I Peter, Chapter 1, Part 3

I Peter 1:18-19 – knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Although silver and gold are valued commodities in our culture, they are ‘perishable’ or corrupt.  As such, the only power they posses is the ability to pervert or defile your walk with God by acting as a snare, a temptation or a hindrance to you.  Things that are corrupt do not have the power to purchase or redeem an incorruptible, immortal soul, like yours.

The only commodity that is incorruptible and that has the power to redeem your soul is the sinless blood of Christ.  Knowing and meditating on the fact that God paid such a high price to buy us back should provide powerful motivation for us to live holy lives, revering Father God.

Today, we like to exchange money electronically.  When we are paid, our wages are directly deposited into a bank account.  When we pay our bills, we log onto a computer, push some buttons and move the money around.  We buy things using credit cards.  Many people very seldom, if ever, handle money anymore.  What about you?  Do you still consider money as a real commodity that you touch and handle, or is it just numbers on a screen to you?

In light of this, we need to remind ourselves that the debt we owed and the price God paid for us are not just metaphorical; they are not just entries in some cosmic accounting system.  The debt of our sin was real.  That debt was going to be placed on our backs, and would have resulted in eternal death.  Imagine being dead but never being able to actually die and find relief from pain, sorrow and torment.  Imagine enduring those things (and much worse) forever without ceasing.  This is not just some idea or theory; eternal death because of sin is a reality.

The price that Jesus paid for our forgiveness is also a reality.  God didn’t just ‘write off’ our sin like a bad debt.  The full punishment of our transgression was laid upon our Redeemer.  Jesus, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, suffered a very real and hideous death to pay the full price of our sin.  

In light of the innocent blood and horrendous suffering that bought our salvation, shouldn’t we willingly and eagerly live holy lives to God?  Shouldn’t we honor Jesus’ sacrifice by turning our backs on sin?  Why would we want to cling to death?

I Peter 1:20 – He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you…

Peter now circles back to his original thoughts in verse 2, specifically, that before the foundation of the world God chose to put in motion a plan where Jesus would be born in the flesh.  He would suffer, die and be raised to life again on the third day.  His blood would atone for the sin of anyone who accepted his sacrifice.  (Peter’s Jewish readers recognized that Passover was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial death of Jesus.  This meant that Christianity was not some new religion, but a fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.)    

The atonement of Christ was not some spur-of-the-moment idea or an afterthought on the part of God.  It was his purpose from eternity, before the foundation of the world and before sin was even a thing!   

Likewise, the timing of this event was perfect in every regard. The birth of Jesus into a body of flesh came at a fixed, appointed time.  So did his death and resurrection.  They mark the final dispensation of time. 

What about you?  Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your birth, you arrived on this plant on the exact day that God ordained for you.  Regardless of what your parents may say, you are not an accident.  You are not a mistake or an afterthought.  God knew you before he knit you together in your mother’s womb.  He has purposely placed YOU in the very last dispensation of time – the age of grace.  He has chosen to give you full access to all of the riches of the gift of grace. 

Even now, your spirit should be rising up in praise and worship to God.  What a blessing we have in Jesus!  

I Peter 1:21 – …who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

There is only one way to faith in God.  That way is Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead and glorified by the Father. Without Jesus, we would dread and fear God.  With him, we can approach the Father with confidence, hope and love.

I Peter 1:22 – Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

How does one purify their soul?  It is a combined effort between each individual and Holy Spirit. 

Each of us has a part to play in our own holiness.  It is a task that will require purpose and effort. 

This is not really mysterious in any way; this is exactly what we encounter in the natural world.  If you want to be a great golfer, you must study golf, obtain the proper equipment and most importantly of all, you have to put forth effort and practice!  There is no ‘magical’ effortless way to become a golf pro.  

Holiness and Christian obedience are much the same.  They don’t happen ‘magically’.  We have to renew our minds with the word of God and apply the truth to our actions.  We must take control over/crucify our flesh and its desires.  We must resist the temptations of Satan. 

However, this process is effective only through the agency of Holy Spirit.  He applies the truth to our minds and makes it alive so that it produces results in our lives.  Every seed has the capacity in itself to produce a harvest.  But without sun and moisture and nutrients, the potential of the seed will not be realized.  In the same way, we have the potential to be holy, obedient people of God, but without Holy Spirit, we will never bring about a spiritual harvest.  

The effect of this influence of Holy Spirit in our lives is to produce love in us, towards all who are Christians.  This love for our Christian family springs up in the soul of every person who has truly been converted; it is certain evidence of salvation.

John 13:35 – By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

It is likely that Christian love was an issue in the churches of Asia Minor.  The Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles clearly came from vastly different cultural backgrounds.  The Jewish Christians still retained an affection for outward manifestations of religion like dietary laws and circumcision.  These rituals were not necessary for salvation, but many Jews still practiced them because they were a part of their heritage.

Speaking of heritage, consider this:  For hundreds and hundreds of years Jews had been taught that Gentiles were heathen dogs, who had no part in the things of God.  You can see how it would be difficult for this generation to change their thinking and begin to love and accept their Gentile brothers and sisters as equal partners in the kingdom of heaven.   

Meanwhile, the Gentiles Christians would have no patience for what seemed to them to be empty rituals.  They didn’t understand why their Jewish brothers were making such a big fuss about things like eating meat sacrificed to idols.  Also, they may have felt that their Jewish brothers looked down upon them, considering them ‘step children’ of God. 

Only genuine brotherly love, brought about by Holy Spirit could truly take these two vastly different groups of people and meld them together into a single united church under Christ.    Without this love, the church would be divided. And a house divided against itself will fall (Mark 3:4-26).

Where does this truth leave the church today?  Do we find divisions in the world-wide church of God?  Are the Baptists and the Pentecostals enemies or brothers?  Can the Lutherans and the Anglicans and the Evangelicals and the Methodists love one another and work together for the spread of the gospel?  What about the Protestants and the Catholics?   What role do you play in brotherly love? 

I Peter 1:23 – …since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

Those who have been born again have good reason to love one another.  We are part of the same kingdom, under the authority of the same king, partakers of the same privileges, with the same goal in mind – to be more and more like Christ and to bring others into the kingdom.  These things are all produced by the incorruptible seed of the word of God which has sprouted up in the life of every Christian.

I Peter 1:24-25 – for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Here, Peter quotes from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:6-8).  While the incorruptible seed of God produces eternal life, the corruptible seed of the flesh can only result in death.  

The seed of flesh produces life that is similar to flowers and grass.  For a time, they seem vibrant and healthy, displaying beauty, wealth, and strength.  But these have no hope of lasting.  In a very short time, they will simply wither and fade.  Nothing can make them eternal.

Psalms 103:15-16 – As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

If we look at the history of the world, we find kingdoms that have risen and fallen.  Ideas that have found favor are subsequently discarded.  Trends in all areas of life come and go.  Youth gives way to the frailty of old age.  Nothing in this world lasts forever. 

But by contrast, that which is produced by the incorruptible seed of the word of God, has eternal DNA.  It will never die or fade away; it is everlasting, fixed and permanent with a glory that will never fade. 

The ‘Easter story’ – the doctrine of the crucified and risen Christ – is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, yet it alone is the incorruptible seed of the power of God for salvation to every soul that believes.   

The gospel never changes.  The blood of Jesus never loses its power.  The redemptive work of Jesus is forever “finished”.  The word of the Lord will stand forever.  Life in Jesus is eternal. 

Thus, the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles agree:  Life in Christ, though it come with trials in this world, is the only sure hope for mankind.  Everlasting life comes only through him.  The word of the Lord is a strong foundation that we should greatly desire and diligently seek.   

Let me offer you some encouragement and some relief:

Scripture tells us that God as determined the day of your birth and the day of your death (Psalms 139).  He did this because he as a purpose for your life.  You may or may not know what that purpose is at this point.

If you do know, then I strongly encourage you to pursue that calling and purposes will all your heart and strength. 

If you do not yet know what your purpose in life is, then I encourage you to strongly seek the will of God through the Holy Spirit.  He will reveal to you the plans God has for your life.   

Let me offer you some strength:

The world ebbs and flows; fads come and go, just like flowers bloom and fade. 

But the life that you possess as a child of God is permanent and lasting.  God is a firm foundation, a solid rock upon which you can build every aspect of your life.  When the rains of hardship begin beating down, your life will not falter or fail, because you have built upon Jesus!   

 

I Peter, Chapter 1, Part 2

I Peter 1:10 – Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,

So far in his epistle, Peter is offering words of encouragement and strength to the Christians living in Asia Minor.  He does this by drawing their attention and focus toward salvation and their heavenly reward.  They need this encouragement to endure the trials they are facing.

Having just assured them that their faith would produce salvation, he now begins a contrast between the law and grace.  Why would he do that?

Well, let’s picture their situation for a moment.  They are one of the first generations to leave behind the religion they grew up with.  In the case of the Gentiles, they have left idol worship and the belief in multiple gods.  In the case of the Jews, they have left the requirements of the Law/Old Covenant (sacrifices, dietary laws, circumcision, the temple, etc), in favor of a life of freedom under grace/New Covenant. 

This would have been a life changing event for both groups; possibly one that friends and family did not understand or support.  Once they have taken a stand for Christ, they are beset with trials and persecution.  It would be easy for these people to compare life before Christianity (non-existent or relatively low levels of persecution and affliction) with their current situation.  As such, we can see how they might experience a longing for easier times.  They might wonder if their old way of life was better.  They might even wonder if they had made a mistake by giving up the religion of their forefathers.

But Peter is about to stir up their hearts to the truth – Grace is far, far superior to the Law!

Peter begins his discourse with a reference to the Old Testament prophets, who were greatly revered by later generations of Jews. 

Although the prophets spoke about the incarnation and suffering of the Messiah, and the redemption/grace he provided, they did not understand it.  They did not know when Messiah would come.  They did not know who his tormentors would be.  They did not know what the culture or condition of society would be at that time.  They did not fathom that grace would be extended to the Gentiles. 

Clearly, prophesies regarding the Messiah held some great and glorious truths which had not been fully revealed to them.  They plainly saw that the grace which was to come under the Messiah’s kingdom was vastly superior to anything that had ever been exhibited under the law.  This created an immense, almost unquenchable desire within the prophets to know what God had planned.    

Thus, they diligently searched and carefully inquired into God’s plan.  This language implies that their search was intensive, like searching for grains of gold hidden in mounds of sand.  Any revelation given to them was thoroughly sifted, scrutinized, searched out and prayed over, so that they might gain insight into the grace reserved for those under the rule of the Messiah.

Matthew 13:17 – For truly I [Jesus] say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. 

But they could not understand or comprehend the prophesies, because that revelation was appointed for a future generation – the generation of believers who would live during the age of grace. 

Thus, any doubts the Jews felt about Christianity were dispelled.  There could be no question that the New Covenant of grace was far superior to the Old Testament Law.  There was also no doubt about the validity of the New Covenant; it had been foretold and greatly desired by the most revered prophets of God!

Have you stopped to consider that the grace you and I embrace and live in every single day was a great mystery to those who came before us?  With longing hearts the prophets of God desired to see, hear and understand grace, but they were limited to the law.  What a benefit we all have!  Let’s not take it for granted!  We too, should diligent search out the ways of God.

I Peter 1:11 – inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

Here we find the particular truths which the ancient prophets were trying to search out.  Obviously, the coming Messiah was the chief subject of their studies. 

Particularly, they were interested to know about his sufferings and the glories that would follow.  Suffering and glory – this is the basis of the gospel message.  Jesus was delivered up for our sins and raised again in glory, sitting at the right hand of the Father.  

From this example, it was clear to the prophets that those who trusted and followed the Messiah should expect the same thing – a time of service and suffering before being received into glory (heaven).  As Peter already indicated to his readers, the time of suffering will be short, but the glory is everlasting.

The Christians of Peter’s day could have no greater hope and comfort.  The trials/persecutions/suffering they now endured would not be forever.  They would give way to everlasting glory!   

I Peter 1:12 – It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

God honored the deep longing of his prophets.  Holy Spirit revealed to them that these things would not take place in their generation.  However, they could take comfort knowing that God had an appointed time, firm and certain, for the coming of the Messiah and the revelation of grace he would bring. 

In delivering their messages the prophets were serving others, not themselves.  In fact, Christians (those who now live or have lived or will yet live in the age of grace) are reaping the benefits of the labors of the prophets.  Aren’t you so awed by God’s mighty plan?  Doesn’t it make praise rise up within your soul?

Holy Spirit prompted the ancient prophets to speak and write.  The same Spirit filled and empowered the apostles (including Peter) to preach the good news of salvation to the believers of his day.  And in the last 2000 or so years, nothing has changed… Holy Spirit is the same yesterday, today and forever; he is still making the truth of the gospel penetrate the hearts of the unsaved through the preaching of the gospel.  If he wasn’t, you and I would not be saved!

Even angels are amazed when considering the great privileges bestowed upon those of us in this age!  The phrase associated with angelic desire – long to look – literally means ‘stooping down to see/look’.  The connotation is that of drawing near to something that cannot be seen clearly at a great distance; to draw near and bend down to observe and study the object as closely as possible. 

The angels, much like the prophets, had an intense desire to investigate grace.  They drew near to contemplate it with intense, fixed attention.   After all, angels are not omniscient.    Although they know more about God than we currently do, we have no reason to think they know or understand all of his plans and purposes.  It is reasonable to conclude that angels study manifestations of God’s power and purposes in order to acquire more knowledge of God, just as we do.

Albert Barnes, in his commentary ‘Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible’, says this:

“It is probable, that in each one of the worlds which God has made, there is some peculiar manifestation of his glory and character; something which is not to be found at all in any other world, or, if found, not in so great perfection; and that the angels would feel a deep interest in all these manifestations, and would desire to look into them.  

Our world, therefore, though small, a mere speck in creation, may have something to manifest the glory of the Creator which may not exist in any other. It cannot be its magnitude; for, in that respect, it is among the smallest which God has made. It may not be the height and the majesty of our mountains, or the length and beauty of our rivers, or the fragrance of our flowers, or the clearness of our sky; for, in these respects, there may be much more to admire in other worlds: it is the exhibition of the character of God in the work of redemption; the illustration of the way in which a sinner may be forgiven; the manifestation of the Deity as incarnate, assuming permanently a union with one of his own creatures.

This, so far as we know, is seen in no other part of the universe; and this is honour enough for one world. To see this, the angels may be attracted down to earth. When they come, they come not to contemplate our works of art, our painting and our sculpture, or to read our books of science or poetry: they come to gather around the cross, to minister to the Saviour, to attend on his steps while living, and to watch over his body when dead; to witness his resurrection and ascension, and to bless, with their offices of kindness, those whom he died to redeem.”

I Peter 1:13 – Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Therefore – In other words, because of the incredible, unfathomable grace/salvation offered to each one of us, we must…

prepare our minds for action – As fallen humans, our minds are tangled up with the cares of this world and our own vain desires.  As Christians, we must take control of our thoughts and ideas.  We need to keep a steady focus on the race that is set before us, and cast aside any sin that would hinder us from finishing our course and obtaining the prize of eternal life.  

My guess is that all of us could do better in this area.  Here are some things for all of us to consider:

What are you allowing into your mind?  What are you watching, reading, or playing?  Are these things assisting you in your walk with God and building up your desire for salvation, or would you be embarrassed if God showed up while you were reading that book or playing that video game? 

If you want to disentangle your mind from the world and be ready for spiritual action, you have to take control of every thought.  You have to be the doorkeeper of your mind, deciding what can and cannot enter.  

II Corinthians 10:5 – We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

One of the weapons of our warfare is the word of God (Ephesians 6:12-18).  You need to know it and have it hidden in your heart so that on the day of battle, you can easily access it.  This only happens when you spend time putting the word into your mind and heart.  How many scriptures can you quote right now?  Do you know where they are located in the bible?  Could you lead a sinner to salvation by using scripture?

According to Paul in Romans chapter 7, the mind wars against the flesh.  Is your mind strong enough to win that victory?  Or do you always/most often give into the desires of your flesh?  Paul goes on to say that the renewing of your mind is the key to winning that battle (Romans 12:2).

Instead of allowing our minds to wander anywhere, let’s harness them, and put them to work in the kingdom of God.  Let’s practice being sober minded, setting your hope fully on grace – in other words, don’t be double minded (James 1:8).  Set your mind fully on Christ and continue to expect all that God has promised, especially the salvation of our souls, which we will receive at the revelation of Jesus Christ, also referred to as his second coming.  If we practice doing these things now, we will be well prepared for any trials, tribulations or persecutions that come our way.

I Peter 1:14-15 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.

Here, Peter addresses his readers as children who should be obedient.  This refers back to their salvation.  They are no longer slaves of darkness, but they have been purchased by the blood of Christ and made children of God, and coheirs with Jesus Christ.  Naturally, we would expect children to be obedient to their parents; this same expectation carries over into the spiritual life of a Christian.  God expects us to be obedient to his commands.    

Secondly, Peter instructs his readers to be holy in their conduct.  This is of particular significance to the Gentile converts.  Their idols left them the most abominable examples to follow.  They endorsed all manner of sin, including various forms of sexual gratification, rebellion, mutilation and child sacrifice.  They used to model their behavior after these base false gods, but no longer.

I Thessalonians 4:7 – For God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness.

Now that they have been set free by Jesus, and they have entered into the kingdom of heaven, they must model their lives after the true God, who is holy in all his ways.  The same is true for us.

For example, before salvation, we were lovers of our self and the world, we chased after riches and fame, we indulged in personal gratification giving free reign to our passions and lusts, etc.  But now we have put on the ‘new man’:

Ephesians 4:24 – And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Do you struggle with holy living?  Holiness is not something that a Christian accomplishes once and for all.  Our minds were renewed when we chose to follow Christ.  But you and I are still living in the flesh, in the midst of a fallen world.  Each day, we must choose how we will act.  We must commit to molding our conduct, so it conforms to holiness. 

Notice the role that our mind plays in holy conduct.  So, just to beat the dead horse yet again, you need to pay careful attention to what you are allowing your mind to dwell on.

The good news is that we are not alone in this.  Holy Spirit, who dwells inside of us, is there to assist.  He will guide us through his word, through our consciences and many other means to help us achieve holy conduct.

I Peter 1:16 – since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

This command was very familiar to the Jewish converts.  It is from Leviticus 11:44 (also 19:2 and 20:7) and it was always a command of God to his chosen people. Those who profess to be God’s people ought to behave like their God. 

God has separated his followers from the rest of the world.  He consecrated us to himself, making us a holy nation and a royal priesthood.  We are special in his sight.  How then, could we possibly engage in profane, sinful behavior?  Wouldn’t that be a slap in God’s face; a treachery against the one who has given us eternal life?

