The Wisdom of Experience

1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
    and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
    and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
    and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
    when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
    in the assembled congregation.”

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
    and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. – Proverbs 5:1-23 ESV

This sounds like strange, if not hypocritical, advice coming from a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). It would appear that wise sayings weren’t the only things that Solomon made a habit of collecting. This king with the overactive libido had an eye for the ladies. So, it seems a bit disingenuous for Solomon to be giving his sons a lecture on avoiding the “forbidden woman.” How could he presume that he was the right man to give counsel not to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15 ESV).

Yet, Solomon was the perfect person to be passing on his life experiences to his as-yet-unmarried sons. He wasn’t simply spouting pious-sounding platitudes he had discovered along the way, but he was sharing the painful life lessons he had been forced to learn as a result of his own pride and stupidity. Verses 12-13 are actually Solomon’s personal testimony.

“How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.”

Solomon is offering up a painful confession. And yet, Solomon’s admission would not have been news to his boys. In fact, it is likely that, while they all shared Solomon as their father, they each had a different mother. They suffered from no delusions that their father was a one-woman man. Each knew that their dad had been less-than-faithful to their own mother. And the older they became and the more knowledge they gained about the Word of God, they would have known that their father’s actions were out of step with the will of God.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had made the decision to violate the command of God. His personal preferences and passions took precedence over God’s will. He would have been very familiar with God’s command concerning the kings of Israel.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon had decided that he knew best and he began to fill his home and his harem with beautiful women, collecting them like treasures to showcase his power and prestige.

But over in Proverbs 14:12 we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” That phrase “in the end” seems to pop up on a regular basis in the Proverbs. It refers to a day of accountability, not necessarily the day of the judgment of the Lord, but of a day of consequence. Every action has an outcome. Every path we take in life has a destination or an end. If a young man or woman chooses a life of immorality, it will have an outcome, and probably not the one they were expecting. Sin never does.

Solomon is speaking from experience when he states, “the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil – in the end she is as bitter as poison” (Proverbs 14:3-4 NLT). He knew what he was talking about and he wanted his sons to know that what appears to be tempting and tantalizing doesn’t always turn out quite as advertised.

One of the characteristics of foolishness or a lack of godly wisdom is the inability to foresee consequences. We are either oblivious to them or simple choose to ignore them. But more than likely, it is just a case of ignorance. A child touches a hot stove because they don’t know any better. They are ignorant of the consequences. But there comes a time in all of our lives when we become aware of the consequences of sin and still stubbornly continue to commit them. We think those consequences won’t apply to us. We refuse to consider “the end.” We choose to live in the pleasure of the moment, putting off any thought of the consequences, or simply refusing to believe there will be any negative ramifications for our actions. But to think that way is not only foolish, it’s deadly. We can end up losing everything – our honor, all we’ve achieved in life, the fruit of all our labor, the blessings of God, and the love and respect of those we once held dear. Like Solomon, we will find ourselves sadly looking back at our actions and saying, “How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace” (Proverbs 5:12-14 NLT).

In the end, you will have regrets because the path you chose had consequences. But nobody thinks about the potential consequences when facing the alluring temptation of sin – except the godly. But obviously, Solomon is an example of the godly man who took his eyes off the Lord and began to seek satisfaction and significance somewhere else. It began with the allure of the forbidden fruit of many wives, but it wasn’t long before that sin produced an even greater one: the worship of their false gods. Solomon’s lust for women turned into a loss of love for God.

Sin is so tempting, and it’s allure is real, making it a constant problem for men and women alike. And while Solomon wrote his proverbs a long time ago, some things never change. We still need to hear his words of wisdom and warning. He spends an entire Proverb warning his sons against the dangers of the immoral woman or prostitute. It was a problem then and it remains a problem today. Promiscuity is alive and well, and it may be even more acceptable today than ever before. The increase in casual sex and a growing comfortableness and complacency with sex outside the confines of marriage make this message particularly timely for our sex-saturated society. Solomon’s warning to his sons was necessary in his day and it is needed in ours as well. But it sounds so antiquated and puritanical! At least that’s what many in our society would say. But it is a warning against the lies of all temptations. Satan is the father of lies and the great deceiver. He loves to package his product in such a way that it hides the dangers within. He is the master of manipulation and deception, creating the allusion of pleasure, but all the while hiding the true consequences. The prostitute is a perfect illustration of his methodologies. She is attractive, flattering, enticing, and appeals to man’s basic instincts. She knows man’s weakness and aims right for it. The apostle John warned us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

That is Satan’s strategy. Everything he offers is designed to appeal to what we crave and desire, to fulfill our insatiable need for pleasure, and to satisfy our hunger for significance. A prostitute goes out of her way to make her “client” feel wanted, important, and significant. She offers to provide him with physical and emotional pleasure and to satisfy all his needs. But in the end, “her feet go down to death.” Like all sin, the consequences are dangerous and deadly. It never delivers as promised. It is the ultimate in false advertising, yet we fall prey to it each and every day in so many ways. We take the bait and suffer the consequences of broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, destroyed reputations, and shattered lives.

So what’s the solution? Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment. Solomon warns his sons in graphic detail of the dangers facing them. He doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore it. He paints a vivid and compelling picture of the dangers of sin. He talks openly about the consequences. He wanted them to know the truth and he was willing for his sons to learn from his own mistakes.

Our congregations need to hear the truth. The enemy is filling their minds with lies day after day, and he has more resources available than ever before. The media provides him with a constant venue for propagating his lies and distributing his message of falsehood. We need to speak truth. We need to share the wisdom of God’s Word. We need to promote the non-negotiable requirement of living according to God’s way – unapologetically and boldly. The dangers are real. The consequences are devastating. Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment are needed more than ever before.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Godly Inheritance

1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

10 Hear, my son, and accept my words,
    that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
    and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
    they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble. – Proverbs 4:1-19 ESV

One of the things that makes wisdom so unique and invaluable is that it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is like a priceless heirloom that is willed from grandmother to granddaughter, or a valuable piece of property that becomes a permanent part of the family’s inheritance. While wisdom itself isn’t communicable or transferable, a love for wisdom can be. And a parent that models a lifestyle based on the wisdom of God creates a strong incentive for their children to do the same. Wise parents tend to raise wise children.

