Characteristics of Remnant Times

Malachi 1  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Before reading the passages in Malachi, to which, the Lord helping me, I would desire to direct your attention, it is important to notice the position of this book—where it comes. It is the last outpouring of God’s heart to His people Israel, before the corning of the Lord; and not only to Israel as such, but it is addressed to the little remnant returned, under Ezra and Nehemiah, to a divine position in the land. Then all was bright—the temple of God re-built, His altar restored, sacrifices offered, and even the feast of tabernacles kept, which had not been kept since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun. But here we find the divine position sinks into formality and routine when man comes in. God expresses Himself dissatisfied. There were still the smoking altars, there were still the priests and sacrifices; outwardly God was recognized; but He looks for service and worship coming from the heart, and springing from the knowledge of His will, and He fails to find it. One thing He looks for—He looks for our love, and He cannot do without it. If this is lacking, it cannot be covered up from Him.
Look for a moment at Nehemiah. The two books are contemporary, or rather have to do with the same little remnant, only Nehemiah is in the bright, calm days, when they stood in complete separation from those around, and in obedience to the Word. I would simply direct your attention to the contrast in 2 Kings 22. Israel was still Israel; but they had lost the law which Moses gave them, which he had directed should be put into the ark. It was not the Ten Commandments, but the last words of Moses, the man of God. Each king who succeeded to the throne of Israel was to copy it out, and each one was to copy from the original. The reason for this is evident. If one had copied from another, one might have made a mistake, an alteration; either willfully or from carelessness; and when the next came, he would have copied it, and would not really have known what was the word of God. But God held each king responsible to go direct to the one Moses had given them, and copy it for himself. Not only so, but every seven years (seven is always a sign of grace to Israel, and a pledge of the rest which God would give them) the law was to be brought out and read to the people. When Israel failed, the first thing which indicated coldness and declension was, they gave up their Sabbatic year. So they did not have their law read to them, and when they lost it they did not miss it. Then Josiah came to the throne. He really wished to serve God, but he did not know the law. No doubt he went to the most hoary-headed elders and tried to get the most correct information; but, whether from ignorance or wickedness, they evidently did not tell him the truth, for the high places were not pulled down, and the people went on worshipping Baal and the host of heaven. The whole kingdom was in idolatry, while he wished to do what was right before God. Then the law is found, and as soon as he knows, it really is the law of God, he sets to work that it may be carried out.
There is a great contrast here to the action of Nehemiah. Josiah sets to work to reform Israel. God had an earthly people. Then it as with Israel God’s name was associated. The nations round all knew Him as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and Israel was marked as the people of Jehovah. Evil had come in, but not as it did when He had to scatter them, and send them into Babylon. In Josiah’s time there was a revival, a terrible revival truly, a revival of destruction and blood-shedding; but it was another opportunity for Israel as such. When Ezra and Nehemiah come, Israel had been scattered, Jerusalem leveled to the ground; not a trace upon earth, as a people, of the people among whom God had dwelt, or of Jerusalem, as a place where God’s name was known.
Then we find the little remnant. They return to Jerusalem; they build again the temple; they set up the altar. They do not say they are Israel—they are but a handful—but they own God’s name on earth, they own God’s word as the basis of everything; they separate from the nations around, and they take the place of dependence upon Jehovah. They were but a handful, and they did not pretend to be what they were not; but they were brought back to a divine position. Malachi addresses his prophecy to these very people. Through him God pours out His heart to the people, and the burden upon his heart is, that after all He had, done for them-sheltered them under the blood-stained lintel, led them through the Red Sea, where the waters were a wall to them on either side, and where they had seen their enemies dead upon the sea shore; borne with them for forty years in the wilderness; fed them and cared for them in the land; each time that they went backsliding from Him, He had raised up a deliverer, a Sampson or a Gideon. God went on with this years and years; at last He scattered them. Again, in grace He deals with them, brings out this little remnant, and associates His name with them. And now, even they have sunk into form and routine, and their worship and service do not spring from fear of God at all.
We will look for a few moments at the first chapter. Malachi means, “My messenger.” In verse 2 you get the whole question, on God’s side and Israel’s side, summed up in Very, very few words. I do not know any such summing up. If man had been trying to do it, he would have told us a great deal to be said on this side and on that; but here you get it all. “I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” You find it is a question as to their hearts, not as to their vows, their worship, or their offerings. It is in their worship God’s people always show what He is to them. You get indication of what God is to your heart in the quality of your service and or your worship.
