NOTHING IS HIDDEN FROM OUR OMNISCIENT GOD
Let me relate a bizarre yet true story. Most of us know that Charlie Chaplin was a huge movie star in the silent-picture era sending many often to the world of boisterous laughter with his patented comedy. One of the by-products of his popularity - also referred to in medical terms as Chaplinitis - was the look-alike contests that mushroomed around the globe in early 20th century. Participants in many such contests would attempt to imitate Chaplin dressed as the “tramp” character he made popular in his films.
When the look-alike contest fever was at its peak, Charlie Chaplin himself entered a look-alike contest in a San Francisco theatre without the knowledge of the judges! Amazingly, he failed to even make the finals! So fine-tuned were the Chaplin imitators that the human judges, with all their obvious limitations, could not distinguish the original from the many copies.
The question is whether God could have made a similar mistake? No way! The omniscient God (Heb. 4:13) is not to be deceived. We may, with our excellent acting, which would make an Oscar winner proud, get away with our well-hidden hypocrisy with our fellow human beings, but in front of an all-seeing God, we are bound to stand exposed, just as people during Malachi’s time were. While all the books of the Bible (OT and NT together) have to be cherished and relished for they hold many valuable lessons to us - notice the emphasis on the beginning words, “All scripture,” in 2 Timothy 3:16,17 -somehow by a strange paradox in modern day Christendom, Christians seem to be having a major problem with the minor prophets in the context of OT. Inexplicably the books from Hosea to Malachi (by the way, who gave us the right to classify them disdainfully as minor prophets?) are never studied in depth, leave alone explored, for the rich nuggets of truth they contain. Hence I feel challenged to focus on the subject of God’s omniscience, using the Book of Malachi as the point of reference.
First Things First...
Firstly, let us get the historical background right on the ministry of Malachi. Now, who were the people the “messenger” (in Hebrew Malachi means “messenger”) brought God’s message to? They were the Jewish re-settlers in the land of Palestine, coming back to the Promised Land, as it were, after a 70-year exile in the land of Babylon in line with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer.29:10, Ezra 1:1-4). What about the spiritual climate at that time? Going by all that is outward, what would have been the reading of the human “Spiritual Met. Dept.,” so to speak? Prima facie, very good! For one thing, God’s chosen ones during Malachi’s time were not out and out idol-worshippers like their unrepentant, hard-hearted forefathers, who brought upon themselves the punishment of banishment from the land of milk and honey despite several warnings to that effect from their contemporary prophets (II Chro. 36:15-21). What is more, under the able leadership of leaders such as Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, they had painstakingly reconstructed their broken down temple and walls in Jerusalem. Add to this the re-instatement of temple services and the offering of regular sacrifices, and the picture of a spiritually healthy nation emerges. Right? WRONG! For Malachi does not come up with a message complimenting them. Far from patting their backs, we find him rapping them hard, as it were, on their knuckles.
What prompted him to do so? While everything seemed good on the surface in the Jewish society, troubles lurked beneath it, big ones at that! Spiritual lethargy had set in among God’s people who were going about their spiritual lives mechanically like us (some of us go about the Lenten season, as though we can get away with having a seasonal affair with Him) without paying much attention to its finer details. Compounding the crises were the errant priests, who were the very definition of lukewarm devotion. At a time when their exemplary lives ought to have spurred the laity on, they themselves were showing scant interest in the paramount matter of worshipping God properly. Talk of the fence eating the grass…
Malachi focusses primarily on three problem areas in the Jewish society of his times - the ones concerning offering, divorcing and tithing.
As the clergy were more accountable to God than the laity (Jas. 3:1), the omniscient God takes them to task first before dealing with the lay lot. The priests had showed no qualms in accepting any kind of sacrificial burnt offerings. What is the value of regular sacrifices, if the animals used in them are lame, sick and handicapped? Try offering them to your Governor - God asks the priests pointedly (Mal. 1:8). Would he feel honoured by such cheap gifts? (I still remember the top management of my erstwhile organisation going once to meet a Chief Minister with the best available devotional CDs). To use chess parlance here, this question would have checkmated them. This leads us to a subject within a subject. As much as our omniscient God is a great judge, he is a very wise advocate too. His arguments built on precise logic, ten times out of ten, brook no reply. Jonah and Simon the Pharisee, given to much arguing with the Almighty, having subsequently ‘tasted’ God’s wise counter argument (Jon. 4; Lk. 7:36-50), would vouch for this!