Solomon inherited his high regard for wisdom from his own father, King David. Solomon had grown up in the royal household and while his father had been renowned for his exploits as a warrior, David had also been a poet, musician, and a man well acquainted with wisdom. He had learned a great deal from God over his long and prosperous reign. And some of his thoughts concerning wisdom were recorded in his psalms.

The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path. – Psalm 37:30-31 NLT

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:6 ESV

There is little doubt that David passed along his love for wisdom to all his children, but he was particularly diligent about preparing Solomon, the designated successor to his throne. He knew from firsthand experience just how difficult the job of ruling and reigning as God’s shepherd could be. He was leaving Solomon a thriving kingdom and a well-stocked treasury. The majority of Israel’s enemies had been conquered and there would be little need for Solomon to worry about going to war. He could simply lead the nation into further prosperity and help encourage them to honor and reverence God.

But David knew that Solomon would need wisdom in order to lead well, and wisdom was accessible only from God Almighty. So, when David was nearing death, he called in his son and issued a series of wise warnings.

Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And David made sure that Solomon understood that wisdom was the byproduct of an intimate relationship with God.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.  So take this seriously. – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT

Yahweh and wisdom are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And, eventually, Solomon passed on this insight to his own son.

For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
    Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
    Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
    Love her, and she will guard you. – Proverbs 4:3-6 NLT

Notice how Solomon’s description of wisdom mirrors David’s words concerning God. They are almost interchangeable. Solomon knew that his own wisdom had been a gift from God. When he had ascended the throne, God had visited Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7 ESV). Amazingly, God was offering to grant whatever Solomon wished for. He could have asked God for anything. But Solomon’s response reveals that David had done a good job of inculcating a love for wisdom into his life.

“You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” – 2 Chronicles 1:8-10 ESV

And God willingly and graciously granted Solomon’s request.

“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,  wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” – 2 Chronicles 1:11-12 ESV

In a sense, Proverbs 4 contains Solomon’s last will and testament to his own son. He is passing on what had been down to him by his own father. For Solomon, a love for wisdom was the greatest gift he could leave his son.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
    And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
    Embrace her, and she will honor you. – Proverbs 4:7-8 NLT

He was leaving him a well-established kingdom, great wealth, and a good name. He would lack for nothing – except wisdom. Because that was the one thing Solomon couldn’t put in a vault for posterity or place in his son’s hand like a scepter or crown. All Solomon could do was pass on his love and appreciation for the wisdom God had given him. And he reminded his son that he had done his best to share all that he had come to know about wisdom.

I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness. – Proverbs 4:11 ESV

Now it was going to be up to his son to use his inheritance – wisely.

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life. – Proverbs 4:13 ESV

But Solomon knew that his son would face all kinds of temptations. His excessive wealth could make him self-sufficient and prideful, and lead him to no longer depend upon God. If he was not careful, his power could become an intoxicating brew that numbed his senses and blurred his spiritual vision. Rather than viewing his sovereignty as a gift from God, he could use it to abuse those under his care. That’s why Solomon strongly encourages his son to avoid taking the wrong path.

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on. – Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV

Life is a matter of daily decisions. Each of us faces a never-ending succession of choices that must be made. We can choose the right path of the wrong one. We can pursue God and, therefore, the way of wisdom, or we can walk the path of the unrighteous and find ourselves going deeper and deeper into the dark woods of despair and wickedness.

For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day.
    They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
They eat the food of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence! – Proverbs 4:16-17 NLT

Solomon greatly desired for his son to choose the right path – the way of righteousness, so he attempted to scare the “hell” out of him.

…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.
    They have no idea what they are stumbling over. – Proverbs 4:19 NLT

And he provided his son with a more attractive and preferable alternative.

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
    which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. – Proverbs 4:18 NLT

Like any good parent, Solomon knew he couldn’t make his son choose the right path. All he could do was remind him of all that he had tried to pass along and encourage him to stay the course. It is not unlike the words of encouragement that Paul passed on to Timothy, his young “son” in the faith.

But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Danger of Making Wisdom Our God

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called blessed.

19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
    by understanding he established the heavens;
20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
    and the clouds drop down the dew.

21 My son, do not lose sight of these—
    keep sound wisdom and discretion,
22 and they will be life for your soul
    and adornment for your neck.
23 Then you will walk on your way securely,
    and your foot will not stumble.
24 If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror
    or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
26 for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught. Proverbs 3:13-26 ESV

Wisdom brings blessing. It’s more profitable than silver or gold. Its long-term value is greater than that of precious jewels. Wisdom is incomparable, offering those who avail themselves of it the blessings of a long life, riches, and honor. The path of wisdom leads to a life filled with pleasantness and peace. It is a tree whose fruit provides a long and prosperous life.

Those are some rather bold claims and they seem to contradict the words that Solomon wrote in the opening chapter of his book of Ecclesiastes.

I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

What is wrong cannot be made right.
    What is missing cannot be recovered.

I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
    To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 NLT

Well, which is it? Is wisdom the key to long life and happiness or a pathway to futility and sorrow? Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Not only that, he was blessed with great wealth, power, and prestige. He had it all. And yet, at some point in his life, he seems to have struggled with an overwhelming sense of despondency and despair.

So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king?). I thought, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:12-17 NLT

It seems that Solomon had turned the pursuit of wisdom into an academic endeavor. Rather than growing in his knowledge of God, he simply filled his mind with facts, figures, data, and details. He was obsessed with knowing and the pursuit of knowledge. But information alone does not make one wise. The possession of an encyclopedic intelligence will not necessarily result in wise decision-making. Some of the most intelligent people in the world can make foolish decisions.

Somewhere along the way, Solomon lost the point of his life-long pursuit of wisdom. He took his eyes off of God and made it all about himself. Wisdom became a means to a self-centered and constantly elusive end.

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

His sad conclusion was, “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for” (Ecclesiastes 7:27-27 NLT).

So, what should we conclude? Which version of Solomon’s counsel should we listen to? The key is found in verses 19-20 of Proverbs 3. Here, Solomon provides the often overlooked ingredient to man’s pursuit of wisdom and knowledge: God.

