40. A Dreadful Day

Meditations in Malachi : 40. A Dreadful Day

Mal 4:5,6   “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” 

I suspect so much of what I said in the previous meditation went against so much of traditional (and, I believe, unsatisfactory) interpretations of these verses, and it may be wise, therefore, to recap some of the key things we said, or implied, in that previous meditation.

First of all there is our spiteful nature versus God’s gracious nature. Like James and John (Lk9:54) we would like to call fire down on people we don’t like and specifically on evil doers. We see specific instances where God did deal violently with enemies in the Old Testament but, I would suggest, these were primitive times of limited revelation. When we come to the New Testament, with a much fuller revelation brought by the Son of God himself, we find very little of this. Yes, Ananias and Sapphira were taken to glory prematurely (Acts 5) to bring a sense of holiness to the new church, and yes, members of the church at Corinth were dying prematurely for their unholy behaviour (1 Cor 11) and yes, Herod died from worms (Acts 12;23), but these are rare instances to restore the sense of the holiness of God among His people. For the vast majority of the time God did NOT bring physical judgment and indeed Jesus spoke against such an interpretation in the case of a major catastrophe (Lk13:14). Yes, Jesus did warn the people that they would perish if they did not repent, but there is no suggestion that that would be immediate rather than in eternity, which is the usual teaching.

Second, there is the question of what I have simply referred to as picturesque prophetic language, language that is very graphic. As I sought to show in the case of John the Baptist being the fulfilment of the word at the end of this little book, I believe the effect of the word of God bringing conviction and repentance can easily be seen as the fulfilment of the very graphic language that comes through the prophets. Many of the things in respect of Jesus were fulfilled literally, but actually much of the prophetic language about the Messiah was sufficiently obscure as to create at least two different schools of interpretation about the nature of the Messiah.

Third, to recap what we said about the two messengers implied in these prophecies, the fulfilment has surely got to be first John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for Jesus, by softening or convicting the hearts of the people so they repented and turned back to God. That left Jesus able to come to his people to simply explain the Father’s love and then act as the Lamb of God who would earn our salvation.

Now, having cleared those things out of the way, we need to face something that we have not yet commented upon, which is the description of what was going to happen in our verses we’ve had before us in these last two meditations in this series. Observe: See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” Elijah (John) is going to come BEFORE “the day” that has been referred to again and again, the day when God will come Himself. Note two descriptions of that day. First it is ‘great’ and second, it is ‘dreadful’. Now I would like to suggest to you that the interpretation of this is incredibly simple.

First can we understand that this ‘day’ is not a twenty four hour day, but a specific period in history designated by God?  It was in fact a thirty three year period. First it is a ‘great’ day because never before had God come to dwell on earth. This fact is, of course, the thing that many people stumble over – that Jesus was God in the flesh, but that is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Moreover that he was God who had come down from heaven where he had existed before his existence on earth (Check out Jn 6:33,41,51, 17:5). Never before has such a wonderful thing happened. For those who were privileged to live there in that period, they were witnesses. As Jesus said of his own ministry, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)  That was indeed a great day!

But then, at the end of it, the world rejected him and hung him on a Cross and watched him die in the most horrible way possible. We see the reality of what could have happened through Jesus’ own words to his disciples in the Gardenof Gethsemane: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53). One word from the Father and the earth could have been obliterated. Instead the Father stood back and watched as the plan of the Godhead, created before the world began, was taken step by ghastly step to its fulfilment – and the Son died for our sins while the hoards of hell railed against him (see prophetic Psa 22). This was indeed a ‘dreadful’ day! Dreadful not because destruction fell on the earth, but dreadful because of the terrible thing humanity did to the Son of God.

Oh, yes, this was indeed a great and dreadful day (period). Ponder on the wonder of it and the awfulness of it, and give thanks to God for His mercy and grace. The word WAS fulfilled perfectly. Thank you Malachi.  Amen.