I Peter 1:17 – And If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

Since God is our Father, and he impartially judges the conduct of every man, each according to his own deeds, we need to pay careful attention to how we live in this world.

This presents the Christian with several beneficial truths. 

First, Christians are exiles in this world.  Having accepted Christ, we are citizens of heaven.  We are considered pilgrims or strangers on earth; we are passing through on our way to our true home.

Hebrews 11:13 – These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

Since this is the case, we should not entangle ourselves too much with the things of this world.  We should lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven, our true home and final destination.

Second, salvation has made us children of God, but we must still remember that God is the judge of all the earth.  His judgments are always just, fair and impartial; God is no respecter of persons.  Since that is the case, you and I need to pay careful attention to the way we live as we pass through to our true heavenly home. We must strive to be holy, as God is holy.

This was a sober reminder to the Jews that they could not count on salvation because they were descendents of Abraham.  It also reminds us that we cannot obtain salvation by having a righteous parent who prays for us, or a Christian family heritage.  Each person will be judged by God according to their own deeds/works. 

The opposite truth also applies – those who have ungodly parents or who come from a heathen family history do not need to worry.  As long as they have accepted salvation through Jesus, they will be saved based on their own life decisions.  What a blessing to be the person who can change your family line into one that is righteous and holy!   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

How do you view trials and tribulations in your life?  Do you see them as punishments for failing God in some way?  While God does sometimes correct his children, not every difficulty in your life is punitive.

The more likely explanation is that God is working through these sufferings to bring about your eternal glory.  Trials have many godly benefits.  They have a way of revealing to us what is truly valuable in our lives.  They teach us to have faith.  They allow us an opportunity to use our spiritual armor.  They keep us close to the Father.  They show us how to work with Holy Spirit to storm the gates of hell. 

So when you face trials, be encouraged.  It means God is working things out for your eternal glory.  

Let me offer you some relief:

Having trouble with holiness?  Keep in mind that it is not an instantaneous event.  It is often a consistent process.  So put the guilt of your failure behind you.  Ask Holy Spirit to reveal ONE area in which you need to change.  Then, renew your mind with the word and work every day to bring that area of your life into holiness.  When you have accomplished that, ask Holy Spirit for your next step.  

Let me offer you some strength:

Do you need a little spiritual strength for your journey?  May I suggest that you take another look at how valuable grace is?  Sometimes, we take grace for granted, because it has always been available to us. 

But look at the bigger picture… the vast majority of the world NEVER had access to it!  Those who knew about it (the ancient prophets and the angels), wanted it so badly they treasured and studied every hint of it that they could lay their hands on. 

And to think that you and I have full, unlimited access to that grace!  So take some time this week to dwell on grace.  Think about the mystery of God consenting to become one with part of his creation.  Think about the ability to be a child of God; an heir with Jesus.  Your relationship with God, through grace, has probably not been duplicated anywhere else in the universe.  If these thoughts don’t give you strength in your trials, I don’t know what will!

 

 

I Peter, Chapter 1, Part 1

Introduction: WHO:  There has never been any doubt about the authorship of this biblical book.  Obviously, it is the apostle Peter.  He was the leader of the apostles.  He was the one who walked on water, witnessed the mount of transfiguration, received a revelation that Jesus was the Christ, was reluctant to allow Jesus to wash his feet, and at his lowest point, denied knowing Christ. 

But after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of Holy Spirit, he was filled with power, preached on the day of Pentecost with 3000 being saved, stood up to the religious leaders, helped establish the church, and introduced the Gentiles to salvation.  Eventually, he was crucified (upside down) for his faith. 

WHEN and WHERE:  According to Jewish tradition, Peter spent the last 10 years of his life in Rome.  It is likely that he wrote this book while there, around 60-64 AD. 

WHY:  In his letters, Peter more fully explains the doctrines of Christianity while admonishing his readers to live holy lives.  He also wrote to encourage his readers to stand firm in their faith, especially when facing persecution (5:12).  This widespread persecution was probably incited by Nero, who blamed the Christians for burning Rome.         

Peter addresses his audience as a pastor, who is warm, caring and encouraging to his flock.  He provides practical instructions for how to live in the last days.  As we might expect from a man born and raised as a Jew, he quotes and makes numerous references to the Old Testament, which we will see as we study this letter.

By the time this letter is penned, Peter is older and is a matured man of God.  He will soon finish his earthly race, and we see in this epistle that is mind is focused on the ultimate destiny of all Christians – eternity in heaven with Christ.  

I Peter 1:1 – Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…

Peter is an apostle – a messenger, or one who is sent forth.  This is the highest office in the Christian church (I Corinthians 12:28).   Peter was chosen for this office by Jesus himself (Matthew 10:2).  He was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19) and he was instrumental in establishing the church.  

Because of the authority he carried as an apostle of Jesus Christ, the reader should take heed to the principles and spiritual truths revealed to them by this apostle.   

Who exactly are those readers?  Back in the day when Peter first wrote this letter, he was writing to Christians that were living away from Jerusalem, in the cities of Asia Minor.  These Christians were a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles.  So he is writing to an audience with a very diverse background – some had a familiarity with the law, while some came from a background of idol worship.  

The Christians of that day were beginning to experience some great persecutions, especially since hatred of Christians was being endorsed by the Roman rulers (Nero and others).  

But at the same time, his letters have very little information pertaining to local or temporary interest; almost nothing particular to that specific time or place.  In fact, his writings have a universal application to all Christians of all ages.  Let’s see how it applies to us.      

I Peter 1:2 – …according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:  May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

While verse one gives us the external condition of these Christians (living in Asia Minor during an age of persecution), verse two gives us insight into their spiritual condition.  They may have been oppressed and despised by the world, but they are held in high esteem by God. 

These Christians (your version may refer to them as ‘the elect’), have been sanctified by Holy Spirit.  The terms ‘elect’ and ‘sanctified’ were titles borrowed from Jewish culture and law.

One who is sanctified has been set apart from the rest of the world for the special purposes of God.  Under the old law, all Jews were sanctified in the sense that their entire nation was set apart from the rest of the world, to bear the message of God to all people. 

Under the new covenant, Christians are individually sanctified.  We have been called out of the world to be the light and salt of the earth.  We are children of God, co-heirs with Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit and part of the kingdom of heaven. 

A lot is required of those who are sanctified.  As we will see in this epistle, we are to put away the desires of our flesh and live lives of holiness and purity in our service to God. 

We are also among the elect.  To be elected means to be chosen.  And here we must proceed with caution.  Peter is not saying that God has chosen only certain people to be his children, while others have been excluded. Rather, based on his own plans and purposes, God offers eternal life to each and every person. Each of us must decide to accept or reject his offer.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God’s plan/offer of eternal life through salvation was made ‘according to foreknowledge’.  Let’s explain that.  Strictly speaking, God has neither foreknowledge nor hind sight, because he is not locked into time as we are.  All things are known to God in the present tense. 

Consider it this way:  Hold out your hand palm up.  Draw a line in the palm of your hand.  That line presents time.  Just as you can see the beginning of that line and the end of that line at the same time, God can see all of time from the beginning to end, right now.  To him, all of time is in the present tense.  He holds time in his hand. 

Foreknowledge, as used here, in I Peter 1:2, refers to the fact that before time began, God made a decision and formed a plan.  He knew what he would do.  Specifically, He fore-ordained the death and resurrection of Jesus who, through his blood, provided a way of escape from sin for all of mankind.  Peter says it this way, in his speech on the day of Pentecost:

Act 2:23 – This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

So, just to be clear, ‘foreknowledge’ refers to the plans of God which he made before the beginning of time, knowing what would happen during time.  ‘Elect’ refers to people who have chosen to accept the salvation that God offers to everyone.  

Those who choose salvation are sanctified by the Spirit.  So in this one verse from Peter, we find evidence of the Trinity – God the Father planned our salvation, God the Son reconciled us to the Father through his blood, and God the Spirit sanctifies and keeps us one with the Father.

[Side Note:  Your eternal salvation rests on the foundation of the Trinity.  I caution all of my readers to make sure that you do not destroy the foundation of your own safety by denying the deity, power and working of the Holy Spirit.]   

Sanctification by the Spirit begins with the sprinkling of blood.  This is one of those illusions to the law that was very well understood by all the Jewish converts (Exodus 24:8). 

Under the old law, being sprinkled with blood implied two things.  One, something died.  An innocent animal was sacrificed so that the blood could be sprinkled.  Two, the application of that blood to themselves imputed benefits to them.  Depending on the circumstances, the blood covered their sin, made them part of the covenant, set them apart for use by God and/or it cleansed them.   

However, Peter is writing to Christians who are under the new covenant.  So in this case, the sprinkling of blood refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus, our innocent sacrifice, made once, for all of mankind.  The benefits imputed to us by his shed blood are staggering.  They include:

  • Remission of sin (Romans 3:25, I John 1:7). 
  • Justification before God (Romans 5:9). 
  • Sealing of the covenant, as exemplified by communion (Luke 22:20). 
  • Admission to Heaven (Hebrews 10:19).    

Once you have been sprinkled by the blood of the new covenant, Holy Spirit begins to reside in your heart and sanctifies you for obedience to Christ. His work of sanctification includes:

  • Renewing our minds so that we understand truth (II Thessalonians 2:13). 
  • Assisting us in crucifying the flesh (Romans 8:13).
  • Producing fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).

Sanctification by Holy Spirit could be described as a means to an end; through the renewing and purifying influences of the Spirit on our souls, we are able to yield ourselves up to obedience to Christ in all circumstances at all times. 

I Peter 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

God offers salvation to us out of his great mercy.  In other words, we have no right to salvation because of our own merits.  Nothing we have done, or ever could do, would qualify us for this immeasurable blessing.  In fact, God had every right to withhold mercy from us because of our sin. 

But instead, he causes us to be ‘born again’.  Just as God is the author of our life in the natural sense, he is also the author of our second spiritual birth/life.  This should always be a subject of gratitude and praise for the Christian.  Never take this for granted.  Just as God’s mercy is new every day, so our praise of his benefits should arise fresh in our hearts and minds each day.  

Our spiritual life is a living and powerful hope, producing joy, confidence, comfort and peace.  It is the opposite of all that is cold, dead and ineffectual. 

This hope rests upon the dual pillars of the death and resurrection of Christ.  The resurrection was a confirmation of all that Jesus declared while on earth. The justification of our person, the regeneration of our nature, the resurrection of our bodies and our eternal glorification are all benefits given to us through the Spirit based on the resurrection of Christ.  The power of the Spirit that raised Jesus to life (Romans 8:11), also produces life in us (Ephesians 1:17-23).

I Peter 1:4 – to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

Let’s talk about our inheritance.  Christians are regarded as the adopted children of God, and heaven is part of our inheritance.  It is given to us as proof of God’s love for us. 

Any inheritance we have in this world will vanish or be used up.  But the inheritance of God is different.  It is permanent – it will never be used up, taken away, lost or taxed!  It is undefiled and pure – it was not obtained by fraud or dishonesty and it will not cause corruption to our souls (lust, greed, etc). 

We can enjoy our eternal inheritance while still being holy and active in the future service of God.  These riches are appointed to us by our loving and generous Father, and he keeps them for the day when we join him in eternity. 

I don’t know about you, but to me, this is good news!  The truths that Peter is revealing here must have been a very great source of comfort and joy to the Christians who were suffering back in his day. 

They can and should also be a tremendous comfort to Christians today.  At the present time you may be experiencing afflictions.  We suffer physical ailments, broken relationships, financial hardships, persecution, unfairness and other forms of suffering.  But this is not our eternal state.  Peter will soon remind his readers that they are living in the last days, and at the end of time, heaven awaits us!     

I Peter 1:5 – who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

The phrase ‘being guarded’ or ‘kept’ means to keep as in a garrison or fortress with a military watch, guarding against the approach of an enemy, both day and night.  Peter informs us that God guards/keeps us for salvation.

Notice, that we are not guarded/kept from trials, problems, hard work or afflictions. On the contrary, Jesus informs us that in this world we will have tribulations (John 16:33).  But take heart – these tribulations can only aggravate us in this world.  Comfort, peace and all good things are promised to us in the coming age. 

Our guarded condition consists of two parts. 

The first part is God’s almighty power.  If we were to depend upon our own will, strength and resolution we would fall prey to any and every enemy (temptation).  We could never keep ourselves safe from evil or expect to walk the paths of righteousness until we arrive in heaven.  What a blessing to be guarded day and night by the mighty power of God!

The second part is our faith.  God works in partnership with us.  His power will not be exercised on our behalf unless we place our faith in him.  As we steadily adhere to the Christian faith, we are guarded and protected by the mighty power of God; we are preserved unto salvation and eternal happiness which has already been prepared for us.

This salvation will be revealed in the last time.  In other words, it is not a dream or a myth.  It already exists; it has already been prepared for us.  If we could see into the heavenly realm with mortal eyes, we would see it! 

For now, we must be content to view it through our spiritual eyes.  But rest assured – the fullness of our salvation will become evident at the end of this age, when it will be ‘revealed’, which implies a sudden unveiling.  In a moment of time, God will raise the curtain and instantly display the inheritance which has been kept for us in heaven.

What do you think is waiting for you in the next life?  Are you storing up treasures in heaven, or are you investing in this world? 

I Peter 1:6 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

The people who originally received this letter from Peter were suffering persecution for their faith.  This may very well have resulted in loss of jobs/business, being social outcasts, inability to purchase goods/services/ land, exclusion from medical care, bodily harm, and other difficulties.  This is the nature of trials.  They tend to travel in groups, rather than singly and they obviously cause sorrow or grief.      

Peter acknowledges their suffering, and offers them hope which would mitigate some of their sorrows.  

First of all, Peter consoles them with the fact that their trials were only for a short season/little while. What did he mean by that statement? 

He wasn’t referring to the actual duration/time of their test.  He had no way of knowing exactly how long the trials/persecutions of these Christians would last.  Rather, he was comparing the difficulties of this life to an eternity with God.  Paul expresses the same thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians:

II Corinthians 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…

 Paul and Peter are in agreement.  Afflictions, even if they last a lifetime, should be considered momentary when compared to the eternal reward waiting for us in heaven. 

Secondly, these afflictions come upon us only ‘if necessary’.  Peter gently suggests to suffering believers that although their trials may be grievous, they have a purpose.  You may not see it at the moment, but Peter assures us that these trials are accomplishing eternal good in the life of the believer. 

Think of it this way:  There is a child of about 10-12 years old.  The child does not realize it yet, but he is the heir to a vast empire.  As such, he must be prepared for his coming responsibilities and privileges.  He will be molded/made ready through experience and discipline. 

The Christian can take heart in knowing that trials, afflictions and Godly discipline are a guarantee that our Father is preparing us for an unimaginably great and wonderful future.  We can also be assured that he will never test us more than necessary. 

One commentator has expressed this thought:  ‘When we have entered on our heavenly inheritance, our surprise will be that God has been enabled to accomplish in us such fitness for it through so few earthly trials’.   

I Peter 1:7 – so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Here we find Peter making another analogy to the Old Testament, which his Jewish readers were sure to understand.  The passage is found in Malachi, chapter 3. 

Peter, like Malachi, compares the testing of the Christian faith to the refining of gold by fire.

Gold is one of the most precious metals.  When subjected to extreme heat in a furnace, all of the impurities are burned away and the pure gold remains.  It will be brighter, purer and more valuable than it was before.

When God sends us into the fires of affliction, our faith is tested.  All that is impure or unrighteous or false is burned away and our pure faith remains.  This faith will be brighter, purer and more valuable than before.  As an added bonus, we find that trials do more than just purify.  They actually establish, improve and multiply the faith they test!   

Through this testing of our faith, God prepares us to fulfill the destiny he has for us in the next realm of life with him.

Your faith is tested so that it may be ‘found unto praise’ or as our translation puts it, ‘found to result in praise’.  This means that our faith, which has been tested, will be found genuine and result in praise or commendation from our heavenly Father.  We will hear him say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’!  Tested faith also results in honor and glory.  Honor is the respect or esteem of another.  Thus, we will be respected or highly esteemed for our faith. 

Jesus will soon appear and when he does, we will meet/appear with him and our graces will be seen.  The more we have been tried in the fire, the more bright we will shine.  Our earthly trials will soon be over, but the glory, honor and praise they produce in us will last for eternity!

I encourage you to dwell on these truths.  They will certainly be a comfort to you, when enduring your trials. 

I Peter 1:8 – Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

Peter now commends the faith of his readers in several areas.  The first is that they love Jesus, even though they never met him on earth. 

Peter had indeed seen Jesus in the flesh as well as glorified on the mount of transfiguration.  He understood at least part of the glory, wisdom and power of God, because he had witnessed it with his physical eyes.

His readers, however, did not have that benefit. 

II Corinthians 5:7 – … we walk by faith, not by sight.

They saw Jesus through eyes of faith, believing on him through the preaching of the gospel message (John 20:29).  

Is simple belief enough?  Certainly not!  Even the demons believe in Jesus and tremble (James 2:19).  The Christians that Peter is addressing not only believe in Jesus but their belief has brought forth fruit – it resulted in obedience and subjection to Christ, reliance on his power and an expectation of fulfillment of all his promises. 

You and I are in much the same situation.  Although we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes, we (and untold millions of others) believed in him through the preaching of the gospel message.  Our faith in him has resulted in our obedience to his word and will.  It has resulted in our reliance on his power.  It has resulted in a strong faith that expects fulfillment of all the good promises that God has made to us. 

This kind of a relationship with Jesus results in inexpressible joy and glory.  Think back to the time when you first gave your life to Jesus.  Didn’t you feel an incredible joy and peace when the burden of sin was removed from you?  Now that you are a more mature believer with many trials under your belt, can’t you still say that joy and happiness are yours through Jesus Christ your Lord?  Can’t you truthfully say that true joy comes from your relationship with Him, rather than your outward circumstances?

A relationship with Jesus can offer what is solid, real and permanent which will never disappoint or fade away.  Even though we don’t see it today we have the assurance that it will one day be ours.  AMEN!

I Peter 1:9 – obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The ultimate end, the consummation, the reward of the Christian’s faith is the salvation of our soul (and our body).  We can be sure, even now, that we will most certainly receive the salvation promised to us by Christ.  Here then, is even greater reason for inexpressible joy!

Let me offer you some encouragement: 

I know we have heard this before, but the words are not idly spoken – the trials you now face have an eternal purpose.  

Take a second look at the point we made back in our study of Malachi:  God will refine us – he will purge us through instruction, affliction, temptation or any other way that Holy Spirit sees fit, in order to rid us of the grime of sin and make us pure and holy, fit for his service.  This is not a punishment.  It is a growing process that will be for the glory of God and our good.   

Let me offer you some relief:

Trials do not last forever!  When their purpose is complete, God will remove them from your life.

