|WAITING FOR COVENANT
Series: Waiting - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 3, 2017
Will you stand and read together with me our text this morning from Malachi 2 - beginning at verse 10:
Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does He not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers His garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
We’ve been looking at Malachi - which is the last book of the Old Testament. Which was written about 445 BC.
God’s people have returned from exile. The Temple in Jerusalem has been rebuilt. The walls of Jerusalem are being rebuilt. There have been attempts at rebuilding the spiritual life of God’s people. And God’s people are waiting for what comes next.
They’re waiting for God to make good on His promises that He made to Abraham - and Abraham’s descendants. They’re waiting for the coming of the Messiah - the king to sit on David’s throne - who’ll establish his kingdom. Who will usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. God and His people having a position of dominance over the other nations of the world. They’re waiting for God’s presence in a new Temple - with the nations of the world streaming to Jerusalem to worship God.
Which hasn’t happened yet. Not even close. So God’s people are waiting for something a whole lot better than what they see around them - where they’re living and what life is like in Jerusalem. God fulfilling His promises. Now’s the time! ...only it wasn’t.
So God’s people have issues with God and God has issues with God’s people. Malachi is one of the most argumentative books in the Bible. For the most part Malachi is a series of “discussions” - a series of some pretty blunt Q and A - give and takes between God and His people. God trying to help His people to get in sync with where He’s coming from and where they need to be.
[The Question] The passage we just read is the third major “discussion” between God and His people. It begins - in verse 10 - with a question being asked by God’s people: Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?
Let’s make sure we’re understanding the question.
Writing to the Corinthians - in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul summarizes a whole lot of Scripture - clarifies what’s being alluded to here - Paul writes: “...for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all are all things and through whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist…”
God is the sovereign creator of all mankind - and specifically the Father of the nation of Israel. One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all… kind of.
Coming from a point of view - that we would disagree with - but a point of view that says we all are evolved from the same glob of primordial ooze or the same crystal so you’d think after several billions of years or millions of years of humans being somewhat human - and after 5,000 or so years of recorded history - you’d think we’d have learned by now and we all would be treating ourselves a whole lot better than this.
Contemplate human history - the world we live in - our inability to rise above our nature. It’s a question that mankind cannot by itself answer. Modern man has just gotten better at being worse. Why?
And lest we be tempted to play the “God Card” - in judgment on everyone else - being God’s people doesn’t give us a “bye” on messing ourselves up. We understand that humanity - and each one of us - “we” are not the random product of evolving primordial ooze but the unique purposeful creation of God. Even with that understanding we’re still humanity and we still struggle in our relationships and in our own hearts.
Israel was one nation created by God and they struggled. We’re one church - created by God through the work of Christ on the cross - and we struggle. Name a relationship and we struggle. Even with ourselves.
“Faithless” translates a Hebrew word that means “treacherous” - “deceitful.” It’s related to the word for “garment” - outward clothing. What’s on the outside looks really good. But it’s just covering up what’s inside that’s really messed up. Like deceptive advertising. You can’t trust anybody these days. That’s faithless.
We’re all one big happy human family. But that’s only skin deep. Beyond what we strive for - long for - why are we so faithless to each other? So treacherous? So deceitful? Why can’t we get beyond ourselves?
Covenant is agreement. A mutual promise - a commitment - between people or with God.
God covenants with Abraham. God promises to bless Abraham with three things. Which were... Land - specifically the Promised Land - Canaan. Seed - specifically lots of descendants to dwell on the land. And Blessing - God blessing those descendants and through them to bless the nations of the world - us through Jesus.
In Genesis 15 - God really makes that clear when God goes through this whole covenant sealing the deal ritual and God swears by Himself that God will do what He says He will do and Abraham really has nothing to do with it except show up and live faithfully committed to what God has planned to do.
Abraham’s part of the covenant is to... accept it. And to go forward living in faithful sacrificial obedience - submitting - to the will of the God who’s made that promise.
And so with God’s people. God since Genesis has been faithfully - relentlessly - purposefully - working through history to fulfill His promise - His part of the covenant regardless of their faithlessness - their continual mess-ups - the offensive sinful behavior - of His people - who’s role in the covenant is to show-up and live in faithful sacrificial obedience - submitting to the will of their God who loves them as a Father.
