PERSONAL REFLECTIONS (A)
Currently, our dg is studying the book of Malachi. Personally, I find this book rather unique; it closes the Book of the Twelve (minor prophets); it also closes the entire Old Testament with a forward-looking promise of the coming day of Yahweh. After this book, there was no significant prophecy for some 400 years until the coming of the Messiah.
Malachi prophesied in the post-exile era; together with the other minor prophets, Malachi qualifies how to view the return of the exiles in the light of the promised restoration. The post-exile community had been led by leaders like Nehemiah, Ezra; the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had helped to re-establish the temple and the priesthood. In the light of all these, was this the glorious regathering and restoration of Israel that the pre-exile prophets had predicted? Malachi along with Haggi and Zechariah answer this question with the negative.
The nation is apparently cured of idolatry (except for the danger of inter-marriage with people who worship idols), but it quickly deteriorated into extreme legalism, embracing religious ritualism while ignoring social justice – this in fact reveals the early forms of Judaism that the Lord Jesus encounters in Israel when He appears (and the legalistic keeping of the law, Torah by the Pharisees is a manifestation of this).
Central to the book of Malachi is the issue of proper worship; Malachi preaches against the corruption of worship, the unacceptable and profaned sacrifices, corrupt priests, the failure to tithe, and the widespread social injustice.
In our first study, the group was ‘puzzled’ by the reply God made to the complaint of the people that God had not loved them: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals’ (vv2-3). Many questions were raised – is it really that God literally hates Esau? Is God being fair even though Edom did turn against Israel in the battle with Babylon and Edom also refused Israel the route through their land to the ‘promised land’?
Paul quotes Malachi 1:2 in Romans 9:13 to prove his point that not all of Abraham’s physical descendants are part of the true Israel. Both Jacob and Esau were born of Isaac (and thus from their grandfather Abraham). But the promise was transmitted only through Jacob, whose descendants became the nation of Israel. Esau’s descendants, on the other hand, became the nation of Edom. God reminds the post-exile community that Edom is gone forever, while the descendants of Jacob are on the way to restoration. Paul cites this example of God’s promise being connected with His divine choosing and not merely based on physical descent or merit. In fact before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, God chose Jacob so that His purpose in election might stand (Rom. 9:11).
When we consider God’s love, marriage between one man and one woman is a helpful picture of the biblical story of God’s love; it illustrates God’s gospel love immersed in creation. Marriage itself is a covenant, and God’s love is pictured as a betrothing love – a distinctive particular love. In marriage for instance, a man loves his wife in a way that is distinct from all others and is particular to her alone.This distinctive love is also seen in Genesis 3 when God put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman – the world and God’s people. The distinction then plays out in Genesis 4, when God rejects the line of Cain but loves the line of Seth. We see it again with Noah’s sons, when God rejects the line of Ham and chooses to bless the line of Shem. Ultimately we see it in God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 12. Even then, not all of Abraham’s descendants are chosen in love by God. Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, is rejected, but Isaac is chosen. Esau is rejected, but Jacob, his twin brother, is chosen. King Saul is rejected; King David is chosen. Later, the whole northern kingdom is rejected, while the southern kingdom is chosen. Every time God makes His choice, the blessings of His love are attached to the beloved exclusive of all others. God does seem to love people differently, and in different ways.
What does it mean when we say that God is love.There was never a time when God was not expressing love toward another and receiving love from another. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. Love is bound up into the very nature of the Trinity. God cannot be God without love, because God is love. It is not just that one of God’s attributes is love. For eg, God is wrathful toward sin, but Scripture never says God is wrath, because His wrath has reference to something outside of Himself – our sin. There was a time in eternity past when God’s wrath had no expression. But there has never been a time when God was not love, for the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father is eternal.
For some of us, it is easy to think that God and His love must revolve around us and our problems, and we evaluated His love based on how we feel He is doing at loving us. But God’s love was perfect before we ever arrived at the scene, and it will remain perfect long after we leave. The eternal and prior love of the Father and the Son for each other reminds us that at the end of the day, life and love is not about us. Though the love of God for us is real, it is also derivative, an overflow of the most fundamental love within the Trinity itself. Some may ask that that is it possible to declare that God is love in the face of this world’s tragedies, but the answer is found not by looking around the evidence in the world but by looking at God, and the revelation of His love for the Son, Jesus Christ. Love is firmly established in the nature of God!
So in Malachi, when the people queried whether God loved them, they were making the mistake of evaluating God’s love by looking at their own lives and circumstances. The biblical language for God’s love for His people is election, the language of choosing. People sometimes recoil at this word because it seems to make God mean, narrow, and unloving. But in the Bible, to be chosen is the very nature of what it means to be loved by God, in the same way a man loves a woman by choosing her. God chose certain ones simply because He loved them, and He loved them simply because He did. This may help to understand what God meant when He declared, “Jacob I love, Esau I hate”.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS (B)
We have seen in the previous sharing that God elects (chooses) certain ones simply because He loves them, and this love is manifested and displayed in the wondrous love within the Trinity (which is eternal, from eternity to eternity), and this love overflows to loving His creatures. For believers, we love because He first loved us.
God’s love to us is derivative (an outflow from the Trinity); His love is unchanging, faithful, and unconditional, and is based on the covenant He made with those He chose to be His people. The covenant spelled out in the Old Testament testifies that ‘God shall be your (our) God and you (we) shall be my(His) people’ stands throughout the history of redemption.
A covenant is not merely a ‘contract’ or a ‘promise’; it is a bond that establishes an all-encompassing relationship; it is not merely a financial obligation or a military treaty – it is a claim on someone’s total loyalty and allegiance.
