The book of Malachi was written 2400 years ago to a handful of Israelites who had returned to the Promised Land in hopes of restoring the majesty and glory that was once there. Nevertheless, this book is just as appropriate in our time and our country as it was in Malachi’s day.
In the first two chapters alone, Malachi has addressed the people’s lack of reverence for God, the poor leadership coming from their own priests, and the Israelites’ unfaithfulness to their spouses and running after idolatrous foreigners. The report concerning the Israelites is disheartening at best.
The people of Malachi’s day had every reason to be following God closely. They were the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they were God’s chosen people. They had seen how throughout their history God had consistently been with them and when trouble fell upon them, it was not because God forgot about them or didn’t care, it was because the people had forgotten about God and didn’t care.
Likewise we are part of the church, the body of Christ. The church has been chosen by God to be a shining light to the world around us. We too can look back at our own history and see how God has been with the church and how God has not given up on us even when it appeared the world had all but given up on God. And still these problems have been just as prevalent today as they were in Malachi’s day.
Starting in Malachi 2:17, we see God has yet another charge against the people. “You have wearied the Lord with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask. By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
I imagine we’ve all felt this way at some point in time. I know I certainly have. As a Christian, life isn’t always a cake walk. Things don’t always go our way or even turn out remotely like we hope they would. Worse yet life kicks us when we’re already down. Our car breaks down one week then the next the furnace needs to be fixed. We catch a cold only to have something worse come along right after.
When we’re down, we look around at everyone else and it seems like we’re in horrible shape. Worse yet our neighbor who has never set foot inside a church appears to have it all. A nice new car, green grass, a high paying job. Why does God allow me to suffer when a person who couldn’t care less about God is prospering next to me? Or what about your friend who you know routinely cheats on their taxes or even their spouse and never gets caught. If God is a God of justice, why doesn’t he do something about it? Why doesn’t he punish the wicked and reward those who have been following him for so long a time?
The Israelites had this problem. They were surrounded by enemies. There idols to foreign gods to their right and to their left. While they struggled to live everyone else appeared to be prospering. They were awaiting a Messiah who would come and punish their enemies and establish the kingdom of Israel forever. But the Messiah was nowhere to be found. There appeared to be no justice.
We get very discouraged when it appears that God has forgotten our faithfulness. We get frustrated when it appears that liars, cheaters, cruel people, and thieves get away with everything. We can start to question whether we made a poor decision somewhere along the line. Did I marry the wrong person? Did I choose the wrong career? Did I raise my children the way they should have been raised?
Instead of looking to the past or worrying about the future, when we are faced with times like these, we need to evaluate ourselves in the present. What are we doing and why are we doing it? If we are following God, why? What made you become a Christian and devote your life to serving the Lord? Were you promised that everything would be easier and come out the way you wanted? Or did you choose to follow because you knew that there was a hole inside of you that only God could fill. Was it the knowledge that you are a sinner and that only God could forgive you your sins?
When we find ourselves in frustrating circumstances and we begin to question why God seems to ignore us and yet bless the wicked, we need to remember why we follow God. Then, we can look at history and realize that God does bless his children. Sometimes it is not in the ways that we would want and often it is in ways that we don’t realize. Likewise, God does not ignore the wickedness of those around us who appear to prosper.
In chapter 3, Malachi goes on to give the people hope that they are not worshipping God in vain and that those who do evil will see justice. “’See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
‘So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
This isn’t the type of thing that we like to hear in church. We don’t like fire and brimstone messages and don’t respond well to them. We like to hear about the love of God. We like the image of God as the father welcoming the return of the prodigal son. We shudder to think of God as the one who has a sword coming out of his mouth that will strike his enemies dead. The two images seem totally incongruous and a wrathful and vengeful God is politically incorrect in today’s day and age.
God’s justice is something that we should celebrate however. God’s justice is something we should look forward to. In the book of Psalms, David wrote some very horrible sounding things about God’s justice. Psalm 55:15, “Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave for evil finds lodging among them.” Psalm 68 begins, “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. As smoke is blown away by the wind, may you blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God.” And Psalm 35:7-9 “Since they hid a net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise – may the net they hid entangle them, may the fall into the pit, to their ruin. Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.”
If God did not judge the wicked, what would the point of salvation be? Why would anyone desire to follow God if they could live as they wanted and expect no consequences from their actions? There are many people who believe that there will be no judgment and no consequences for their actions. There are even people who call themselves Christians who will not accept the fact that God is a God of justice. Some believe that all will go to heaven regardless of the life they have lived. That God loves us all so much that he can look the other way in regard to our unforgiven sins. These people who call themselves Christians and believe that God will not judge the wicked, I simply ask one thing. “Who among them expects to have the room in heaven next to Adolf Hitler?” God’s judgment is a good thing, even if we try to ignore it.
“’I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Have you ever tried to play a game where the rules kept changing? What about a game that you haven’t played in a long time and half way through remember you forgot a rule? When the rules change we get confused a frustrated quickly. God hasn’t changed the rules on us however. God gave the Israelites rules to live by a thousand years beforehand. He had made promises to the Israelites that he intended to keep. If God changed the rules he would have likely destroyed the Israelites for their unfaithfulness. It wasn’t that the people were unfaithful, they were unfaithful generation after generation with only a remnant of truly God fearing people left. God would have had every reason to wipe out the unfaithful Israelites and start over again but he had made a promise. Still he calls for the people to return to him.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ ‘Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.’ ‘But you ask, “How do we rob you?” In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
In the first chapter of Malachi, the Israelites were condemned because of their half hearted worship. The people were bringing worthless sacrifices to God and keeping the best for themselves. They believed that going through the motions of worship was better than nothing at all. God tells them that they couldn’t be more wrong and instead would sooner see the temple doors closed altogether rather than witness worthless sacrifices.
Once again the Israelites are told about their offerings. The sacrifices had to do with the people’s worship and belief that repetition of ceremony was all that mattered. This deals with the people’s faith and trust in God. Everything that is belongs to God. He is Jehovah Jireh, God my Provider. The giving of the tithe is an acknowledgement that God is the one who provided all of the harvest and all that the people had. The Israelites were to trust God that he would provide for their needs with whatever was left.
I have spoken on this passage before and do not feel a need to dwell in this area. We know the financial situation of the church. I am capable of doing the math as well as you are and determine that not everyone tithes 10%. Certainly some of you do give 10% and even beyond that.
Recognize what God says however, the entire nation was under a curse because some did not give back a portion of what God had given them. Certainly there were some that gave what was asked of them and they too were under a curse because the majority did not. Could this be the case in this church, or in any church? Are we being held back because the actions of some are not honoring to God?
I can’t answer this question. I only know that this was the case with the people of Malachi’s day because God said it was. If it is the case in our church, we need to be praying that our attitudes would be straightened out and that God would be merciful to us because there are some here who are serious about following God and doing what he asks of us.
And if we are faithful to do what God has asked us to do, he will be faithful to us as well and we will be overwhelmed with blessings. God has promised it right here in his word and that is all the proof that I need to believe that it is true. The more God blesses us, the more chances we get to bless other people with what God has given us.
Just last week I got to hear Rick Warren talk about how God has blessed him and how he in turn was able to bless others in return. God is faithful and will provide for all of our needs if we trust him to do so.