REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 51
M a l a c h i
“Behold I will send My messenger; and he will prepare the way before Me. And the LORD whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold He is coming”. Last week we saw that Malachi was given a message of great challenge to the people, and maybe especially to those who were leaders. Certainly, with some significant exceptions, it is difficult to think that they actually ‘delighted’ in the covenant, or its messenger. And there did not seem to be any apparent ‘delight’ in the message of any of the previous prophets God had sent to them. In the historical accounts of time subsequent to this prophetic word, we can identify the occasion of at least one prominent messenger (John the baptizer) openly declaring his mission of preparation. But this word appears to belong to a still future date. Adding to that possibility is the fact that the word makes reference to the “refiners fire” and the “launderers’ soap”. Is it too much to think that once the “refiners fire” has done its work, that which is “refined” remains “refined”. And that which is laundered remains clean.
The word is clear. “Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?” Well, those ‘refined and laundered’. And the LORD will ensure that those who are teachers will be ones so dealt with. We must honestly ask ourselves the question ‘Do we see that in our time?’ My answer is .. not yet, or at best, only partially. Furthermore, the list of those to be dealt with, in verse 5, is probably incomplete, but made complete by the all embracing characteristic “because they do not fear Me”. So, we might consider that those who will “endure the day of His coming” are those who have learned to “fear the LORD”. And that, my friends, Solomon told us, is the beginning of wisdom.
Regular readers of these ‘reflections’ will know that I have many times quoted Malachi 3:6. It is very important to our understanding of our Creator. “I am the LORD, I do not change.” It is a standalone statement which speaks into many situations. In the context of this word however, it takes on its protective face. In paraphrase, God is saying to these people “for the way you have behaved you should be utterly consumed. You have neglected, violated, and downright ignored, the covenant you made with Me. You ‘don’t have a leg to stand on’. But I also made another covenant, not with you but with your father Abraham. It is because of that covenant that you are not being dealt with as you deserve. ‘Return to Me and I will return to you’.” Do you get the sense of God’s frustration with these people? (I can’t help wondering how frustrated He must be with me at times too.) And then the rhetorical questions come again. “In what way have we robbed you?” This statement has become the source of the most blatantly, and deliberately, dishonest application of Scripture in our modern day churches. It is actually a reprimand against the people’s neglect of specific Torah commands regarding the care of the poor and needy in the community. It is dishonestly used in attempts to embarrass people into financial support for all manner of purposes, rarely, if ever, for its original purpose. And there is a day of reckoning coming .. which is where Malachi now turns.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming will burn them up”. How can ANYONE read that and not immediately fall down before God and seek forgiveness? Selah !
“But to you who fear My name the Sun (the Hebrew word here is ‘shemesh’ which means ‘brilliant’ as in shining, and is universally taken to refer to Yeshua) of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this ‘says the LORD of hosts’.”
It is quite clear that this refers to a future time, because if it had already happened we would read it in our history books. So with that fact firmly in our minds, it would seem sensible to also read what follows as applicable to that future time.
Malachi continues “Remember the Torah of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgements. Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
We have almost finished our series of ‘reflections’ in the minor prophets of God. The constant theme of these messages has been to provide warning and encouragement to a people who, for a variety of reasons, had been found in neglect of the covenant to which they had agreed. The message of the prophet has been consistent. God is longing for a restoration of relationship with His chosen people. They are special to Him. BUT, we also know, from the gifted teachers who were raised up after our Saviour ascended into heaven to be with the Father, that there is place for gentiles too. Paul used the words “grafted in”. That means, in very simple terms, “joined into and become part of”. That is how we non Jews might participate in the blessing God has prepared for His own people. Ask HIM what that means for you.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 50
M a l a c h i
An understanding of the timing of a particular prophecy allows one to discern a reason why God considered that message important and necessary. It might also give some pointers regarding the relevance of that prophetic message to our present generation, if similar social, religious and relational conditions can be identified. History records that this prophecy of Malachi would be God’s last prophetic word to them for about 400 years until He would speak again through His servant John the Baptizer. (Compare Yeshua’s parable of the absentee landlord in Matthew 21) There has been similar silence, other than that already given, as we discover, in the study of these ancient prophets, during the time since Yeshua left this earth. And that is why our discernment of a possible word for today is so important.
Malachi, Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during the days of Nehemiah. He had returned from Babylon to Judah, with about 50,000 others, in order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the temple. About 50 years had passed since Zerubbabel and Ezra had arrived to commence that work. So the temple was functioning. The sacrificial system was operating. But there was such corruption and slackness, clearly evident to the people who took that as an example, in the priesthood. This was having a disastrous effect in their community. Specifically, Torah observance (or lack of it), was again a major issue for which they had already been exiled from the land 100 years earlier.
Malachi was shown a long series of rhetorical questions with which to challenge the people. God Himself providing both question and answer. The very love of God for His people is brought into focus, by comparing the families of Jacob (themselves) with Esua (their traditional enemy). Jacob was exiled for disobedience. Esau (Edom) seemingly untouched by God. What is not stated of course is that God has not, even today, finished with Edom, which is one of two places destined to become perpetually desolate and uninhabitable (Babylon is the other). Further, that God does not have a covenant with Esua such as He has with Jacob.