God always keeps His covenant with His people; on the contrary, the people continue to break the covenant with God, and in the process, also blame God for not loving them and not blessing them as His people. In their self-centredness, spiritual ‘blindness’, they fail to see clearly their own short-comings, unfaithfulness and disobedience. And love also disciplines and corrects – this explains God’s dealing with His people in even using calamities, foreign armies and kings to teach them a lesson and to bring them back to the right path – all these done in true love for His people. We see this again and again in the Old Testament; God sent prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline until even after returning from the exile, the people still queried God’s love as seen in Malachi. “I have loved you” remains true in God’s love for His people.
For Christians today, the same problems beset us. We forget that God chose us because He loves us and this He did in His grace and mercy. We sometimes think that we earn the right to be loved by Him, forgetting that there is nothing in us which deserves redemption; thus we endeavour to please Him by our performance and seek to confirm that we indeed deserve to be God’s people. On the other hand, when circumstances are difficult and things seem to indicate that God does not seem to care, we complain, grumble and doubt the goodness and perfection of God.
God does not change, and neither do His promises of salvation. Everyone who is saved is saved by faith in the gracious promises of God, to whatever extent He has revealed them at that point of history. And all these promises find their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2 Cor.1:20). However, the way God reveals that salvation does develop, like a seed growing into a tree. At each point of history, God’s people may not perceive this seed actually growing and they continue to look for the tree.
From the opening pages of Scripture to their close, the story of God’s redemptive activity is structured by promises made and promises kept. There is also apparent delay in God’s promise-keeping, and it is this that brings tension to God’s people. For God’s people during the time of Malachi, they thought that after returning from exile, God’s promises made by the pre-exile prophets would immediately or soon come to pass, but instead, they found themselves still in a difficult situation without any indication of the restoration promised by God. And that brought about doubt regarding God’s love and promise; and this degenerated to the point that they felt they were not obligated to fulfil their positive responsibilities to God, whether in the matter of sacrifices, tithes, offerings, or even in honouring His name – it became tiresome to serve God, they thought, after all, God did not fulfil His promises or grant them the favour they thought they deserved. So it became a matter of going through the motion without the sincere and honest motivations in their hearts. Here it is mandatory that God’s people continue to trust Him and to live by faith, knowing that God always keeps His promises, but the ways and the period and time needed are God’s prerogative, according to His wisdom and perfection. In the midst of the tension, the people of God must continue to affirm who God is and to continue to give Him the honour and glory He alone deserves. For believers today, the second coming of the Lord Jesus has still not come to pass; we must not look to the alarming circumstances, the calamities and developing evil while we wait in hope for the deliverance of the Lord and the culmination of salvation history.
That God is a God of promises means that our lives are, by design, lives of waiting.
‘Why the delay?’ we may ask. The promises that take the form of covenants are those that not only commit God to a future action, but they are promises that bind Him in a relationship to a particular people. God is not only faithful, keeping His word; He is also personal, entering into relationship with others. The story of God’s actions in history is not simply a story of God carrying out His agenda; it is also a story of mercy and love, as He creates and redeems a people for Himself.
When God saves us, He does not whisk us off to heaven; He leaves us here, in part to learn that this world is not our home, and to grow our longing for a better country – a heavenly one. He desires that we would grow weary of the lies, pretences, and broken promises that the world peddles, and instead, with Abraham, live here on earth as an alien, all the while “looking toward the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:10).
We have the promise, and we await the coming of the kingdom in its glory. But we will not be pilgrims forever. The Day will come when Christ returns, and all authority is submitted to Chris and He is publicly declared King and Lord (Rev. 11).
The church is not to live as if this world does not matter. Our good deeds are to be evident to all. But our mission finally is not the renewal of culture; it is the redemption of souls. Our war is not the culture war, but a war against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And our hope is not in the political levers of power, but in the sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords, who even now reigns at the right hand of God.
We must not make the mistake the people of God during Malachi’s time did; we must continue to worship God and give Him the glory and honour He deserves; we must not ever doubt His love, faithfulness and promises even though the circumstances seem to cause us to question and to doubt; we must continue to serve Him in joy and hope and not complain and find service to Him as burdensome. God expects us to continue to worship Him properly and to honour Him rightly. He also desires us to glorify Him as salt of the earth, and light of the world – the church is to continue to fulfil her calling as a beacon of hope and light to the lost world.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS (C)
We noted in the previous sharing that the covenant God made with His people is tied up with His promises.
One of the difficulties with promises is waiting. Some believers in the New Testament times thought that God was delaying the fulfilment of the second coming of Christ.
The Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:9-15 wrote directly to clear the air regarding the unrest about Christ’s reappearing. Peter assured the believers that God is not slow to fulfil His promises… but He is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish.
Our desire for instant action in response to our prayers reflects the limitation and smallness of our view of things compared with God’s. God fixes His time for doing what He has promised (and what His people look to Him to do) in light of long-term purposes of goodness and wisdom involving far more than we can ever be aware of. “That all should reach repentance” in 2 Peter 3 is a case in point.
The principle that Bible believing Christians should grasp is that it is God’s prerogative to do what He promises in what He knows to be the best and wisest way, at what He knows to be the best and wisest time. If we see this, it will help us tremendously to develop the patience and settled trust that God desires to shape in us, and will stabilise our hope when our hears move us to pray, “Lord, how long?”
Coming back to Malachi, the people of God were expecting the prophecies of the pre-exile prophets to take place immediately after the return from exile. This prophecy of restoration did not take place; in fact, as shared, for some 400 years, there was no new significant prophecy. The restoration was in fact in motion already after the exile, and for us today, we know that the Messiah, the Son of God, is coming to inaugurate the new kingdom of God and the new age in Christ. In one sense, the people of God during Malachi’s time was living in transition – in the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. For us also, after the death of Christ, and His victory over the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and Satan, we who believe in Him, and are born again, also live in the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. The Lord Jesus’ second coming has not taken place and God’s redemption is still not completed and consummated.
