30. Let the World see

Meditations in Malachi : 30.  Let the World See

Mal 3:10-12   Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

We started looking at this matter of the Lord promising blessing if Israel started obeying the Law again and restarted bringing their tithes to the Temple. You can never say that a relationship with the Lord is not practical. God doesn’t want our relationship with Him to be mechanical but based on love, but the fact is that if we live in a certain way, and that includes our relationship with the Lord, then good, very practical things, WILL happen.

The Bible is FULLof God’s promises of blessing on the righteous. The righteous are simply those who determine to live God’s way as revealed in His word.  Let’s quickly note some of these. the LORD watches over the way of the righteous.” (Psa 1:6)  “O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” (Psa 5:12). “God is present in the company of the righteous.” (Psa 14:5)  “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous.” (Psa 34:15) “the LORD upholds the righteous.” (Psa 37:17)  he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psa 55:22)  “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.” (Psa 92;12) “the LORD loves the righteous.” (Psa 146:8)  “he blesses the home of the righteous.” (Prov 3:33)   The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry.” (Prov 10:33)  “Blessings crown the head of the righteous.” (Prov 10:6) – and many more!

Perhaps we need to meditate on these and let this truth permeate our lives. Faith is very practical and has practical, down to earth outworkings. Read Deut 28:1-14 to see the list of blessings that God promises Israel in return for their obedience. The good things that follow obedience are all very practical, observable things. We cannot emphasise this enough. When we obey God, life changes. It’s not just that the better way of living that we adopt when we turn to the Lord brings good. It is that but it is also because the Lord adds His blessing, His goodness to our lives. If your life has not changed considerably since you came to Christ, I would go as far as to say I question your experience. Being born again brings life transformation and it is for both the reasons we’ve just given.

Let’s just say it once more: obeying God brings His specific blessing in the form of some good act on His part. In the description in our verses above, of the Lord coming to bring blessing, it isn’t just that there will be so much practical provision that they won’t know what to do with it, but that He will do specific things to ensure that happens: I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit.” The Lord will act to keep pests from their crops and from letting disease affect their plants. This is no accidental or a natural outworking of what they do. No, this will be specific things that God will make happen to ensure their crops are good.

But see a further outworking of this: “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.”  What happens will be visible to the rest of the world. We have said this a number of times already. The Old Testament is full of indications that God is concerned for the rest of the world as well as with Israel, and so He wants the rest of the world to see the good that is happening to Israel and thus learn of Him through them.  In the midst of those promises of blessings on obedience we referred to just now in Deut 28 we also find, “Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you.” (Deut 28:10) There it is!  The world will see and know.

We find the same thing in the New Testament: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) God’s intent is that the world hears about Him through us, they learn about Him by watching us. Tragically it is often far from that, but that is how it is supposed to be. We are supposed to be such expressions of Jesus that the world is blessed by us, not only by our words but also by our deeds and also by our acts of service which will be accompanied by the power of the Lord. May it be so!

29. Tithing

Meditations in Malachi : 29.  Tithing

Mal 3:8-10   “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

We’ve said a couple of times that going through Malachi is like taking a spiritual check-up with God, Israel have become complacent with God and therefore now their attitudes and behaviour are unacceptable in a variety of ways. As we’ve also said before, when one sin creeps in, others soon follow. The Lord moves relentlessly on, laying down the next complaint, the next thing that needs to be dealt with, and which must be rejected if they are to return to Him.

“You’re robbing me!” is essentially what the Lord now says. “What? How?”Israel appear almost indignantly to reply. “By your tithes, or rather your lack of them,” the Lord replies. Again as we’ve said before they had rather sunk to a ‘minimalistic religion’ where they can do the least possible while still maintaining some semblance of spirituality. We aren’t told but it is possible that they were simply bringing a token offering, rather like the person who drops 50p in the offering plate as it goes around on a Sunday morning.

The overall principle of the tithe is clearly stated in the Law: A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD.” (Lev 27:30). A tenth of all produce from the agricultural economy belonged to God. The use of the tithe was also clearly stipulated: “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.” (Num 18:21) i.e. it was God’s provision for His servants, the Levites: “It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting,” (Num 18:23) and so “I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD.” (Num 18:24)

Thus giving a tithe, a tenth of your income, to the Lord was to be an expression of your love and obedience, part of the covenant, and it was to be used to support the Levites and the priests who were part of them. If Israel stopped giving tithes or at least started cutting back on them, it was first a sign of their diminishing love and concern for God and, second, a sign of their lack of concern for the Levites as God’s servants. Those things, although not spelled out, are at the heart of what is going on here.

