Malachi 3

Malachi 3  •  39 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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The last verse of Malachi 2, as we have pointed out, introduces the subject of Malachi 3, wherein another phase is taken up of the moral state of the corrupted remnant. “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words,” says Malachi; and then the characteristic answer of this book is returned, “Wherein have we wearied Him?” Poor people! They had departed from God; they drew nigh to Him with their mouth, and honored Him with their lips, but their heart was far from Him. And yet in their ignorance, real or professed, of their own condition, they are surprised to hear that they had marled the Lord. The truth was, they were in the path of self-justification, excusing themselves, and laying the blame of everything on God—sure evidence of their own backsliding. The prophet, therefore, speaks plainly, and tells them wherein they had wearied Jehovah. He says, “When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” So blind were they in their self-righteousness, that they ventured to accuse God of unrighteousness, insinuating that He could not discern between good and evil. They were like the Pharisees of a later date, who were displeased because the Lord in His grace consorted with publicans and sinners; whereas, in their estimation, it was with themselves that He ought to be found. It is the same in every age; for just in proportion as we justify ourselves we are keen to detect the evil in others, and to exalt ourselves at their expense. What the Lord’s people showed by their wicked complaints was: first, that they were utterly ignorant of the character of God, as the One who is of purer eyes than to behold evil; and secondly, that their sinful hearts had deceived them into thinking that they, spite of what they were, had a special claim, a meritorious claim, upon Jehovah’s favor and regard. Observe also that it was their words that had wearied the Lord. How often is it forgotten that our words are recorded, and brought up for rebuke or judgment! (See Matt. 12:36-3736But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Matthew 12:36‑37); John 20:24-2724But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:24‑27)).
It is the last clause of the verse—“Where is the God of judgment?”—that leads to the declaration of the first verse of the next chapter. “Where,” say they, “is the God of judgment?” The answer is, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek [as the God of judgment], shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” This weighty announcement is worthy of our most careful consideration. It may be said generally, first of all, that it is the declaration of the first coming of Christ, together with, as is so usual in the prophets, the full consequences and results of His appearing in glory. The Church period is not, could not be at that time, regarded. Prophetic interpretation is impossible where there is no intelligence of this divine method in the Old Testament. Then there are two things in the scripture: the sending of the messenger, and the advent of the Lord Himself.
The messenger is clearly John the Baptist; for this passage, as well as another from Isaiah, is specially applied to him in the gospels (Mark 1:22As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. (Mark 1:2); Luke 1:7676And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; (Luke 1:76)). This must be distinctly observed in order to understand the difference between his mission and that of Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Chapter 4:5-6). True, our Lord said, “Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed”; but His meaning is explained by another passage. Speaking to the multitude concerning the Baptist, He said, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it [that is to say, that which the Lord was teaching], this is Elias, which was for to come” (Matt. 11:11-1411Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. (Matthew 11:11‑14)). Thus, if the Jews had received John the Baptist, they would also have received the Messiah, and the kingdom would at once have been established in power; and in that case Malachi 4:5-6,5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 6And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5‑6) would have been true of John. But in fact it was not; for though multitudes gathered around him when he first rang out the cry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” there was but little conscience work, and scarcely any turning “the heart of the fathers to the children,” or “the heart of the children to their fathers”; and finally, as we know, he died by the hand of the executioner in his solitary prison. Although, therefore, his mission was “in the spirit and power of Elias,” and he would have been Elias, in all that his mission signified, had the Jews received him, he was not the fulfillment of the prophecy in the next chapter. That remains, and God will yet send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” But the Baptist was the Lord’s messenger, and prepared the way before Him by
heralding His coming and preaching the baptism of repentance; and few as they were, he did undoubtedly “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (See John 1:35-5135Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 39He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. 43The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:35‑51).)
We read moreover, “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple.” Two things are here to be noticed: first, the Person who should come, and then the manner of His coming. It is Jehovah who speaks: “I,” He says, “will send MY Messenger”; and He who sends His Messenger is also Adonai—the Lord in the words, “The Lord, whom ye seek,” being Adonai, not Jehovah. The two appellations are combined in Psalm 110:1: “Jehovah said unto Adonai, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” He is also “the Messenger of the covenant” whom the Jews professed to delight in. This title may be understood by a scripture in Exodus: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee to keep thee in the way... My name is in Him”—proof that he was a divine Person, inasmuch as name in the Word is always the expression of the truth of what the Person is. Thus the One who should come is Jehovah, Adonai, and the Angel of the covenant; and all this Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth was, and proved Himself to be in manifold ways in His presentation to Israel. But their eyes were blinded, and they would not see; and they closed their ears that they might not hear; so that while, as with this poor backslidden remnant, they asked, “Where is the God of judgment?” the Lord whom they sought came suddenly to His temple, and coming to His own they received Him not, but they took Him, and with wicked hands crucified Him on Calvary.