In Deut. 7, you see how God speaks of having loved them. Now look at Jer. 31:33The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jeremiah 31:3). I turn to these Scriptures, so distant from one another, to show how unchangeable that love was. God would have no excuse for question as to His love, nor doubt in the heart of Israel about it. Even the queen of Sheba, when she came to Solomon, read something of it. She saw his riches and his wisdom, and how blessing from him went out to every soul around him; she saw that there was sunshine from his very presence, and she said, Where does all this come from? She finds the source of it all, and owns, “Because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made He thee king.” She has had nothing to do with God, but she reads not only His present love to Israel, she owns it is forever. I mention this because you see it was so evident, even to the queen of Sheba; yet Israel was saying, in their actions and in their words, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” There is nothing that tests God so much as refusing His love. What is so painful as to have real love to a person, and to know there is no appreciation of it? The deeper the love, the more it is hurt. But God could not go away from Israel. Man would have said, Well, if you do not care for me, if you do not believe my love, I cannot help it. The character of love is, it must speak out; but it looks for an answer. We should have said to Israel, All your love is not worth having. I would not wait ten minutes for it. Yet God waits, because His love is everlasting. And here is the pent-up heart of God closing up His appeals to Israel. “I have loved you. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?”
Another thing that marks this little book is reality. God is saying, I will have reality. And what God means by reality is the heart heating true, in response to the revelation He has given them of Himself. When God tests the remnant He says, I look for the heart with one beat of love for Me, and He is disappointed.
He has spoken out His heart of love now as He had not then. He has sent His Son, and “herein is love.” So He makes known His love to us, and He looks for it to produce in our hearts the love He looks for. Do not think it is a matter of indifference. “We love Him because He first loved us.”
In verse 4 we get another thing—independence. God has pulled down. Well, we will build it up again. That is the character. Nothing marks more departure from God than independence. Yet how often we are found.. bringing in God in certain things in which we think we cannot do without Him, while there is lamentable independence in what we think we can manage ourselves! How often we are found taking up things and doing things apart from God!
Verse 6 shows their real state. It is remarkable how this gives the character of the book. Whatever God comes and charges them with they justify themselves. They say, Wherein have we despised thy name?” “Wherein have we polluted Thee?”
Verses 3-11. How close He comes! It was not that there were not offerings. There were offerings, arid there Were priests. But the quality of their sacrifices showed what God was to them. It might be a most beautiful offering; but if it had a blemish, it would not do for His eye. Look into Leviticus, and you will see how the knife cut into the most secret inward parts, that the perfection of all might be exposed to Him. Why this submitting every part to the knife and to the water?
The one thing which God had before Him in all His dealings with Israel was that He might have a people with whom His name could be associated. If there was a leper in their midst he must be put out at once, because it is “the camp in the midst of which I dwell.” The sense of what was due to God was to rule everything; and God maintains this principle to this very moment. He must be represented according to His true character. Moses represented God wrongly before Israel, and God is very jealous of being misrepresented. He said, “Speak to the rock.” He meant to reveal Himself as the God of grace. Instead of that, Moses gave the children of Israel a good scolding. They knew Moses was in the habit of being With God; and what they saw in Moses they believed was what God had told him to do. So God dealt with him accordingly. Ananias and Sapphira thought they would have a cheap Christianity. They make a profession. God deals with them according to the ground they profess to take. At every fresh revelation of God’s name in a fresh way He comes, in and deals accordingly. Look at 1 Cor. 13 and 14. Have you never been struck with the connection? In chap. 12 you get the body and members; in chap. 14, the power of the Holy Ghost acting through those members. In chap. 13 there is a picture of divine love. You Corinthians, you say you are using these gifts; but you are using them to exalt yourselves. You have the gifts, but with what end are you going to use them? It was the same with the sacrifices.
(Verses 7-10)
They were come in to show who God is, and He is most jealous of being rightly represented on earth. God comes to Israel, and He says, “If my name is connected with you, I will have it maintained in its true character.” God did not want cattle, bulls, or goats. He says, “I am quite independent of bulls or goats, if they are not indicative of the love of your heart; but I am looking for the love that ought to be flowing.” In the measure in which He had made Himself known He looked for response; but the greatest proof of what God was was slighted.
In verse 10 He says, “It is not out of love to me you present offerings, and shut the doors.” The priests got the flesh. It was the portion of the Levites. And sometimes, when a priest saw a nice fat animal brought in, he saw it had a blemish—it might be a blind eye; but he knew it would be just as good for him and his family to eat if it were blind; so he passed over the blind eye, and offered the sacrifice; and God comes in and says, “You care for yourself; but what is clue to me you pass over, and so you have profaned my name before the Gentiles.” (vss. 11, 12)
In verse 14 there is definite judgment. What God looks for is the best that a man has. He sees the man as he goes in to fetch out his sacrifice. The man walks down his stall; his eye tests on this animal, and that, and another, and another. He may bring out a very fine one, but as long as the best bull in that stall is not brought out, He will not be satisfied. He will not have our leavings; He will have the best from us; He will be first in our affections. The Lord Himself lead us into this, and so disclose Himself to our hearts that He may attract, occupy, and control them altogether. J. B.