The consequence of all this is a curse!You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me.”  The tithe was, for Israel, a specific command to be kept. We saw previously how the covenant had been initiated and how it was focused, from Israel’s side, on obedience.  Obedience to the Law brought blessing, God’s decree of good. Disobedience brought a curse, God’s decree of bad. You know when you are under God’s curse: nothing is going as it should and whichever way you turn things are going wrong and the blessing or goodness of God is clearly missing. It happens, and still happens, when we fail to obey God and do the opposite to what He has instructed. The instructions He has given us are for our good. They are always in accord with the way He has designed us to live good, wholesome, enjoyable and fulfilling lives. The giving of the tithe simply reminded the people constantly that God is The Creator who has made all things and so they belong to Him. They also remind us that God is our provider.

Obeying God always brings blessing:  “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”  What an amazing challenge from the Lord! Obey me, and just watch what happens!  Come on, do it! Bring in all the tithes and see what happens. You’ll find that when you honour me and do as I’ve said, I will bless you in such a manner that you won’t know what to do with it all.

The same thing applies today. Recognise that God owns everything you have, and allow Him to bring a generous heart to you that blesses the servants of God and those in need around you, and responds to His prompting, and then just watch out. It IS as simple as that.

28. Return to God

Meditations in Malachi : 28.  Return to God 

Mal 3:7,8   Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.  “But you ask, `How are we to return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.

We have partly considered verse 7 before but we need to see it linked to verse 8 now. Verse 7 started with that accusation that from long back, perhaps from the very beginning of their nationhood, Israel had turned away from what God had said. Now that last bit is important to note. When they entered into covenant with God at Sinai, the Lord had said, 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’s side of the covenant was to obey God. God would say things to them and they were to obey what He said. The people understood this: The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Ex 19:8) So then the Lord gave them the Law (Ex 20-23) Afterwards they reiterated their willingness to obey those laws: “When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.” (Ex 24:3,4) Then we read, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (Ex 24:7) God gave Moses the laws, he repeated them to the people, the people agreed them, Moses wrote them down and then a third time the people agreed them. THAT was how the covenant had come into being.

Right at the beginning of those laws we find (in the Ten Commandments), “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (Ex 20:4) yet within a six weeks Aaron was making an idol for the Israelites (Ex 32) – within six weeks!  Throughout their travels to Canaan they grumbled and eventually so much that they had to wander for another forty years. Once in the land the history of the book of Judges sees them turning away again and again from the Lord.  The Lord’s statement now, Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them” is almost an understatement. He could have really laid into them, but He doesn’t. Why?

The Lord’s objective in this ongoing ‘prophetic conversation’ is to get them to come back to Him: “Return to me.”  That is the call. But will He receive us, they might ask. “and I will return to you.” There is the promise that we noted before, that as soon as there is repentance, the Lord will be there with open welcoming arms.

But then their blindness kicks in again: “How are we to return?” If you are “away” from God, it is because you have moved and you are doing something you shouldn’t be that keeps you from Him. In such times it is only repentance that brings the change, but it has to be repentance FROM something TO God, turning from the wrong thing you are doing back to God.  If you are doing anything contrary to that which you find in God’s word, then that will be the thing that is keeping you from God and to be able to return to God, you need to forsake or give up that thing. You cannot carry on doing something wrong and expect to have a living vibrant relationship with the Lord.

If you are stealing, being violent towards others, being verbally abusive towards others, allowing your anger to be uncontrollable, spitting out vicious words, if you harbour grudges, hatred or unforgiveness, if you are a scrooge with your money – oh, come on, there are so many things and most of them are there in the Scriptures! You know deep down what it is that is grieving the Lord, what it is that hindering the outworking of your relationship with Him. If you’re struggling to face it, it is probably your insecurity that thinks you won’t be loved if you are honest about yourself.