Herein lies the difficulty with promises – we are to wait, with confidence, with faith in God and His assurance that what He promises would surely come to pass (with the qualification – in His own time, in the wisest way, in the best way). Our doubts about many issues, eg. election, choice, God’s unchanging love and Being, – all these need not trouble us if we affirm that we know and love the Lord of hosts, the almighty, the perfect transcendent personal God.
Kingdom may come and go; God remains; the nations are just like drops of water in a bucket before God. He put constellations of stars in the sky and He knows them by name. (Read Isaiah 40). This is our God – prepare to meet our God – all those who dare to lift up their countenance and query Him and doubt Him. In Him is perfection, majesty, no variation or change, always loving, always gracious, always faithful and dependable. May we rest in this.
“YET I HAVE LOVED JACOB, BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED,” MALACHI 1:2-3
We have considered the first part of the above verse – we noted the choice (election) of God of Jacob simply because God loves, and how in the history of the Old Testament, in many instances, God chose certain lines of people for His covenant of redemption, and rejected other lines.
We now consider the second part of the above verse:” …but Esau I have hated”.
Some in our dg group have raised why God hated Esau – was he so bad an individual that it had to come to ‘hate’ on God’s part?
We may not have all the correct answers but perhaps it is helpful to consider certain principles that may be relevant.
The first principle is “God hates pride”. It is because of pride that the evil one became Satan – he wanted to be God and to displace God from being the One and only. Esau, as a nation Edom, had her habitations considered by many as ‘impregnable’ – it seemed almost impossible to conquer this nation in the light of her ‘fortress’. Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through her territory during the latter’s journey in the wilderness; she also joined the Babylonian forces to attack Israel, killing women and children and ‘gloating’ at Israel’s misfortune. What is most repulsive and surprising is that Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, both from the same parents. For a brother to indulge in envy, jealousy, and disdain is most displeasing to God. Coupled with her pride, Edom became a symbol of those who hated God, His ways, and choices; she was not happy for her brother, but rather hated the brother because she felt ‘overlooked’ and ‘bypassed’ by God. In effect, she indirectly hated God and rejected His sovereignty and wisdom.
In our churches today, do we see much of envy, jealousy, and unhappiness when our brethren are given a better role and ministry, or better gifts? We must not forget that the church is a body of Christ (who is the head), and every member of the body is important to Him. Each may have different role but all together comprise Christ’s body; to reject a member because he or she seems insignificant is tantamount to rejecting the body of Christ. We would remember Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus; Christ asked him why he persecuted Him even though he only persecuted the Christians. Every member is part of the body of Christ – hence when one member suffers, all suffer together, and when one member is honoured, all receive the honour, and Christ is invariably honoured.
On the other scale, Israel was God’s special people – a nation chosen in a covenant instituted by God. To go against God’s people is a very serious thing – it is equivalent to be going against God Himself. Ultimately, those who rejected God and rebelled against Him would be ‘destroyed’. All those who follow the ways of the evil one who aims to be God would sooner or later realise that God alone is transcendent, almighty, perfect and He alone reigns and receives all honour and glory. God also reminded the people in Malachi’s time that He does not need the sacrifices and worship of the people; whether we worship Him or give honour to Him, He is nevertheless honoured and worshipped by all, even those who are rebels would have to bow before Him finally. Not only is He worshipped and honoured; the future would see God’s name declared as ‘great’ among the nations and in every place He would be worshipped.
At the same time, when we see the sufferings of God’s people, even today, let us not forget that God sees all things and vengeance belongs to the Lord. We may cry out to God “How long”? but know for sure that in His perfect timing and wisdom, justice would be meted out, and none who dares to go against God and His beloved will escape judgement.
REFLECTIONS ON ‘COVENANT’ IN MALACHI
It is helpful to note that the concept of ‘Covenant’ permeates almost the whole book of Malachi.
We saw how God responded to the query of the Israelites that He did not love them by declaring “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated”, bringing forth the concept of election (choice) and that of the covenant God made with Abraham and His descendants (not all of them though) but those of his Seed. This is a covenant of grace in Genesis 15 – God promises Abraham a people and a place under God’s benevolent rule, and the blessings of the covenant will eventually flow to all the earth (including the church).
Next we see the reference to the covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:4-5,8) made under the Mosaic Covenant established In Exodus 20-25 and re-established in Deuteronomy. It builds on the Abrahamic Covenant by working out in detail what God’s people should look like: a holy kingdom, in distinction from the seed of the serpents; and this kingdom will bless the earth by their very distinctiveness (Deut. 4:5-8). Unlike the Abrahamic covenant, however, the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of works. The judges, successors to Moses, are the continuing covenant mediators. The blessing of this covenant was continued possession of the Promised land and the curse of the covenant was exile.
So Malachi’s message was given in the post-exile period – the people of God had been exiled to Babylon for some 70 years and they had since returned. The temple was rebuilt (albeit without the grandiose of the first temple); Ezra had come to teach the nation the Law afresh; Nehemiah had come to rebuild the wall and he came twice to Jerusalem (and Malachi was prophesying during the interval of these two visits).
In the time of Malachi, the people had ‘abandoned’ and ‘blemished’ the covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) with God. The priests, given a covenant of life and peace, had been foremost in defiling the covenant – they offered blemished animals as sacrifices, they showed contempt for God, and defiled God’s table – as a result, they received the curse of the covenant instead of blessing.
Then the people were guilty of breaking God’s Mosaic covenant through divorce and through marrying women who worship a foreign god – hence compromising their call to be a holy nation and a testimony to the nations around them.
Moreover, they broke God’s covenant through injustice, saying that all who do evil are good in the eyes of God and He is pleased with them – what a terrible thing to say!
So we see how, in so many ways, the Israeliltes dishonoured God, treated Him with contempt and desecrated and violated the ‘worship’ of the almighty great and transcendent God. We need to take heed of these too for our own lives. But we shall see later that God in His eternal plan and love has already put in place the future establishment of the “New Covenant” which would take place with the coming of the Messiah some 400 years later. God always keeps His Covenant and promise, and His grace and love continue to prevail, even in the midst of the unfaithfulness of God’s people at every point of history.