Let me offer you some strength:

God has a close watch on your afflictions and trials.  As we said in our study of Malachi,   God is the craftsman, sitting by the fires of trials and tribulations, with his people in the crucible of life.  He perfectly and skillfully places them into situations that are not too hot (difficult), nor too cold (easy).  He keeps his people in the fire for the exact amount of time needed to burn up their sin and unholiness, then immediately and tenderly removes them to safety, so nothing is lost.  The result is a people fit for service in his kingdom; a people who will rule and reign with him in the next age. 

So be strong in the midst of your trials – they are working out your eternal glory!

 

Malachi, Chapter 4

Malachi 4:1 – “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

The last few verses of this book act as a summary.  Previous truths are reiterated.  Sinners are called to awaken from spiritual slumber.  The righteous are encouraged to continue in the faith.  And God promises a Day of Judgment for all; to punish some, reward others and vindicate the ways of God.

Behold… Take special note of what God is revealing here.  It will be of vital importance to the reader.

…the day is coming…  Which day is Malachi referring to?  The first coming of Christ, or the second or both?

Right you are, it’s both!  Actually, this is a great example of how God’s prophesies are true for every generation and often have multiple levels of fulfillment.

…burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts…  Let’s begin with the generation of Israelites who first received this word from Malachi.  For them, the first coming of Jesus (as Messiah) was still in the future.  In fact, it was still almost 400 years in the future. 

At that time, many of the Jews were practicing empty and vain worship of God.  As we saw in our study of the gospel of Matthew, they relied on outward actions to justify themselves, when in reality their hearts were evil and corrupt.

John the Baptist came, calling them to repentance.  Jesus followed, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven and calling the Jews to embrace him as the long promised Messiah.  But as we know, the majority rejected him and chose to continue in wickedness. 

Thus the wicked or unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day became enemies of God.  They are spiritual ‘stubble’ or the useless part of the stem leftover after wheat is harvested. Stubble is good for nothing, so it is often burned.  This is contrasted with those who believed in Christ, represented as wheat, which is stored up or saved in the storehouses of God.

In summary, God is saying that the Jews who rejected Jesus were spiritually dead and good for nothing; the coming of Jesus consumed them until nothing was left, much like a hot fire would consume stubble.  Everything they trusted in was gone because it was a sham. 

Psalms 21:9 – You will make them [unbelievers/enemies] as a blazing oven when you appear.  The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.

I want to make another point on this issue.  Each man decided for himself whether he would be wheat or stubble.  For those who trusted in Jesus, the fire of his coming was not a furnace of destruction, but a refiner’s fire – it purged them, removing the filth of this world, making them pure and holy.  So it is with all those who trust in Christ (I Corinthians 3:13-15).

Many biblical scholars see a literal fulfillment of this prophesy in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  At that time, the temple was indeed set on fire, and many of the stubborn Jews who rejected Jesus were burned up in that blaze.  It can certainly be noted that everything they trusted in (the temple, the old covenant, the nation) was destroyed.    

What about our own generation?  The coming of Jesus as Messiah has passed into history, but his return as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the judge of all the earth is still in the future. 

Our generation faces the exact same choice the Jews did so long ago:  What will we do with Jesus?  Do we believe he is the Messiah, the Son of God who can atone for our sin, or is he just a prophet/good man?

Those who trust in Jesus during the age of grace are like wheat.  Jesus will see that we are gathered together and placed in the store house of God, which is representative of us being saved and taken to heaven with him, at the end of time.

Matthew 13:41-43- The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father…

Meanwhile, all those who reject Jesus are again likened to stubble.  They will be gathered and sentenced to the fires of hell at the conclusion of this age.  In short, Christ is a consuming fire to those that rebel against him.

So, in some ways, nothing has changed.  Jesus is the lynchpin upon which eternity rests.  That was true back in the days he walked the earth, and it is still true now.  What will you decide to do with Jesus?

so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  This is a proverbial expression for total destruction.     

The roots of a tree are unseen, delving deep into the earth.  Even if you cut it down, the roots may still be alive.  If so, they will send up new shoots in an attempt to re-grow the tree.  This indicates that although the tree was cut down, there was still life within it (Job 14:7-9). 

Branches are the part of the tree that bear fruit, and thus continue the species or lineage of the tree. 

This is an analogy for mankind.  The roots represent the ancestry of a group/family/nation of people (in this case, the wicked), while the branches represent future generations.  When God cuts them off during the time of his judgment, they will be completed destroyed.  There will be no root left to spring up again, nor will there be any branches to bear fruit or continue their lineage.  They will be totally and completely destroyed; wiped from the face of the earth.  This will be the outcome of the wicked.

Malachi 4:2 – But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

While a promise of destruction awaits the wicked, a promise of life and healing awaits the righteous.  Those who faithfully serve Christ, who fear/respect his name and give him the glory he is due, will find mercy and comfort at his return. 

The phrase ‘sun of righteousness shall rise with healing it its wings’ is a metaphor. The rising sun diffuses both heat and light, bringing life to creation.  All that is healthy in nature revives, prospers and bears fruit with the sun.  At the same time, plants that have no depth of root are scorched and wither away.

Spiritually speaking, the Sun of Righteousness clearly refers to Jesus, the light of the world (John 1:1-9).  

While the old covenant/law gave man a picture of God and his purposes, it was very dark and limited.  When Jesus came bringing the new covenant, he illuminated the plans and purposes of God.  Before he came we were blinded by darkness, but now we walk in the light (John 8:12).

Just as the rays of the sun bring life to the earth, so the gospel of Jesus brings mercy and spiritual life to his people.  His presence provides his people with health, strength, joy, peace, safety, security and every good thing we need to prosper and bear fruit.

God’s people are destined to ‘go forth’, or to leave where they are at; to go to a new place and to be vigorous and prosperous, to engage in new business.  

This promise had a partial fulfillment back in 70 AD, when the believing Jews were warned by Holy Spirit to flee Jerusalem.  They did so, and found safety from the Romans in the land of Pella.  By the mercy of God, they were spared from the horrors and destruction suffered by the unbelieving Jews who remained in Jerusalem. [We covered these events at length in our study of the gospel of Matthew.  Please refer to that study for more information.]  They went on to rebuild their lives and perpetuate their nation.

We can expect a complete fulfillment of this as well, at some time in the future, when Jesus returns to earth.  At that time, the wicked will find their hearts failing with fear (Luke 21:26), while believers can lift up their heads in joy, as their redemption draws nigh (Luke 21:28).  We can look forward to the day when we ‘go forth’ from this life to heaven, where we will forever be in the presence of God.  Our existence in heaven will not be limited to sitting on clouds and playing harps.  God has a great deal in store for us; we can expect to have a productive, vigorous existence in heaven, working for our Father. 

At that time, we will be like calves, leaping as they leave the stall.  In other words, we will be young, strong, full of life, satisfied, healthy, energetic, happy and content, well taken care of, joyful, ready for new adventures and ready to explore and discover a new world!     

 Malachi 4:3 – and you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

This statement represents a reversal of what has happened throughout the ages.  To the faithful in every generation, it seems that the wicked prosper.  And maybe they do.  But it will not always be so.  God assures his people that a day is coming when the wicked will be ashes (after the stubble is burned in the oven), and that the righteous (collectively the church) will then be raised up by the hand of God to be victorious over the ungodly.   

While this assurance brings us hope, it should not produce arrogance or vengeance in the hearts of the righteous.  It is our job to continue to pray for the wicked (Matthew 5:44-45), and share the light of the gospel message, hoping that all men will come to Christ. 

This is going to occur in God’s perfect timing, which has not been revealed to us.  We must live by faith until we see this promise come to pass.  Many generations of the righteous have not only lived in faith for this day, but they have died without receiving the fulfillment (indeed, many have felt death through the hand of the wicked).  No matter what our circumstances, we must hold firm to the promise of God and faithfully look for this day to come. 

Malachi 4:4 –“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statures and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

At first this statement may seem a bit out of place, but when you consider this book as a whole, it makes perfect sense. 

Earlier in this book, we found the Israelites asking ‘Where is the God of judgment?  What profit is there in keeping/obeying his laws?’  God responds to their questions, telling them of the judgment that was to come.   The Day of Judgment is an accounting for all mankind.  The wicked will be destroyed, while the righteous will be rewarded.  In view of that, the Jews should take a fresh look at the Law. 

But the full meaning goes even deeper than this.

The true prophetic word of God was never really new revelation or new doctrine from God.  Rather, the prophets were constantly calling the people back to a more perfect obedience to God’s laws – laws that had already been given through Moses.  The words of the prophets never contradicted the Law that had already been given. 

Now consider that after these words of Malachi, there will be no other prophetic words from God until John the Baptist.  This equates to about 400 of ‘silence’ from God.  In that interim where there would be no prophet, what could the people count on to keep themselves on the paths of righteousness?  The Law, of course.  So it was imperative that they took the initiative to examine the law themselves, and then to keep/obey God’s statutes and commands.  It was vital that they continue to pass this information down from generation to generation. 

Deuteronomy 29:29 – The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but he things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

The Jews who understood and kept the law in future generations, would be the best prepared to repent under the ministry of John the Baptist, and accept Christ as Messiah and Lord. 

The Jews who were far from the law, were more likely to side with the blind and envious religious leaders and reject Christ, their only hope of salvation.

This call back to the Law probably touched the people of God very deeply.  How did Israel regard the Law?  For them, it was an integral part of their heritage.  Of all the people groups on earth, God had chosen to be in covenant with them, and he had trusted only them with his laws.  So, the law was something that separated Israel from all the pagan nations.  It was a source of national pride for them. 

So when God commands them to remember the law, it not only reminds them to refresh their knowledge, it is a reminder that they are a nation in covenant with God himself.  They are in a position of honor; they are God’s chosen people.  This was extra incentive for them to embrace and enforce the law, which they claimed to love.

This verse is also a reminder of the authority behind the law.  It did not come from Moses, it came from God through Moses.  Thus, God reminds them not to neglect the law, for it carries the full weight of his authority.

Not only are they to hold onto the Law, but they must expectantly look forward to the coming of the Messiah.  His coming will be announced by Elijah.      

Malachi 4:5-6 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

We know that during the days of Jesus it was the universal opinion of the Jews that when Christ was upon the earth, he would be received by the learned and unlearned, both the high officials and the common people, and that Elijah should be the one to usher him in and anoint him.  All the Jews of that day expected Elijah to come and restore all things.

But the prophesy of Malachi neither specifically states nor implies that Elijah the Tishbite would come in person.  If anyone else came in the spirit and power of Elijah, that is, if anyone came to fulfill the same kind of spiritual role he did, then Malachi’s words would be fulfilled.

What was the ministry of Elijah?  He came during a dark time in Israel’s history.  God used him to ignite a national reformation to convert both fathers and children from their evil practices/idolatry/vain worship, and to restore a true sense of religion.

And what was the ministry of John the Baptist?  Just like Elijah, God used him to ignite a national reformation; a call to repentance, to convert all the Jews from their evil practices/idolatry/vain worship, and to prepare them to receive Jesus as the Messiah.

Clearly, all the common people recognized that John was a prophet (Matthew 14:5, 21:26) and even the religious leaders thought he was Elijah (John 1:19-21).  The angel Gabriel specifically states the John is the Elijah who was to come (Luke 1:16-17), and Jesus confirms his message (Matthew 11:10, Luke 7:27).

Matthew 17:10-13 – And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?   And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things.  But I say unto you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not… Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist.   

We further notice the timing of the prophet – he would come before the great and awesome/dreadful day of the Lord. 

Of course that is true of John the Baptist, who was six months older than Jesus and who began his call to repentance a couple of years before Jesus began his public ministry.

The time of Christ incarnate was indeed a ‘great and awesome’ or ‘great and dreadful’ day.  It was great because he fulfilled the old covenant, ushered in the new covenant, wrought countless miracles, conquered Satan and sent us Holy Spirit.

But for the unbelieving Jews, it was a dreadful time of judgment.  They had been warned to escape from the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7, 3:10) because Christ was about to gather the wheat into his barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12).  As we have already noted, the coming of the Lord is a great and joyful day to those who embrace him, but a day of wrath and dread for those who oppose him.

So, John the Baptist was the ‘Elijah’ that was mentioned here in Malachi chapter four.     

But is it possible that the Jews were correct on some level?

There is still a great and dreadful day coming, when the Lord Jesus will return to earth again, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  At this time, he will come as judge of the whole earth, bringing reward for those who love him and punishment for those who reject him.  The events of his coming are detailed in the book of Revelation.

Revelation chapter 11 speaks of two witnesses who will prophesy and testify for a period of time (3 ½ years) during the great tribulation.  While the two witnesses are not named, some scholars feel they might be Enoch and Elijah, the two men who did not die, but were translated to heaven.  If this winds up being the case, then Elijah will indeed come again, just before the final great and terrible day of the Lord.       

However, we don’t want to waste a lot of time in speculation.  What we want to do is be ready for the coming of the Lord.  We do this by repenting of our sin, asking Jesus to forgive us and fill us with his Holy Spirit.  If we ask him, he will be faithful to make us a new creation, and write our names in the Lamb’s book of Life. 

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through him.  To those who do come, he has promised eternal life with no more worries, pain, fear, heartache, disease or despair.  If you haven’t given your life to him yet, what are you waiting for? 

You can become a child of God today, right this minute, by praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ! 

Malachi, Chapter 3, Part 2

Malachi 3:8 – Will man rob God?  Yet you are robbing me.  But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’  In your tithes and contributions.

Last time, in verse 7, we saw God make a gracious promise to his people – ‘Return to me, and I will return to you’.  The implication was clear.  If the people would forsake their wicked ways and repent, God would remove the curses that they had placed themselves under by their own actions.

Yet, that verse ended in stubborn rebellion, as the response of the Jews was ‘How shall we return’, or in other words, ‘What are you talking about?  In what area have we forsaken you?’  

God replies with another question:  ‘Will a man rob God?’  In the Hebrew, the word for God is Aleim, which is a pleural word that is often applied to the true triune God, Yahweh. 

But that word is also used when referring to false idols, which are multiple in number.  This leads many scholars to believe that God is chastising his people by comparing them to the Gentiles.  Let me explain.

The Gentiles worshipped multiple false gods and they were actually very faithful in their false worship.  They had a true fear or respect for their false gods, and they very seldom failed to perform their religious duties and sacrifices.  To neglect the offerings was an abomination to them.  The false gods got the best they had to offer.

On the other hand, the Jews, who were in a covenant with the one true God, did not consider it a problem to withhold their offerings.  They did not consider it blasphemy to bring unfit sacrifices to the Living God. 

Here then, is something that defies belief – unbelievers would never even consider robbing their false gods of the sacrifices due to them, but the Jews defraud Yahweh himself!  How is it possible that they have such utter disrespect for him?

As perverse and rebellious as their actions were, they would sink to an even greater level of depravity as they impudently ask ‘How have we robbed/defrauded you?’

God’s answer is specific.  In the English Standard Version it is rendered “tithes and contributions”.  In the original it is rendered “in the tenth and the heave offering”. 

A heave offering literally means something that is ‘lifted off a larger mass’ or separated for sacred purposes.  The word is used in a variety of applications, including agricultural produce (also called first fruits), the spoils of war, certain portions of a sacrifice given to the priests for food (thigh – Exodus 29:7 or shoulder – Exodus 29:27), etc. 

All heave offerings were presents or contributions.  Unlike the tithe, they were not specifically 10%.  We generally refer to these simply as offerings.  These offerings were an acknowledgement or a testimony that God had blessed the giver and that He alone had given the increase. 

Offerings are optional; we give them.  Tithes are required; we pay them. 

Why did God require tithes and offerings of his people?  Obviously, God didn’t need their produce or their gold.  

He wanted them to continually be reminded that he was the source of all their blessings.  This would keep them humble.  If you do not acknowledge God in your success, you tend to start believing that you earned the blessings through your own wisdom and strength, which is not the case. 

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 – Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’.  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers as it is this day.

Tithes and offerings aided in the care of the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). 

Tithes and offerings provided for the function and maintenance of the temple and its services.  Do you own a house?  If so, you know that in addition to regular maintenance, there are also unexpected repairs.  Without a steady source of income, you could not complete repairs and your house would soon begin to fall apart.  The same was true for the temple.  It also needed maintenance and upkeep, as well as supplies such as animals, fire wood, oil, ingredients for incense and many other necessities.  The tithe took care of these items.

Tithing is a form of stewardship.  When God puts anything into our hands (money, talents, opportunities, influence, etc), he always expects us to be good stewards of it.  This means that we use our resources wisely, providing for ourselves, for others and for the work of God’s kingdom.

The tithe also reflects God’s fairness – it is 10%, no matter how much or how little you earn.  By requiring everyone to pay the same small percentage, God ensures that the burden is equitable across the board.  

A tithe is 10%

Now, let’s take a moment and consider a scenario in which the tithes and offerings stopped. 

Once the tithes and offerings ceased, there would not be any food or money coming into the temple.  The building would soon fall into disrepair.  The daily sacrifices and services would stop.   The priests would be left without provision, and in response they would either have to abandon the priesthood to take care of their families, or they would begin to accept diseased offerings just to have something for themselves.  Soon, they would be corrupted and disillusioned with their service to God.  Their perverse example would cause sin and corruption to spread to the common people.   

Does any of that sound familiar?  It should – it was the exact situation that we saw in Malachi chapter one!  The Jews discovered that stealing from God did not enrich them in any way.  It only brought about misery and destruction.    

What about today?  Should Christians tithe? 

Jesus gives us the answer in the gospel of Luke:  

Luke 11:42 – But woe unto you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over justice and the love of God: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.  

In this rebuke of the religious leaders, Jesus is telling them to observe the principles required in the law (justice, mercy, love), but at the same time, they should continue to tithe.

The purposes for tithing have not changed.  We still need to be reminded that our material blessings are the result of the hand of God, so we remain humble.  We still need to maintain our houses of worship.  We still need to assist the poor, spread the gospel and provide for our ministers.  We still need to practice good stewardship. 

No improvements need to be made to God’s plan for tithe – it remains perfectly fair and equitable for all Christians, no matter how great or small your income. 

Despite this, there are still some people who refuse to tithe.  Why is that?          

Perhaps they are not fully committed to God.  I admit this sounds harsh, but look at the facts:

Matthew 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Those who tithe into their local church have ‘skin in the game’.  They have invested part of themselves in the local body of Christ and they will support and grow that investment by volunteering, serving, praying, seeking the lost, correcting error and generally being involved in the work of the church. 

Those who do not invest in the local body tend to be those who either leave over minor issues, or sit back and criticize others, while doing nothing themselves.  Since they have nothing invested, they lose nothing by leaving or by tearing others down.   

Jesus made it clear that our attitudes, efforts and resources are a kind of spiritual barometer of our commitment to his kingdom.  Want to know where your heart lies?  Look at what you do with your money!   

