The Final Promise

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

Malachi’s last words provide one last promise and warning to Israel. They comprise the final words of the Old Testament in English; even though they have different placements in Hebrew and Greek, they remain the final words spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for four hundred years. God promises that Elijah will return before the great Day of YHWH comes; he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, or the land will be cursed (Malachi 4:5-6). But why Elijah? And what is this about turning hearts of fathers and children?

Elijah’s story is told primarily in 1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 2:12. YHWH raised him as a prophet in the dark days of Ahab and Jezebel when Baal service was ascendant. Through Elijah God withheld the rain, raised the dead, contended with the prophets of Baal, displayed God’s power before all Israel, and condemned kings for their malfeasance. Yet Elijah was in despair over Israel’s unfaithfulness; he was sure he alone was left to serve YHWH (1 Kings 19:1-14). Toward the end of his time on earth it did not seem that Elijah was all that successful; Ahab’s family still reigned and Baal service remained popular. Then God took Elijah up to heaven with chariots of fire and gave Elisha a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (1 Kings 2:1-12). In Elisha’s day the victory would be complete: Ahab’s descendants would be executed, Jezebel would die, Baal service would be exterminated, and both YHWH and Elijah His servant would be vindicated (2 Kings 2:13-10:27).

Elijah’s story should inform our understanding of Malachi’s prophecy. Since Elijah did not die, many Israelites no doubt heard Malachi’s prophecy and expected God to send Elijah back down from heaven. In the eyes of Israel, Elijah embodied the prophets; they would understand that Malachi prophesied the return of the prophetic message to Israel before the Day of YHWH came, the great day of expectation of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel as told by all the other prophets. If Israel were to need such a prophetic message, it must mean that at that time many in Israel would again prove unfaithful to God, just as in the days of Elijah, and would need to have their heart returned to YHWH and His purposes, the Law of Moses, and concern for property and inheritance, or God would again have to curse the earth, either with drought, as in the days of Elijah, or perhaps even worse.

Whereas Malachi’s words in Malachi 4:5-6 are the final promise of the end of the Old Testament, the same words represent the first hope and fulfillment of the New Testament. The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah the priest and told him he would have a son in his old age: this son would go in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient in the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:1-17). In those days many in Israel were despondent: some were tempted to abandon the ways of their fathers and become as Greeks, some considered themselves as sinners who were beyond redemption, and some claimed to be superior to everyone else on account of their holiness and knowledge of the ways of God. Into this environment the son of Zechariah, John the Baptist, came as the prophet proclaiming the coming of the Day of YHWH, proclaiming a message of repentance, exhorting all Israel to turn from their sins and back toward YHWH and His purposes (Luke 3:1-18).

John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14, 17:10-13/Mark 9:11-15). He would be imprisoned and executed by Herod Antipas, and at the time of his death, it did not seem that he was all that successful (Matthew 14:1-12, Luke 3:19-20). Yet he had baptized one Jesus of Nazareth, whom God attested was the Christ (Matthew 3:13-17/Luke 3:21-22). This Jesus was the Immanuel, God with us, and He brought forth the Day of YHWH, first in His death, resurrection, ascension, and the inauguration of His Kingdom, and then in His vindication as the Son of God as the land of Israel was again cursed with death and destruction with the Roman devastation of Jerusalem in 70 CE (cf. Matthew 1:22-23, 24:1-36, Luke 23:1-24:53, Acts 1:1-2:41). John the Baptist, the one who came according to the final promise of the Old Testament, was the final prophet of the old covenant (Matthew 11:7-14). Yet he saw the embodiment of the hope and sustaining message of the prophets in Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus God would restore the fortunes of Israel (Acts 3:19-21). In Christ God would reconcile not only all Israel but all mankind to Himself (Ephesians 2:1-18). In Jesus the Christ YHWH came so all Israel and all mankind could have the opportunity to come to a knowledge of the truth, be saved, and look forward to the day of resurrection, to never taste death again, just like Elijah (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Let us be ever thankful that God proved faithful to His promises, and serve Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who fulfilled all the prophets said of Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Final Promise

