The Fathers of the State of Texas, or at least the architect of the State Capitol at Austin, saw a partnership between God’s purposes and the state’s. The Ten Commandments are the basis of the covenant established with Moses and the Levites Deut. 4:13, and Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and love others Matt. 22:37-40.
And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that My covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.
COVENANT is a big emphasis in Malachi’s message. In the short passage above there are words of warning not to discontinue the covenant, following on in Mal. 2:8 there’s a statement “You have violated the covenant with Levi” and the question, “Why do we profane the covenant…? Finally, Malachi foretells the coming of the messenger of the covenant Mal. 3:1 who in Jesus’ own words Matt. 11:10-14 is John the Baptist.
Everything Malachi says rings with this emphasis, either directly, or implicitly by his use of covenant language. It had a special resonance for his fellow Jews which we do not hear so easily. In particular he mentions the covenant with Levi (or the house of Levi). The role of Levitical priests was to teach the covenant, observe the covenant and keep people obedient to the covenant. So Malachi is referring in particular to the covenant with Moses, prefaced in Exodus 19:5, the Ten Commandments Exodus 20:1-17 and rules following with further reminders e.g. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 7:9-12
Why is this mention of covenant so significant? Early on in the Bible, when God created man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him one command: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” Genesis 2:16-17. God sets Adam in the Garden and promises eternal life to him and his descendants as long as he is obedient to God’s commands. The reward for faith and obedience is life and lack of it leads to death.
The five main covenants are those made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant.
The nature of a covenant is that it is absolute and enduring, unlike a modern-day contract or business agreement or even treaty which can be terminated by one of the parties. For example, your bank may call in an overdraft or alter the terms if the Bank of England rate or restrictions on money supply change – and some businesses foundered in the recession as a result. The Greeks are accused of violating their ‘covenant’ with the European Union, and the British stand accused of not wishing to honour its ethos of ever-closer union: being expelled and leaving are both options. The covenants with Noah, Abraham and David didn’t work like that – they were absolute, unconditional and permanent.
The covenant with Moses (Malachi calls it the covenant made with Levi) is unconditional in its permanence, but there’s a conditional element. If people don’t keep it, it doesn’t work for them. Because it is spiritual, moving into it more (dependence) and moving out of it (independence) has spiritual consequences which result in practical, measurable gain or loss.
Old Covenant: It has to start with obedience
In the Old Testament the emphasis is on obedience because personal living faith was difficult in a religious system where priests represented God to man, and man to God. However where there is faith, there is also dependence, and obedience happens. Malachi’s warning is that the faith relationship has become weak, so people are ignoring or even despising the covenant they are in, and missing out on its protection and provision for them.
The New Covenant in Jesus emphasises faith and God’s grace in a personal relationship which is open to all people, not just the chosen holy nation. It is a much better covenant because we are constantly enabled to live in it by the Holy Spirit, and obedience – that sense of living out God’s purposes in God’s way – follows faith. The Law is written on our hearts, as Jeremiah foretold Jer. 31:33. For us as Jesus’ disciples it is a downhill run. Go with the flow of the Spirit.
For the people of Malachi’s time, it was much more of an an uphill climb – the Law, precept by precept. They might have heard Jeremiah’s prophecy but that was for a future time. As Jews their relationship with God had to be built on obedience first, and then faith and knowledge of God could grow.
Many not-yet-Christians’ perception of church is quite off-putting – an uphill climb of rules and obedience. Unfortunately it’s not entirely false. Many churches are still serving up Law, rather than grace, and have a culture of serving a demanding God who exacts much from us. This fits with Malachi’s message.
The way out of this religious trap is, as Malachi says, to know and experience in a real way the love God has for us, and how as a Father He wants us simply – to be His Mal. 1:2, 1:6, 3:17. Unlike Malachi’s people, we have the Holy Spirit to invite to be our Helper and Enabler in this.