The manner of His coming is described as “suddenly”—coming suddenly to His temple; and it was there that the pious remnant in Jerusalem found Him. Simeon “came by the Spirit into the temple,” and there met in the babe of Mary the Lord’s Christ, and was permitted in infinite grace to take Him up in his arms, and as he did so he said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hest prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” There was also “one Anna... and she, coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:29-3829Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 33And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 36And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:29‑38)). And again and again did the Lord come to His temple during His earthly sojourn (John 2; Matt. 21), though His people knew Him not; and now it remains that this prediction shall be accomplished when He returns in power and glory for the salvation of His people, and to establish His dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth.
From verses 2-6 we have the character and consequences of His coming; that is, His appearing. The form of the second verse springs from the words already noticed; that is to say, “The Lord, whom ye seek,” in connection with, “Where is the God of judgment.” They professed to desire the presence of the God of judgment. They little knew the force of their own words, and hence the prophet says, “Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth; for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.” Their spirit indeed was in perfect contrast with that of the psalmist, as expressed when he said, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Psa. 143:22And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. (Psalm 143:2)). Who indeed could abide the application of the holiness of God, as the standard of judgment, to his walk and ways? But this is what fire symbolizes, and the baptism of fire is that part of the work of Christ which will take place at His appearing. He has baptized His Church with the Holy Spirit; He will baptize Israel with fire when He returns. (Compare Matt. 3:10-1210And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:10‑12); Isa. 4:44When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:4); Zech. 13:8-98And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. 9And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God. (Zechariah 13:8‑9).) It is in this way that He will effect the purification of His people, though it will be accomplished on the ground of that perfect atonement which He made in His death. It will be indeed by His judgments that He will lead them to afflict their souls (see Lev. 23:2727Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. (Leviticus 23:27)) and to faith in Himself; and thus will they be brought under the efficacy of His sacrifice, and so cleansed from their guilt and iniquity. Otherwise indeed not one could abide the day of His coming; whereas now we learn from Zechariah, He “will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” Such are the blessed results of God’s purposes in grace which will be accomplished in Christ.
So here in our scripture, although, as more or less throughout the book, the prophet’s view is confined to the sons of Levi. Their corrupt condition we have seen, but when the Lord suddenly returns to His temple, “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (vs. 3). The figure which is here employed has often occupied attention. It is said that as a refiner of metals watches by the crucible until his face is reflected in the molten mass, so the Lord Jesus sits as the refiner and purifier of His silver until His own image is mirrored in it, and that this is the end and object of all His dealings with His people. And there is undoubted truth in the comparison; for as God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren, we may be sure that He will never rest until His purpose is fulfilled, and that He will use all His appointed means for the accomplishment of His end and purpose. It should be added, however, that Christ before our souls in the power of the Holy Spirit—a glorified Christ—is God’s means for bringing us into conformity with His beloved Son. (See 2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18); 1 John 3:2-32Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2‑3).) But then it is through the chastenings of His hand, through the trials and sorrows of their path, as here through special judgments, that He weans the hearts of His own from other objects, that Christ alone may fill the vision of their souls.