By wisdom the Lord founded the earth;
    by understanding he created the heavens.
By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth,
    and the dew settles beneath the night sky. – Proverbs 3:19-20 NLT

Wisdom and knowledge can only be found in and received from God. They are not isolated and independent commodities to be sought for like hidden treasure. Without a relationship with God, wisdom is meaningless and virtually useless. As Solomon discovered later in life, wisdom alone was not enough. A head full of knowledge without a heart for God was not only unhelpful, but it produces a life of futility and fruitlessness.

It is important to recall that, upon his ascension to the throne of Israel, Solomon had asked God for wisdom. God had given Solomon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever his heart desires. “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5 NLT). And Solomon had responded, “Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9 NLT).

And God was pleased to fulfill Solomon’s request.

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” – 1 Kings 3:11-14 NLT

Notice the conditional nature of God’s statement. He agreed to give Solomon wisdom and threw in riches and fame for good measure. But it was all tied to Solomon’s obedience. God was giving Solomon the power to know right from wrong. In other words, he would have the mind of God, the ability to discern what God deemed holy, righteous, and good. But to know what is right does not guarantee that one will do what is right. To know the will of God does not always result in obedience to the will of God. Remember how Solomon opened up his book of Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

This brings to mind the fall, that fateful occasion when Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and chose the wisdom of God over a relationship with God. He had placed them in the garden and provided them with the fruit from a variety of trees from which to eat, including the tree of life. But God had declared one tree to be off-limits: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had told them, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16-17 NLT).

But one day, while the first couple strolled in the garden together, they were confronted by the serpent, who tempted Eve to eat some of the forbidden fruit. When she recited God’s warning that to do so would result in death, the serpent refuted God’s word.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:4-7 NLT

Their eyes were opened. Much to Eve’s surprise, she didn’t die, but instead, she became enlightened. She became autonomous, with the ability to determine good and evil for herself. She had discovered the intoxicating, yet toxic power to become the master of her own fate. She shared some of the tantalizing and tasty fruit with her husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Satan had successfully marketed the fruit as a replacement for God. It was the fruit that would make one wise, and Eve “wanted the wisdom it would give her” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). She got what she wanted: Wisdom apart from God. And, in a sense, Solomon ended up feasting on the same dangerous and deadly fruit. His lifelong pursuit of wisdom became a godless endeavor designed to satisfy his ceaseless longing for more.

Yet Solomon was able to tell his son, “do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck” (Proverbs 3:21-22 ESV). He promises that they will provide security and a lack of fear. But notice how Solomon qualifies his promise.

…for the Lord will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught. – Proverbs 3:26 ESV

Wisdom and discretion were not to be the goal. They were simply the outcome. Solomon wanted his son to pursue the Lord. He wanted God to be his son’s greatest desire. If he would put God first, the rest would come as an added and welcome benefit. But Eve had made the possession of wisdom of more value than her personal relationship with the God of wisdom. Knowing what God knows was more important to her than simply knowing God. Becoming her own god with the power to decide what she deemed right and wrong led her to disobey and deny God. She became wise and, at the same time, discovered that she was a fool.

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. – Genesis 3:7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Ignore at Your Own Peril

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV

In order to help his son grasp the vital importance of wisdom, Solomon attempts to bring the inanimate concept to life by personifying it as someone traversing the streets of a busy city, desperately trying to get the attention of all those mindlessly going about their daily lives.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square. – Proverbs 1:20 NLT

From one place to the next, this “woman” directs her cries to three distinct groups of people: simpletons, mockers, and fools. A simpleton is someone who is naive and dangerously open minded. They lack discernment and the ability to determine what is right or wrong. These kinds of people are prone to believe just about anything and, as a result, are easily misled. You might describe them as gullible or an easy mark. And “Wisdom” questions why they seem to be perfectly fine with their simpleminded ways.

“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded? – Proverbs 1:22 NLT

But they show no interest in anything “Wisdom” has to offer. They display no desire to grow up or wise up. They’re confidently content and, in many ways, even complacent. To their own detriment. Wisdom sadly states the folly of their ways:

“…simpletons turn away from me—to death.” – Proverbs 1:32 NLT

The next group Wisdom addresses are the scoffers or mockers. These are boastful and arrogant individuals who dismiss the counsel of others. They are full of themselves and convinced that they have nothing to learn from anyone else. And Wisdom confronts them with a question that is designed to expose their stubborn resistance to input from others. The NET Bible Study Notes describes them this way: “They are cynical and defiant freethinkers who ridicule the righteous and all for which they stand.”

These people are scornful and dismissive of anyone who might try to point them in the right direction. You might say that they’re too big for their britches or too high and mighty to accept the counsel of someone they deem as inferior to themselves. Wisdom describes them as those who  “would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof” (Proverbs 1:30 ESV). Because they think they know everything, they’re unteachable and, therefore, incorrigible. The Proverbs are full of less-than-flattering assessments of this particular group of people.

…a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. – Proverbs 13:1 ESV

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return…
So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. – Proverbs 9:7-8 NLT

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease. – Proverbs 22:10 ESV

The third group Wisdom addresses are the fools. This term is used throughout the Proverbs, but in at least five different forms. In this case, Solomon uses the Hebrew word, kᵊsîl, which refers to a “stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton” (Outline of Biblical Usage). He doesn’t have a mental deficiency, but rather he suffers from a moral one. And his immoral behavior brings him satisfaction rather than shame.

This kind of fool rejects the discipline of parents or other authorities in his life. He seems stubbornly determined to make the wrong kinds of choices, even to his own detriment. His focus is on whatever brings him immediate pleasure. And he is to be avoided at all costs. Wisdom summarizes the fool by stating that he despises knowledge. He finds it repulsive and rejects it as unworthy of his time or effort. In fact, another Proverb declares that “to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools” (Proverbs 13:19 ESV).

That’s why Solomon portrays Wisdom as summarizing the sad but unavoidable outcome of the fool’s chosen path of life.

“For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.” – Proverbs 1:29-31 ESV

And the saddest part of all is that Wisdom has persistently called and pleaded with all three groups.

“Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:23 NLT

But the simpleton, scoffer, and fool repeatedly reject the offer and seal their fate. When Wisdom calls, they refuse to come. When she reaches out, they pay her no attention. They arrogantly ignore her advice and spurn her counsel. And in each case, they make a choice to reject all that Wisdom has to offer. The simpleton could choose to become wise, but decides to remain just as he is. The scoffer could embrace all that Wisdom has to offer, but mocks her advice as unnecessary and unworthy of his attention. The fool could choose to learn and grow wise, but makes the painful choice to suffer the consequences of his folly.

