Where is God?

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. 
You sit still and trust the engineer.  Corrie ten Boom
Though God take the sun out of heaven, yet we must have patience. George Herbert
One of the most perplexing questions facing those who believe in God’s sovereignty is “Why doesn’t God act when he has all the power?”  We sit back and watch as disasters occur, tsunamis crush cities, earthquakes devastate countries and tornados ravage the Midwest. Beyond these natural disasters, there are wicked men who rule around the world. Greedy corporate executives strip thousands of people of their pensions.  Tyrants drop bombs on their own people. Pornography producers are some of the richest men in the world.  The next door neighbor seems rich and happy, yet never attends church. Where is God in all this?  Why does evil seem to triumph?  Why do good men die unknown and wicked men die with a taxpayer funded funeral broadcast on T.V.? 

  When we begin our journey in Christ it can seem like the white hats always win and the black hats always lose.  But as time stretches on we see evil triumph. Time can erode our confidence in God’s justice. Our brothers during Malachi’s time had the same problem. They had listened to Haggai and Zechariah’s great prophecies about the coming Kingdom of God, yet evil still seemed to be in control. In this section of Malachi God assures his people that he is good and has not left his throne. We would be wise to hear these ancient words from the ever living God about the certainty of his judgment and the need for patience.

2:17 begins the fourth disputation/debate in Malachi.  The focus in this debate is on Israel’s attitude towards God. Israel is wearying God with their words.  What are these words?  They are that God must either love evil or not exist. (2:17) There is no justice in Israel. Sin is rampant.  Immorality reigns.  So men begin to ask the question we all ask when the evil prospers, where is God? Most of us, even in our darkest moments, have never uttered the words in this chapter. But we have thought them. The first statement in verse seventeen verges on blasphemy because it implies that God must love evil.  The the second statement is more subtle, but the idea is the same: “The God of justice is missing.” Despite the harshness of the statements, for the first time in Malachi we are dealing with a people who are actually concerned about righteousness.  They want to see righteousness in the land. However,  because God acts too slowly they assume he is absent or he loves evil.  If these men hold on to these views it could lead to hopelessness and falling away from the faith. But God is merciful. He gives these men assurance of his coming judgment/justice.

            Malachi gives Israel the promise that God will suddenly come to his temple to judge (3:1) and purify his people, especially the priesthood. (3:2-3) When he does this Israel will once again be able to offer to the Lord a pleasant offering because she will be holy. (3:4)  God says that when he comes he will execute judgment upon all evil doers. (3:5) The word for judgment in 3:5 is the exact same word translated justice (NKJV) in 2:17. The justice Israel is looking for in 2:17 comes in 3:5. God is reminding those who think he is too slow to be patient. Evil will be dealt with his timing.  God does not love evil nor is he absent. But he is patient, often much more patient than we are.

            Malachi 3:1 is a prophecy of John the Baptist who is the messenger sent to prepare the way for the Lord. (Matthew 11:10 and Mark 1:2)  This means that the prophecy in this section is primarily about the Christ coming to purify and judge Israel. 

Despising the Name of the Lord: Malachi 1:6-2:9

You should most certainly have your Bible open to Malachi 1:6-2:9 while you read this.

Taking up nearly one third of Malachi, this is the longest section in the book. The priests are the target of this section. God asks the priests why they do not honor him as father or reverence him as master. The Lord says that they have despised his name. (vs. 6) But the priests seem to be in the dark. They think they are innocent and therefore ask God to bring proof. God brings proof by bringing two pieces of evidence into the courtroom.

The first piece of evidence is the lame offerings the priests give to God. (1:7-14) The priests think they are holy. They do not see how they have despised God’s name. But God points a finger at their mockery of his law to show how they drag his name through the mud. The priests, who are supposed to carefully obey God’s commands, offer to God lame, blind, and sick sacrifices. (vss. 7-8) Leviticus 22:18-25 and Deuteronomy 15:21 forbid this type of offering. God says even the Persian governor would not accept this offering. Why does Israel think God will accept it? (vs. 8) Israel wants God’s favor (vs. 9), but does not want to obey God. Therefore God tells them they should shut up the doors of the temple. (vs. 10) Their offerings are in vain.

