What have we said against you?Sermon passage: (Malachi 3:13-18) Spoken on: June 21, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Keng Wan Ling For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Malachi
Sermon on Malachi 3:13-18
I love listening in on other people’s conversations . Before you accuse me of being a eavesdropper(!!), let me just say I am interested less in gossiping, and more in observing the dynamics and the relationships of the people speaking. I often noticed that in many conversations, similar themes or patterns keep surfacing. For example, have you ever felt as if you are always having the same old arguments with your parents, no matter what age you are? :O
Malachi’s message isn’t exactly a conversation, but it has some elements of the to-ing and fro-ing of dialogue. We see God saying his piece, with the occasional petulant complaint or denial by the people of Israel. And, just like someone hitting the “replay” button, there is a recurring pattern.
Due to a scheduling change, today we are considering the 6th question in this series (When have we said against you? Mal 3:13-18) and next week Ps Siow Hwee will go back to the 5th question (how are we to return?). Whatever the question, Israel’s tone is always that of one saying“ Where got?? When did we ever do this?”.
In today’s passage, the allegation Israel is denying is that it has“…said harsh things” against God (v13, NIV, NRSV). Other words used to translate the Hebrew word of “stout” include “hard words” (REB), “terrible words” (NLT), or “hard, rude words” (The Message). It’s implied in the verb form used that they have not just said this directly to God, but to each other, of God- in other words, talking behind God’s back, and engaging in “malicious gossip” against God. So Israel is denying that they have gossiped among themselves against God.
God explains they have done so by saying that it is futile to serve Him, useless to carry out His requirements and keep His laws. The idea of “going around like mourners” is not about look sad, but rather references back to the idea of mourning clothes, put on when mourning and fasting, repenting before God and in awe of Him.
Israel says it’s useless to serve God because evildoers prosper, those that challenge God escape (v15). Is that a “harsh” thing to say?
Words and Actions:
What made it terrible was not their questioning, but their attitude and action
Unlike some of the earlier Malachi passages, in today’s passage we don’t see any concrete actions God has cited as examples of what Israel did wrong. This doesn’t mean it is less serious.
The irony of it is that Israel is complaining about it being futile to serve God when, in fact, it has NOT been keeping to God’s laws! What are they complaining about?? They have offered blemished animals, break marriage covenants, and now here, they are either so deluded or so daring as to accuse God of not being just to them.
Their attitude shows through in their questions, and is a sad but clear trend – see some of the things they have said and done (see the ppt for quotes).
When we read between the lines of Israel’s misplaced indignation, words like “gain” and “prosper” are more suited to a business contract than a discussion with a loved one. It’s as Israel had computed their ‘return on investment” (ROI) and service to God was found to be a poor investment. In some cases, a cost-benefit analysis is just not appropriate.
There is a recent discussion in the newspapers whether husbands and wives doing housework at home. If you took the cost- benefit analysis, would you count quantity (who mops the floor more times?) or quality (but I cleaned out the fridge and that is more difficult than mopping the floor). Where would you stop?
Remembering the God-fearers:
Groundless as Israel’s charges are, God replies them. He brings home the idea that serving God DOES matter. God hears, God remembers and there will be will be a day where consequences will be meted out (v17).
In contrast to those who complained to each other about God’s supposed unfaithifulness and unfairness, is another group of who (v16) rose up (‘then”) to argue with the first group, to defend God. The second group is those that “feared the Lord”, and, in line with Hebrew verb used (chesheb) (count, reckon, think), to recognize/ think about the meaning and authority of God’s name..
And when the God-fearers did so, the Lord heard them, and will remember them. God tells the Israelites- your service and your efforts worth it, because God sees and knows.
On one hand, this assurance that God remembers us, can be very comforting and moving. I am most moved by God’s covenant and many promises in the Bible to remember us, when faced with how sad it must feel, when you are the one left behind, when you have been forgotten.
It’s a terrible feeling to be forgotten. Do you think you could ever forget about your own child? Someone called Branda Slaby would have said no. But she did. The ex-assistant principal, because busy rushing, because she changed her schedule that day, left her sleeping 2-year old daughter locked at the back of her car. And went to work. And forgot about her for 8 hours.. When someone finally came to tell her, she rushed to the car, but the child, still strapped to the child-seat, had died of heatstroke from being locked in the car. It’s a terrible thing to be forgotten, and a wonderful assurance to be remembered- by God!
Because the God-fearers remained faithful to God in the midst of the rebellious attitude of the community, the Lord promised to spare them as his treasured possession in the day of judgment: “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession (or my jewel) on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:17). What a lovely promise that is.
