Debilitating doubt

MALACHI -Second in a series

Malachi 1:1-5... Malachi reproves the Jews for doubting God's love.

Do you like God? That does not matter. The Lord is looking for those who will love him. The heart that is wholly devoted is what the Lord seeks. (Rev 3:16; 2 Chr 16:9; Mat 6:33)

We like people because they are clever, fun, intelligent, whatever, and act toward them with friendliness and so forth; but love is much different and deeper. First Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, and the list is long:

  1. longsuffering
  2. kind
  3. not envious
  4. not prideful or boastful about self nor about the object of affection
  5. not ill-behaved
  6. not self centered
  7. not easily provoked
  8. not thinking evil
  9. not rejoicing in iniquity but in truth as an ideal
  10. concealing the errors and faults of the one who is loved
  11. believing all things to encourage the loved one
  12. hoping all things to inspire and support you
  13. enduring all things, standing by you no matter what
  14. never failing

Paul lists the expressions and qualities of Christian love, while Malachi in his prologue reminds us that love is an act of volition.

The burden [oracle] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Mal 1:1-3)

Malachi describes his prophecy as a burden. God has shown him that his nation, those returned from exile and now settled back in Israel, doubt God's love for them despite his preferential treatment of them. Indeed, over time Esau would be removed forever. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel. (Mal 1:4-5) A full end of Edom would arrive while Israel would revive, and why? The Lord is mindful of his own; he remembers his children, and promises they will “possess the gate” of their enemies. (Gen 22:17)

Doubting is not believing all things. It is not kind, long-suffering or never-failing. It is instead ill-behaved, thinking evil of God; not hopeful but displaying that turn of heart also known as being easily provoked.

Perhaps God's nation did not like to recall that their exile to Babylon was for sins they committed. Perhaps they did not care that they were special because they were the children of Abraham. Isaiah wrote, "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." (Is 51:2)

An aside: The language of Isaiah is rich and poetic, moving and lifting. Malachi's words are blunt and hard-hitting. Commentators point out that Malachi lived in the decline of Hebrew poetry. As nations lose their acumen and affinity for fine expression, indulging rather in blunt, vulgar and simple conversational communications, it is no use to regale them with poetry or prose. You will barely reach them with plain language, though slang or some cursing may help. Malachi relates God's message plainly: I loved Jacob and I hated Esau. (Ref unknown)

God had called Abraham and made a covenant with him which was maintained through Isaac not Ishmael and then through Jacob not Esau. Why? Perhaps in the case of Ishmael we can understand: wrong mother. But with the twin brothers we cannot. It seems to us like favoritism which we perceive as unjust or imperious. Romans 9 makes clear the distinction was not drawn based on behavior but on God's sovereign actions. (Rom 9:11-13)

We encounter stumbling blocks on the road to faith. One of these is Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death was required to save man from eternal damnation, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his good deeds.

And there is the stumbling block of election, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his decision to serve Christ. Man's decisions are important, but the choice to serve God and to love him is enabled by God first choosing and loving man. (John 6:44; 1 John 4:19) Again, this smacks of favoritism, and we cannot understand.

There is also the stumbling block of presumption. We cannot figure out God's ways. We question his methods and doubt his judgment. The result is that we also doubt his love for us and do not trust in his promises.

Reaching for Malachi, marching forward

MALACHI - First in a series

The Hebrews lived as slaves for many centuries before the Exodus. In that epoch, did they feel chosen and special? Did they consider that Abraham had really been a friend of God? Or, did memories and hearts fail?

This brings up a good question: How many years can a collective memory be retained? Or, for us today and for the Jews, a better question is: How long can we continue to believe the promises?

The question speaks to our human frame, not to the essence of God's Word which will stand forever. (1 Pet 1:23) The answer is: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor 4:7) Yes, we can continue to believe as we wait for Christ to return, but only by his help.

God promised Abraham (Abram) his descendants would be afflicted in Egypt for 400 years but would emerge with treasures, so perhaps it was not too hard for them to wait, since they had been apprised how long their affliction would last and that it would end well. (Gen 15:13) Easy for us to say.