Another question to the priests who ‘despise’ My name. “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honour? And if I am the Master, where is My reverence? The indignant rhetorical response from the priests. “In what way have we despised Your name?” I comment in paraphrase of the words which follow. It had, seemingly, become their abhorrent practise of treating sacrifices to God as inconsequential. Torah required that sacrifices to God would only be taken from unblemished animals. Perfect to the human eye. The very best that was available. It was one of the conditions which God had made in order that they would receive His ongoing bountiful provision of ‘blessing’. It was a command of Torah. Evidently they had been presenting lame and blind animals, even ones which they had stolen from someone else, to the priests for sacrifice … and the priests themselves turned the ‘proverbial’ blind eye. Totally unacceptable. That is treating God with utter contempt. It is like stealing money from others to put in the offering plate at your church !! The way in which this might be brought into focus is the suggestion that they offer to their governor such imperfect and inadequate payment for their obligatory taxes or dues. Then see what he makes of it.
But the real issue was with the priests. The leaders of that community. Those who are required, or expected, in any society, to have exemplary behaviour. Now doesn’t that ring a loud BELL today. God caused Malachi to remind the people of the covenant He had made with the house of Levi. It was a covenant of ‘life and peace’. A covenant which in former times was honoured and respected. “The Torah of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity”. What a wonderful testimony of honour and uprightness in a leader of the people. “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts”. Is there a lesson for today in this passage of Scripture? Is God pleased with what He sees in our communities of believers today? This is what He said about the community in Malachi’s day. “But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the Torah …. Therefore I have also made you contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept My ways but have shown partiality in the Torah”. Can we see respect, honour, and wisdom seeking from the community in our ‘spiritual’ leaders today? Or are they treated with contempt. So is this word of God from Malachi relevant to our society as it was for Judah in his day?
I commend to you a careful reading of this whole prophetic message. The Scriptures warn of a great ‘falling away’ before that ‘great and terrible day of the LORD”. Malachi gets to that in our reading next week! But many of the teachers, especially those who inhabit our TV screens, preach great revival! With the accompanying appeal for funds to facilitate it! What Malachi taught and was quickened by God to prophesy, was the need for repentant hearts and minds. A return to God’s ways of obedience to His commandments. A people who would know their obligations to the God with whom they had made covenant. That is the kind of people God was seeking, and He sent many faithful prophets, like Malachi, to proclaim it.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 49
Z e c h a r I a h
“In that day” our reading this week begins. Which day? The day in which “I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:9). In that same day, as we read last week, there will be much grief, mourning, and ‘soul searching’ by the inhabitants of that city. So, “a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness”. That represents a kind of communal ‘mikvah’, a bath or body of water connected to ‘running’ water, well understood in Jewish society, often in homes, as the means of becoming ‘ritually clean’. (The christian equivalent is water baptism). We commented last week that this ‘day’ is also the day mentioned by Paul in Romans 11 as the day when “all Israel shall be saved”. IF that is the case, then possibly, it may also be the day, spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, when the LORD will make His new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
To add some credence to that possibility, we note that immediately following this mass ‘cleansing’ of the whole population (the house of David), and still ‘in that day’, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no more be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land”. There are two ways this proclamation may be interpreted. Many commentators consider this to refer to ‘false prophets’. And certainly there will be no place in a ‘new covenant’ community for false prophets. But neither will there be any need for the kind of prophets which are the subject of this series of ‘reflections’ either. The role of such prophets has been to provide warning and counsel regarding the manner in which people had forsaken the ‘Mosaic’ covenant they had willingly made with God. A careful reading of the conditions of the coming “new” covenant, reveal that “the Torah will be written on the heart and put in the mind of everyone”. It will be unteachable, because everyone with know it, and be observant, “from the greatest to the least”. That being the case, ‘prophecy’ (speaking words given by God) will no longer be part of God’s way of communication. Therefore anyone who engages in such will, by definition, be ‘a false prophet’.
The prophecy “that in all the land … two thirds of it shall be cut off and die, but one third shall be left in it: I will bring the one third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say ‘This is My people’; and each one will say ‘the LORD is my God’” has caused great controversy in the community of believers, even today. (By way of illustration, the late, and gifted, bible teacher David Pawson had been a regular speaker at the I.C.E.J. Feast of Tabernacles annual gathering since its inception in 1980. About six years ago I was present when he spoke on this subject. It was his LAST invitation to speak at that gathering!) What we, as individuals believe, bears no influence on the outcomes God has determined. I refer you to the wisdom of Solomon. Proverbs 17:14 “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts”. But we must not be delinquent in our responsibility to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And doing that, I perceive that this testing by fire comes immediately before the “day of the LORD” arrives, when He “will go forth and fight against those nations (who have come to do battle against Jerusalem).
To conclude this ‘reflection’ on the prophecy of Zechariah, we look to the time immediately following that great battle. On one of my early visits to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, I recall looking from my hotel directly across the Kiddron Valley towards the Mount of Olives and trying to imagine the scene which Zechariah now describes.
