The Two Faces of Judah
A deceitful person is called two-faced or a hypocrite. This was a word used in the Greek theater to describe actors who put large painted masks in front of their faces to denote the characters they were playing, thus hiding their real identities.
This aptly described the priests of Judah who, like Greek actors, were masking the truth about their commitment by putting on the face of innocence when God charged them with corrupt worship and service. Such a facade had wearied the Lord. They wearied God with their words as well, for they claimed that He delighted in their enemies by allowing them to prosper (2:17) while His own people suffered affliction and privation. Such was not the case, but this attitude had filtered down to the people as well. They criticized God in the same way as their spiritual leaders did (vv. 13-14).
God had to address such arrogant accusations, especially after He had promised to pour out a tremendous blessing upon Judah if they would be obedient in the area of giving (vv. 10-12).
GODLESS RHETORIC REPROVED (vv. 13-15)
“Your words have been stout [strong, overpowering] against me, saith the Lord” (v. 13). Instead of being humbled by God’s charge, they reacted in the same sarcastic way as before: “What have we spoken so much against thee?” (v. 13), they questioned. We do not remember saying anything against You, God!
Outraged with such a response, God ripped away their arrogant mask of hypocrisy. He then used their own questions to pinpoint three ways in which they had spoken against Him.
First, they had said, “It is vain to serve God” (v. 14). They saw their service as “vain” or empty, lacking any personal fulfillment. Although this was true in their case and testified to their own bankrupt souls, such an assessment was utterly fallacious. In fact, the opposite is true; the only thing that brings lasting satisfaction in life is to serve God in sincerity and truth.
Second, “Ye have said . . . what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance . . . ?” (v. 14). The people had either become self-deceived, blind to their spiritual condition, or they actually thought that they had fulfilled their religious obligations as set forth in the Law. Whatever the case might be, their assessment was untrue, for they had knowingly broken all of God’s laws. Third, “Ye have said . . . what profit is it that we . . . have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?” (v. 14). Although the people had fasted in sackcloth and mourned over personal and national sins, it was only a facade to mask their true spiritual condition. In other words, they were saying, God, we have fulfilled the Law by carrying out our obligations, but You have not fulfilled Your promises to bless us. Thus, their service had been without “profit” (v. 14) or payoff. The word “profit” is a technical term for weavers cutting a piece of cloth free from the loom. Its use in Malachi had the negative connotation of men expecting their cut or percentage, as a racketeer or gangster would demand his cut for an evil work.1
The same attitude spilled over to the first century and aptly described many (not all) Pharisees who postured an outward form of obedience to God but not from the heart (Mt. 5:20-48; 23:1-36). Jesus warned that this type of commitment flows out of a heart filled with hypocrisy, for these people “say, and do not” (Mt. 23:3).
There are many in the church much like those mentioned above who present the face of outward commitment to the Lord but not from the heart. Their true motive for serving is profit, whether that profit be popularity, position, financial, or to feed a big ego.
Many religious telecasts posture such imagery. The evangelists promise great profits (health, wealth and success) by following their faith formulas. They project the face of wealth and success as a testimony to God’s touch and blessing on their lives and assure their viewers that they can have the same blessing from the Lord. Although they present the face of total commitment to the Lord, one is left with the impression that it is all a mask for the profits they are gleaning.
The murmurers in Judah came to certain conclusions about their service which actually mocked and contradicted what God had promised in verses 10-12. Their first conclusion was that the arrogant pagans were blessed by God, “we call the proud happy” (v. 15). That is, the truly blessed are not the faithful believers who serve God but the rebellious pagans who flaunt their opposition to God and oppress the righteous (cp. Habakkuk’s similar complaint). This was contrary to what God had just said in verse 11. The opposite is true; He “rebuked the proud who are cursed” (Ps. 119:21).
Second, Judah concluded, “they that work wickedness are set up” (v. 15). In other words, those who live in wickedness are actually “built up” or established with prosperity and wealth and are strongly rooted in their society. Again, this contradicts what God had said in verse 10. The ones who ultimately prosper are those who are obedient in their giving and service to God.
The people finally concluded that those who “test God are even delivered” (v. 15), meaning that those who work wickedness actually provoke God into judging them by living in total rebellion to His Law, but they escape any punishment. Once again, this is a contradiction to God’s Word, for He challenged the people to “test” Him (v. 10) and see if He would not bless those who kept His commands.
It might seem as if those who test God escape His wrath, but Scripture teaches otherwise; judgment will fall upon the ungodly. Herbert Wolf presents a classic illustration of this very truth from Israel’s own history. During forty years of their wandering in the wilderness, Israel continually murmured against God putting Him to the test by demanding food (Ex. 16:3; Ps. 78:18, 24) and water (Ex. 17:2). Their rebellious testing did not go unpunished; the whole generation eventually perished in the wilderness. Although at the time it might have seemed that they escaped punishment, such was not the case.2 Judah’s conclusion (v. 15; 2:17) was based only on viewing their present situation and not what would ultimately result from the actions of arrogant nonbelievers.
Often Christians think the same way as Judah. They watch family and friends verbally deny God, live a wicked life and receive the greater blessing. To them, denying God seems to pay big dividends as they watch these people accumulate wealth, receive promotion after promotion and buy bigger houses in better neighborhoods. Although not verbalizing it, they cynically think, What profit is there in serving God? One must remember that God keeps the records, and pay day will come in His good time. Ultimately blessing will come to all who faithfully serve God.
