Read Malachi 3:1 – 4:2
A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. . . . “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession.” . . . “. . .for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” (3:6; 3:17; 4:2)
The land of Judah was spiritually ill when God spoke through Malachi around 430 BC. The last wave of Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt and worship re-established. One could be excused for thinking it should be a time of deep thankfulness and re-dedication to serve and worship God.
The reality was quite different. With the long years of exile and the challenges of rebuilding behind them, the people had fallen into a “ho-hum” attitude about God. Many of the priests were lax and their teaching questionable. They and a large number of worshippers were just going through the motions. A prevailing view saw God as an incidental who could be safely discarded. It seemed to them it was useless to serve God, when those who trampled both the commandments and their fellow beings went unscathed. It seemed evident that God either wasn’t there or didn’t care. Either way, they decided they might as well grab what they could, because doing what this God might have decreed centuries before was for losers.
So, how did God begin His message through Malachi in the face of all this? Did He lash out in justifiable anger? In ch.1:2 we have the answer: “I have loved you.” These are the first words out of God’s mouth.
The priests, and after them the people, had forgotten the basis of their relationship with God. They had come to see serving God as a duty. If they carried out this duty, they expected to get a tangible reward. What good was it to work for someone and not get paid? So, in essence, they chose to work for the competition, who seemed (at least initially) to have a better rewards program. Evil thus became seen as good, and service to God as futile.
In the face of this, God reminds the people that –first, foremost and always — He has loved them. This is hardly the first time they’ve slipped into ruts of their own making. But God’s covenant with His people is founded on love. Not duty. Not appearances. If it were about performance, the people would have been wiped out long ago. It’s precisely because of God’s unchanging love that His people are still a people. It’s because He remembers His love for them that He’s still longing for them, still reaching out to them, still fighting for them.
Remembering is vital to retaining what is important. We emphasize the horrors of war and honor the soldiers who fight for us because these things are so valuable to our wellbeing as a society. Wars are fought because of hate. Remembering what hate does can help us determine our response, to understand that vengeance only adds fuel to the hate. Love is the only response that can turn things around. The goal of remembrance is to honor love. Men and women die because they put their love of others ahead of love for self. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Their families are willing to sacrifice their cherished loved ones for the same reason.
Remembrance can be hard when we live in the whirl of what has been called the “tyranny of the urgent.” Life is fast-paced, demanding our immediate and sustained attention. We keep our loved ones close and their schedules closer. Insidiously, our focus on God, on His love for us, and on our response to Him, oozes down our priority list, and finally slides off. We see life through a window smeared with the greasy fingers of self-interest, self-determination, and self-justification. Like the people of Malachi’s day, we can’t see God clearly through the smudges we’ve made, so it gets easier to ignore Him. We begin to doubt God, to ascribe wrong motives to Him, to accuse Him of injustice. We forget His unchanging love for us.
The priests who still honored God heard Malachi’s message loud and clear. They responded by talking with each other, and together they wrote a scroll of remembrance in his presence. They weren’t just talking about what and Who they believed. They were doing it in the presence of the very God they served; out of love, not out of duty, not because they were just going through the motions. They loved God because He first loved them, and they knew that remembrance of that was vital — written remembrance, lest they forget.
God affirmed their response by numbering these priests among those who would be His treasured possession, who would feel the warmth of “the sun of righteousness . . . with healing in its rays.”
God’s love for us is the basis of everything He has done and will do — something that it’s life-giving to remember.