On the other hand, there are consequences of God’s remembrance. The idea of God having a book with recorded entries is similar to royal books found in the Ancient Near East where the actions of people were recorded (Esther 6:1) so that they could receive public recognition and a reward (see Esther 6:2-3). The opening of God’s books is linked to the idea of the gathering of all people, and a final judgment (Daniel 7:10- “Then the court was convened, and the books were opened) (also see Revelation 20:12 for when people will give an account to God for their actions).
God remembers, and our just reward will come- v18- there is a day of judgment when the distinction between the righteous and the wicked will be important, and God will show mercy and spare those who fear Him. What they are being spared from will be addressed later in Chapter 4.
A reflection on fearing God and futility
So how now shall we live? The passage tells us that those who feared God honoured His name (v. 16), or, using looser translations “loved to think about him”. And they “spoke to each other” about the truth of who God is, and what He does. Perhaps they might also have exhorted each other daily (Hebrews 10:24), encouraging each other to “love and good works” (Heb 10:24). In my own mind, I would imagine they also encouraged each other when there are difficult questions or faith, or fellow Christians felt dispirited or weary in their faith.
In our Christian walk, we ourselves might sometimes feel it is futile to serve God, and want to ask God why evildoers seem to prosper. It is understandable to struggle with such feelings; but there is a difference between, on one hand, wrestling with these issues, and questioning God, and, on the other hand turning your back on God, living as if He did not exist and taking things into your own hands. This is what the Israelites did.
What if, at some point in your life, you really, genuinely, strongly feel disconnected from God, and that it is useless to serve Him? Do you then go through the motions- would that not be hypocrisy and displeasing to God?
In my work as staff educator, I come across many ideas of why students do or don’t perform well. Why do some keep trying, and others give up? One of the theories highlights 2 questions: (i) firstly, whether the student cares about the task or subject. Does he or she think Maths, or Sociology, is relevant to him/ her, and good for something? (ii) Secondly, does the student have the skill to do the task- or does he believe he does?
Between these 2 aspects- the “I care” and “I can”- for each task we find a different combination. I have friends who have done the Sahara run- a 6 day / 151 mile (243km) endurance race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. I think they’re crazy. But they really really wanted to do it. And they thought they could.
This idea helped me think about the different reasons why Christians might feel it futile to serve God. Is it because of the “I Care” - they don’t believe in it anymore? Or the “I Can”- I believe in God, but I can’t do it anymore. I try so hard but nothing is happening. However, helpful as this idea is, it leaves out one perspective- that of God. Our caring is a response to God caring about us, and our attempts to live a Christian live come from His strength and not our own.
If we feel that we cannot identify with the Israelites, how they complained to each other, turned away from God, and accused God of being unjust when they themselves had broken His law- then I’m afraid we don’t fully appreciate our own frailties and weaknesses. Your Christian journey may have started at Sunday School, gone through Youth Ministry, now as young adults building a career and later families, but there is a long way to go.
Let us, like the God-fearing group, have conversations about God. Let us talk to each other about God’s truth, and encourage each other in our weaknesses. And when we might feel that we don’t seem to care anymore, or we don’t have the strength to carry out, we turn to the God that cares, and that can, because He has already told us that in His covenantal love, He hears and He remembers. We will be His, in the day He makes up His treasured possession. We serve God because it’s worth it. Because He’s worth it.
• Walton, John H.; Matthews, Victor H.; Chavalas, Mark W., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) c2000.
Thank you for your message for us from Malachi.
We’re sorry for the times where we complained about you unjustly, to each other or just in our hearts. We’re sorry when we murmur and gossip instead of speaking the truth about who you are. Thank you for loving assurances that you listen and hear our conversations, and that all we do is not in vain because you remember. Thank you also for the reminder that we will be held to account to you one day.
Pray that you will help us to fear you and honour your name., to be god-fearing people, to love to think about you with awe, to recognize and speak the truth about who you are and what you have done for us.
Pray that you will help us to speak words of encouragement to each other when we may feel overwhelmed by futility, when we feel what we do is useless, or wonder what the point is. We acknowledge and recognize that your grace and mercy and strength sustains us in our long Christian walk.
Jaimeson, Fasusset & Brown’s Commentry, 1961, pg 874 as cited in www.vincentcheung.com downloaded on 20 May 2010.
Cheng, V.(n.d). Commentary on Malachi, chapter 9: The Fear of the Lord, pg 86, downloaded from http://www.vincentcheung.com/books/malachi2003.pdf on 12 June 2010
Ibid page 92, footnote 9.
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/10/17/o.overwhelmed.mom.mistake/ also see Oprah show.
(see also Ex 32:32; Ps 139:16; Is 4:3; 65:6; Ezek 13:9).
From Gary’s Poole Talk: I Care and I Can, 2010, at Temasek Polytechnic’s International Conference on L earning and Teaching, 9-11 June 2010, Singapore. Slides online.
Malachi 3:13–18 (Listen)
13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.