The final dispute between God and his people focuses on whether there’s even any point in following God at all. They are concerned that it’s futile to serve God, and their worship comes with no benefits since the evil prosper anyway. God responds by telling them about a remnant who love to gather and talk together about God, and he listens and hears them. Those who are faithful, who seek righteousness despite the challenges in the world around them, who worship wholeheartedly – they have the full attention of the faithful and loving God, and he will spare them when he brings the promised justice and judgement. The book ends with a reminder to remember the law of Moses and to expect the previously mentioned prophet Elijah before the Day of The Lord arrives.
How can we live today that gets God’s attention? Are we part of communities that gather to honour the Lord in our midst? As we look ahead to advent, are we prepared for the Day of the Lord?
God calls the Israelites to return to him by once again bringing the rights tithes and offerings. The Israelites had neglected their duty to honour God with their money and their possessions, keeping as much as possible for themselves. God wants to bless his people with great abundance, and even challenges them to test him in this, but he won’t do that until they honour him by bringing what is required by the Levitical law.
What do we hold back from God? How tightly do we hold on to our money and our possessions when God is simply asking us to be generous with what he has given us? Where might God want to bless us as individuals and a church community?
The Israelites complain to God that the world seems like an unfair and unjust place to live. The evil seem to get away from it and God doesn’t seem to intervene; corruption and wickedness are abounding and God seems to do nothing. God responds by promising to send a messenger who will prepare the way for God himself to come and bring justice, purifying with fire to remove the idolatry, sinfulness and immorality that is rife among them. The people don’t seem to trust that God will come to bring justice and freedom for the oppressed and saw him as passive and unconcerned. However, God was faithful to his promises as Jesus fulfils this (Luke 4:16-19) and then promises to make all things new again in the age to come.
How can we get frustrated with or blame God for the suffering and injustice we see in this world? Do we trust that God really does care about the state of this world, and will do something about it? What is our part in brining justice and freedom to the oppressed?
The Israelites have been unfaithful to God (first 2 weeks), and this impacts their relationships with one another. Just as they’ve been unfaithful to God, they’ve become unfaithful to one another (v.10). The men have been unfaithful to their wives, marrying women from other nations and letting their idols infiltrate their households, their worship and their hearts. In doing so, they have broken two covenants; their marriage covenant and their covenant with God. They proceed to mourn the fact that they don’t have God’s blessing, not able to see the connection between their faithfulness to one another and God’s blessing and favour.
How are we shaped by the world around us, and how can we be on guard against it? Do we see the connection between our relationship with God and how we treat others or do we box them up as separate? How is the covenant of marriage viewed in our culture and in the church? How do we grow in faithfulness, the fruit of the spirit?
The second dispute between God and his people focuses on worship at the temple. The people are bringing offerings that are blemished or defiled in the temple, going against the Levitical Law and demonstrating that they don’t truly honour God. Their half-hearted, duty-bound devotion even prompts God to wish the Temple doors would be shut so they’d stop bringing these offerings. To make things worse the priests are complicit in this, participating in the shameful worship instead of pointing the people towards true, obedient worship. The very people chosen to uphold the high standards or worship are the ones defiling it.
How can we, as Christians, be guilty of similar? When do we bring our half-hearted offerings to God and think that’s enough? How can we ‘offer [y]our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)?
The Israelites begin by doubting God’s love for them, setting the scene for the whole book. God’s response is to remind them that he chose the family of Jacob their ancestor, not Esau, to show his love and faithfulness. By questioning God’s love for them in the present, they are questioning his faithfulness to his covenant and promises, and therefore his very character. Throughout the generations, God has always been faithful to his people but they have often failed to recognise that. How or when do we doubt the love God has for us? How can we say we believe God’s love but act in such a way that shows we don’t truly believe? The New Testament points us towards the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the New Covenant that provides a solid foundation for the love God has for us.