To those people who are open to receive his words, God reveals himself in stages and in manners that are increasingly personal so that we can come to know him better. The greater our interest in hearing his message to us, the more personal his words and communication become.
Unfortunately, most people have not learned the lessons of seeing God’s message in the creation.They have learned nothing about God by what they have seen in nature and in the cosmos. They have also ignored the words of God spoken by the prophets and written for us to read. This general unreceptiveness to God’s word was lamented by many of the prophets of old, Jeremiah being one of these.
Speaking for God he says, “O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear…These people have a stubborn and rebellious heart…they do not say, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for harvest” (Jeremiah 5:21, 24).
Unresponsive to Love
In some ways, getting to know God is not much different than getting to know another person like ourselves. Certainly, there are also some aspects are not the same, but as we make this comparison, think about what your reaction might be if time and again, you made great efforts to get to know another person, and that person continually rejected you, or didn’t have time for you.
Perhaps you did may favors for this person, running errands and even buying gifts to give to him or her, but not only did this person not respond by saying “thank you,” they also refused even to acknowledge that these deeds of kindness were done by you. Instead, they attributed them to someone else, or that those things happened simply “by chance.”
You called this person on the phone, but when he or she saw your name on the caller I.D., they did not answer. Neither did they respond to your voicemail. Letters and emails that you wrote to them went in the trash.
How long after this continual and constant refusal to return some of your overtures of friendship would you keep all of this up? How long before you would give up and simply fall silent? Would your unrequited and unanswered efforts to reach out to this person continue for hundreds of years?
God’s efforts did. In fact, even for thousands of years he rained not only water on the crops of those he was calling to know him, but he rained favors and protection and blessings of all sorts. However, all of these calls that he made to his people were not only left unanswered, but the people further insulted him by instead attributing the good favors that they received to idols, instead of to God.
Jeremiah said, “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out libations to other gods in order to spite me” (Jeremiah 7:18 NAS).
God’s Words through the Prophet Malachi
The last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. It is difficult to put an exact date on when the book was written, but it was at least 400 years before the birth of Christ. After thousands of years of speaking to his people and with ever decreasing response, this letter would be God’s last words for four hundred years. After saying what he did in this book, God fell silent.
Too long were the people unresponsive to his words and to his acts of love. God would speak no more, at least not for many generations.
What did God say in these last words? What would he say with this last message that he would speak?
“‘I have loved you,’ said the Lord.”
That is how the prophet Malachi opened this letter that he was to write.
In the silence of hundreds of years that were to follow, God wanted these words to remain with his people.
“‘I have loved you,’ said the Lord.”
God wanted his people to know that he was committed to his love for them.
Despite this great love however, God had come to the point where he knew that further demonstrations of that love would do nothing to draw the people to him.
“A son honors his father and the servant his master.” God continues, “Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect? (Malachi 1:6)
God’s Words Through the Prophet Hosea
The prophet Hosea lived even earlier than Malachi, in fact some two hundred years before him. But his message to God’s people was much the same. Actually, the message of the prophets had been the same even hundreds of years before that. This was because the people had long refused to acknowledge all of God’s favors to them.
“My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God” (Hosea 4:12).
This little book of Hosea is one of the most revealing books in the entire Bible when it comes to understand how God, in his deep love, struggled for his people. In this book, God is portrayed as a husband whose wife had left him for a life of prostitution. Even after her repeated unfaithfulness, the husband would go to get her and then would go to great lengths to help her be faithful to him. Nevertheless, despite his kindness to her, she continually sought other lovers.
God is also portrayed in this book as a father with a deep love for his son, a son that scorned him, who rebelled against him, and in other ways hurt him deeply. In these verses, when God refers to Israel and to Ephraim, it actually also includes all who are called by the name of the Lord.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more my prophets called to them, the more they went away;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms,
But they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love.
I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
And I bent down to them and fed them…
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?...
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim;
For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.