Why? Why - given all that God has done for us in making us to be His people - delivering us from slavery in Egypt - sustaining us in the Promised Land - and even graciously bringing us back from the judgment of exile - why would we treat each other like this?
To profane the covenant of our fathers means to take what is a uniquely holy - sacred - a God created and God blessed relationship and trash it - pollute it - treat it as unholy garbage - excrement. And not just our relationship with each other but even our relationship with God Himself.
And let’s get real. We don’t get a “bye” on this. In our own depraved sinful unworthiness which we may fully acknowledge - God graciously calling us out of our sin - making us to be the church of His Son Jesus Christ - why would we do this to each other? Everyone of us struggles in our relationships with others - in the church - in our workplaces or schools - in our homes - to our spouses - we struggle in ways that are often “somewhat” less than what we desire and what God has for us. Why?
[The Answer] In verses 11 to 16 God answers His people. God’s answer comes in two parts.
Part one is a real time situation that God uses to point out the core of the problem.
Verse 11: Judah has been faithless, and abomination - something so disgusting - so detestable - that it makes you want to puke - and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For - here it is - Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.
Hebrew men had been marrying women - probably not Hebrew women - women who worshipped false gods. Slowly but surely - through those marriage relationships - foreign gods have been introduced into the life of God’s people.
Which isn’t about some inter-racial hang-up on the part of the Jews. Intermarriage with idolatrous foreign god worshipping women is about what’s led to worshipping foreign gods. What’s led to profaning God’s sanctuary - the Temple.
Verse 12: May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!
“any descendant” meaning everyone breathing who’s guilty of doing this God will cut off. Literally - God will destroy them.
Meaning God will hold them accountable. They can’t keep living like that and expecting to go on worshipping God and everything is just peachy-keen.
Verse 13: And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.
They knew things were really messed up. Maybe they even felt a spiritual separation from God. Some kind of spiritual emptiness. For sure - because they’re asking the question - at least they knew the emptiness and failures of their own relationships. So they were weeping and groaning and covering God’s altar with their tears.
We see this when we’re confronted with the horror of what humans do to each other. Like after 9/11 the churches were packed. Or right after someone drives down a sidewalk packed with people. Suddenly we’re called to pray or observe a moment of silence - whatever that means. And then when we feel better - reassured - seemingly we don’t need God anymore.
Happens to us when we face a crisis in our lives - maybe in our relationship with our spouse. Suddenly our prayers - our commitment to God - gets more intense. Which isn’t a bad thing. But then when things even out a bit we go back to status quo. Just saying.
Crying out to God is a good thing. But they were crying for the wrong reasons. They we’re upset because they got problems and seemingly God wasn’t listening to them or at least fixing what they thought was broken. Because if God would fix it then they could go back to living how they wanted to live. Instead they should have been crying and in sorrow - repenting - rejecting and turning away from their sins.
Verse 14: But you say, “Why does He not?” “Why isn’t God listening to us?”
Answer: Because the Lord was witness - God was there with everyone else at your wedding - God was watching when you exchanged your marriage vows - the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, [even] though she is your companion - a word in Hebrew that has the idea of two ropes being joined together by a knot tied so tightly that it can’t be undone - a joined together ally for life - your companion and your wife by covenant. - by the agreement you made together before God and His people
Verse 15: Did he [God] not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? - God Himself is a part of your marriage - even now - And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring - godly children - meaning children of godly parents - generations that will faithfully obey and serve Him - a testimony to the nations - to God alone be the glory - So guard yourselves in your spirit and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
Guard yourself - be very careful. Where? “...in your spirit.” At the core of who you - the place where you process how you do life - in that place which is core to your relationship with God - be careful - watch yourself so that you do not deal treacherously - deceitfully - with the wife of your youth. Promising her one thing and delivering something totally different.
Let’s make sure we understand God’s illustration from life. What really is the issue that God is focusing His people - and us - what God is focusing on.
For 70 years the Hebrews had lived in exile in Babylon - as slaves of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. Then - returning from exile - for eighty plus years the Hebrews - maybe only a handful - about 100,000 - this remnant of the Hebrew nation had been living in their motherland.