A very important truth is brought out in this scripture, applicable alike to ourselves and “the sons of Levi.” There can be no presentation of an offering to the Lord in righteousness, nor can the offering presented be pleasant, acceptable, to the Lord until the purification of His priests is effected. This in fact is also the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews. There the apostle shows that Christ by one offering hath perfected forever them that are sanctified, before he points out that we have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus. The difference is only in the fact that now all believers are priests, that it is no longer the title of a privileged class, as with the sons of Levi, to appear in the immediate presence of God; but that every one who is cleansed by the blood of Christ, and having therefore no more conscience of sins, has freedom, yes, boldness of access, and is exhorted to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, on the ground of having the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and the body washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-2219Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21And having an high priest over the house of God; 22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19‑22)). But whether then or now, under the Mosaic economy, or under the reign of grace, or, as in Malachi, in the time of the kingdom yet to be established, all who are priests must have a divine qualification and a divine cleansing in order to discharge acceptably the functions of their office, to enable them to approach with acceptance before God. Testing by such a truth as this those who claim, by virtue of a human ordination, the prerogatives of the priesthood, their presumption, not to say profanity, is at once discerned. What indeed can more completely set aside the truth of Christianity, ignoring as it does the place of Christ Himself, and of His people as associated with Him! And the solemnity and the peril of those who intrude into the office without being divinely called and qualified may be learned from the history of Borah, Dathan, and Abiram (Lev. 16). The fulfillment of this scripture, in its application to the sons of Levi, is yet future; for it is after the appearing of the Lord that He will purify the sons of Levi; and that the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. (See Jer 33:19-2219And the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, saying, 20Thus saith the Lord; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; 21Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. 22As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me. (Jeremiah 33:19‑22); Ezek. 44.)
If, on the one hand, the Lord will purge His priests as gold and silver, on the other He will set His face in judgment against “the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger, and fear not Me, saith the Lord of hosts” (vs. 5). This clearly explains the difference in character between Christianity and the kingdom. Now God sends out His entreating message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5) to all these classes which are here named—to all sinners without distinction; for it is the day of His grace, and He waits to save everyone that comes to Him in the name of Christ. Grace reigns through righteousness; but when the Lord appears He will come to reign in righteousness. Justice and judgment will be the habitation of His throne, and consequently sinners—those who refuse to submit to His royal sway—must be destroyed out of the land. Now He lingers in long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Then He will strike through kings in the day of His wrath, and in His majesty He will ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and His right hand will teach Him terrible things (Psa. 45; 110, and more).
In connection with the various classes of sinners which are named, it is very interesting to notice, as unfolding the heart of God, those who are mentioned as drawing forth His compassion—the hireling, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger. It is ever so in the Scriptures—that those who are lonely, sorrowful, or oppressed are the special objects of His tender mercy—those described in one of the psalms as the needy, the poor also, and him that hath no helper (Psa. 72), concerning whom it is said, “He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in His sight.” Surely we may gather instruction for ourselves from such a scripture, teaching, as it does, how we may have practical fellowship with the heart of God; for if we would walk with Him, His interests and objects must be also ours. What a field of service is, therefore, opened to the saints of God—a field which has no limit, and which surrounds us on every side. Yes, as the apostle James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:2727Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)).
In the sixth verse we have what may be termed a solemn affirmation of the certainty of His coming by the truth of the Lord’s name, and the principle of His dealing with His people; for He says, “I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” In these words, containing the sublime statement of Jehovah’s unchangeable character, we have combined His truth and His grace. Because He is immutable in His holiness, He must be a “swift witness” against all sin and iniquity; and because His purposes of grace and blessing are unalterable, His people are not consumed. When, for example, the golden calf was set up in the camp, whereby they broke the covenant of Sinai and incurred the penalty of death, on what ground did the Lord spare His guilty people? It was on that of His oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 32:12-1312Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (Exodus 32:12‑13)); and thus it was in the sovereignty of His grace, and in His faithfulness to His word, that He was gracious to whom He would be gracious, and showed mercy to whom He would show mercy (Ex. 33:1919And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19)). This is a sure foundation on which His people can rest in every age and in every dispensation. It is a rock that no storm can shake; and hence the writer to the epistle to the Hebrews says, “God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things [the oath and the promise], wherein it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have lied for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:17-1817Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: (Hebrews 6:17‑18)). It is thus the guarantee of the certainty both of His judgment of evil and of the accomplishment of all His counsels of grace in Christ; and this too in its application, as in this scripture, to Israel.
