Malachi, the last of the biblical prophets for 400 years until John the Baptist, not only denounced in grim detail the major sins of the nation of Israel but also extolled the virtues and vision of the true Israel within backslidden Israel.
‘Then those who [a] feared the Lord [c] spoke with one another. [d] The Lord paid attention and heard them, and [e] a book of remembrance was written before him of [= a] those who feared the Lord and [b] esteemed his name. [f] “They shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “in the day when I act [= margin], my treasured possession, [g] and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. … [F]or you who [= a/b] fear my name, [h] the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings…. [i] And you shall tread down the wicked … [as] ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act,” says the Lord of hosts’ (Malachi 3:16-17; 4:2).
These crucial details still hold good today:
- Their behaviour: [a] a God-fearing attitude; [b] meditating on who God is – ‘esteem’ (Hebrew hasab) means ‘to make an estimate of, compute, reckon, take much account of’ (see Psalm 77:6; 119:59) – their spirituality was not of the blank-minded ‘Ohmmmmmm’ variety, nor was it merely ‘going through the motions’ of religious ritual; all was done thoughtfully, intentionally and meaningfully, just as ‘the Lord takes thought of me’ (Psalm 40:7); and [c] sharing fellowship about the Lord with like-minded souls.
- The Lord’s response: [d] he noticed and focused and [e] recorded it forever.
- His promise to them: [f] they will be his personal treasure; [g] they will be spared in the season of judgment, [h] be made whole, and [i] be employed as his agents to punish wickedness and set up his kingdom.
Here are two biblical examples of ‘a mustard seed community’ to emulate:
- Boaz’s Bethlehem community
The story of Ruth and Boaz is set ‘In the days when the judges ruled’ (Ruth 1:1); the previous verse (Judges 21:25) informs us: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ But amidst that godless, nationwide society of self-seekers we are shown a godly community of grace. A major feature of the citizens of Bethlehem was that they revered the Lord and blessed one another in his name: ‘Boaz … said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” And they answered, “The Lord bless you”’ (Ruth 2:4). ‘And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he [Boaz] be blessed by the Lord”’ (Ruth 8:19-20). ‘And he [Boaz] said [to Ruth], “May you be blessed by the Lord”’ (Ruth 3:10). And, on the birth of the first child to Ruth and Boaz, ‘the women [of the town] said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer … He shall be a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age’ (Ruth 4:14-18). The Lord took note of them and later David was born there.
- David’s cave of Adullam community
Saul’s Israel departed from the Lord when Samuel retired and died. But David honoured his own divine anointing by gathering ‘an underground church’ in ‘the cave of Adullam’ of ‘everyone who was in distress, … in debt, and … discontented’ (1 Samuel 22:1-2 margin). He trained those ‘four hundred men’ as ‘the government in exile’; ‘he became captain over them’ (1 Samuel 22:2). He taught them to ‘bless the Lord at all times’ (Psalm 34:1), to ‘fear the Lord’ (Psalm 34:8-11), to refrain ‘from speaking deceit’ (Psalm 34:13) as they spoke often one to another, and to respect the life of the backslidden monarch. Again, the Lord took note and used them to establish his kingdom.