Before reading the passages in Malachi, to which, the Lord helping me, I would desire to direct your attention; it is important to notice the position of this book where it comes. It is the last outpouring of God's heart to His people Israel, before the coming of the Lord; and not only to Israel as such, but it is addressed to the little remnant returned, under Ezra and Nehemiah, to a divine position in the land. Then all was bright - the temple of God re-built, His altar restored, sacrifices offered, and even the feast of tabernacles kept, which had not been kept since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun. But here we find the divine position sinks into formality and routine when man comes in. God expresses Himself dissatisfied. There were still the smoking altars, there were still the priests and sacrifices; outwardly God was recognised; but He looks for service and worship coming from the heart, and springing from the knowledge of His will, and He fails to find it. One thing He looks for - He looks for our love, and He cannot do without it. If this is lacking, it cannot be covered up from Him.
Look for a moment at Nehemiah. The two books are contemporary, or rather have to do with the same little remnant, only Nehemiah is in the bright, calm days, when they stood in complete separation from those around, and in obedience to the Word. I would simply direct your attention to the contrast in 2 Kings 22 Israel was still Israel; but they had lost the law which Moses gave them, which he had directed should be put into the ark. It was not the Ten Commandments, but the last words of Moses, the man of God. Each king who succeeded to the throne of Israel was to copy it out, and each one was to copy from the original. The reason for this is evident. If one had copied from another, one might have made a mistake, an alteration, either wilfully or from carelessness; and when the next came, he would have copied it, and would not really have known what was the word of God. But God held each king responsible to go direct to the one Moses had given them, and copy it for himself. Not only so, but every seven years (seven is always a sign of grace to Israel, and a pledge of the rest which God would give them) the law was to be brought out and read to the people. When Israel failed, the first thing which indicated coldness and declension was, they gave up their Sabbatic year. So they did not have their law read to them, and when they lost it they did not miss it. Then Josiah came to the throne. He really wished to serve God, but he did not know the law. No doubt he went to the most hoary-headed elders and tried to get the most correct information; but, whether from ignorance or wickedness, they evidently did not tell him the truth, for the high places were not pulled down, and the people went on worshipping Baal and the host of heaven. The whole kingdom was in idolatry, while he wished to do what was right before God. Then the law is found, and as soon as he knows it really is the law of God, he sets to work that it may be carried out.
There is a great contrast here to the action of Nehemiah. Josiah. sets to work to reform Israel. God had an earthly people. Then it was with Israel God's name was associated. The nations round all knew Him as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and Israel was marked as the people of Jehovah. Evil had come in, but not as it did when He had to scatter them, and send them into Babylon. In Josiah's time there was a revival, a terrible revival truly, a revival of destruction and blood-shedding; but it was another opportunity for Israel as such. When Ezra and Nehemiah come, Israel had been scattered, Jerusalem levelled to the ground; not a trace upon earth, as a people, of the people among whom God had dwelt, or of Jerusalem, as a place where God's name was known.
Then we find the little remnant. They return to Jerusalem; they build again the temple; they set up the altar. They do not say they are Israel - they are but a handful - but they own God's name on earth, they own God's word as the basis of everything; they separate from the nations around, and they take the place of dependence upon Jehovah. They were but a handful, and they did not pretend to be what they were not; but they were brought back to a divine position. Malachi addresses his prophecy to these very people. Through him God pours out His heart to the people, and the burden upon his heart is, that after all He had done for them - sheltered them under the blood-stained lintel, led them through the Red Sea, where the waters were a wall to them on either side, and where they had seen their enemies dead upon the sea shore; borne with them for forty years in the wilderness; fed them and cared for them in the land; each time that they went backsliding from Him, He had raised up a deliverer, a Samson or a Gideon. God went on with this years and years; at last He scattered them. Again, in grace He deals with them, brings out this little remnant, and associates His name with them. And now, even they have sunk into form and routine, and their worship and service do not spring from fear of God at all.
We will look for a few moments at the first chapter. Malachi means, "My messenger." In verse 2 you get the whole question, on God's side and Israel's side, summed up in very, very few words. I do not know any such summing up. If man had been trying to do it, he would have told us a great deal to be said on this side and on that; but here you get it all. "I have loved yon, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?" You find it is a question as to their hearts, not as to their vows, their worship, or their offerings. It is in their worship God's people always show what He is to them. You get the indication of what God is to your heart in the quality of your service and of your worship.