Or perhaps some people do not tithe because they have not received sound biblical teaching on this topic.  We seem to have two extremes coming from the pulpit; one in which money is the central topic of every service, and one in which money is never mentioned at all.  Both extremes are harmful to the people of God.  Ministers should not be afraid of preaching sound biblical doctrine in this area.  In fact, if they fail to do so, they are hurting their congregation and their ministry.

In short, I believe that an examination of the bible shows that the Christians of today SHOULD tithe.  Unfortunately, this blog is not the right format for an in-depth, all encompassing look at this issue.  For that reason, I encourage all readers to look for some outside sources on this topic.  Look at what the authors have to say, make sure it is backed up with scripture, seek Holy Spirit, then (and only then) make your decision on tithing.  

Malachi 3:9 – you are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

The first thing to notice here is that God is not punishing everyone for the sins of a few. All of the people were guilty, from the least to the greatest.  Consequently, the entire nation will be chastised.

Here is the essence of their situation:

The people find excuses to stop paying tithes and offerings, which is a sin against God.  In response, or in effort to bring them back to righteousness, God withholds some of his blessings.  At that point, the people should have humbled themselves before God and inquired about the reason for their ill fortune, or poverty. 

If they had, God would have revealed that the cause of their distress was sin.  If they repented and changed their ways, God would restore their prosperity.

But they don’t humble themselves before God.  Instead, they begin to murmur and complain about God’s goodness.  They blame him for their current hardships.  They withhold even more tithes and offerings (or give polluted offerings), rationalizing their behavior by saying they could no longer afford to honor God with acceptable tithes and offerings.

Since they did not heed the warning that God gave them (seasons of lack/withholding divine blessing), God turns their warning into a curse.  Nothing they do will prosper.

God is perfectly just in consuming them with poverty.  Should God bless them for sinning?  Has God ever rewarded wickedness with blessing?  Should God enrich them with his bounty for robbing Him, his temple, his priests and the poor?  Of course not!

Take a moment to examine your own situation.  Do you believe God requires you to tithe?  If so, do you fail to give because you have too many bills or you have a need/want or you are making less than you used to?  If so, why not do what Israel should have done – ask God about your situation and how you should handle it. 

Again, the Israelites will take no responsibility for their own sin. They refuse to repent.  Instead, they further malign God and begin to despise his name and his ways.  

But contending with God is never profitable.  If they continue to harden their hearts while under judgment, they will soon be reduced to nothing.  (That’s what Pharaoh did.  How did it work out for him?)  They are in a hopeless circle of sin, which they brought upon themselves.  

This is not what God wants for his people. There is a solution to their problem; there is a way to reverse this curse and return into favor with God.  He reveals the remedy through his prophet, Malachi:

Malachi 3:10 – Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

The first thing they need to do is repent.  While that is not clearly spelled out, it is implied.  They have to stop, humble themselves, confess their sin, turn around and do what is right. 

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  The right thing to do is to bring the FULL tithe to God.  Not a portion of their choosing, not ‘more or less’ a tenth, not whatever is left over at the end of the week, not what is diseased or maimed, but the full amount due. 

A full tithe shows reverence to God as well as faith in his provision.  It acknowledges his blessing in their lives.  After all, who created them?  Who gave them possession of the land?  Who gave them seed?  Who provided the sun and the rain?  Who multiplied their flocks and herds?

When you look at it that way, God would be justified in asking for 90% while leaving us only 10%!  But all he asks is a mere pittance of what he has provided for us. 

God says that he wants the full tithe so that there will be food in his house.  This was the literal situation for the post exilic Jews.  The priests and Levites fed their families from the offerings given to the temple.  But things had gotten so bad, that the Levites had no choice but to flee the temple and return to their own homes to try and scratch out a living for their families. 

Eventually, under the guidance of Nehemiah and Malachi, the tithes were restored to the temple.  You can read about it in Nehemiah 13:10-23.

And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts… God pledges himself to his people in a verifiable way – if they bring the full amount required, he will bless them with what they needed for a super-abundant return.

By this, God will settle once and for all their guilt and His innocence.  They accused God of abandoning them and blessing the wicked, but God assures the Jews if they do as they had been commanded (bring the whole tenth), they would immediately receive a reversal of fortune. 

For example, if they planted wheat, God would provide the rain and sun and he would protect the wheat from locusts, etc, so they would have an abundant harvest.  The point being that God was not going to ‘magically’ fill their barns with wheat; they still had to do the work, but the work they did would be blessed.

This will be proof to everyone that evil/sin was the cause of Israel’s barrenness, not their righteous heavenly Father.  

…if I will not open the windows of heaven for you… The windows of heaven refer to rainfall.  In the past, God had used both drought and flooding as a warning to bring his people back to righteousness. For instance:

  • In I Samuel 2:17-18, God sends a sudden thunderstorm to ruin the wheat crop when Israel rejects him and requests a king. 
  • In II Chronicles 6:26-27, when Solomon prayed his prayer of dedication over the temple, he included a provision that God would hear his people when the heavens were shut up and there was no rain because of their evil deeds. 
  • In I Kings 17:1-7, Elijah prays that that there will be no rain for 3 years, and God honors that prayer. 
  • In Zechariah 14:17-18, the prophet declares that whoever does not come to Jerusalem to worship the King will not have rain. 
  • And of course, we are all familiar with God destroying the world with a flood because of evil in the day of Noah.

If there is no rain (or too much rain), then the earth cannot produce crops. If there are no crops, then men have no hope of life.  During a drought, rivers, streams and wells dry up, causing further death to animals and people.  So water is a key to abundant life.  But the rain itself is not ‘magic’.  It must be mixed with the blessing of God.

…and pour down for you a blessing…  It literally means ‘to pour you out or empty out to you’.  In other words, God will hold nothing back.  He will bless the rain and the earth which will then provide all that men need in order to thrive (corn, wine, oil, etc).  I just want to point out once again, the people would still have to do the work, but God was going to bless the work they did. 

…until there is no more need, or until there is no more room to receive it.  God will bless his people ‘beyond sufficiency’.  He will not limit them to ‘just enough to get by’, but he will provide an opportunity for super abundance, that overflows their capacity to receive and store it.

Proverbs 3:9-10 – Honor the LORD with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase: So shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst out with new wine.

So basically, you can’t out give God!  If Israel will be faithful to honor God with their tenth and their offerings, so that God’s house/temple has provision, then God will turn around and bless the people with an opportunity for abundance, so that they can have more than they need – and they will not miss the tenth at all!  That was exactly the case during the reign of King Hezekiah:

2 Chronicles 31:10 – And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him [Hezekiah], and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat, and have plenty left: for the LORD has blessed his people; and that which is left is this great abundance.

Now there is a cycle that I want to be a part of – you give your tithe to God and he blesses you with an opportunity for abundance.  You tithe on the abundance, and he gives you even more!  There is no way to out give God!

Again, we cannot help but ask how this applies to our generation. 

If it is possible to open the windows of heaven over your life, then it is also possible to close them, just as the people of Malachi’s day did. 

Here is a short list of things that can close God’s blessing over your life:  Not tithing, fear/unbelief, unforgiveness, loving money, improper thinking and/or speaking, wrong desires or motives, tradition, ignoring the poor, and wrong priorities. 

Again, I suggest you do your own research on this issue and consult other outside sources.  Meditate and pray on what you find, and make changes if needed.  You don’t want to be living under a closed heaven! 

Malachi 3:11 – I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.

This is another aspect of the blessing that God mentions in verse 10.  We know that crops may receive plenty of rain, then spring up and grow, but it is still possible to be cheated out of a harvest, even at that point. 

Locusts, worms, other animals, other people, hail, storms, mildew, etc still have the capacity to destroy a crop before it is harvested.  But here, God promises to watch over the fruit of their labors and preserve it, until they are able to gather it in for their use.

Thus God will not allow them to be deprived or bereaved (the literal translation) of their harvest.

Do you believe that God watches out for your income, talents and resources so that they are not lost?  If not, why do you suppose that is?

Malachi 3:12 – Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

Back in Deuteronomy 28, God gave his people a lengthy list of blessings that would be theirs if they were obedient, and a lengthy list of curses that would be theirs if they weren’t. 

During the time of Malachi, they were disobedient, and consequently, they were under a curse.  They were so poor and miserable, that the Gentiles of that land detested them, and mocked their God. 

But in this verse, God promises a reversal of fortune for his people.  When they become obedient to God’s commands, their lack will be turned into abundance, and their misery into joy.  Those around them will certainly take notice and acknowledge that God has blessed them. 

Malachi 3:13 – Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord.  But you say, “How have we spoken against you?”

Now God moves on to another topic.  Not only have they cheated him in the tithe and offering, they have blasphemed him with their mouths. 

God declares that their words have been ‘hard’ or ‘bold’ against him.  In this case, ‘words’ actually means ‘discourse’.  The implication is that the Jews were talking among themselves about their situation.  Using their own faulty human reasoning, they determine that God is unjust and unfaithful.        

As a result, they have banded together and determined to contradict the laws of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In pride and haughtiness, they flatly refuse to follow his commands or accept his authority. 

They were bad apples!

They speak against his ways with an air of insolence, encouraging all those around to join in their rebellion.  The minds and hearts of the righteous remnant were filled with poison as they heard these words.  This amounts to nothing less than an act of treason against the God of heaven!  These are harsh words indeed!  

In their reply, they try to downplay their guilt.  They cannot deny that they have spoken against God, but they try to justify themselves by making light of it.  Can you picture them looking surprised and innocent as they say ‘What are you talking about?  What have we spoken against God and his ways?  Besides, others have said far worse things!’

But they are presented with a lesson that is still valuable for us today – God not only hears, but keeps a record of all that we say – the good, the bad and the ugly:

Matthew 12:36 – I [Jesus] tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak…

The truth is that words have power.  They can bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21), so we need to take them seriously.  Think of them as seeds.  Do you want to sow seeds of discord and failure into your life, or seeds of peace and prosperity?  Keep this in mind – every time you open your mouth, you are planting your future!   

Malachi 3:14 – You have said, “It is vain to serve God.  What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 

The post exilic Jews assert that there is no benefit to serving God.  They claim their labor for him has no purpose and no reward.

Let’s start with their claim of ‘walking in mourning’.  This indicates that they clothed themselves in sack cloth, and participated in voluntary fasts crying out to God about the country’s afflictions.  That sounds like a pious thing to do, but it wasn’t, because their hearts were not right before God.  

Here we find a sin that continued among the Jews, even until the days of Jesus.  In fact, it may have reached its zenith around that time.  Specifically, the Jews participated in outward forms of religion (fasting, mourning, tithing on spices, public prayer, etc), while inwardly their hearts were far from God. 

Matthew 15:8-9 – This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

God is never moved by empty religious acts.  He is looking for true devotion.  Therefore, the mourning of the Jews of Malachi’s day was no more acceptable to God than the false worship of the Jews in the days of Christ.  

Whose fault is it that their worship and service is in vain?  It’s theirs, not God’s!

Further, God has not called his people to a lifetime of mourning and misery.  The scriptures tell us that:

  • God gives us a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness and the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). 
  • God’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). 
  • Weeping lasts for only a night; God brings joy in the morning (Psalms 30:5). 
  • With joy we draw upon the well of salvation (Isaiah 16:10). 
  • The righteous shall be glad in the Lord (Psalms 64:10), etc.

The point is that the Jews insisted they were righteous because they mourned, but God wanted them to serve him in gladness and with joy.  God wants us to be cheerful and full of hope in our service to him. 

You may not be able to control all of the circumstances in your life, but you can choose how you react to them!

Malachi 3:15 – And now we call the arrogant blessed.  Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.

Finally, they complain about their poverty.  These Jews are clearly focused on worldly things to the exclusion of the next life.  It is true that if God’s people did not have hope of another and better life, it would be senseless and worthless to bear the afflictions of righteousness. 

I Corinthians 15:19 – If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

However, that is not the case (see the ENTIRE bible!).  We know that there is a life after this one; an eternity full of goodness and blessings are waiting for those who trust in Jesus!

It is folly to envy the wealth of the wicked.  God abhors their actions and eventually, if they do not repent, their final destination will be hell.

Malachi 3:16 – Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord paid attention and heard them and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.

But the news is not all bad!  As we would expect, God has a remnant who are true to him.  In that age of great corruption, there were still people of God who retained their integrity and zeal for God!  I don’t know about you, but this gives me hope for today.

Make no mistake – this will take work on our part.  The enemy wants to destroy our country and he is not going to just roll over and give up.  But through Jesus, we can win this victory for ourselves and our children!

In pride and arrogance, America has thrown off the yoke of God and rebelled against his laws.  And we are currently paying the price for these decisions.  But there is still hope! There are still true Christians in America, who are righteous before God!  Through us, God wants to spread a spirit of repentance and revival that will sweep across our land!  What a glorious day it will be, when great masses of Americans come to know Christ, and our nation returns to its godly heritage. 

The righteous remnant in Malachi’s day feared the Lord.  In other words, they had great respect and deep reverence for God.  The scriptures tell us that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28, Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7).  Not only did they respect God, they submitted to his authority, and obeyed his laws. 

They spent time thinking about Him/His Name.  They meditated or seriously considered what had been revealed to them about their God.  They were familiar with his ways, his delights and his dislikes.  These meditations had an influence on their actions; they wanted to honor the name of God by what they said and did.  His glory was the ultimate end of all they did in life.

The wicked Jews were not the only ones gathering together to discuss religion.  The righteous were also gathering together and speaking about the God they loved and respected.  This makes perfect sense, because out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Since the righteous remnant had their minds set on God and his goodness, that’s what came out when they spoke with others. 

This type of discourse provides essential strength to all involved.  Testimonies of God’s goodness always strengthen the faith of others.  Testimonies keep us from ‘waxing cold’ in our service to God.  Testimonies inspire us to continue on the path of holiness.  Testimonies increase our faith and give us reasons to rejoice in God. 

Have you testified lately?

We can be sure that there was friction between the group who gathered together to blaspheme God, and the group who practiced true religion.  We can also be sure that the righteous group was probably ridiculed and mistreated by the blasphemers.  But they had no reason to be offended by that, or to give up, because God was on their side!

He took notice of their faithfulness to him.  The scriptures say that where 2 or 3 are gathered together in his name, he is there in their midst.  I suspect this was the case back in the time of Malachi, too.  God was there listening to the praise and gracious encouraging words that proceeded out of their hearts and mouths.  There can be no doubt that He was pleased with them. 

In fact, God was so pleased, he created a special journal specifically for their words of faith and truth.  He also promises they will share in his glory in eternity:

Malachi 3:17 – “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

Treasure is something that is highly valued; collected and deposited (hoarded) for future use. 

When you think of the word ‘treasure’, what picture pops into your mind?  Do you see a sunken pirate chest?  Or do you picture the crown jewels or maybe even your local jewelry store?   If you had a great treasure, how would you treat it?  Wouldn’t you keep it safe and secure, close by you, so that you could enjoy it at any time?  That’s what God has planned for his treasure!

Again, God is presenting his people with a long term picture.  The righteous in Malachi’s day were in the minority.  They were ridiculed and troubled by unbelievers and Gentiles.  But God assures us that the righteous do not serve him in vain. 

Just as the wickedness of evil men has been noticed by God, so too has the obedience and faith of the righteous.  Just as God has an appointed time set for judgment, so too he has an appointed time to reward the righteous and gather them to himself like a man who hoards precious treasure!    

This is how God thinks of believers!  You are his special treasure and he values you very highly.  We all dream of finding treasure.  But God didn’t find or stumble across his treasure – he paid a very high price for it; you and I were bought with the precious blood of Christ. 

As believers in Christ, we will be spared from the judgment that the wicked will experience on the final day.

The same is true for the church.  For now, the tares grow alongside the wheat.  But it will not always be so.  A day of separation will come.  All those who have trusted in Christ as savior from the thief on the cross until the very last soul accepts him on the last day of grace, will be spared by the mercy of God.  Then we will have all of eternity to enjoy fellowship with Father God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, while the wicked are burned up like worthless chaff.

This great mercy is a result of the Lord ‘coming into his temple’, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter (Malachi 3:1).

Malachi 3:18 – Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

This verse is in answer to the blasphemy of the Jews, who claimed it was vain to serve God, for the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer.  Here God is telling them that even though judgment is delayed in their eyes, they can be assured it will happen.  At the appointed time, everyone will clearly see a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. 

Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:

The righteous people of Malachi’s day met to discourse or speak with each other about the goodness of God.  This pleased the Lord so much, that he ordered a book to be written that included the things they declared or testified about. 

Testimonies are important.  Scripture states that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).  If it’s been a while since you shared a testimony, I encourage you to step up and share.  If your church does not provide opportunities to testify, why not just raise your hand and ask to share?  Alternatively, you could share your testimony on social media.  It would be nice to have good things seen there, instead of just drama!

Listening to testimonies can strengthen and encourage you on your Christian journey, while sharing your own testimony can strengthen the faith of others. 

Let me offer you some relief:

The people of Malachi’s day closed the windows of God’s blessing on their lives.  But there was a remedy – if they would humble themselves and change their ways, God was willing to open up his blessing on every aspect of their lives. 

God has not changed.  If you have sin in your life that is closing the windows of God’s blessing upon you, you can find relief.  Humble yourself and repent.  Change your thinking and your ways and see what God will do for you!

 

 

Malachi, Chapter 3, Part 1

Malachi 2:17 – You have wearied the Lord with your words.  But you say, “How have we wearied him?”  By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.”  Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

Now obviously, God does not grow weary.  In this instance, the prophet is assigning a human characteristic to God, in order to make his point. Being human, we can understand how irksome or tiresome the constant whining of these people was to God.  That is the point Malachi is trying to make.  We see this several times in scripture; see Isaiah 1:14 and Isaiah 43:24 for examples.

In general, the state of the Jews is one of unbelief and mistrust in God.  Despite the fact that God brought them back from captivity and restored the temple, they are ungrateful and unfaithful to God and his laws.  They despise the covenant and are corrupt in their actions towards God and their fellow man. 

And now they bring up the ages old complaint of God’s people – why do the wicked prosper?

When the Jews returned from Babylon, they looked at the nations surrounding them who were serving idols.  These wicked people were wealthy and prosperous, seemingly happy and abounding in all the good things of this world. 

Meanwhile, the Jews, who had the true oracles of God, were left in want.  They were ridiculed and opposed by Gentiles; they were struggling to get by and had no hope of ever getting ahead in life.

They begin to complain and murmur against God.  They allege that God must love the wicked because they are prosperous.  Furthermore, if God does NOT love wickedness, then why doesn’t he judge the Gentile idol worshippers? You can almost see them stomp their foot and cry “unfair!” like a spoiled child.  Or, perhaps (according to them), the world just flows along by blind chance and is not governed by the providence of God at all.  If God is the judge of all men, where are judgment and justice?