A Hebrew man - a part of this remnant - one of God’s covenant people - finds a Hebrew woman - also a part of this small group - herself one of God’s covenant people - he stands before the priest - before his family - her family - his nation - and enters into a covenant - an agreement of exclusive faithfulness with that woman - now his wife. A covenant of marriage intended by God to be between a man and woman for a life time.
Over the years - surrounded by enemies - they’d been struggling side by side - rebuilding their homeland and their nation - worshipping God together - raising a family together. Now this man looks at his wife - after she’s spent years by his side - sees that she’s sagging a little here and there - the sun and gravity have taken their toll - the years have been hard - he looks at the young girls of the nations around them - finds a reason to divorce his old wife - literally trades her in on a newer model.
In the process of doing that the Hebrew man invites into his home - and nation - the foreign gods of his new wife - which he tolerates. Which over time he begins to worship along with the God of the Covenant. Which in time even his children begin to worship. So that generations - immediate and future - godly offspring - are in serious jeopardy of wandering away from God.
Somehow the Hebrew men expected God to overlook this kind of outrageous - disgusting - it profanes the covenant - sin. It’s all good.
God condemns this treachery. It’s sin. It’s wrong. It will not be tolerated. It is an act of faithless treachery against God Himself. That’s God’s real from life illustration.
But let’s be careful God’s answer to the question “Why are we so faithless to one another?” The point of God’s answer isn’t about infidelity in marriage - God’s point is about the core - heart level - spiritual condition of His people.
Always is. Isn’t it? Whatever’s messed up in our lives always seems to end up coming back to what’s messed up in our relationship with God. Yes?
Part two of God’s answer comes in verse 16: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
The statement, “covers his garment with violence” probably doesn’t jump out at most of us but, to the Hebrew that phrase comes with some very powerful images and emotions that tie together everything that God has just been illustrating about their sin.
We need to understand that.
If you turn with me - or swipe with me - back to the book of Ruth - Ruth 3:9 - the same image is used. As you’re swiping or turning - let me share and refresh our memories with the background picture of what’s happening.
You’ll recall that the book of Ruth is about a family that started off in Judah. There was a man by the name of... Elimelech who was living in Bethlehem with his wife... Naomi - and his two sons - Mahlon and Chilion.
In those days there was a famine in Judah - so Elimelech moved his whole family to the land of Moab - which was the land just east of the Dead Sea. Map - picture. Present day Jordan.
When they got to Moab - Elimelech died and Naomi was left alone with her two boys - Mahlon and Chilion. In time the boys married women from Moab: Orpah and... Ruth. 10 years went by and then Mahlon and Chilion died.
So Naomi is left in Moab with Orpah and Ruth - alone in a foreign land - with strange customs and gods - without family except her two daughters-in-law. Trying to decide what to do.
When the famine in Judah was over - no brainer - Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem and Ruth goes with her. Hungry - homeless - unmarried women - in order to have food to eat Ruth began to glean in the field of a man named... Boaz.
After the barley harvesters finished picking in the fields - Ruth would go out each day and collect the barley that had fallen on the ground. From this left over barley she and Naomi would have enough to eat. One day - while Ruth was gleaning - Boaz saw her - falls head over heals in love with her - begins to show noticeable favor towards her. Enough so that Naomi - seeing a good thing - gives instructions to Ruth on how to proceed to make the marriage happen.
Brings us to Ruth - chapter 3 - long account short - Boaz comes in from a day of harvesting - eats - gets plastered - lies down on a heap of grain. Ruth - following Naomi’s instructions and the customs of the day - Ruth comes in to where Boaz is sleeping it off - uncovers Boaz’s feet - and lays down by his feet.
Let’s be careful. There’s nothing sexual here. Ruth is following through on instructions and custom that may sound weird to us. But the average Hebrew would have gotten this.
At midnight - Boaz wakes up - he rolls over and there’s this girl at this feet.
Ruth 3:9: He - Boaz - said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” (Ruth 3:9 NASB)
In the Hebrew culture - when a man married a girl, he took his garment, his outer garment, and put it over her. The custom was a sign of covenant - of Boaz’s covenant - commitment - to protect Ruth who would be his bride.
“Covering” - meaning “garment” - which is our connection with Malachi - and where God is going with this spiritually. Because on one level this is about the covenant of marriage. But another level this about God’s covenant with His people.
