeated over and over: "And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me," says the Lord of hosts." God says, "First I am going to judge the Levites. The Levites were the priests, the teachers of Israel, the ones mentioned earlier in Malachi. They were not teaching the law and they had turned from God. Since the people reflected the priests' spirit, the Levites were especially responsible for Israel's moral decline. God said, "I am going to deal with the Levites." And I am sure there were many in Israel who said, "It's about time! Those corrupt, lecherous old men! We hope you do them in because they deserve it. Look what they've done with their liberalism and their lack of appreciation for the Scriptures. They've corrupted our children. They're responsible."
But Malachi says that when God judges, he will not judge the Levites alone; he will judge all the people. The people said, "Where's the God of justice?
When is God going to act in justice? Why doesn't he set things right?" Malachi says, "He will. But when he judges, he will do so right across the board. He will not deal just with the sins of the Levites; he is going to deal with every sin." Now that ought to strike a responsive chord in our hearts. I know I have the same spirit as the people in Malachi's day. I want God to deal with sin over there, but I am not willing to let God deal with sin right here. And that is what God is after. If God is going to be just, he has to deal with us all.
In the story of David and Nathan, the prophet Nathan came and told David about a rich man who had enormous flocks of sheep. This man held a party, and instead of taking one of his own sheep for the feast, he took his servant's only lamb, a pet lamb, and killed it. David was incensed; he blew his cork! Now stealing sheep is not a capital offense, not even in Israel, but David said that man ought to die. And Nathan said, "You are that man."
Then it was a different story. We want to judge people out there; but God says, "Do you really want judgment? When I judge, it will be right across the board. Or would you rather have me deal in mercy?" That helps me to see why God tarries, why he delays, why he does not judge sin now. I read the paper and, like you, I am shocked at the things that God allows to go on.
And God looks at my life and says, "I'm allowing some of the same things to go on in your life, too, because I'm merciful. Do you really want me to judge?.
One of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis is Till We Have Faces. There is a great line in the section where the old queen is about to die. She is going off to meet the gods. She is told, as she dies, "Do not expect justice from the gods." She says, "Oh, then, are the gods not just?" The answer is, "Oh, no, my child; what would become of us if they were?" If God suddenly decided to act in justice instead of mercy, every time I drove forty miles an hour down Middlefield Road, my right foot would shrivel up. Every time I said something cutting and caustic, my tongue would drop off. But God is not dealing with us according to justice; he is dealing with us according to mercy. Our problem is, we are too selective in our concept of justice.
Malachi 3, verse 5, tells of the coming judgment.
"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me," says the Lord of hosts.
For a long time, some of the more radical elements in our nation have pointed out the same things that are mentioned here, such as "those who swear falsely". There is injustice in our courts. We can agree. When the radicals talk about the oppression of the wage earner, or certain minority groups, Third World people, women, and others, we can agree. But Malachi says you are far too selective when you talk about social injustice. Why not talk about sorcery and adultery while you are at it? Because those things are just as destructive to society as the oppression of the worker. Let us deal with everything that destroys society: lies, every form of sexual perversion, etc. When God comes, he is going to judge right across the board. But do you notice this clear-cut statement of his motive in this passage? When God judges, he judges in a redemptive fashion. He is not interested in merely blotting people off the face of the earth. He is going to purify the sons of Levi, he will smelt them like gold. He will withhold judgment and work in their lives. Eventually he will judge, but that judgment is intended to be redemptive; it will restore.
Finally, in verses 6-12, he calls for repentance.
"For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."
Literally, the passage reads, "For I, the Lord, do not change; and you, the sons of Jacob, do not cease." He says, in effect, "I am the Lord, and I always act like the Lord. I never change. You are the sons of Jacob, and you never stop acting like the sons of Jacob." Does that ever hit home to me! If ever there was a son of Jacob, I am one. Jacob was the supplanter, the one who deceived, the distrustful one. God says, "From time immemorial I have acted like God; I have never acted in any other way than you would expect God to act. And you have never acted other than as a son of Jacob: deceitful, treacherous, crooked." That is why he says in verse 7,
"From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes, and have not kept them."