[Side note – this is a bold question coming from a group of people who, based on their own sinful actions, should definitely NOT be looking for the judgment of God, or his coming!]

Prosperity of the wicked is an issue that seems to crop up in every generation.  It was one of the main issues back in the book of Job.  It was addressed by Asaph in Psalms 73.  In the time of Jesus, we saw Lazarus sitting by the gates of the rich man, begging for crumbs while the dogs licked his sores.  Maybe, just maybe, you too have questioned the prosperity of evil people. 

But it’s time to slam dunk those thoughts into the pit of hell, where they belong! 

The scriptures are very clear that God is completely just.

Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the habitation of your throne: mercy and truth shall go before your face.

Isaiah 30:18 – And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all they that wait for him.

Further, we need to remind ourselves that God is the only eternal being; only he can see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).  When we look around and complain about the prosperity of the wicked, are we not focused on a trivial span of time?  How long is the life of a man compared to eternity?  James says our lives are like a mere vapor, which vanishes within seconds (James 4:14).  If the wicked prosper only in this life, those riches are fleeting indeed, for earthly life is momentary! 

Contrast that with the promises of eternity with God. 

John 6:51 – I [Jesus] am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever…

1 John 5:11 –And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

True riches are found in an eternity spent with the Father, Son and Spirit of God!  Since that is the case, we need to stop acting like children and start acting like mature believers.  Renew your mind with the TRUTH – you are a citizen of heaven; this world is NOT your home.  This world is going to pass away and the only thing that will matter in eternity is your relationship with God and your service in his kingdom. 

The TRUTH is that God works all things out for your good, particularly your eternal good.  God is not adverse to using hardships to strengthen and mature your faith.  We are his servants in this life, and some of our tasks and circumstances may be difficult or trying.  That is a normal part of Christianity.  So cancel the pity party and turn to the Lord:

I Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

Don’t EVER compare yourself to the wicked.  EVER.  Those thoughts have no place in a mind turned over to God and renewed by his Spirit and word.  I assure you, if evil men prosper, it will only be in this life.  You, however, will be blessed forever and ever as a child of the Most High God! 

Let us now consider the Jews’ second question:  Where is the God of justice/judgment?

The Jews believed that God was the judge of all the earth, and they are correct in this notion.  But then their reasoning takes a wrong turn.  Since God has not shown judgment in their timeframe, they mistakenly believe that he either will not or cannot punish evil.  Therefore, they conclude that either God does not exist or that he is unjust!

But God refutes those beliefs with a prophetic word through Malachi:

Malachi 3:1 – “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

He begins with the word ‘behold’ which is like the sound of a trumpet, arousing attention to a great proclamation.  The Jews should pay careful attention, for God is about to reveal something astounding and significant to them.

God is indeed the judge of all the earth, and judgment WILL come.  Of this there can be no doubt; it is a certainty that cannot be stopped by the unbelief or contempt of man. 

But it will occur at the appointed time, and in the manner that God decrees.

How did God choose to handle the judgment the Jews were looking for?

Jesus himself speaks through Malachi (whose name literally means messenger) and declares ‘I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me’.   Of course, Jesus is referring to John the Baptist here.  John is a prophet and like all prophets, his job was to call all men to repentance and reformation.  John the Baptist is the first step in the promised judgment of the world.

Let me explain what I mean by that.  As mentioned previously, it is a dangerous thing for sinful men to desire judgment.  In order for any of us to stand in a time of God’s judgment, we will need an intercessor.  

Jesus the Messiah is that intercessor, but before he could come and fulfill that role, his herald/messenger had to come first and prepare the way.  Why did the way need to be prepared or cleared?  Because, as Malachi clearly shows, sin had blinded the eyes and understanding of the Jews.  Unless they could acknowledge their sin, they would not seek a savior/messiah.  And if they would not seek/accept the savior, then they were sure to perish under God’s judgment.  (Hence, God sends Malachi to the Jews of that day, and John the Baptist to the Jews of Jesus’ day.  Perhaps he is sending you in this day!)

Luke 1:17 – And he [John the Baptist] shall go before him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people, prepared for the Lord.

So, the ministry of the ‘messenger’, John the Baptist, is the first ‘step’ in judgment.

The second ‘step’ is the coming of Jesus to reveal the kingdom of heaven and to die for us:

The Lord or the Messiah will come ‘suddenly’ or unexpectedly ‘to the temple’.  In other words, he will come very shortly after his messenger proclaims his coming.  Sure enough, from our perspective we can verify that the public ministry of Jesus began only months after John the Baptist began calling the Jews to repentance. 

What did Jesus do in the temple?  He cast out those who sold and bought, he over turned the tables of the money changes and those who sold doves.  In short, he cleansed it from defilement (Mark 11:15-17), purified it and also filled it with his teaching and his glory.  This is what Jesus desires to do in our lives (we are the temple of God), if we will accept the sacrifice of the Messiah.  

The one who comes suddenly to the temple is also ‘the messenger of the covenant’.  Who, then, is the messenger of the covenant?  Jesus himself, of course! 

Jesus was the Messiah, who would come as the fulfillment of the covenant made with the patriarch Abraham.  The old covenant declared that through Abraham’s seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 26:4).  As you well know, God was referring to Jesus dying as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, can be cleansed of sin and be in a covenant relationship with God because of what Jesus accomplished with his death and resurrection. He is not only the messenger of the new covenant, he is the mediator of it (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15 and 12:24). 

Malachi 3:1 goes on to say that the Jews “delighted in” the messenger or messiah.  This is true.  Generation after generation of Jews expected, longed for, and delighted in the promise of their messiah. 

The prophets of Israel and Judah had many times assured the people that a messiah/savior was coming.  They prophesied many gracious and wonderful promises of good things under the kingship of Messiah, the Son of David.  The Jews built their hopes on these excellent promises.  During times of distress (such as they now experienced under Malachi), they turned to these promises for comfort.  There is nothing wrong with that; the promises were given for their comfort and faith.

However, they concentrated on the promises of Messiah as an earthly ruler, who would sit upon the throne of David forever.  They expected him to restore the power and prestige of Israel, bringing prosperity and peace to his chosen people.  They understood the Messiah to be the one who would crush all of their enemies under his feet, and bring judgment upon the wicked.  This is the judgment they are asking God to bring upon the wicked in Malachi chapter three.

But their request presents a problem.  They did not perceive that they themselves were wicked.  Malachi has shown us that the Jews felt they were okay with God because they were part of the first covenant and had Abraham as their father.  They did not recognize their own sin.  However, God has declared that they are just as wicked as the heathen, and they need to repent or they too will fall under judgment.

Little did they realize, God was not ignoring judgment because he wanted the wicked to prosper.  He was (and is) withholding final judgment of the wicked, until the blood of Jesus could make atonement for all those who wanted to be saved. 

So the coming of Jesus the Messiah and his death/resurrection were the second ‘step’ in judgment.  Again, we see evidence of God’s great mercy- He put a way of escape in place before he pronounced judgment upon mankind. 

Malachi 3:2 – But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 

‘Step’ 3 in God’s plan is to cleanse his people of sin.  This is something God does in every generation.  He was doing it back in the days of the post exilic Jews, he did it the days of the apostles, and he is still doing it in our generation.  The refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap both refer to a call to holiness where sin is renounced and removed from our lives.

What is a refiner’s fire?

Refining with flame is one of the oldest methods of refining metals.   It is the preferable method for larger quantities of gold. In ancient times, this form of refining involved a craftsman sitting next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible being stirred and skimmed to remove the impurities or dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. With flames reaching temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius, you can be sure that all impurities were burned away and only pure gold was left.

The spiritual implication is that the Lord will cleanse his chosen people by putting them in situations/circumstances that would burn out all of the sin in their lives, leaving a people that were pure and holy.

What was a fuller and why did he need soap?

The trade of the fullers, so far as it is mentioned in Scripture has to do with cloth or clothes. The fuller’s job was thickening (making full) freshly woven woolen cloth by cleaning, bleaching, wetting and beating/treading the fibers to a consistent and desirable condition.  Fuller’s earth was a variety of clay that was used to scour and cleanse the cloth.  The process of fulling or cleansing clothes involved treading or stamping on the garments with the feet or with bats in tubs of water, in which some alkaline substance (fuller’s soap) had been dissolved.  

In short, it is a purifying process, just like the refiner’s fire. So the Lord will act to ‘clean, bleach, wet and beat’ our spiritual fibers to a ‘consistent and desirable condition.’

Ephesians 5:27 – That he [Christ] might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

God’s refining and cleansing processes for his people, would come BEFORE the final judgment of the wicked that the Jews of Malachi’s day were clamoring for. 

Back in Malachi’s day, cleansing began with the priests and then flowed down to the common people. 

Malachi 3:3 – He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.

As we noted before, the priests led the common people.  Since the religious leaders were quite corrupt, the renovation/renewal of the nation must begin with their purification.  That is why they are particularly addressed in this verse.  They must undergo the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap, and be cleansed.  Once they were righteous, they would lead the people in righteousness.  It would begin with them, then flow onto the common people. 

Thus, the changing of the nation is not instantaneous; it is done as one person at a time repents and commits to righteousness. 

This is the way our nation will be changed too. 

Today, Christians are the priesthood of the new covenant.  God will refine us – he will purge us through instruction, affliction, temptation or any other way that Holy Spirit sees fit, in order to rid us of the grime of sin and make us pure and holy, fit for his service.  This is not a punishment.  It is a growing process that will be for the glory of God and our good. 

I Peter 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

The act of purification presents a dramatic picture for us.  God is the craftsman, sitting by the fires of trials and tribulations, with his people in the crucible of life.  He perfectly and skillfully places them into situations that are not too hot (difficult), nor too cold (easy).  He keeps his people in the fire for the exact amount of time needed to burn up their sin and unholiness, then immediately and tenderly removes them to safety, so nothing is lost.  The result is a people fit for service in his kingdom; a people who will rule and reign with him in the next age.

1 Peter 4:17 – For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

I know that all Christians are distressed about the things that are taking place in our nation.  Many of us are frustrated beyond belief, and want to be part of the solution to this problem.

One thing you can do is to minister to those around you.  Leading one person at a time to Christ will eventually change our nation as a whole.  You don’t have to worry about saving thousands at a time.  God will certainly call some Christians into that role, but not all.  Most of us can do our part by winning and making disciples of the lost in our own circle of influence. 

Malachi 3:4 – Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

What is the end result of the work of God in the lives of his people? They will be sanctified by Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16) and consecrated to God, becoming true worshippers who worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  

Then and only then, can we offer sacrifices in righteousness. 

No longer would Israel offer lame, diseased or torn animals to God.  They will bring acceptable animals and offer then in righteousness.  God will be pleased with the offerings and those who are making them.  They will escape the judgment that God brings upon the wicked.  

In our day, Messiah will make us acceptable in God’s sight by his blood and our sanctification.  We will bear good fruit for his kingdom, and we too will escape the final judgment of God upon the wicked.   

What about those who resolve to cling to evil? 

Malachi 3:5 – “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Eventually, if the mercy of God is rejected, judgment will come. And once it comes, there will be no opportunity to turn back.   

God mentions that he will come swiftly, which is a rebuke to the Jews, who earlier accused God of standing by and doing nothing while the wicked prospered.  Now God declares that when the time for judgment comes, it will come swiftly and overtake all who are practicing evil.

We find that God mentions a number of specific sins when he speaks of the coming judgment.  As you can guess, Israel was guilty of these exact sins. 

They justified themselves and expended a lot of energy in concealing their sin, hoping to escape punishment.  But God, who sees and knows all things, is well aware of everything they have done.

There is only one remedy for the sin of Israel – They must turn from their wicked ways, and seek the mercy of God.

The same is true for us!  Only those who confess their sin and turn from it can expect to escape from the wrath/judgment of God which will come at the end of the world.

Sinners always ask ‘where is the God of judgment’ and ‘where is the promise of his coming’, but soon enough they will find judgment at their door and there will be no escape from it.

Malachi 3:6 –For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Though the sentence passed against evil in verse 5 will not be executed until the appointed time, it WILL be executed, for the Lord does not change.  He hates sin as much today has he ever has. 

But his unchanging nature also assures mercy and faithfulness to those who seek him.  God never allows his word to go unfulfilled; he watches over his word to perform it.

Jeremiah 1:12 – Then said the Lord unto me, You have well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

Israel is a witness to the unchanging nature of God.  God had been forever faithful to the covenant he made with them and their ancestors.  If God had not done so, the nation of Israel would have ceased to exist long before the day of Malachi! 

The people had been sinful, unfaithful and fickle towards God.  He had every reason to abandon them for not keeping up their side of the covenant, but he did not.

Eventually, the old covenant was totally fulfilled and replaced with the new covenant.  Since the Jews (for the most part) rejected the blessings offered to them under the New Testament, they opened themselves up to a curse, which they will reap if they do not change.

In short, we should all take this important fact to heart:  God does not change.  His mercy and grace are still available to every man, woman and child who honestly seeks them.  But his wrath also awaits all those who reject him, in every generation.

Malachi 3:7 – From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.  But you say, “How shall we return?”

The ‘days of your fathers’ may refer to the beginnings of the nation, or to a much later period – the return of the exiles.  But either way, the charges brought against Israel remain the same.  They have turned aside from the covenant and have not kept the laws of God.  They grew weary and rebellious under the laws of God; they betrayed his trust and served false idols. 

Ezra 9:7 – Since the days of our fathers we have been in a great trespass unto this day…

But God, whose mercies are new every day, extends a gracious invitation to his chosen people.  God invites them to repent and return to their duties in service to God.  If they will do so, God will return and be reconciled to them, removing the judgments they are currently under and shielding them from the ones to come.

It’s a good offer.  An incredible opportunity.  In fact, it is much, much better than they deserved. 

But with distain, they reject the offer.  Instead, they say ‘What do you mean, return?  How have we strayed from your law’?  In essence, they are offended at having their faults exposed and being expected to change their ways.  They see nothing in themselves to be repented of; in their own eyes they are justified.

They are so firmly resolved to continue in sin, that they will find a thousand excuses to turn away from repentance and remain in their sin. 

I don’t think I need to add anything else – the application to us is obvious!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

We have lived our entire lives in what is known as the age of grace.  It is a time when God has deferred final judgment, so that he can call sinners to repent and turn from evil.  Scripture tells us that it is God’s will that none of us perish, but that we are all saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. 

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this offer will last forever, because it won’t.  One day, Jesus will return to judge the world.  In light of that, I encourage you to do two things: One, share the gospel of Christ with anyone that you can.  Give them the same chance you have received to repent and come to Christ.  Two, get rid of any and all sin from your life.  Return to God and let him help you root out every last speck of evil and wickedness from your being.

Let me offer you some relief:

There is a day of judgment coming, but it is not coming for those who are found in Christ.  If we have surrendered our lives to God and we are trusting in Jesus to cleanse us from sin, we have nothing to fear; we have passed from death to life (John 5:24).  We can look forward to the coming of the Lord with great rejoicing because he is coming to get us, and bringing reward with him!

Let me offer you some strength:

When Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he gifted us with the presence of Holy Spirit to assist us in our walk here on earth.  Holy Spirit has been sent to grow spiritual fruit in our lives, to bring the word of God to our remembrance, to comfort and guide us, and to give us spiritual gifts that allow us to fulfill the destiny that God has mapped out for us.  You don’t need to fear Holy Spirit – you need to trust him!  He is your strength and your helper!  You need to open yourself up to Holy Spirit and allow him to move in your life as he desires.  When you do, you will find that you no longer need to rely on your own strength or wisdom, because Holy Spirit will lead you in the way everlasting.

Malachi, Chapter 2, Part 2

Malachi 2:10 – Have we not all one father?  Has not one God created us?  Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

Malachi now turns, somewhat abruptly, to another offence.  It involves the breaking of vows to God and to their fellow man. 

God begins by reminding the Jews that they had been created by God.  In this instance, God is not referring to their birth, but to the creation of the nation of Israel.  God made them a peculiar people, set aside for his own purposes and glory.

God also refers to them as having ‘one father’, which refers to the patriarch Abraham.  When God created/entered into covenant with Abraham and his offspring, it created a new set of relationships.  The Jews were bound to honor both God and their fellow man.  From that moment onward, every offence against a fellow Jew was a violation of their relationship to God and to each other.  Simply stated, a sin against a brother/fellow Jew was a sin against God and the whole nation.  

For example, back in 2 Samuel 24, King David sinned by counting all of the fighting men of Israel.  In response, God brought a death angel upon the whole nation.  Thus, David’s sin was treachery against not only God, but against his nation and his fellow Israelites.  Before it was all said and done, 70,000 men were dead.

Notice that in verse 10, God did not name a particular sin.  He just reminds his people that sin was a treachery against their brothers, their nation and their God.  Clearly, God is laying a foundation for what he is about confront them with, and he will show how their sin is affecting their entire nation.

Malachi 2:11 – Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.  For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

And here the specific sin is revealed.  Jewish men were to have only one wife, who was also to be Jewish – they were forbidden to marry Gentiles.  Like all young men, they would work to gain the affections of the daughter of a fellow Israelite, and enter into a marriage covenant with her.  Much like today, they vowed to love her, provide for her, and be a lifelong companion to her through all the joys and sorrows of life.  

But later these same men were enticed by sin; they lusted after the foreign women who lived in Jerusalem.  Since having two wives was forbidden, they ‘put away’ or divorced their first Jewish wife in order to marry the foreigner.   

God declares their actions an abomination, which is defined as anything that is hateful, wicked or shamefully vile; something that produces disgust and includes anything that is offensive to God.  Even we, as sinners, can understand that there is no level on which this is righteous behavior.  And it wasn’t just morally wrong.  This sin had great spiritual implications as well.

The Jews were commanded to keep themselves separated from the nations around them, in order to maintain their position as custodians of the revelations of God to mankind.  They were abiding witnesses of God’s existence.  Through Israel, God planned to bless all the nations of the world by bringing forth the Messiah. 

But they often disobeyed God and formed idolatrous connections to Gentiles.  In fact, this sin (divorce/marrying foreign women) was absolutely rampant during the time of Malachi.  Nehemiah and Ezra worked diligently to remove the evil which Malachi addresses here. 

The Jews were faithless towards God, their nation and their fellow man.  How sad that this takes place in Jerusalem, the Holy City which contained the ONLY sanctuary of the living God. 

The sanctuary was the meeting place between God and Israel and it is often symbolic of that relationship.  By having contempt for the ordinances of the Lord, they profaned the holiness of God and made a mockery of their covenant relationship to him, in a very public way.  Thus, they are said to have profaned the sanctuary of the Lord.  Rather than being a witness FOR God, they gave the Gentiles a reason NOT to believe in God.