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

This is the day that many in the world set aside to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is important for us to take note that God never commands us to observe the birth of His Son, and we have no example from the New Testament of such an observance. We do not even know the day of His birth– December 25 was fixed hundreds of years later, and more because of the pagan festivals that surround that date than anything from the Scriptures. Since the shepherds were out at night with the flocks (Luke 2:8), it is most likely that He was born in spring or fall.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is an important event. It is the moment at which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). It is the occasion of the miracle of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23). It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of the hope of Israel– and it is the feeling of hope that is about to come to pass that makes the story of Jesus’ birth so memorable. Isaiah spoke of the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5) and Malachi speaks of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6): the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would fulfill these things (Luke 1:13-17).

As a good Jewish girl, Mary would know all the predictions that were made about the Messiah– born to be the King, the One favored by God (cf. Isaiah 9:1-5, 11:1-10, etc.). And then the angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that the child she will bear by the Holy Spirit will fulfill these things. He will be called great, the Son of the Most High. He would receive the throne of David. His Kingdom would never end.

These promises were no longer in the distant future. They were here in the flesh. God’s great plan was being realized in the flesh (Ephesians 3:11)!

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth begins here. In the messages of the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit through Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, we learn how Jesus will overturn the way the world works (Luke 1:47-55), suffer and die (Luke 2:35), but would rule over a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:30-33), and would be light of revelation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:31-32, 38). Redemption was here!

Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, but we can take advantage of the focus on Jesus’ birth to proclaim the message of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship, just as Gabriel and the Holy Spirit did in those days of pregnant expectation so long ago. Let us find our hope in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the wonder of Jesus in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

Is it Vain to Serve God?

“Your words have been stout against me,” saith the LORD.
Yet ye say, “What have we spoken against thee?”
Ye have said, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?” (Malachi 3:13-14).

People tend to prefer and value instant gratification. Sure, there are some things for which people are willing to wait for a little time, but on the whole, we want results, and we want them now. We do not want to wait in line, we do not want to wait to buy things later, and we certainly do not like being held in suspension.

If humans cannot stand waiting, then it stands to reason that humans have an even harder time tolerating seemingly constant failure. In the minds of many, insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” In many facets of life, that statement is reasonable and accurate.

But what happens when it comes to waiting on God?

Human beings want things right now. They want change to have happened already. Yet God operates in His good time, for He is not bound to time like we are (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). We want everything right now, but God is patiently transforming those who seek to be His obedient servants (cf. Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). It does not happen overnight– but it does happen!

But how do we feel when we look out in the world and think that nothing is going right? What happens when it seems like things are worse for us because we try to serve God? How should we then respond?

We can see how the post-exilic Jews responded to this situation. By all accounts they were less sinful than their fathers, and yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Judah, they remained under the hand of the Persians. It seemed to them that the wicked and arrogant prospered while the righteous were distressed and humbled (cf. Malachi 2:17, 3:15). Their response was natural: why bother serving God? In their eyes, it was vanity to serve God– they were no better off for it!

This response is as entirely understandable as it is misguided. It is the result of the myopic tunnel vision that we humans often experience– we focus on all of our challenges and difficulties and the oppression and the injustice in the world and declare God unjust, or believe that since we prayed fervently for some noble cause and yet still have failed that God has abandoned us, while all around us the blessings of God in life, both physical and spiritual, abounds (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:4, John 3:16, Ephesians 1:3). If we understand that God is the Author and Sustainer of Life, how could we even begin to think that it is vain to serve Him?

It is important for us to remember that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). It may not lead to the immediate results we desire, either in terms of our own growth and development or the encouragement of other souls, but its long-term impact may be vast indeed. Even if it has little impact on ourselves or others, it works within God’s greater plan and His great will (Ephesians 1:3-11), and that is glorious. As Jesus indicates in Luke 18:1-8, there is great value in persistence in prayer, and we should not assume that our prayers fail because we do not immediately see changes.