At that point, you would expect God to say, "I'm through. I've had it. I wash my hands of you people; get lost." But he does not say that. He says, "Return to Me, and I will return to you." says the Lord of hosts. That is always his offer. As long as there is life in our bodies we have not gone too far.
"But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed Thee?' In tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me in this," says the Lord of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes," says the Lord of hosts. "And all the nations shall call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land," says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi gets very specific. If you want to stop injustice in the land, then stop being unjust yourself. Wherever you are oppressing people, stop it. Wherever you are being unrighteous in a relationship to a neighbor or a friend or a husband or a wife or a child, stop it, C.S. Lewis says that of all the people in the world, there is really only one you can do very much about, and that is you. I am not really responsible for anyone else's moral actions; I am responsible for my own. And if I want to set things right in my nation, if I want to stay the hand of God in judgment of my nation, Malachi says I should stop being unjust.
The specific thing that he points to is our unwillingness to provide for the needs of the poor. Let me just briefly give you some background to this section. The Jews had a very interesting way of looking at their land. They always knew it did not belong to them; it belonged to the King. Not their human king, but the Lord. That was very unusual, for throughout the ancient Near East, the kings normally owned the land. In Egypt, the land belonged to Pharaoh. In Mesopotamia, the land belonged to the king. If anyone had any private ownership of land at all, it was because the king had set up a kind of feudal system, similar to that in Medieval Europe, where land would be granted for services to the king. The land did not belong to the person, although the rights could be passed on from one generation to the next. But the land was always owned by the king. In Israel, however, the king never held the land; the Lord did. This is clear throughout the Old Testament.
Isaiah refers to "Emmanuel's land". It was the Lord who conquered the land and gave it to the people. The land belonged to him, and therefore their property rights were limited. There were certain things they could not do.
They could not exploit the land. They could till it, and serve it, but it belonged to him. Neither could they use the land merely for their own self-interest. Basically it belonged to all the people. When they reaped the field, they left a corner untouched, so that the poor could glean in that corner. And regularly they brought a tithe into the storage-houses located in cities all over Palestine. It was from that tithe that the poor could eat. God says, "You are robbing me. You are ripping me off, because you're not bringing that tithe into the storage houses and the poor are in need. You are so preoccupied with feeding your own belly and providing for your own need and acquiring more land, that you're forgetting the needs of others around you." He puts his finger right on that problem and in a very specific way he says, "Stop oppressing the poor, and start obeying me right here."
There are all sorts of applications of that principle we can make. Wherever we have offended our neighbor or friend, or are sinning against anyone in our nation, we need to make things right. Start with whatever needs to be done in reparation. I will never forget the story that Watchman Nee tells about the Christian man who had a rice field on the side of a hill. These farms were terraced with dikes so they could be flooded and kept moist.
This man had a neighbor just below him who would wait until the man had watered his rice field, then he would break a hole in the dike, and the water would flow downhill into his rice field. Every day this farmer would have to carry water up this hill to water his field, and it was very difficult, time-consuming, exhausting labor. And every day his neighbor would break the dike in order to water his field just below. The farmer became filled with bitterness against his neighbor, and understandably so, until the body of believers in his area got together and began to work with him, to encourage him to act righteously toward his neighbor. Eventually this man began to fill his neighbor's field first, and then his own. And the result was healing. Now that sort of love comes only from God. But that is the sort of action that Malachi says will heal a nation. I cannot merely point my finger at the people in Washington D.C.; I have to point my finger at me. I have to be righteous in my own relationships with my neighbors. And it is that righteousness, Malachi says, that will exalt a nation.
