Malachi Lesson Seven 3:13-18 – Righteous and Wicked
“Your words against Me are harsh,” says the Lord. Yet you ask: “What have we spoken against You?” 14 You have said: “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping His requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? 15 So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.” 16 At that time those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. The Lord took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of Hosts, “a special possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. 18 So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (HCSB)
This passage introduces the final section of Malachi and provides more clarity with what was stated in the previous section. The weight of the discussion is focused on the fact that Israel had still not returned to Yahweh with all its heart. They were going through the motions and still failed to see their disobedience, leading them to believe that they were righteous but still being punished.
The words chosen for both sides in this discussion, Yahweh and Israel, set the tone of the exchange. Yahweh’s statement is very strong, as evidenced by the phrase, “says the LORD.” However, the Israelite’s response is even stronger and could be interpreted as arrogant or insulting. The phrase, “what have we spoken against you” is used in:
- Divine judgment speeches.
- 1 Kings 16:1 – Now the word of the Lord came to Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha:
- 2 Kings 19:21a – This is the word the Lord has spoken against him:
- Ezekiel 36:5a – This is what the Lord God says:
- It is also used to describe arrogant, slanderous, or insulting speech directed at other people or Yahweh.
- Psalm 31:18 – Let lying lips be quieted; they speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt.
- Psalm 109:2 – For wicked and deceitful mouths open against me; they speak against me with lying tongues.
- 2 Chronicles 32:16-17 – His servants said more against the Lord God and against His servant Hezekiah. 17 He also wrote letters to mock Yahweh, the God of Israel, saying against Him: Just like the national gods of the lands that did not deliver their people from my power, so Hezekiah’s God will not deliver His people from my power.
- Ezekiel 35:13 – You boasted against Me with your mouth, and spoke many words against Me. I heard it Myself!
Here we find the warped reasoning behind the behavior and attitude of the Israelites and many Christians today. They don’t believe there is any satisfying or profitable in serving God. If they aren’t “rewarded” in some way, money/job/house/etc., there is only a shallow reverence for an infinitely holy God. They were putting on a facade of mourning and repentance, but their heart was nowhere near that.
But in a twisted way, they were right; their “service” to God was pointless.
- Ritual carelessness.
- Ritual faithlessness.
- Exploitation or neglect of the defenseless and needy.
Supposed good works that don’t flow from genuine faith and gratitude to God are the same as a check written from a bank account that doesn’t have any money in it. It may make the “giver” feel good for a short time, but the recipient, God, sees that there is no value in the offering. The people identified here were only interested in material gain and not in a relationship with God.
Here we see that the Israelites had joined the group who viewed God’s laws and instructions as something to be rejected. They gave two reasons for their decision and subsequent behavior.
- The wicked prosper.
- The wicked test God and escape punishment.
However, the wicked will face a time of judgment and punishment, even if they (we) don’t see it.
- Proverbs 11:21a – Be assured that the wicked will not go unpunished.
- Hebrews 12:25 – Make sure that you do not reject the One who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected Him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.
As we reflect on these first three verses, we need to consider if we are just as guilty as the disobedient Israelites addressed in Malachi.
Even though there was a sizable portion of Israel that were disobedient to God’s instructions, we see here that there was at least a remnant who revered God and followed His instructions. Even though God was focused on the disobedient in the hope that they would repent and return, He hadn’t lost sight of those who were obedient from the motivation of right heart attitude.
We may think that it makes little sense for the creator of the heavens and earth to need a book to remember these people, but this would resonate with the Israelites. An example of this is found in Esther 6:1-2 – That night sleep escaped the king, so he ordered the book recording daily events to be brought and read to the king. 2 They found the written report of how Mordecai had informed on Bigthana and Teresh, two eunuchs who guarded the king’s entrance, when they planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus.
The idea of heavenly books is too widespread throughout Scripture to think they are just a metaphor.
- Book of Life.
- Exodus 32:32 – Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.
- Psalm 69:28 – Let them be erased from the book of life and not be recorded with the righteous.
- Philippians 4:3 – Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life.
- The Book.
- Daniel 12:1 – At that time Michael the great prince who stands watch over your people will rise up. There will be a time of distress such as never has occurred since nations came into being until that time. But at that time all your people who are found written in the book will escape.
- Ezekiel 13:9 – My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and speak lying divinations. They will not be present in the fellowship of My people or be recorded in the register of the house of Israel, and they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.
The clear conclusion is that those who have submitted to God with a reverent and repentant heart, who desire to follow His instructions, who will stand against the evil in the world, and teach others what true worship looks like will not be forgotten. Instead, they have a sure reward waiting for them in eternal heaven.
Although the overwhelming thrust of Malachi is on pending judgment and destruction for the wicked, God is also merciful and has compassion for those who fear Him. The judgment will not be total or indiscriminate. God will spare those who are righteous and those who are wicked. This will happen on the eschatological day of the Lord when the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked punished.
This is God’s answer to the false understanding of the disobedient Israelites. Although they may think the wicked and arrogant are not being punished, God’s message is loud and clear. There will be a day of winnowing where the righteous will receive their reward, and the wicked receive their punishment; none will escape.
The “you” connects back to the speakers of the harsh words. Faithful servants of the King will be rewarded. Esther 6:9 – Put the garment and the horse under the charge of one of the king’s most noble officials. Have them clothe the man the king wants to honor, parade him on the horse through the city square, and proclaim before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor.’
The “garden” of the earth will face a final pruning on the Day of Judgment.
Matthew 13:41-43 – The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!
The wicked will no longer prosper, and the righteous will no longer suffer.
What is the difference between these two groups of people…integrity and character.
- Those who fear the Lord walk with Him, and their thoughts are of God.
- Those who don’t fear the Lord are always looking out for…themselves.
A proper understanding of the final result should lead us not to be envious of those who are wicked but prosper. Instead, we should feel deep sympathy and sorrow for them. The enjoyment they experience in this life is the only enjoyment they will ever have. Their temporary prosperity will be followed by eternal torment.
Psalm 73:17-20 – until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny. 18 Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin. 19 How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors. 20 Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.
- Do we envy or strive to be like those who are prosperous, even if those people are wicked? If that is the case, our focus is on the wrong thing. We need to focus and follow the Creator and not the created.
- Even if we are a persecuted minority in this world, we should always desire to part of the “remnant” that remains faithful to God no matter what is happening around us. No matter the circumstances we’re going through, God has not forgotten or forsaken us.
- Do you consider yourself special? This is a tricky question. We are special and unique in God’s eyes, wonderfully made. Our identity and worth are found in Jesus, not in anything of the world. If the world tells you that you’re special, ignore them. Our “specialness” is found in Jesus.
- Pray for the lost and wicked around you. There is an eternal destination for each of us, and judgment is very real. Do you have a passion for reaching those on the road to eternal destruction?