Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
Jehovah’s book of remembrance is the record of the lives of those who “fear the Lord,” since they are most precious in His sight.
From His throne in heaven He listens to them when they are talking one with the other, pouring out their souls in times of deep distress.
Their thoughts and their words are of great concern to Him. He not only listens, but He also takes note and records in His book of remembrance what they think and what they say.
He restrains His strong desire to deliver them. For He is longsuffering toward them, awaiting the proper moment to deliver them and show them His salvation.
This book of remembrance is a guarantee that the Lord in His time will surely deliver Israel from all their troubles.
They “that feared the Lord” are mentioned twice in our text, for they must be distinguished from those in Israel ,who defiantly turned away from the Lord into ways of wickedness.
Not as if these unfaithful showed no pretense of piety. They still brought their offerings to the temple, and the priests still accepted their sacrifices. But there was no fear of the Lord in their hearts. The unblemished yearlings they kept for themselves; the blemished, the sick, and the lame were brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord. The priests, instead of refusing and reprimanding the people, wearied God with such abominations. And when the Lord objected, they defiantly asked: “Wherein have we wearied thee?”
There were those among the priests and the people who profaned the holiness of the Lord by divorcing their wives to take to themselves heathen wives. Yet they dared to ask: “Wherein have we profaned God’s holiness?” To which the Lord answered: “Thou hast dealt treacherously with the wife of thy youth: yet she is thy companion and the wife of thy covenant.”
The Lord accused the people of robbing Him. Innocently, as it were, they ask: “Wherein have we robbed thee?” He reminded them that they failed to pay their tithes that they owed Him.
Yet there were still among them those who feared the Lord. This was not a slavish fear but a fear of love. They loved their God with a sincere, humble devotion. They realized their own insignificance and stood in awe at His majesty and glory. They also knew themselves as sinners who had forfeited their right to the least of God’s blessing, and they marveled that God looked down upon them in favor in Christ Jesus.
As a devoted wife is submissive to her husband, and as a dutiful child honors his parents, so those who feared the Lord showed their reverence for God in holy adoration. They delighted in keeping His commandments and walking in His ways. In childlike trust they placed all their expectation in Him alone. Their hope for the future was fixed in their God.
These were serious times, times which compelled the people of God to seek one another’s company.
After the Jews returned from captivity, settled in Canaan, and restored Jerusalem and the temple, they did not return to their former idolatry but fell into the sin of sham piety.
The sect of the Sadducees arose, a group that can best be compared with today’s modernists, who denied the angel world and a life hereafter. The sect of the Pharisees also made its appearance, a proud, self-righteous class of people who felt no need for a Savior. They were sufficient unto themselves and looked down on the masses that knew not the law. They proudly maintained that they kept the law to the letter, and even outdid its requirements.
Among them were the priests who controlled the temple worship and the scribes who taught the people. These were members of the Sanhedrin, who ruled the nation.
This was also the time of which Daniel had spoken in prophecy, the days in which the temple was polluted by the abomination of desolation, the days when Antiochus Epiphanes prevented temple worship and slaughtered many people. Soon after, the Jewish nation completely lost its freedom under the power of Caesar of Rome. The heathen had come into God’s heritage.
Added to all that, the voice of revelation was silent. For four hundred years after Malachi there was no inspired historian, no prophet, no vision, no dream. It was as if heaven were closed to the cry of God’s people.
Those who feared the Lord sought each other’s company to comfort and sustain each other in the faith. All they had left was the hope of the promise delivered to them from the fathers, which they cherished and discussed together.
We are fallen into similar times. All over the world there are those who love the truth and meet together in small groups, some worshiping in homes, to maintain the truth of the gospel. The Lord hearkens now, even as He hearkened then. And a book of remembrance is written before Him.
What was there unique about these people that God should remember them?
We are told that “they thought upon God’s name.”
God’s name is God Himself as we know Him by His Self-revelation. His name is near, as His wondrous works declare.
The voice of the Lord is in the rumbling thunder, also in the beauty of the lily, and in the still small voice of the summer breeze. He speaks to us through the roar of the lion, but no less through the bleat of the lamb. All creation joins in singing the praises of our God. All history shows the unfolding of the counsel of the Most High as He carries out His purpose even through the defiant wickedness of evil men. The Lord is always near to those who fear Him.
Yet we would never know nor understand, except for the fact that God has revealed the secrets of His heart in His holy Word. The Scriptures carry us from the dawn of creation to its end, from paradise to Paradise, unfolding before us the mighty work of salvation accomplished in Christ Jesus. All of which we know and understand only through faith wrought by the Spirit in our hearts.
Those that fear the Lord are deeply God-conscious. He takes first place in their lives. Their chief concern is for their God. They are deeply offended by the sinful words and deeds of evil men. They can only wonder that the holy God remains silent and does not seek vengeance. How long can He endure the dishonor to His great and blessed Name?
We think, for example, of childless Zacharias and Elisabeth, who in their earlier days had prayed so fervently for a covenant seed. How deeply offended Zacharias must have been by the carnal priests with whom he was forced to labor in the temple from day to day. How deeply concerned Elisabeth must have been while her husband was in that corrupt environment.
We think of Simeon and Anna, who were daily visitors in the house of God, seeking comfort from the Word, and yet failing to receive it from the leaders there. We can well imagine that these saints longed for the day when the promised Messiah would appear.
We have a mental picture of the shepherds spending long nights under the stars discussing Israel’s hope that cannot fail. They never wearied of encouraging each other to be faithful even unto death.
And the Lord listened. He heard every word that was uttered. He took note of every sigh. Their tears did not escape Him. In all their affliction He was afflicted with them. It grieved Him to see them suffer. And the Angel of Jehovah sustained them.
It was all recorded in Jehovah’s Book of Remembrance.
Suddenly, as in a moment, their waiting was rewarded. Numerous signs and wonders appeared. The angel Gabriel told Zacharias, whose name means “My God remembers,” that he would be the father of the forerunner of the Messiah. Gabriel soon after appeared to Mary to tell her that she would bring forth the Christ-child. She went to Elisabeth, who herself was with child and informed Mary that the amazing wonder of the incarnation had already taken place. The Spirit of prophecy spoke through Mary, and later through Zacharias. Joseph was informed of the divine conception in a dream. Lowly shepherds were surrounded with heaven’s glory as the first to be told of the Savior’s birth, and the first to herald it abroad. Simeon and Anna met the Christ child and his parents in the temple, and Simeon received the gift of prophecy. Among the Gentiles in the East a star appeared to lead the Wise Men to the Christ-child. Wonder upon wonder surrounded the inexpressible wonder of the Savior’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise so long awaited, so intensely longed for.
All these things are written for our instruction.
We are reminded “that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9).
In these last days we are urged to seek our fellowship with those who look for the coming of the Lord. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by false christs, false prophets, or cunningly devised fables, but must search the Scriptures in the company of the saints.
We are encouraged to “lay hold on the profession of our faith without wavering: (for he is faithful that promised)…. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:23, 25).
Our Lord assures us: “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).
To which we eagerly respond: “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, quickly.”
In the meantime we heed the call: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).