39. The Messenger

Meditations in Malachi : 39.  Work of the Messenger

Mal 4:5,6   “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

And so we come to the closing words of this little book. At the beginning of chapter 3 we read, See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:1) It appeared a double warning, first that the Lord would send a messenger to prepare His way, and then, second, that He Himself would come. Yet again now, there is a reference to the day when the Lord comes. We’ve already had reference to the day of his coming” (Mal 3:2) and the day when I make up my treasured possession,” (Mal 3:17) and the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace,” (Mal 4:1a) and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” (4:1b) and “on the day when I do these things,” (Mal 4:3) and “that great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Mal 4:5)  i.e. six times there is reference to a specific day or specific time when the Lord is coming. The Lord wants to leave us in no doubt about this: He is coming at a specific time go do something quite specific.

Now let’s recap this and see again what it said would happen on that “day”. First, “he will be like a refiner’s fire.” (Mal 3:2) Next, He will gather the faithful remnant and “make up my treasured possession.” (Mal 3:17) Then again, “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble,” (Mal 4:1) but the faithful remnant “will go out and leap like calves released from the stall,” (Mal 4:2) AND they will, “trample down the wicked.” (Mal 4:3). Finally the Lord will “send you the prophet Elijah.” (Mal 4:5) Now note the order of that in table form:

1 3:2 Come like a refining fire.
2 3:17 Faithful gathered to the Lord
3 4:1 Evil doers burnt up
4 4:2 Faithful jump with joy
5 4:3 Faithful trample the wicked
6 4:5 The prophet comes to do it all

Now you might initially disagree with my 6th description that Elijah comes to bring about the other five descriptions, because two of them speak about a refining fire where evil doers are burnt up.  Of course Isaiah had also spoken of a messenger who would come to prepare the way for God to come (Isa 40:3-5) which the Gospel writers picked up on (Mt 3:3, Mk 1:2,3. Lk 3:4-6) but it is very similar language of preparation as is found here.

The work of the messenger was to bring conviction of sin to bring about repentance. When James and John wanted to call down fire on some Samaritans who rejected Jesus, Jesus rebuked them. (Lk 9:54,55) He had come had come to save their souls not destroy them physically – but salvation comes when sin is rejected and repentance brings about a destruction of an unrighteous life. As the apostle Paul was later to write, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). Elsewhere he wrote, “We died to sin… our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Rom 6:2,6,7)

So yes, unrighteousness and evil are burned up by the fire of the word of God. As the Spirit takes the word and applies it, conviction comes and repentance follows and we die to the old life and are born again to a new life. So often, prophetic picturesque language of the Old Testament has a spiritual fulfilment in the New Testament. The purpose of the ‘Elijah figure’ – John the Baptist – was to bring the word of God to bring repentance in preparation for receiving the Messiah-Son of God, and through him salvation that comes in the form of the new birth.

When Jesus was questioned, referring to John the Baptist, we find, “Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” (Mt 17:11-13) So, yes, Jesus clearly considered John was the coming Elijah, the prophet to prepare the people. What more was said?

 “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  Clever language! Turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, simply means in the process of bringing conviction and repentance, the fathers or adults are brought to a place of child-like simple faith in believing in Jesus. Turning the hearts of the children to their fathers, simply means giving the children (or immature) the wisdom that is found in adults to know what is right, and that was surrendering to God in response to His word. Both phrases are about hearts being changed to be simple in reception yet wise in understanding the truth about ourselves and our need. These things both happened when John preached and prepared the way for Jesus. Yet, there is still one more piece of this puzzle to be examined in the final meditation.

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

37. Release

Meditations in Malachi : 37.  Release

Mal 4:2,3   But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. 

Two meditations back we noted how the Lord distinguishes between people and then, in the previous meditation we noted the destruction of the wicked that is promised. But the wicked are only one side of the equation and on the other side are the righteous, those “who revere my name.”  That sums it up well. Really it is all about how people think about and respond to God Himself. It’s not so much about the quality of  their lives, or the ethical standards they live by; no, it is more about how they think about God and how  thoughts and attitudes have been then translated into actions. The people the Lord is now speaking to are those who have heard His word through Malachi and have responded positively to it. This is about their future.

Now what is difficult about prophetic Scripture is determining WHEN it is being fulfilled. This passage started with, Surely the day is coming….” (4:1) speaking of a specific time but whether that referred to a short period ahead, or after death or after the final day, is unclear and we are left wondering and anyone who tries to tie it down on a slightly fruitless task.  In what follows in the remaining few verses of this little book, it almost appears as if all this will culminate in John the Baptist and the coming of Jesus, in which case all the language used so far is purely figurative and is spiritual and not physically literal. Let’s see if we can see it both ways.

