“We aren’t fighting; we are having a discussion.”
Malachi records such a “discussion” between the Jews and God. In any “discussion” someone has the final say. It is exactly like arguing with your siblings when you were growing up. Someone had to put in the last word, so they felt like they won the argument. The Jews try to have the final say, but in the end, it is God who has the final say.
The discussion begins with Israel challenging God’s claim that He loves them. “I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). The truth is, they were not feeling the love. Times were hard. They could not seem to get ahead. How could God claim He loved them? God begins with their privilege as His chosen people. Between Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Seems harsh! However, when you review Esau’s life you realize it was not a choice God made, but a choice Esau made. The Bible calls Esau a profane person (Hebrews 12:16). This means he did not appreciate the things of God. He treated everything common and would not esteem the blessings of God as anything special. Esau preferred the sport of recreation over the spiritual responsibility he was supposed to exercise as the firstborn son. Because Esau rejected his responsibility in favor of recreation, God judged him.
Imagine the book of Malachi as a courtroom and the people are the prosecution and God is the defendant. They accuse God, but the evidence proves it is not God’s decision to withhold blessing from them. He is only responding to their decisions. The Lord does not change. He is patient, but, in the end, the just and the wicked receive their reward. Malachi prophesies of a great Prophet who will come and purify the sin away from His people. The intense light of His judgment upon the wicked is but the Sun of righteousness which shines a holy, healing beam upon those who love Him.
God has the final say. He is not fickle, but constant (Malachi 3:6). He will bless those who fear the Lord and think upon His name (Malachi 3:16), but, in the end, he will “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:18).
God’s Final call
Someday you’ll hear God’s Final Call to you
To take his offer of salvation true-
This could be it my friend if you but knew-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
How can you live another day in sin,
Thinking some day with Christ you will begin?
O will you hear above the world’s loud din-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
If you reject God’s Final Call of grace,
You’ll have no chance your footsteps to retrace
All hope will then be gone and doom you’ll face.
O hear his call! God’s Final Call
You’ve heard of the Greatest Generation. They were those who grew up in the Great Depression and for the sake of freedom went to fight in World War Two. It’s just possible, the true Greatest Generation is the generation who raised those children during the Depression. When you read about the way people pitched in for the cause during both World Wars, it is a powerful testimony of patriotism. People went without a lot during those years in order to have metal for bullets and rubber for vehicles and food for their soldiers.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning” was a phrase which caught on during the first World War and was put to song in England. The sons and husbands valiantly went to war and it was up to the women and children to keep the fires burning at home. They had sacrifices to make, but they wanted their boys to have a home to come back to.
Nehemiah 10:34 mentions something that you don’t see anywhere else outside of this book.
“And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law:”
There really is not any instruction regarding the wood offering in the law, but what the law did prescribe was to keep the altar fires burning. Since Jerusalem and the surrounding area had been ransacked by the Babylonians and for the next few centuries it would continue to face much deprivation, historians claim harvesting firewood took a hit. In order to have enough fuel to keep the altar fires burning everyone had to contribute during their appointed time.
Isn’t this a wonderful picture of what keeps the work of God going? One person cannot do everything and everyone cannot be all things. However, everyone can do their part and when everyone does their part, the fires keep burning. Paul pictured the church family as a body. When everyone does their part the body is healthy and full of life. Those days you do not feel 100% because something in you is not working right, is the same feeling your church family feels when you are missing in action. Don’t worry about doing your part only when someone else will do theirs. Step up and contribute. When you do, you will keep the church fires burning.
It’s a gift.
I know I shouldn’t brag, but when it comes to packing the car for a trip or the moving truck for a move, I have enough spatial intelligence to fit the most stuff in the least space. This gift is constantly sharpened by my lovely wife who needs to take one more essential with us, but fitting the most stuff in the least space is an entertaining challenge.
Little spaces are trending. People who claim to be minimalists strip all the accessories of their life away until they are left with only the essentials. Some minimalists are extreme and have even limited their living space to a couple hundred square feet! It is fascinating to explore their little spaces. With all the secret compartments and fold down or pop up elements, they can pack a lot in a small area.
Ezra mentions a little space but he is not downsizing to a studio apartment. He marvels at the little space of grace God has given His people. This little space of grace is not limited. It is extraordinary. God’s grace is more than sufficient, but it is not sloppy. In this little space of grace, you will find a black hole of supply. Paul speaks of God’s grace as “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). God far exceeds my packing skills when it comes to packing His grace into a little space and making it available to you and to me.
