The Christ in Prophecy Journal

When God Seems So Distant

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Have you ever attended a White Elephant Party? No, I’m not talking about some pale pachyderm popping out of a pastry. Rather, these are parties where attendee gifts are more likely to be of the flea market persuasion, and the more creatively weird the better. It’s all a lot of fun, that is, as long as the receiver of these kinds of gifts isn’t a birthday boy or your wife. If they are, and they’re receiving Great Aunt Betty’s pig-shaped soup bowl, then well, you’ll likely end up visiting the dog house. For these important people in our lives, especially on their special day, only the best gifts will do.

Once there was a people who believed they only needed to give God white elephant gifts. It’s a fantastic little story found in the last Old Testament book of Malachi. The Minor Prophet uncovered poignant insights into the heart of a Heavenly Father who had been receiving second, and even third best.

Facing the Menagerie

One day the Prophet Malachi had been standing outside of the Temple, mouth agape, watching with incredulity as the priests readily accepted one sorry excuse of a sacrifice to God after another. Mosaic Law required the best of the flock, the unblemished and the healthy. Instead, the people reluctantly dragged in shabby goats with broken horns, sickly lambs with eye infections, and bulls so old they might just die before reaching the butcher block. Burdened to the point of exasperation, God’s prophet readied himself to set the stingy bunch of worshipers straight about what loving God truly meant.

Malachi shouted out so that the unruly crowd of half-hearted devotees could not miss him, “The Lord says, ‘I have loved you!’ Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?'” Thus Malachi had begun a series of seven literary disputations, where God pronounced a statement and the people responded by brazenly questioning the truth of God’s claims (1:1-5). In each case, the people threw God’s statements back at Him like moody teenagers questioning their parents. And these people were at the Temple to worship!

In His first statement, God reminded the people just how special Israel had been to Him over the centuries, giving historical examples of His great love. But, the people, they just wanted to know what God had done for them lately.

Malachi presented God’s second statement, this time against His own corrupt priests (1:6-2:9). “If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” The priests questioned, “In what way have we despised Your name? In what way have we defiled You?” God responded by pointing out the obvious — the sacrificial animals were appalling! Blind, lame, sick, and even stolen, the guardians of God’s grace that covered the people’s sins were shaming Yahweh’s name.

Aghast at the obvious, Malachi spit forth God’s third statement (2:10-16). “Judah has profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves.” The people scoffed with, “For what reason?” The holy covenant of marriage was being treated with casual contempt as divorce rates skyrocketed, demonstrating the treacherous people were unfaithful. Therefore, God rejected their offerings. Even if they were to weep and wail, which they wouldn’t, God would ignore their faithless sacrifices.

God sighed deeply in utter weariness at His people’s hard hearts and constant questioning (2:17- 3:6). The prophet in this fourth statement revealed, “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” Demonstrating no sympathy, the congregants squealed, “In what way have we wearied Him?” And with a snap remark they added, “Where is the God of justice?” Ouch! The insolent people just accused the God of the Universe of delighting in evil. Patiently, God promised true justice when the ultimate Judge — the Messiah — arrived.

Malachi presented God’s fifth statement, this time a magnanimous plea (3:7). “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” Like an angry toddler who doesn’t get the toy he wants, the stubborn people spit, “In what way shall we return?”

In His sixth statement, God leveled an accusation, “You have robbed Me!” (3:8-12). The guilty people merely hid their pathetic animals behind their backs, batted their eyes, and replied innocently, “In what way have we robbed You?” God challenged them that if they sacrificed with generous hearts, He would bless them beyond measure. Sadly, the people’s hearts were stingy, for they didn’t trust God to follow through.

In the seventh and final statement, God lamented, “Your words have been harsh against Me” (3:13-15). In an embarrassing display of ignorance, the people scoffed, “What have we spoken against You?” And then they immediately spoke against Him: “It is useless to serve God.”

Defining the Distance

God had enough of these faithless people and their casual indifference to His Law. They had spurned God’s love, so God would shut His mouth…for 400 years!

While a majority will always reject God, just emotionlessly going through the motions of worship, a believing remnant always exists that responds positively in repentance to God’s Word. Malachi ended with a promise to the faithful few who feared the Lord: “They shall be Mine” (3:16-4:6). When the Day of the Lord’s judgment finally arrives, God’s “jewels” shall be spared.

God will always seem distant to those who, in truth, want Him to be distant. But, for those faithful who love the Lord and give Him their best, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Grow in your faith in God by traveling along with the 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets!

12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets

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Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones

Assoc. Evangelist and Web Minister for Lamb & Lion Ministries, reaching out to the nearly three billion people accessible over the Internet with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

10 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Struggle with New Testament churches who continue to preach that tithing is still part of Gods church. Tithing is Old Testament… god loves a cheerful giver. Seniors on a fixed income should not be made to feel guilty because they are not able to give 10 percent of their income…sad.

    • Tithing has always been about worship and is a heart issue. Remember how Jesus praised the poor widow of Mark 12/Luke 21, for though she had so little to give, her heart was in the right place and she gave sacrificially? In comparison, the rich people dropping large sums so everyone could see them were not praised by God, but offered for selfish reason – the attention of the people.

      God tells us how He responds to our act of worship in tithing in Malachi 3:10, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'”

      It is an act of love to tithe. Malachi is saying to do so with a joyous heart sacrificially only with what the Lord’s given you at this time, and He will bless you for it. Maybe not here on Earth, but as rewards stored up in Heaven.

  • Wow this was really great. God’s truth always brings you back to repentance.
    We have to commit ourselves to be that spotless bride. Come Lord Jesus.

  • Thank you, Nathan, for the article “When God Seems So Distant.” I reread Malachi with fresh insight. The minor prophets are major voices to be read, reread, heard and heeded.

  • I’ve been reading through the Bible and am now on my second time (about to finish.) Ironic, but I found the minor prophets spoke to me. Too many followers of Christ think the NT is all we need to know Him, but He is all over the OT. It points to Him, it defines Him. Our pastor has raised up the minor prophets in our Wed. night Bible study. It is fantastic. I want to purchase this book, but can’t figure out how to do it. Please help.

    Again, it is the Father trying to teach me more when he coordinates my study with church study and your study. I am excited to learn what He has for me to learn.

  • We are here on the battlefield of spiritual warfare, it surrounds us every day. Staying in the scriptures and reading them connects with the Lord and what his plans are. Its the blood of Christ that Satan cannot stand… and its this that undermines the powers of darkness.

    The church endures persecution and suffering, overcoming evil by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.

  • An excellent article Nathan! The Old Testament has always been my favorite and I hold the Book of Malachi especially close to my heart. I was saved 19 years ago this month and one of the largest hurdles I had to get over was the tithe. I came from such a greedy, materialistic background that I almost stopped going to church when I heard what this was all about. I had not given God’s word a reading through at that point. But from the words of this ancient prophet I clearly heard the Lord’s word say to me “test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Well I did test the Lord and BOY WAS HE FAITHFUL! I do not have enough room here to explain all my blessings but if anyone wants to email me I would be more than happy to give my testimony. Thank you Lamb & Lion Ministries, I follow you all the time and watch Christ in Prophecy every week.

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