First of all, let’s consider it literally in material terms: “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” (4:1) That would suppose a time when there is a literal physical destruction of all who are wicked. Well history has not shown such a time so it must apply to the last day when God comes. This fits with the picture inRev 19:11-21 which we mostly tend to interpret in material terms – yet it could be spiritual. There is a problem with seeing it as spiritual because it would mean that this would be one rare occasion when God would overcome the will of men and make them submissive to Him. There are records in Church history of God coming in times of revival when His presence is so real and so powerful that men and women fall before Him in repentance. Maybe that is how it will be. Yet Scripture seems to testify to the fact that mostly God does not force men and women to repent but yet does require them to receive the outworkings of their actions. The older generation of Israel dying in the desert after refusing to enter the Promised Land, is a classic example of that and there are many other example of God’s judgment falling so people die.

So if it is literal and physical, there is coming a time when this faithful remnant will know pure joy in their release from being the underdogs in a godless nation. Thus righteousness will return to the land and bring healing to it because God will strike down all who are unrighteous and so the righteous remnant will take the land again. That, surely has to be the last day.

But suppose it is spiritual. That would fit with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. John came with the word of God that brought transformation as thousands flocked to him in repentance, and went away to live new lives. Very soon Jesus came and ‘freedom’ was a key thing he brought, freedom from sin, and freedom from sickness and fear. Joy abounded wherever he went and the unrighteous fell before the massive crowds who flocked to Jesus.

However we interpret it, whatever is the truth, there IS coming a time when the righteous will be the ones blessed by God in such a measure that their righteousness will be seen to rise like the sun in the morning and that will bring healing to society and evil will flee before it. That happens in revivals and it will happen at the end. May we be ready for it! Ensure you are part of the faithful remnant.

36. Destruction

Meditations in Malachi : 36.  Destruction 

Mal 4:1   “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 

We have already noted in a previous meditation that God does distinguish between people, between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the good and the evil. We have referred twice to the two parables that Jesus spoke about these things, the parable of the weeds (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt 13:47-50). In the parable of the weeds at the end we read, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned.” (Mt 13:30)  To make the point Jesus explains the parable: “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:40-42)  To doubly make the point, in the parable of the fish Jesus declares, “Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:48-50)

Now I note that many Christians today are fearful of speaking about these things because they cannot see how it fits with a God of love. Surely, they reason, God wouldn’t consign people to an ongoing terrible existence in fire. Well here at least there is no indication that it will be an eternal fire existence. Taken at face value Jesus words indicate a terrible destruction. Yes, it is destruction and yes it is terrible. Yes, without a doubt Jesus is painting a picture that is terrible and twice he warns that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. These are words describing strong emotion and awareness of the awfulness of what is happening. In other words it is certainly not instant destruction it seems.

Malachi is using similar language and his words similarly come as a strong warning. When we put this in the context of all of Scripture we need to remind ourselves what the Lord feels about death and destruction: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) A similar thing is seen in the New Testament: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) So here is the truth: death and destruction will come to many BUT God doesn’t like it!

So why does it happen like that? Because people so choose to go that way and God honours their choice. But perhaps it is even more than that. Perhaps it is that God knows that these people who have chosen to be godless and unrighteous, could never be happy in heaven and there really is no alternative. Having had a lifetime of opportunities – and I believe the Lord speaks to every single person on earth many times in their lifetime – and refused every single opportunity, does He know that there is no changing them. He designed them and planned for them to live with Him in heaven after a life on this earth, but they cannot do that if they utterly reject Him – and that’s what people do who get to old age and still refuse Him.

Could Jesus not say, “Well when you die that will be it; you’ll cease to exist. Somehow in God’s design – is it in the fact that we are part spirit – that we will go on after death and because spirit cannot be destroyed there will be an existence without God, outside heaven that is so horrible to contemplate that the only way to picture it is in horrible terms, like a lake of fire? Malachi is warning that such a time of destruction is coming for those who refuse to heed his words. It is not what God wants, but it will happen. we may not understand the full reasoning why it will have to be this way, but at least the picture has been clearly spelled out as a warning and no one can say it is an unclear picture. Having such a picture, it is only a foolish person who disregards it!