So, eventually, the voice of Wisdom grows silent. She stops calling and offering. She stops pleading and promising. And sadly, the say comes when Wisdom stands back and witnesses the inevitable fall of the simpleton, scoffer, and fool.

“So I will laugh when you are in trouble!
    I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,
    and anguish and distress overwhelm you.” – Proverbs 1:26-27 NLT

It is not that Wisdom takes joy in the fall of the wicked, but that the justice of God is always fulfilled. The opportunity to grow in wisdom was freely offered and summarily dismissed. The chance to benefit from all that God has promised was made available but rejected as worthless. And that bad choice has even worse consequences. And Wisdom reveals that the less-than-ideal outcomes facing all three are of their own choosing. They brought it on themselves.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them…” – Proverbs 1:32 ESV

Yet, Solomon wants his son to know that there is hope. It doesn’t have to turn out poorly. The future doesn’t have to be bleak and marked by death and destruction. All he has to do is listen. That was Solomon’s original plea to his son.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.” – Proverbs 1:8-9 ESV

And what Solomon and his wife are offering their son is wisdom – the wisdom of the ages but, more importantly, the wisdom of God.

“…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:33 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Turning Homes Into Lighthouses

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

Next, Peter turns his attention to the parent-child relationship, where the filling of the Spirit could help the believers in Ephesus to dispel the darkness engulfing their community. A home where godly parents and children lived in submission to the will of God would be a beacon of light and life to the lost. Their Spirit-empowered interactions with one another would bring glory and honor to God as they lived in keeping with His good and perfect will.

Paul begins by addressing the children within the Ephesian church. He calls on them to obey their parents “in the Lord” (en kyrios). In his earlier passage addressed to believing wives, he called on them to submit to their believing husbands “as unto the Lord” (hōs ho kyrios). The idea is the same here. Paul is calling on children to obey “in the Lord.” The obedience of the children was not to be dependent upon the belief of their parents, but they were to obey because it was the will of God. Paul was essentially telling young children who came to faith in Christ, “you need to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17). Regardless of age, every member of the body of Christ was to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).

It would seem that Paul has believing children in mind because he calls them to obey “in the Lord.” He seems to assume that these children are old enough to understand their Christ-honoring commitment to submit to their parents in the same way they would submit to Christ Himself. And Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to drive home his point.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 5:16 NLT

In this passage, Moses is reciting the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, and this verse, he shares God’s command that His people show proper honor and respect to their earthly parents. This commandment was applicable to children of all ages, including those who had reached adulthood. In a society that had no welfare system, it was the responsibility of adult children to take care of their elderly parents. God was ordering His covenant people to treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, and He tied future fruitfulness to present faithfulness. If they continued to treat their parents with honor all the days of their lives, then they would enjoy a long and fruitful stay in the land of promise. This is why Peter refers to this as a “commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). As long as the people obeyed it, they would enjoy the blessings of God. Faithfulness to do the will of God would be accompanied by fruitfulness.

It’s interesting to note that, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul included disoBelibedience to parents among the list of godless characteristics that will mark the end of the age.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

It seems that Paul is describing people who are old enough to know what they are doing. Their behavior reflects the status of their hearts. Their outer actions are simply byproducts of their inner condition. Jesus made this point quite clear when He stated, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

Paul doesn’t seem to be focusing his attention on small children. They were not the problem. It was those children who were old enough to come to faith in Christ but also old enough to be tempted by the inevitable allure of autonomy and freedom from their parents’ control over their lives. He is calling them to remember their commitment to do that which is pleasing to God. They were to emulate Christ, who willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30 ESV

Paul states that children who obey their parents are doing what is right. The Greek word is dikaios, and it means “that which is righteous, in keeping with the commands of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). To obey earthly parents is righteous because it is in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s will. It is what He desires, therefore, it is right and good.

This command is intended to last a lifetime. It doesn’t end at the age of 18 or whenever the child moves out of the home. No, it lasts as long as the parents remain alive. And in a culture where the family unit tended to stay intact for much longer periods of time, this command carried special significance. It was not uncommon for young married couples to take up residence in the home of the husband’s parents. Multiple generations would end up residing under the same roof, making obedience to this command more essential than ever. A home where parents, children, and grandchildren lived together was the perfect environment for displaying the Spirit-filled lifestyle to which Paul was calling his audience.

And it was within this kind of familial context that Paul called on fathers to treat their children with love and respect, raising them in accordance with the will of God. And that included “the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). Once again, Paul is emphasizing the need for all believers to do things according to God’s will, not their own. And they were not to use the prevailing cultural context as their model for godly behavior. Paul has already warned the Ephesian believers not to pattern their behavior after the world.

Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT

Instead, they were to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). And for fathers, that meant leading their children in such a way that it produced godliness rather than bitterness. Paul demands that father’s not “provoke” or exasperate their children. Believing fathers were to submit themselves to the will of God and minister to their wives and children in a loving and self-sacrificing manner. Their God-ordained role as the heads of their households didn’t give them the right to lord over those under their care. They were to be servants and shepherds. They to were to model Christ-likeness as they provided instruction in godliness.

God holds Christian fathers responsible for the care of His flock. A godly father is to recognize that his children are gifts from God.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

And because God has assigned believing fathers with the role of shepherding His young lambs, He will hold them responsible if they fail to care for them well. The warning that God applied to the spiritual shepherds of Israel can be applied to those Christian fathers who abdicate their God-given responsibility to shepherd their children as God has commanded.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And God went on to describe what He would do to those shepherds who failed to carry out their God-ordained role.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

In a similar way, Paul is pleading with the fathers within the church at Ephesus to step up and do what they have been called to do. They were to model the self-sacrificing love of Christ. They were to teach their children to honor God by demonstrating it through their own lives. Their homes were to be lighthouses, illuminating the darkness of Ephesus with the glory of God’s grace and the life-changing power of His Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Subtle Allure of Self-Made Religion

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-23 ESV

Far too often, well-meaning but misguided individuals attempt to turn faith in Christ into a lengthy list of dos and don’ts intended to regulate behavior. They take James’ simple premise that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:17) and twist it into a legalistic and guilt-inducing set of rules and regulations designed to determine righteousness. Unable or unwilling to accept that a believer’s right standing with God is based on grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, these purveyors of self-righteousness attempt to earn favor with God through rituals, rites, and fervent religious rule-keeping.

