Monthly Archives: December 2017

Malachi 2 – The Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Can Only be fulfilled by Him! In Christ!

Chapter 2 starts with an admonition to the priests. It seems they had not set their hearts to honor the Lord, and because of this he will curse even their blessings. The Lord is angry with the priests because they are dishonoring the covenant the Lord made with Levi’s descendants (Aaron, Moses’ brother) as the original priests. He doesn’t say descendants in the passage, but just Levi, which seems a bit strange because Levi (the third son of Jacob and his first wife Leah) wasn’t a pleasant fellow. It’s even more incongruous when we read the Lord’s words:

My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

This most certainly doesn’t describe Levi, and can’t refer to any of his descendants given they were all sinners. Can this allude to Christ, the final high priest, even though it is in the past tense? Probably yes and no, as so much prophecy is bound up in redemptive history even while it points to the fulfillment of that history in Christ. In its historical context it likely points back to events in Numbers 25, events most unpleasant and all too common in Israel’s history. The Israelite men were seduced by Moabite women into idolatry by sex, and the Lord’s wrath was turned back by Phinehas, Aaron’s son, but not before 24,000 died in a plague because of God’s judgment. As I said, unpleasant. But here is what he says of Phinehas:

10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

Since the priests in Malachi’s time were admonished for the lack of honoring the Lord, this is possibly a way for the Lord to paint a radical contrast to one who did. Knowledgeable readers at the time would have likely known this. Yet in Malachi the Lord is saying something that can’t be true of any sinful human being. It can only point to Christ, who is our eternal high priest, in addition to prophet and king. In fact the next several verses say they are not doing what’s required, and have thus violated the covenant. There is only one as we know who can and did fulfill all the demands of the covenant, and on our behalf!

The next section of the chapter deals with marriage problems. Not only are some men of Judah marrying “the daughter of a foreign god,” they are breaking faith with the marriage covenant of “the wife of your youth.” In the midst of this the Lord says, “I hate divorce.” As the chapter implies, the concept of covenant, of promises made and kept, is very important to Israel’s God, Yahweh. But it doesn’t seem all that important to God’s people because they so easily break their covenant promises with him and each other. And the Lord implores them to “not break faith.” Unfortunately the chapter ends on an unpleasant note because as we can guess, the people are not going to listen. Even worse they contradict everything the Lord says. He tells them he is wearied by his words, and they are clueless. How can this be?

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

How incredibly, sinfully human! Those who “do evil” cannot by definition be “good.” Even worse, they are saying that the Lord himself declares those who do evil as good. Jesus says we, however, each and every one of us, is evil, and there is not much room for nuance in his statement either. The Lord is wearied because it’s blindingly obvious that we are not “good,” so why do we, and did the Israelites of the time, continue to insist we are? And when we don’t affirm the true character of man, it automatically follows that we denigrate the character of God. But we who are God’s people will resist this very human tendency to judge reality by our own, or other human lights, and depend solely on God’s revelation in creation, Scripture, and Christ!



Malachi 1 – Our Doubts and Questions End With the Perfection of Christ!

Chapter 1 starts with the first of the seven questions:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

That’s a fair questions for benighted human beings. We tend to live by sight not by faith (i.e., trust in God’s goodness and love for us), and focus on what we don’t have, or don’t want rather than the innumerable blessings all around us. But the Lord doesn’t point to these, although he could have for Israel. Rather, he points to Jacob and Esau, which might seem like a strange thing to do until you realize the redemptive-historical significance of the two sons of Isaac. The people of Israel are looking for comfort and confidence in their doubt, and this is the answer. Why? God’s sovereign, saving purposes in election.

We tend to look at the Lord’s loving and hating here as arbitrary, as if he flipped a coin and it came up . . . . Jacob! The mystery isn’t that he hated one and loved the other, but that he loved one at all! Neither had anything in himself to compel God to bless one or the other. God’s election is comforting precisely because it is only based on his sovereign covenant purpose (which can never fail) to save his people. It’s always in spite of, never because of. The Lord loving Jacob is a fulfillment of his promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through his seed. This is so much bigger than one individual.

The Lord was also upending human convention by choosing Jacob because he was the younger of the twins. In an ancient culture based on patriarchy the older always had first order of importance in the family, so the younger served the older, especially in things like leadership and inheritance. The Lord does this throughout redemptive history (think of David). The point is that nothing human beings can do will ever put him in their debt. We can trust God’s loving us because it is solely and completely his sovereign will to do so. But we have something the people of ancient Israel didn’t have: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Notice Paul uses the present tense. It’s not something he did once for us, and that’s it. No, it’s an indication of his ongoing, never ending eternal love for his people.