Read again of the prodigal son and note the father watching and waiting for his return and then celebrating without an ounce of condemnation when the son returned. That is our Jesus! For the Jews it was a matter of tithing which we’ll consider in the next meditation. Remember, if we’re “away” from God, if He seems at a distance, there will always be “something” in the way. The “Job experiences” where it is all down to God are very few and far between. Dare to ask the Lord what may be hindering Him achieving in you what He wants to achieve.

27. Unchanging God

Meditations in Malachi : 27.  Unchanging God

Mal 3:6,7   “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. 

The Bible is always full of hope. Some people, when they refer to the Old Testament say it is full of judgement. Well there are three things about that. First it is God’s discipline more often than not, seeking to bring Israel to their senses and back to Himself. Second it is a reminder of the sinfulness of mankind that is exhibited in Israel even though that had such amazing experiences of God. Third, there is always hope built in to whatever the Lord says.

Hope isn’t a guarantee that everything will be all right but, as we will see, shows there IS an opportunity for everything to be all right. Right, remember the context of what has been going on. Israel had been cynically saying, where is God?  The Lord had replied with a promise that He would send His messenger who would bring repentance to the people in preparation for the Lord Himself coming to them. That was a great hope, but now the Lord puts it in the form of various principles.

The first principle is that Israelare not destroyed because God doesn’t change. That may need unpacking. Within the Old Testament, again and again, are declarations of God’s love. The classic passage was Ex 34:6,7  “the Lord, compassionate  and  gracious  God,  slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  There are also many other references to God’s love. Within the Old Testament text there are also a number of instances where the Lord declares His plans forIsrael and for the world. These plans, although not obvious at the time, take into account the Lord’s knowledge that Israel will fail Him again and again. He is not going to give up on Israel.

That fact is patently obvious throughout the Old Testament. Simply read Judges and see how He uses other countries to bring Israel back to Himself.  Read the account of the Exile and even before it happens the Lord declares through Jeremiah that Israel will be back within seventy years.  This message resounds throughout the Old Testament for those who have eyes to see it.

Thus when we come to these verses we find the Lord reiterating this. First, “I the LORD do not change.”  It is the fact that is at the root of the hope we spoke about. God doesn’t change and so His plans will not change. The outcome of that fact:“So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  That’s why they are still in existence. He doesn’t change; He is love and He does forgive.

Now none of this is new. It has always been like this: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.”  That has been seen in the life of Israel almost from the start. It’s like the Lord might say, “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to step in to draw you back to myself and then forgive you.”

The same principle prevails: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.”  It’s how it was, how it is and how it always will be with the Lord. The other side of this coin is one that many people forget, that God will not forgive without repentance, but as soon as there is repentance, as soon as there is a turning back, the Lord will be there for them and will forgive them.

We need to remember this. Yes, there is overall forgiveness for our sins when we come to Christ so our eternal destiny is settled, but there are individual sins which, if the Lord sees we are not repentant about, He allows to bring discipline on us. The sins themselves and their effects become a rod of correction in His hand. Until you repent, you have an unresolved issue with the Lord and He will use it to discipline you and bring you back to a place of repentance. This does not affect your eternal destiny, but it does affect your walk with Him. He loves you so much that He will not let us just carry on. He is working to bring us to repentance, to bring us back into a place where there is nothing that keeps us from the Lord, so that His blessings may flow again in our lives.

26. Standards

Meditations in Malachi : 26.  Standards

Mal 3:5   “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

God does have standards!  We have noted previously that the Jews had been questioning where God was, where is the God of justice, doesn’t He bother any more about what goes on? Oh, yes!  He is going to send a messenger and that messenger is going to call the people to repentance. That is always God’s answer when God’s people fall off the rails – to call them back in repentance. Repentance is simply recognizing error (sin) and doing a one hundred and eighty degree turn about and turning from it and turning back to God. That was what was needed and that was what the messenger would call the people to do. Thus when John the Baptist came we find, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 3:1,2) But these weren’t just words; he demanded action: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Lk 3:8) Repentance means genuine life change.

Now some may plead, but I don’t know what God wants for me! That is a pure excuse; the Bible is quite clear on the sort of lifestyle God wants us to have. The Old Testament is full of it and so is the New.  So when the messenger comes, he will speak out against all sorts of wrongs. Note the list here.

First “sorcerers” – those involved in the occult. If you are involved in the occult you are doing what God forbids!

Next “adulterers” – are those who have little regard for marriage boundaries. It appears very common in Western society. TV soap operas are built on it – and it is wrong!