Father, you have exhorted us to pray for those in positions of authority, that we might have the freedom to live godly lives. You are not willing that any should perish, but that all should have the truth and come to repentance. We recognize that when we, as believers, act in responsible and righteous ways, then truth can go forth, the gospel can be proclaimed with power, and our nation can be changed. Correct in all of us, Father, the tendency to point at others. Help us to deal with injustice in our own lives, wherever we have failed to act according to the truth. We all have failed, Father. We thank you for your grace and forgiveness extended to us, and the power to begin to change, in very specific ways, our responses toward those that we have wronged. We thank you for all these things, in Christ's name, Amen.
5. The Rising of the Son: This section in the book of Malachi we want to look at now begins in verse 13 of chapter 3. It is unfortunate that in our English Bibles there is a chapter division after verse 18, because it certainly does not belong there. The Hebrew Bible has always omitted that chapter division, and it is obvious that the six verses of chapter 4 are an argument based on what precedes it. So the division should not be there; this is one unit of thought, beginning with verse 13, through chapter 4, verse 6. In this final section, Malachi is contrasting two types of people. Let us begin with chapter 3, verses 13 through 18.
"Your words have been arrogant against Me," says the Lord. "Yet you say, 'What have we spoken against Thee?' You have said, 'It is in vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts? So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.'
"Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. "And they will be Mine," says the Lord of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him."
It is not apparent from our translations, but Malachi's reasoning revolves around the word "spoken," or "spoke." It occurs twice, first in verse 13, and again in verse 16. The form of the verb means "to speak to one another, to carry on a conversation." It is akin to our modern day term, "to rap." I do not know the origin of that term, but I suspect it comes from the word "rapport." You have an affinity for the person you are rapping with. The term "to rap" came out of the student rhetoric of the Sixties and has found its way into our vernacular today. It is a very apt term to describe the sort of conversation that we can have with certain people who understand what we are saying and who agree with it. I believe that is what Malachi means when he uses the word "spoke" here.
Malachi says there were two classes of people speaking together. There is another occurrence of this term "speaking together" in the book of Ezekiel. Some of the people of Israel standing alongside walls and "talking together" about the prophet. In that particular situation they were hostile toward the prophet, but they were acting as though they were hearing his words. The Lord told Ezekiel, "You will be to them as one who sings or plays well on an instrument, for they will hear your words but they will not do them." Malachi refers to a group of people who were gathering together to talk, to rap about the things of God, but they were betraying a certain attitude. They shared this attitude and it was the basis for the affinity they had for one another. On the other hand, there was another group of people with an entirely different attitude who were meeting to talk. Both groups were talking about the things of God, but their speech betrayed something about their hearts, and the condition of their hearts in relationship to God.
Those in the first group are described as saying, "It is vain to serve God. It is profitless, empty, to serve him. What profit is it that we have kept His charge and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts?" We have referred to the spirit of Judah during this time. The Israelites were looking at their circumstances and feeling that because their circumstances were grim, God had forsaken them. They looked at Israel and the nation and concluded that the righteous suffered and the wicked flourished. Now that is nothing new. You can find that attitude wherever you find people talking. Even David comments in one of his psalms that it seems that the wicked flourish and the righteous are suppressed, inhibited, and frustrated. I used to think that attitude was a distorted view caused by our own suffering. But, for a number of reasons that we will not have time to discuss this morning, I have come to believe that it actually is true that externally, superficially, the wicked seem to have things much better than the righteous. The righteous always seem to get the dregs. As we saw in the first chapter of Malachi, God's love for us is not demonstrated by our circumstances, but, rather, by our destiny. God is at work in our life-not to make life easy for us, but to make us men and women in the full sense of the word, to enable us to grow to maturity. Circumstances may be grim indeed, but we do not look at the circumstances and say, "God doesn't love us"; we look at the purpose God has in mind. It is our destiny that demonstrates the love of God. But there were some in Israel who were reasoning from their circumstances that God had rejected them. This group arrived at the conclusion found in verse 15,
"So now we will call the arrogant blessed."