The Lord encouraged the people through Malachi to look at their history as a people descended from Jacob, and those descended from Esau, Edom. He said the latter are “always under the wrath of the Lord.” Remember, all human beings are dead in their sin and worthy of God’s wrath, even Jacob. So the Lord didn’t hate Esau in any special sense; he simply didn’t choose or favor Esau, but did choose and favor Jacob. The blessing of the future Messiah and God’s plan of salvation would come through him. God’s mercy and grace isn’t arbitrary, like we find with the God of Islam, but it is objectively rooted in his covenant promise (for Israel) and fulfillment in Christ. That is why we don’t ever have to doubt it.

Two more of the seven questions in this chapter relate to the unworthy sacrifices the priests are offering the Lord. It makes sense if they doubt God’s love for them that they wouldn’t be motivated to give him their best. The Lord says they have despised his name and defiled him, but they seem to have no idea why this is so, thus the questions. When the Lord taught the Israelites to worship him with sacrifices in the wilderness, any animal brought to the altar had to be without blemish. There is no doubt the people and the priests knew this, but when the people bring crippled or diseased animals they still sacrifice them. As if God would be pleased with anything less than perfection!

In fact, he says twice that his name is great and he is to be feared “among the nations.” Like with Jacob this is so much bigger than the people of Israel. Everything he is doing with them points beyond itself, as we now know. Some commentators who think we must have a “personal application” from everything in Scripture (as if it were about us!) think the message here is that we must always bring our best to the Lord. Duh! As if that’s not as obvious as the day is long. Do we, however? Of course not! The Lord requires perfection, and in case we haven’t noticed, we’re not! No matter how hard we try to do or bring our best it will never be enough. That’s why this all points to Jesus! He is perfect! And his perfection is ours simply by faith. That is where we only and always turn in our doubts and questions. He is the answer!


Malachi and God’s Redemptive History

The little book of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament, was written some hundred years after the exiles had returned from Babylon, so the early 400s BC. By this time the temple had been rebuilt, and life had gotten back to some semblance of normal, not unlike what we find in Jesus’ day. But even though sacrifices and feasts have resumed, their lives bear no resemblance to the promises of the great prophets who have come before. Thus, the people complain. The book revolves around seven questions God’s people are asking:

· In what way have You loved us? (Malachi 1:2)

· In what way have we despised Your name? (Malachi 1:6)

· In what way have we defiled You? (Malachi 1:7)

· In what way have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17)

· In what way shall we return? (Malachi 3:7)

· In what way have we robbed You? (Malachi 3:8)

· In what way have we spoken against You? (Malachi 3:13)

File this under, don’t ask unless you really want to know. That’s what prophets do, tell people what they don’t want to hear. Notice what is primarily at stake in these questions: God’s character and being. Our sinful human hearts will always incline in this direction if we insist that our definition of things is the true nature of those things, rather than God’s definition.

Yahweh has been paving the way for the promised Messiah for over a 1500(!) years, and the people still don’t get it. The issue is the human heart that must be transformed so that it loves and trusts its Creator. The Lord said through Ezekiel what must and will happen so that God’s people will become truly his: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” This is what’s required, and it can only happen by the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit in the human soul. Otherwise all you have is religion, which is man working to put God in his debt. That is why the Jews of Malachi’s day were complaining: it just doesn’t work. It leaves us exhausted, frustrated, and guilt-ridden because we can never measure up.

Maybe we can look at Malachi as a summation of all that has come before. It is the end of God’s revelation to us in the Old Testament, and there will be silence for the next 400 years until God’s final and ultimate revelation in Jesus of Nazareth, the very Logos of God. As we know from the New Testament, Jesus was a Messiah no one was expecting, even his closest followers. For some reason the Isaiah 52-53 suffering Servant Messiah was inconceivable to most Jews. They missed, and still do, that the issue isn’t land or geography or national identity, but sinful man’s relationship to a holy God. Until that is dealt with, everything else is meaningless.

Ultimately the people in Malachi’s day are not much different than us because we too are waiting for a Kingdom to come. We too live in some semblance of the already and the not yet, just as the Jews did in ancient Israel. And like them we too are tempted to look at our circumstances and the mess that is this fallen world and wonder, what’s going on. The beauty and value of the Old Testament to God’s people today is that it communicates God’s redemptive purposes through the very same mess we live in now. Things were just as confusing and difficult to comprehend as they are now. It’s never clean, simple, or easy. Thus the the people’s complaints. There is one simple, but often difficult, solution to living in the already and the not yet. We read it in the words of Moses as he nears the end of his life without being able to enter the promised land because of his own sin:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

We will either trust God’s character and promises, or we will not. We have so much more at our disposal today than the Jews of Malachi’s time to trust him. Most importantly, eyewitness accounts of our risen Savior, and his Holy Spirit poured out on his Church at the first Pentecost.

Zechariah 14 – The Lord will reign forever, and we with him. Amen!

