ENVY OF THE WICKED
Many people struggle with comparing themselves to others. They either feel inferior or superior in this exercise. Some personalities always compare themselves with others and always feel superior. On the other hand there are those who could compare themselves to the worst person on earth and they would still inferior. The answer to both of these individuals – stop comparing yourself to others!
Then, as believers we can look at the wicked and feel envious, cheated, or angry. The wicked sometimes get away with their sin, with little or no earthly consequences. We assume that if one engages in devious sinful behavior that they should be punished by the law and God. Yet, many times the wicked get away with murder! Regardless of what happens with the wicked, we as Christians need to learn to not look at others.
Malachi presents a lesson for Israel and the people of God today regarding this important subject. Israel too was looking at the wicked and concluding that walking with the Lord was not profitable. Compared to the wicked men, Israel was struggling, while they were prospering. This apparent problem comes to the Lord’s attention and He addresses this in verses 13-18.
This is not the only place we find this problem. In Psalm 73, the author found himself looking at prosperous sinners, while he and his people struggled with minimal provisions. Israel, as a nation, thought by their restoration to the land that life would be better. Yet, as they looked around plenty of people who had no relationship with the Lord were doing better than they were in terms of earthy prosperity. There are two declarations made by the Lord which show the problem and solution.
I. THE ACCUSATION FROM THE LORD v. 13-15
In verse 13 God states, “Your words have been arrogant against Me.” The word “arrogant” means “severe, strong, in a high state of intensity.” In our vernacular, “You all are coming on too strong!” The words which the Lord reveals as being against Him are stated in verses 14-15. The seriousness of God’s accusation lies in the fact that their words were “against Me, “ says the Lord. Sometimes we do not see the horror of things we say as being against the Lord.
The response of Israel shows the difficulty they had with seeing their own sin. They question, “What have we spoken against You?” The complaints, conclusions, and criticisms were against the Lord, even though it might have been private thoughts, or just discussion among friends. With our words we are either for or against Christ. The words spoken against the Lord could be divided into two critical questions which stem from Israel comparing themselves to the wicked.
A. What Is the Point? v. 14
The statement made by the Jews was, “It is vain to serve God….” The word “vain” can mean “empty, worthless, futile, or deceitful.” Basically, they were saying, “It is worthless and empty to serve God.” There is no point in all this spiritual activity.
B. Where Is the Profit? v. 14
The next phrase, “What profit is it that we have kept His charge,” reveals another aspect of their speaking against the Lord. The word “profit” speaks of “ill-gotten gains or valuable things gained from theft.” In other words, we want some sort of monetary blessing for our efforts to live for God.
At the end of verse 14 they claim to have kept the charge of the Lord or His requirements. Of course they had not kept some vital requirements of the Lord, as outlined in chapters 1-3. Further, they claimed to walk in mourning before the Lord of Hosts. The picture is that of people in sackcloth and ashes, showing repentance and grief over their sin and condition before God. Of course the Lord has already declared that Israel was not right with Him and would not be blessed because of their sin. The “mourning” was simply an act or show, but no inward heart repentance.
Then, in verse 15, Israel called the arrogant blessed. The arrogant were those who were proud and haughty toward the Lord. Further, the doers of wickedness were being “built up” or “established, growing or prospering.” They test God with their wickedness and escape any judgment or punishment. Their attitude: “The wicked are blessed for their sin and here we are trying to do right and we have nothing.”
There are several flaws related to this perspective.
1. We are not to look at man, nor compare ourselves to others. This was obviously part of the problem with Israel. Israel was looking at the wicked and seeing their prosperity. It discouraged them, as they felt their lives were more righteous than the wicked. Yet, in Israel’s mind the wicked had temporal and financial blessings and they did not.
2. We must not compare ourselves to the wicked. In the minds of the Hebrews the wicked deserved judgment compared to them. They were comparing their behavior to that of the wicked, thus concluding that they were not so bad. Typically, this leads to a false perspective of one’s true spiritual condition. If we find someone guilty of many horrible crimes, then my life may look good compared to them. That means I will be unteachable to God as He seeks to convict me of my issues.
3. At the heart of the matter we find a wrong motive for serving God. Israel wanted temporal blessings for their service. They wanted something to show for their effort. They, like us, were self-centered and wanted something in return for service. They were unwilling to serve and suffer. They felt God “owed” them. We can serve for what we get from God. We want to feel better, money, pleasure, blessings, good results, etc.
4. We defile our relationship with Him by wanting something from Him and not just being satisfied with Him. This strikes to the core of the problem. We must ask ourselves, “Is Jesus enough” or must I have some emotional experience, some pat on the back, or some financial benefit?
5. He, the Lord, should be our focus and our result. First, we should always keep our eyes on Christ, not our service, circumstances, or other people. Secondly, we should be content with Him, and not some tangible result.
II. THE ANSWER FROM THE LORD v. 16-18
There are three components to God’s answer for those who think the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.
A. The Attention of the Lord v. 16
This paragraph begins with God pictured as overhearing a conversation between believers who feared the Lord. The issue is that God “gave attention and heard it.” The ones whom the Lord attends to are those who fear Him and esteem His name. “Fear” refers to “reverence,” while “esteem” means “to count, to value, to consider or think.”
The ones from the previous paragraph felt that God paid attention to the wicked, “we call the arrogant blessed.” Here the Lord declares that the ones who fear Him and count on Him have His attention. Therefore, the ones complaining in verses 13-15 do not fear or esteem Him. They go through the motions of external religion, but have no inward reality.
B. The Accountability of the Lord v. 16
God has a “book of remembrance” written for all those who fear and esteem Him. He is keeping records on those who walk with the Lord. The righteous walk, the choices, the thought life, the trust, the prayers, the service, and the witnessing all go into the book. God keeps the records for His people, those who fear and esteem Him.
Those who complained about the wicked prospering in verses 13-15, are rebuked by these words. For they have accused God of not paying attention or taking into account their supposed righteous activity. God does pay attention and take account of the actions of His real children.
C. The Award from the Lord v. 17-18
God will use the book of remembrance to make decisions. He will proclaim concerning those who revere and esteem Him, “They will be Mine.” The day will come when He will prepare His “possession” or “treasure.” This special possession or treasure will be spared (have compassion on), says the Lord of Hosts. Verse 18 shows there will be a difference between the wicked and the righteous in that day. The Lord says you will be able to distinguish between the two in that day.
This indicates that those who serve God and walk in a righteous way will be spared of judgment. They will prosper in that day. However, those who are wicked and do not serve the Lord will experience God’s wrath.
The whole issue is God saying, “It pays to walk with Me. It will not be on this earth, but in the future there is heaven and the rewards given to those who serve Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who experience the future awards will be those who know the Lord and are satisfied with Him alone.