Genesis to Revelation God uses marriage to illustrate important truths about our relationship with Him.
Ezekiel 16:8, with the same custom in mind, God speaks to Israel as His bride, “Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love - meaning at a marriageable age - so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8 NASB)
God speaks to the prophet Hosea. A familiar illustration. “Go marry a prostitute.” Gomer - not Pyle - a women living in sin. God choosing to covenant with people living in hopeless sin. “Have children by her.” Each child has a name that shows that the covenant between God and His people is broken. When Gomer rejects Hosea and goes back to prostitution - adultery - God tells Hosea to get her. Hosea ends up bidding on her in an auction - to buy back his wife from her slavery to sin - an amazing picture of God purchasing us in Jesus Christ.
At the heart of Biblical marriage is the idea of covenant. A covenant agreement that’s made between a man and a women before witnesses and - most importantly - before God. Vows are what a couple says to each other. But the heart of their vows is what’s said before God.
It’s what makes Christian marriage so much more than a legal contract. What makes Christian marriage so vastly different than the way the world looks a marriage.
The agreement - the promises - the covenant of marriage is not only a declaration of loving someone today but a promise to love that person - to give everything for that person - today and tomorrow - till death do us part - setting aside our selves in order to see our spouse grow to be the person that God has created and called them to be.
A mutual covenanting that - at its essential core - is made in acknowledgement and submission to God’s working and plan for the couple. To God alone be the glory.
Which is why divorce is so hideous. God permitted divorce - not because divorce is part of His best will for us. God permitted divorce because of our sin and selfishness hardness of heart.
Which is also part of God’s illustration. Spiritual adultery is when we give ourselves to something or someone other than the one true God. Aside from the tremendous pain, adultery breaks the covenant. Divorce severs the covenant.
Genesis to Revelation God uses marriage - good or bad - to illustrate our relationship with Him.
God’s answer to the question “Why are we so faithless to one another?” God’s answer goes beyond infidelity in marriage to our infidelity towards God.
· If there is treachery between nations it is because they have rejected their accountability to God.
· If there is treachery within a nation - a community - it is because they have excluded God from the life of that nation.
· If there is treachery in the church it is because Christ is not the Head.
· If there is treachery in the home it is because God is not in control.
· If there is treachery in our hearts it is because we are not surrendered to God.
Processing all that…
On the night that Jesus was arrested he shared the Passover Meal with His disciples. A meal in which Jesus took elements of the Passover Meal - the bread and wine - and applied it to Himself. His body brutally broken - crushed - for us. His blood - His life - poured out as the means of establishing a new covenant between God and man.
Jesus knew what was coming - the arrest - the brutality - the humiliation - the rejection - the agonizing journey to the cross and crucifixion. In a very real way He’s lovingly preparing His disciples for what’s to come.
After the meal, we’re told they sang a hymn together and headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane is unreal. A moment in the gospel history that is strange. In the Gospels Jesus confident - assured - authoritative - fearless - steady - in control of what’s coming down. In the face of the worst opposition Jesus is not intimidated. He’s bold - brave - unmoved.
Gethsemane is different. In Gethsemane we’re told that Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled. Some versions use the words horrified - agitated - anxious - agony - anguish. Jesus tells His disciples that His “soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” The New Living Translation translates Jesus’ words that His “soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
At Bethany - at the tomb of Lazarus - Jesus openly wept. That’s different. Here in the moonlight - the darkness of Gethsemane - we see Jesus who is sorrowful even to death. A sorrow so powerful that to experience it is like dying.
A short distance beyond the disciples Jesus falls to the ground in prayer. The weight of the feeling - the burden - pushes Him to the ground. He cannot even stand.
Why? Why the terror? The agony? The sorrow? From a man who just before had confidently prepared His disciples for the torture of what was to come. Confidently led them in a hymn as they left together. Why?
Before creation was creation Jesus knew this moment would come. Jesus - God - took on humanity - His incarnation - is for this moment. The road to the cross goes through the manger. Right?
Jesus isn’t avoiding the sacrifice. Knowing what was coming He confidently led His disciples into Jerusalem. There is no reluctance - even for the physical torture to come.