Entire denominations have been formed based on a doctrine that teaches that righteousness must be achieved the old-fashioned way: Through hard work and merit. Essentially, their teaching is based on the old maxim: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Some seem to have founded their works-based concept of salvation on the oft-quoted but non-biblical statement: God helps those who help themselves.

Humanity’s pervasive pride problem lies at the core of this brand of false teaching, and it has been around since the fall. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, mankind has been attempting to assuage its guilt and amend its broken relationship with God through human effort. Over the centuries, countless religions have sprung up, each promoting its own unique set of rules and rituals for keeping its particular deity pleased and in a generous mood. While diverse in their doctrines and dogma, each of these religions shares one thing in common: A works-based form of righteousness. The adherents to these religions live under the repressive pressure of a performance-based system that demands constant and unwavering compliance to a set of rigid and unrelenting standards.

Paul and his fellow apostles had to constantly deal with the problem of legalism infiltrating the churches to whom they ministered. It was only natural for those who had converted to Christianity from pagan religions to carry the baggage of their former faith system into their relationship with Christ. They were used to practicing a religion that was based on rule-keeping and rife with prohibitions of all kinds. So, they were naturally attracted to any form of teaching that provided them with a list of rules to follow and activities to avoid. This made them particularly susceptible to the teachings of a group that later became known as the Judaizers.

The word, Judaizer, first appeared in Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia. Paul describes an encounter he had with his fellow apostle, Peter. It seems that Peter had been freely associating with Gentile believers in Antioch until a group of Jewish believers from Jerusalem showed up. Paul states that “when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12 ESV). The presence of these Jewish Christians from Jerusalem caused Peter to avoid the Gentile converts because they were uncircumcised and, therefore, ceremonially unclean. The Jewish Christians were demanding that all converts to Christianity must submit to all the requirements of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision. Essentially, they were teaching that the Gentiles were not truly saved because they were living in violation of the law. But Paul, a Jew, and a former Pharisee would have none of it.

“…when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:14 ESV

The Greek word is ioudaikōs, and it means “after the manner of the Jews.” Paul was appalled that Peter was demanding that Gentile Christians be required to “Judaize” or live according to Jewish commands and customs. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). The Jews who had shown up in Antioch were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1 ESV). And this forced Paul and Barnabas to travel all the way back to Jerusalem to appear before the apostles and the elders. The matter for discussion was the teaching of the Judaizers, and Paul pulled no punches in confronting this dangerous heresy.

“Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 15:7-11 NLT

According to verse 16 of Colossians 2, this was the very same teaching that had infiltrated the church in Colossae. Paul lists a variety of different topics that have a decidedly Jewish feel to them: Teachings concerning the consumption of food and drink, rules concerning feasts and new moon celebrations, and the keeping of the sabbath. Someone had obviously been teaching the Gentile members of the local congregation that there was more to their newfound faith in Christ than just belief. They were going to have to alter their behavior to accommodate a whole host of religious rules and rituals.

But Paul strongly refuted the idea of adding anything to their faith Christ alone.

“…these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.” – Colossians 2:17 NLT

As a Jew, Paul knew that these things had been designed by God to serve a vital but temporary purpose. Paul assured the believers in Galatia that the law had been given by God but that it had fulfilled its primary purpose. Now that Jesus had come, adherence to the law was no longer required to attain a right standing with God.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. – Galatians 3:23-25 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to understand that they were not subject to anyone’s teaching regarding additional requirements or rules concerning salvation.

Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. – Colossians 2:18 NLT

Their right standing with God was not based on what they did or didn’t do. It was based on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Upon placing their faith in Christ, they had been imputed His righteousness. What was true for Paul was true for them.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

Paul was a staunch defender of the faith, who was willing to hold all those who taught a different gospel or a different Jesus accountable for their actions. And he declared that those who were attempting to mislead the believers in Colossae of being “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Colossians 2:18 ESV). 

Not only that, Paul insists that their errant teaching separated them from Christ and His church. Their false doctrines concerning salvation actually made them an enemy of the gospel. They were doing more harm than good, and diminishing the unity of the body that Christ’s death had made possible.

Paul reminded his brothers and sisters in Christ, “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world?” (Colossians 2:20 NLT). They were becoming distracted by rules that declared, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” (Colossians 2:21 NLT). But these kinds of prohibitions were man-made and destined to fail. Laws can regulate human behavior but are incapable of changing the heart.

These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:23 NLT

Paul revealed the true purpose of the law to the believers in Galatia.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

And Paul went on to point out that the law was never meant to provide salvation. It declared the kind of righteousness God required and revealed mankind’s incapacity to live up to God’s holy standards. And Paul makes it painfully clear that rule-keeping had never been the means by which man could be saved.

If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. – Galatians 3:21-22 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Sun of Righteousness Will Rise

1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

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

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:1-6 ESV

God has just informed the small remnant of the faithful whose names are written in the scroll of remembrance that they will be spared from future judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Now He provides greater details concerning that coming day of judgment from which they will be so graciously spared. He describes it as a burning oven in which “the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all” (Malachi 4:1 ESV). But the remnant of the righteous will be spared.

Jesus also provided His disciples with a graphic depiction of this coming day of judgment and left no doubt as to the final fate of the unrighteous.

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

And that is exactly what God communicates to the faithful few living in Malachi’s day.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 4:2-3 NLT

Centuries later, the apostle John would provide further insight into this great day of judgment, placing it on its proper place along the divine redemptive timeline so that we can better understand the future nature of its fulfillment.