“Perjurers” are who those who disregard the truth. God is very strong on the truth!

Then there are “those who defraud labourers of their wages.”  God is against bad employers who take advantage of their employees.

Then we have those “who oppress widows and the fatherless.”  God cares very much for the weak and the vulnerable and so widows and orphans are much on His heart and those who take advantage and oppress those who are weak and vulnerable will find that they are against God.

And then there are those who are weak and vulnerable for another reason – they are aliens, foreigners in a different land, and so when they are oppressed and taken advantage of, God will step in!

But there is one more thing: there are these people doing all these wrong things and they do not appear to fear God, they think they can get away with what they are doing. Well, says the prophet (implied), you won’t! God will hold you accountable. We find here a classic characteristic of sin – unreality! Sin says, you will get away with it, it’s all right. That is exactly what Satan said in the Garden of Eden to Eve (Gen 3) – it will be all right. No it won’t! God sees and therefore God knows and God will NEVER EVER just sit back and let you get away with it. EVERY SINGLE SIN committed on this earth will be accounted for. Justice demands punishment for every single wrong thought, word or deed.

Now either you will be punished or Jesus will. That is what the Gospel is all about. God will hold every single one of us accountable for our sin. Every single one of us will have to stand before Him and account for our sin. Either we are going to take the punishment or Jesus will – and that depends on whether we have made him our Saviour. Sin is only taken by Jesus when there has been repentance. Jesus’ death on the Cross operates on your behalf when you repent, and only when you repent.

This is the truth behind this verse today: God does have standards. They are His “design factors”, the way He originally designed us to live. If we disregard Him and His design for our life, we are in trouble. This verse says there are things that are totally unacceptable to God – and they point to many more things as well. Any form of playing with the occult is wrong. Any form of crossing marriage boundaries is wrong. Any form of distorting the truth is wrong. Any form of taking advantage of others when you are in a place of power is wrong. Any form of taking advantage of the weak and vulnerable is wrong. If you do any of these things, you are answerable to God. Repent!

25. Purification

Meditations in Malachi : 25.  Purification 

Mal 3:2-4   But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

In the previous meditation we saw the Lord speaking of sending a messenger who would prepare the people to receive Him. We also noted that in retrospect we are able to see quite clearly that that messenger was John the Baptist who was the forerunner of an even greater messenger, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

But now we are confronted with the nature of his coming, the coming of this first messenger. “Who can endure” simply means who can stand and remain untouched when he comes. “Who can stand when he appears” means who can hold on to their position of obstinate disobedience in the face of the one who comes with the word of God? There will be no resisting this one when he comes

So what will he come doing? He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” This is very simple and straight forward language that says he will cleanse the people. The refining process gets rid of the dross. The soap that a laundry person uses, cleans the clothes. The pictures are obvious. He emphasises it even more: He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”  There it is spelled out. As a refiner purifies silver to get the muck out of it and create pure silver, so this messenger will have that same cleansing effect. Note  in passing, therefore, that he is not a mere messenger bringing a message from God. What he brings from God will have this purifying effect.

Will he do this with everyone? he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”  The Levites or the servant tribe of Israel will get special attention, the tribe from which the priesthood comes. Previously, earlier in the book we noted that the priests were the ones at the heart of the nation who should be teaching the nation the Law of God, being the conscience of the nation.

Intriguingly Zechariah (Lk 1) was a Levite and so John the Baptist would also have been a Levite. Zechariah went through his own ‘purifying’ at the hands of the angel in the process of having John. There were some who were priests who responded to John’s words but it seems that many of the religious fraternity rejected him and rejected Jesus. The priests were very much part of bringing about Jesus’ death. So perhaps ‘Levites’ simply means in kingdom terms anyone who would be a servant of God. To become a servant of God in the new kingdom means that you first needed purifying – and that is surely so. When we come to Christ and surrender to Christ, the first thing he does is forgive us and cleanse us by his own work on the Cross. The second thing he does is put his Holy Spirit within us and adopt us into his family.

What will be the outworking of this ministry? Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” Offerings were one of the key issues that arises in Malachi and were an indication of the people’s half hearted approach to God. When the messenger has done his work, the people will no longer be half hearted but will be fully committed to God and therefore what ever they bring to God, whether it be literal offerings in the Temple, or simply the offering of whatever they have as given over to God, it will be given rightly, out of a submitted heart, a heart of love.