35. Distinction

Meditations in Malachi : 35.  Distinction

Mal 3:18   And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not

Our modern world doesn’t like distinctions because distinctions often lead to prejudicial actions, negative actions by one group on another. So we have laws making it illegal to distinguish between people in the work place, a place particularly prone to such actions; equality is all-important. Yet in other ways our societies rejoice in distinctions. We have ‘celebrities’, people who for one reason or another the media have crowned super-people. It may be that they are sports people, it may be they are musicians or actors or comedians but they have been elevated above the rest of us, and mostly we like it; we like to know how the other half live. But at the mundane every day life level, we don’t like distinctions, the thought that you might be ‘better’ than me.

However, when we come to the Bible we see time and again, God DOES make distinctions and it is between “the righteous and the wicked”. If we are not clear what that means, the prophet expands it: “those who serve God and those who do not. So if you think of all the people you know, maybe people who live in your street, people you work with or go to college with perhaps, we don’t like to call them ‘wicked’ because that has connotations of real evil, but the Bible isn’t as misguidedly generous, because the indication is that ANYONE who has not got a living relationship with the Lord is ‘wicked’. Sin and evil go together. We aren’t too happy talking about sin in our modern world and we only like to talk about evil when it is clearly something horrible and bad, sin is sin and sin is evil.

Let me give an illustration. There is a big banquet laid on for the great and the glorious and evening wear is required. As we watch people arrive a man appears who is covered in mud from head to toe; he has fallen into a utterly mucky pig sty. He looks and smells terrible. then along comes another man and he is lightly splattered with muck. he was obviously standing by the sty when the other fell in and caught the spray!  Now imagine the two men trying to enter the banquet and sit down next to someone dressed in pristine clothing that is utterly spotless. Yes the man covered with mud will be violently rejected because it is so obvious, but actually after a minute or two so will the other man because although he’s hardly got anything on him, he has gone something – and that smells! You see sin is sin; there may be lots of it that is violently obvious, or there may be little of it that is not so obvious, but it is still sin – and it still excludes from the banquet! There is a distinction between those who are utterly clean and those who are not.

Now in everyday life this distinction is not so obvious because ‘lightly splattered’ people so often make up for it by trying to appear good in many other ways. Moreover those of us who would consider ourselves righteous find, to our horror, when we have the courage to be honest, that in fact we are still ‘splattered’! No, this distinction is not based upon individual good or bad acts, but one act that has either occurred or not occurred in your life – the act of surrendering to God through Jesus Christ and being given a new life to lead that is empowered by His Spirit. This does mean INSTANT change but NOT TOTAL change at that moment of new birth. So some things instantly change but other things take time to change – maybe a whole lifetime. The distinction therefore is between those who have a surrendered relationship with the Lord whereby they seek to serve HIM, and the person who has never come to God and surrendered their life for forgiveness and cleansing, and who therefore serve ONLY THEMSELVES. In God’s eyes there IS that clear distinction.

Thus, when these people in Malachi’s day hear God’s word and repent and turn back to God with whole hearts, their lives will reflect what has happened, and the distinction between them and the people who carry on unchanged, WILL become obvious. There is also a distinction going to be made on the last day – either when they die or when God winds up this world and all stand before Him. We previously referred to two parables that Jesus told, the parable of the weeds (Mt13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt13:47-50). In both of those parables, at the end, there is a separating out. That distinction sometimes isn’t clearly made this side of death but it WILL be afterwards!

34. Reassurance

Meditations in Malachi : 34.  Reassurance

Mal 3:17   “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.

When our children were small, there were rare serious occasions when a smack was warranted and tears would follow, but in our family there came a simple dictum: “After smacks come cuddles.” Smacks were never handed out from angry frustration but were the sign that something major had happened, something that if let go, could end up in harm, but even on the rare occasions when they did come they were always followed by cuddles. Now you may think (if you haven’t thought about this carefully) that that was an artificial thing, but it is no more artificial than anything else we do to make a point. This said, just because you did wrong and we think it is serious, it doesn’t mean we don’t love you. I watch my children with their children operating the ‘naughty spot’ policy and I’m pleased to note that after whatever ‘punishment’ or ‘discipline’ they bring (and children NEED discipline) there is always a reconciling or bringing back together. When we have been disciplined we need reassurance afterwards that the relationship is still intact.