Commencing with the seventh verse, the state of the people is again dealt with. And what a bill of indictment is brought against them! “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from Mine ordinances, and have not kept them.” This, in one sentence, is the summary of the history of Israel under law. Their fathers had said, when standing at the foot of Sinai, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19); but before ever the tables of the covenant had reached the camp they had been false to their promise, and had apostatized from Jehovah. Judgment after judgment was visited upon them during their wanderings in the desert, but they would not keep the ordinances of the Lord. It was the same in the land both under judges and kings. Through all their history indeed they went “astray like lost sheep, and turned every one to his own way.” Still, according to the proclamation of the name of Jehovah to Moses, He was “the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:6-76And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6‑7)). Mercy and truth met together in His government of His people; and His name, as so unfolded to Moses, was abundantly exemplified in all His dealings with them. Here it is mercy that rejoiceth against judgment; for the invitation goes forth, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord.” He had been compelled to depart from them because of their iniquity, but His heart was still towards them (comp. Hos. 5:14-1514For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. 15I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early. (Hosea 5:14‑15)); and thus He cries, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.” The reply to this gracious invitation is one with which we are familiar in this book, and one which betrays the hardness as well as the corruption of their hearts, “Wherein shall we return?” They did not even know that they had departed from God, so wonderful is the deceitfulness of sin; for how could it be possible, that those who had known what it was to be walking in the enjoyment of the light of God’s countenance should be unaware that they had passed out of it into the chill and death of moral night? And yet so it was, as it still often is. Samson, for example, did not realize that the Lord had departed from him; and the path of backsliding, and even apostasy, is often so gradual that the soul, occupied now with other objects and interests, is unconscious, lulled to rest also by the artifices of Satan, of the change that is taking place. Nothing can be sadder or more dangerous than ignorance of our true spiritual condition.
It is to awake His people, if possible, that the Lord proceeds to bring a specific proof of their departure from Him. He would willingly open their eyes, and compel them to see; and thus He says, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me.” Then comes the usual rejoinder of this misguided and deceived people, “Wherein have we robbed thee?” The answer is clear and distinct, “In tithes and offerings” (vss. 7-8). It was impossible for them to evade the truth of such a charge; for the Lord through Moses had laid down the minutest directions concerning tithes and offerings, and they could not but know whether they had complied with them. (See Lev. 23; Num. 15; 28; Deut. 14:22-29; 2622Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. 23And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. 24And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: 25Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: 26And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, 27And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee. 28At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: 29And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest. (Deuteronomy 14:22‑29)
3And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee. 4Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster. 5And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. 6Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord thy God: 7And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God. 8And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. 9And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the Lord thy God. 10Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the Lord thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day. (Deuteronomy 27:3‑10)
and more.) They knew precisely, therefore, what was required of them, and they had no excuse for their disobedience. They might indeed have argued within themselves that it was a matter of no consequence, but their thoughts were not the thoughts of God; for He tells them, “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation” (vs. 9).
We are not under law, but under grace, and we therefore have no such prescriptions as to what we are to give to the Lord; but may there not be some most valuable instruction for us in these solemn words? Nay, is it not true that now all that we are and have belong to Him who has redeemed us through His precious blood. Much more, then, should we enter into such a word as this, “Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase,” if we have understood at all the responsibilities of grace, the grace which has been displayed in our redemption through God’s unspeakable gift. Or if any have failed to apprehend the bearing of this truth, let them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the teaching of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9. And with these chapters before us, let us be candid with ourselves, and solemnly interrogate our hearts in the presence of God, to learn whether we have risen to the height of our privilege in this respect, in honoring the Lord with our substance, in devoting the first-fruits of our increase to His service. Let us not be afraid even of figures, asking ourselves, if need be, “How much have we given of our income for the Lord’s use?” or, “What proportion have our gifts borne to what we have received?” Ah! beloved, if we thus examined ourselves on this subject, would not many of us have to own that the Lord might also have a controversy with us, and truly say, “Ye have robbed God”? Or else how comes it to pass that almost in every place the saints have to be reminded, again and again, that there is not enough money in the Lord’s treasury for even necessary uses, and that collections, private and public, are continually being made to conceal our shortcomings, and to provide means for the sustenance both of the Lord’s poor and the Lord’s work? All this only reveals the fact how feebly grace is operative in our hearts, and how unlike we are to the giving—God, by whose bounty it is that we have been set in the possession of such priceless blessings. And may we not ask also, whether our own barrenness, and whether the lack of blessing among the Lord’s people—in their meetings for praise and edification—may not be traced to our own narrowness of heart, to our withholding from God of the substance, small or great, which He has entrusted to our stewardship? (See 2 Cor. 9:8-158And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: 9(As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. 10Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) 11Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. 12For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; 13Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; 14And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. 15Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. (2 Corinthians 9:8‑15).) For here the Lord expressly connects His blessing His people with their faithfulness to Himself in the matter of tithes. “Bring ye,” he says, “all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (vs. 10).