And even more:the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD.” This will all result in a reconciliation and restoration of their relationship with the Lord. God will receive whatever they offer to Him because it comes out of a right heart.  As in days gone by, as in former years.” Yes, there had been days in the past when Israel had come to God whole heartedly with complete abandonment to the Lord. The days that will follow the messenger’s coming will be like that – and we still live in those days! 

24. Messengers

Meditations in Malachi : 24. Messengers

Mal 3:1    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.

Chapter 2 concluded with the Jews asking, so where is God then? To be more precise, it was “Where is the God of Justice?” Cynicism breeds cynicism. Some had turned away from the Lord, making the excuse, God isn’t concerned with us. The quality of worship in the Temple fell and was becoming quite obviously just performance with little or no meaning. Others looked on and succumbed to the temptation to say, so if God was around He would do something about this, but He’s not doing anything and so He’s obviously not around for us.

In times of apparent spiritual dryness it is easy to say, why doesn’t God turn up in revival and then everything would be right, and in a sense that is right, but God knows the right seasons and God has a day that He knows will be the best for Him to come. Verse 1 of this new chapter could perhaps be summarised as God saying, don’t you worry, I will be coming at the right time and I’ve got it all planned; it would not be an act of a desperate God, it is all part of the overall plan that has been there from before the foundation of the world!

So let’s see what He does actually say. There appear to be references to two people although there is a double reference and it’s not quite clear which one of them it refers to. He starts out, “See”.  i.e. look and take note of this. I’ve been challenging so far but now I want you to note that I am simply stating what I am planning to do. “I will send my messenger”  i.e. there is one coming who will bring my message to you. Now this could be slightly confusing for the word ‘messenger’ here is ‘malaki’ in the Hebrew, and this whole book starts with, The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi,” (1:1) which could be translated, “The word of the Lord to Israel through my messenger.”

So Malachi himself is clearly a messenger from God (the last for over four hundred years as it turns out) but the tone and nature of this word would seem to indicate to them that there is yet another messenger who will come from the Lord. Now let’s emphasise what we said earlier: a messenger brings a message and the message rather than the messenger is the all important thing. What is God going to say? He doesn’t, at first sight at least, appear to say. But what does He say about this ‘messenger’? He is going to come toprepare the way before me.” Now that suggests that God Himself is going to come and this one who He will send will prepare the way somehow for Him. In hindsight we can say that he was to prepare people’s hearts to be ready and open to God when He came.

So, yes the Lord is coming and that is now confirmed: “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  God is going to apparently appear at His temple here in Jerusalem.  Of course in retrospect we now know that the messenger preparing the Lord’s way was John the Baptist, but how did this little part of the verse get fulfilled? You need to read Luke’s Gospel: “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord …..Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon ….. had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.” (Lk 2:22-28) Wow! When God came to His Temple inJerusalem it was in human form, and first of all in the form of a baby!

But then comes a repeat which is not clear: the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”  This follows directly after the Lord Himself coming but still uses the ‘messenger’ language. Note the words, “whom you desire”. They hadn’t been asking for a messenger; they had been asking for God Himself. Now of course John writing his Gospel refers to Jesus as “the Word” (Jn 1:1,14), and a word is a form of communication. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:2). Jesus was thus coming as a “messenger of the covenant”, one who came to affirm God’s love for His people and this messenger was, of course, God Himself in the form of His Son.

So, despite all of Israel’s waywardness, they would yet have the wonder (in the future) of the Lord Himself coming and standing in their midst to bless them and reaffirm the covenant He had with them. Just because He is scolding them in this little book, it does not mean it is the end. God’s plans are bigger than that. Hallelujah!

23. Wearying

Meditations in Malachi : 23. Wearying

Mal 2:17    You have wearied the LORD with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

The Jews of the New Testament felt that they were special people who had the truth. Then came Jesus and now we Christians believe WE are the keepers of truth. The trouble with doctrine is that there is a lot of it and we may be right in some areas but not in others. What is here in this verse is, I believe, very pertinent for the church today. The prophet starts out, the Lord is tired of listening to you. Hold on, he foresees them responding, why should we have tired Him? He answers, because you haven’t been speaking the truth and that upsets (implied) the Lord.

