Agonizomai: Malachi 3:7-9 - The Blinding Nature of Sin

Monday, August 31, 2009

Malachi 3:7-9 - The Blinding Nature of Sin

Malachi 3:7-9 - The Blinding Nature of Sin

Malachi 3:7-9 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

Continuing in the vein that, though God is always faithful to His covenant promises, unaided man never is. Again, Israel is the poster boy for this truth. "The days of your fathers" refers to the very beginnings of the nation. Under Moses Israel rebelled and balked and disobeyed and complained before they even got to the Promised Land. And when they got there they slid deeper and deeper into disobedience, only to be rescued by God whenever their disobedience bore its inevitable fruit of sufficient misery for them to once more call upon Him.

The point is that if the root is rotten then the whole plant will be rotten. As it was with Adam and all his offspring from the beginning, so it is with Jacob and all His physical offspring from the beginning. You take flawed marble and you get a flawed statue, no matter how beautifully carved you try to make it. Man’s problem is more than skin deep. Man is rotten to the core. Man is a sinner by nature. Just as Adam’s race came to grief in the flood, though a remnant was saved by grace - so religious man, though a man given all the right pointers and laws and requirements and precepts and nurture and lovingkindness and discipline, was also destined to fall short. Religious man was also a sinner. It would take more than humanism, more than religion, more than rules and regulations to save men. It would take a new heart - a new nature - the nature of God Himself in Christ by the Spirit - wrought and imputed and imparted and perfected in and for men by God Himself.

Yet despite the natural man’s universal rebellion God still calls upon and commands all men everywhere to repent. Here He calls upon Israel to repent. The call to repentance constituted the first words of Jesus in ministry. But it is best to understand the truth - God can and does command what men cannot perform due to their innate corruption - a depravity of heart which bends their will against the Lordship of God. And it is precisely because of the depravity of hearts that some refuse to receive this Biblical teaching. They would rather accuse God of being unfair, or simply twist or ignore the plain teaching of God.

Why will people professing to be children of God refuse to see that apart from the monergistic intervention of God through the regeneration of their hearts they simply will not and cannot repent or believe the gospel? But when God effectually calls He also empowers so that the dead do indeed rise at His Word. Salvation is a miraculous, supernatural work of God alone - which He brings about through the right preaching of the gospel.

Now Israel did not have the gospel per se. Yet God saved some Israelites in all ages. It most certainly was not on account of their obedience - else those people would have been justified by works. What shall we say then? That their obedience (imperfect though it was) was the fruit of a work of grace upon their hearts, demonstrated in a living faith in the God from Whom alone salvation must come.

So God, through Malachi, is addressing not the remnant, but the nation as a whole. The nation as a whole, as a people, had for the most part and in all of their history, fallen short of the covenant that God established with them through Moses. They had turned aside because it was their nature to do so. Yet their natures did not provide them with an adequate excuse. "The devil made me do it" is good for Flip Wilson, but it doesn’t cut it with God. Neither does, "I am a sinner by nature so I couldn’t help myself." Half of that statement is true - for we are all sinners by nature but we have a moral obligation to honor God nevertheless - and we are all held accountable for our failure to do so. The will chooses as it pleases and the human will always chooses that which falls short when left to itself.

God calls the nation as a whole to repentance, even though He has known from eternity those to whom He will grant repentance and those to whom He will not. Some will undoubtedly be revived through the Word that comes to them. Most will not, as history itself confirms. And what better demonstration is needed of the unwillingness that springs from an unregenerate heart than the rhetorical response attributed to Israel? The phrase "How shall we return?" is not a sincere inquiry as to how they may turn and repent. It is a churlish objection that they don’t see what they are doing wrong to begin with. "What are we doing that warrants a return? What have we done that robs God? We are good, sincere, honest people just trying our best to get along in the world. What’s the problem?"

O do I see how sin unrepented of hardens the heart, dulls the senses and closes the ears to God! Only the grace and mercy of God can turn a sinner from his path. O that we might be convicted by the Holy Spirit of the sin to which we give ourselves most naturally and willingly. He is our only hope. If God does not move in us we shall perish as surely as any pagan. But though man is by nature unfaithful, God is not. Those in whom He begins a good work will be brought to glory - not of anything they do, but to the glory of God because He alone is good and He alone is faithful. And we have the mind of Christ, if indeed He is in us - by which we shall be guarded and led into fruitful and obedient lives.

By the time of Malachi, Israel had fallen so far away from covenant keeping, had so little of the faith of God or the fear of Him that they lacked the wisdom to see their true condition or to apprehend even the most outward signs of their covenant breaking. The tithe was instituted during the exodus along with the Levitical laws, but it went back even further to Abraham, who tithed to Melchizedek. But the main purpose of the tithes was to support the Levitical order. The Levites had no land. They had no means of support. Certain cities were granted to them, but they had no inheritance in Israel except the priesthood.

Their job was to care for the things of the tabernacle/temple and to offer up the sacrifices of the people in a manner ordained by, and pleasing to, God. They were in place of, or substitutes for, the firstborn of Israel because the firstborn always belonged to the Lord, and they were "redeemed" by the dedication of the Levites in their place.

Now Israel had found other ways to do things. The priests themselves no longer relied solely on the God of all grace to provide for them, as He had promised, but also upon their wits and their commerce and other tricks and deceptions by which they could gain worldly comforts. This may have been because the people themselves were apostate and given to such things, in place of the tithe from the heart. But corruption usually starts at the top. No that all men are not corrupt, but when leaders themselves, who are charged with guiding the people into the right way, mirror the errors of the sheep then there is no longer any means of keeping the truth alive - for the blind are leading the blind and they both fall into the ditch.

There is more than one way to rob God of His tithes and contributions. It could be by offering that which is lame, or spotted or defective in some way and keeping the best for oneself. It could be by simply playing fast and free with the "gross" so that the tithe is calculated based on an adjusted figure - sort of like "legitimized" tax deductions. It could be by ignoring the precepts of God altogether and not even bothering to tithe at all. In any case it is robbery. Not actual robbery, since all things always belong to God, but robbery from the heart - which is where all evil originates anyway. It is the foolish intent and the desire to rob God even though a right-thinking person would know that God cannot actually be bested.

So what it boils down to at the most basic level is simply unbelief. People who willfully rob God do not believe in Him as He truly has revealed Himself to be. Lack of faith both results from and results in sin. And sin is what puts and keeps man under the curse unless God Himself - the Hope of Israel - provides a solution. Malachi is the herald - the last clue before the advent of that Solution; a solution so entirely "other" that the best minds in Israel could not grasp it even though they had been increasingly given all the information they would need from the dawn of their history until the time of Malachi. Yet the simple and the humble, who had been prepared by God, knew Him and recognized Him for Who He was.


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