In Gethsemane we see Jesus confront what goes beyond our ability to understand. What goes beyond the depth of our mental and emotional and spiritual ability to comprehend. In Gethsemane Jesus confronts the ultimate agony of the cross.
In the shadows Jesus prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:32-42 - cf. Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:40-46)
C.J. Mahaney writes, “The cup contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against all sin, and we discover in Scripture that it’s intended for all of sinful humanity to drink. It’s your cup… and mine. ...like all the fury of the Mount St. Helens eruption concentrated within a coffee mug.” In His humanity Jesus is “...brought face-to-face with the abhorrent reality of bearing our iniquity and becoming the object of God’s full and furious wrath.” (1)
Jesus enters the Garden for an interlude of prayer before the coming storm - to speak with His Father. To gain reassurance and peace. What He encounters is not Heaven but Hell. What will be utter separation from God. Total abandonment and absolute wrath. Rejection that we cannot even begin to process.
“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)
Imagine: “For God so loved the world…” - you and me - that God is silent in response to His Son’s agonizing appeal. (2)
“Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
Jesus will drink the cup. All of it. For you. For me. Sacrificing Himself out of submission to the will of the Father. Such is Christ’s love for you and me.
Paul writes in Philippians: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 TNLB)
We’re together with Paul?
Jesus chooses to sets aside His rights as God - taking on what it means to be human - those who are created and called to serve - Jesus fully God - fully man - becomes a servant - humbling Himself by being obedient - submitting to the will of the Father - even to dying on the cross - sacrificing Himself in our place.
Let’s be careful. In sacrificing and submitting Jesus is never less than He is. In fact, His choice of sacrifice and submission demonstrates character that we can only marvel at. What we glimpse at in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Paul is very specific. We are to have the same sacrificing and submitting attitude as Jesus.
When Paul writes to husbands, “...love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” - he’s not instructing husbands to be less than they are but to choose to have the attitude that Jesus had in sacrificing Himself according to the will of the Father - and to lovingly sacrifice themselves for their wives.
Not because we’re submitting and sacrificing to our spouses who are perfect like God is. None of us was perfect when Jesus died in our place. But because - knowing the submission and sacrifice of Jesus for us - we know that as we submit and sacrifice it’s choosing to first submit and sacrifice to God - in obedience to the will of God - Who knows our sin and failure - Who still love us - has covenanted with us - and will fulfill His promises to us.
That submitting and sacrificing attitude is so foreign to the self-serving - it’s all about me - culture that we live in. But that following the example of Jesus submitting and sacrificing attitude is what makes the covenant of marriage work.
Marriage that God uses as the example of His covenant relationship with His people - Israel and the Church. The attitude God’s people did not have - as they’re laying tears on God’s altar - unrepentant - serving themselves in marriage - trading in their old wives and marrying younger models regardless of what that was doing to themselves and the nation spiritually. Faithless. Treacherous. Disastrous.
Processing all that for ourselves is the evaluation of our own submission and sacrifice to each other - as husbands and wives - as siblings in Jesus - in how we treat each of our God given relationships. And at the spiritual core bottom line of all of that is the evaluation of our own submission and sacrifice of our lives to God our Father for what He wills of us in faithful obedience to Him.
In a moment we’re going to share communion together. The Lord’s Table. Which we’re sharing at this moment in our service of worship - which is different for us - but the emphasis here is to give us the opportunity to evaluate exactly that deeper issue in our lives.
Communion is act of worship for those who have repented of their sin and chosen to sacrifice their lives in submission to the will of our Father. But Paul warns us - in Corinthians - that we need to continually evaluate where we’re at in that covenant relationship. Because we get off track. We default to self-serve mode. We need to refresh and renew our attitude of submission and sacrifice to God.
As we stand and read together what Paul writes to the Corinthian church be thinking about Jesus’ submission and sacrifice - the New Covenant that comes to us from God through the blood of Jesus.
These days where are you in response to all that? What does covenant look like in your life?
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
1. C.J. Mahaney, “Living the Cross Centered Life” (Sovereign Grace Ministries, Multnomah, 2006), page 80.
2. C.J. Mahaney, “Living the Cross Centered Life” (Sovereign Grace Ministries, Multnomah, 2006), see page 81.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.