When we feel the days are stretching thin as we look for Christ's second coming, we have the written Word for help. We can read and hear Peter saying,

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?…But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Pet 3:3-8)

About a thousand years passed from the giving of the Law to the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi. This "moment" for the Hebrews had been an eternity of learning, backsliding, relearning, and finally exile from their homeland and then return.

From Malachi's words to the birth of Christ, roughly 400 years would pass. Perhaps they would wonder over those centuries, Are we thinking right about God's words? Did we miss something? Or, did they think back to their time in captivity: That phase had lasted 400 years— Will this one too?

The Lord preserved them between the Testaments; the "collective memory" was maintained and communicated to their descendants. Those who met Jesus still recalled Malachi's words, and asked: What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. (John 1:21)

And what about you? Are you looking for Elijah to return as a portent of Christ's second coming? Or, do you view Malachi's prophecy as pertinent only to Christ's first appearance? Are you waiting patiently, anxiously, or not at all for the return of the Lord?

Christ understood how it would be in the 21st century. He framed a parable to analogize to it.

There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:2-8)

The purpose of that challenging question was to stress to us how very difficult it will be in the end times to maintain faith.

Jesus predicted: And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Mat 24:12). He also warned: And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. (Mat 24:22)

Can Malachi help us to keep the faith, as he did those who earnestly looked for the Lord to suddenly appear in his temple? (Mal 3:1)

In this series we will seek that help.

I have seen the Lord!

Rejoicing Women - Seventh and final in a series

Many women lined the Via Dolorosa as Christ went to Calvary. They wept loudly and expressed their grief in words. Christ comforted them:

Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? (Luke 23:28-30)

Jesus was about to be crucified, yet it was a time of green trees, a time in the world for fulness of joy, when the flowers appear on the earth… the vines with tender grape give a good smell. (Song 2:12, 13)

But the evil was palpable. Christ understood that the hour belonged to Satan so the loyalty of these women was precious to him. Some had also accompanied and supported him and his disciples as they traveled throughout every city and village, sharing the good news (Luke 8:1-3).

A passage in Daniel is interpreted by some to mean that the antichrist will not have any Christian sympathies: Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god (Dan 11:37). They translate this verse as "the God desired by women," who would be Jesus. The basis for this rendering is the use of the same word for "desire" in Haggai 2, And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come… (Hag 2:7)

Jesus was and is the desired God of women. His gracious kindness to all of us is made clear in the Word, highlighted by his special care for certain ones, such as Mary Magdalene who was delivered of seven demons. No wonder they followed him to Golgotha (John 19:17, 18) and then to his tomb.

Those specially called out in various Gospels as faithful in his final hour are: his mother; Mary, the wife of Cleophas who perhaps was the mother of James ("the less"); Salome, the mother of James and John; Joanna; and Mary Magdalene who was most prominent for persistence and devotion. Some have confused her with the sinful woman of Luke 7 who anointed the feet of Jesus with ointment and washed them with her tears and hair. (Luke 7:37-39) However, that was a different woman.

Mary's seven demons were not described; whatever sins they locked into her, she had been freed and held to that freedom by wholehearted devotion to the Lord. That seven were numbered may indicate she had been earnest to seek deliverance from a satanic stronghold; but the evil spirit that departed once then found reinforcements and regained her mind and soul, as explained in Matthew 12. From such embattlement and despair there is no deliverance but by Christ himself. (Mat 12:43-45)

Mary Magdalene was at the crucifixion (Mat 27:55, 56), went to his tomb after his death (Mark 15:47), returned there on the first day of the week with spices to anoint him (Mar 16:1), and is celebrated as the one to whom Christ first appeared. (Mark 16:9)

As she alone sat by his tomb weeping, he came to her and she recognized him when he said her name. (John 20:11-18) She then ran to tell the disciples, "I have seen the Lord!"

In all of Scripture, she probably is our best example of a rejoicing woman.

Perhaps Christ appeared specially to her because he understood the depth of her former agony. Now, there is never any evil that can overcome us if we trust in Christ and cling to him, for he has led captivity captive (Eph 4:8; John 20:17). Rejoice!

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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