CHAPTERS 3 AND 4
Malachi continued to elaborate on the form of injustice on the part of the people: they withheld the tithe (the food, which is used for the Levites and the poor) and they even complained that it was futile to serve the Lord God.
Then Yahweh’s answer: The Lord whom they seek will come suddenly to His temple – as a refining fire (3:1-3a), and His coming will result in restoration of proper worship and also judgement against all forms of injustice (3:3b -5).
God will divide the arrogant and the righteous: the arrogant will be judged (4:1) – and the ‘sun of righteousness will rise’ for the righteous (4:2-3).
The returned exiles may despise “the day of small things” – no glory, no fire, no military victories – yet there is a great future for them which is yet to be restored. If they return faithfully to Him, they can be part of a great movement leading ultimately to the promised kingdom under the restored line of David ( looking to the Son of David, the Messiah who would renew the kingdom).
But after the Messiah came some 400 years later from Malachi’s time, the people of God ‘rejected’ Him and continued to look for salvation elsewhere. Although Malachi ended his message by bringing Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) into the picture (4:5) and seen in the Gospels by their appearance on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus (all pointing to the fulfilment in the Son of God), the people in Jesus’ time still failed to acknowledge the Son.
For us believers today, the day of salvation has arrived (as prophesied by the prophets of old), even indicated in the book of Malachi. Reconciliation with God is now possible because “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor. 5:20-21). Christ has come and provided light not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Rejected by rulers, He nevertheless is God’s answer. We await His return to complete all that the prophets have spoken.
As Malachi ‘ends’ the Old Testament, let us remember that the Old Testament is not just filled with interesting stories, history, and laws – it is heading towards a goal. Hope and promise are prominent. It is about an ideal creation that God initiated. Humanity has stumbled and stuttered, but God has not given up on His plan or people. He will bring in the kingdom of peace, love, and justice under a final Davidic king (Jesus). Yet this program is incomplete by the end of the Old Testament. There is more to come.
We must realise that God’s plan and redemption of fallen humanity is progressive. The Abrahamic Covenant assures us that through Abraham’s descendants, ultimate blessing will come on the world. The Mosaic Covenant initiates the nation through whom world redemption would come and gives her just laws so that she might be a light of God’s blessing in the midst of the nations. The Davidic Covenant specifies the tribe and line through which the Ultimate King, the Messiah, would come. The New Covenant of Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-33) tells how God will enable His people to respond positively
The Old Testament is not a finished book! It looks forward to fulfillment. Christians believe that fulfillment started with Jesus of Nazareth and that the New Testament and its gospel is the capstone of completion for the Old Testament. The failure of the old covenant is not in its laws but in its inability to guarantee heartfelt obedience. The New Covenant will remedy this failure, for God will put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts – and indeed God will be our God and we will be His people. Universal knowledge of Yahweh, forgiveness and spiritual enablement (through the Spirit) are the hallmarks of the New Covenant. It will overcome the weak link of human frailty, achieve forgiveness, and produce a response of gratitude and obedience.
Without cleansing from God and the promised new heart and the work of God’s Spirit within, no restoration can last. But God will complete His plan and redemption with the second coming of His Son and the culmination would be seen in the new heaven and new earth!
REFLECTIONS ON MALACHI 3:7-12
“Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty. But you ask, “how are we to return?” Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, “How are we robbing you?” In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – your whole nation – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the Lord Almighty”.
As I meditated on these verses, certain issues came to the forefront. Once again, I was reminded that the text in Malachi is placed in the context of the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 27-29): God had delivered Israel out of bondage in Egypt; He had given them the 10 Commandments, the Torah, and in Deuteronomy 27-29, He established His Covenant with them such that if they were to obey Him, they would be blessed, and if they disobey, they would be cursed. God’s purpose was that through Israel as a nation, God could reach the nations around and the world as well. But this would mean that Israel as a nation should manifest the holiness, uniqueness, love, and justice of a people under the Almighty.
Verse 7 of Malachi 3 indicated that Israel failed again and again, and she turned away from God’s decrees and God’s calling for them to manifest and demonstrate the ways and character of the Lord Almighty and the reality of a nation under His rule. As a result, the curses resulted – God withheld rain from the land and sent pestilence and pests to destroy the crop. Despite the return from the exile, the nation apparently failed to learn the lesson well. Instead of returning to God, they instead failed to give the tithes that were due, and they sought to ignore their proper responsibilities as God’s people. They also failed to realise that the curses were because of their disobedience, in line with the Covenant God made with them.
The Covenant (Mosaic) came also to the forefront: The blemished sacrifices of the priests; the breaking of the Covenant through divorce, unfaithfulness to spouses; the breaking of the Covenant through injustice; and now the breaking of the Covenant by withholding tithes.
But when God accused them of robbing Him, it seems strange that God could be robbed – the Bible reveals that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and also all the vegetation, forests and land on this earth – He does not need their tithes or offerings. But what was it that the people were robbing God?
God wanted to display His glory, not just on the grandeur of the created universe, but supremely in persons who could know Him, and in a relationship of love, enjoy Him forever. To this end He made a man and a woman in His image and told them to be “fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Although Adam and Eve disobeyed God and resulted in the Fall, God’s plan for humanity never changed. He has from the beginning intended to raise up a posterity in His likeness that would populate the earth, a people made beautiful in His holiness who will never cease to praise Him – they shall be His people and He shall be their God.