But this scripture demands a still closer examination. Remark, first, that the Lord desires the tithes to be brought that there may be meat in His house; that is, that those whose office it was to attend to the service of the sanctuary might be properly cared for and sustained. (See on this subject Neh. 10:32-39; 13:4-1032Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; 33For the showbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. 34And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law: 35And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the Lord: 36Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God: 37And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. 38And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. 39For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God. (Nehemiah 10:32‑39)
4And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. 10And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. (Nehemiah 13:4‑10)
.) For it was a grievous thing in the eyes of Jehovah that the Levites and priests should be neglected. Moreover the Lord condescends to say, “Prove Me now herewith, and I on My part will bestow abundant blessing upon you.” It is not, it will be observed, “PRAY, and I will open the windows of heaven,” but, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse.” It would be well if this passage were sometimes read and explained at meetings for prayer, as it might be used to remind us of the real hindrances to blessing. To pray is always well, but to pray while we are withholding from God, and without self-judgment on this account, is useless. Our prayers may be enlightened and fervent, and may commend themselves to the children of God; but let us not forget that He is the heart-knowing God, and may therefore be keeping back the answers to our petitions because we are not practically responding to the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)).
Still further blessing is promised, if they are but faithful in bringing the tithes. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts” (vss. 11-12). These promises are on the principle which obtains everywhere in the Old Testament; that is to say, that of blessing on the condition of obedience. This was in fact the very essence of the Mosaic economy. (See, for example, Deut. 28.) Their continued possession of the land, their freedom from disease, earthly blessing of every shape and form, were all made dependent upon their walking according to the statutes and ordinances which they had received. So in this scripture. Let the people but return to obedience to the law, and they should receive blessing without stint or limit, their land should again become fruitful, and so manifestly should the favor of God rest upon them that all the nations around would call them blessed. It would be seen that theirs was “a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” (Deut. 11:1212A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:12)).
It must be remembered, however, that all these promises are temporal, and have nothing to say to the spiritual state of the people, or rather that they relate to time and not to eternity. If the people did but honor the Lord by subjection to His word, He would bless them in the way described; that is, in the land, and with temporal blessings in accordance with the nature of the covenant under which they were living. It is different with Christians. They are saved by pure unconditional grace; but being saved, their blessing and their enjoyment of spiritual blessing are made dependent upon their walk, upon obedience to the Word. This must always be insisted upon. They do not obey, we repeat, in order to be saved, except indeed it is with the obedience of faith, and this is the gift of God; but having been brought to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, their blessing, during their sojourn in this world, is conditioned by their subjection to the mind and will of God. Thus our Lord says, “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:2121He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)). Such is the blessed portion of those, and of those alone, who treasure up the commandments of Christ in their hearts.
The next section, which, commencing with verse 13, extends to the end of chapter 4, and clearly separates a faithful remnant from the rest of the nation. This is often the case with the prophets (see Isa. 8-10, and elsewhere), and connected with this is another thing. Whenever the godly remnant is distinguished, it takes the place of the nation before God. They are isolated in the view of God and regarded as the heirs and depositaries of the promises. The reader will find it both interesting and edifying to trace out this principle in the prophets of the Old Testament. In the scripture before us the prophet first brings out the hopelessness of the moral condition of the mass of the nation, and shows not only that they had lost all moral perception, but also that they were charging God with identifying Himself with and favoring the proud and the wicked—proof of their utter deception as to their own condition, and of their ignorance of the character of God. He says, “Your words have been stout against Me, saith the Lord.” The gradation in these several charges is particularly to be observed. Israel had gone from one degree of sinfulness to another, and now they had not hesitated to speak boldly against God. But although they are brought face to face with their iniquity, they profess, as ever, to be ignorant of the sin alleged against them. “What,” they say, “have we spoken against Thee?” The answer is at hand. “Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we” (they added) “call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered” (vss. 13-15). Like the Pharisees again of a later date, they punctiliously attended to certain ritualistic observances, at the same time neglecting the weightier matters of the law, and then wondered how it was that the Lord did not acknowledge and reward their meritorious conduct; while they condemned Him because He received sinners and ate with them. Nothing confuses our moral perceptions like self-righteousness, and there is no iniquity before God like that of Pharisaism. It is one of Satan’s most potent weapons for the deception and the destruction of the souls of men. This form of spiritual wickedness is, alas! never extinct. It abounds in the Church at the present time, and it may be detected under different, and sometimes most subtle, disguises. But wherever it is found, whether allied with ritualism or a transcendental spiritualism, it is marked by the divorce of morality from the forms of godliness. In plain language, it ever combines a high profession with a low walk.