It is much better to be arrogant, much better to thumb your nose at God, for life is certainly much easier if you do. You can keep God at arms' length and prosper, so why not defy him? Again, that is nothing new. That spirit is one that pervades our age as well. It is the arrogant who get what they want; it is the arrogant who succeed. Those who have no time or use for God seem to have things well in hand, under control. That was one attitude that was prevalent in Judah, as we have seen throughout the book. There were many who sided with that particular point of view because their circumstances were so stressful. They said, "God has forgotten us, so let's forget God."
But on the other hand, Malachi describes some who feared the Lord. They rapped together, "and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name." First, a word about their character, and then a word about their conduct. Their character is described as "those who feared the Lord". Now, fear is not used in the sense of anxiety or dread, a craven sort of fear; fear involves reverence. Despite appearances, Malachi says there were some who still gave God the worship that was due him. They did not look at their circumstances, but rather they looked at what God had revealed about himself, and they gave him the sort of honor and respect and reverence that was due him. Who today gives God the sort of worship and honor that is due him? But Malachi says there were some who did then. In contrast to the climate of their day, they gathered together to encourage one another and to support one another, and to build up one another in that attitude. That attitude is impossible to maintain apart from association with other believers. When you are in a cold, dead climate where no one has use for God, how easy it is to pick up that attitude. It may take a long time. The development of that attitude is so slow that we do not always realize what is happening until we begin to pick up the coldness, the indifference to spiritual things, from the world around us. This is why it was so essential that these people talked together, to reinforce one another. This was a fifth-century B.C. application of Body Life. They met to build up one another, to be supportive and encouraging. Then they could go into a cold and loveless world and live out the life of God.
Because these people met to talk together about the things of God, Malachi says certain things were true. "A book of remembrance was written before God." That is a wonderful figure taken from the culture of that day. Oriental kings kept a register of people who were loyal to the throne. Come to think of it, that is true of our day, too! There is an example of this in the book of Esther. When Xerxes the king had a sleepless night, he called for the book of records to be brought to him. He read that in one instance Mordecai had delivered him by alerting the palace guards to a plot against his life. So he rewarded Mordecai. This is the figure that Malachi is using. Now it is merely a figure. God does not have ledgers that he has to refer to in order to remember you. God never forgets you. The only thing he forgets about you is your sin. But what a beautiful symbol this is of the memory God has of those that are his. Those that gather are written in a book, not merely because they gather, but because of their attitude. In the midst of all the moral and spiritual decline of that day, they feared God. There were some who met together and gave praise and honor and worship to God, and God hearkened to them and their names were written down in this book. He will never forget them. And it says in verse 17, "They will be Mine." A heavy emphasis is put on the word "mine".
"And they will be Mine," says the Lord of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him."
The King James translation of this verse says, "They will be mine on the day that I make up my jewels." That translation is not bad, because the word "possession" means "a valued treasure." "They're mine," God says. "I treasure them." This is the term that is translated in the New Testament by both Peter and Paul as "a unique possession". We are God's own people, we belong to him. Are you aware of that? You are God's possession. If in your heart you fear (in the proper sense) the Lord Jesus Christ, if you love him, if you have given your heart to him, you are his possession. You are his precious jewel and he will never let you go. You are secure in that relationship. In John 10 Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice, and I know them and they follow me; I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of the Father's hand." He uses the double negative, which is bad English, but good Greek. "They shall not never perish." He goes on to say in the next verse, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand." So there is a double protection. We are in the Son's hand, and the Father's hand envelops the Son's hand. That means we cannot take ourselves out of the Father's hand if we truly belong to him. Once Christ becomes Lord in our life, we are his possession, and God will see to it that we live like his possession. This is not to say that we can't acknowledge Christ as Lord in some superficial way and then live our life the way we want to. But what the Bible does teach is that when Christ genuinely is Lord, and we are living out the life of God, we will demonstrate that relationship. We will begin to act like sons of God. God will see to it that we behave, and he will hold us to the end. We are his possession.