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 NLT

According to John, this coming day of judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ and at the end of His 1,000-year reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords. After His return to earth, Jesus will set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will sit on the throne of David. This Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom will be marked by peace and perfect righteousness as the Son of God reigns over the entire earth. One of the unique features of Christ’s earthly kingdom is that it will be inhabited by believers and unbelievers just as the world is today. But it will be devoid of any influence from Satan because he will have been defeated and imprisoned.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:2-3 NLT

With the great deceiver safely locked away, he will be unable to tempt the ungodly or attack the righteous. His influence on the world will be eliminated. During this remarkable period of time, the people on earth will be allowed to live under the leadership of a perfectly righteous ruler whose kingdom will be marked by justice and equity. For the first time in human history, mankind will experience what it is like to live under the righteous rule of God Himself. But at the end of Christ’s earthly reign, Satan will be released from his confinement and allowed to peddle his evil influence once again, and the outcome will be both predictable and unfortunate.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. – Revelation 20:7-9 NLT

Those millions of unbelieving people who will be given the opportunity to live under the righteous reign of Christ will turn their backs on Him once again, choosing instead to align themselves with the enemy. This will include all the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles living on the earth at the time. And in the vision he was given of this apocalyptic event, John describes seeing fire coming down from heaven and consuming all those who join Satan in his last futile attempt to dethrone and replace God. And, as a result of his failed rebellion, Satan will meet his final fate.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And at at that point, the final judgment will take place. Every human being who has ever lived will appear before the throne of God and give an account for all that they have done. But absent from this judgment will be all those who make up the church, the body of Christ. They will have been raptured long before the seven years of Tribulation and the 1,000-year reign of Christ. But everyone else, including all unbelievers, the Old Testament saints, those who come to faith during the Tribulation, and anyone who places their faith in Christ during His millennial reign, will stand before God to be judged.

In his vision, John “saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12 NLT). That will be the time when the righteous remnant living in Malachi’s day will find themselves standing before Yahweh. But God assures them that they have nothing to fear because “you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2 ESV). They will be spared the fate of their wicked neighbors, which will be eternal separation from God. In fact, God declared assures them that “you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet” (Malachi 4:3 ESV). 

The tables will be turned. In Malachi’s day, the righteous were being trampled down by the wicked. The faithful found themselves few in number and overwhelmed by the pervasive presence of unrighteous rulers, priests, and fellow citizens who mocked and minimized their faith in God. But God will one day restore justice to the earth and reverse the fortunes of His faithful followers. But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to remain faithful.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel. – Malachi 4:4 NLT

They were not to give up or give in. Instead, they were to place their faith in the faithfulness of God. He will one day avenge and reward them. Their faithfulness will be worth it all.

Malachi, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, closes his book with a promise regarding the coming of Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who never faced death, but was removed from the earth by God (2 Kings 2). God states that it was necessary for His prophet to return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). In other words, long before the final day of judgment takes place, there would be a reappearance of Elijah. But Luke records in his gospel that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. An angel appeared to Zechariah the priest, informing him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear him a son. And this son would play a vital role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind.

“…he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

John would later deny that he was Elijah (John 1:21-23). It seems that his role as Elijah was dependent upon whether the people of Israel would listen to his words and accept Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. When John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), he expected the Jews to believe his words and accept Jesus as their Messiah. But they refused to do so. And later, Jesus would later report that John had simply been repeating the same message as the prophets and law had declared.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

If they would have listened to his message and accepted Jesus as their Messiah, John would have been the Elijah they had anticipated. And they would have enjoyed the blessings associated with Elijah’s message. But sadly, during Jesus’ day, the hearts of the fathers were not turned to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Instead, they demanded the crucifixion of the one who had come to save them. But God is not done with Israel. His redemptive plan still includes a rescue of a remnant of His chosen people. And it’s interesting to note that the book of Malachi closes out the Old Testament but the New Testament opens with the gospel of Matthew, which begins with the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 ESV). Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and His coming to earth began the next phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for Israel and the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Refusal to Trust God

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 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?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:6-12 ESV

The very fact that a remnant of the nation of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan was a sign of God’s covenantal commitment. He remained faithful to keep all the promises He had made to the descendants of Abraham. Despite their centuries-long abuse of His grace and constant refusal to keep their commitments to keep His law, God had not completely wiped them off the face of the earth. He had punished them by sending the Babylonians to conquer and capture them, but He had not abandoned them. In fact, He had been the one to make their unlikely return to the land of Judah a reality. Yet here He was again, having to call His rebellion people to repent and return to Him. God desired to bless them, but could not do so as long as they remained unfaithful and unwilling to confess their sins and repent.

Their stubbornness and self-righteousness are evidenced by the question they posed to God.

“How shall we return?” – Malachi 3:7 ESV

In a sense, they were declaring their innocence. How could they return when they had never really abandoned God? When King Cyrus of Persia had decreed that the Israelites could return to the land of Judah, they had been part of the remnant that had agreed to do so. They had been part of the brave few who had made the difficult journey home and spent years rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. It had been their hard work that had caused the temple to rise from the rubble, and it was their sacrifices and offerings that had helped to reinstitute the sacrificial system. So, how could God demand that they return? What more could they do?

But God knew they were simply going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful, showering their affections on the false gods of the neighboring nations. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with non-Israelites, in direct violation of a divine prohibition. And these unholy unions had caused the people of Israel to embrace the gods of the Canaanites. The result was syncretism, a toxic blend of religious beliefs that resulted in a watered-down and ineffective spiritual experience. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, treating Yahweh as one more lover among many. And, to make matters worse, God accused them of theft.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. – Malachi 3:8 ESV

They boldly denied the accusation by questioning the accuracy of God’s statement. In their minds, they had done nothing to offend God. They had continued to offer the mandatory sacrifices and bring the appropriate offerings as the law required. But God disagreed. When presenting their mandatory tithes and offerings, they had regularly short-changed God by offering far less than He had required. This all goes back to the commands God had given the people of Israel long before they had settled in the land of Canaan. Just prior to their crossing of the Jordan River, Moses had delivered to the people God’s laws concerning the offerings of firstfruits and tithes.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. – Deuteronomy 26:1-2 ESV

God had assured them that Canaan was fruitful and abundant, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they were not to put their trust in the land or its productivity. They were to trust in the God who had fed them with quail and manna all during the years they had wandered in the wilderness. He would be their source of provision. By offering Him the first of their harvest, they would be displaying their complete dependence upon Him. And God would use these resources to provide for those in need among them.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. – Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ESV

Every third year, they were to dedicate the first of all their produce to God. And they were to do it as a form of worship, expressing gratitude for all that God had done for them. As they placed their gifts before the altar, they were to declare the undeniable reality of God’s faithful.

