It has never been an easy matter to ‘fear the Lord’ amidst growing evil and unbelief. Modern experience confirms this and Malachi’s day must have been an extreme illustration of it. There must have been a spiritual blight over the land when we consider what the prophet has to say about the attitude of the nation to their God - the God who, at the very commencement of the prophecy says ‘I have loved you’. Dr. Campbell Morgan says the real force of these words is ‘I have loved you, I do love you, I will love you’. The reply of the people is almost incredible - ‘Wherein hast thou loved us’? and it is a sad reply that follows as the Lord points out to the people whom He loved their reprehensible treatment of Him.
Chapter 1. 6 shows that they gave Him less honour than the natural son would give to his father: vv. 7, 8 that the priests despised His name to the extent that they offered polluted food on His altar - anything they did not want themselves. Verses 12-13 - they profaned His name and regarded His service as a weariness. In 3. 8 God charges them plainly with robbing Him by the withholding of tithes and offerings, using for their own selfish purposes that which belonged to Him. As we think of these things we might well consider that it should be the Lord saying to His people ‘wherein have you loved me?’
In the nation around, the results of their sad failure in relation to their God are seen in the deteriorating relationships with one another, 2. 10 speaks of them dealing treacherously one with another, and 2. 11 speaks of unequal yokes being forged with idolators. Verse 14 tells of the ease with which they were breaking their marriage vows. It seems as though being out of touch with God put them out of touch with all others.
But God has never left Himself without a light among His people. The light is seen in 3. 16 - there were ‘those that feared the Lord’, but it is highly probable that they were of little account in the eyes of the nation as a whole, although without doubt there was some measure of preservative ‘salt’ in their witness.
This is not now B.C., it is A.D. 1990, but it is fair to say that some, reading what has already been written, might be pardoned for thinking that our present day is being described.
As our present article opened the thought was expressed that it has never been easy to ‘fear the Lord’ among growing evil. It may have been God’s purpose in telling us about this little company who feared Him, and as He told us what they did, to give us a clue to the way of successful spiritual living in dark days such as our own. He says concerning them that they had fellowship one with another, 3. 16; ‘they thought upon His Name’, v. 16; and there is an implication in v. 17 that the coming day of the revelation of their Messiah was not far from their thoughts.
Let us take these thoughts a little further. They had fellowship. Those of like mind felt the need and had the genuine desire to get together. Those who ‘feared the Lord’ loved to be with those that ‘feared the Lord.’ Christian fellowship today is a vital ingredient in a God-honouring life and a God-filled life. When my fellow-believers are gathering together for prayer or the ministry of the word, that is where, if at all possible, I should want to be, to make my contribution and enjoy theirs. Concerning Malachi’s day the word says, 3. 16, ‘The Lord hearkened and heard’ - He was there. Is not this the promise our beloved Lord gives today, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst?’ Surely He is listening, and notes our presence. And as then, so now, the Lord rejoices in sharing fellowship with ‘those who fear Him’, however small they may be numerically.
Verse 16 also suggests the main subject matter of their conversation- ‘they thought upon his Name’ - His character, His Person. Not current events, not politics, not social responsibility, however important these things were. Dr. Campbell Morgan has a suggestive comment here - he says that the truth behind “they thought upon his Name” is ‘they made an inventory of His Name.’ ‘His Name’ would, of course, be Jehovah, His name in relation to Israel, in distinction from the many titles that He bears. An examination of Strong’s Concordance shows that seven times the name of the Lord (Jehovah) in the Old Testament is linked with an expression which is a revelation of His character in relation to His people. Three times the expression is left untranslated in the Authorised Version, the original words being brought over into the text. The other four have been translated. These names were in all probability the treasures that those old saints rejoiced in, and which strengthened them in a dark day. Considering them they discovered how much they had in Him - how rich they were. The inventory was inexhaustible. A hymn in the old Sankey book comes to mind here:
Would we be joyful in the Lord, then count the riches o’er
Revealed to faith within His word and note the boundless store.
There is pardon, peace and power, and purity and paradise:
With all of these in Christ for me let joyful songs of praise to Him arise.
