What is Your Decision?

 

Week of June 24, 2012

 

Bible Verses:Malachi 3:13-4:6

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about choosing to serve God, to honor God, and to live by His instruction.

 

Serve God:Malachi 3:13-15.

 

[13]"Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, 'How have we spoken against you?' [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? [15]And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'"[ESV]

 

[13-15]Godís opening statement is marked as the most prominent of this paragraph by the quotation formula says the Lord. To speak against someone describes arrogant, slanderous, and insulting speech directed either against other people of against God. The wicked attitude standing between these people and a satisfying relationship with God is expressed here in its essence: It is vain to serve God. Godís written requirements were to them only a means toward personal gain Ė either guidelines of wisdom for success or a superficial way to please the supernatural gatekeeper of prosperity. The peopleís rituals of mournful repentance were purely exhibitions intended to attract Godsí attention and win His favor. They had been walking as in mourning, which refers to behavior and appearance suitable to those either in mourning or repentance. The Hebrew term translated vain can refer to something that is worthless, activity that is purposeless, pointless, or useless, and assurances that are deceitful and unreliable. It can refer to elaborate preparations for something that never happens, procedures diligently and meticulously followed with no results, a veneer of appealing promises and enticing words that hide corruption and disaster, or comforting dreams that promise prosperity but produce nothing but pain. These people were right; their service to God was in vain. So-called good works that do not arise from genuine faith and gratitude to God are done in vain. They may provide a temporary sense of self-satisfaction, but God recognizes their true value Ė zero, and He will eventually bring to justice anyone who tries to live on them. These people were not interested in righteousness or in a relationship with God, only in material prosperity. The Lord is speaking to those who consider material prosperity their right. The Hebrew term translated profit was almost always used with negative connotations of greed, bribery, dishonest gain, or oppression. In verse 14 an assertion of futility is expanded by a rhetorical question whose point is, ďOur keeping Godís requirements and performing rituals of repentance for Him has gotten us nothing.Ē Based on their analysis of the situation, they had reached a decision. From now on they would call the arrogant fortunate, happy, or blessed. The arrogant refers to people with an attitude or behavior that ignores or rejects the validity of Godís authority, who have an exaggerated opinion of their self-importance. So those in Malachiís audience whom God had overheard did not just envy the prosperity of the wicked. They had joined the company of those who were contemptuous of God and His laws. They gave two reasons for their supposed change of values. The first was that unlike their own case, the evildoers prosper. These evildoers were literally doers of wickedness. The second reason is that by their contemptuous disregard for Godsí requirements, the arrogant had tested God but had not been punished. They had escaped. God postpones answering His arrogant accusers in Malachi until 4:1.

 

Honor God:Malachi 3:16-4:3.

 

[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. [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. [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. [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. [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. [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.[ESV]

 

[16-18]Then indicates that there is an antithesis between verse 16 and the preceding verses. Thus those who feared the Lord were not the same as the arrogant and evildoers of verse 15. For the first time it became evident that a remnant of true believers was prepared to testify against the malicious gossip of the people at large. The Day of the Lord will disclose the existence of two groups only: those who fear and serve the Lord and those who do not. The testimony of the faithful group is a direct reaction to and contradiction of the presumptuous statements of the evildoers. In a resounding testimony they denied the current accusation of the evildoers: the Lord is certainly not an idle spectator of the things which happened in Israel. He takes note of everything, and so far be it from Him not to trouble Himself with the righteous that He even has written a book of remembrance on behalf of those who fear Him. The expression book of remembrance is found only here. But the idea of God having a special book in which entries are made is also found elsewhere in the Bible. It was a known custom of ancient Near Eastern kings to have a record written of the most important events at their court and in their kingdom. In the Old Testament this book served as a register in which the names of the pious were written. In this connection it is sometimes called the book of life, which excludes the names of the wicked. Elsewhere the entries in this book concern the good and bad acts of people, or the fortunes and experiences of the righteous and the wicked. In our text the entries in this book are all-inclusive. It was written of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. The identity of the pious ones and their future experiences will be fully revealed on the day that God will make. To be the Lordís is to be His treasured possession. In the religious sense this term is used to denote the special position of Israel in its relationship to God as His elect people [Deut. 7:6]. The promise to those who feared the Lord to be or become His treasured possession will be fulfilled in the day when I make up. This day is the time of the Lordís unexpected appearance [3:1,5], when He will purge His people [3:2-5], consume the wicked [3:19], and bless the righteous [3:20-21]. The fact that the pious will be the treasured possession of the Lord entails that He will spare them. The Hebrew term means to have compassion on. Amid the tribulations of the day of judgment God will bestow His compassion on the pious by delivering, sparing them from the ordeal. The comparison with the behavior of a father toward a diligent and faithful son refers to 1:6 andstresses the significance of the relationship between God and those who truly belong to Him. In addition it serves as an answer to the arrogant supposition that it is futile to serve the Lord [14]. The truly righteous ones will be revealed on the day of Godís judgment as those who are justified by the Lord Himself. This is especially apparent from verse 18. In verse 18 the prophet addresses the speakers of 3:13-15. On the Day of the Lord the real distinction between the righteous and the wicked will become apparent. The speakers will then know how the truly righteous are dealt with and how they ought to regard themselves. Once more refers to the fact that God has tried throughout their history in various ways to impress the distinction between the righteous and the wicked upon their minds. They will again see that which they have refused to observe, that the Lord has proclaimed the difference through the message of His prophets and the facts of His judgments in the course of their history. In the past they could have seen it, but on the Day of the Lord they surely will see the difference. The distinction will be made between two categories of people: the righteous and the wicked. This distinction must of course be viewed in a religious and spiritual perspective. It does not refer to a merely formal way of serving the Lord. It refers to the fundamental covenant relationship between God and His treasured possession. Judicially the righteous and the wicked represent the two opposite positions in the judgeís verdict: the one is found not guilty, the other is found guilty. Religiously and ethically the life of the righteous corresponds with the obligations concerning the covenant relationship with God: the conduct of the wicked is just the opposite. It is typical of Malachiís representation of the Day of the Lord that it will be essentially a crisis within the covenant people itself. This thought is further and more strikingly expounded in 4:1-3.