This is what the Lord does now. This book is full of prophetic chiding for there is, indeed, much to be put right in Israel in the way they think about the Lord and act towards Him. So yes, there are warnings about strong words that will be spoken in the future to bring repentance and in many ways this little book is filled with unpleasant challenges – but needful! It is a book about discipline and the need to change and that is never comfortable, but then some of them do respond to what they have heard and so now the Lord responds with reassuring words for them.

He speaks of a day yet to come and the translators aren’t completely sure about the order of the wording. An alternative note is given that says he may be speaking about, my treasured possession, in the day when I act.” The present version simply refers to “the day” implying a day yet to come.  There is coming a time when He is going to gather together all His faithful ones and these ones who have just responded will be included in them: “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty.” This is the Lord saying even more, I have seen you and heard you and accept your response. You will indeed be part of my faithful remnant who I will bless. Indeed, He adds, “I will spare them.” They do not need to fear being destroyed by the Lord’s judgment. These may have been strong words the prophet has been speaking, but his words have had the effect the Lord wanted and some of them at least have responded and THEY will be saved because they have responded.

It may need saying in passing, that many people presume on the Lord’s compassion and assume that when it comes to the Day of Judgment, God will just turn a blind eye to their rebellion and their sin. No, He doesn’t. He honours and respects people for the decisions they took and so He lets them bear the responsibility for it and all that goes with that. God only forgives when there is repentance. I once did a study going through the whole Bible and as a result of that I can tell you that God doesn’t forgive when there isn’t repentance. This present small group of people He is now talking to, have repented; they have responded to His word and it is because of that that they are now being reassured. That doesn’t apply to the rest.

But note how He refers to them:my treasured possession.” There is an echo here of what He said to Israel on Mount Sinai when he made them His own people: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5). Israel, as the obedient people of God were His treasured possession, so in saying this He is reminding them of their origins and in a most beautiful way saying, “You are still my treasured special, wonderful people, despite all that has gone on.”

And then, as if to drive the point home even more He adds,just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.”  Father and son relationship was an especially meaningful relationship in those days. A son usually grew up and was trained by his father to follow in his footsteps and take on the family business. The son served under his father like an apprentice; it was the most natural thing in life in those days. If the son went off the rails it would obviously grieve the father and, like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-24), the father would be wanting the son to come back to his right place serving the father, getting ready to take over the family business, and would be looking for him to return to that. Thus when he did there would be an instant response of compassion within the father who gladly and joyfully and emotionally received the son back into the business.  That is the picture behind this and it is like the Lord saying, “I welcome you back just as you would your wayward son when he returns to work under you in the family business.” An excellent picture and greatly reassuring!

33. Some Respond

Meditations in Malachi : 33.  Some Respond

Mal 3:16   Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name.

Trying to understand the big picture is often difficult. In the previous meditation we noted the recognition of the state of the nation and the difficulty in maintaining a right attitude before God when the world all around us seems to be degenerating into a godless and unrighteous mess. Being aware of the state of many churches in the area in which I live, it is easy to write off the church as being powerless, ineffectual and, as far as the rest of society is concerned, irrelevant! And in fact, as institutions I believe that by and large that is a true assessment and the result of it is that rarely do we seem to be salt and light and having a purifying effect on society. But so far, this is all a generalisation. A generalisation in Malachi’s day was that by and large, Israel as a post-Exile nation, were not doing very well – hence God’s challenges that fill the book.

But what is true of churches as institutions isn’t necessarily true of individuals within them. So far in this book it has been mostly negative with a little hope for the distant future thrown in but now, suddenly, we find the prophet recording a response by some of the people at least. In other words, not all the people are indifferent or complacent; some of them have heard what the prophet has to say and they are concerned. Who? Those who “feared the Lord”!  That simply means that there were those who still maintained a right attitude towards the Lord. In the midst of the majority who were complacent, there was a minority (we assume from what follows) whose hearts were right before God. They reverenced Him and were concerned about the state of the nation and it would appear were those who responded to all the prophet had been saying.