Besides the fact that divorce is something God hates, why was it such a big deal to marry a foreign woman?

Because these physical unions/relationships had spiritual implications.

Those who worship and serve the true God are called his sons and daughters (Deuteronomy 32:19, II Corinthians 6:18).  Likewise, those who serve false gods are the children of the idol or demon that they serve.  Therefore, if a Jewish man married a foreign/Gentile woman, he was willingly making himself the son-in-law of Satan! 

As one half of the marriage relationship, these foreign women had immense influence over their husbands. 

All throughout the scriptures, we find foreign women introducing idol worship into the marriage relationship.  This resulted in the Jewish husband turning to idolatry, rather than bringing the wife into covenant relationship with the Lord.  The result was a divided house – partly serving God, while partly serving Satan.  But ultimately, there can be only one master of a house, and in the day of Malachi, that wound up being Satan most of the time.  

This was not just a problem for the common people.  Sadly, the corrupt priests were also committing this sin:

Nehemiah 13:29 – Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

How does this apply to our generation? 

God has not changed.  He still takes the marriage covenant very seriously and he still hates divorce.  However, we live in a fallen world and there are times when reconciliation is impossible and divorce is the only answer.  In these situations, God is there to provide healing, hope and forgiveness.  Divorce is not an unpardonable sin.  

On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that faithfulness and holiness in marriage is vitally important because in the new covenant, it represents the relationship between God and mankind. 

Ephesians 5:31-32 – Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

When a man and woman are faithful to each other for life, building a sound relationship, knowing, respecting and loving one another, while facing the challenges of life together, it presents a picture of our relationship with Christ.   

Not only that, the new covenant also reveals that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). 

When we sin against our bodies by entering into unlawful sexual relationships, we are defiling or profaning the temple of God, which is the exact crime the Jews were charged with back in the day of Malachi.  So really, nothing has changed.  We too, profane the temple or sanctuary of God if/when we engage in sexual immorality.  Just as in the days of Malachi, this sin is common in the church and can even be found in some of the pulpits of our nation.

When we embrace things that are popular in our culture but have a sinful source (such as lust and sexual sin), we are being spiritually unfaithful to God.  God has no agreement with idols and when we chose what stems from evil we are choosing/preferring evil over God. 

This often results in spiritual blindness, loss of the favor of God, being snared by deceptive errors, and a loss of influence in our culture.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It should – this is exactly what happened to Israel.  Through sin, they lost influence in their culture and they forfeited the privilege of exemplifying God to a lost and dying world.  Let’s not make the same mistake!

In short, God’s will is for us to be in partnership with a person who also acknowledges him as Lord.  When we are not, we often experience these consequences: domestic unhappiness, divided households and children who are spiritually confused. 

Malachi 2:12 – May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

Our translation says the Lord will cut off ‘any descendant’ who does this.  Your translation may say ‘the master and the scholar’.  This includes the person who actively originates the sin as well as the one who passively accepts it.  Neither the priests (teachers/masters) nor the common people (scholar/student) would go unpunished.  So, our translation is accurate when it says ‘any descendant’.

But let’s not rush through this concept.  It is one thing to actively promote sin.  All of us are against that.  But through the prophet Malachi, God is saying that when we passively sit by and accept sin or do nothing to fight against it, we are just as guilty!  Don’t we see this sin in our lives today?  We may not have had an abortion, but sometimes we do nothing to stop it or fight against it.  We may not have been the one to take prayer out of the public schools, but what have we done to fight against it?  If the answer is ‘nothing’, then we too, share in the guilt of this offence.

God will cut off (literally to scrape off or to blot out) anyone who commits this sin.   God puts his people on notice that no matter how prevalent this practice had become, no matter how accepted within the culture, God still considered it a sin and as such, it would result in punishment and eventually death, if they did not repent. 

That is worth repeating:  God puts his people on notice that no matter how prevalent this practice had become, no matter how accepted within the culture, God still considered it a sin and as such, it would result in punishment and eventually death, if they did not repent. 

The phrase ‘bring an offering to the Lord’ is a little unclear. 

  • It may refer to those who consider themselves to be God’s people, as no one else would be bringing an offering to God. 
  • It may be a reference to the belief of the Jewish men that an offering with shield them from any penalty associated with this sin. 
  • It may indicate that the priests who are guilty of this fault will be put out of the office of the priesthood where they can no longer minister before the Lord. 

We cannot overlook the fact that all three may be true, especially in light of what we just learned, namely, God considers it a sin for us to passively sit by and do nothing when sin abounds.  

Malachi 2:13 – And this second thing you do.  You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

The multiple sins of the people and priests have led to the situation described in this verse.  The priests were corrupt.  They no longer had respect for God or his offerings.  They stopped teaching the common people the right way to worship God and live holy lives. 

One of the sins that became rampant in that environment was the divorcing of their Jewish wives and the marrying of foreign women, who lured the Jews into idolatry and other wickedness.

Because they were engaged in gross sin, God paid no attention to them when they brought offerings to him.  He did not regard or act on their prayers and petitions. 

Once the people realized God was not moving on their behalf, they wept and mourned before the altar because their worship was futile.  Their sacrifices did not please God and their worship was in vain.  Because of their spiritual condition, they couldn’t see what was happening.  They did not seem to understand the problem, so they moan and groan and complain that God had abandoned them.   

Who was ultimately responsible for this situation?  Malachi lays the blame at the feet of the priests.  They were to keep themselves pure and holy, so that they could stand in the gap between God and sinful man.  Once they became corrupted, all sacrifices were either polluted or offered by impure hands, and these could not be accepted by God.

Again, we must remind ourselves that in our generation, we are the spiritual priesthood of God.  We are to keep ourselves pure and holy, so we can be salt and light in our generation and point others to Christ.  As Jesus reminded us if the salt has lost its savor, what is it good for?  Only to be trampled underfoot (Luke 14:34-35).

Malachi 2:14 – But you say, “Why does he not?”  Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

There is no rational explanation for why people would attempt to make excuses or act innocent in the presence of an all-knowing God!  Although the men feign ignorance, God has seen not only their actions, but their lust, pride and idolatry.  God lays the charge of unfaithfulness right at their feet.  They are without excuse.

These Jewish women were the wives of their youth, their companions and their covenant partners. They were with their husbands in sickness and in health, sharing the sorrows, joys, hopes, fears and interests of life.  They were the ones who bore children and worked as a help meet to their husbands.  These wives had indeed given their husbands the best years of their lives.  They were the ones whom the husband had made a marriage covenant with; they were to be life time companions.  And keep this in mind – the marriage covenant was entered into voluntarily – the men were not forced into it, they desired and sought after it!

So again, it is easy for us to see that the actions of the Jewish men were a gross abomination before God.  Having violated their covenant responsibilities toward their wives, how can they expect God to answer their prayer and bless them as if they were righteous?  Can we expect anything different when we actively choose to sin against God?  

Today, we often consider marriage to be primarily a legal union, and so it is.  But many people fail to recognize it as a true spiritual union as well, and breaking that spiritual covenant comes with a price.  

Malachi 2:15 – Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?  And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring.  So guard yourselves in your spirit and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

What does Malachi mean when he says ‘did not he make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union’?  Keep in mind, the subject at hand is marriage.

Marriage was the very first institution that God sanctioned.  It came before the church, before family and before government.  When creating a helper for Adam, the Spirit of God had enough power to make as many women as he wanted to.  If God had wanted Adam to have 10 wives, he could easily have accomplished that.  But he didn’t.   

When God instituted marriage, he made it in ONE specific way:  One man and one woman.

This law is confirmed by Jesus during his ministry on earth:

Matthew 19:8 – He [Jesus] said unto them [Jews], Moses because of the hardness of your hearts allowed you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

In this New Testament passage, the Jews relied on a law given by Moses, which allowed them to break their marriage vows.  But Jesus rejects that idea and points them back to the original institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden.

The marriage of one man and one woman until death do them part is a perpetual law that God made from the beginning.  Divorce was allowed under the law because of circumstances relating to sin, but it is not God’s will.  His will is clearly revealed by Jesus in the same passage of scripture in Matthew:

Matthew 19:4-6 – And he answered and said unto them, Have you not read, that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh? Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

So we now understand the reference Malachi makes when he says God has made them ‘one’ – he speaks of a man and woman becoming one in the sight of God when they marry.

One of the things that God desires from marriage between his people is godly offspring – children who are trained by their parents in the precepts of religion (salvation, prayer, being filled with the Spirit, holy conduct, familiarity with the word of God, etc).

It is plain to see that if the Jewish men married women who served Satan, there will be problems in the spiritual lives of the children.  They may receive some instruction in the ways of Jehovah, but they would also see and probably practice idol worship.  This would result in spiritual confusion and chaos.  It would NOT result in children who are trained and ready to take over spiritual leadership in their nation, when their parents get older.  With no trained people at the helm, what will happen to true religion?  

This is a concern that still faces the church today.  With more and more ‘unchurched’ young people in our society, we have a lack of true spiritual leaders who can take over when this generation gets old.  There is much work to be done for the kingdom of heaven and for our nation!    

This passage also reveals a deeper truth.  Consider this: God could have created millions of couples (men/women) at the beginning in the garden, but he only creates a single pair – Adam and Eve.   Why does God desire that the whole human race springs from a single pair? 

So that Christ, coming from the same family, might in his sufferings taste death for every man; because he had a nature that was common to the whole human race.  If God had made multiple pairs of men/woman at the very outset, Jesus could only die for the sins of the world by being incarnated into each family line.    

For these reasons, men are not to deal treacherously with their Jewish wives, which they married in their youth. 

Malachi 2:16 – “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.  So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

This force of this scripture is best revealed in the King James version:

Malachi 2:16 – For the LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates putting away: For one covers violence with his garment, says the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.

Obviously, we wear garments or clothes all the time.  Their purpose is to cover up or to hide our nakedness.  The Jewish men were guilty of betraying their wives.  This is the violence described in the verse.  The ‘garment’ they used to try and cover up or hide this sin, was the permission of Moses to divorce their wives (Deuteronomy 24:1).    

But they are not fooling God!  He sees right through their foul garments and into their hearts which are full of lust and idolatry.  Therefore, God warns the Jews to guard their own souls and to remain faithful to him, to their fellow Jews and to their nation.

What about you?  Are you searching for something to wear in the spiritual realm?  Here are the most fashionable items:  Garments of praise (Isaiah 61:3).  Robes of righteousness (Psalms 132:9, Isaiah 61:10).  Clothes of salvation (Isaiah 61:10).  Clothes of humility (I Peter 5:5).  White robes of holiness (Revelation 3:18).  Even sackcloth is a good choice sometimes!

If we spent as much time and effort on our ‘spiritual clothes’ as we do our physical wardrobe, we would surely be pleasing to God!

Malachi 2:17 – You have wearied the Lord with your words.  But you say, “How have we wearied him?”  By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.”  Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

This verse is actually the beginning of a new discourse between God and his people.  We are going to comment on it next week, as we look at Malachi chapter 3.

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:

In this section of Malachi, God calls his people to account for their evil actions in the matters of marriage and divorce.  What was happening in the physical realm was an indication of their spiritual unfaithfulness to God, their fellow man and their nation.   

But we don’t have to fall into the same trap as they did.  Let’s examine our own spiritual clothing – are we wearing robes of righteousness and holiness?  Are these robes pure or could they use a little washing in the blood of Jesus? 

The good news is that we can wash or even change what we are wearing.  If our attitudes and actions are outdated and worn, God will provide us with new garments.  As always, you are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to assist us in making changes, so call upon him today.     

Let me offer you some strength:

Let’s be honest – there are times when we are tempted to be unfaithful to our fellow man, to God or to our nation.  There are times when it would just be easier to give up or do nothing, rather than to getting involved and making sacrifices for good.

But we know those temptations are false promises.  We must rise up and resist them.  We can stand strong, if we choose to do what is right, and let God fill us with his strength.    

Proverbs 3:7-8 – Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.  It shall be health to your body, and strength to your bones.

Malachi, Chapter 2, Part 1

Malachi 2:1 – “And now, O priests, this command is for you.

In chapter 2 of Malachi, God is calling his priests to spiritual reformation.  The attitudes and actions they had displayed in the past were no longer acceptable.  It was imperative that they change their ways immediately, before they brought further judgment upon themselves and led others deeper into sin.  

What do we know about spiritual reformation?  Normally, it is not an instantaneous event.  It is a process that may take some time.  

As you can imagine, the first step is to see/recognize the problem.  The person must come face to face with their wrong doing and they must acknowledge it as sin.  Often, this can be the most difficult part.  For whatever reason, people are often blind to their own sin (but really great at identifying it in others). 

Perhaps it is because we tend to justify our actions, or perhaps it is because we get comfortable with our sin and accept it as normal.  Either way, people hate to admit when they are wrong.  It may take some time for a person to fully acknowledge and admit their wrong doing, and then repent.   

Once a person has admitted their sin and repented, they need instruction in righteousness.  They need to examine the word of God to see where they went wrong and to understand the path of truth and righteousness that God wants them to follow. 

Psalms 119:105 – Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Third, they must renew their minds, and allow change to happen in their hearts.  When you change the way you think and believe by meditating on the word of God, your mind will cause a change in your heart.  So renewing your mind in the ways of God is a critical step in the process of spiritual reformation.

Paul reminds us of this in the book of Romans:

Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Lastly, we would expect to see change manifest itself in the person’s outward actions.  As the mind renews and conforms itself to the laws of God, it will cause change in the heart.  When the heart is changed, the person’s actions and attitudes will also change, becoming pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God.

This change brings glory to God.  It reflects to the world the justice and holiness of God, but also his mercy and grace.  It shows the world that God is the true and faithful Father, who loves his children and desires to bless them.

Now, in the case of the priests in Malachi’s day, they were pretty much at step one.  As we noted earlier, they were unhappy with their current situation and they were blaming God for their trouble. 

When God drew attention to their sins, they flatly denied any wrongdoing.  They were offended at the mere suggestion that they had sinned, and that their situation was of their own making.  Although it is easy for us to recognize their sin, they were blind to it!  In the rest of this chapter, we are going to see God reasoning with them over and over, until he can get them to understand that they were wrong!

Spiritual reform was critical to the priests of Malachi’s day, and it is still critical for the church today.

Let’s face it – none of us are perfect!  All of us have different areas in our lives that the Holy Spirit wants to change in us.  In order for that change to begin to take place, we must first recognize and acknowledge the problem.  Holy Spirit may call attention to an area of your life as you are praying, or reading the word.  He may even cause a brother or sister in Christ to speak to you about it.  When that happens, do you immediately retreat into denial or anger?  Or, can we commit to humbling ourselves and trying to objectively consider the evidence?   

Malachi 2:2 – If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings.  Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.

A life of righteousness always brings about the goodness and blessing of God.  God greatly desired to bring blessing to the Jews, but he could not reward bad behavior and sin. 

In this case, the level of their sin had reached a point where God had begun to curse them. 

Now, that may seem harsh to you and I, but it was not.  The Jews of Malachi’s day were living under the terms of the Old Covenant.  In that covenant, God clearly set down the circumstances in which he would bless them, and the circumstances in which he would curse them.  You can read it yourself in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28.  It is a long chapter, so we cannot reference the entire thing, but we are going to look at one particular verse.

Deuteronomy 28:20 – The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.

As strange as it may seem, by placing a curse upon the Jews, God is actually being faithful to the covenant he made with his people.  But here is where people misjudge God.  They think that God delights in cursing his people, when the opposite is true.  God delights in blessing his children and giving them the desires of their hearts (Psalms 37:4).  But again, God is not going to reward sin.   The wages of sin is death, and God does not want his people to die.

By placing judgment upon them, God is giving them a nudge in the right direction.  He is correcting or disciplining them, like a loving Father would.  His desire is that they will change their ways (repent) and return to righteousness, so that He can once again bestow blessing and life upon them.

However, while God will correct and encourage and motivate them to do what is in their best interest, ultimately he will allow them to choose their own path.

God has also given free will to those of us under the New Covenant.  How will we use that privilege?  Will we choose life or death, blessing or cursing?    

We notice in this verse that God has already sent the curse of lack and poverty upon the Jews; they are already experiencing it.  This is probably the situation described by the prophet Haggai, in Haggai 1:6-11.

They were planting, but the harvests were extremely small.  There was enough food to keep them alive, but just barely.  They had clothing, but were never warm.  They worked, but they never got ahead in life.  No matter how much their wages were, it was just enough for them to   survive. 

It was a miserable existence, clearly void of the blessings of their God. 

The situation was especially hard for the priests.  In God’s economy, the common people farmed and shepherded and brought a tithe of their increase to the temple.  The purpose of the tithe was to meet the needs of the temple and the priests.  So if the people experienced lack, the tithes would be even smaller (or in some cases non-existent); consequently the priest’s portion would get smaller and smaller.

This means that the priests were ultimately hurting themselves when they did not correctly teach and instruct the Jews in the law.  When they showed contempt and disrespect for God’s sacrifices, it came back upon their own heads.  The best thing they could do for everyone was to listen to the word of the Lord through Malachi, immediately repent, and change their ways. 

 Malachi 2:3 – Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.

This verse is quite interesting.  Our translation says that God will ‘rebuke your offspring’.  Your translation may say that God will ‘corrupt your seed’.  These may seem like strange, unrelated translations, but they are actually similar.

The prior verse spoke about God removing his blessing from the seed of the ground, or their food sources.  That was certainly one aspect of God’s blessing that he was withholding from his people at that time.

But as you know, seed also refers to descendents or offspring.  There is no doubt that the Jews were the chosen people of God.  Being descendents/seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a source of pride and joy for them (emphasis on the pride).   Their role as the chosen people of God was a big part of their national identity. 

They began to believe that God would always love and favor the Jews over Gentiles, no matter what.  In other words, they no longer believed that they had to keep up their end of the covenant in order to remain the people of God.  They believed God would wink, or turn a blind eye to their sin, because they were his chosen people, destined to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

But God shatters that foolish confidence. 

The priests have scorned and despised God and his holy name.  God now threatens to do the same to them.  He will cause them and their offspring/descendants to be treated with the same shame and contempt they gave him.  The priests had offered illegal, unclean, polluted sacrifices to God.  Now, they will be treated as if they had the poop of those very sacrifices smeared all over their faces!  How disgusting!     

God declares that he will also make sure they are ‘carried away with it’.  According to the law, the dung of the atonement sacrifice was never burnt upon the altar to God.  It was always taken outside the camp and burned with fire.  So the Jews are in danger of being removed from God’s presence, rather than being in his service.

Leviticus 8:17 – But the bull and its skin and its flesh and its dung he burned up with fire outside the camp, as the Lord commanded Moses.

In other words, if they persisted in their evil ways, God would remove them from his presence, just like the foul waste of the atonement sacrifice.  Their nation will ‘stink’ and other people/nations will hate them, and shun their fellowship. This is a very serious warning.  