I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 1:1-4, 8-9)
In the light of what God was saying about the spiritual condition of the people, Hosea tried to inspire and encourage them to change their ways. These words of Hosea are some of the most beautiful in the Bible. The prophet urged the people:
“Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
“He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him.
“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)
Nevertheless, even with these words, any reformations brought about by Hosea and by other prophets had very limited effects. God responds…
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early. (Hosea 6:4)
So it was with any reformation that took place. Urged and encouraged by a prophet of God, the people may have returned to God for a time, but as imperceptibly as a morning cloud vanishes on a hot day, or as silently as the dew on the grass disappears when the sun rises, the commitment of the people also quickly vanished.
By the time of Malachi, the priests of God were still fulfilling their duties in the temple, at least outwardly. But God told them that they were despising his name by giving God only what was the most undesirable for an offering.
“How tiresome it is,” the priests said of the duties that they were supposed to perform in the name of the Lord. They offered only what was taken by robbery or what was lame or sick.
God asks them, “Should I receive that from your hand? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?”
With resignation, God finally says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,”
Silence from Heaven
God was about to fall completely silent. He had already said all that he could say, at least for the present time. But before he completely closed this chapter of history, he offered one bit of hope. Even in this, it was a hope that was also tempered with warning.
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord…will suddenly come into his temple…But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. And he will sit as a smelter and a purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:1-3).
It was soon after these words were written that God fell silent. He would not speak again for four hundred years, at least not in ways that many people might be able to hear.
But this did not mean that religious practices stopped during that time. However, the religion then became based less on what God had said, and more upon the rules that men made. Men were not willing to hear the words of God, so they made up their own words. This was the era when the Pharisees and the Sadducees began their teachings. They built a religion based upon their own laws—ones that they themselves conceived.
Through the Prophet Amos
And through it all God remained silent. This was the time that yet another prophet, Amos, foresaw and wrote about:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)
A New Warning
Two hundred and fifty years ago, thoughts of a new country on the earth began to be formulated in the minds of a relatively small number of people who had crossed the expanses of the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new life. It was a country that was to be based not only on liberty, but these first people especially intended this new nation to be centered on the teachings of God as they are found in the Scriptures.
For the first two hundred years, the principles of governing and the activities of the people largely remained centered upon these same teachings of God. This does not mean that every single decision in government was perfect, or that every practice in society was just and every person in this new country was truly committed to God. Certainly not. But by in large, this new nation sought to follow God’s instructions for living.
As a result, God blessed this new nation. It was blessed in ways that were almost unprecedented in the history of the world. God blessed this nation with abundance in every form of living. So fertile was the farmland of this nation that not only would the people enjoy this abundance on their own dinner tables, but their cropland was so rich that it was able to feed millions of people in other nations who were not so blessed.
The educational system of this new nation became so advanced that it produced some of the greatest innovations in history. Its people grew strong and healthy. This nation became the envy of the world. People in other parts of the world commonly called his new nation “the golden land.”
But then a change in perspective began to take place. This nation of people, who for two hundred years, attributed their blessings mostly to the goodness of the Lord, then began to instead take personal pride in their achievements.
Gradually, their culture changed. Slowly, their priorities shifted.
Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him. They instead became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
While they claimed to be wise, they actually became fools. In their foolishness, they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the worship of celebrities and the athletic achievements of their sports heroes. The Lord’s Day instead became the day for watching professional sports on TV, for hunting and fishing, and for shopping.
Others of this nation began to value the lives of their pet animals even above the lives of men and women—men and women who were created in the image of God. Their pets were fed better and healthier food than most of the people in many parts of the world.
Thus, after many years of trying to reach out to these people with His word, God finally gave them over to the impure desires of their hearts. God abandoned them to their dishonorable passions. They even began to dishonor their bodies with one another. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. Likewise, the men abandoned natural relations with women and burned with lust for one another.