There is a marvelous illustration of this security in the Old Testament in the life of Abraham. God actually wrote a contract with Abraham. He said, "I will bless you, I will make your name great; through you I'll produce a seed that will bless the entire world." He promised him a land, and then he put him to sleep so that he could not even sign the covenant. God signed it; Abraham had nothing to do with it. Abraham and all his descendants would be the possession of God. But in chapter 22, when Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, as he came down the mountain from that place of sacrifice, God said to Abraham, "Because you have done this thing, I will bless you." In that instance, God's covenant seems to be conditioned upon Abraham's obedience. In the first instance, it is conditioned upon God's faithfulness; in the second, upon Abraham's faithfulness. I believe what God is saying is this: God had purposed to fulfill in Abraham his promise, and he would see to it that Abraham himself would fulfill the terms of that contract. It was not even up to Abraham; it was God's work. Ephesians 2:10 says, "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." You are secure, you are his possession. No one can take you out of his hand if you truly belong to him.
Malachi begins this section with the distinction between those who truly belong to God and those who do not. There are some people who do not fear the Lord, and they support one another in their conversation; and there is another group of people who do fear the Lord. That is the basic distinction-unobservable, but fundamental. There is no way you can look at a person and tell which group he belongs to. We do not wear fish stickers on our foreheads. But God makes the distinction. He sees the heart. He knows, and he writes the book. You cannot look at a person's circumstances and say, "My, that person must know God because he's blessed." Or, "Obviously this other person does not know God because he's not blessed."
When you look at circumstances, you see the righteous suffering and the unrighteous flourishing. So there is no way to make that distinction superficially; it is an attitude of the heart. The issue is: Do you fear God, or not? In truth, we all need to fear him. We may not recognize it. We may believe that in ourselves we are adequate to face life. But right down at the level where every one of us bleeds, we are all beggars, we all have needs. I thought of a children's poem last week that I had not thought of for years. It goes,
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark!
Beggars are coming to town:
Some in rags, and some in tags,
And some in velvet gown.
That is true. Some of us obviously are beggars. We look like it-the poor in spirit. Others are not; they seem very confident, able to handle any situation. Yet, at the most fundamental level of life, we are all beggars. Whether we are in rags or in velvet gown, we need God. Malachi says this is where you begin. You acknowledge that you need God. "Lord Jesus, help me. I need you. I want you to be Lord. I need a Lord to run my life. I can't run my life any longer. I make the most disastrous kind of lord possible. I need another Lord." And with that fundamental attitude, our relationship to God changes. We are taken, as Paul says, "from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light." We are written into God's book. Our circumstances may not change. They may even become more difficult; but we are given the life of God that enables us to cope with those circumstances. That is the internal distinction that Malachi makes.
But, Malachi says, a day is coming when the distinction will be made on another basis, one that will be observable. That prophecy is found in chapter 4, verses 1 through 3.
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the Lord of hosts, "so that it will leave neither root nor branch."
This is the passage John the Baptist refers to in his ministry when he says to the Pharisees, "The ax is laid to the root of the tree and it will be cut down and thrown into the fire." And they knew what he was talking about. It is always so impressive to me that Jesus and the apostles were not just speaking out of a vacuum. Practically everything they said was rooted in the Old Testament. They knew and loved the Old Testament; they had confidence in it. It was the basis of their ministry. If you look at John the Baptist's ministry, you'll see that much of what he says and does is rooted in the book of Malachi, because he saw himself predicted in this book. Verse 2,
"But for you who fear My name [here is the second class of people, again] the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings [or rays; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall."
This is a very colorful figure. If you have ever been on a farm, you know how a stalled calf acts when you open the gate. It leaps about in the open field as it experiences its freedom.