Let us now consider that God has not changed!  He hated the sin of the priests back in the day of Malachi, and he hates the sin of his royal priesthood today. 

What sins might we be harboring in our own lives?  Are we trying to serve God while holding on to unforgiveness?  Envy? Lust or greed?  Are we guilty of being hypocrites, or of judging others? 

We would do well to stop and judge ourselves, taking advice from King David:

Psalms 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (wicked) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

If we will take the time to openly and honestly seek Holy Spirit and ask for his guidance, he will not only reveal any areas in which we need to make changes, he will assist us in making the change.  Then we do not need to worry about being ashamed before God or our fellow man.

Here is something else to consider:  The nation of Israel was made up of individual people who were influenced by the priests.  As the people went, so went the nation.

The nation of America is made up of individual people who can be influenced to seek God and turn to righteousness, or reject God and stay in sin.  You may not be a famous leader in this country, but you can still influence this nation for God by being active in righteousness. 

Your church may be a small one, but it can (and should) influence your community to seek the Lord.  So get involved!     

Malachi 2:4 – So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.

‘So shall you know’, or in other words, God says the judgments that have come upon Israel are both a sign and an example to them. 

The sign was for the generation of priests in the day of Malachi.  God’s judgment was a call to the priests to repent of their past wicked practices, and change their ways.  Beginning at that very moment, they were to walk righteously and holy, making sure they did not dishonor God or treat his house with contempt ever again. 

The example is for the offspring/future generations of Levi.  When they see the consequences of profaning God’s ways, they will be encouraged to stay on the path of righteousness, where they can enjoy a covenant relationship with God, and all of his blessings.

Malachi 2:5 – My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him.  It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me.  He stood in awe of my name.

By definition, a covenant is a formal agreement between two parties, where the duties of each party are plainly set forth.  It is a lot like a contract. 

God made a covenant or contract with the Levites.  They were to be his priests.  They were to fear and respect God, teach his ways to the people, and be an example of holiness to the nation.  They were the ones who stood in the gap between man and God. 

For his part, God gave the Levites the gift of serving in his presence forever.  He also promised them life and peace. 

And for a time, the priests kept up their end of the bargain.  They stood in awe of God, treating His name with respect and obeying his commands.  In return, they were given the precious gifts of life and peace.  What a wonderful heritage!  How could the current group of priests have strayed so far from the ways of their ancestors? 

Malachi 2:6-7 – True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips.  He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

These verses make reference to the vast numbers of priests that served before this generation, who had faithfully served God according to the agreement.  What were they like?

The law of truth was in their mouths – They studied the scriptures and knew the law.  When they spoke, taught or offered council, truth was on their lips.   Because his speech was based on the precepts of God, the priest spoke with wisdom, authority and integrity.  People recognized and respected his words as coming from God. 

No wrong was found on his lips – The former priests did not give judgment or advice to please men or for their own benefit.  They simply spoke the truth, whether it pleased or displeased the hearer.  Unlike the current generation, he would never pronounce something clean that was unclean or accept something as clean when it was not. 

He walked with God – The actions of the priest matched his words.  He not only knew the word and laws of God, but he practiced them in his own life and enforced them in his own household.   He lived a life of communion with God.  He was honest, trustworthy and walked in love towards his fellow man.  Thus, he walked with God and lived a life of peace and righteousness.

He turned many from iniquity – This is the result of a life lived for God.  God crowned his efforts with success; he was able to influence those around him and save them from death and destruction.  Because of his example, others were drawn into a true relationship with God.

When we look at this description of the faithful Old Testament priest of God, we cannot help but notice that these are the same things God has called us, the New Testament priests to do as well.

We too, must have God’s grace, mercy, love and laws on our lips.  We must be people of integrity and godly wisdom.  Our lives must match up to the testimony we proclaim.  When this is the case, we have a true witness for Christ.  When we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and begin to love our neighbor as ourselves, we walk with God and draw others to him as well.   

And don’t forget – the message we have to share is so much greater and more wonderful than the Old Covenant that the priests lived under.  Hebrews chapter 8 talks about Jesus being the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).  What a pleasure it is to be one of the New Covenant priests for Jesus!  

Malachi 2:8-9 – But you have turned aside from the way.  You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.  You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.

In the prior verses God proclaimed the goodness and faithfulness of the prior generations of Jewish priests.  He is now going to contrast that with the behavior of the priests who served in the post exilic temple.

Based on Malachi chapter 1 and Nehemiah chapter 13, we can see many of the sinful and corrupt practices that crept into Jewish life during this time.  These included mixed marriages (marriages with foreign women), admittance of strangers into the house of God, profaning the Sabbath day, polluted sacrifices, lack of teaching, and a general disregard for the covenant and distain for the Lord.  All of these sins can be attributed to the carelessness and unfaithfulness of the priesthood.  God justly charged them with ‘turning aside’ from the good and prosperous path that their ancestors trod.

They betrayed the trust that God placed in them by corrupting the covenant between God and the priesthood.  They used their positions to enrich themselves; they cared nothing for the glory of God or the souls of their fellow Jews. 

God accuses them of being partial in the law.  This meant one of two things.  Either they would pick and choose which parts of the law to teach and enforce, or they would misinterpret or misapply the law in favor of their friends or against their enemies; in essence they did not apply the law to each person equally and fairly.  Obviously, this is completely against the ways of God, who is no respecter of persons.  Thankfully, His throne rests on pillars of righteousness and justice (Psalms 89:14) and we can have confidence that God treats all of his children equally.

As New Covenant believers, we are to treat all people the same, without judging or showing favor to one over another.

1 Timothy 5:21 – In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

What an awful reputation rested upon these priests!  What an awful existence for the people under their care!  

The worst part is that their actions caused people to stumble in their walk with God!  Instead of bringing their people closer to the Lord, their hypocrisy caused people to view God as unjust and unfair.  Jesus said, ‘Woe to those by whom offences come!’ (Matthew 18:7).  God will certainly and swiftly bring abasement and shame to these priests who have caused others to stumble.

Thus, by their actions the priests made the covenant void.  They had no right to expect God to grant them the life and peace that were promised to those who walked with God.

As we examine this situation, we find that the priests of that generation were creating a legacy of sin and destruction.  This is especially sad when we find that they inherited a righteous legacy from their forefathers.

What kind of a legacy are we creating right now?  How do we want our children and grandchildren to view our time on earth?  Do we want to be a Godly example to them?

More importantly, what kind of a world do we want to leave them?  One in which the church is powerless and faithless, or one in which the power of God is present to move mountains? 

Let me offer you some encouragement: If you are reading this, then there is still time and opportunity for you to make changes in your spiritual legacy.  Why not do what King David did – take time out from your busy schedule to get alone with Holy Spirit and see if there are things in your life that need to change.  See if there is a way that you can make a greater witness or impact on your immediate and extended family.  Your testimony will stand forever.

Let me offer you some relief: Holy Spirit never stops working in our lives.  As long as we are willing, he will keep making us over into the image of Jesus.  Sometimes we have sin in our lives that has been present for a long time.  We may have habits or thought patterns that we think we will never be able to overcome. 

But that isn’t true… all things are possible with God!  So don’t give up.  Keep renewing your mind. Together, you and God can win the victory over sin!

Let me offer you some strength: Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy!  If you are always looking at what is negative in your life, it can sap all of your strength.  This week, why not focus on the good things God has done in you and through you?  Soon you will realize that things aren’t as hopeless as they seem.  God has used you in the past, and he wants to continue to use you to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to witness to the lost.

 

Malachi, Chapter 1, Part 2

Malachi 1:7 – By offering polluted food upon my altar.  But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised.

In the prior study, we saw that God was dealing with his people, but particularly with the priests.  Why was that?  It was because the priests were the leaders of the nation.  If they honored, loved and served God, so would the rest of the people. 

But they were far from being holy.  In fact, they despised everything to do with God.  God had a real case against these men, but in his great love and mercy, he sends a message to them through Malachi confronting them with their sin and calling them to repentance. 

The first accusation God brings against them involves his altar, or your translation may say ‘table’.  This refers to the brazen altar, where the burnt offerings and sacrifices were made to God.  Offerings of any kind made upon this altar were often referred to as food, bread, or God’s bread:

Leviticus 21:6 – They [the priests] shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.  For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.

How exactly was the food/bread polluted? 

As you recall, any animal (lamb, goat, bull, etc) offered to God in sacrifice had to be without blemish.  No true priest would accept an offering that was blind or sick, or lame, or weak/injured, or even a runt.  You were to give your best offering to God.  Anything else was an insult to him. 

Deuteronomy 15:21 – But if it (the animal) has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.

Think of it this way.  What if you had a friend that owned an extensive collection of jewelry – watches, rings, necklaces, cuff links, earrings and any other piece of jewelry you could imagine – made of gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls etc.

Now if your friend said they wanted to give you a gift – a piece of jewelry from their collection – would you be excited?  Of course! But what if you opened the box and it was a really thin, slightly bent, scratched and dirty looking gold-plated ring.  Would you be impressed?  Why not?  Because that awful bent ring was worthless to them!  It didn’t even cost them anything to give it to you. In fact, they were probably glad to get rid of it!

Giving it to you was actually an insult, because it shows how little they value their relationship with you.         

The same is true with God.  Remember when Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving offerings?  The scripture says that many rich people came in and gave large sums of money.  There was also a widow who gave two copper coins, which was the equivalent of a single penny. And then Jesus gives us this truth:

Mark 12:43-44 – Truly, truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she…put in everything that she had, all she had to live on. 

In other words, her gift was extravagant and valuable to God because it was her best.  It cost her something to give that offering; it was a true sacrifice.

So when the post exilic Jews brought lame or blind offerings to be placed on God’s altar, they were giving worthless offerings – animals that couldn’t or wouldn’t be used for anything else, because they were defective or blemished or half dead already.  Just as getting the gold-plated ring was an insult, it was an insult to God when the Jews presented him with sick and damaged animal offerings.    

Did you realize that there is a parallel between the altar of burnt offerings (God’s table in the Old Covenant), and the communion ceremony (God’s table in the New Covenant)? 

What did the animals (also referred to as food/bread) that were sacrificed on the brazen altar represent?  Depending on the circumstance, they were used as an atonement for sin, or a fellowship offering, or an offering of thanksgiving for the harvest, or a vow, etc.  In other words, the sacrifices that were placed on the altar created a relationship or a fellowship between God and man.  They were symbolic of the atoning work of Jesus.

As we know, in the New covenant, Jesus willingly laid down his life for our sin, to establish a love relationship between God and man.  Thus, the bread (and blood) of the communion table represents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  God gave his highest and best sacrifice; a sacrifice that cost him dearly – the life of his only Son.

So when the post exilic priests offered polluted offerings on the altar, they were teaching people to mock or despise the offering that the Messiah would one day provide for them.  Their polluted worthless sacrifices showed irreverence for the ceremonies and laws of the very God they claimed to serve.  In fact, they were scorning God himself!

There is also another angle to consider here.  Remember that the priests kept a portion of every sacrifice that was given in the temple (meat, bread, etc) for their own use.  Some scholars have suggested that the priests accepted substandard sacrifices because they were afraid.  If they refused to take anything but the best, perhaps the Jews would stop bringing sacrifices to the temple all together; then the priests would have nothing for themselves or their families.  Perhaps they accepted the worst because they felt it was better than nothing at all. 

If that is what they thought, they were wrong!

Malachi 1:8 – When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?  And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?  Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?  Says the Lord of hosts.

God makes another appeal to their natural reasoning.  On the one hand, the priests were saying, ‘presenting lame offerings to God okay, because of our present circumstances’.  Yet, if they went to see the governor of the region, they would not take such a mangy offering! 

Is it proper to offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords an offering that, under the very same circumstances, they would not offer to a mere man like themselves?  They would never even consider giving that mangy, blind animal to a man of worldly renown, yet they offer it to God.   How wicked!  How ungrateful!  How despicable!  Sadly, they are blind to their own evil ways. 

Here is something that makes the situation even worse.  These are not Gentiles.  These are not people who have no idea who God is, or what he is about.  These are not people who are new in their dealings with the Lord.  These are people who profess and believe that they are God’s children.  

The law required a perfect sacrifice because God should be honored with our best.  God has a right to everything we have, and his rights are supreme over everyone else.

Nevertheless, God has given us authority over our best.  Because it is under our own control, dedicating our best to God becomes a test of faith and love.  God asks for our best, but he gives us the option to give our best to anyone or anything we please.  It’s our choice.

People who offered a polluted sacrifice failed the test.  They showed that God did not have first place in their lives.  By giving their best to others, they showed that they were trusting in others (or themselves) more than God.  They were going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from their heavenly Father.

Can the same thing be said of worshippers today?  Are there people who make a pretense of worship, but their hearts are far from God? 

For instance, do we just randomly throw $10 dollars in the offering plate because that is the acceptable thing to do?  Or have we purposely determined in our hearts what we will give God as an offering? 

Do we go to church and sing the songs because they are upbeat and enjoyable, or did we come there with the intent to worship God during that time?

Do we ever mechanically pray for people with an empty heart, or do we really stop and join with them and intentionally intercede for them with heaven?

In short, are we going through the motions of our Christian lives without really giving God our best and highest?  Are we polluting the relationship we have with him?  To just go through the motions is to live a faithless Christian walk.  If this is the way we choose to operate, we should not be surprised if God is not pleased; for the bible reveals that it is impossible to please God without faith.

Hebrews 11:6 – But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.   

Let me give you a gentle reminder that this text deals with sacrifice.  God expects us to sacrifice different areas of our life as an offering to him.  What are you giving God?  Is it your highest and best?

Malachi 1:9 – And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us.  With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? Says the Lord of hosts.

So the post exilic priests were despising God with their polluted offerings and service.  Since that was the case, who could they cry out to when problems came?  Did they have any basis to expect answers and favor from God?  Of course not!  Why should God be gracious to those who rejected a relationship with him and treated him with contempt?

It seems obvious, but we sometimes act the same way.  Consider this and see if you believe it is true:

Man is not so much the victim of his circumstances, as he is the creator of them.

While that is not the case 100% of the time (case in point, Job), it is certainly true much of the time. 

We waste our money and spend beyond our means, then cry out to God when the debt collectors come.  We eat too much and fail to otherwise take care of our bodies, then we cry to God when we have health problems.  We marry unbelievers, then whine about our marital situation.  

And that is not the worst of it.  When we don’t have good stewardship over our finances, that means when God is looking for someone to use in that realm of life, we have eliminated ourselves from his service.

If God is looking for someone to perform a job for him, but we can’t do it because of our poor health, we have just missed a chance to be in his service. 

Were the post exilic Jews victims of their circumstances, or the creators of them?  What about us? 

Based on our relationship with God, can we expect his favor and blessing?

Malachi 1:10 – Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.

The priests had control over the temple area, but there were Levites who were door keepers.  It was their job to remain at their stations and examine all sacrifices that were brought to the door of the temple.  They were to determine if the items that were presented were acceptable according to the law.  If so, the Levites presented them to the priests.  If not, they were to reject them so that no unfit or polluted sacrifice might enter the temple. 

Since they were letting anything into the temple, God justly wishes that one of them would have enough of a conscience to just shut the doors and stop the sin!  How sad is that?

Because the offerings themselves were polluted and because the hearts of the priests and people were far from God, the sacrifices were considered void; they served no purpose.  There was no benefit in even offering them to God, because they were unacceptable to Him. 

As always, God desires obedience rather than worthless sacrifice.  As always, He desires relationship over empty action. 

Let’s face it – God could have permanently shut the door of the temple anytime he wanted to.  He had done it when he allowed the destruction of Solomon’s temple just before the exile. He would do it again when he allowed the temple to be destroyed in AD 71.  And certainly, God would be justified in destroying it in the present case.  But despite their sin, He once again demonstrates his mercy.   

He does not shut the doors himself; he leaves them open so that repentance can take place.  In fact, this is not the first time he has shown such mercy (see Isaiah 1:11-15).  God has plans that span the entirety of time and eternity, and He will be faithful to His promises, even when man is not!    

Malachi 1:11-12 – For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.  But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.

Obviously, God is making reference to a future time.  The sacrifices of Israel could never fully bridge the gap between God and man, and the people of the world could not all travel to the temple to offer sacrifices to God.

Through the prophet Malachi, God is revealing his glorious future plans.  Through Jesus the Messiah, God will put in place a new covenant, where Gentiles are brought into the kingdom of God.  During that age, people can worship anywhere, as long as they worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23 – But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.

It is true that the Jews despised and polluted the symbol of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah, but that would not stop God from bringing about his glorious purposes.  In a day that was future to the days of Malachi, God’s name would be praised, glorified and revered by people of every nation!

This would have been a shocking idea to the Jews.  They never considered a scenario in which God placed them on the same level as Gentiles!  The Gentiles were dogs who had no covenant with God!  They despised God!  How could God accept worship from them?  It was unheard of!  Salvation for the Gentiles was an incomprehensible idea to the Jews. 

This startling news served to amplify the magnitude of their own sins.  Remember at the beginning of this study, when we mentioned Israel was in dire need of medicine but did not even realize she was sick?  This is an example of one of the ways that God used to show her that she was sick.  God was using this revelation to shock them into recognizing their own sin, so they could repent.

God does not desire to cast the Jews aside.  He wants them to repent, and be his loving children, so he can continue to be their loving Father.     

What a privilege to be a part of the fulfillment of this prophesy!  Doesn’t it make you want to worship him right now?  Let’s take care to make sure that we ourselves cherish and honor this gift.  Let’s be sure to worship God in spirit and in truth, making proper sacrifices to him!

As a side note, just to be clear, the priests are probably not saying these exact words aloud.  However, their actions are speaking louder than any words ever could.  By their deeds they shout aloud that they despise God’s promises and presence.  However, this charge cannot be laid solely at the feet of the priests, for the common people were just as guilty.  The rebuke of God via Malachi applies to all the people of that generation – and this one too!

Malachi 1:13 – But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.  You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand?  Says the Lord.

God required the performance of the external rites of the temple because they were a picture of what was to come – the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah.  By taking these rites seriously and treating them with holiness, the Jews would have honored God.  They would have been an example to all generations of the goodness of their heavenly Father/Master.  The temple rituals were a chance to exercise repentance and faith in God.  They were a way of connecting with God and experiencing a relationship with Him. 

But when the priests and the people fell into gross, blatant contempt of the temple services, it was an insult to God.  It was an abomination.  And through their actions, they brought judgment upon themselves.   

Malachi 1:14 – Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.  For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Suppose you were running a business over the internet.  If you advertised and promised a really great, top quality product, but then delivered something of inferior quality, that would be deception, fraud and theft.  You could actually face legal charges. 