Now when you look at what they had been saying, you may think it is quite obvious but I have to warn you that I am shortly going to put it in a modern context and it is not so obvious. They had been saying that even evil people, people doing wrong, were good in the eyes of the Lord. This isn’t explained in detail but they probably say what we say – well, God loves everybody so it’s all right. Now admittedly it looks like they were being cynical when they were saying it because they also said (expanding it), well God accepts everyone because after all we don’t see Him coming and judging sinners; they seem to be getting away with what they are doing. Now I realise that I have implied a lot that but that does seem to be what it is saying.

The modern equivalent is that “God loves you, so everything is all right.” Now I feel almost bad here, because as a preacher I have been preaching for over twenty years, “The Lord loves you exactly as you are, but He loves you so much that He’s got something better for you that He wants to lead you into.” I have a feeling that often people only hear the first part of that: God loves me just as I am.

Now I am sure that that is true but the second part is even more so: God sees what we’re like and He sees how we fall short of what we could be and so because He loves us, He wants to help change us, to bring us into maturity. A message that says, “God loves you” or “God loves you exactly as you are” is only part of the truth and left as it is it can result in Christians being quite content to live second-class lives or even lives tolerating what is clearly wrong.

We need to understand something about love: you can love someone but still grieve over things they say or do. If one of our children went off the rails and started living an immoral life, we would still love them, but hate the lifestyle. God can love you but that doesn’t mean he accepts your bad temper or your irritability or your smoking or your excessive drinking, or living with someone without being married. There appear to be a whole number of things we tolerate in the Christian community today – in the name of love – but it is not love for God.

When God saved us, He saved us to change us. Prior to us encountering Him, we lived the way we did because of what we thought, and it was often clearly (now we see) very different from God’s design. God’s design says love people, accept people, forgive people, pray for people. Until we met Jesus we got irritable with people and were completely self-centred. In the years you have left on this earth, God is going to change that. Why? Because He loves you. We, all of us, have a lot of changing to do, If we have settled in what we are, we’ve missed the point. Jesus is in the process of changing our character and changing our service.

Now we said earlier that the Jews of Malachi’s day were cynical and were saying, “Well, where is God? He doesn’t seem to be moving? Where is His justice?” But the point is that God wants us to play a part in all that goes on. He wants us to be bringing justice, He wants us to be making an effort to change, He wants us to exercise self-control and the good news, of course, is that He has put His Holy Spirit within us to help us achieve that – but it starts with an act of will on our part. Come to a standstill? It’s time to get moving again. Change is here to stay. God has something better for you – because He loves you.

22. One Flesh

Meditations in Malachi : 22. One Flesh

Mal 2:15,16    Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel

Now we have to backtrack here because I dare risk saying that I think most commentators miss the point of what is here and start talking about human marriages, but that is not what these lines are all about. In verse 10 we read: “Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?” Now that could possibly refer to breaking the law by breaking up human relationships although that seems an unusual word construction if he was suggesting that. He continues in verse 11: Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.

This is not about individuals but about the nation and the ‘detestable thing’ is not general but “in Jerusalem” and then it is shown to be in respect of the “sanctuary”, the Temple. It is then made even clearer that this is spiritual adultery by reference to “a foreign god”. This is not human marriage adultery, but spiritual adultery that is being referred to here. Note also “the daughter of a foreign god”, not daughters of an alien people who worship foreign gods. It is singular and as such must be a spiritual reference. Although there are references in both Ezra and Nehemiah to intermarrying with pagan peoples, in both of the books there is reference to sending the women away – yet we are soon to find the Lord declaring that He hates divorce. He cannot be referring to physical union and breakup, but a spiritual one.

The complaint that followed on is all about offerings not being accepted by the Lord and the Lord’s rejection of them is because you, the nation, have broken faith with the person you once were.  There is no indication that the passage changes from spiritual adultery to physical adultery. Yes, the picture language is difficult but it is all about them falling away from what they once were.  It is faintly possible to think about physical adultery IF you ignore the reference to a foreign god and if you ignore the fact that the whole of this short book is about Judah’s wrong attitude towards God and the way they have spiritually walked away form God.