 

[4:1-3]The antithesis between the righteous and the wicked [18] will be the consequence of the Lordís Day. The day is the well-known Ďday of the Lordí, which nobody would be able to endure [3:2], which the Lord will make or create [3:17], and which is characterized as the great and awesome day of the Lord [4:5]. The representation of this day as imminent (is coming) serves to stress the fact and certainty of its coming. That the coming day will be a day of judgment is apparent from the description burning like an oven. This day of judgment concerns the arrogant and all evildoers. The reference is not to two separate categories of people, but is simply a twofold description of all those who do not fear the Lord. For all the ungodly in Israel the day will burn like a furnace. In this oven nobody and nothing connected with unrighteousness will be spared. All the people who wearied the Lord with their harsh words will be judged on that day. This time the judgment will not be to refine and to purify but to consume. All these categories of evildoers will be stubble which emphasizes the flammability of the substance. The evildoers will not be able to escape on the day of judgment. They will be set on fire and completely consumed. The evildoers will not be able to disguise themselves; there will be no doubt whatsoever in connection with the identity of the objects of the judgment on the Day of the Lord. They will be totally annihilated because that day will leave them neither root nor branch. Contrary to the public suggestion that evildoers prosper, that they put God to the test and get away with it [3:15], they will all perish on that day. This is one side of the Day of the Lord. On that day God will react against all the arrogant words and unrighteous deeds, the seriousness of the day of judgment will not only be the unexpectedness of its coming, but also the surprising manner in which it will expose every reckless word and faithless deed. All the resentment of the speakers will be wiped away, and all the insolent questions will finally be answered. The Day of the Lord will be the ultimate stroke of judgment for the evildoers, but at the same time the crown of salvation for those who revere the name of God. On the one hand His judgment will burn like a furnace, but on the other hand His righteousness will shine forth like the sun. On this day the distinction between the righteous and the wicked will reach its climax. Verse 4:2 is one of the most significant texts in the prophecy of Malachi. On the Day of the Lord righteousness will become apparent just like the shining sun in all its brightness and blessedness. Righteousness can be explained in the sense of a person or as a concept. As a person it would represent the Messiah, either as Christ incarnate or in His function as Judge of the world, or as both. As a concept it would represent acting rightly in terms of the norm of the covenant community. Thus it would then refer to those who fear the Lord receiving righteousness as a blazing sun. In this verse righteousness is an aspect of the coming day, and as such is a gift of God to the pious ones. Thus it is primarily something positive, in the sense of restoring justice and bringing about salvation. This righteousness on the Day of the Lord will not merely be external or objective, denoting the righteousness of God, but will be fully experienced in all its significance and consequences, including the full scope of Godís salvation on behalf of His pious remnant. In this sense the light of the sun represents the fullness of Godís salvation for the God-fearers. The righteousness of God for His pious ones will cause their healing in the most comprehensive sense of that word. The thousand wounds that were inflicted upon them by the evildoers will be covered by new flesh; the disaster and trouble that were caused by their sins will be removed, and they will be reconciled; their whole existence will be radically changed and will be characterized by abundant peace and real life. This healing ultimately will be the consequence of the vicarious suffering of the Servant of the Lord. Verse 2 concludes with a comparison of the God-fearers to lively calves that are released from the stall and are leaping about in overriding joy. Here the point of comparison is not the going out of the calves but their expression of joy. The righteousness as a shining sun on the Day of the Lord will also cause the pious ones to rejoice exuberantly. Verse 3 adds another component to the new and renewed situation for the pious ones on the coming day: there is a role reversal. Instead of being the troubled and downtrodden, the pious will henceforth be the victors. Tread down the wicked refers to the custom in times of war when the victor would put his foot on the neck of the victim. The coming day will burn like a furnace and that will cause the wicked to become ashes, on which the righteous will trample. Malachi is describing in terms of a metaphor what will happen when the God of justice performs the ultimate stroke of judgment on the day which He creates.