The map (1985) here shows that there is an earthquake fault line which passes between the temple mount area and the Himmon Valley to the south of the City of David, very close to the Gihon Spring. Zechariah tells us that when the feet of Messiah Yeshua stand on the Mount of Olives, it will split into two from east to west (exactly as the fault line indicates). The mountain itself will move, half northward and half southward. “And in that day it shall be that living water shall flow from Jerusalem (compare Ezekiel 47 about fish in the Dead Sea and water flowing from the temple yet to be built), half of them toward the eastern (Dead) sea and half of them toward the western (Mediterranean) sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur”.
“In that day it shall be - “The LORD is one, and His name is one” (Deut 6:4). And that my dear friends will be the colloquial ‘game, set, and match’!! The whole purpose of God, in His dealings with His ancient people, and those of us who have willing joined them in faith, worshipping God in that special place which he chose at the time of King David to be the place of His dwelling on earth. It is a Kingdom set to reign for 1,000 years with Yeshua as King. But there are still some things left for Zechariah to tell us.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, one them there will be no rain”. Please take time to read the whole chapter. You may be surprised to discover that part of the worship of the LORD involves presenting sacrifices to Him! At least, that’s what Zechariah says.
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REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 48
Z e c h a r I a h
The language of the prophet is colourful and poetic. Taken in isolation, the reading this week is challenging to understand. However, in the context of the entire prophetic message of Zechariah, it fits into a period of the future of Israel (but in the past for our generation today). The promised Messiah and King, which we triumphantly ‘reflected’ upon last week, is subsequently rejected by the generation to whom He came. Isaiah used the words “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). The Apostle John used the words “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Zechariah describes the aftermath of that rejection and its effect on the whole nation from top (Lebanon), through its centre (Bashan), to its southern regions (Jordan). It is a devastatingly bleak word of prophecy, indicating the frustration of God with His chosen people, with whom He has made a uniquely unconditional covenant of love and commitment (The Abrahamic Covenant). But, we should also carefully note that God made a specific conditional covenant (The Mosaic Covenant), with the same people. It was this Mosaic Covenant (which does not provide license to abandon all lifestyle responsibilities which are an integral part of that covenant), which caused God to act in the corrective action of dispelling (albeit temporarily) the people from the land. And it is the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant which causes Him, in love and commitment, and in His perfect timing, to restore them to the land.
The picture of the two staffs is a likely reference to the practise of shepherds who normally carried such. A ‘rod’ which was used as a weapon with which to ward off predators of the flock, and a ‘staff’’ which was used as a means of rest for himself, and guidance to the flock. Breaking those ‘staffs’ implied that the flock would be abandoned (by the shepherd) to care for itself. It would be at peril by losing the protection of the shepherd. God uses the words “that I might break the covenant which I made with all the peoples”. Sounds ominous. But I believe that to be consistent with the proclamations of God in Deuteronomy 28/29 (the blessings and the curses chapters), see specifically Deuteronomy 28:13 “And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them”. So my understanding is that God considered that to be a ‘covenant with all the peoples’ that they would always be the ‘tail’. Clearly, the Israelites had not kept and observed the commandments of the LORD, so they would no longer ‘always be the head’. We do not require great insight to see that this situation prevails up to the present day. However, the LORD is gathering His people back into the land in our generation, and that is a sign (to me at least) that we are moving forward to the next phase of God’s plan for Israel, which is where the prophecy of Zechariah takes us next.
The introduction to this chapter of prophecy is interesting. “Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him”. It is that spirit which facilitates communication with God, and allows the exercise of free choice regarding our relationship with God. It is abundantly evident in our reading this week that our choices determine God’s responses to us in that relationship. However, as we have commented earlier, God is also bound in covenant with Israel, and that determines His ultimate action in relationship to them. So it is that Zechariah gives us a glimpse into the future which God has planned for Israel. “Behold I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all the nations of the earth are gathered against it”. An unimaginable result of a battle, so one-sided in concept, so unequal a contest. Big World v Little Israel. Except that that is a misunderstanding of the contestants. It should be written “The World v The God of Israel”. Also a one-sided and unequal contest! And we today, have a choice to make. Which side do I decide to be on?
That is not the end however. In other Scriptures there are accounts of the fierceness of the battle and the carnage which will take place. But Zechariah here gives us a picture of the distress, YES, the distress of those who are the victors in this battle. “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem”. Now I need to be careful in my ‘reflection’ on this outpouring of grief. This great battle is associated with the end of this age and the promised return of Yeshua to rule and reign in Jerusalem. For that reason, commentators have associated the grief of “the house of David” with their recognition of their Messiah, who was thoroughly rejected by them when He first came to them. It is the time which Paul alludes to in Romans 11 when “all Israel will be saved”. But the literal reading of the Hebrew text is less explicit in its identity of Messiah. It more points to the fact that so many people, avowed enemies of Israel, have been slaughtered in battle, that the “house of David” is consumed by compassionate grief on behalf of those who so needlessly lost their lives in that battle.
Whatever the situation will be at that time, it certainly will be a time when the might of God is visible to all.