In Deut. 7 you see how God speaks of having loved them. Now look at Jer. 31:3. I turn to these Scriptures, so distant from one another, to show how unchangeable that love was. God would have no excuse for question as to His love, nor doubt in the heart of Israel about it. Even the queen of Sheba, when she came to Solomon, read something of it. She, saw his riches and his wisdom, and how blessing from him went out to every soul around him; she saw that there was sunshine from his very presence, and she said, Where does all this come from? She finds the source of it all, and owns, "Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made He thee king." She has had nothing to do with God, but she reads not only His present love to Israel, she owns it is for ever. I mention this because you see it was so evident, even to the queen of Sheba; yet Israel was saying, in their actions and in their words, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" There is nothing that tests God so much as refusing His love. What is so painful as to have real love to a person, and to know there is no appreciation of it? The deeper the love, the more it is hurt. But God could not go away from Israel. Man would have said, Well, if you do not care for me, if you do not believe my love, I cannot help it.
The character of love is, it must speak out; but it looks for an answer. We should have said to Israel, All your love is not worth having. I would not wait ten minutes for it. Yet God waits, because His love is everlasting. And here is the pent-up heart of God closing up His appeals to Israel. "I have loved you. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?"
Another thing that marks this little book is reality. God is saying, I will have reality. And what God means by reality is the heart beating true, in response to the revelation He has given them of Himself. When God tests the remnant He says, I look for the heart with one beat of love for Me, and He is disappointed. He has spoken out His heart of love now as He had not then. He has sent His Son, and "herein is love." So He makes known His love to us, and He looks for it to produce in our hearts the love He looks for. Do not think it is a matter of indifference. "We love Him because He first loved us."
In verse 4 we get another thing - independence. God has pulled down. Well, we will build it up again. That is the character. Nothing marks more departure from God than independence. Yet how often we are found bringing in God in certain things in which we think we cannot do without Him, while there is lamentable independence in what we think we can manage ourselves! How often we are found taking up things and doing things apart from God! Verse 6 shows their real state. It is remarkable how this gives the character of the book. Whatever God comes and charges them with they justify themselves. They say, "Wherein have we despised thy name?" "Wherein have we polluted Thee?"
Verses 8-11. How close He comes! It was not that there were not offerings. There were offerings, and there were priests, But the quality of their sacrifices showed what God was to them. It might be a most beautiful offering; but if it had a blemish, it would not do for His eye. Look into Leviticus, and you will see how the knife cut into the most secret inward parts, that the perfection of all might be exposed to Him. Why this submitting every part to the knife and to the water? Because to God it was being offered. (Heb. 4:12, 13.)
The one thing which God had before Him in all His dealings with Israel was that He might have a people with whom His name could be associated. If there was a leper in their midst he must be put out at once, because it is "the camp in the midst of which I dwell." The sense of what was due to God was to rule every thing; and God maintains this principle to this very moment. He must be represented according to His true character. Moses represented God wrongly before Israel, and God is very jealous of being misrepresented. He said, "Speak to the rock." He meant to reveal Himself as the God of grace. Instead of that, Moses gave the children of Israel a good scolding. They knew Moses was in the habit of being with God; and what they saw in Moses they believed was what God had told him to do. So God dealt with him accordingly. Ananias and Sapphira thought they would have a cheap Christianity. They make a profession. God deals with them according to the ground they profess to take. At every fresh revelation of God's name in a fresh way He comes in and deals accordingly. Look at 1 Cor. 13 and 14. Have you never been struck with the connection? In chap. 12 you get the body and members; in chap. 14, the power of the Holy Ghost acting through those members. In chap. 13 there is a picture of divine love. You Corinthians, you say you are using these gifts; but you are using them to exalt yourselves. You have the gifts, but with what end are you going to use them? It was the same with the sacrifices. (Verses 7-10.)
They were come in to show who God is, and He is most jealous of being rightly represented on earth. God comes to Israel, and He says, "If my name is connected with you, I will have it maintained in its true character." God did not want cattle, bulls, or goats. He says, "I am quite independent of bulls or goats, if they are not indicative of the love of your heart; but I am looking for the love that ought to be flowing." In the measure in which He had made Himself known He looked for response; but the greatest proof of what God was was slighted.
In verse 10 He says, "It is not out of love to me you present offerings, and shut the doors." The priests got the flesh. It was the portion of the Levites. And sometimes, when a priest saw a nice fat animal brought in, he saw it had a blemish - it might be a blind eye; but he knew it would be just as good for him and his family to eat if it were blind; so he passed over the blind eye, and offered the sacrifice; and God comes in and says, "You care for yourself; but what is due to me you pass over, and so you have 'profaned' my name before the Gentiles." (vv. 11, 12.)
In verse 14 there is definite judgment. What God looks for is the best that a man has, He sees the man as he goes in to fetch out his sacrifice. The man walks down his stall; his eye rests on this animal, and that, and another, and another. He may bring out a very fine one, but as long as the best bull in that stall is not brought out, He will not be satisfied. He will not have our leavings; He will have the best from us; He will be first in our affections. The Lord Himself lead us into this, and so disclose Himself to our hearts that He may attract, occupy, and control them altogether.