Through Abraham, the 12 tribes, and Israel as a nation, God’s plan was progressively moving forward to recreate a new humanity , ultimately under Christ. In Malachi’s time, Israel was part of this wonderful plan of God, but alas, this nation failed again and again despite God’s mercy, correction in love and grace. In effect, Israel was guilty of robbing God of His glory and the worship due to Him as the One and only Almighty! If the Levites were not given their due, they would have to go to the fields to farm their own needs and the worship of God in the temple would be stopped or compromised. If Israel did not provide for the needs of their brethren, and if injustice and wrongdoings prevailed, God’s name, honour and glory would be impacted negatively. The people in the nations around would query the power and goodness of the God Israel worshipped. How then could Israel reach out to the other nations when their own life as a nation was unholy, unjust, unloving and rotten?
God would have loved to bless them so much if only they would return, repent, and uphold the Covenant He made with them. But no, the nation, in her long history, even after warnings by one prophet after another, still persisted to disobey and to turn away from the God who truly loved them and wanted to reach the nations through them.
So ultimately, it was not so much about the tithing; it was not so much about their offerings – it was and is robbing God of His honour and glory, and robbing Him of the Worship and Praise due to Him when people notice that this God is the only One who could transform a wretched sinful people into a holy nation, a royal priesthood who would declare His praises, not just to the peoples of the world, but also to the heavenly host.
To make Israel to be such a nation, the law was given to guide them to live blameless lives and to know how to conduct themselves as God’s people (in the Mosaic Covenant). Obedience to these commandments, when motivated by love to God, would make the Israelites uniquely beautiful in their character. The Jews were to be so morally different from the degenerate nations about them that people seeing their holy lifestyle would want to know their God (Isa.55:5).
However, the descendants of Abraham were preoccupied with their own indulgent, self centered ways and forgot the law and their mission. Thankfully, there was always a remnant that remained faithful.
However, with the closing of the Old Testament in Malachi, the hints were given that the Messiah would come. He would inaugurate the new kingdom of God, with the call to the people to repent, from His messenger, John the baptist, and also from Himself, the Son of God. The curse of sin and disobedience would be paid by Him – He would be the substitution and propitiation for the sins of this world so that we who believe can become the righteousness of God. Those who believe would be adopted to be God’s children, under a new Covenant when the Law would be written in their minds and on their hearts.
But we who believe today, under the new Covenant, can also be guilty of robbing God of His honour and glory and of the rightful Worship due to Him. Our whole lives belong to Him; we were told (By Apostle Paul) that we no longer should live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and rose again. It is not just about giving our time, talents, gifts, and tithes to Him – it is about surrendering our whole lives to Him ‘for we have died with Him, and are raised with Him’ – it is about giving our all to Him who has given us His all.
The warnings are given clearly in the book of Hebrews (10:26-31):
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Let us take heed to the warning given by God. Let us not take His covenant for granted. We need to persevere so that when we have done the will of God, we will receive what He has promised.
RUNNING THE RACE WITH ENDURANCE UNTIL WE FINISH THE RACE
We have noted in the reflections on Malachi that God always keeps His covenant He made with His people, but His people constantly and continually break the covenant with Him, and in the process, also blame Him for all the ‘troubles’ they encounter in their lives. They forget altogether God’s grace, love, and mercies which He bestowed upon them, and even in disciplining them, it was and is because of His love for them.
Hence, on the part of God’s people, Hebrews 12:1 is ever so relevant:
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”.
Perseverance is the only path to the goal and prize of final glory in God. The Christian life is likened to a race; and such a race requires sustained effort, exertion, on a daily basis – a single-minded, wholehearted, self-denying, full flat- out commitment to praising and pleasing the heavenly Father through the Son as long as life lasts and as long as God allows it.
Keeping up the race in the Christian life is certainly demanding and at times agonising, but the very meaning of perseverance and endurance is that we do it anyway because we are God’s children running on what is for us the home stretch.
Considering the book of Malachi, we see how God’s people ‘lost it’ in the midst of falling victim to the discouraging drudgery of living in a “nothing’s happening” time. This book pictures a functioning temple and priesthood, along with a people having lost the zest for worship and the vision of living as God’s people.
But let us not forget the subsequent verses in Hebrews 12:
“..fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv2-3).
We are not running aimlessly; we are not running without a guide and without One who has gone before us. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith; He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness – and being found in appearance as a human being, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus has endured for us; He has persevered for us; He has gone before us as our supreme example; He did it in His incarnated state, as a human (the God-man). So He can identify with us as He has suffered all as a man (with all the physical needs, frailities, and pain of a human); He did not flinch (even in the face of all opposition and the spiritual attacks of the enemy) until He finished the race. We need to focus on Him, looking to Him as we run with endurance and perseverance. We are not running alone; we are running with all the brethren; we have those who have finished ahead of us, encouraging us and praying for us; most of all, our Lord Jesus is running besides us and is waiting for us at the finishing line. So brethren, this sustained inward effort, raised to the limit of what we can do with all the gifts and energy God has given us, is one central aspect of Christian holiness (without which no man can see God). True holiness is tough; it is neither soft or indulgent. Let us learn from the mistake of God’s people in the past and not grumble and complain. Whatever Jesus asks us to do, He has done it for us and He promised to do it with us.
IMPLIED APPLICATION FROM THE BOOK OF MALACHI (1)
From the book of Malachi, we see how God’s people disputed with God: they questioned the covenantal love of God for them and disregarded it; the priests showed disrespect and contempt for God in the sacrifices; divorce and intermarriage with idolaters break faith with both the partner and God; they wearied God with their injustice and insisted that it was futile to worship Him; they claimed that the wicked prospered and no blessing comes from following God.
But did they realise fully who they were disputing with; who is He they were disrespectful to, and against whom they were indifferent and apathetic? This realisation is also very needful for us believers today, for we may not be aware of our indifference and apathy towards God, principally because we forget who God really is, and who we are in our proper position before Him.
Ponder over these: God is so vast that all our thoughts are swallowed up in His greatness (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is so deep that no one can fathom Him. The godly individuals in the Old Testament learned this, some rather in an unexpected way (consider Job who repented in ashes when he recognised these truths; and Isaiah who lamented that he was one with unclean lips; and Daniel who sank in weakness before the appearance of the Lord God). God’s greatness humbles our minds while expanding our imaginations; it also humbles our hearts.