Taking the references in the order in which these names are found in the Old Testament, they are: ‘
What riches they had and we now have in our God - why should we feel it necessary to turn to the world for our enjoyment and sustenance - in so doing we are declaring that He is not enough. But how blessed to be able to stand back and ‘count the riches o’er,’ and to be able to say ‘This God is our God for ever and ever’. Our riches do not consist merely in what He gives, but in what He is - the other is extra.
Our consideration of these names (the details of the ‘inventory’) must be brief.
‘The Lord will provide’ (or see to it). A familiar passage, and we have often thought of our God who provided the Lamb in His own good time, but the other rendering of the passage, ‘the Lord will see to it’, brings its application into everyday life, and into every problem, and possibly meant more to those tried saints in Malachi’s day. If we leave the problem with Him ‘He will see to it’ - and make no mistakes. The circumstances in which those dear believers lived made this a very precious assurance indeed, and comes as an encouraging commencement to this list of the riches they had in God. They may have asked, and we may today ask, God will provide - what? God will do - what? Shall we just say ‘Whatsoever my Father doeth must be always best’. We can leave the ‘what’ with Him.
‘The Lord that healeth thee’. He kept His people through the wilderness journey, with no National Health Service, and today, in spite of all the expertise of men, in the final analysis He is the One who heals - in the physical and in the spiritual realm.
‘The Lord my banner’. The use of the name here celebrates Israel’s victory over Amalek, and it is well to note the stress of verse 16 that ‘The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation’. He is the Leader, and He is the Victor. It is an invigorating reminder that Israel’s inveterate enemy was regarded by Jehovah as His inveterate enemy, and who could question the ultimate outcome? As those who feared the Lord thought upon this Name they recognized that they were linked with the triumphant One in spite of their enemies round about them.
The Lord thy peace’. Gideon was badly shaken when he realized that his visitor was a supernatural being, although he probably did not understand who ‘the angel of the Lord’ was. But he was cheered and encouraged when the Lord said to him ‘Peace be unto thee, fear not’. He determined to perpetuate his experience of peace in place of fear in the title that he gave to the altar he erected - ‘Jehovah Shalom’. In Malachi’s day our little company of those who had contact with God rejoiced with Gideon that the Lord Himself was their peace. There were plenty of problems but they were kept in peace because their hearts were stayed on Him.
The Lord my shepherd’. Those of us who live in urban societies will understand very little of the link between the shepherd and the flock, but we can understand the words of the psalmist ‘I shall not want’. The sheep left everything to the shepherd, who did everything for them. The knowledge of this must have brought great comfort to those early believers, many of whom suffered, not only spiritually, but also materially, because of their allegiance to and love for Jehovah Rohi. The saints of today rejoice that the One of whom those early believers thought, has revealed Himself to a later generation as a Shepherd who even laid down His life for the sheep. This was love indeed.
‘The Lord our righteousness’. How deeply those early saints understood the full meaning of this wonderful name we do not know, but they must have realized that in a way beyond their understanding their Lord provided the righteousness they so sorely needed. They were conscious of their own failures, and we may be sure that the words we sing today, ‘they who love Him best are conscious most of wrong within’, described their experience as well as our own. But they could rejoice that the righteousness they could not provide, their God could. Today, with Calvary and its victory an accomplished fact we can grasp the truth more fully, and we understand that we have been made ‘the righteousness of God’ in Christ, 2 Cor. 5. 21.
‘The Lord is there’. These words look on to the future, and they were reminded as they read them, of a city very different from the one they knew in their day, a city from which corruption of every kind would be excluded. They must also have been reminded that all they had learned of their Lord in their day of testing was going to be experienced in all its fulness, when in that coming day their Lord was going to be with them in person. He Himself was going to prove Himself to be greater than all His gifts. But there is little doubt that they will still ‘think upon His Name’.
In Christ is love abounding, in Him redeeming grace,
In Him my daily manna, in Him my hiding place:
In Him there is atonement, in Him eternal life,
In Him a full salvation, in Him an end of strife.