Zechariah concludes with an image of the future messianic Kingdom which includes the restoration of Jerusalem where people from all nations are gathering to live under God's rule and reign. It is God that will intervene ultimately and save them from their enemies and give them a safe place to dwell securely and flourish. this chapter paints a picture of people from the nations coming to Jerusalem and a stream of water flowing from the temple outward to heal the nations. It seems to point toward a salvation that is global in scope but which comes from and draws people to Israel.
This chapter, like all of Zechariah is filled with prophetic pictures that are difficult to fully understand or make sense of, but when taken together that seems to be part of the design. Zechariah is reflecting on history, making sense of Israel is in real time and prophesying regarding their future and things don't connect in a perfectly coherent way. There is a sort of chaotic nature to the flow of the book and it provokes a lot of head scratching moments... it's like life this way. And throughout each section, Zechariah is pointing beyond the chaos and confusion to a coming King and Kingdom that is for Israel and all who honor the covenant with the Lord.
He continually points beyond all layers of reality that we're taking in an trying to makes sense of, to the ultimate reality of God governing over all things, keeping his promises, moving history toward his determined climax. Nothing that seems out of control is, in fact, out of his control. He will bring Salvation. He will send a Savior. The hope of Israel for renewal and restoration is in something real and solid. And their hope is the the hope of the nations...
The Savior has come and he has brought salvation. Jesus has ushered in the Kingdom of God already, but it is not yet here in it's fullness. And so still we endure and live within the chaos and noise. Still our faith and hope are undermined and threatened by the difficulties and struggles we face, and by the sin that ravages us. It's easy for us to feel defeated and discouraged and to wonder if there is anything beyond the chaos, like Israel did. But we're reminded here that there is a larger narrative unfolding than just our individual lives. There is a grand story which God is authoring and which we are caught up in, which he will see through to completion.
In Zechariah's day they were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom he would bring. In our day we look to the Messiah who has come and inaugurated the Kingdom, and we live now as citizens of that Kingdom while we await it's consummation at the return of the risen and reigning Christ. And therefore, we have hope.
So Malachi is written a 100 years or so after the Jews have return from exile... the temple and Jerusalem have been rebuilt and Israel is a generation or more into rebuilding their lives. And their cycle of rebellion and corruption and idolatry is repeating itself. And through Malachi, God is confronting these things in Israel. There is a series things that God takes issue with, the first 2 of which are chapter 1.
He starts by reaffirming his love for Israel, which they question and doubt and ask for evidence of. "How have you love us?" is a not so subtle accusation from Israel of how God has failed to love them in their estimation. And so he reminds them of how he chose Jacob and established his covenant with him and his descendants, contrasting that with the Edomites which came through Esau, Jacob's brother. God essentially compares the blessing and faithfulness he's shown Israel throughout their history verses the Edomites whom he has left to themselves.
Then God confronts the people in general, and particularly the priests, for the quality of their sacrifices before the Lord. The people are offering sick, blind, and polluted animals in sacrifice to the Lord. The priests are accepting and facilitating such expressions of worship and God is very dishonored. Israel retorts with a sort of digruntled, "nothing-is-good-enough-for-you", self-pity. And God doesn't soften his stance. He refuses to accept their worst as legitimate worship. He reaserts his worthiness of their best.
So, taken together, these first two points in Malachi are still essential for our own worship of God. Our frustrations and sufferings drive us to a place of forgetting God's faithfulness and despising his blessing by our "what have you done for me lately" attitudes. We get overwhelmed and confused by life and so easily and readily put God on trial in our own hearts, presuming to judge him and his expressions of love to us. On this side of the cross, we still have the audacity to ask God how he has shown his love for us, diminishing or dismissing outright Christ and him crucified, to say nothing of the many other things God does to show his love to us.
And in the same way, we disregard God in our hearts, living for our own pleasures and our own appetites while maintaining religious practices, and call that worship. We start thinking that begrudging church attendance, or obligatory giving, or stale Bible reading are forms of our worship which God is luck to have and entitles us to something of his favor and blessing. We live for ourselves 90% of the time, without any awareness of God's hand on us or presence with us, and think we're doing him a solid by our occasional spiritually oriented activities.