Yet this God offered Himself in friendship to His people. He, the Creator, is self-existent (Exod. 3:13-14; John 5:26), infinite, and eternal, unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), almighty and omniscient. There are no limits to His greatness! (Jer. 32:27; Col. 1:16-17) He is an ever-present God, loving, merciful and truthful; (John 18:27; John 14:6). He is faithful, just and holy.
To say that God is infinite is to say that He is unbounded, unconfined, not bound by any of the constraints that affect us humans, such as space, time, distance, or size. In every conceivable way, God is immeasurable. The Creator of all transcends all our earthbound notions of space and location; He transcends the boundaries of time. We have a beginning and an end. Not so with God; He has no beginning and no end.
The only limitations on God’s infiniteness are those that He places on Himself in allowing us to exercise our free will. We can thwart the plans of God. We can turn away from His marvellous grace. This grieves God, but it does not detract from His greatness or power or knowledge. God has chosen to allow our choices to affect Him. How awesome that He gives humankind this measure of freedom and responsibility. God’s plan for our lives is not static. God is dynamic, creative, constantly acting and creating new possibilities and plans in response to our obedience or disobedience. Our choices, our prayers, really do make a difference to Him.
And this is the God whom the people in Malachi’s time disputed with; this is Him whom they disrespected and treated with contempt; this is the Lord God whom they failed to worship with reverence, humility and gratitude!
Do we realise that when we doubted God and questioned Him today, we are actually acting in a way that is improper and incredulous? Do we realise, like Job, that we cannot even carry out one small task that is done by God, like ensuring that the sun is at a right distance away from the earth such that its heat would not burn us up or its distance too far away that it can cause us to freeze? Are we in a position to question God and to doubt Him?
“All people are like grass, and all human faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hands, or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, and weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as His counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding? (Isaiah 40: 6-8,12-14)
Isaiah helped us to get the right and proper perspectives when it comes to knowing about God and knowing God. If we truly know Him and not just knowledge about Him, we would bow in awe and worship; we would not dare to lift up our faces to question Him or to dispute with Him. But unfortunately, we do. We ignore His Word; we treat worship of Him with indifference; we withhold the best of what we have and what we are from Him and give Him the leftovers. Do we truly realise that we are acting like the people of God in the time of Malachi.
Lest we shake our heads at their behaviour, we must pause and take a real good look at ourselves.
IMPLIED APPLICATION FROM THE BOOK OF MALACHI (2)
We have read in the book of Malachi how the people of God disputed with God, doubting His love for them, treating Him and worship of Him with contempt (the priests the foremost culprits), breaking His covenant with them on many fronts and even concluding that it is futile to serve God.
We considered the Person and Being of God and who the people actually disputed with and how foolish it is to question and doubt the Almighty, the Creator.
We need to remember that even though God is great, transcendent, beyond our comprehensive understanding and knowledge, yet He condescended to speak to us and to reveal Himself to us (through the Scriptures, through His Son and through the Spirit). And like an adult speaking to a little child, God accommodates to our language and is willing to use ‘baby talk’ to communicate with us – He adapted His speech and revelation to our limitations, bearing in mind our limited capacity and finiteness. In effect, we really do not and cannot know Him as He really is, in Himself, but only what He chose to reveal.
God constantly warns us to stay within the bounds of revelation, not to stray outside the circle of God-given light into the darkness that lies beyond, not to try to penetrate the guesswork into places where Scripture offers no thoughts for us to think.
But again and again, humans think themselves as able to comprehend God, and even to question Him (for instance about fairness in election; the apparent prosperity of the wicked; sufferings that God allows in this world etc.), without a deep realisation that they are just finite creatures before a God who dwells in ‘unapproachable light’ and is infinite and great beyond all our understanding and appreciation.
It is adoration and worship of Him that is fitting as we acknowledge this – accompanied with an attitude of humility rather than curiosity and ‘arrogance’. To Him belongs all honour, glory, praise and worship!
IMPLIED APPLICATION (3)
We have dealt with the question – did the people of Malachi understand fully who they were disputing with, and the greatness, majesty, power, infiniteness, eternal Creator’s omniscience, omnipotence, unchangeability and perfection?
We then considered how this God who ‘dwells in unapproachable light’ and holiness, condescended to reveal Himself to His people and accommodated His communication and revelation to them, bearing in mind their limitations and finiteness and that they could not really know Him fully in Himself, save that He chose to reveal that which is necessary for their salvation and fellowship with HIm.
This leads us to the subject of the ‘mystery’ of God; that our God is “too small” for many who profess to believe in Him. God cannot be put into a man-made conceptual box so as to be fully understood. He is, and, always will be bewilderingly inscrutable in his dealing with those who trust and love Him; in other words, we cannot fully fathom and understand Him and His ways in how He governs the universe and how He oversees the outworking of His eternal plan for man (and specifically for His people).
re From our point of view, we need to accept that ‘disappointment’, ‘losses and crosses’ in life, ‘bafflement and perplexity’ are a recurring element in our life of fellowship with Him. The love of God is a love that redeems, converts, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies sinners – the people in Malachi’s time lost sight of this truth and reality, for they were more concerned (in a self-centred way) with their physical circumstances, their ‘lack’ of physical provisions, their doubts regarding God’s promise through the pre-exilic prophets – and the covenant and plan of God, they thought, must be carried out in their ways and according to their understanding, forgetting that God is not bounded by time, space or location and He is transcendent and is self-existing (the great “I am”).
So they ‘gave up on God’ and said that it is futile to serve God. Let us not make the same mistake and put God in a ‘box’ that suits our understanding and comfort and expectation.