Malachi 2 - 4.
Chap. 2 is specially to the priests. You see why he refers to this. (vv. 4-8.) Levi had earned his place. You remember that when the children of Israel had got the calf Moses stood in the gate, and said, "Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me." He left it to them; and the sons of Levi alone gathered themselves together to him, thereby saying they were for God; while the rest were identified with the calf. What you get in Exodus is confirmed in Deut. 33, "Who said unto his father," etc. They had been faithful in the matter of the golden calf, but now solemnly He comes to the priests and says, "Why are you in this position? Why did I make a covenant with you? It was when God was more to them than father or mother that that covenant was made." Now, instead of being for God, they were caring more for themselves, considering more their own gain, and allowing blemished sacrifices to be brought out for God. Self had come in; and we may be against every body but self. They were in a place which was against all contrary to God in others. When it came to themselves, they were not prepared to give Him the place He looked for; they were considering self. "All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." Did you never think that every circumstance is an opportunity of showing what Christ is to us? The world reads what place Christ has in your heart by your actions, in what may appear to you but trivial circumstances, "whether ye eat or drink." God does not shut out anything. He comes down to the lowest detail of your life. If you say it would not be quite convenient to bring Christ into this circumstance, to introduce Him into this scene, to ask Him to be interested in what I am doing, it is because you well know He would be very likely to rebuke it.
You know it is a common practice with travellers to cut their initials in mountain passes or rocks, or to scrape their names on walls in favourite resorts; and these marks show they have been there. Their initials are there. It is just the same with everything we have in our pathway. We leave our marks upon them all, and the world forms its judgment by the way we have touched them. The moment we cannot bring Christ in, we know we are not in our right place. There is nothing we have to do which is not a matter of importance, and you will show by your touch what place Christ has in your heart. If God has His place you will rejoice for Him to have His unblemished sacrifice, even if you would get a nice piece for yourself by lowering the standard. Malachi 3:1-3. They were professing to be waiting for this messenger, and so took the ground of being all right - it was all hollow, and it would not do for God. They heard the rebukes against it, but they refused to accept the sentence. Then comes the message - He will come. Do you think He will accept this state of things? Do you think this messenger is such an one as yourselves? He will come - the One you profess to delight in; but He will come in judgment. He will have a remnant, but it will not be the state of things He finds which will be acceptable to Him. He will have to "sit as a refiner, and as a purifier of silver." It will not be merely God coming in to deliver from the fiery furnace. He will come in, showing the hollowness, before He descends in blessing. He must come in as He is, in His character of truth, and there must be room made for Him.
We hear a great deal at the present time about the coming of the Lord. Saints say they are waiting for Him. What is your life saying? For God will have reality. Is it inviting the return of the Lord, when you are tampering with things which you know He would disapprove of? God does not look only for an invitation for His Son in a hymn, in our lips; He looks at our desires. Go and be "like unto men that wait for their Lord." If I am expecting friends, I go to the station to meet them. I am looking for them; so I am on the platform, and my presence there shows I am looking for them. Rev. 22:20 is a moral thing, "Come, Lord Jesus." It is the answer when Christ says, I am coming. It is the attitude of the Church, saying, The sooner the better.
But now, can the world see in you what they saw in the Thessalonians? Paul went to them, preached to them; and when he has left them he says, I have no need to go and tell the world what I preached to them, anybody can see it; and people were saying, He has been preaching Christ to them, and he has told them that the Son of God is coming back to them, and they have given up all their idols, and they are waiting for Him. Everybody could see it. There was a different stamp about their walk; that is waiting for the Lord; it is the simplest thing possible, yet the most difficult. Our walk shows clearly the object before us. It stamps us. It is not merely separation from evil, but looking out for Christ. And it is the place Christ has got in your heart which gives the character to your walk. It was not that the Thessalonians were taken up with reproving those around, but others could see clearly what they were after.
It is a very solemn thing to be inviting Christ in such a careless way. If we are singing, "Lord Jesus, come," we ought all to be in the attitude suitable for His coming. And what about the worldliness? what about the unjudged evil? It is right doctrine, but not what God looks for. He looks for a state of heart in keeping with the doctrine.
What a rest to the heart as we come to verse 6! Amidst all the unfaithfulness God remains unchangeable. Heaven and earth may pass away, but God cannot change. His dealings may change, but through all the changes it is to bring about one end. You see it in John 13, "Having loved His own;" but His dealings change. Why? Because not only has He separated them from those around, but His thought has been that they might enjoy communion with Himself in His sphere. That is His heart's desire.
