Sunday, July 25, 2010

Malachi 4

"The Sun of Righteousness shall arise" (vs. 1-6)--The last chapter of the Old Testament points 400 years ahead--"the day is coming." It will be a day of judgment--or at least the beginning of such--for "all who do wickedly." Jesus brought God's final law to mankind, the Word which will judge us all (John 12:48). Those who reject it will suffer the consequences. "But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings" (v. 2), one of the loveliest verses in the Old Testament. They will grow fat on the blessings of God (v. 2), and trample the wicked. God's vindication (which is basically what the Day of Judgment will be) will also be the vindication of His saints. In verse 4, Malachi speaks to his fellow Jews. Until the Messiah comes, "remember the Law of Moses"--be obedient to those precepts which Jehovah gave you. And then, be on the lookout: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet" (v. 5), another reference to John the Baptist (Matt. 11:14). Some Jews were looking for the literal return of Elijah, and some thought Jesus might be him (Matt. 16:14). But Jesus' statement is unambiguous. John's coming (mentioned at least three times in the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, and here in Malachi 4:5) was a sign, an indicator that the Messiah was soon to follow. One last time, before the Old Testament revelation closes and 400 years of heavenly silence descended upon mankind, the Lord God points to the coming of the Messiah. When you see "Elijah," then know that "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" is coming. A great day for those who were looking for it, a dreadful day for those who weren't. John will turn (convert) men--all men, fathers and children--or, for those who will not turn to the Lord, there will be a curse upon the land--punishment for rejection. One last time, blessings for obedience, damning for disobedience.

The great prophets have finished their work. There will be no more message from God for 400 years. But He has said enough. Sufficient information has been proffered to point man to the coming Savior. The Old Testament closes with the same theme with which it opened, at least since Genesis 3 and the fall of man: Christ, the Savior, is coming. All through the law, psalms, and prophets God tells whom to look for--here's who will precede Him, here's when He will be born, here's where He will be born, here's His character, His work, His life, His death, His resurrection--and countless other prophesies, the life of the Messiah, in effect, written hundreds of years before He ever arrived. What else could God have done, short of taking away man's free will and forcing him to believe? No, if we miss the Messiah--and the Jews certainly did--it will be in spite of everything God had said and done. The Old Testament closes open-ended, in other words, with a full indication that something is yet to be. And 400 years later, God speaks again, through His Word, Jesus Christ. There will be none other after Him.

I have not even begun, of course, to exhaust the messages found in these erroneously-called "minor" prophets; indeed, at best, I've only touched the tip of the iceberg.  There is wisdom in these books that we will not discover until eternity, and hopefully, over the months and years, as my studies procede, I will reconsider, revise, revamp, and rewrite some of the things I have written in these posts.  Until then, I only pray that the Lord has been pleased with my efforts, that I have never strayed too far from the truth, and that the readers, now and in the future, will be blessed by my comments.  Readers will be far more blessed, however, by meditating directly on the words of the Holy Spirit through these great men, men "of whom the world was not worthy."  To God, His Son, and His Spirit be all the glory.

Malachi 3

"Behold, He is coming" (vs. 1-5)--The last two chapters of the Old Testament both speak of the coming Messiah. Verse 1 tells us of the "messenger" who "will prepare the way before Me." Jesus tells us plainly in Matthew 11:10 that this is John the Baptist. About 300 years before Malachi, Isaiah had spoken of the work of John in leading the way to Jesus (Isaiah 40:3). So the way to the Messiah is clearly marked. It isn't God's fault if people missed it.

The Christ is "the Messenger of the covenant" (v. 1). This "covenant" could refer either to the one in Genesis 3:15 where God promised all of mankind a Redeemer, or it could be the covenant with the Jews, which had the same purpose--to bring the Savior into the world. Either way, "Behold, He is coming." Yet, He is so righteous and holy that we have no right to stand in His presence. "Who can endure the day of His coming?" (v. 2). Only those who accept Him by faith. He will cleanse and purify His people. Notice that Malachi writes of the "sons of Levi" (v. 3) and "Judah and Jerusalem" in verse 4 within a context that is definitely referring to Jesus. This helps us understand the spiritual nature of prophecy; these references are not literal. All Christians are priests (I Peter 2:9--"sons of Levi"), and Judah and Jerusalem represent the people of God in the new dispensation. God will accept our worship (v. 4), and come in judgment against all kinds of wicked people "because they do not fear Me" (v. 5). The glorious coming of Messiah brings blessings to the righteous and cursings upon the disobedient.

"Will a man rob God?" (vs. 6-12)--God's nature does not change, nor does His purpose for mankind. Even since the fall of man, God planned to bring a Savior into the world and that intention never wavered. And even though the Jews were certainly deserving of obliteration, "you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob" (v. 6), because God had a higher purpose, i.e., to use those people to bring the Savior into the world. Thus, despite the fact that "from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them" (v. 7), God spared them, and offered to "return" to them if they would "return to Me" (v. 7). However, they didn't know the way: "But you said, 'In what way shall we return?'" (v. 7). Well, one way was to quit robbing God. "But how have we done this?" they asked. "In tithes and offerings," the Lord responded (v. 8). They had been cheating Him of what was rightfully His, and the "whole nation" was "cursed with a curse" (v. 9). Verse 10 beautifully announces the way to "return": "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it." God can shower us with such blessings, so many that we won't know what to do with them all. If Judah would only do as He asked, their sustenance would not be stolen nor would it fail (v. 11), and all the nations around them would call them blessed because of their abundance (v. 12). All of this, though, conditioned upon obedience and submission.

