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Grace Notes

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THREE REMARKS, THREE REJECTIONS, ER . . . QUESTIONS
by Philip Owen

            Blindness to the reality of God’s favor toward us is a great failing, which, in its wake, brings many other sins.  The restored remnant in Malachi’s day proved guilty of willful blindness and multiple iniquities.  And because of their adamant rebellion, they became the last of God’s people to whom He spoke through His prophets until John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus Christ some four hundred years later.  We may find it is easy to become exasperated with the inveterate rebellion Israel demonstrated despite God’s persistent kindness to them.  But may the message of this prophet provoke us to examine our own hearts because God does not change.  Those who see the Old Testament as painting a portrait of a severe God have failed to enter into the spirit of three statements made by God as revealed by Malachi and the dismissive response of unbelief and rejection by His people.

              1a.  “I have loved you” (1:2).  Malachi begins with this short (only two words in Hebrew), direct statement from God.  Given its absolute truth, could we imagine a richer and more gracious pronouncement?  God speaks utterly without guile.  Paradoxically, its tenderness is more powerful than a nuclear weapon:  Israel should have been utterly disarmed; their hearts should have melted, their wills submitted.  They should have prostrated themselves before God, putting themselves fully at His disposal.

             1b.  “How have You loved us? (1:2).  The question is not so much a request for an explanation of the specifics of God’s love as it is a defiant rejection of the reality of its existence.  They are not demanding proof so much as rejecting the proof God has given throughout their lives and throughout the history of their nation.

             2a.  “I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (3:6).  Not on account of their merit has God preserved and blessed His people but on account of His unchanging steadfastness to His covenant with them that He would bless them.  Having never earned His blessing nor merited His favor, they have still been the recipients of the bountiful goodness of an unchanging God.

             2b.  “How shall we return?” (3:7).  Following His second gracious pronouncement (2a above), the Lord urges His people to return to Him, “and I will return to you” (v. 7).  Rather than repenting of their sins, the people respond with another question.  And once again, it is not a request for an explanation or clarification but a passive-aggressive method of refusing God’s request.

             3a.  “Test Me now . . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (3:10).  Though His people had robbed God of the tithes and offerings He had required under the law, the Lord’s magnanimity glows in this promise.  He is just waiting for them to give Him the opportunity to bless them in a way that will not promote their further carnality.  If only they will take Him at His gracious word . . .

             3b.  “What have we spoken against You” (3:13).  Following the gracious challenge (3a), the Lord gives a litany of potential blessings but reminds them that their words have been “arrogant” against Him, to which they respond with the final question cited here.  Again, though it appears in question form, it is, in effect, one further denial of the truth God has spoken about them and one additional rejection of the grace He has poured out upon them.

             Small wonder, then, with His goodness and grace denied, His gracious promises scorned, and His holy commands refused, that God quits talking with them.  They have left Him no alternative but to warn them that if they do not “remember the law of Moses,” God will “smite the land with a curse” (4:4, 6).  Are any of us, like Israel, passively aggressive in our response to the Lord’s grace, asking questions, seemingly in search of clarification, but actually disobeying the Lord?  He has been gracious, but when His grace is refused, the only alternative is judgment.  May we respond positively to His gracious words.

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