So, returning to what we have seen before, he is comparing them to what they once were and he reminds them they are still the same physical people, offspring of that nation that was brought out of Egypt, so the old Israel and the new Israel are one; there is a physical continuance down through the generations and the Exile did not break that. So in body and Spirit, this present Israel are still part of that original nation who covenanted with the Lord at Sinai. They are still part of that original nation, covenanted with God and the reason why that is so is because the Lord STILL wants to bring offspring from them. If we see the “godly offspring” as individuals we miss the thrust of the whole of the Old Testament, brought to a climax in the New, that the Lord wants to bring offspring from all nations of the world, not merely this one.

The failure of the spiritual relationship with the Lord is THE critical issue in the Old Testament because it was through that relationship that the world was to be touched. This is the big picture here and why it is so critical. Israel’s half-hearted relationship with the Lord would affect their ability to be a light to the rest of the world. When the prophet says, So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth,” it again must refer back to what they had once been in the early days of the nation. The marrying foreign women recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah was by those who had no wives. They did not abandon their wives to take foreign wives. No, the meaning here is, “Check out your spiritual relationship and so do not depart from being the wife of the Lord that you were at the beginning.

Now comes the Lord’s declaration that we so often take out of context: “I hate divorce.”  In this context it is all about HIS relationship with Israel. He hates the very thought of abandoning the plan from before the foundation of the world that involved Israel.  Israel might have abandoned Him but He will never abandon Israel.  He will always look out for a faithful remnant and preserve them so that His plans for the future can be continued through them.  This declaration is the Lord declaring to the world that the last thing on His mind is to cast the faithful remnant away.  Israel WILL continue and they will continue to be His!

 

21. The Reason

Meditations in Malachi : 21. The Reason

Mal 2:14    You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

The Lord never speaks in a vacuum. When He speaks it is with a purpose and there is always a reason behind it. When something is going on that you do not understand, there IS a reason behind it. The turmoils of life may be caused by the Lord, by Satan as His agent, by our own foolishness, or by the actions of others. We may not know who or what is involved, but underneath everything someone or something IS there; things don’t happen on their own in a vacuum. We have cited Gideon twice already in these studies as someone who simply didn’t understand the spiritual dynamics of what was going on in his country. The Jews of Malachi’s day are exhibiting that same blindness.

They had been anguishing over the apparent lack of the Lord’s blessing on their religious activities and now asked why was that? What is surprising in these sort of situations is that we don’t stand still and think and wonder what actually could be the reasons. Is it that God no longer loves us? No, we know in our history He has spoken about His love which never changes. Has God changed? No, that is not possible. Well, if it’s not God, who can it be?  Well, there are only two sides to this covenant: God and Israel. If it’s not God then it must be Israel. At which point you should (if you have any sense) look at your life and measure it against what God has said. Don’t cry about the tedium of your religious life or about God’s apparent absence if you are not living out the relationship the way Jesus said!

Now what is funny at first sight about the prophet’s response to them is that the Lord is NOT acting as a witness between Himself and them. No, He stands as a witness between them as they are now, and them as they once were. When He speaks of the ‘wife of your youth’, He means the sort of wife to me, your spiritual husband, that you once were. He splits them into two people because they have become so different from what they once were. Once, at Sinai, they were a people who gladly and wholeheartedly entered into the covenant with the Lord. At various times through their history they had declared that again. At such times they had been all out for God, but how different they now were.

For ourselves, we might say, have I remained true to myself over the years. When I was a young person I saw it all so clearly and I was all out for God. I was an out and out Christian who the powers of darkness quaked before. But as the years have passed? Yes, the strength of youth may have diminished but that doesn’t mean that our testimony and zeal have to diminish. Listen to how the psalmist envisioned us growing old:The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) What a beautiful picture of righteousness in old age! Had Israel ‘stayed fresh and green’? No! Were they still bearing fruit in the form of the blessing of the Lord, revealing Him to the rest of the world? No! Where they still praising His name? No!

It is very easy to point the finger at Israel in the face of the prophet’s denunciation, but how do we measure up today – honestly – as His church? These questions are not meant to condemn but to challenge. Were we more on fire when we were younger? Did our ‘first love’ shine brighter then than it does now? Are we as a church open to all those around us, to love them, care for them and bless them with God’s love in more than words?  Is the world round about us impacted by God’s love, grace, wisdom and power expressed through us, so their hearts are melted and open to Him? Is God able to transform lives through us?