Notice what they did. They “talked with each other.” Talking is a second response. The first is to think but that is quickly followed by talking. Talking indicates that there were a number of them and they weren’t afraid to be open about what they felt. But, I would suggest, it didn’t stop there for later in the verse there is the indication that they “honoured his name,” which would suggest that they did things in response to what they had thought and then said. True repentance doesn’t stay in the mind; it produces words and then action.

Now this tells us that the prophet’s words did not fall on deaf ears. There were some who heard and responded and the truth is that throughout the Old Testament, and through all the churches that I referred to earlier, there is a remnant, there are people whose hearts are for God and who hear His word and respond to it.  It is very easy to become over-negative. Elijah at a low moment succumbed to this: He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10)  That was inaccurate as the Lord indicated: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings19:18) There is always a faithful remnant; they just need looking for. It doesn’t matter what church grouping it may be and what negative feelings we may have about them generally, there will be within them a faithful remnant who are wholly for God.

But there is something else here: the LORD listened and heard.”  We may feel we are alone and isolated but the Lord sees and He hears what we say. Remember that!  But note what He does about them: A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.” Why should God write down their names?  So that they will not be forgotten!  Does God forget? No He doesn’t but this is almost an act of solemn remembrance that says to everyone, “These people are to be honoured in heaven for having stood out on earth. This recording of their names is to ensure that heaven and earth honour them for their response to God. This is God saying, you will not be forgotten; your faithful acts will be recorded, remembered and rejoiced over! Always bear that in mind. You may think that no one sees your faithfulness, but the Lord does and the Lord will make sure your faithfulness will not be forgotten. Hallelujah!

32. Ongoing Evil

Meditations in Malachi : 32.  Ongoing Evil

Mal 3:15   But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “

There is an inherent problem living as a righteous and godly person in an unrighteous and ungodly society or nation. In challenging the people of God with the word of God, the prophet acknowledges this difficulty. It is just a variation of what we have already considered earlier, but it does highlight certain specifics that the wise Christian should be aware of.

Fact one: we live in a fallen world and large numbers of people (in the USA and UK this is now the clear majority) do not acknowledge God and live out their lives as they see fit, not as God sees is right. That is the unpleasant truth of living in the twenty first century. But having said that, it has always been that way! That is why Jesus told the parable of the weeds (Mt13:24-30, 36-43) and the parable of the fish (Mt13:47-50). Both parables remind us that good and evil live alongside each other and that a final judgement will only come at the end.

Fact two: God rarely seems to tell us when He is going to turn up. This means uncertainty. Will it just get worse and worse or will He come and change it?  That depends on exactly where we are in God’s economy. According to the book of Revelation the last day appears to be preceded by unparalleled godlessness and unrighteousness, but are we actually in those days? Only the Lord knows. If we are not then, considering Church history as a whole, we may expect the Lord to turn up with revival and turn many people to Himself. There have been many prophecies and much praying over the last half century that suggests that that will be, but the truth is we don’t know when. Lots of people have tried to put a positive spin on the state of the church and the state of the nation, but the truth is that God has NOT come in sovereign power in revival in this century at least. Yes, there were various ‘renewals’ in both the USA and the UK in the 1970’s to 1990’s but we have not seen that sovereign move that has been seen in earlier parts of Church history – and we still don’t know when it will come.

Fact 3: Jesus anticipated these feelings of frustration because, when teaching on prayer, using the parable of the widow and the judge, he concluded, And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8) Note the final words. What is he saying? Pray your heart out and keep on praying, but at the end of the day, regardless of whether you think you get answers or not – remain faithful!

So let’s remind ourselves by looking at the verse above, what it is that we have to contend with and stand against. First, says the prophet, “we call the arrogant blessed.”  In an ungodly society values get distorted and we esteem those who are proud and arrogant. I’m sure you can think of public figures (often politicians) who are loud, brash and self-esteeming – and who, as a society, we applaud. Second, he says,the evildoers prosper.” Those who are living unrighteously and are making big money seem to not only be getting away with their unrighteous and ungodly outlook on life, but they seem to be doing well out of it! Third, he says, even those who challenge God escape.” Are the names of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens familiar to you? They should be for they are two of the leading crusading atheists who have been pumping their anti-God propaganda into the world for the last few years – and apparently getting away with it.