The problem is we tend to live expansively. If you have two months for a project, it will probably take you two months. However, if you were only given ten days, you’d be surprised how you could meet that deadline! If you have two thousand square feet of living space, then you will accumulate stuff to fill the space. When we sin expansively we treat God’s grace contemptuously. As Ezra began teaching the Jews the words from God, they were convicted. The book of Ezra ends oddly with this issue of putting away or divorcing wives. You would need to read much of Israel’s history to understand the dangerous presumption of God’s grace in Ezra 9-10. Read Numbers 25 and you will see what happened when the pagans enticed the Israelites to reject the true God and worship false gods. In fact, their unfaithfulness to God necessitated the Babylonian captivity! Their expansive living—their licentious, grace-gorging style of living—risked the chastening of God, again.
Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)? God forbid! We should not live expansively in sin at the expense of God’s meritorious grace. Believer, you know the price of grace. It cost Jesus humiliation and suffering. “For if we sin wilfully” we have “trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood…an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:26, 29). If you have been living expansively, then read Ezra’s plea for forgiveness and make it your own. Christian, marvel at the little space of grace.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
Everything had been going better than planned. The Jews were given permission to return to their homeland and build the Temple of God. Cyrus opened the king’s treasury and the people carried armfuls of precious vessels back to Jerusalem. In Ezra 3, the people start with the right priorities and begin to worship God. They dug into the work and began to lay the foundation. Those who were born in the captivity celebrated what God had done in their midst.
Then the party-crashers came. Discouragement came from within and from without. Some of the ancient men wept on the day of celebration because they remembered the “good ole days.” It is good to remember the past, but when the past becomes a wet blanket on the present it becomes a liability. Paul’s wisdom is essential, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
With their morale already eroded by the disappointed, they were an easy target for the compromisers. These were Samaritans who had not experienced the captivity. In fact, their life had been compromised completely. They had intermarried with pagans and began to worship false idols. These guys know a good thing when they see it, so they asked to partner with the Jews and help them build the Temple. Zerubbabel and Joshua rejected their offer. They would not compromise the work and join in the efforts with those who were insincere in their life. These Samaritans tattle to king Artaxerxes. They hindered the work of God. Their hands were weakened, their resolve was troubled, and their dream was frustrated (Ezra 4:4). Disenchanted, the people began to pursue earthly securities and pleasures. They continued in the motions of worship, but without the heart. They were only a shell of devotion.
God sent the encouragers, Haggai and Zechariah. They preached the word of the Lord and challenged the people. The work would be accomplished because God had promised to be with them. It would not be accomplished by their meager strength, but by the Spirit of God working on their behalf. Eventually, Darius, the current king, sent a response to the Samaritans instructing them to not only allow the work of God to continue but also to sponsor the project!
Nehemiah gives us the phrase, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). They found their joy in the Lord, saw God turn the hearts of the opposition, and strengthened their hands to do the work of God. If you are discouraged, ask God to restore your joy, turn the hearts of those who are opposing you, and allow the Spirit to strengthen your hands to do the work.
“And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22)
The visions of Daniel are spectacular. Your imagination can run wild as you envision the kingdoms of the earth figuratively represented by the animals. The first creature Daniel sees is a lion with wings. The wings are plucked off and the beast is given the heart of a man. This represents the kingdom of Babylon in which Daniel lived. The second creature was a bear which was noticeably dominant on one side. This creature represented the Medeo-Persian kingdom. The third creature was a leopard with wings. This was a fast moving creature. In fact, in another prophecy, Daniel sees this same kingdom represented by an angry goat with one enormous horn which moves so quickly it never touches the ground. This third major kingdom is the Grecian empire lead by Alexander the Great.
Throughout the descriptions of these kingdoms, there is one central theme—aggressive domination. These kings will rule the world at the expense of conquest and slaughter. You are then introduced to a new King who is different in so many ways from the previously mentioned kings. This King would be “cut off” (Daniel 9:26). Instead of leading a rebellion, he would sacrifice himself for a greater kingdom. A kingdom which he would share with the “people of the saints of the most High” (Daniel 7:27). This sacrificial King does not overthrow kings through rebellion. He merely lays claim to what was His from the beginning of time. As the Ancient of Days, He is the obvious ruler of this world. His infinite power will only be revealed against those who rebel and seek to overthrow His rule, but his kingdom is an “everlasting kingdom” which will “make an end of sins…and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 7:27; 9:24).
We are subjects of another King, and we should live according to the character of such a citizenship. As a follower of the Messiah, the Prince of princes, you can live according to His example and know the secret to greatness. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Whoever humbles himself as a little child, “the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1, 4). Our Savior’s example is our pattern: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).