After severely castigating the priests, God turns His attention to yet another problem which had crept in unnoticed, so to say, in the Jewish society, that of marital infidelity among the laity (Mal. 2:14-16). On the one hand, we see some of them obeying God by divorcing the heathen women who were prone to lead them astray (Ezra 9, 10), and on the other hand, we see some disobeying Him by severing marital ties with their faithful Jewish wives. If the former gave a picture of “BOOM” in the obedience front, the latter presented one of “DOOM.” It is pertinent to note that the devout Nehemiah who spearheaded the reformation movement till then (rebuilt the wall, reinstated the Sabbath) was still the Governor during Malachi’s time, and Ezra, yet another great reformer, too was ‘alive and kicking.’ While these great leaders had overseen divorcing of the heathen women, what about divorcing of the Jewish women? That God had to intervene in this issue bears witness to the fact that even great reformers, however noble their motives, however determined their actions, can only do so much in the matter of separating the ‘wheat from the chaff.’ Worse, this problem seems to have even escaped their attention. While even great reformers can remain oblivious to devious sins, they (sins) cannot but be obvious to an omniscient God who has His ways of dealing with them.
What is the big deal about temple construction, God seems to be asking, if you do not care a hoot for its priests and their maintenance (giving them the boot?), equating the sin of the laity of not giving tithes to outright robbery (Mal. 3:9). Not till Nehemiah’s return from his official duties in Persia (he had briefly gone there – Neh. 13:6,7), did any other leader bother about taking this problem ‘by the horns.’ This once again reiterates the theme that while man may turn a blind eye to a spiritual malaise, the omniscient God does not. This also once again leads us to a subject within a subject.
Interwoven in all of God’s creation is the principle of balance and inter-dependence, as though creation itself were one big celestial pair of scales. One does not have to look beyond the breathing order of the animals and plants to arrive at this conclusion. If in the zoological world we see the pattern of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, then in the botanical world we see exactly the opposite design in operation, preserving precious balance in the process. Our God who is a God of ‘balance’ has applied the same principle of inter-dependence between the clergy and the laity. If the clergy are to spend all their resources in learning about God’s Word and instructing the laity in the same, the laity who are at liberty to pursue any profession, unlike the clergy, have to support the former. Said a wise soul, “If we are lavishly paying surgeons who extend our lives at best by some years by performing bypass surgery of our hearts, what about our obligation to a pastor who moulds our hearts in order that we inherit eternal life?” Even though, I am a full-timer and an associate pastor, I had no other choice when convicted by His Spirit but to start paying tithes (or should I say, tithe of a tithe) to my local church (Num. 18:25-26).
Just like God does not like the wicked to perish (Ezek. 18:23), but rather delights in their repentance, in the same way He does not like to be critical just for the sake of it. Jesus’ wholesome appreciation of the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia (Rev. 2:8-11, 3:7-13) is a case in point. However, when His people are poised for a free fall, He very much likes to take things into His hand by way of a severe rebuke, for their own good, very much like a good surgeon who nips cancer in the bud by way of a painful surgery, lest it should start spreading.
The Other Side Of The Coin... In conclusion, can any study of God’s omniscience be ever complete till we look at ‘both sides of the coin?’ If the omniscient God calls us to account, when we ‘sin secretly,’ far away from public spotlight, it follows that the all-seeing One will also see all our charitable acts done far away from public limelight and reward us suitably. So, be encouraged: if you are sincerely serving Him, ‘behind the curtain,’ far away from any public gaze. No one in the Early Church knew about generous Cornelius or his good deeds – no, not even Peter who was going to baptise him shortly. But look at the salutary greeting of the angel as he approached this silent hero used to shunning limelight “…Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God!” (Acts 10:31-NLV). Should I need to say more? It is time we praised our omniscient and great God, who is also fair and just to the core. HALLELUJAH! What is the value of any theology, which does not end with doxology!