In this series of posts I expand on the message I preached at Mt. Pleasant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), December 8, 2019. My Scripture text came from Luke 1:39-45. The message is titled “The Fruit of the Womb.”
In the message we discussed the relationship between four mothers: Eve, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Each woman lived eons removed from the other and even farther removed from our 21st century! Yet, without these mothers — according to Scripture — humanity would be eternally lost!
Each woman — or should I say, each womb — filled an important function in the Redemption story. Before meeting Eve, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary, we need to look at the book of Malachi which forms a background of sorts to Luke’s opening chapters. In a later post we will look more closely at how these women are related in accomplishing God’s redemption plan.
Who is a Faithful Parent?
We frequently hear folks bemoan the ‘breakdown’ of the family. “If ever there was a time when faithful parents are needed it is now!” Some place most of the blame on absentee fathers, others put is squarely on backs of mothers. Who or what is responsible for the ‘breakdown’ of the family is a serious, but complicated and contentious subject. There is no denying parental neglect abounds causing great hardship for children and ultimately for society. A quick glance through social media and the news confirms this assessment.
We can interpret the modifier — faithful — a couple of ways. In the barest sense it involves fulfilling one’s responsibility to provide the basics — such as room and board to one’s own. Yet, we know that is insufficient. A faithful parent not only provides a covering of roof and clothing, they go the extra miles, investing time, money, and energy to raise an educated, emotionally, healthy child who matures into a compassionate, conscientious adult — able to thrive and contribute to society in positive, meaningful ways. This is a true in every era and in every culture around the world.
The author of Malachi — a book written quite long ago, anywhere between 516 and 180 BC — recognized a similar need for faithful parents in his day. 1 In Malachi we gain insight into understanding the significance of the adjective faithful and a hint to what constitutes faithful parenting.
Faithful requires so much more than what is presented above. As we will see, faithful implies a faithfulness on the part of the faithful parents to live righteously and to impart their faith to their children for the sake of ongoing generations.
Who are the ‘Faithful Ones’ in Malachi?
Malachi is writing to God’s chosen people. Generations before Malachi is written, the Israelites had entered into a covenant with Yahweh to be God’s “treasured possession” — God’s segulla — and to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:3-8). In the book of Malachi we notice that he “contrasts the faithfulness of Yahweh with Israel’s unfaithfulness,” showing the ways they violate the terms of the covenant. 2. How was their unfaithfulness observed?
Apparently, by Malachi’s time, God’s people had lost all hope in God. They suffered Babylonian captivity, their place of worship was utterly destroyed, they were rescued by the Persians, and were free to rebuild the Temple. Yet, patience was waning. God failed them, so they supposed, so they doubted God’s love (Mal 1:2a). Their priests defiled God’s name (1:6). Instead of the best of their herds, diseased and blemished animals were sacrificed (1:12-14).
Even Judah, the tribe from whom one like David would come, profaned the covenant of their ancestors (2:10). Their ongoing “shallow, unaffecting worship” revealed a depth of despair resulting in their unfaithfulness to the covenant made at the foot of Mt Sinai 3 So empty and pointless was their worship and religious rituals that God wished someone would just close the temple doors (Mal 1:10)!!
All seemed lost, yet in Malachi a glimmer of hope is found. There were some who were still righteous, some who yet feared God in spite of the hopeless situation. These ones would become God’s new segulla, God’s “treasured possession” (Mal 3:17). We will meet some of them in Luke’s gospel.
If nothing is gained by serving an unfaithful God, they may have reasoned, it is futile to teach our children “to love the LORD with their whole heart, soul, and mind” and hypocritical to model a quasi-God-honoring life when the heart was set against it (Deut 6:6-9). Why give children hope when they will only be disappointed when God fails to deliver on his word.
Despite this hopelessness, Malachi hopes! He is farsighted, brutally honest even, in assessing his current generation, all the while anticipating a future day when again, one like Elijah would be sent to a future generation to prepare a people for the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5-6). Malachi is not listed in the hall of fame in the book of Hebrews, but he exemplifies those faithful ones who were assured of things hoped for (Heb 11:1, 6).
The book’s placement as the last book in the Old Testament in our Bible allows Malachi to be a “natural introduction to the New Testament” providing a “significant theological bridge between the old covenant Scriptures and those of the new covenant.” 4
Luke’s Allusions to Malachi
Luke, writing anywhere between “the period of A.D. 65-85” 5, draws attention to two righteous and faithful couples — Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph — an allusion back to Malachi.
He places a variation of the very words from Malachi 4:5-6 into the mouth of the angel Gabriel when he speaks with Zachariah, “a humble, devout, and … poor” priest taking his turn to serve at the Temple 6. Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and this son would be like unto Elijah.
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”LUKE 1:17, NIV, 2011
The Gospel of Luke uniquely focuses upon women. Elizabeth and Mary stand apart in the opening narrative as two faithful women whose wombs bear fruit in fulfillment of God’s promises eons after the prophesies were originally given. Malachi was right to hope! Yahweh indeed keeps the promises made.
In my next post in this series on the “Fruit of the Womb” we will meet God’s segulla — the women and men who remained faithful in spite of the dark times.
- See pages 501-4 in CPNIVC, Minor Prophets Vol. 2 Nahum-Malachi, (Joplin: College Press Publishing Company, 2006) for more information on the dating of Malachi.
- Minor Prophets Vol. 2 Nahum-Malachi, pg 511
- Nahum-Malachi, p. 515.
- Ibid., 516.
- See Mark C. Black, Luke, CPNIVC, (Joplin: College Press Publishing Company, 1996/2004) 19-20
- Black, Luke, p. 45.