“‘…he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:9-10 ESV

And yet, God states that the people of Israel had been robbing Him of their tithes and offerings. They had been keeping back what was rightfully His. And as a result, “the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” were having to do without. God’s ordained system of social welfare had been disrupted by their disobedience and greed. Had they obeyed God’s commands, they would have been a model community that displayed mutual love and care. There was to be no needy or neglected in Israel. Since God was their ultimate provider, no one would do without. And God calls them to put Him to the test and see if His promises will not prove true.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10 ESV

All they had to do was obey. If they would simply keep the Lord’s command and do as they were told, they would experience the unprecedented and unparalleled blessings of God.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:11 ESV

The land was fruitful because God made it so. The soil was perfect for raising crops because God had deemed it so. But He could also bring drought, famine, and pestilence upon the land. God could bring enemies against Israel who would their farms and plunder their flocks and herds and empty their grain stores. But God preferred to bless them, and He would as long as they faithfully kept their covenant commitments.

And God reminded the people that their faithfulness would have far-reaching implications. Not only would the needy among them be properly cared for, but the nations would look on in amazement as they witnessed the supernatural blessings that Israel enjoyed.

“Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:12 ESV

Obedience was intended to result in divine blessing, which was to serve as a witness to the nations. God wanted to abundantly prosper His people so that the greatness of His name might be proclaimed throughout the world. As His chosen people, they had been set apart so that they might display His glory. As they faithfully followed His will and lived according to His exacting standards, they would be blessed by God and give indisputable evidence that He was the one and only God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Problem of Polluted Priests

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” – Malachi 1:6-14 ESV

Malachi now turns his attention to the priestly leadership of Israel. These men had returned with the exiled from Babylon and, with the rebuilding of the temple, had been given the task of reinstituting the sacrificial system and the worship of Yahweh. As members of the tribe of Levi, their priestly responsibilities had been God-ordained and their role was vital to the overall well-being of the people. God had given them clear instructions regarding their job description.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

Levi was the third son born to Leah and Jacob, and he would become the father of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of Moses and Aaron. During the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Canaan, God appointed Aaron and his sons as the first priests of Israel.

“You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.” – Exodus 29:4-9 ESV

These men had been set apart by God as mediators between Himself and the people of Israel. They were given the task of ministering in the tabernacle during their journey to Canaan and, later, in the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Their role was critical to maintaining the spiritual integrity of the nation, and their faithful allegiance to God was intended to establish a precedence for all the people of Israel. As the priests went, so did the people.

I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV

But post-exile, the priests had lost sight of their God-given responsibility and were treating their role with disdain and their God with disrespect. One of their responsibilities was to teach the people God’s law (Deuteronomy 33:10). And they were to serve as judges over the people (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). But Malachi points out that they had failed at both. It was almost impossible for them to teach the law when they regularly violated it themselves. And how were they to judge others when they were incapable of keeping God’s commands? They had become hypocritical and, therefore, ineffective models for the people of Israel.

As their Father, God demanded to know why they refused to honor Him. In doing so, He was accusing them of violating one of the foundational requirements found in the Ten Commandments.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Exodus 20:12 ESV

God had created them and consecrated them for His service, but they refused to treat Him with the honor and respect He deserved. They enjoyed the distinct privilege of having been set apart by God to serve Him as His sons. But they showed their Heavenly Father little reverence and awe. Not only that, they refused to treat God as their Master and Lord.

“If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!” – Malachi 1:6 NLT

As priests, these men bore the name of God, and their actions had brought shame on His name. They were His representatives among the people and their behavior was dishonoring His reputation and diminishing the worthiness of His character. As the people viewed the godless lifestyle of the priests, they were tempted to mimic their behavior. And since the priests were cutting corners in their worship of God, the people were prone to do the same thing.

But these pious men refused to acknowledge their guilt, choosing instead to question the charges God had leveled against them.

How have we ever shown contempt for your name? – Malachi 1:6 NLT

“How have we defiled the sacrifices?” – Malachi 1:7 NLT

In a sense, they were demanding that God prove His accusations against them. In their pride and arrogance, they refused to acknowledge that they had done anything wrong. But God pulled no punches when detailing the egregious nature of their sins.

“You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 1:7-8 NLT

They were guilty of using their priestly office for profit. It seems that these men were sacrificing lame and injured animals as sacrifices to God, in direct violation of His law.  It seems likely that the people were bringing unblemished animals to be sacrificed but the priests were substituting those healthy animals with injured ones. In doing so, they were able to keep the healthy ones for their own consumption. By offering unacceptable sacrifices on behalf of the people, they invalidated the whole sacrificial system. No sins could be atoned for by offering up an unacceptable sacrifice. God would not and could not be appeased. God had been very specific regarding this matter.

“Give Aaron and his sons and all the Israelites these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living among you.

“If you present a gift as a burnt offering to the LORD, whether it is to fulfill a vow or is a voluntary offering, you will be accepted only if your offering is a male animal with no defects. It may be a bull, a ram, or a male goat. Do not present an animal with defects, because the LORD will not accept it on your behalf.” – Leviticus 22:18-20 NLT

God expected His priests to be holy and He demanded that the sacrifices they offered be holy as well.

“They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God. They must be holy, for they are the ones who present the special gifts to the Lord, gifts of food for their God.” – Leviticus 21:6 NLT

And Malachi picks up on this theme of presenting gifts of food for God by describing their blemished offerings as “contemptible food” that “defile the Lord’s table” (Malachi 1:12 NLT). They wouldn’t dare to serve the royal governor tainted meat but they had no problem offering God unacceptable sacrifices. And God displays His anger by declaring His desire to shut the doors of the temple to bring an end to their hypocrisy. It’s important to remember that the sacrificial system had just been reinstituted. It had been more than 70 years since the people had been able to have their sins atoned for, and now, they ran the risk of losing this vital opportunity once again. All because of the sins of the priesthood. 

But these men remain unrepentant, choosing instead to blame their behavior on the overwhelming nature of the entire sacrificial system. It is just too hard, they say. They find it all so wearisome and difficult to maintain. So, they treat God’s words with disdain and dismiss His commands as optional. But God will have none of it. He marvels at the sheer arrogance of these men, pointing out the mind-boggling audacity of their actions.

