Gleanings from the Bible: Malachi

The last book of the Old Testament is an encouragement and a warning to the existing generation of that day to not allow their faith to slide or be lost. The present state of worship was in bad shape and a tumultuous 400 years would follow before the events of the New Testament saw God dramatically intervening, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

Even since the return from Exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, expressions of worship had slidden into perfunctory patterns, devoid of real depth and meaning. Much of Malachi’s condemnation is therefore directed towards the priests and as such could be a warning to leaders of Christian worship everywhere.

I’ve noticed it often in Anglican worship (both high and low church) where the liturgy is said in a rapid monotone, without expression or any apparent reflection. Where the trappings associated with Holy Communion seem almost to be flung around without any thought of their significance. Like the rolling stone that gathers no moss engagement with God or the Spirit never seems to have a chance to stick. Surely we do a disservice to both God and his people when we fail to read or recite with expression and when we are offhand with symbols which are meant to remind us of the depth of God’s love for us.

The priests also seem to have lapsed when it came to preserving the teaching which had been entrusted to them. Instead of preserving knowledge their teaching was causing people to stumble. This morning I was reading the same sorts of warnings from Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 3-4). Teachers who had become weary of sound doctrine, always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, having a form of godliness but denying its power. I may have said it before, but I often wonder whether the powerlessness and sterility of some expressions of worship and doctrine have created a boredom, which has given rise to the searching and experimentations of so-called Progressive Christianity, a conglomeration of faith which in its more extreme forms has departed from Christianity altogether.

But Malachi’s complaint goes further. Worship, of course, involves us beyond Temple, Synagogue or Church walls. It is expressed in our day to day attitude. Malachi reminds us of what an insult it is to offer God the leftovers of our life. His example is sacrifice on the altar, but ours could be the loose change on the collection plate or the paltry time we give to God in prayer, or our reluctance to heed his calling for us to get involved in his work, all because we have just too many other things to occupy our wealth, time and talents. Only when we truly engage with God do we find the spiritual blessings that really satisfy. Only when God is at the centre of our lives can we know balance and fulfilment. Only when God is first can we realise the purpose of humankind to glorify him and enjoy his presence.

Malachi, like other prophets, speaks of the Day of the Lord. A day is coming when justice will prevail, where good and evil will be seen for what they are, where comprehensive healing will come with righteousness.

That day arrived with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It will reach its fulfilment in the day that he returns, and in the meantime we must examine ourselves and heed the call, ‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty (3:7).

And there it is. It is not just by going through the motions and it is not by creating new and innovative doctrines. It is by returning to Yahweh Almighty as revealed to us in the Scriptures and now, more particularly in Jesus Christ. For that is where the exciting  life-changing transformation really takes place!

Advertisements

Gleanings from the Bible: Zephaniah

It’s interesting that Zephaniah, who was probably associated with the royal line and appears to have been a man of some social standing, states about the people of the earth, “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.”

“The Day of the LORD” is mentioned frequently in the prophets. A day anticipated by many as an in-breaking of God into history to bring about change and to restore the fortunes of his people. Perhaps it was similar to the prayers and expectations of many Christians today for revival in the church and a restoration of Christendom. With prophets such as Zephaniah however the Day of the LORD would be a day of reckoning for his people. In this case it looks like a universal judgement akin to the Genesis Flood…

“When I destroy all humankind on the face of the earth.” (1:3)

“I will bring such distress on all people.” (1:17)

“…the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.” (1:18) (see also 3:8)  

Of course it is quite likely that the mention of the nations, the “whole world” and all humankind, are references to Zephaniah’s known world, the nations that he specifically mentions: Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, Judah and particularly the “world” power of its day, Assyria. Nevertheless, if we fast-track to the last chapters of Revelation we do see an expectation that the whole world will eventually face the judgement of God at the final Day of the Lord.

As Christians pray for God to do something new, to bring about revival in our own time, we should perhaps be mindful that such renewal comes about through pruning and discipline and the pain of judgement. Revival comes by the way of true repentance.

Zephaniah, in common with other prophets paints a terrible picture of punishment on a world that has rejected Yahweh for worthless idols, greed, injustice and extreme violence, and yet beyond the outpouring of God’s anger is the preservation of the remnant (3:12).

There is always a faithful remnant throughout biblical history, and the scriptures suggest that there always will be. If this is true then we may expect that ultimate truth will not lie with the majority of the world (perhaps not even with the majority of organised nominal Christianity?), but with those who worship God in Spirit and in truth, as revealed through Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Gleanings from the Bible: Joel

“The Day of the LORD (Yahweh)” seems to be prominent in the short book of Joel. Through Scripture it is used to indicate a time or times when God intervenes in humankind, often in judgement. In Joel “The Day” seems to include a couple of interventions.

The first refers to a locust plague, which would decimate the land. This could well have been a literal plague or it may have been a parable for the Babylonian invaders and the Exile. On balance though the former seems quite likely.

The plague and drought are followed by restoration and after that we have a passage which is quoted on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) by Peter, who associates it with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that day…

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions…
…I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Pentecost, in its own way, was a “Day of the LORD”, but rather than a single event it was the beginning of ongoing outpouring (“in those days”). “Those days” are the age in which we now live and in Joel’s words they will then manifest in…

wonders in the heaven and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the great and dreadful day of the LORD.

Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Spirit, was a blessing, so this dreadful day would seem to refer to the future and final Judgement Day.

The good news is that in these days in which we live, following Christ’s death and Resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit but prior to Christ’s Second Coming in Judgement, there is the opportunity to be ready for The Day…

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
there will be deliverance…

Many Christians today have jettisoned any thought of hell or judgement from their theology in an attempt to make the Faith more palatable to their unbelieving contemporaries (I can be prone to this myself). They are happy to talk of love and mercy and grace, but punishment and righteousness and holiness and justice often drop out of their vocabulary. I am mindful of the fact that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was the false prophets who told people what they wanted to hear and painted a rosy future prior to the devastating Exile, which had been accurately predicted by God’s prophets – a small minority in Israel and Judah! We may not get many “Likes” for warning people about the coming Day of the Lord but it surely should be our passion to see our friends and neighbours safe on that day.