Lord's Day Evening Meditations February 29, 2004

Malachi 3:16-18

"They That Feared The Lord"

These last three verses of chapter 3 are the happiest part of this book. Going through it we have been learning about the Lord, His love, His interest in His people, and His desires for them. Sadly, they were far from what He wanted them to be; but, in these last three verses there was a little remnant which cheered His heart. He could look down on them with pleasure; they were a refreshment to His heart. Let's just review that remnant in relation to the whole nation of Israel. A diagram may help us to understand the insignificance of this remnant in relation to the whole nation.

The whole rectangle, divided into 12 parts, represents the twelve tribes which became divided into two: Israel and Judah. Both were removed from their land, in judgment, but it was from the captives of Judah, that a relatively small company, rectangle R on the diagram, returned. They rebuilt the temple and the wall, but the revival didn't last very long, and in the days of Malachi they had turned away from the Lord. It is out of that remnant that we find a few, the small shaded square inside the rectangle R on the diagram, who "feared the Lord and that thought upon His name." This is just a simple effort to show the relationship of the few of Malachi 3:16 to the remnant of Judah and to the nation as a whole. The proportions are not exact.

As we have seen previously, there were three things that distinguished them from the rest of the people at that time. They

1) "feared the Lord,"

2) "spoke often one to another," and

3) "thought upon His (the Lord's) name."

We must keep in mind, however, that the majority of the people in the land at that time were still going on with the outward forms of serving the Lord. They were still offering sacrifices, observing the solemn feasts, teaching the law, and presenting themselves with tears at God's altar. But as we have already seen, and it was "The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi," none of this was acceptable to the Lord because it was only external, and accompanied by much disobedience to His will. It was the little remnant out of the remnant that had the Lord's approval, and we have seen the three things that obtained that approval. There were no great works or any show of power, but in weakness and obscurity they went on, truly pleasing the Lord.

In view of these three things being so important as to draw the Lord's approval, we'll consider them one at a time.

1) "They feared the Lord."

This is something that should characterize the Lord's people at all times, though we must make a difference between Old Testament and New Testament times. In Malachi we are still in the Old Testament, reading about a people who were still under the law of God given by Moses at Mount Sinai. Let's see something of what "the fear of the Lord" would have been at that time.

Their knowledge of God was limited to what had been revealed up till then. We have heard Him say to His people, "I have loved you, saith the Lord," and we know that He proved that love to them by having chosen their fathers, by having delivered them from slavery in Egypt, by having given them their promised land, and by having helped and provided for them so faithfully over many years. But they didn't know that love as we know it; they didn't yet have that full manifestation of the love of God that we have: the cross of Christ. Malachi lived 400 years before the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world. Their knowledge of the Lord was largely through the law - a perfect standard of human righteousness (which man could never attain on his own strength) enforced with punishments for disobedience.

The original giving of the law was a frightening experience ("the fear of the Lord"). It was given at "the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire," where was "blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet" which was so terrible that even Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake." Heb. 12:18 - 21. Later, when the tabernacle was erected, and then the temple, God dwelt behind the veil, hidden from His people, and only the high priest, once a year, dared enter there, with very special preparation and with the blood of a sacrifice. His holiness, His majesty, and His hatred of sin might well put fear into the hearts of His people.

When Nadab and Abihu "offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not, there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." Lev. 10:1 - 2. In Lev. 24:10 - 16, when a man "blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed," the penalty was death. "A man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath day," also suffered the death penalty. Num. 15:32 - 36. Even an extremely "stubborn and rebellious son," who was "a glutton and a drunkard," and who would not "obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother," was to be put to death. Deut. 21:18 - 21. If this law was to be put into effect in our society today, would anyone be left alive?

In Deut. 21 we are also given the reasons for the severity of this punishment: "So shall thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear." v. 21. There were two reasons:

1) remove the evil and thus maintain holiness among the people, and

2) warn the others so that they might be afraid, and therefore be kept from doing the same thing.

Does this now give you an idea of what "the fear of the Lord" was in the time of law? The book of Acts describes the transition from law to grace, and in the beginning of the book, in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we have something similar in the way sin was dealt with immediately and severely, with the result that "great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." Acts 5:11.

Now, what should "the fear of the Lord" be for us today? The Lord hasn't changed; He is just as holy - hating sin, just as mighty and as glorious as ever, for He is the unchanging One. However, that glorious, holy Person has come down to us in human form, "the Word made flesh," and was found here in all meekness and humility; come, not to judge the world, but to save the world. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." 2 Cor. 5:19. He gave Himself into the hands of His enemies; they nailed Him to the cross and there He accomplished the work of redemption whereby He has made available, freely, to "whosoever will," a perfect and eternal salvation. The cross is the manifestation of the love of God to

1) the world - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."

2) the church - "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it."

3) the individual believer - "The Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me."

The cross of Christ is the supreme, the fullest manifestation of the love of God to us. In that work, and in that love, we have full deliverance from eternal judgment, present care, and provision, and a glorious future of eternal joy and rest. We owe it all to Him! Knowing this love, and owing everything to such a heart, can we lightly displease Him, disobey Him, or turn against Him? Will not the knowledge and the experience of such love make me afraid to displease Him in any way? To sin against righteousness is understandable, because we are human; but, to knowingly sin against such a heart of love, after all that He has done, is doing, and will yet do, for us, is base and shameful. This, I believe, is the true character of "the fear of the Lord" at this present time. May we have it in a fuller measure! r S.L.