 

Live by Godís Instruction:Malachi 4:4-6.

 

[4]"Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. [5]"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. [6]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."[ESV]

 

[4-6]To survive the coming judgment the people must remember the law of my servant Moses. This is imperative. The Hebrew word for remember means not only to be reminded of something but also to act accordingly. To remember something is to do it, to keep, to observe. At the same time to remember is not to turn away, and not to forget. The object of this imperative to remember is the law. The reference to the law of Moses has, of course, its context in the Sinaitic covenant, with all the Lordís words and ordinances which Moses had written down [Ex. 24:3-4]. The law of Moses is further defined in the phrase that I commanded him at Horeb which is another name for Sinai. This law was on behalf of all Israel. The law that was given to Moses consisted of statutes and rules. This is obviously a reference to the words in Exodus 19:6 and all the Lordís words and ordinances in Exodus 24:3. Within the context of the Sinaitic covenant there is no need to distinguish between the statutes and rules. They are parallel terms expressive of the stipulations of the Sinaitic covenant. Malachi urges the people of his time to remember these stipulations and to observe them in all aspects of their covenant life. This will be one condition for their religious perseverance in the centuries to come. The second condition will be the perspective on the coming of Elijah. Elijah is probably the same person as the messenger in3:1 who referred to John the Baptist. In Matthew 17:10-13 Jesus identified Elijah with John the Baptist as the messenger or forerunner. What was said about the historical Elijah who has proclaimed the divine judgment on a wicked dynasty and an apostate nation, but at the same time has called them to repentance, has been applied to the work of the messenger or forerunner. With the remark that he will be sent before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes, this Elijah is characterized as the paver of the way for the coming of the Lord. His function will therefore be the same as that of the messenger in 3:1. The purpose and seriousness of Elijahís coming is now described. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. When Elijah comes he will restore the covenant relationship. In this process he will turn about the hearts of the wicked posterity to the hearts of them with whom God has entered into a covenant at Horeb. The present order must be reconciled with the previous state of things when God has entered into a covenant relationship with the fathers. The present generation has through mixed marriages profaned the covenant entered into with their fathers [2:10], with the verdict that they will be cut off from the tents of Jacob [2:12]. This interpretation does not imply that the fathers themselves have not, on occasion, broken the covenant. On occasion the Lordís wrath was poured out on the fathers, but when they repented of their sins He was willing to accept them again. In our text Malachi is expecting such a turnabout of attitude, not as an initiative taken by the people themselves but as an act of God, who will send His prophet Elijah to perform it. By way of conversion [3:7, 10-12], the remembering and obeying of the law of Moses [4:3], and the work of Elijah [4:5-6], the solidarity of sins and curses will be broken and will be replaced by the solidarity of peace and blessings in the context of the covenant. The last words in Malachiís prophecy therefore serve a double purpose. They emphasize a life in accordance with the law of Moses, that is, the word of God, and they focus attention again on the coming of the great and terrible day. These two motifs would also be of decisive significance for Godís covenant people in the centuries to come.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† In 3:13-15, why did the people consider it vain to serve God? Where had they gone wrong in their thinking?

 

2.†††††††† What is Godís answer to the peopleís accusations? What is the meaning and importance of the book of remembrance? What are the two characteristics of those who have their name written in this book?

 

3.†††††††† In 4:1-3, contrast the righteous and the wicked. What does it mean to fear the name of the Lord? Why must this attitude be the foundational basis for all our worship of and service to the Lord?

 

4.†††††††† What is the meaning of the Hebrew word for remember? In light of this definition, what does it mean for you to remember Godís law?

 

References:

Malachi, E. Ray Clendenen, NAC, B & H Publishers.

Malachi, Peter A. Verhoef, NICOT, Eerdmans.

Malachi, Douglas Stuart, Baker.