GODLY REMNANT REMEMBERED (vv. 16-18)
There was another group of people in Judah referred to as those who “feared the Lord” (v. 16), whose commitment was not masked with hypocrisy. The phrase fear the Lord means to hold God in awe and reverence for who He is. It means to recognize God as the “beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7), that is, the foundation or starting point of a life which pleases Him. This was not a fear based on feeling but the result of hearing, learning and responding to who God is from His Word (Dt. 4:10). Those who feared God would keep His commandments, walk in righteousness (Dt. 8:6) and put aside everything that would hinder worship and service to Him (Dt. 10:20; 13:4-5). This demanded a total commitment of one’s heart, soul and body (Dt. 6:13; 10:12; Ps. 128:1). When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he prayed that not only Israel but “all people of the earth”‘ (1 Ki. 8:43) would fear the Lord.
What was bestowed upon those who feared the Lord? They would receive wisdom from God (Prov. 1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 15:33) enabling them to walk in righteousness (Prov. 14:2) in order that they might avoid evil (Prov. 4:11, 14).
This would in most cases produce longevity of life (Prov. 10:27), wealth and honor (Prov. 22:4), security (Prov. 14:26) and satisfaction in life (Prov. 19:23). To walk in the fear of the Lord was the key to receiving blessing and favor from God during this time, something that most of the priests and people of Judah had failed to do.
The Old Testament is replete with men and women who served God out of a healthy “fear.” Abraham offered Isaac on the altar of sacrifice out of a godly “fear” (Gen. 22:12). Israeli midwives obeyed God in sparing the lives of male children because they feared the Lord rather than the king (Ex. 1:15-17). The testimony of Job was that he feared God (Job 1:1, 8). What a stark contrast to the priests of Malachi’s day who had no fear of the Lord (1:6).
God took note of the Godfearers. He saw their continual fellowship with one another, for they “spoke often one to another” (v. 16). Those who are spiritually alive will seek out and find others of like commitment with whom to fellowship.
He saw that they meditated on the things of God, for they “thought upon his name” (v. 16). The faithful remnant fixed their minds upon God; how different was their attitude compared to that of the priests who despised God’s name and looked on His table with contempt.
God “heard” and “hearkened” (listened) (v. 16) to their speech and was pleased. The words of the wicked had “wearied” the Lord (2:17), for they were “stout” (3:13) against Him, but the words of the righteous remnant pleased God.
God recorded their words and deeds in a “book of remembrance” (v. 16) to be kept before Him. This book is not the same as the “book of life” (Rev. 20:12, 15). God keeps books of man’s deeds whether they be good or bad (Rev. 20-12; Dan. 12:1). He knew the righteous in Judah and kept an accurate record of their sufferings and trials in staying true to their commitment. David knew that God even kept a record of his tears (Ps. 5:8) which he shed in times of trouble.
Man’s tongue will eventually reveal what is in his heart, for out of the “abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Lk. 6:45). In the day of judgment man must give an account of every idle word he speaks (Mt. 12:36). Many believers live as if God is deaf to their conversation and blind to their actions, but He catches and records every word (Heb. 4:12-13).
Those who fear the Lord have a special relationship with Him; they are called His “jewels” (v. 17) or treasured possession. These Godfearers are more precious than gold, silver or the whole of the Lord’s creation.
Israel became God’s treasured possession when she entered into a covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:5; Dt. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). The privilege was not unique to Israel, for all believers within the Church are “people of his own” (1 Pet. 2:9), treasured by the Lord.
In addition to being God’s possession, Israel also received His protection “as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (v. 17). This is true of the Christian who has been adopted into God’s family as an adult son. He too is assured of His protection and care. The Lord has compassion on all those who fear Him just as an earthly father does his children (Ps. 103:13). If earthly fathers (who are evil by nature) provide good gifts for their children, how much more will God (Mt. 7:11)? God spares and blesses the righteous because they are His sons and serve Him in righteousness.
God said He would spare them “in that day” (v. 17), but what day is this? It is the day of the Messiah’s coming (3:2) when He will pour out judgment on the ungodly (4:1, 3) and blessing on the righteous (4:2). During the Great Tribulation God will spare a faithful remnant from Israel and bring them safely into His Kingdom.
When the Lord returns, Israel will be given convincing proof of God’s moral government over this world and will be able to “discern between the righteous and the wicked” (v. 18). The crass accusations made by most in Judah – that God favors and blesses the wicked (2:17; 3:14-15) – will be proven utterly false, for in that day God will bring swift judgment on all the wicked; whereas the righteous remnant will see that He does reward those who faithfully fear and serve Him (v. 18). The testimony on the lips of the righteous will be, “Verily, there is a reward for the righteous; verily, he is a God that judgeth in the earth” (Ps. 58:11).
Hypocrisy takes various forms and can subtly overcome the Christian who does not guard against it. The hypocrite postures the attitude and appearance of commitment, but inwardly he lacks sincerity and true piety and sometimes lives in sin. Others, although committed to the Lord, hypocritically judge the small faults in the lives of fellow Christians, while refusing to acknowledge glaring sins in their own lives (Mt. 7:5). Still others hypocritically profess Christ as Savior but have actually never received Him.
Is there hypocrisy in your own life? The question can be quickly settled by asking yourself, Am I a play actor, pretending to live a dedicated life before the Lord while in reality thinking and living the opposite? Only you can answer this question and make the needed changes in your life!
- Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi; God’s Unchanging Love, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 98.
- Herbert Wolf, Haggai, Malachi: Rededication and Renewal, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 114.