“I am the Lord, I change not.” All things hang on that truth, God never changes. In this fact lay the hope for Israel, and in it lies the hope of the church today.
Well it is for us that our God knows no change. We change, dispensations change, but not so God.
The nation of Israel in the government of God had passed through many a change, but His purpose for them remains unaltered. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29). These abide, God does not repent, and because the Lord changeth not the sons of Jacob were not consumed.
They had passed through many a furnace of trial, but there they were in the land and surrounding the temple; and in that land they shall be again according to “the gifts and calling of God,” which know no final lapse or failure.
God may see fit, in His governmental ways, to repent, or to make a breach of promise (see Num. 14:34), but never in His gifts and calling—never in those purposes which connect themselves with grace. We may find an illustration of this in the case of the old and new covenants. The first was, as to blessing, conditional on the obedience of man and passed away. The second is dependent on the grace of God.
Blessing under the first was impossible, but under the second it is secured in Christ dead and risen. Hence we read of the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb. 13:20). The blessings of that covenant are based and eternalized on the blood of the Son of God. Everything is divinely secured, and is, thank God, unchangeable.
What an unspeakable relief to the tortured mind it is to turn to God and His grace, where we find a salvation perfectly suited to such poor, guilty things as we are! What lessons of mercy and truth we read at the cross of Christ! There is the foundation and resting-place of the entire work of redemption, and there our anxious souls may rest without a tremor.
But turning to our passage, we would have gathered that after such a statement of God’s care for the sons of Jacob they would be in a condition pleasing to Him. They had been brought, some forty thousand of them, from Babylon back to their own land, to enjoy its plenty and to worship the Lord as of old.
Were they in such a condition? Alas, restoration to external privilege may not mean very much, the heart may remain unaffected, and so, when we turn to the first of the post-captivity prophets—Haggai—we find that, instead of devoting all their attention to the construction of the house of the Lord, they “ran every man to his own ceiled house.”
They were constrained by selfish motives from the very start, with the result that God called for a drought upon the land, and upon all the labour of their hands. “Then the people did fear before the Lord”—mark the word, “fear before the Lord”; and as a gracious consequence the Lord said, “I am with you,” and again, “My Spirit remaineth among you, fear ye not.” He produced a better condition. True, there was drought, but not consumption. God had regard to His gifts and calling. In wrath He remembered mercy.
Thus they were stimulated, God’s abiding Spirit the pledge of encouragement, and “they did work in the house of the Lord.”
It was the work of “them that feared the Lord”—a work always beautiful, morally speaking, although they had to admit that, as compared with the first glory of the house, it was as “nothing.”
Perhaps so! Who would compare Philadelphia with Pentecost? Yet “the little strength” of Philadelphia was the work of the same Spirit. Exceedingly dear to the Lord are the “nothings” of this day.
The feeble efforts of those who “fear the Lord” are the victories of His grace in them, and accordingly, “From this day,” He says, “will I bless you (Haggai 2:19). He changes not; He consumes not; He encourages. When we reach the realm of God’s “I am’s and God’s “I wills,” we are on clear and firm ground, and may reckon on the power of His arm and on the grace of His heart.
When we pass on to the next post-exile prophet, Zechariah—we find the brand plucked out of the fire, invested gorgeously, and charged to walk in the ways of the Lord, judge His house, and keep His courts—picture of mercy to Israel as a brand plucked from the fire instead of being deservedly consumed therein; and all this again “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” The work of blessing is always His; and hence the shout of “Grace, grace,” as the headstone is brought forth, the glorious climax of all His mercy. “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it.”
Again we may say, in notes of wonder and praise, “I the Lord change not, therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.” But it was “a day of small things.” Well, compared with the day of the Red Sea and Jordan, perhaps so. All such comparisons are instructive; but, after all, the restoration of Israel is as great a miracle of grace as was its salvation. It can only be described as “life from the dead.”
The revival of Israel means all that for the world. When God’s face shines upon Israel, His saving health (what words!) shall be known among all nations (see Ps. 67). What blowing of trumpets in that new moon, that grand renaissance, that mighty revival!
In view of that restoration there shall be “a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,” and the spirit of grace and supplication shall be poured upon the house of David, and mark: “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” (Zech. 12).
Oh, this is deep, tender work indeed, for it is the sight of a crucified Christ, that ever and alone breaks the proud heart to pieces and produces the humility that is dearer to God than the greatest or most dazzling gifts.
This is the Lord that does “not change.” The Jehovah of Exodus is the Jehovah of Malachi. “That is My name for ever, and My memorial throughout all generations.”
But see His complaint against the very people to whom He had thus given this covenant name—“Ye have robbed me.” Solemn charge indeed. They who would not steal from a neighbour may rob the living God. How? “In tithes and offerings” is it possible to withhold from God His due? Alas, much more than possible! How glibly we sing: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small!” and the louder the tune the greater our—shall I say—hypocrisy, if the widow is neglected, the Levite left uncared for, and God’s claims ignored.
We are exhorted to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our intelligent service (Rom. 12:1). “Service” here is not bondage, nor law, nor demand, but worship—the glad return of a grateful heart in the intelligence of redemption and in the power of the Spirit.
Were these restored captives in anything like the power of this? Far from it: the mass were leavened with pride, having a mere religious profession akin to our day, as depicted in 2 Timothy 3. They denied the power of godliness while they cherished the form. History repeats itself.
Were there no exceptions?
There were, and there always will be, so long as God’s Spirit remains, so long as His people are here.
What marked them? “The fear of the Lord”—that marked them and that marks all who truly walk with God today.
There is no grace more wholesome than a genuine, filial fear of the Lord. Let us diligently cultivate that grace. “They that feared the Lord spake often [how often?] one to another” (Mal. 3:16). They were attractive to and attracted by one another. Each possessed a something which had a magnetic instead of a repulsive effect. They found a charm in each other’s company, an irresistible kinship which bound them together. “They feared the Lord and thought upon His name.”
That was the secret. His name was their magnet, their lodestone, and that they might meditate on that name together explained the reason for their frequent intercourse. It became their centre, their bond of union, the secret of their very life, their all.
If in Haggai the house was as “nothing,” if in Zechariah the day seemed “small,” so in Malachi a feeble few only “feared the Lord and thought upon His name.” They had nothing outwardly to boast of, yet of them it is written; “They shall be mine, says the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.”