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Confessions: God's Faithfulness

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The priests were unfaithful to the law, and Israel to the covenant, but God is always faithful

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Open marriages and Ashley Madison tend to reflect the kind of attitude we have towards marriage. We like the idea of a covenant relationship with a lifetime partner, but we do not want to be limited in this covenant relationship with a life time partner.
What does faithfulness look like?
Last week saw that though Israel had their cultic practice restored and were once again offering sacrifices in the temple, they were not giving God their best, and treated the name of God with contempt. Still the priests do not recognize their failure.
Malachi 2:1–9 HCSB
“Therefore, this decree is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart. “Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal waste over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree so My covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord of Hosts. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and fairness and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. “You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.”
Malachi 2:1
The word translated “decree” is actually command, and this message is one the priests better pay close attention to. The priests are the ones who interceded and oversaw the sacrificial system, but at this time they also taught the law. This word shows up four times in these 9 verses. As they functioned as mediaries between God and the people, they should have been the ones leading the way of honoring and treasuring the name of God. If they continue to carry down this path, God will send upon them a curse; and according to Malachi, God had already begun to curse them. Blessings and cursings are associated with covenants. When obligations are fulfilled in accordance with the covenant, then promises of blessing are extended, but when those obligations are not seen through, then promises of cursing are declared. This captured in the book of .
The extent of the curse is seen in the repugnant smearing of animal waste over the faces of the priests. This was the left overs of the animal sacrifice that was to be taken out and burned completely. Now the refuse that is smeared on their faces shows that they are as unfit as the offerings they are facilitating. Likewise, as the muck was to be carried out and to be burned, so too will the priests be removed. This stands in light of the covenant that God established with Levi. Now this covenant is one that is not clearly found within Scripture. In and following, we find Phinehas, son of Eleazar, rising to the occasion and dealing with a rogue Israelite, who took a Midianite woman as a wife, and in front of Moses and the rest of Israel, brought this woman to his tent in order to be with her. This high rebellion brought a curse on Israel that killed 24,000 people. So Phinehas took a spear and struck down Zimri and the woman he was with. As a result, God said that He would establish a covenant of peace with him and that it would be a perpetual covenant with his descendants. Likewise, in , Moses declared a blessing on the Levitical people. In , God declared that He is establishing a lasting covenant that will a descendant of David on the throne for all eternity and the Levites serving before Him. Here now, God says that the priests who are zealous for His name, who treat it with honor and reverence will experience life and peace. This priest whom He is speaking of taught with truth in his mouth and without deceit on his lips. He walked in the manner in which he lived, in peace and fairness. The result of his ministry—many turned from sin. The word here is the OT word for repentance—this priest, because of his devotion the name of God and faithfulness to the law, was responsible for many turning back to God in repentance.
However, this foil of a character sets too high a bar for the priests of Malachi’s day. Instead of calling people back to God, they veered off the path of God’s standards and led many to stumble because of their instruction. In this, they have violated the covenant God made with Levi. As a result to failing to fulfill their obligation of the covenant, God treated the priests as unimportant and humiliated them. This treatment is an ironic one because this was the way which the priests were treating God and His name. Now it has turned in upon themselves. The priests were unfaithful in their tasks as leaders and teachers of the law. They will wear their shame.
Now, while they priests were unfaithful to teach the instructions of the law, they were not the only ones unfaithful. As we will see, Israel likewise was unfaithful to the covenant with their God.
Malachi 2:10–16 HCSB
Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. To the man who does this, may the Lord cut off any descendants from the tents of Jacob, even if they present an offering to the Lord of Hosts. And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands. Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. “If he hates and divorces his wife, ” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously.
He we find more people who are unfaithful. Malachi speaking, makes note that Israel has one Father—God who created them. Though their ancestry stems back to Abraham, their existence as God’s chosen people is due to God’s purpose and no one else. When God gave Israel the law, He declared His authority over them as the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery. Notice that Malachi does not disassociate himself with the treachery of his people. They are all corporately at fault for profaning the covenant as the covenant community. Their crime—profaning those things which the Lord has declared holy. The idea of profaning the holy things of the Lord is possibly secularizing them. This paganization is the direct outcome of their marrying foreign women who were daughters of foreign gods. A wordplay happens here when Malachi said that the men “married” these foreign women. The word for marry is Baal, which also happens to be the name of prominent Canaanite god—Baal. To the ones acting in this manner, God says he is to be removed from the people of Israel and is to be cut off.
Still they offer up their sacrifices with tears, with weeping, with groaning, knowing that God will not respect their gifts or gladly accepts what they are giving.
They want to understand why? Why will God not accept their offerings? His answer—you’re unfaithful. Here we find Israel committing a treacherous act, by divorcing their wives for the purpose of marrying pagan women. God highlights the travesty that is taking place within the community as He describes the wife of their youth as “partner” and wife by “covenant.” The term partner means “joined together.” They were indeed one. Then to add to their disgrace, these marriages were covenantal. God was their witness. This problem is also seen in the men who appeared after the time of Malachi. and following recorded that Israel was marrying foreign women and raising children who could not even speak Hebrew. In the final chapters of , Ezra discovered that Israel was still marrying pagans and giving their daughters up to them as well. He was devastated by the news. He fell on his knees before God with a tunic and robe torn in grief, raising his hands to God, and declared that he was ashamed and embarrassed even to lift his face up towards God. This sin was a perpetual problem for Israel. One which God clearly called Israel to avoid in when He warned them that intermarriage would bring in foreign gods. Still, Israel chose to be unfaithful.
Once again, Malachi asks about the God who created them. These questions expect “yes” as the response. They were created by the “breath-life” of One God, and He has a holy desire of them—to be holy as He is holy. God desires a godly offspring. But while you may train up a child in the way he should go, it does not mean that he will choose to remain on that path. Twice Malachi will tell the people keep guard over themselves and to not act treacherously, but as Ezra and Nehemiah would show us, they do not heed God’s directive.
God would have Israel reflect His holiness by their being faithful to the covenant, but with such a soft commitment to marriage, their devotion to God was even less. So God says in verse 16, “For I hate divorce and the one who covers his garment with violence.” The Hebrew in this passage is difficult, but I believe that the NET, NASB, KJV, and NLT rightly translate this verse. The HCSB offers a translation alternative on the note at the bottom of the page. It should be on the top of the page! This is not an “If/Then” clause, but a causal or grounds statement for what Malachi just said—watch over yourselves carefully and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. Why? Because God hates divorce. Just as He hated Esau who despised his birthright, so too God hates cheap and unfaithful devotion to marriage. Though Ezra will tell his people to put away their foreign wives, here Malachi is addressing the issue that currently, Israel is putting away the wives of their youth, who also under the covenant, in order to claim for themselves pagan wives with pagan Gods. This act was despicable. Not only that, it was violent. Now this does not mean that the men were beating their wives, and were getting blood upon their garments. I don’t think it need go that far. Divorce in general is violent. If you have gone through a divorce, whether as a spouse or a child, divorce is not an experience that is painless, but very painful. So once again He says, watch yourselves carefully. Do not give into your lusts and act in this wicked manner.
Yet, the picture of Israel’s marriages was a true picture of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. As I have said before, marriage is a picture that captures covenant relationships, for they are covenants as well. God describes and portrays His relationship with Israel as one of a marriage. This image all throughout the book of Hosea expresses this notion, also, it’s captured in , and many other places as well. As Israel was unfaithful in their earthly marriages, they were unfaithful in their covenant relationship with God. All of Israel. The priests, the leaders, the judges, the everyday citizen—unfaithful.
So what does faithfulness look like?
We can venture to look at the church and see if any faithfulness can be found. We look and see Mr. Prosperity Gospel come into view. He comes week after week, with offerings in hand, but none worthy to give to God. He speaks of a message that encourages treasures in this world and says nothing of the treasure of Christ. Then Mr. People Pleaser and Mr. Ear-Tickler take to the pulpit. Both stand before God’s people and both offer words that provide no charge, no conviction, no challenge to put away sin and to devote themselves in this covenant relationship. They find that their approval by the people is more precious than their approval by God. So they continue to offer their worthless sacrifices in efforts to entertain and draw a crowd. But what, notice how they draw the crowds and how they captivate their audiences. Is this not because they inform their people that they can be the bride of Christ and a lover of this world?
So we see those in attendance like Mr. and Mrs. Shallow Faith who values only words of encouragement and none that can save the soul. Then their is the Last Minute Family who decides at the last minute to take their family to church because they could find no other thing to do in their weekend, so perhaps church would be better to do than nothing. But lets not forget Miss Hides-Her-Talents, Mr. Holds-His-Tithe, Mr. and Mrs. Gripes-A-Lot, and Mrs. Refuse-to-Sing, each saying they are a part of the faith community, but each representing a unfaithful characteristic. We can look at the church and still find the faults of Israel present.

