The Expository Files


 The Distinction Between The Righteous & The Wicked

Malachi 3:13-18


 

“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.

Mal. 3:13-18



This was written to the Jewish people - God’s nation before Christ – after their 70 year exile. In earlier passages the reader will quickly discover how spiritually ill and corrupt they were. The priesthood was corrupt. Their worship to God was inferior and irreverent. The men had left their wives for other women (pagan, foreign). And they were robbing God, by not giving to Him liberally and with a good heart.

Then, This Indictment: “Your words have been hard against Me.”

The point is often made, in the study of Malachi, that one’s attitude toward God and one’s words to God and about God cannot be careless, flippant or irreverent – certainly not critical or blasphemous. (See also Eccl. 5:1-3).

I think one common earmark of apostasy is – loose, careless speaking to God and about God. So this happened in the post-exile period; now God says to
the people: Your words have been hard against me!

As recipients of God’s favor and His gracious salvation, these people should have had hearts filled with gratitude and reverence for God. Instead, they spoke hard words against God.

And, they were in denial: “But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you’?”

“What? Us … speak against God???” This is typical denial that is impulsively uttered right after an indictment.

But here comes the evidence, in verse 14: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?”

God here gives an example of what the people were saying – SEE, God was listening; He knew their hearts and their words. God quoted them: “It is vain to serve God.” NIV: “It is futile to serve God.” NKJ: “It is useless to serve God.”

Now imagine just saying that; speaking to other people and using these words. Then, with your behavior, confirming your belief that IT IS USELESS
TO SERVE GOD! That’s how bad it was, in post-exile Judah.

“What’s the point?”

Further it was said (still in verse 14): “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?”

This is blasphemous, irreverent and just wrong. There is the greatest profit in serving God; there is nothing a person can do in life more valuable – now and eternally – then serve God. And it is not about walking around crying all the time – THEY HAD THAT WRONG!

Last part of verse 14: “…walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” Now, there is a penitent mourning that is necessary; blessed are they that  mourn, Jesus said. But there is nothing about serving God that requires you mourn all the time. Here’s what part of this is about: When people decide
they don’t want to obey the Lord; and they commence their life of disobedience … Just wait – what’s coming is excuses and defenses and criticism
– justifying rationale.

I’ve heard this – you’ve heard this. Somebody walks away from God; you don’t see them anymore; they separate themselves from God and from His
people and His work. Then you see them and you inquire about their change, their condition before God. You may hear words like these. Well, I never
did really believe all that. I didn’t like the preacher – some of the members upset me. I’m not sure being a Christian is all that important. I need to have a good time – and not walk around like a mourning Christian all the time.

I don’t even want to stand next to those people on the Judgment Day, do you? This was the spiritually degenerate condition of post-exile Judah, as
described in Malachi three.

“And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to test and they escape.” Well, more blasphemy; more justifying,
ill-conceived words – which amount to rejecting God!

I don’t know where to start. They were conferring a blessing on the arrogant, evildoers – who they thought were prospering, because {it was believed}, they had tested God and escaped.

And this happens today. Someone will leave the faith. And it often seems, as soon as they leave the faith, THEY BECOME SMARTER than those of us who remain faithful. Apostates think they have figured out what we – who remain locked in the dumbness of our perceived ‘Christianity’ – will never
conceive. That the way to a good life is to be arrogant and evil and get God out of your way!!


You will hear: I don’t have time for God. Who is He to claim authority over my life? The evildoers and arrogant people – YES, that’s where the money
is; they are the ones enjoying life – they have put God to the test and have escaped.

Apostates believe lies. They think the way to be blessed is to be arrogant and evil – and that they can escape the hand of God. The Jews after the exile – in the time of Malachi – reached this low place. They were conferring a blessing on the arrogant, evildoers – who they thought were prospering, because {it was believed}, they had tested God and escaped.

Are you ready for something refreshing?

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.

First, this confirms – throughout all the times of apostasy and chaos, there was a remnant of faithful people. Perhaps it can be argued the vast majority of Jews had departed from God’s law. Most of the priests; most of the people – even some women and young people – had left God.

But not everybody!

There were those “who feared the Lord,” and they spoke with one another! I don’t think they had a good relationship with the apostates – the corrupt
priests or adulterous husbands - but they had fellowship with one another, based on their fellowship with God.

“They spoke with one another,” apparently, staying in close association with each other.

And, “the Lord paid attention and heard them…” God heard what the apostates were saying, and He reacted negatively. God heard what the faithful were
saying, and He reacted positively.

Now, here’s an interesting dimension of this narrative in verse 16: “…a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and
esteemed His name.” The idea of God keeping a book of remembrance of His faithful people, is common to both the Old and New Testaments. [Old
Testament: Exod. 32:32; Psa. 56:8; Psa. 69:28; Psa. 139:16 . . . many others. New Testament: Phil. 4:3; Rev. 20:12.]

The idea is simple: God knows and remembers His faithful people. THEY ARE HIS; HE KNOWS EACH ONE and they are His “treasured possession.” I like that. I live by that. There is rich assurance in this fact! You don’t have to raise your hand, to get God’s attention and say, “Hey, I’m here . . . don’t forget me!” He knows you.

Verse 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.”

Please mark this in your Bible – and look at that phrase, “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked.” If we – co-editors and writers of  Expository Files – ever imply in our writings, that there is really no difference between Christians and non-Christians, with one accord our readers should protest.

If Jon or I ever leave the impression that those who follow the New Testament are not much different from those who are loyal to denominational
tradition and creed, call us out on that!

And, don’t let any book you read - - any friend who speaks to you - - or any preacher you hear – ever let this distinction be trivialized or dismissed. God says – There are the righteous, and the unrighteous!

There are those who serve God, and those who do not – It will always be this way, because of the choices people make. Our duty is to recognize this
difference.

* Have you ever thought about how “smart” and “enlightened” people seem to become on their way out and after they have left God? See Mal. 2:17; 3:15;
Psa. 73:12; Jer. 7:10.
                                                                                                                                                   

 

 

  By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 21.1; January 2014

 

 

 

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