So, go back to the first ‘fact’ and remind yourself that so often God allows the ungodly to persist for two reasons. First because there WILL come a final reckoning either at the end of a person’s life or at the Last Day and, second, because the Lord wants to give each person every opportunity to repent and turn to Him before their times runs out: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9) So, don’t get frustrated with the unrighteousness and ungodliness you see around you. Pray your heart out and “overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) Regardless of what others are doing, YOU “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5;16)

 

31. Harsh Words

Meditations in Malachi : 31.  Harsh Words

Mal 3:13-14   “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, `What have we said against you?’ “You have said, `It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?

We have observed a number of times in this series that we can go through seasons where either God just doesn’t seem to be doing or saying anything, or that things are happening that we just don’t understand. The Christian life isn’t an easy, steady flow or continuous unchanging experience. It is a life of constant change and so often the causes of that change are not clear or where that change seems to be taking us is not clear. The most crucial thing is that our awareness of the Lord doesn’t stay the same. It may be because of things happening within us or it may be because of something the Lord is doing but in both cases the outcome is not clear to us where we stand today.

It is at such times that we can find ourselves thinking and then saying silly things, things that are possibly being prompted on by the enemy. The Lord seems at a distance, and so we blame Him for moving away; we didn’t realise it was simply because we have become over tired and had lost a measure of spiritual sensitivity. Perhaps we look around ourselves and see the standards of the world falling and so find ourselves grumbling and asking why God doesn’t turn up, and perhaps fail to see that He is waiting for us to move so He can empower us to bring about the change that is needed.

In all these ways (and many more) we can find ourselves saying silly, harsh things about God, things which, if only we could see the whole picture, we would realise are silly and are harsh and are unfounded and are not worthy of the children of God! This is the place that Israel have come to. The Exile is way behind them. They are the freshly constituted people of God living in a freshly built Jerusalemwith a freshly built Temple. It’s like they are ‘back to normal’ except the whole spiritual side of their life seems to have waned and they are, we have said before, doing the least possible. But then the standards of the nation fall and they begin to feel unhappy about their state and start to blame God. It’s at that point that the Lord says, “You have said harsh things against me,” Then, yet again, they exhibit spiritual blindness and ask `What have we said against you?’     

It is worth noting in passing, that because we are still sinful human beings, whenever we are called to account, we become all defensive. That is what is behind all these questions we’ve seen in this little book. The Lord makes a statement about their condition and instead of simply acknowledging it and saying sorry, they question it. Who, us? So the Lord now gives them an answer: “You have said, `It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements.”  If God is at a distance, they reason, He’s not here to see what goes on and not here to do anything about it, so why bother with all this religious stuff, why bother  with all this law keeping business. Well of course the reason is because those laws given by God are simply things in accordance with the way He has designed us so that we have the best chance of living at peace and in harmony with one another.

Never see requirements of the Bible – Old or New Testaments – as just mundane requirements of a God who wants to see if we will be obedient. They are an expression of His love and His means of enabling Israel (and now us) to live in the best way possible to achieve peace, harmony, blessing and fulfilment. God wants us to enjoy living but we will only truly have enjoyment when we live in accordance with the guidance He has given in His word, and by living in fellowship with Him. We may ‘get by’ in our lives and just survive, without such a relationship as so many people do, but that is learning to live in a second rate way and tolerating pain and upset. That is not God’s design for us.

But there is yet another expression of their having lost focus:and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?”  They have lost all joy in their experience of the Lord and everything they do is drab and miserable. The less they do in fulfilling the Law the harder it gets. There is a very real issue here. Living half-heartedly as a Christian, trying to do the least possible, means that very soon it is all your effort and that becomes hard and wearying. This is why, again and again in Jesus’ teaching, he calls for whole-hearted surrender and whole hearted commitment. Only then do we find a sense of fulfilment and joy. Then we find purpose in life through Jesus’ call on our lives, then and only then do we find the real joy of the Lord. If we are doing anything less than whole-hearted commitment, then we will have a sense of second rate about life – because it is. The blessing of God flows on obedience – complete obedience, not half obedience which is no obedience really. May we understand this and may we live it.