The remnant persist in self-justification, yet He comes in and blesses them. He does not leave them, though they persistently shut the door to His claims. (vv. 8-10.) The heart of Jehovah yearns for blessing. He longs to pour out all His heart has in store for them, so that there may not be room enough to receive it. (vv. 11-13.) Are you not struck with the patience, the unwearying love of God? Anybody else would have been repulsed and driven away long ago. There was but one heart which would have borne it all. Yet in verse 14 they say, God has not been true to His word.
Ver. 15. Another mark of their condition. They want to break down all distinctions. "Call the proud happy," class them all together, and make them all alike. That is the judgment of a heart not in communion with God. They "put darkness for light, and light for darkness."
Then we get the effect on the heart which has been reached.
Ver. 16-18. Now the result of it all. The end He has had before him in all His dealings. God will come in and have His love gratified, and this last message of God to Israel produces in the hearts of a few the knowledge of what they are, and they "feared the Lord," and they "thought upon His name." Then He blessed them above all they could have thought of. He was hearkening for the faintest beat of a heart that responded to His deep affection. His ear was listening for the first note. It is a wonderful picture at the end of God's dealing with them.
And do you know what He is hearkening for now? He is listening for a note, here and there, from a stray heart which owns God's love, which beats true to Him and God does not lose a note of it. And by-and-by He will recall it all again. Ver. 17: "When I make up my jewels," you will return again to your land, "and I will spare you, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." You did not see that you needed succour; but my eye looked forward to "that day."
Another thing, in verse 18, instead of calling "the proud happy," you will "discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth. God and him that serveth Him not," There will be no more writing pleasant names over those who are doing evil. If God be God, serve Him, and there will no longer be trying to paint up what is contrary to Him. The heart discerns what is true amidst a great deal that is unfaithful and untrue. True grace and true love discerns.
And now what a word this book is to us! What a place it occurs in! God has come in, has spoken to us as He never did to the house of Israel. He cannot say another word; He has not a deeper proof of love. He says, I have given the grandest proof of my love; I have given my only-begotten Son; if you are not convinced, I have nothing more I can give.
Turn to Luke 2 for a moment. There you get instances of those who were waiting for the Lord. First, in Simeon. Look at the character of the man. It was not a question of intelligence; he was a godly, sober, waiting man. You see Simeon waiting, and you get the proof of his waiting. When he has taken the babe in his arms, he says, Now I am ready to go; I have only been waiting.
Then there is Anna. In verse 37 you get a description of her. And in these two characters you get the picture of the faithful remnant who were really waiting for the first coming. Anna not only gives thanks, but she goes and speaks of Him "to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." God comes to our hearts, and He looks to see what Christ is to the Church. We have learned a great deal of truth in these last days, and we are gathered here because we have learned the place in which He would have us.
What now? "We thus judge, that if One died, then were all dead, and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." There must be something definite in our path. We own that Christ is the one round whom our hearts and affections are gathered. Is that what we are telling out in our lives? or is it as in Ephesus? You get in the Thessalonians "work of faith and labour of love." In Ephesus get "work" and "labour" too. To outward observers, the same as in Thessalonica; but He comes and looks. When His eye rests upon them, He says, "I know thy works," but "thou hast left thy first love." The brightest church had dwindled down to formality, and there was not a bit of power in it. The affection was gone.
Paul writes to the Corinthians: "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present a chaste virgin to Christ." His heart laid hold of what Christ would have the Church.
Peter could write: "Whom having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Is that the character of our hearts? Not merely waiting for an ordinary person, but as He says, "I have loved thee." Do our hearts so throb with affection that we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory?"
The one thing which melts the heart of a Christian is the immutability of the heart which looks for the love, and treasures it up. There was plenty of activity in Martha. She may sweep the house, and prepare the dinner; but there are very few alabaster boxes broken for the Lord. So He says, "Open wide the windows, and let the perfume of that which has been a sweet savour to Me go out to the world." It was what Christ was to that heart which broke the alabaster box. And it is that which is done to Christ, and for Christ, which makes a sweet savour to God. God's principles are unchanged. He was looking then for affection, though Israel did not know the love which is told out to us; His heart could not be satisfied with anything else. There is no use in handing out to God activity, service, anything else; yet if He sees a "cup of cold water" given to one of His little ones, prompted by deep, real love to His name, He says, That is the thing for my heart; that is what I am looking for.
And what are you each furnishing the heart of Christ with each day? Is it your desire to be satisfying His love? Can you say, It is the intense longing of my heart to know how to respond to and satisfy the yearning affection of that One who has told out such deep love to me? May the Lord grant it in every one of His beloved saints.