He then reminds them that one day all the offerings will be pure and they will not just be offered in Israel, but in all lands. The promise given in 1:11 is wonderful picture of the spread of the Gospel. Let’s take a closer look at what it is saying. First, these pure offerings will cover the entire earth. The phrase “from the rising of the sun, until its going down” makes that clear. Second, incense was a picture of prayer. So this passage is saying that the earth will one day worship the Lord through prayer. Third, the word “pure” is never used of the offerings in Leviticus. Malachi is saying that these future offerings will actually be more holy than the offerings in the Old Testament. Finally, the Gentiles are the ones making these offerings, not the Levitical priesthood.

God closes his opening argument by saying that Israel has become weary of worship. That is they have become weary of God. (vs. 12-13) The temple was now several decades old. Israel had been hoping for the glory of the Messiah to come soon. But it had not. The priests became weary of coming to God, even “sneering” at the offerings and allowing Israelites to bring unworthy offerings. So God says they are cursed. (vs. 14)

The Lord continues to press the case against the priesthood in 2:1-9. The focus here shifts from the offerings of the priests to their teaching. Malachi begins by issuing a call to true repentance. He tells the priesthood to “take these things to heart.” (vs. 2) He says if they do not heed this call and turn back to the Lord he will curse them. The Lord will curse their blessings. Those good things which the priesthood has will become a burden. Their descendants will be rebuked. (vs. 3) The offerings and the feasts, which are supposed to be the glory of Israel, will become humiliation, as the dung from these feasts are spread upon the faces of the priests. This will make them unclean, unfit for service in the temple. Unlike their father Levi, who taught the word of God, these Levites have caused Israel to stumble over God’s law. (vss. 5-8) So they will finally be taken away, driven from the temple as unclean and unholy because of their refusal to listen to God’s word and refusal to teach God’s word. The Levites were supposed to be glorious, a great light to Israel. Instead they will become contemptible. (vs. 9) If the priesthood refuses to turn from their sins God promises to curse them.

• We must bring into worship what God requires. That means the Bible is our guide for worship. In the New Covenant there is more freedom in worship than the old, but the Bible is still our guide. God expects our best in worship, this means our singing, praying, preaching, etc. must be of high quality.

• We cannot expect God’s favor if we do not seek to obey his commands. To ask God’s blessing, but refuse to listen to his voice is to make a mockery of His Word.

• Weariness in worshipping God is a terrible sin and will place one under his curse. It is easy as we move through our Christian life to become lazy and apathetic in our worship. Time can be a problem in our Christian life. Pastor Dale Davis makes this point when he comments on Genesis 16 and 17. He notes that thirteen years passed from the end of chapter 16 to the beginning of 17. Then he says this, “What had happened during the previous decade-plus. Abraham played veterinarian to his goats, settled scraps among his herdsmen, sat up with Sarah when she had the flu—in short all the sorts of things that one does in the wash-your face, brush your teeth, go to work routine of daily living. And year follows year that way, and Yahweh’s promise goes unfulfilled. Is the writer not telling us that time can be a severe problem for faith?” We must constantly draw near to God in prayer, asking him to keep us zealous for his face. Time can erode our joy and delight in coming into God’s presence.

• Those whom God has called to preach and teach the word, must understand the weight of the task they have been given. Pastors and elders are not priests, but they do perform a priestly duty by bringing God’s word to his people. Malachi says the priests of his day will be cursed because they caused people to stumble over the law. How many ministers will stand before the Lord of all the earth ashamed because their flocks stumbled over the law due to their teaching? All those who teach the word must bear in mind the awful judgment if they fail at the task. Thus James says that not many should seek to be teachers. (James 3:1)