We have now the introduction of the remnant—a remnant within the remnant (vss. 16-17); and nothing can be more beautiful than the contrast which is thus drawn between these hidden saints and the self—righteousness of those by whom they are surrounded. They have but two characteristics—they feared the Lord, and they spoke often one to another, and we may add, what is necessarily connected with this, they thought upon the Lord’s name. He Himself was the subject of their thoughts and meditations. Let us look a little at these several features. They feared the Lord. This is precisely what the nation were not doing; indeed, they had cast of the fear of God from before their eyes, as shown by their high-handed transgressions of His statutes and ordinances, and their entire insensibility to His claims, and the honor of His name. But this pious, feeble remnant feared Jehovah, feared Him with the fear due to His holy name, with a fear which showed itself in obedience to His word. He Himself was their object and hope, their stay and support, amid the confusion and evil by which they were surrounded; yes, their sanctuary from the power of the enemy on every side. Then, they spoke often one to another. They were drawn together in happy, holy fellowship by their common objects, common affections, and common needs; and in this way their piety, their fear of the Lord, was sustained and encouraged. It is one of the consolations of an evil day, that in proportion as religious wickedness and corruption abound, those who have the mind of the Lord are drawn more closely together. The name of the Lord becomes more precious to those that fear Him when it is generally dishonored; and, on the other hand, the power of the enemy drives those together who are seeking to lift up a standard against him. The object of the special hostility of Satan, because they form the one barrier to the success of his efforts, they find their resource and strength in united communings in the presence of God. Lastly, they thought upon the Lord’s name. We do not mean lastly in order of importance, only in that of mention in this scripture; for at the close of verse 16 it is associated with the fear of the Lord. These two things can never indeed be disjoined. The name of the Lord, as before remarked in these pages, is the expression of all the truth of Jehovah as revealed to His ancient people, just as now the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to which His people are gathered, is the symbol (if we may use this term) of all that He is as unfolded to us in these several terms—The Lord—Jesus—Christ. What is meant, therefore, when it is said, “They thought upon His name,” is, that they set themselves to uphold all the truth which had been committed to Israel; this truth being their testimony in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and also that they were drawn together by their common fear of Jehovah, to maintain the honor of His name. This was their one end and object—not the welfare and blessing of one another, not the conciliation of diverse interests among the professing people of God, not the cultivation of that spirit of charity, the creed of which is to agree to differ and to be indifferent to evil; but ever seeking to vindicate Jehovah’s name, to affirm His supremacy, and thus to give Him His rightful place in the midst of Israel. And in doing this, though their brethren might have despised and condemned them for not swimming with the stream, they were adopting the one and only means for the blessing of the nation.
In the gospel of Luke (chap. 1 and 2), as often remarked, we have a living picture of this God-fearing remnant. In Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna we behold a few together with those associated with them, who united all the characteristics which are here given. Thus of Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth it is said, “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless” (Luke 1:66And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Luke 1:6)); of Simeon, that he “was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him” (Luke 2:2525And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. (Luke 2:25)); of Anna, that “she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:3737And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. (Luke 2:37)). Such is the lovely picture, drawn by the unerring pencil of the Holy Spirit, of a few in Jerusalem, amid decay and spiritual death, who “feared the Lord, spake often to one another, and thought upon His name.” Outside of the activities of the day, and unknown to those in power and influence, they were known by the Lord, and by one another. This was enough for their souls, for their hearts were fixed on “the consolation of Israel,” “the Lord’s Christ,” and He was sufficient to satisfy their every desire, even as He was the object of all their hopes.
Is there, it may be inquired, in a word or two, any remnant at the present day corresponding to that here described? To answer this question, it must be remembered that all whom the prophet addresses were the remnant gathered out of Babylon; and hence that those who feared the Lord, and spoke often one to another, were a remnant in the midst of a remnant, both alike occupying the same public ground before God. It does not follow, therefore, because there are those today who are separated from the evils of Christendom, and gathered professedly to the name of Christ, that they answer to these who thought upon the Lord’s name. No. To correspond with these there must be the possession of the same characteristics; in a word, there must be the same spiritual state. As in Philadelphia, so here, state is the prominent feature; and consequently no ecclesiastical position, however scriptural, constitutes a claim to correspondence with these “Philadelphians” in the midst of Israel.