"And you will tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing," says the Lord of hosts.
This is not necessarily true now. Maybe in a spiritual sense we can experience the same sort of victory over our circumstances, over various enemies of the soul. But this verse is looking forward to the time when the sons of God come into their own and experience this fully, in the complete sense that God has in mind, at the Second Coming, which Malachi describes here as the day of the Lord. This is the time when God has his say. We have our day now, but God's day is coming. God is not trying to run the world right now, although he could, if he so chose. As we saw last week, he is acting now in grace and mercy and patience, not willing that any should perish. But the time is coming when he will say, "Enough! It is time for my day!"
Throughout the past there have been what people have described as "reddening of the horizon," such as the destruction of Jerusalem, twice, and other prefiguring of the day of the Lord. But the day of the Lord is coming, in its full sense, when Jesus comes again. Note how it is described-like the sun coming up. And for one class of people, those who do not fear his name, it will be a threat. It will be like a furnace, like the desert sun that burns up the dry shrubs. On the other hand, for those who look for his coming, who fear his name, who love him, it will be "the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings," with the warmth and restorative powers of the sun. Now again, the distinction is made according to attitude, not actions or performance. And at that time, Malachi says, the difference, the distinctions, will become obvious. The internal will become external.
In verses 4 through 6, Malachi brings the book to a close. And, in so doing, brings the Old Testament to a close. In the Jewish Bible the book of Malachi is not last, the books of the Chronicles are. But the Jews knew that Malachi was the last prophet. They were very clear about this. There were no prophets after Malachi. The books of the Maccabees were written in the period between the writing of Malachi and the time when Jesus came, and they refer to the fact that there were no prophets in Israel. There is one very interesting account about the altar. The altar had been defiled and they did not know what to do with it. So they dismantled it and put it over to one side of the temple and said, in the first book of the Maccabees, "We will wait until a prophet comes, who will tell us what to do." They knew there was no prophet in Israel. In verse 4, Malachi tells the people that a prophet is coming, and they are to await his coming.
"Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse."
This is God's last word before the coming of Jesus, who was himself the last word. And in these final words of instruction to his people, he tells us two things that are extremely important. First, Malachi says, "Remember the law." He does not say to keep the law, but to remember the law. That is the phrase that occurs a number of times in Deuteronomy. Malachi reminds the Israelites in a very subtle way what the law is like. It is associated with Horeb (Mt. Sinai) and with Moses and it contains statutes and judgments. What he wants them to remember is the terror of the law. Hebrews says that when Moses went to the mountain he was filled with fear and dread. If an animal touched the mountain where the law was given, it was to be stoned. That is the nature of the law-awesome, frightening--because it is a display of the character of God. And who of us can stand before the character of God? There is nothing sinful about the law, there is nothing wrong with it. The New Testament tells us in no uncertain terms that the law is good and righteous. It is a codification of the character of God, a statement of all that God is, and therefore there can be nothing evil about the law. The problem with the law is us, me. I cannot keep the law. Whenever I see the demands of the law, it is frustrating. It calls forth my own inadequacy. It calls forth an attempt to act on my own strength, and the result is always failure. And so whenever I remember the law, it is frustrating to me. I cannot cope with the law. And yet, that is where Malachi begins the last section of this book, "Remember the law." But that is not where he leaves us. He says in verse 5,
"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord."
The first word is, "Remember the law;" the second word is, "Wait for the prophet." Somehow the prophet would solve the dilemma that the law created.