In the same way, those who claimed they were bringing God their best, but in reality were substituting animals that were injured or maimed, were also committing deception, fraud and theft – against the Holy One of Israel!

What have we vowed or promised to God?  Have we consecrated our lives to Him and His kingdom?  Have we vowed to put Him first in our lives?  Did we ever promise to use our time and talents for His glory? 

In keeping those promises, we offer ourselves upon God’s altar of sacrifice, where we become a sweet smelling savor to him.  In breaking those promises, we steal from God, and bring dishonor to his Holy Name. 

 Consideration and meditation of the greatness of God will not only build our faith, it will prevent us from offering frivolous service to him.  The greatness of the mercy and love of God should humble us to a point where we worship him in spirit and in truth, not in vain repetition or half-hearted fervor.  This is the only service that that is worthy of him.

I believe it is worth noting that after the prophet Malachi, God embarks upon a period of 400 years of silence with his people.  Surely, God’s final words to his people were not only important for them, but for us as well.

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

We know that in this life, we will never achieve perfection in our walk with Christ.  Try as we might, sin will always interfere.  But we are still required to have perfection as our aim; Jesus is the benchmark of our Christianity.

So don’t become careless in your devotion to Christ.  Don’t give up on your commitment to personal holiness.  I encourage you to honestly examine yourself and see if any sin has crept into your relationship with Him.  

Do you still revere and honor him?  Or have you entered into a state of ‘sloppy grace’, where you imagine that anything goes because God forgives?  Don’t fall into that trap; you will disqualify yourself for his service.   

Now is not the time to let up your guard.  God is at work in the world, and you are going to want to be a part of that!  

So be sure that you are loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!

Malachi, Chapter 1, Part 1

Malachi 1:1 – The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.

Hopefully, you took time to read the introduction to this series, which was posted last week.  If so, then proceed on.  If not, please take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with the overall history of this passage of scripture.

Our translation says the word of the Lord was an oracle.  This is certainly true; an oracle is defined as: The answer of a god or some person reputed to be a god, to an inquiry respecting some affair or future event, such as the success of an enterprise or battle.

It is also defined as: The communications, revelations or messages delivered by God to the prophets; including the entire sacred scriptures.

God is certainly about to give a message to his people through Malachi, which concerns current and future events.  So the word ‘oracle’ applies. 

But other translations have the word ‘burden’.  A burden is defined as: That which is borne with labor or difficulty; that which is grievous or wearisome; a heavy load (literal or figurative).  This word is also a fitting one for the message of Malachi. 

Why would the communication of God to his people be a heavy load for the prophet?

Because this word/oracle is like a dose of bitter, awful tasting medicine.  The nation of Israel is sick, but she doesn’t even know it!  She desperately needs this ‘medicine’ from God, so she can be restored to good spiritual heath.  If Israel doesn’t get this medicine, she is in danger of dying.  But no one wants to swallow a big dose of bitterness, even if it is beneficial in the long run!     

So God uses Malachi in a two-fold way.  First, he must confront the Jews with their wrong doing (let Israel know she is spiritually ill) and second, he must deliver a message of repentance and hope (give her bitter medicine, which will heal her). 

Now, is there anyone out there who loves to bear bad news to people, even if it is for their own good?  Of course not!  If you never did anything but bring people bad news, you would very shortly find yourself alone and without friends.  But this is the role that Malachi has been assigned by the Lord. 

His message is not going to bring him fame and popularity.  He is not going to be invited to speak at big conventions.  People are not going to follow him on social media, or buy his book. (Well, maybe that isn’t quite true since his book is part of the bible, but you know what I mean!)    

While his message is absolutely critical for the people, it is still going to be a hard message for him to deliver, and a hard message for the people to accept.  This makes it a burden.

But the good news is that God is delivering the perfect message, at the perfect time, for the perfection of his chosen people, who have a very great and profound destiny.

 Can we stop here and look at our own country, the United States of America? 

Can we say that she is God’s chosen nation, just as Israel is?  Can we say that she, like Israel, is spiritually ill but doesn’t even know it?  Do you see a parallel between the political, financial and moral situation we find ourselves in right now, and the one the Jews faced so many years ago post exile?  I do.  I also believe that God has a dose of ‘medicine’ to give America which may seem bitter going down, but unless we take it, we may die as a nation. 

The good news is that God, as we would expect, is delivering the perfect message to us, at the perfect time, for the perfection of his church, because we have a very great and profound destiny ahead of us – the great harvest of souls that will occur before the coming of Christ. 

Remember back in our introduction we noted that God skillfully intertwined the spiritual message of Malachi with the religious reforms of Ezra and the political reforms of Nehemiah.  These men, under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, brought about changes in their nation.

I suspect God is doing something similar in America.  What is God calling you to do in this hour?  Is he calling you to become active politically?  Is God putting you in a position to bring reform to the judicial system?  Is he calling you to bear a burden of spiritual significance? Is he putting wealth in your hands to be used for the kingdom?  Is he calling you to be a voice of repentance in this nation? Do you want to play a part in the great end time harvest? 

Do you want to assist in the healing of this nation?  There is more than enough ‘burden’ to go around for all of us. 

So read on, and ask God how this Old Testament prophetic book applies to you in this day.   

 Malachi 1:2-3 – “I have loved you,” says the Lord.  But you say, “How have you loved us?”  “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord.  “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.  I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

Malachi delivers his message in a very unique way.  He could have just stood up and said, “Thus says the Lord…”, and fired off his whole oracle, but he didn’t. 

Instead, he engages his listeners/readers in a series of rhetorical questions.  This is sometimes referred to as ‘discussion speech’, because the prophet is giving the word of the Lord in the form of an anticipated discussion of events between the people and God.

In this format, the prophet reveals the true thoughts and feelings of the people, even though they might not want to admit what they are thinking.  He gets this information from God, who knows the thoughts of all men.  After revealing what the people would say if they were being honest, God then addresses the questions and complaints of his people. 

God prefaces his message with a firm assurance of his love.  God never changes; his love for his people neither waxes nor wanes, despite the viewpoint of man.  Jeremiah says it this way in the King James Version of the bible:  

Jeremiah 31:3 – The LORD has appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.

The English Standard Version says it this way:  ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.’

God’s love is clearly evident in his actions towards Israel.  He set them apart as his chosen people.  He made a covenant with them.  He preserved and blessed them.  He delivered them from Egypt, fed/watered them in the wilderness, and brought them into the Promised Land.  We could go on and on, listing the many tokens of love that God has given the Jews.  God loved them completely and perfectly at all times.

Yet, the post exilic Jews did not see it that way.  They doubted God’s love for them because events did not turn out as they expected.

They had indeed returned to Jerusalem, and rebuilt the walls and the temple.  But none of the wonderful things announced by the pre-exilic prophets (like a new covenant, a transformation of nature, a state of peace and prosperity under the messianic king) had come to pass.  They were not a great and victorious nation.  They were not especially prosperous.  Messiah had not appeared. 

So they murmured and complained. They chose to ignore the past and present mercies of God.  They became thankless and disrespectful.  People began to question God’s power and providence; they accused God of not loving them.

So the eternal and faithful love that God had exhibited towards his people was returned with ingratitude, disrespect and dishonor.  All this is summed up in the question ‘How have you loved us?’

God’s response is to call their attention to Jacob and Esau.  As you recall, these two men were twins, the sons of Isaac and Rebekah.  Each one became a nation of people – Jacob’s descendants became Israel, and Esau’s descendants became the Edomites.  Because they were both sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham, you would expect both of them to be given similar privileges by God, but that is not the case.  

Jacob and Esau

In our English translation, Malachi says that God ‘hated’ Esau and ‘loved’ Jacob.  This does not mean that God actually hated Esau for no reason.  It means that God favored the nation of Israel over the nation of Edom.  The words ‘hate’ and ‘love’ are not to be taken literally.  They are used to show the wide gap/contrast of favor between the two nations.  

How did God favor Jacob/Israel?  He gave Israel the Law, the covenant, the temple and the prophets, while Edom got none of that.  He gave Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, while Edom got the desert and some mountains.  Both Israel and Edom were turned over to their enemies, but God restored Israel and left Edom in ruins. 

Many scholars see a parallel here between the righteous and the wicked.  All people have trouble in this world (the rain falls on the just and the unjust), but God favors the righteous.  For the righteous, worldly sufferings have an end, and all of our sorrow will be turned to joy.  Not so for the wicked, whose suffering will be endless.

Malachi 1:4 – If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country’, and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.”

Here we see the defiance of Edom.  The Lord has allowed them to be destroyed, but in defiance they rise up and declare that they will rebuild.

But God confirms that the Edomites have no hope of restoration.  No matter how much labor and money and time they spend in their quest to rebuild, they will not succeed.

God has decreed their destruction because of the way they treated the Jews when Israel was overrun by Babylon.  (They captured large numbers of the Jews who had escaped and turned them in to the Babylonian soldiers for profit).  

All 21 versus of the book of Obadiah are an oracle against the nation of Edom, but we will just mention one verse here:

Obadiah 10 – Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.

Sure enough, Edom was eventually overtaken by Babylon just as Israel had been.  Yet, in the fullness of time, Israel is restored to her own territory, while Edom ceased to exist.  Only the providence of God could accomplish this.   

Daniel 2:21 – And he [God] changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings…

Clearly, God loves and favors his chosen people over all other nations.

The difference in favor shows itself again when the former Edomites are branded as a ‘wicked country’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.  Consider this:  God was angry with both Edom and Israel; His anger resulted in the destruction of both nations. 

But God’s favor and purposes rested with Israel so he used her exile in a positive way (to remove the sin of idolatry amongst other things), and then restored her as promised. 

As her Father, he disciplined her, in order to train her in righteousness.  He helped her mature, so she could be trusted with even more favor.  He prepared her for the coming Messiah, so that all nations could be blessed through her, just as He had promised in his covenant with her.

Thus we see that God has been completely faithful to his promises:

Psalm 89:31-34 – If they [Israel] break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.  Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor allow my faithfulness to fail.  My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

Meanwhile, Edom was wiped from the face of the earth – forever.  How then, can the Jews of the post exile period claim that God does not love and favor Israel?

Malachi 1:5 – Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”

The difference that was evident in God’s dealings with Israel vs Edom was just one instance of God’s favor upon them.  There had been many, many instances in the past, and there were more examples yet to come.  Future generations would also recognize God’s favor upon them, and give him glory for it.

So the word of God through Malachi begins with a factual statement of His love and favor.  What other nation had been chosen by God besides them?  What greater honor could there be than to be the people of God, the embodiment of his blessings?  And what did Israel do to deserve these benefits?  The answer is NOTHING

Thus, God has made a case for his undeniable love and favor of Israel.  He now goes on to reveal the unthankful attitudes and actions of his people, despite that love and favor. 

Malachi 1:6 – “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honor?  And if I am a master, where is my fear? Says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.  But you say, “How have we despised your name?”

Let’s consider the relationship between parents and children.  There is a strong law of nature present in that relationship.  A child automatically loves his parents.  He will naturally look up to them, believe them and trust them.  (Sadly, this occurs even when the parents are abusive.)

If the parents are good, loving parents, that love and respect continues to flourish and grow as the child grows.  There will be times of correction/discipline and times of teaching, but that does not diminish the love of the child for the parent.  If anything, it causes it to increase. 

Now, there can be no doubt that God is the father of the Jewish people:

Isaiah 63:16 – Doubtless you are our father…you, O LORD, are our father, our redeemer; your name is from everlasting.

John 8:41 – You do the deeds of your father. Then said they (the Jews) to him, We are not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

If God is Father, and Israel is his child, then we would automatically expect certain things to be true of that relationship.  We would expect Israel to love God.  We would expect them to look to God for provision, protection and guidance.  We would expect them to believe in God and to trust Him.  We would also anticipate certain times of correction and teaching to occur.  And all through this process, we would see love flourish between God and his children.

But through the prophet Malachi, God himself declares that despite his perfect parenting, Israel exhibits no love towards him!  She is cold and heartless.  She denies his love, scorns his correction and does not trust him.

Hmmm… perhaps Israel looks at God more like a master than a father.  That too, is a fitting role.  If God is the master then Israel was his servant.  What natural laws govern the master/servant relationship?  Respect and obedience.  The servant will fear and/or respect his master and will act accordingly by doing the master’s bidding/will.

But again, God declares that Israel does not even treat him like a servant treats his master!  They neither fear nor respect him.  God declares that Israel is guilty of ingratitude and contempt.    

Here, I offer a word to the wise for our generation.  God is both our Father and our Master.  We are both his children and his servants.  A mixture of both reverent love and respectful fear is due to Him.  Yes, we can rest in his love, but we also need to be about the business of his kingdom – spreading the good news of the gospel, making disciples of all men and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Did you notice that here in verse 6, the Lord seems to shift focus?  At first, it seems as if he is addressing all of the Israelites, but now he seems to be speaking specifically to the priests.  Why is this significant?

If the nation of Israel was a group of servants unto the Lord, then the priests were like a special subgroup of servants.  They had the privilege of standing before God, when no one else could.  They were the ones who stood in the gap between man and God.  They had access to the covenant, and they were charged with the task of knowing and teaching its laws to the people.  They were to enforce sound doctrine.  They were to live lives of holiness as an example to their fellow countrymen.  They were to keep God’s name sacred among the people.  They were spiritual leaders; they were to lead the nation in honoring and fearing the Lord. 

When they fail to be good children/servants to God, the rest of the nation follows their example.  If they are corrupt, then we can be sure the entire nation was corrupt too. 

Therefore, correction/discipline of the priests is of the utmost importance and must come first; reformation of the common people and the nation hangs upon the reformation of the priests.

And what a horrible example they set for the nation!  The spiritual leaders of the nation actually despised the very name of God.  To despise means ‘to look down upon with disfavor or contempt, to scorn, to undervalue; to have a low opinion of’.    

Ask yourself these questions:  If the priests scorned and looked down upon God, what kind of service do you think they gave him as they served in the temple?  How seriously did they take his laws?  How effective were they in teaching the law among the people?  

Here is another question:  Why should we care about the service of some priests who turned to dust long, long before our great-great grandparents were born?

Because you and I are the priests of today!

1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Look around you.  Our nation is in turmoil.  It no longer acknowledges God as either Father or Master. Why is that?  Could it be that the church has not been taking her duties seriously?

We have the privilege of standing before God, with access to his throne room; we are to stand in the gap for lost souls.  Do we?  How concerned are we with the lost?

We are to live lives of holiness as an example to our fellow countrymen.  We are to hold God’s name and his reputation as sacred among the people of our society.  Do we? Or do people have a hard time seeing the difference between the church and the world?

We have access to the new covenant, and we are charged with the task of being a force for holiness and righteousness in our generation.  This requires us to be active in every aspect of our society such as our schools, our courts, our businesses and our political system.   Are we using our positions in society to promote holiness and righteousness?

When the world tries to promote evil, does it fear a battle with the church, or does it just assume we will roll over and let them do as they please?

Could it be that reformation of America hangs on reformation of the church?

When God confronts Israel’s sin through the prophet Malachi, they respond, ‘how have we despised your name’? 

Now, this is a key question.  If they ask this question with a humble desire to really understand what they were doing wrong, that would have been good.  It would have displayed an attitude of remorse and repentance.  It would have indicated they were ready and willing to change their ways. 

But they asked the question with distain and defiance, refusing to acknowledge their own sin.  And that’s a problem because if they don’t acknowledge their sin, they won’t be able to repent.  Their only option will be to harden their hearts against God’s call to repentance. 

But God is merciful and gracious.  He will reason with them, and give them specific examples of how they are despising his name.  He will be very clear about the charges he is bringing against them.  God desires for them to see and repent, but if they don’t God will be clearly justified when he judges them.

But, before we get into the specifics of their wrong doing, I want to stop here and apply what we have learned to our own situation.

The first thing we saw in this chapter was God reaffirming his love for his people.  There was clear evidence of this love all around, but the people chose to ignore the evidence.  They were busy having a kind of pity party, because events after the exile did not turn out as they expected. 

What does a self examination reveal to you?  Are you now, or have you ever, indulged in a kind of spiritual pity party, when God did not give you what you wanted?  Was there ever a time when things did not turn out the way you thought, and so you accused God of doing you wrong or not loving you? 

I fully and freely admit that when things don’t go my way, it is irritating.  And it is tempting to question God’s ways during those times.  But now I see that when those times come, it is my job to look at the facts objectively, by looking over God’s past dealings with me and seeing all of the tokens of love that he has given me.  When you do that, it is easy to see that he loves you and he is working things out for your good! 

What about our nation? Is anybody besides me extremely unhappy with what is going on in our nation’s capital and in its highest offices?  Anyone blaming God for that?  Anyone grumbling because God has not done what we expected, as a result of our prayers for the nation? 

If so, you should be very, very careful.  In fact, I would immediately stop the grumbling and repent.  You can be absolutely certain that heaven received your prayers:

1 Peter 3:12 – For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.    

You can also be absolutely certain that God is in control of events and He is working behind the scenes in America, even if you don’t see it!  God loves America just as much as he loves Israel and he is bringing about his purposes in his own way.  This may involve correction of his church.  In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it will most definitely involve correction for the church.

The church in America seems to be complacent.  Where were we when evil was voting for abortion and gay marriage and prayer-less schools?  How effective and active are today’s churches in spiritual warfare?  When did we decide that we could effectively run the church and be victorious without the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit? 

I firmly believe that God is working in America to bring about change, but part of that plan is going to require us to change as well.  God is calling us to enroll in spiritual boot camp.  He is calling us to wake up and start learning how to fight back the forces of evil.  He will direct the battle, but we must do our part by fighting.   

In the scriptures, David credits God with teaching him the art of warfare:

Psalms 18:34-40 – He [God] trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.  You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.  I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed.  I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.  For you have equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise up against me sink under me.  You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.

God is ready to train the modern church in warfare.  Part of that will be of a spiritual nature, part will be religious reform and part will be in the political/business/worldly realm.  So I encourage you – don’t wait for the draft – enlist today, because Uncle Sam truly needs you!

Let me offer you some encouragement:  Back in the days of Malachi, God’s people had a choice.  They could accept the medicine that would bring healing to them (even though it seemed bitter at the time), or they could give up and die.  I believe that we, as individuals and as a nation, are facing the same choice.  This battle can be won.  We can be victorious.  I encourage you to be an active part of what God is doing right now!     

Let me offer you some relief:  God has never lost a battle.  So get on the winning side.  Draw close to God.  Learn to hear his voice.  Spend time in his presence.  Follow where he leads you.  

Let me offer you some strength:  We all want our children and grandchildren to inherit a nation that is righteous and blessed by God.  Even though things look a bit hopeless right now, we can still give them that.  But it is going to take effort on our part.  So don’t give up.  Instead, get involved in what God is doing!