I would have liked to have been there. It must have been something to hear. It was a gathering of people who feared God and who esteemed his name. It was a collection of people who were serious about following him – even when the other so-called children of God were full of skepticism and spiritual laziness.
It was a gathering of committed ones.
God was rebuking his people. They had made him weary with all their talking. They were saying God wasn’t a God of righteousness and justice. They were saying God actually favored people who did evil. The people of Israel thought they understood God’s justice and their own goodness. They wanted to see God’s justice.
But they didn’t really want to see it – because God’s justice would come to his own people first. God promised to send a messenger to prepare the way for the Lord. We think here of John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth. And this is correct thinking. Jesus confirmed this to be the case (Matthew 11:10).
And Jesus would come into his temple – and judgment would come to the people of God first. There would be a great work of refining and cleansing. And the people of Israel who were living in open rebellion of God – the sorcerers, adulterers, liars, cheaters, and those who mistreated widows, orphans, and foreigners – would face judgment.
But the nation of Israel, God said, would not be “consumed.” God doesn’t change, even though his people were changeless in their disobedience. God encouraged repentance. He asked the people to bring the full tithe into the temple. He told them to test him with their tithes – to see how he would bless them if they obeyed.
This isn’t a proof text for a prosperity gospel. Rather, it was simply a challenge to the people of God to obey his Law and to experience how he promised to bless them according to Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
But again, the people of Israel were skeptics. “It is vain to serve God,” they said.
A lot of God’s chosen people seemed to have given up. It’s not totally clear why. They were back in the Promised Land, and the temple had been rebuilt. All the destruction that had come upon the nation was beginning to be reversed. The kings of Persia had shown favor on Israel.
But the second temple wasn’t as magnificent as the first one. The people still were under the authority of a foreign government. They still had challengers from the neighboring peoples. They likely were struggling to make ends meet during difficult economic times. Some were being influenced by their foreign wives who worshipped false gods.
Those are some of the factors. And the people seemed to have given up.
But not all of them. And as God warned the people that if they wanted to see his justice, they certainly would see it, a group of the faithful had a meeting. I wonder how many showed up. They feared God and they esteemed his name. And they had a meeting about it. They “spoke with one another.”
And God put together a “book of remembrance.” I suppose it had their names in it.
I wonder what that gathering was like. What did they say? How did they say it?
And God promised to bless that group of faithful followers. “They shall be mine,” he said. “I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Those faithful ones are spared and given new life. (The cost was the death of a Son who served.)
So I wonder what that meeting was like. They simply did not go along with what their fellow Israelites were doing. These faithful ones were going to stick with God. They were the opposite of the faithless ones, who didn’t fear God and who “despised” his name (Malachi 1:6).
When push comes to shove, what kind of commitment am I willing to make for God?
The commitment of these faithful Jews in Israel wasn’t to do a new thing. It was to do an old one – to bring the tithe, to make the sacrifices, to give God their very best, to have pure relationships, to listen and obey the Word.
These were things some of the other Israelites were leaving behind. They were tired of those things. They wanted something new. They seemed to be saying times had changed, and God wasn’t keeping up.
I think of our world today and the flight from the Scriptures that some pastors and some churches are making. Surely, there’s a place where the faithful few are gathering in quiet protest. They would fear the Lord and esteem his name.
And a book of remembrance has their names in it.
And there’s a great lukewarmness in American church life that seems to be bubbling to the top. Christian consumerism reigns supreme. Surely, there’s a gathering of the faithful few somewhere who are saying that they will do the work of studying God’s Word – and obeying his commands to live pure lives, commit to their churches, and share the gospel.
And a book of remembrance has their names in it.
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them.”