And the prophet, we know, is John the Baptist. There is no question about that. John the Baptist himself refers to the book of Malachi, to the reference that we saw earlier, to describe his own ministry. When the angel announced to John's father, Zechariah, the nature of the child's ministry, he was told that he would come "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Then, in Matthew 17, after the transfiguration, the apostles ask Jesus, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus answered and said, "Elijah is coming, and will restore all things..." He was speaking from the standpoint of Malachi's prophecy, which said the prophet was coming. "...but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist, who had been beheaded. So Jesus identified the ministry of the prophet Elijah with John the Baptist. He was the forerunner. Malachi says, "Remember the law; wait for the prophet who will solve the problem of the law," because this prophet will do a remarkable thing (verse 6),
"And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come, and smite the land with a curse."
Notice that he does not say, "Keep the law or I'll curse the land." Nor does he say, "The prophet must come, or I'll curse the land." What he says is, "Your hearts must be changed, or I'll curse the land." The hearts of the fathers must be turned to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. That is, the generation gap must be breached. What greater evidence of a change of heart could there be than that fathers should understand their sons? For a couple of years, I have had some teenagers around my house. They are difficult to understand. I can readily understand why some of you, who have had teenagers around for a longer period of time than I, have found them very difficult to understand. Malachi says the time is coming when you will understand your children, when you will accept them and love them. And what is more, your sons will respond to your love. They will not fight your authority; they will love you. You will have their hearts. And nothing but a radical change of heart could explain that. In literary terms, what Malachi is doing is called synecdoche, using one part to describe the whole, one illustration to describe a greater truth. Prophets often do this. Zechariah describes the same change of heart that will occur during the time when Jesus is King. He says children will play in the streets. No one will run them down in chariots, or cars, or whatever. I suppose that in Zechariah's day people drove their chariots through school zones at fifty miles per hour, too. Zechariah says hearts have to be changed, and this will be the evidence of that change: children will be able to play in the streets.
Malachi says the same thing: the only solution is a change of heart. You can remember the law, but the law will never save you; it will only curse you. Await the prophet who will announce the message that will change your heart. John the Baptist announced, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." You see, that was his function, to point to Jesus. That is the function of all prophets. Only Jesus can change a heart. It is Jesus in our life that makes the distinction that we talked about earlier. The distinction is not necessarily obvious today. You may know Jesus as Lord, and your circumstances may be just as difficult, or more so, than when you came to know him. And you may not know him, and your life may be very satisfying, very easy and smooth. What God sees now is your attitude. And if you honor him, if you have made him Lord in your life, then God does give you, right now, all of his resources, all of his assets, to help you face those circumstances But from an outward standpoint, a person may not be able to look at you and say, "That person belongs to God." You will know it, and God will know that you are his possession, but no one else may know it.
On the other hand, Malachi says, there are those who do not fear God. It may not be obvious today, but the time is coming when the day will dawn and the sun of righteousness will rise. He will be to us either a threat, someone before whom we are ashamed, or he will be the One we have been looking for. When Helmut Thielicke, the wonderful old German Bible teacher and theologian, was here some years ago, he spoke to a group of students on the Second Coming. They asked him a good question, "What will be your response to the Lord when you see him?" He said, "My Lord has told me that he's coming. And when I see him, I will say, 'I thought you meant what you said!' "He is coming, and that day will declare the condition of our heart. But we do not have to wait for that day. That is the day when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The issue is not debatable then. But we can bend the knee now. If you never have let Christ into your life, never asked him to be Lord of your life, this may be the time. It may be that you have been living your life on your own, that you have known him in some superficial way, but he has never really been Lord, in that final and absolute sense. He has never been King. Perhaps this is the morning to make that decision. This is something that no one can detect from the outside; this is a transaction between you and God alone, something that can take place in the quietness of your own heart, when you say, "Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into the world to be my Lord. I want you to take my life and do with it as you please." And he will come in.
Father, your Word tells us that "eyes have not seen, nor have ears heard the things that you have prepared for those that love you." We thank you that today you have prepared for us a special kind of life, a life of adequacy that we can experience now. We thank you, Father, that you are to us, even now, the sun of righteousness, who gives life. We thank you that you are our Lord. We thank you in Christ's name, Amen.
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