Zechariah chapter 14 is a dispensational premillennialist’s delight. This piece is a good short introduction to that, but basically Jesus is supposed to come physically back to earth to reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years. The Jews will accept him, and the temple worship will be reinstated, which is of course totally ridiculous. These people say the text should be interpreted “literally,” or in the “plain meaning” of the text. I dare anyone to read this chapter and tell me what the “plain meaning” is. I’m good with, I have no idea exactly what it means. But there are some beautiful images in the chapter that point to the telos, or end, of the whole story: succinctly, our God’s got it covered.

It starts with, “A day of the Lord is coming . . .” There are also a number of “in that day”s which point to things apocalyptic. To me that word means that the end is coming when the Lord God will put all things right, the fall and all its terrible ramifications for human existence and the world will be wiped away forever. There will be a final judgment, so it won’t all be pretty, but sin and death must finally be dealt with once for all. Thus the ugly in this chapter (and there is definitely ugly) is of little interest to me, while the beautiful brings me great joy and hope. All kinds of stuff happens and finally the Lord and his holy ones (us!) arrive:

On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.

This cannot be a physical Jerusalem in some thousand year reign because John tells us at the end of Revelation that no sun or moon will be necessary on this new heaven and earth because God himself will be its light. Imagine when all darkness, physical, spiritual, epistemological, will cease! We will stop running into things because we can’t see them! Our confusion will end! Unless of course we are just lucky dirt. Or this:

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

Again John tells us that this is the end, and beginning, of all things when the river of the water of life will continually flow “from the throne of God and the Lamb.” Imagine when there will be no hunger or thirst, when we will lack nothing, when pain, sorrow, and death are no more! This is what we have to look forward to, unless of course we are just lucky dirt. And then this:

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Try to imagine what this earth will be like compared to the rule of man over all the kingdoms of the world the last 5,000 years of recorded history. The immortal words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth could not say it any better:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Genius! The futility of human striving will finally end with the Lord Jesus on the throne, to whom every knee will bow. Oh what hope we have, unless of course we are just lucky dirt. It is far more fruitful to focus on these things than to speculate as to what every detail means. The Lord will reign forever, and we with him. Amen!

Zechariah 13 – Cleansed from Sin and Impurity, We Become God’s People

Chapter 13 starts out with, “On that day . . .” and reiterates that two more times. The first one tells us what the whole history of Israel is pointing toward:

On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Notice that the nature of this cleansing doesn’t come from the people being more moral. It assumes the sin and impurity of the people, and that they need to be cleansed. And I’m pretty sure it is not a big leap to say this fountain, which we now know is the cleansing blood of Christ, not only cleanses us initially, i.e., justification, but is also ongoing, i.e., sanctification. That’s what fountains do, they keep flowing.

In the second “On that day . . .” the Lord tells us that he “will banish idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more.” He will also rid the land of (false) prophets and “the spirit of impurity.” In other words, I believe this means the Lord’s final communication will have come, and there will be no doubt as to what it is. We know that now as the Logos, the eternal Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ. He reiterates this silence of the (false) prophets with a third “On that day . . .” No one will claim to speak for the Lord because he will have clearly spoken. We have this not only in the person of Christ, but in the canon of Scripture. It could not be more clear, and praise God for it!

This interpretation is plausible because Jesus quotes the latter part of the next verse in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest:

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

And then Jesus tells them the most important part: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” The whole of this chapter, and Zechariah, is Messianic. It is encapsulated in the last verse. The Lord breaks down the people in “the land” into thirds. “Two-thirds will be struck down and perish,” and one-third left. Dispensational premillennialists are sure this is a reference to the great tribulation, but since there will likely be no such thing it has some other meaning. I would argue no one has a clue. We know that not everyone will be saved from their sin, so this just might be a literary way to convey that. Somehow I doubt the numbers will be that exact, but that’s not the point. This is:

This third I will put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

This is the essence of the Christian life in a fallen world, a refining and testing process that we might become more like our Lord and Savior. And boy can it be painful! But the result is what Plato and Aristotle called beautiful, the ultimate end for which we were created. Only our sovereign Almighty God can work all things for our good and his glory. The relationship between God and man (some anyway) restored, the wall of hostility, as Paul calls it, broken down. We can have absolute confidence of acceptance before our holy God because he demonstrated his love toward us when Christ died for us even when we were sinners. We didn’t become his people and call on his name (remember sinners by nature run and hide from God; they do not seek him) when we shaped up or earned it in any way. We seek because of what he’s done for us and in us. His work is our confidence.

