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Covenant of Life and Covenant of Fear

Malachi 2:5 (ESV) … “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name.”

God gave Levi a wonderful covenant “of life and peace” because he “feared” the Lord (Malachi 2:5). The fear of God was conspicuously missing in the wretched priests of Malachi’s day. The Levites of Moses’ day had a belief that behaved. With their fighting faith and the courage of their convictions, they were prepared to make short work of both apathy and apostasy. The priests of Malachi’s day were lineal heirs of the Levites, but their ministry had degenerated into a well-paying job with fringe benefits and social security. Professionalism in the things of God nearly always degenerates into dead orthodoxy or faith-denying liberalism.

Levi was inspired by the fear of the living God and as a result God gave him a threefold ministry: he was an example to all by his words, his walk, and his witness. He was an example by his words in that “the law of truth was in his mouth” (2:6). He upheld the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Word of God. Levi was an example by his walk in that “he walked with [God] in peace and equity.” His conduct was such that he enjoyed the constant smile of God’s approval and the conscious sweetness of His presence. Levi was an example by his witness in that he “did turn many away from iniquity.” He did away with apostasy, put the fear of God into the rank and file, defended the faith, and encouraged those who wanted to live for God.[1]

The word ‘covenant’ is the key to the above verses. A covenant is an agreement between two or more people in which each pledges to do or not to do certain things. John Benton writes: ‘There is no record in the Old Testament of God making a covenant with Levi in the formal sense. But what Malachi has in mind is the God-given appointment of the tribe of Levi to the priesthood (Jeremiah 33:21).’

We can divide the Lord’s words about this covenant into three parts: the purpose of it, the initial performance of it and the present perversion of it.

To give life and peace

One of the most productive lies of the devil is that God enjoys making life miserable for human beings, that he gives us certain rules to spoil our happiness.

The truth of the matter is, of course, just the opposite. The laws of God are designed, not to destroy our happiness, but rather to secure it. Such was the case with God’s covenant with the Levites. By obeying it, they would bring both life and peace to the nation and to themselves. By disobeying it, they would bring destruction and unrest.

To produce fear of God

To fear God is to stand in awe of him. It is to revere his person, to submit to his authority and to dread his displeasure. This may seem to run counter to our happiness, but it is not. The more we stand in awe of God, the more likely we are to obey, and the more we obey the more happiness we find.[2]

[1] Phillips, J. (2009). Exploring the Minor Prophets: An Expository Commentary (Mal 2:5–7). Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp.

[2] Ellsworth, R. (2007). Opening up Malachi (p. 45). Leominster: Day One Publications.

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