What is right-ness by faith and what is the Elijah Message? Throughout the book of Malachi, the prophet is relating the exchanges that have taken place between God’s people Israel and Himself. God calls to account His dealings with their ancestors to show them how He reached out to them. He goes on to point out where they are maintaining deceit and pleads with them to return to Him, showing them how to return to Him by being sober minded –instead of being drunk through their deceit. Malachi concludes the book by looking forward to the ‘great and terrible day of the Lord,’ showing them the end result of the choices that are being set before them.
Malachi chapter 1:1-5 starts out with God’s declaration, “I have loved you, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” God shows them through His actions toward Esau how He “loves” those who have rejected them –by confronting them in their deceit. In loving Esau God makes the “hill country a desolation.” God is shattering their pretend reality to show them the futility of their ways so that they will come back to Him that He might rebuild them in “right-ness.” Instead of walking by faith and looking at the evidences of their brokenness/stubbornness, they resist, saying, “We are shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” They deliberately patch-up their pretend world where reality is confronting them. They are saying, we will go to any length to maintain our pretend reality that everything is okay, that we are “good (rich and in need of nothing).” To this God responds, “they may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry with forever.” Out of Love, God will strive to bring them out of their deceitful pretending to face their need of Him, but there is a point where He must give them up to their depravity. Malachi finishes by saying, you will see with your own eyes how God is striving with these people to show them through circumstances and relationships, that they are broken and in need of Him.
Then God goes on to address the children of Israel, and specifically the priests, who ‘profess’ to believe and follow the Living God. He says to them, you honor your father and master, but where is My honor? the honor due the real Father and Master? “O priest who despise my name (character).” As if innocent, the priests respond, “how?” The answer comes, by offering polluted food on My alter. Because they do not ‘honor’ the Father –giving glory (recognizing His character) for who He Is, then what they offer is a reflection of their misinterpretation/misunderstanding of who God is. Therefore what they are worshiping is an idol because it is not the true Creator God. “How have they polluted it? By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised.”
[Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the king’s food. What the ‘king’ provides –the tamid (daily)- is the curriculum to be a part of his kingdom. So also with God, the school of Christ is for all who wish to seek first the Kingdom of God. Therefore, what God daily provides (curriculum –trials, pain, relationships, circumstances, etc.) should not be despised because it is this that will help the person grow to have the mind of Christ.]
They despised the ‘table’ (food –curriculum) that God provided. They wanted God to fix their circumstances instead of their minds/hearts. By lowering the standard of rightness, they could offer blemished sacrifices –blind, lame, sick animals. God appeals to them in verse ten to stop blocking out the truth. The pure offering symbolizes Christ. An offering less than that implied that they really didn’t need the salvation that Christ, the Perfect One, could provide because they really weren’t ‘intrinsically bad.’ They wanted to believe that they were ‘good’ and lowered God to their level –a god that would fix their external circumstances. As in Korah’s rebellion, they believed that ‘the people were holy;’ they just needed a god who could fix the chaos outside of them –take them to the Promised Land or back to Egypt! They do not give glory to God, acknowledging Him for who He is as Creator and Sustainer of life, and so they are put out from His presence.
After saying that they have not given Him glory, God says that He has a covenant with One –a covenant of life and wellbeing. Of this One, verse six says, “True instruction was found in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. (No deceit- Christ did not play with reality.) He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.” Through their false doctrine and deceit, the spiritual leaders “caused many to stumble,” making “twice the son of hell” as themselves.
Chap 2:10-17 calls the people back to right-ness by faith. They have committed spiritual adultery by being faithless to God and to each other. This adultery is an abomination because they have lowered the Standard of their high calling –the Standard of God’s character. They seek stimulation and are drunk with deception, using people like bottles and discarding them when they are not useful any longer. They have still not ‘come out of Egypt’ –they are still using people to “build pyramids” –they are using people for stimulation and focusing on external accomplishments rather than rebuilding their wrecked relationships. They don’t know how to love people. “The Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth.” God says to Israel, you have destroyed your relationships because you don’t know how to love and you reject Me and My “table,” curriculum, that was meant to help you grow; I was trying to inscribe the Life-giving principles of love in you so that you would work rightly like I designed you –according to My Character. How else may God have “Godly offspring?” How else may a husband and wife become children of God, except that they let God rebuild their equipment to work in right-ness through the process of right-ness by faith. “So look to yourselves and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth.”
How is looking at oneself being faithful to the wife of one’s youth? “Faith in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” In Hebrew the word for ‘reality’ is the same root word for ‘faith’ (amen). There is only one reality that consists of both the tangible and the spiritual –they are not separate realities. When working well, our five senses can detect all of tangible reality –and so can a fruit fly. The difference between animals and us is that we were created with higher faculties: the mind and will. A fruit fly can taste, see, smell, touch, and hear itself eat a banana. Can it discern a magnetic field? No. Based on the evidence of holding a piece of iron up to steal, we can actively discern that there are more characteristics to the iron object than what our five senses previously told us. ‘Amen,’ in the passive form of the word, is used when we are using our five senses, but when we use our ‘spiritual’ discernment, ‘faith’ is put in the active tense because we must engage our higher faculties. Christ explained this to Nicodemus when he used the analogy of the wind. The Greeks use the word ‘pneuma’ to refer to any ‘spiritual part of reality that is wind-like, or that has other characteristics that cannot be sensed with just the five senses.