"It is useless to serve God" (vs. 13-18)--People who close their eyes cannot see the blessings God pours out upon us, and thus argue that serving God has no value. If we look only at this world, then the probability is that we will, indeed, see and understand very little of God and His righteous purposes. The Jews of Malachi's day had fallen into that mindset. They said, "It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?" (v. 14). Well, they hadn't kept His ordinance so they had never really put themselves into a position where He could favor them as He had promised. Yet, verse 15 tells of their worldly view: "So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free." As we look at this world, who is it whom man exalts? The rich, the powerful--the "proud" are "blessed," the wicked are "raised up"; they seem to get away with all sorts of sins--they tempt God and aren't punished for it. Yes, that is the way things seem to be. But God's people stay together. Verse 16 is beautiful: "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name" (KJV). The eyes of the truly wise are on the Lord, and they are in His "book of remembrance." That's where we want to be when this brief life is over. His people belong to Him, will have great spiritual riches ("jewels," v. 17), will be spared His judgment, (v. 17), and know what is right and wrong, who serves God and who doesn't (v. 18). The wicked know their own, as do the righteous.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Malachi 2

A message to the priests (vs. 1-9)--This is an old story in the Old Testament, and it will be a major theme in Jesus' day: the failure of the religious leaders to provide proper direction for God's people. Now again, in the last book of the Old Testament, "O priests, this commandment is for you" (v. 1). The Lord would send a curse upon them "If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart" (v. 2). Verse 3 is pretty plain and graphic: Jehovah "will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts." That describes fairly clearly what the Lord thought of their religious service. The Lord had made a covenant with the tribe of Levi; they were the priestly tribe. The high praise given to that tribe in verses 5 and 6 might have reference to the fact that only the Levites stood with Moses on the matter of the golden calf (Exodus 32). For the most part, as noted at the beginning of the paragraph, the priests of the old law came in for their share of censure down through the centuries. But they did have a special calling from the Lord and a high responsibility: "For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts" (v. 7). But, "you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi" (v. 8). Therefore, they were contemptible to the people. When the "godly" act in ungodly ways, even an unrighteous people are repulsed. Especially when "partiality in the law" is shown (v. 9).

The covenant profaned (vs. 10-12)--All of this had led to a profaning of the covenant (vs. 10-11). Interestingly, verse 10 refers to God as the Jews' "Father," a concept that is found very infrequently in the Old Testament, but dominates the relationship between God and His people in the New. Part of that might be the Roman concept of paterfamilias where the father of the family had total control over all in that family, was to be revered and reverenced unfailingly, yet was to always have a tender love and concern for those under his care. The people in Christ's day would understand such a concept; the Jews didn't have the same sort of relationship with their earthly fathers, or at least didn't view them in the same mold. In verse 11 of Malachi 2, the prophet refers to the people marrying "the daughter of a foreign god." Ezra complained about that at least a generation earlier (Ezra 9 and 10), and the people of his day apparently made some reformation of the condition. But it evidently didn't last. The Lord would "cut off" any man "from the tents of Jacob" who did this, especially if he had the unmitigated gall to bring "an offering to the Lord of hosts" (v. 12).
Hypocrisy (vs. 13-17)--While the theme of marriage continues through the rest of the chapter ("For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce," v. 16), the major idea of this section of Malachi is rampant hypocrisy. “You cover the altar of the LORD with tears” (v. 13). “Crocodile tears” we call them. The prophet, since the subject of marriage had already come up, uses that again as an example of their hypocrisy. They showed such "contrition" in their offerings to God, but "the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (v. 14). Practicing religious ceremonies is utterly vain unless accompanied by a righteous life; that theme also saturates the message of the prophets, as we have seen time and again in this study. And part of that righteous life means at home. Women were especially vulnerable in ancient times, for there was no government welfare system. If they lost their husband, then they could be in dire straits, which is why we read frequently about God's anger over the mistreatment of widows. Her son(s) and family could possible take care of her, but that wasn't always possible, either. So this hatred of divorce by God comes from at least three sources: "Did He not make them one..." (v. 15), and from the beginning, God intended for there to be one man/one woman. He tolerated other arrangements in pre-Christian age, but Jesus tells us that such was not what God planned, and now we must return to the original purpose (Matt. 19:1-9). A second reason God hates divorce (at least as this context mentions) is "He seeks godly offspring" (v. 15). Marrying heathen women as the Jews were doing would very often produce an unfaithful seed. Read what happened when such took place in Genesis 6. The third reason was the one I mentioned earlier--the predicament a divorced woman could find herself in without a husband to provide for her. Women weren't nearly as independent in the ancient world as they are today; and, not surprisingly, divorce was far less common. The hypocrisy of Malachi's day was summed up in verse 17 where the people had "wearied" the Lord by saying "'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'" If we can convince ourselves that evil is good, or that God's silence at our sins means He doesn't care or won't punish, then our rationalization for blatant hypocrisy is complete.