Having shown us what this pious remnant was in the eyes of the Lord, the prophet now reveals Jehovah’s attitude towards them. He says, “The Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (vss. 16-17). First, “the Lord hearkened, and heard.” His eyes and His heart were upon these despised few who encouraged themselves, amid surrounding corruptions, in fellowship one with another concerning the Lord and the Lord’s things. And when so gathered together, the Lord was a spectator, delighting in the conversation He heard, their communings being as grateful to His heart as the sweet incense which in happier days ascended before His throne from off the golden altar. We have examples in the New Testament of His intimate acquaintance with the thoughts and conversation of His people. The commission He gave to Ananias concerning Saul of Tarsus, His repetition to doubting Thomas of the words he had spoken to his fellow-disciples, bear witness to the fact that our words never escape His ears; and the journey of the two disciples to Emmaus, when He Himself drew near and walked with them, tells us how interested He is in all that concerns His own, yes, even in their doubts and fears. But in the case before us it was not doubt nor apprehension that occupied those that feared the Lord, but when they spoke, often one to another, it was in the language of faith and hope; and hence when we are told that “the Lord hearkened, and heard,” it is not only an attentive, but also an approving, yes, a delighted, Listener that is brought before us. And how sweet is the revelation thus made. And what an encouragement to His own, especially in times of indifference and darkness, to be found together, speaking often one to another! And how near it brings the Lord Himself to us! And, we may add, what solemnity it gives to the fellowship of the saints, reminding us that our meetings, whether in private or in public, are held in the presence of the Lord! These reflections moreover ought to have additional force for those of the present day who have, in any measure, entered into what it is to have the Lord Himself in the midst when gathered to His name.
Secondly, “a book of remembrance was written before Him”; that is, the Lord condescends to use a figure to teach us that He records for everlasting remembrance the conversation—may we not rather say the names and the words?—of those who were drawn to His name, and to one another, in separation from the evil around at such a time. An illustration of this may be found in the book of Esther. When the king could not sleep, “he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles”; and they were read before the king. And therein was found written an act of loyalty and fidelity on the part of Mordecai at a time of danger to his sovereign the king; and he was immediately recompensed, besides being thereby used to become the savior of his people. In like manner, but in a more perfect way—for He never forgets—the Lord causes a book of remembrance concerning the faithfulness of His people to be written, and nothing escapes His eye or ear; and thus it will come to pass, as we learn from many scriptures, that every act and word, wrought and produced in His people by the power of the Holy Spirit, will, in the same grace that has called, justified, and glorified them, be imputed to them for acknowledgment and recompense before the tribunal of Christ.
Finally, the Lord will mark them out as His own. “They shall be Mine, saith Jehovah of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.” He refers to the time of His appearing; for then it is that He will publicly distinguish and claim His own. The principle is contained in the familiar passage in the Apocalypse: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:99Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (Revelation 3:9); comp. Isa. 60:1414The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 60:14)). The Lord will manifestly set His seal upon those who were faithful to His name in a time of ruin and apostasy. The term “jewels”—when I make up My jewels—shows the preciousness of the saints to God, their value in His eyes, and that though they are now concealed in obscurity, His eye is upon them, and He will collect them together, recognizing their beauty and excellency, the beauty and excellency which He Himself has put upon them, preparatory to their being put for over in the treasury of His eternal kingdom. It is then added, “And I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” It must be remembered that when the Lord thus comes, it is for judgment on the one hand, as for blessing on the other. Sparing His people, therefore, is sparing them from the judgments; and He will spare them as a man spareth his own son, bringing out the Lord’s heart and relationship to His own, showing His recognition of their fidelity and devotedness. Bound to His own by such ties, He will not suffer them to be overwhelmed in the day when He deals with the nation for their iniquity; but God Himself will be their refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, and He will publicly exhibit them as those who were precious in His eyes when they were scorned and contemned by the apostate nation.
The last verse, we apprehend, is addressed to those who, in verses 14-15, had charged God with identifying Himself with evil. They had said, “They that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are delivered”—as if God were confounding all moral distinctions. But the prophet now tells them that, when God will appear for the feeble few who had thought upon His name, they—those who had arraigned the righteousness of God’s ways—should return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not. Willfully blind heretofore, they would then be compelled to see; and the Lord would once again be justified when He was judged, and publicly vindicate the rectitude of His ways before the eyes of ungodly men. The prophet proceeds to explain that this severance between the wicked and the righteous will be made at the Lord’s appearing; but this is the subject of the next chapter.