So this faith in the active, spiritual discerning tense is “looking at the evidence of the unseen things” to discern characteristics that cannot be detected using the five senses. Walking by faith means that I am daily looking at both the sensed, and also the evidences of the unseen/unsensed parts of me- my character- to see what is broken and what I need to pray about. God did not die to reconcile and re-create our circumstances, but to reconcile and re-create us (Ps.51).If any situation is in Christ, it is new? No, if any person is in Christ, he is a new creation. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ.” God wants to recreate us so that He can put us in a recreated world. But are we learning in the school of Christ? or are we complaining about His curriculum –trials, circumstances, people/relationships that He puts in our life to mature us and grow us up into His Likeness.
When Israel “has been faithless to the wife of their youth,” they have failed to look at themselves in the light of God’s love and character. Instead of helping each other grow by looking at their brokenness and “calling on the Lord while He may be found,” they blocked out the painful parts of reality that do not feel good, and use people as bottles for stimulation instead of growing together –speaking the truth in love, true naked intimacy of the heart. Verse sixteen literally says, “So look at yourselves and do not be faithless [without faith].” God only knocks at doors, He does not barge in. This is the reason that we must look, by faith seeing the evidences of our brokenness so that we know what to pray about, giving Him permission to come inside of us and “create in us a clean heart,” as the psalmist says in chapter 51. Ever since the fall, God has been desperately trying to show each individual where they are not working/loving rightly so that they will give Him permission to come in and begin, and maybe “complete the good work that He began” at the foundation of the world –the plan of salvation.
Chapter 3:1-5 speaks of the coming Messenger. Malachi prophecies the coming of Christ as one who bears the true covenant who is a ‘refiner and purifier.” “Who can stand when he appears?” Those whom He has refined through fiery trials and who now present offerings in rightness; then the offering is pleasing to the Lord. Verse five addresses those who have not utilized the school of Christ, who have not let Him rewrite the principles of Love in them –they are sorcerers, adulterers, liars, who oppress the hired workers with dishonest wages, the widow, and the orphan, who thrust aside the foreigner –ultimately those who came “out of Egypt,” but never let God take the “Egypt” out of them. They are still using people to “build pyramids” for their own selfish gain; they lack the intrinsic principles of love and self-control that God desired to recreate in them by taking out the “heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh.”
Through verses six to 15 God gives them specific instructions on how to return to Him. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Apart from Him, “who can have their being?” When mankind fell, rejecting God, He upheld us with partial principle so that we would not turn back to dust immediately. Something did die the day Adam and Eve transgressed God’s law, they were covered with skins and led out of the garden. God is Love, and He doesn’t change; ‘He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.’ Out of Love, God is still maintaining creation with partial principle; lengthening the dying process that humanity might have a chance to turn back to him, allowing Him to rebuild them in rightness. It is this unchanging love that is the reason they, “have not perished.” He says, “Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you.”
Then they reply, “How shall we return to you?” And this is what God says: stop trying to fix your external circumstances. You hoard your money, possessions, crops, and in them you think you have security! “Test Me,” God says. If you are faithful, utilizing the school/curriculum that I provide and trust Me, then you will see that I will take care of you, “I will rebuke the locust for you, …your vine in the field shall not be barren.” But still they have spoken against God with haughty words saying it is futile to serve God because they will “gain” nothing by keeping His commands except a “mournful countenance before the Lord.” What they are calling “mournful” is, in reality, sobriety. Their society was in a downward spiral; they deny their sinfulness. The sobriety they needed to come to God for healing is what they termed “mournful” because it did not ‘feel good’ to their senses in their sensual discernment. They “count the arrogant happy” because in their deceit and futile dysfunctioning they have damaged themselves so that they cannot be in touch with how reality really is –that they are “wretched, poor, pitiable, blind, and naked.”
Malachi then contrasts this in verses 16-18 with “those who revered the Lord [and] spoke with one another [speaking the truth in love] and studied the character of God [1st angel’s message giving glory to God].” And here is “the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” God will spare those who are faithful, or full of faith, because they will have been made right.
In the last chapter Malachi ends by looking forward to the “Great day of the Lord.” He describes the state of those who have rejected the ‘tamid’ of God that was to prepare them to be fit for the Kingdom of God. Those who rejected this daily provision were the wicked; their matter has dispersed and they have become “stubble” or “ashes.” Those who have revered the name/character of God have let Him rebuild them to function in right-ness with the principles of love –they love others as Christ did. Then Malachi prefaces this conclusion of the “great and terrible day of the Lord,” with this statement, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts(minds) of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
The epitome of the Elijah message is a call to come out of Egypt, and its dynamics(ways). Stop using people to build powerful governments, for stimulation entertainment, attention, etc. It is a message that calls people back to relationships –viewing other people as important, more important than objects. This is what God is trying to tell his people through every age and every prophet that He sends to mankind. When we are learning in the school of Christ through the people He has put in front of us, we will begin to see people as He does: souls with infinite value. . By turning from my deceitful and superficial behavioristic ‘performances’ toward others to manipulate and exploit supportive responses from people, and then honestly examining myself so that I can really know and be really known by others,... then the same will happen in my relationship with God.
The Elijah Message is for the Laodicean church today! While our society, government, and scientific accomplishments are unparalleled in history, our relationships are fragmented. As in the days of Noah and before the judgment against Sodom and Gomorra, so they are in our times. The condition of the ‘church’ is that they think, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” This is because they have blocked out the painful parts of reality that confront their sinfulness and depravity. God says, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” And what is the solution for the Laodicean condition of the people both then and now? “Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich (the ‘tamid’ –daily curriculum); and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen (right-ness through the process of righteousness by faith); and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see (faith!).”
We pray for God to prosper our careers, families, circumstances when He says, “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” God does not barge inside of us to force us to become good. “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.”
Today when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts!
-Malachi. Holy Bible: NRSV : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.
- Hagen, Doug. Elijah Message. Sabbath school lesson. Doug Hagen, 2008. MP3.
-the Holy Spirit J