Resounding conversations during ‘a dark age’

A Range of Questions in Malachi

The Old Testament era ended with a great many questions being asked.. Malachi recorded twenty-five questions in the space of only fifty-five verses!

[] Ten were petulant questions flung at the Lord by backslidden Israelites; such queries as: How are we robbing you?’ (Malachi 3:8), and What have we said against you?’ (3:13).

[] Twelve were posed to them by the Lord himself; for instance, ‘If I am a father, where is the honour due to me?’ (1:6).

[] Three were raised by the prophet himself (in 2:10) – e.g. Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?’ (All quotations are from NIV Proclamation Bible.)

Reliable Predictions by Malachi

Another notable feature of this final written revelation of the Old Testament age is the five-fold mention of ‘the day’ when God will act – still four centuries in the future, as we now know (see 3:17 margin; 4:1,1,3,and 5). It will be both a day that ‘will burn like a furnace’ (4:1) – a theme taken up by John the Baptist; but also a day ‘when I [= the Lord] make up [NIV margin] my treasured possession’ and ‘when I will spare them’ (3:17), as would be emphasised by Jesus.

Resonant conversations in those days

‘Then’, when the old era was sinking into darkness, ‘those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name’ (3:16). We have not been allowed to hear any of those conversations – until the New Testament era begins, and Dr. Luke discovered and recorded for us some resounding examples.

Resonance

The English verb ‘to resonate’ derives from Latin resonare which quite literally is to re-sound. My dictionary tells me it means: ‘echoing, especially with a deep sound; a sound in one object by sound waves coming in from another object.’ The most dramatic example occurs when an operatic soprano gives vent to a prolonged high note that soon shatters a wineglass. Similarly, a long, loud, deep note sung by a bass voice could cause the timpanist’s drums to shudder.

That clause in the dictionary definition: ‘echoing especially a deep sound’ calls to mind Psalm 42:7 – ‘Deep calls to deep’ like ‘the roar of . . . waterfalls’ and ‘waves and breakers’.

Reading Luke chapter 1 afresh in the light of Malachi’s writings is illuminating. Elizabeth and Mary were God-fearing woman who conversed meaningfully in those days. They were relatives who belonged to two distinct generations. Elizabeth was post-menopausal and probably in her fifties, deemed to be ‘very old’ by Luke the physician (Luke 1:7), while Mary was just an unmarried teenager still. Their conversations followed a time of silence (in the case of Elizabeth’s priestly husband Zechariah quite literally so, since he had been rendered mute due to his unbelief that his wife would conceive), and Elizabeth’s five-month ‘retreat’ (probably to avoid village chatter about her condition). Silence and seclusion marked those days for them all.

Then, moments before the two pregnant women saw each other, resonance occurred! “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy”, Elizabeth told Mary, and went on to prophesy: “Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:44-45). Let’s not forget that emails and telephone calls had yet to be invented!

Straight away Mary then prophesied poetically as her spirit ‘rejoice[d] in God [her] Saviour’ (1:46-55). She then stayed with Elizabeth and her mute husband for ‘about three months’ before she ‘returned home’ (1:56), undoubtedly refreshed and strengthened by ‘aged’ Elizabeth’s fellowship. Surely their conversations were deeper by far than what we’d refer to as ‘small talk’. And, just after that, Zechariah got his voice back; as soon as he named his son as ‘John’, as the angel had instructed him when he had last spoken all of nine months earlier (see Luke 1:60).

Let us give the Lord the privilege of taking us deep into resonant conversations and overflowing prophesying. And then, even our ‘small talk’ could resemble the early Bethlehem days of Ruth’s experience when her future husband ‘Boaz arrived . . . and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”‘ and ‘they answered, “The Lord bless you!”‘ (Ruth 2:4). After all, small talk can be a means of social bonding.

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