“Think of it! Animals that are stolen and crippled and sick are being presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?” – Malachi 1:13 ESV

Their behavior is unthinkable and their gifts are unacceptable. And God pronounces a curse upon these men.

“Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” – Malachi 1:14 ESV

Their set-apart status would not protect them from the anger of God. He would judge and punish them for their actions. If they were unwilling to honor His name, God would do it Himself. Their refusal to live up to their responsibility as His priests and the peoples’ shepherds would bring down the wrath of God. Their failure to honor God by keeping His commandments would result in His just and righteous judgment of them. A returned people and a restored temple meant nothing if the priests of God refused to lead the people of God to repentance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Learning to Recognize God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” – Malachi 1:2-5 ESV

Whether we can accurately determine Malachi’s identity or not is irrelevant. What is important is that the author more than lives up to his God-given title of “my messenger.” Every word he has recorded is a message from Yahweh to His covenant people, the nation of Israel. For generations, these descendants of Abraham had enjoyed a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that had made them the beneficiaries of His love and blessings. God had set them apart and declared them to be His prized possession, among all the nations of the earth. When He had successfully freed them from their 400-year captivity in Egypt, God had led them to Mount Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and delivered give the following message:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And the people had eagerly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Even before God had communicated the terms of the covenant, they had agreed to keep it. They liked the idea of being God’s treasured possession, so they wholeheartedly declared their intentions to keep whatever conditions He set forth. But it was three days later that God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai and delivered the content of the covenant agreement to which they had already pledged their allegiance.

When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he shared with the people all that God had told him.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8 ESV

Moses revealed to the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the associated laws that were intended to regulate their behavior as God’s chosen people. This God-ordained code of conduct was a non-negotiable regulatory document that would distinguish the nation of Israel from all the other nations of the earth. As long as they remained obedient to the covenant, they would be blessed. But should they choose to disobey, they would find themselves suffering severe and inescapable consequences.

But the history of the people of Israel reveals their epic failure at keeping their word. Once God had successfully planted them in Canaan, the land He had promised as their inheritance, they began to reveal their propensity for disobedience and unfaithfulness. They repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant and, despite constant warnings from God, they refused to repent and return to Him. Generation after generation carried on a dangerous love affair with the world and its many false gods, choosing the snub their noses in the face of the one true God. And eventually, God was forced to fulfill His warnings of retribution and destruction. That is why they had spent 70 years living as captives in the land of Babylon. God had warned them time and time again that He would remove them from the land of promise if they continued to violate His covenant and, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians had overrun the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken thousands of its citizens back to Babylon as slaves.

At the time Malachi wrote his message from God, a remnant of the exiles had been living back in Judah for years. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the temple had been restored, and the sacrificial system had been renewed, but the people remained just as rebellious and disobedient as ever. So, through His “messenger,” God delivered a powerful reminder of His unrequited love and patience with his stubborn people.

Through Malachi, God declared the reality of His steadfast, unwavering love. Despite all they had suffered over the last 70 years, He had never fallen out of love with them. “I have always loved you,” He reminded them. And even their time in exile had been an expression of His affection because “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).

But the people had a difficult time viewing the destruction of their city and their seven-decade-long internment in Babylon as evidence of God’s love, so they asked, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2 NLT). From their perspective, it appeared as if God was angry with them and, even now, they suffered constant threats from their enemies and lived in a city that was little more than a shadow of its former glory. They had no king, no standing army, and little hope of ever seeing their fate reversed. As a result, they were distrustful of God, questioning His goodness and doubting His word concerning their wellbeing.

So, God reminded them of how they came to be His chosen people in the first place. He took them back to the births of Esau and Jacob, the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. Malachi’s audience knew the story well. Before the boys were born, God had told Rebekah that the infants inside her womb represented two separate nations.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God informed Rebekah that the younger of the two boys would become the greater nation. According to tradition, the elder son should have been the recipient of the father’s inheritance and the one to bear the blessing of the firstborn. But, through a series of somewhat underhanded, but clearly God-ordained events, Jacob, the younger of the two siblings, would become the next in line to receive the inheritance that had been passed down through Abraham to Isaac. Jacob had been “loved” by God.

“When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalm 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born…” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God had chosen to break precedence and set apart Jacob rather than Esau, and it had nothing to do with either boy’s value or worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul points out the undeserving nature of either child and explains the sovereign nature of God’s will concerning His decision.

…before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

From a human perspective, it appears as if God showed greater favor to one son while disfavoring the other. But God did not completely abandon Esau. He simply chose to make His covenant commitment to the descendants of Jacob. God eventually gave Esau the land of the hill country, located around Moun Seir in Edom. In a sense, God blessed Esau by providing him with land as an inheritance, but Esau would prove to be unfaithful and idolatrous. His descendants, the Edomites, would be a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites. And when the Babylonians invaded the region, the Edomite cities and towns were also destroyed.

And when the Edomites declared their intent to reclaim and rebuild their devastated homeland, God warned them that he would prevent them from doing so.

“They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people will be called ‘The People with Whom the Lord Is Forever Angry.’ – Malachi 1:4 NLT

The Edomites would become an illustration of the futility and hopelessness that faces all those who are not in a covenant relationship with God. The only reason the Israelites had been able to return to the land and rebuild their former capital was that God had ordained it. The decree set forth by King Cyrus of Persia that had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem had been God’s doing. He had orchestrated it all. And, in doing so, He had proved His love for His chosen people yet again.

As the Israelites looked around them, they would soon realize that none of the neighboring nations that had fallen to the Babylonians would experience the same degree of revitalization as they had. Not even the Edomites, the descendants of Isaac, would ever rebuild their cities or reestablish their hold on the land. And this should have caused the Israelites to declare, “Truly, the Lord’s greatness reaches far beyond Israel’s borders!” (Malachi 1:5 NLT).

Both the Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and both had suffered the judgment of God, having been destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Yet only Israel had enjoyed restoration after judgment. Despite what appeared to be their less-than-ideal circumstances, the Israelites were experiencing the love of God in the form of His covenant commitment. He had restored them just as He said He would do and He was not yet done blessing them. But, as the following verses will reveal, God did expect to see significant changes among His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.