When Jesus was on earth, when He drew near to Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it (Luke 19:41). He must have prayed much for the city and its people, but they did not respond positively, and in one sense, we can say that the Lord’s prayer for them was not answered. But we know that the Father always hears the prayers of the Son – other factors were involved, including that God limits Himself by giving the people free will to respond voluntarily.
When it comes to prayer in our life, we can respond like the people in Malachi’s time and say that it is futile to pray, and futile to serve God – after all, God seems not to answer our prayers and our prayers seem to bounce back to us, unanswered, and without any reasonable reason given (according to us).
If we understand the ‘mystery’ of God, and our finiteness and limitation of understanding, coupled with the fact that we know that God loves us and He is perfect, then we ought to keep on praying and trusting.
Perhaps, God is adjusting the terms of our prayer to give us something better than what we asked for. God would know that this may not be the moment most appropriate to respond as answering our prayer at this point would not bring the most blessing for us and others, and so God may ask us to wait.
So we need to keep praying, keep trusting, and keep looking for what ,down the road, God may allow us to see.
But the pain of not seeing all the changes in people that we long to see and all the pain of not seeing our prayers answered according to our understanding is something we have to live with at present. Remember, Jesus prayed intensely for the people in Jerusalem in His lifetime on earth, but He ended up weeping for their poor response.God always fulfills His promise, and keeps His covenant – in His own time, in His own wisdom, in His own way, in grace, love and mercy – in order to consummate His cosmic eternal plan for His people.
IMPLIED APPLICATION (4)
In the book of Malachi, we see the ‘disputes’ between the people and God – mostly from the wrong understanding, perception, and attitudes of the people regarding God, His attributes and His eternal plan for them.
We need, however, to factor in one important reason and principle behind all these disputes. As believers, we often miss this important factor, and evaluate situations and circumstances without bringing this in, or even being conscious of it.
The Devil and God both test believers: Satan and his minions do it in order to bring us down in flames as he brought down Adam in Eden, and tried to bring down Job in the land of Uz, and Jesus in the desert.
By contrast, God does it as a training exercise, to strengthen us for our future role in His plans. Much is hidden from us, but from time to time, even in the same event, we can see both Satan’s malice in the foreground and the gracious purpose of God’s overruling power.
We must realise that Satan is our spiritual enemy and he hates humankind (including those who claim allegiance to him) and seeks our ruin. The reason is that he hates God our Creator; he seeks only to thwart God’s plans, wreck His work, and rob HIm of glory. Also, he is extremely cunning, much cleverer than we are, and is highly skilled at manipulating and using people to bring about his destructive goals.
So we need to take note that behind every individual who seeks to go against God’s people is the enemy manipulating and using situations and people. Even in evangelism, “The god of this world has blinded the mind of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ “(2 Cor 4:4).
Even in ‘quarrels’, and misunderstanding in the church among members, we can be sure that he is actively working behind the scene and seeking to destroy unity and harmony among God’s people. Your being upset with somebody in the church may not be the total picture: so we need to be constantly on our guard, for Satan’s first move whenever he tempts is to persuade us, one way or another, to lower our guard and for the moment forget that near us is a cunning Enemy who will bring us and other believers to spiritual ruin if he can.
We see very clearly in the book of Malachi how he operated and caused the people (because of their own failures and sins) to doubt God, to question Him, and to conclude that worshipping the Lord is futile. But thankfully, there were those who feared the Lord and honoured His name; and they talked with each other, and God listened and heard. God declared that a scroll of remembrance was to be written in His presence concerning these worshippers (Malachi 4:16).
In the midst of the attacks of the enemy, God was also testing His people, and there were those who responded in trust and confidence in the Lord.
One imperceptible way the enemy works is to dampen the zeal of God’s people. We see this demonstrated obviously in the book of Malachi. Zeal for God and godliness and God’s honour was integral to God’s image in Christ (John 2:17), so it should be in us, and we should cultivate zeal, along with the rest of Christian virtues, up to the ending of our lives on earth – or at least, for as long as we can consciously focus and direct our thoughts. Maintaining zeal Godward as our bodies wear out, particularly for seniors, is the special discipline to which we Christians are called.
Congregations in every age must see themselves as learning communities in which gospel truth has to be taught, defended, and vindicated against corruptions of it and alternatives to it (no doubt championed by the Enemy). Being alert in all aspects of the difference between true and false teaching, and of behaviour that expresses the truth as distinct from obscuring it, is vital to the church’s health. We must take heed that we do not end up like the people of God in Malachi’s time.
FAITH’S FORWARD LOOK IS HOPE
Still on the study of Malachi, we note that the people of God were disputing with God, querering God’s love, His unfulfilled promise to them, their assessment of the lives of the ungodly as compared to theirs, and even concluding that it is futile to worship God.
One major factor is that they were not living by faith, but were living by sight. Interestingly, faith’s forward look is HOPE, and hope looks to the future with faith in God, in His promises, in His faithfulness, and in the fact that He is unchangeable.
We are to be upheld by our hope, the sure and certain hope of glory promised to believers – the glory to which a life of faithful endurance is guaranteed to lead us. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19 NIV). Anchored ships stay steady. Anchored believers do the same. And the anchor that can and does hold us steady is the hope that is in Christ.
The Apostle Paul identifies “the riches of the glory of this mystery (his gospel message), which is Christ in you, the HOPE OF GLORY (emphasised)” (Colossians 1:27). Jesus Christ Himself, to whom we who believe are united even now, is the Christian’s hope. Each of us is travelling along a path that He has appointed for us to an eternity of joy in which He will be the centre, the focus, and the source of our endless delight.
If only the people of God in Malachi’s time had clung to this hope; then the disputes with God would not have surfaced.
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SURENESS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT
In our study of the book of Malachi (2:17-3:6), we came across the following verses: “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when He appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver (3:2-3a).
The reference to refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap speaks of purification as well as judgement. We are reminded of verses 6-7 of 1 Peter: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”.