By doing this, the people exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. In truth, their bodies were originally created to reflect the image of God, but they then instead worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
And it is only the Creator who is forever worthy of praise! Amen!
But since this people did not see fit to acknowledge God, He finally simply gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. Soon, even the distinction between men and women became blurred. Men decided that they were actually women, and women – men. They began to be filled with every imagination of wickedness, every evil, every form of greed, and all depravity.
They became full of envy. Their culture became one of murder and strife, of deceit, and of malice. They fed on gossip and loved to slander one another. They became haters of God, rather than respecting Him and loving Him.
Their children became insolent, arrogant, and boastful. They learned to invent new forms of evil, ones that were never before envisioned. They held no regard for their parents. In the end, they became senseless, faithless, heartless, and without any form of mercy.
Even though they knew that according to God’s righteous decree, those who do such things are worthy of death, it did not matter to them. They not only continued to do these things, but also approved and even encouraged those who practiced them.
(My adaption of Paul’s words from Romans 1)
And God fell silent. Violence increased in the land. Their economy began to spiral out of control. Wars were fought, but never won. Laws were passed that actually encouraged unrighteous lifestyles, while those who continued to seek to live by God’s way of life suffered censure in their society, and sometimes even persecution and imprisonment.
Unborn babies were sacrificed to the gods of convenience and self-centeredness. People were told to pray for the ills of the land, but few knew to whom they should pray. So mostly they simply “observed a moment of silence,” so no one would be offended.
But God was offended, and none of this went unnoticed by him. Prayers remained unanswered.
Nevertheless, God continued to hold out a hand of hope.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.
The Road Back
The LORD of Hosts said, “from the days of your fathers, you have turned away from My statutes and have not kept them.”
“Return to Me, and I will return to you.”
Those of this nation then asked, “How can we return?”
God said, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!”
The people again asked, “How do we rob You?”
God again answered, “In tithes and offerings. You must see that you are cursed with a curse, but nevertheless your whole nation continues to rob Me. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house.”
God is speaking of full devotion to Him.
“Test Me in this,” says the LORD of Hosts. “See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you blessing without measure. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your land, and the vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit.”
“Then all the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight,” says the LORD of Hosts. (adapted from Malachi 3:7-12)
(“You will once again be called ‘the golden land.’”)
The hope of that blessing for our nation remains. But regaining that blessing will not be found in the ballot box. It will not be found in the halls of congress or in the White house. It will not be found in the Supreme Court. It will not be found in street demonstrations.
It can only be found in the church. Can we not understand that? It will only be found when the people of the church actually become serious about their Christian lives.
In time, God will speak again. Depending upon our readiness to hear, it may be in a way that was unlike any other way that he has spoken in the past.
Are You Ready to Hear?
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the former days, telling us that the LORD appeared in the past, saying to that nation, “I loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I drew you to myself with loving devotion.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
But the nation was faithless. Instead of responding to the love of God, it prostituted itself with evil.
Malachi speaks of today. That prophet is saying to us, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I still love you. Return to me and I will return to you. See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you blessing without measure.’”
To our dismay, God’s voice is largely no longer heard in this nation. He has fallen silent, but his love remains unchanged. It is still his great desire to send his blessing. But he is waiting…
In the past couple of weeks, I have spoken of some of the ways in which the Lord has been trying to talk to you. Have you heard him? Have you responded to him?
Perhaps you are like the Israelites who said many times, “I will return to the Lord, I will change!” But change did not come. They were insincere and uncommitted in their resolve. Have you been like the Israelites of long ago, who just a few days after making great resolutions to change, found that their life had not really changed at all?
If this has been your experience, then I am afraid that you will be among those who will miss the next communication from God. We like to think that we would have been different than the people of those Old Testament days, but actually, we are no different. If you do not hear God now, you will not hear him next time either. Only those who are constantly listening for his voice will hear the next message when it comes.
We will hear His voice soon to our nation. You will hear it soon in your own life. Be prepared to listen.