Worship is not about outward forms. It's about heart affections. Worship is when our lives are shaped by the worth of something. And when our expressions of worship are mere afterthoughts, moments squeezed into the narrow margins of our busy schedules, leftovers of our crowded lives, the worth of Christ is displayed clearly. When we fit worship into the periphery, it reveals the peripheral nature of God's place in our hearts. But when our lives orbit around Jesus it demonstrates the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
I wonder if he fits into and around your life... or if your life calibrate around and bends to him? It's worth considering. Let's remember the gospel... the precious blood of Christ, the perfect, spotless lamb, slain for the sin of the world because of God's love for the world... his love for you. And let's respond by giving him our best and not our leftover or expendable parts.
God's rebuke of the priests continues into chapter 2, where He makes a point to reiterate his covenant with Levi, which is the tribe of the priesthood. He emphasizes the life giving and peace bringing nature of faithfulness in the Lord's service, which is rooted in a fear of the Lord, which the priest's of that day have forsaken.
Priests are to teach people the ways of the Lord and lead them into life with God. But thse priests have approached their responsibiltiies and role cavilierly and casually. They have nurtured a environment of flippancy and nonchalance in worship, and a culture of relativism in their doctrine. They teach and emphasize what is convenient, rather than what is true. They lead people towards comfortability rather than toward uprightness. And God is displeased.
Additionally, God brings charges of treachery against the men of Israel, citing their marriages to foreign wives which created an on ramp to idolatry, and the growing trend of divorcing their wives without legitimate grounds. So God is disgusted with their proclivity to enter into marriage unwisely and to end marriage unlawfully. They are perpetuating unfaithfulness to their covenant with the Lord, and unfaithfulness to the covenant of marriage.
Behind both of these charges is a serious warning for two things plaguing Christians today: flippancy in worship and flippancy marriage. These are not problems outside the church. These are major problems in the church. Far to many churches approach worship and the ministry of the word with flippancy. Leaders get caught up in the consumer culture, more concerned with being cool and entertaining and funny, than with biblical seriousness and spiritual reverance. We want people to be comfortable with us and each other more than right with God. That's a real problem. That kind of church culture is common and corrosive.
As it relates to marriage, we enter into it far to casually and end it far to readily. It's not hard for people to find reasons to be dissatisfied in marriage. But it should be a lot harder for Christians, and Christian pastors in particular, to find reason to affirm divorce. Marriage is a battlefield for the enemy because God created marriage to be something of a visible representation of the gospel. Satan wants to maim that image, and our sinful hearts are inclined to cooperate with him. But this is why marriage must be preserved and protected with all vigilance. It's not about us and our convenience and happiness. It is about Jesus and his beauty and glory.
One of the discouraging trends I see with Christians in marital difficulty is the creativity and diligence in expanding the categories of biblical justification for divorce. There is so much pain and destruction in dysfunctional marriages, but the degree of a person's hurt or depth of their distrust cannot be the determining factor in whether we affirm or encourage divorce. We need more creativity and diligence within the Church to expand our reasons to stay married, beyond our own convenience and hopes for future happiness. We need to recover a gospel-centered purpose for protecting the covenant of marriage. We need to remain in disappointing marriages for the sake of Jesus.
There are a lot of layers to this topic and I'm not addressing them all here because the text doesn't... the text is simply re-establishing the seriousness of the covenant of marriage and the need for our recovering the seriousness with which we enter into marriage and the seriousness with which we guard the permanence of marriage. And let's not ignore that it's the men Malachi is specifically addressing, and the men who who bear primary responsibility before the Lord. So, men, marital seriousness and covenant faithful must start with us.
One last thought on this from v. 15... talking about God making 2 people into 1 through marriage, he poses the question, "what is it that God was seeking to accomplish through their oneness?" (my rephrasing) And the answer provided is surprising... GODLY OFFSPRING. God is seeking, through Christian marriage, a Christ-exalting next generation. God is giving us in one short statement here a non-selfish and transcendant purpose to fight for marriage and an obvious reason we should avoid divorce at all costs. And all the studies and information on children of divorce or children in single parent households confirms the wisdom of God in Malachi 2.
