(By Angela Watson)
What prompts some people to respond to certain situations by doing whatever it takes to change the outcome?
When my father-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes, he responded by doing everything possible. He lost weight, changed his diet and exercise habits, and did anything to delay becoming insulin-dependent. But not everyone with this diagnosis responds in the same way.
What makes the difference?
I think it comes down to what’s at stake. For my father-in-law, the stakes were high. At that time, as a helicopter pilot, being insulin-dependent would have meant he could no longer fly.
As we look at the prophecy of Malachi, we see this idea presented in a spiritual context.
Malachi was an Old Testament prophet in Israel after the exiles had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. He was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah; the books bearing their names provide additional context for God’s message through Malachi for His people.
In the book of Nehemiah, we learn that after returning from 70 years of captivity, the people were led by Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and Ezra, the high priest, led the restoration of worship in the temple.
Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the people had taken an oath before God as they recommitted to God’s covenant. The oath focused on the areas in which the people had been struggling: marrying outside their faith, not keeping the Sabbath, and not worshiping through giving and serving. They promised to do whatever it took to honor God and His commands.
For the 12 years that Nehemiah was with them, the people lived out their oath before God. But when Nehemiah left to serve King Artaxerxes again in Babylon, the people returned to their old ways.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah discovered that Tobiah, an Ammonite who aggressively opposed the wall rebuilding, was now residing in the temple storeroom, where the vessels of the house of God belonged, along with the grain offering and the frankincense.
To make matters worse, Tobiah had moved in with the assistance of Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chamber of the House of God. These rooms had been empty because the officials had neglected their duties of collecting tithes and serving the people.
When the Sabbath came, Nehemiah observed that instead of keeping the day holy, the people were working in the winepresses and the fields and bringing their goods into Jerusalem to be sold.
And lastly, Nehemiah saw that the Jews were marrying among the nations of the land. They were losing their language and customs, and more than that, their foreign spouses were turning them away from God.
By not being faithful to God, the people were robbing God. In Malachi 3:8, the Lord, through His messenger Malachi, asks, “Will man rob God?”
Nehemiah understood what was at stake and was willing to do whatever was necessary to restore God to His rightful place and the people back to God. He did not shy away from speaking the truth or dealing with tough things even though some might describe him as ruthless in his response (Chapter 13).
In Matthew, Jesus gives some rather startling advice regarding dealing with sin. “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9).
When we read these words, we may draw back and feel horrified that Jesus would say something like this. But Jesus isn’t saying this to be harsh. He’s not encouraging us to participate in these drastic measures. Instead, He’s encouraging us to do whatever it takes, to be ruthless in cutting sin out of our lives because He knows what’s at stake.
The Lord’s message to the Israelites in Malachi’s day still applies to us today. I pray that each of us would be encouraged to evaluate our lives in light of eternity and obey His Word, not succumbing to sin through neglect, compromise, or outright disobedience. Will we rob God or are we willing to do whatever it takes to give God his rightful place in our lives?