But the Faithlessness of Man does not prevent the Faithfulness of God.

Because faithfulness looks like Jesus

In and following, chapters 7 and also 8, speak of Jesus who is our heavenly high priest. He faithfully ministered before God the Father, rightly teaching the law and calling people to faithful obedience to it. He also offered up the purist of sacrifices in order to intercede on behalf of sinners, Himself. He does not have to offer up daily sacrifices as the Levitical priests did, but offered up one gift, Himself, once and for all. By this offering, Jesus mediates a better covenant. Then we see in the celebration of , the marriage supper of the Lamb. He will see His bride before Him without spot, blemish, or wrinkle.
This message is the breath-taking beauty of the Gospel. God’s faithfulness to bring salvation to the world, restore His creation, and rescue fallen mankind. But God is not interested in having open relationships. He is not interested in saving a people who join Him in a covenant relationship, but still hold to love and devotion to this temporal world. He is looking for people to be as He is—faithful.
While faithfulness can easily give way to legalism, and the two be misconstrued, let us consider two things:

Faithfulness is not a matter of “Have to’s” it is a matter of “Want to”

We who are God’s people should desire to be in His presence daily, in His Word, in prayer. There should be a great joy in worshipping God regularly with other believers and not sparsely. Followers of Jesus gladly give of their time and resources because they recognize that it is not their’s to begin with, but that God provided it for them. So their is joy and excitement, and a “want-to” in this covenant relationship.

Faithfulness is matter of true devotion

When we respond to the gospel that calls us from sin and to faith, we cannot enter this covenant lightly or gently, but must enter into it completely with the expectation that we will give all we have to God, because He has given us all we need. When you responded to the Gospel, was it simply to escape Hell, or was it because their was no greater treasure to found in all the world but God? The answer to this question is vital. When we seek only to escape Hell, we care only for ourselves and to save our own skin or soul. But when see God has our greatest treasure, then we see any moment apart from Him as hell. Like lovesick lovers who are miles apart for a season. Constantly writing poems, notes, and daydreaming of the other, anxiously waiting for the day of their union. This is what the Gospel does to the true believer, and such a state produces a faith that is fully devoted.
Do you “want” to serve God? Well are you truly and wholly devoted to Him? What does faithfulness to God look like in your life? Perhaps you have never given yourself over to God in faith and repentance. Know that God is able to save you today if you would come to Him, He could change you completely. Perhaps you have turned yourself over to Christ, but if you were honest, could you confess today that you are faithful to Him, or are their still areas in your life that need to be turned over to Him? Do that today.
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