Agonizomai: Malachi 4:4 - The Goodness of the Law

Monday, September 14, 2009

Malachi 4:4 - The Goodness of the Law

Malachi 4:4 - The Goodness of the Law

Malachi 4:4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel..."

The law is a schoolmaster to bring people to Christ. It is, if you like, a place-holder. It stands as a temporary measure by which the coming Messiah is heralded, foreshadowed and seen. It also acts as a reminder of the impossibility of pleasing or appeasing God by anything originating in us. God requires obedience to His law not out of arbitrariness, but because in His wisdom the things of Christ are contained in it. The sacrificial system with more than 1,700 different ritual sacrificial requirements just for the nation - let alone the free will offerings of the people - necessitated a continual blood bath in the priestly duties. Daily, from morning until evening they were up to their armpits in the blood of sacrifices.

Of course, for many the rite itself became the focus. It became a thing to do in its own right, rather than a symbol of the spiritual reality - the real thing, which was the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, to which they were to look forward in faith. But the sheer profusion of the carnage - a horror in itself - serves to underscore the horror of sin and the high cost of redemption. Endless sacrifice alone would not be enough. The sacrifice of the spotless eternal Lamb of God alone would satisfy. People must have the righteousness of God Himself in order to be saved from destruction.

To think this was an unknown concept to ancient Israel is wrong-headed modernist or postmodern thinking. Long before Malachi wrote these words in about 430 BC other prophets like Hosea {Ho 6:6} and Samuel {1Sa 15:22} had pointed out the purely ritual nature of the elements of the sacrifice and that it was the heart - the obedience of faith that God regarded. (David, Solomon, Isaiah, Amos and Micah had similar light)

But the law itself is not bad. It is not eliminated, for Christ Himself did not eliminate the Law, He fulfilled it. And He said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until heaven and earth passed away. {Mt 5:17-18} What is needed is a heart to obey the law, which no man has, apart from regeneration by the Spirit of God.

Distinctions also need to be made between the ceremonial law, the civil law and the moral law of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the ceremonial aspects of the law. Being the sacrifice Himself - having done all that was necessary to fulfill all righteousness (not just to show His Own, but to make His ours also) - He sat down at the right hand of power. The sacrificial system is subsumed, but not eliminated in Christ. The reality of which the system was the figure has now come. The blood of Christ cleanses and keeps on cleansing eternally all those who draw near to God in Him. God has made all things clean in Christ and had declared that to be so. {Ac 10:15,11:9}

Nor are we national Israel today. The church is universal and not national. Israelite civil law simply cannot apply globally. It is not intended to. The kingdom has come. Again, the reality, of which the land of Canaan was the type, has come in truth. The kingdom is a spiritual kingdom - in the hearts of men, where the King Himself lives and rules, and is acknowledged as Lord.

But the moral law of God and the wisdom in His precepts is eternal and universal. He is a God (THE God) requiring absolute devotion, and He is a God who wants us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. The ten commandments have never been abolished though they have only ever actually been kept by one man - the man Jesus Christ. And these we now keep in the Spirit because He is in us to do it.

And the exhortation to Israel given here in Malachi speaks not of the plain of Shittim where the Levitivcal laws were given, but of the law given at Horeb (or Sinai) - the ten commandments, which were the moral foundation of all things. This they were never to forget. It was in remembering the commandments that they were constantly reminded of how far short they fell every day, and of how unattainably transcendent was the righteousness that God required. Only in inadequacy would the proud human heart be made to kneel and seek what God alone could provide - had promised to provide and was now laying the very last brick into the building of hope, before the promise was to be made manifest in reality.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, you say it so well. I can't get enough of hearing the good news. it is so exciting! Belief creates trust and hope, and that creates joy. Reading and hearing this in the morning gets my day off to a great start, and keeps me centered on eternity, no matter what is going on around me. I pray the people that come into contact with believers would be attracted to the light.

9:42 am  
Blogger agonizomai said...


Well thanks again for the encouragement.

If I had it to do over again I would try to be a little less garbled in this post. I seem to be all over the place. But that may be just me seeing my wallpaper seams behind the toilet tank.

BTW - there is a related post by a much better theologian than I on Pyromaniacs today.



9:53 am  

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