Divorce ravages kids. Divorce has a toxic, destructive and fragmenting effect on the souls and lives of the next generation. It undermines faith and creates barriers for belief in Jesus, particularly when those divorced spouses are Christians. Sustained marriage is a life-giving, stabilizing force in the life of kids. Parents remaining married significantly shapes the lives of the next generation, reinforces faith, nurtures family health in the future generation, and produces on balance the generational blessings of much greater joy, career success, educational advancement, and relational health, and spiritual fulfillment. That doesn't mean anyone's kids are doomed through divorce or gauranteed anything by parents who remain married. But divorce makes things much harder in every way for the next generation while marriage make things easier and more fulfilling.
In this section, God brings two more charges against Israel which certainly translate to our own day.
The first is how they have wearied him and tested him and worn out his patience with the upside down nature of their categories. They are looking at people doing wicked and presuming they're good. This reminds me of Isaiah, when God says "woe to you who call evil good and good evil." God is provoked when we promote, cheer on and celebrate things that are sinful and evil in his sight. And as we fight and contend to legitimize and normalize that which is illegitimate and against God's design, we will eventually reach the anger portion of God's slownness to anger. And that's what is happening hear. They are accommodating and affirming those who do evil as if they are under the smile of God.
The categories of good and evil are real and they matter. The categories of morally pure and immoral are real and they matter. The categories of holiness and righteousness are real and they matter. And the categories of sin and rebellion are real and they matter. And all those categories are not culturally defined, they are biblically defined. They are established by the Sovereign God not the historical context or the dominant moral instincts of the time and space in which we live. God's people are to be a morally serious people who humbly but courageously maintain biblical categories, and who steadfastly and winsomely identify what belongs within those categories.
Israel is muddying the waters everywhere, or just creating their own moral concoction and God declares his judgment on them for doing so.
The second issue God brings up here, is that they are robbing Him, through their withholding of tithes and offerings. They are skimping on their giving, and keeping for themselves part of what belongs to God who has generously given to them everything they have. And with judgement in the wind, God offers a way out and even pleads with them to return to Him. And they're back is through repentance, which God defines as an active turning away from their faithfless practice of hoarding, to the obedient practice of tithing.
Repentance is not just an admission of guilt internally or verbally, but a visible re-alignment with God's commands. God even addresses their fear and insecurity underneath their disobedience, and invites them to test Him. Walk in faithfulness in this area and see if He doesn't rain down blessing. Give to Him what is required of them and see if he does not provide generously for their needs.
What we're seeing here is not God's promise to give us an amount of money commensurate with what we give to him. The natural direction of life in a fallen world is decay and death. Because of sin, creation rages against the dominion of man. Satan rules this world on the principle of devouring and destroying. Things don't naturally get healthy, they naturally bend toward unhealthy. But that's all out of step with God's original design, where life flourished and our labor led to life. And he's essentially telling us that if we lean toward the operating principles of the world, rather than according to the Kingdom of God, then we'll suffer the effects of the operating system of the world.
However, if we'll live by faith in line with the operating system of His Kingdom, then we will experience the super-reality of the Kingdom. And in the Kingdom economy, generosity doesn't deplete our resources, it actually multiplies our resources. And he's saying live as if that were true at your moment in history, and see if he won't provide graciously and abundantly. It's not so much a promise of obedience and reward, as much as it's an invitation to live under his rule and reign, which gaurantees his provision and protection. It's not a way to accumulate wealth, it's a way into life with God and the security and assurances He personalizes to everyone of us who walk by faith.
These two areas remain significant for us today. We're still tempted to and pressured to categorize things in our world according to the values system of the world. And we're still tempted to earn, to keep and to spend resources, rather than to receive, to give and to steward them for God who owns everything. And our way forward into a richer experience of God's presence and blessing is still through repentance and faith and obedience.