We may find that things seem to go worse for us once we have turned to righteousness and seek the will of God. But we must remember in such circumstances that it is only a reversal on the surface. Consider the image we see in Revelation– if you just read Revelation 13, for instance, you would have good reason to despair if you were one of the members of the seven churches of Asia. The world of Revelation 13 was the “real world” in which you would have inhabited. Nevertheless, the picture is given in Revelation 12, 14-19, of what else is going on, and that perspective changes everything: Satan’s hold on the powers of earth is his desperate last stand, and it too will fail in the end. No matter how bleak it might have seemed on the earth, God was still ruling in heaven.

And so it is with us today. It is easy to get lost in the surface matters and the temporary setbacks, get frustrated and discouraged, and wonder if there is any value in serving God. Yet let us remember that God is still ruler in heaven, that He is accomplishing many great things, and that our work in the Lord is never in vain. Let us be patient and faithful servants of God, knowing that He does all things well (cf. Mark 7:37)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Is it Vain to Serve God?

Where is the God of Justice?

Ye have wearied the LORD with your words.
Yet ye say, “Wherein have we wearied him?”
In that ye say, “Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them;” or, “where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17).

The evils and inequalities of life can pose a quandary for people who believe strongly that there is a God and that He loves and cares for His creation. When oppression takes place and injustice seems to rule the day, it is easy to start wondering where the God of justice went! Probably not a few people have turned to Deism in order to make some sense, at least in their own minds, of how it could be that God could create the universe and then allow such things to happen– instead of trusting that God will right the wrong, it is easier to believe that God is an absentee landlord.

Undoubtedly Israel in the days of Malachi wondered whether God was an absentee landlord. It would be quite easy to interpret their statements in Malachi 2:17 as rebellion but they are most likely the result of frustration and despair. They say such things not because they do not believe in God but precisely because they do believe in God and do believe in the promises God made to their forefathers.

What they do not understand is how God can be the God of justice and lovingkindness and allow what was happening to continue. These Jews had their faults and failings– but they were not as guilty as their fathers. They had not established idols of all the gods of the nations around them as their fathers had done. And yet while their fathers lived in a free and independent Israel with their own king, they remain under the hand of the Persian authorities and Persian taxes. How was that just? How was that fair? How could God allow them to remain under the hand of a foreign authority when they were acting more faithfully than their fathers who were free? Where was God in all of this, anyway?

The Jews also perceive how the ways of the wicked, at least for the time being, were prosperous. They had read in the Law and the Prophets how blessings come to those who obey God and curses to those who act wickedly (e.g. Leviticus 26:1-46, Jeremiah 7:1-15). The Psalms and Proverbs are full of such statements (e.g. Psalm 1:6, Psalm 37:17, Psalm 75:10, Proverbs 3:33, Proverbs 10:6). Yet, in the eyes of the Jews, those who were righteous were not gaining favor, but the wicked were increasing and prosperous. In bitterness they declare that God must now be siding with the wicked– how else could they be so successful?

The Jews, however, are not right in this, no matter how justified they might have felt in their despair and criticism. They are wearying God with these words and these ideas. Malachi goes on to promise the day of God’s coming, a day of refining and purification, and it will be painful (Malachi 3:1-6). The message is evident: God is paying attention. God sees what is going on. God remains the God of justice. God does not take pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked. Yet God is patient, and shall accomplish His will in His good time.

We would do well to learn the same lesson. It is easy to get impatient and impetuous and wonder where the God of justice has gone. One could easily despair and wonder if God is in fact prospering the wicked. But such would be wearisome and unprofitable– God is still here, and God has no pleasure in the sinfulness of the wicked (1 Peter 3:12). God also takes no pleasure in any injustice, especially injustice perpetrated against His elect (cf. Luke 18:1-8). Nevertheless, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is patient when we would be impatient (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). His concept of time is far different from our own (2 Peter 3:8). When God acts, it will be done mightily, and we will be ashamed of ourselves if we wearied God with these types of words– we will see His justice vindicated, and righteousness fully established (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13). The righteous will be refined as silver (1 Peter 1:6-9); the wicked will perish (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Let us not fear or be distressed. The God of justice has not abandoned His creation. He is paying attention. He will render to each one according to His works. Let us therefore serve Him while we still can, fully confident in His presence and justice, and be prepared for the ultimate Day of the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Where is the God of Justice?