Zechariah 11 & 12 – God’s Grace Poured Out Through the One They Have Pierced

These last four chapters of Zechariah are complicated. They are apocalyptic in parts, eschatological in others, historical and Messianic as well, and at times verse next to verse, often hard to tell which is which. Commentators interpretations are all over the place. Chapter 11 has something to do with two shepherds, and could be references to Jesus and Satan a la Jesus’ words in John 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The reason is that the good shepherd is betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, obviously pointing to Judas:

12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

This has something to do with a “worthless shepherd” who oversees the dissipation of the flock. The Lord himself raises up this shepherd, but eventually he will be destroyed, which leads to chapter 12 and one of the most striking Messianic predictions in all of the Old Testament. The chapter starts with a declaration of God’s authority as Creator over his creation. In other words, it’s his creation, and he can do with it what he wants. He has both the authority and the power, and will use it to destroy all Jerusalem’s enemies “on that day.” It’s hard to tell to what exactly this refers, but here is the bottom line:

 Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.’

Jerusalem is secure even though the nations besiege her because the Lord Almighty (in some translations, the Lord of Hosts, or the one who will do battle) is their God. We don’t often think of God as a warrior, but spiritual warfare, which no doubt passages such as this point, is an abstraction to us. But Paul tell us in Ephesians 6 what is really going on:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Thankfully, in this struggle our God is the Lord of Hosts, and he became our God by his decision alone. How comforting that it wasn’t anything we did or have done for him to become our God, but in fact in spite of it, just like Israel. And we, like Jerusalem (the place where God dwells) in this chapter is secure because of this:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

Notice how confusing such a verse must have been to the Jews of the time. Three pronouns revolve around this one “they have pierced”: I, me, him. The “I” doing the pouring is the Lord Almighty. The “me” seems to be the same as the “I,” but becomes “him.” From our perspective, there is something very much Triune going on, but it’s a mystery we don’t so much understand as accept, thankfully. And the chapter ends with the land itself mourning, and the weeping extending to all the clans of Israel. We can only begin to imagine how the 12 (minus 1) felt seeing their Messiah tortured and naked, pierced upon a Roman cross. Little did they know in their pain of the moment that this is what they were seeing:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

Their, and our, very reconciliation to a holy God through that very God himself in Jesus of Nazareth, enduring unimaginable suffering in our place, the wages of sin paid in full, his wrath satisfied, our salvation secured.

Zechariah 10 – The Lord Almighty: The Great “I Will”

The Lord is again speaking words of comfort to Judah in this chapter, both for that time in history, and forever, but he couches it in a rebuke of Judah’s leaders. His “people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd,” so the Lord Almighty himself “will care for his flock.” When Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd he is calling himself the Lord Almighty! Yahweh! And this from from chapter 10 points directly to Jesus:

From Judah will come the cornerstone,
    from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
    from him every ruler.

The word cornerstone is a direct reference to the Messiah in the Old Testament, and to Jesus in the New. And the whole rest of the chapter is about what the Lord will do for “the house of Judah” and the “house of Joseph.” Per my Reformed understanding of salvation being the work of God in the soul of man, this restoration of his people in the land, and ultimately his people forever, is completely one sided.

I learned a term yesterday that I’m sure I’d come across in the past but forgot: synergism. It’s not a specifically theological word, but in this context it means man has the ability to freely cooperate with God in salvation. A la semi-Pelagianism, man’s nature is not completely corrupted by sin, and therefore some part of his salvation is up to him. I love chapters like Zechariah 10 that teach a much more monergistic view of the nature of salvation, i.e., it’s all up to God! Just in the next eight verses the Lord uses the phrase “I will” eight times, and seven times “they will” (or their children will, etc.) is a response. In other words, God’s will results in the changing of the will of his people.

The reason I completely reject the synergistic view (even if it’s 1%!) is that it ultimately puts the salvation of God’s people in their hands. If they don’t do x, y, or z, or if they don’t make the right choice or decision, then it’s curtains for them! Those who reject the view that salvation is completely of the Lord think people like me are promoting determinism and turning human beings into robots. The reason they do this is that they refuse to let mysteries be mysteries, that God’s sovereign, all powerful purposes in salvation can be consistent with human freedom and accountability. As if we can somehow understand the supernatural mechanism the Lord uses to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, how he transforms his enemies into his children, and how he raises the spiritually dead to eternal life. All I know is that he does, and that it is ALL of him. If left to my own devices, even 1%, I am doomed. The final verse of the chapter could not put my point any better, connecting the “I will” with the “they will”:

12 I will strengthen them in the Lord
    and in his name they will live securely,”
declares the Lord.

And the only way this verbal construction makes sense is if the “his name” refers back to the cornerstone in verse 4. Notice the three “in him” construction. Jesus is the stability of our lives (tent peg). He goes to war for us (battle bow), and as we know conquers the last enemy, death too. And finally he is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. All rulers, earthly and spiritual, are under him. Talk about security. Thank God it’s all up to him and not me!