We have noted that the people in Malachi’s time, after returning from the exile, were still under the rule of the Persians, and they were struggling with poor harvest, moral and spiritual apathy, injustice among the population, – leading to disputes with God Himself. They even questioned God’s love for them, and lamented that it was futile to serve God, and they responded poorly with contempt for God and His covenant.
The verses in Malachi in 3:2-3a pointed to the coming of God’s Messiah who will come to purify and to judge His people and the world.
It is appropriate for us to consider, at this point, the rightness and sureness of God’s judgment. During the study in our DG, reference was made to Matthew 25: “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world..Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:34; 41).
The wrath of God is as personal, and as potent, as his love; and just as the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus was the direct manifesting of his Father’s love toward us, so it was the direct averting of his Father’s wrath against us. God’s wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness, and this is righteous anger – the right reaction of moral perfection in the Creator toward moral perversity in the creature.
We must remember that the certainty of the final judgment forms the frame within which the New Testament of saving grace is set. The judgment will demonstrate, and so finally vindicate, the perfect justice of God. In a world of sinners, in which God has ‘allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways (including the nation of Israel in Malachi’s time), it is no wonder that evil is rampant and that doubts arise as to whether God, if sovereign, can be just, or, if just, can be sovereign. But for God to judge justly is his glory, and the Last Judgement will be his final self-vindication against the suspicion that he has ceased to care about righteousness.
So it was also in Malachi’s time – God indicated He would judge and purify His people – there was a remnant who was still loyal and faithful to Him (Malachi 3:16) – and there were the arrogant who disputed with God and treated Him with contempt.
For us today, those who profess to be Christ’s, review of their actual words and works will have the special point of uncovering the evidence that shows whether our profession is the fruit of an honest regenerate heart or merely the parrot cry of a hypocritical religiosity. Everything about everybody will be exposed on Judgement Day, and each will receive from God according to what he or she really is (note Matt, 25: 34,41). Those who profess faith, did not express itself in a new lifestyle, marked by hatred of sin and works of loving service to God and others, will be lost (Matt. 18:23; James 2:14-26).
Knowledge of future judgment is always a summons to present repentance. Only the penitent will be prepared for judgment when it comes!
This is indeed a serious and sober reminder. Oftentimes, Christians take God for granted and think that He would always be gracious to them irrespective of their lives and behaviour – beware! The Bible not only ‘contains’ encouragement and exhortations to trust God’s goodness, grace, and love; the Bible also has many warnings and expressions of God’s anger against those who are just ‘goats’ and not ‘sheep’ of the good Shepherd.
THE MOUNTAIN OF FEAR AND THE MOUNTAIN OF JOY
Before we look at the meaning of ‘The mountain of fear and the mountain of joy’, let us ponder again over some verses from the book of Malachi.
“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap; (Malachi 3:2-3a)
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well fed calves” (Malachi 4:1-2 TNIV).
Unmistakably, these verses are referring to purification and judgment by God – those who are arrogant and rebellious would be judged; those who revere God and fear Him in submissive obedience would be purified and rewarded.
But these verses also indicate the awesomeness of the holiness and transcendence of God – who can stand when He appears?
We now come to the mountain of fear and the mountain of joy.
“You have not come to a mountain that can touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them because they could not bear what was commanded. If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death. The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear’.” (Heb. 12:18-21)
This passage is from Exodus 19 when the people and Moses experienced the ‘appearance’ of God and were given the 10 commandments and the Torah. The Mosaic covenant is the context; God’s people had been released from slavery and ‘Egypt’ in the great exodus, and now God was giving them the Law to direct and guide them to be a nation of His own and they were given the privilege to be a nation that will reach out to the world. To be such a nation would mean that their lives would be distinct from the nations around them – they were to be holy, and to manifest what God’s people would look like. In the Mosaic covenant, the call to obey was accompanied by blessings but disobedience and rebellion would result in curses. In the book of Malachi, we see that the priests who offered blemished offerings were cursed; those who disputed with God were contrasted with the remnant who feared God and the pronouncement of purification and judgment was given in such a context – looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of God’s kingdom followed subsequently by the New Covenant, where God’s Law would not be written on tablets of stone (as in the 10 commandments) but written in the minds and on the hearts of those who are His.
“But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn (Jesus), whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven……..Therefore, since we are receiving a, kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.12: 18-25,28).
These subsequent verses highlighted the “New Covenant” when those who believe become God’s people and the church of the firstborn, adopted to be His children, made right with God through the sacrifice of Christ who is the new mediator of a better covenant. Their names are written in heaven and they would come into God’s presence with joy (to Mount Zion) into the city of the living God. But notice the warning not to turn away from HIm who speaks from heaven.
All the previous sharings on the certainty of the final Judgment, the call to be faithful, to endure and persevere, to seek to be God’s holy people, who honour and glorify Him on earth, are in the context of such a warning – not to take God’s grace, mercy and love for granted and lived lives which dishonour HIm and are displeasing to Him.
Christians have been set free from the law as a system of salvation. Being justified by faith in Christ, we are no longer under God’s law but under His grace. We have been accepted and adopted in Christ (the Beloved). It does not, nor ever will it depend on what we do; it will never be imperiled by what we fail to do. As long as we are in this world, we live not by being perfect, but by being forgiven – hence the need for repentance as a way of life, and the openness to correction and rebuke by God when we do go wrong and persist on the wrong track in life.
No human performance is ever good enough, for there are always wrong desires in the heart, along with a lack of right ones, regardless of how correct one’s outward motions are, and it is at the heart that God looks first. Hence the need to watch our hearts and to ensure that when God looks at our hearts, He is truly pleased and glad. God has given us the Bible, the Holy Spirit, Christ’s prayers and intercessions at God’s right hand, and the church, God’s unique community, to enable us, and to keep us on the narrow path until we finish the race. Let us run the race with perseverance into the welcoming arms of our Lord!