On one occasion God complained of His people, Israel, because of their self-interested religiosity. The Jews were grumbling that it was useless to serve God: they got no benefit from keeping His ordinance, and from walking as mourners before the LORD of hosts. They saw those who trusted in themselves blessed and those who defied God prosper: such were not punished for their disobedience (Malachi 3:13-15).
In other words, they were considering the good health, material prosperity and apparent freedom from punishment of those who had no fear of God as blessings, so they saw no point in sacrificing themselves to obey God's ordinances.
They were even thinking that "everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them" because they go without punishment (Malachi 2:17). The LORD declared He was offended with these words and sentiments, for they were harsh. There are two things to be considered here: the reason for serving God and the nature of God's blessings.
Those people had a selfish motive for serving God: they expected to be rewarded in return. They had no pleasure in serving Him, which we gather from the expression walking as mourners before their God. As the rewards didn't appear immediately, no doubt their sadness increased. Had they been motivated by love, or even by the fear of God, their attitude would have been very different. Nowadays there are many people who go through the motions of apparently serving God: attending services, going through rituals, even making donations to charity, for the same selfish motive. They have no pleasure in doing so, and like these Jews they will be disillusioned because they will reap no immediate results.
The nature of God's blessings was also being misunderstood. The nation of Israel received blessings in a material form, and peace and prosperity were given to them in return for their loyalty to the Lord their God. However, the blessings of God to us who fear and love Him are far more valuable and lasting than good health and material wealth in this life: as we read in Psalm 73:23-27 of Asaph: "I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish." (Psalm 73:24-27). Trials and tribulations, not good health and prosperity, are the lot down here of whoever fears God and trusts the Lord Jesus, like He Himself suffered during His ministry on earth. Our inheritance and reward is waiting for us in heaven.
Among the crowd to whom the prophecy of Malachi was addressed, there were some who did indeed fear God. Because of their common feeling towards Him they "spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. 'They shall be Mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him." (Malachi 3:17-18).
This brings to mind God's people in our era, which is called the church of Christ. The church of Christ has nothing to do with the buildings of brick and stone, or with the man-made institutions which call themselves churches, but it is made up of all people since the time of Christ who, because of the fear of God have come to the Lord Jesus and received Him as their personal Lord and Saviour. Because of their common faith they come together in local groups to enjoy fellowship together and for instruction, mutual support, and growth "into a holy temple in the Lord, built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:21-22).
Each local group is a church of God in itself. It has a life of its own, under the headship of Christ: it is born and it may also die: there is no guarantee of perpetuity. It may die of natural causes: if there is no remnant after the decease or moving away of its members; or it may die of spiritual causes: poisoned by heresies, contaminated by alliances with the world or stifled by regulations and traditions of men.
Returning to the faithful in Malachi's time, we are told that "the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name." We are told of God's books in a few places in Scripture. Names are said to be written in them, and names appear to run the risk of being erased, or blotted out. Of course, God never forgets, and He doesn't need a book to help His memory. We may think this to be a figure of speech, but it is certainly possible and even likely that some kind of record is kept in Heaven for use by His creatures when carrying out His decrees. We understand it better when it is called a book, with which we are familiar.
Only the names of those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name are written on the book. This reminds us of Revelation 20:12-15, where it is prophesied that many books will be opened before the Great White Throne but only one of Life. The dead will be judged according to their works as written in the books, but anyone not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire.
The Book of Life therefore contains the names of all those who are saved, whereas the other books concern works. As salvation is provided free by faith, never by works, any works and their records are only relevant to those who have been saved.
The Book of Remembrance that was written before the LORD concerning those who feared the LORD and meditated on His name in Malachi's time, is probably one of the many in existence for recording works. They have been saved, for God will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him. This is a reminder that those who are saved through their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are adopted by God as His children.
We find a reference to God's book in David's Psalm 56:8: "You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?" The Lord knows exactly where we have been and have been doing all the time, even if it is unknown by our family, neighbours and friends. He also knows our suffering, the tears we shed, for he puts them in His bottle - another figure of speech - and they are in His book. We shall be reminded of them one day and we may be surprised.
The people of Israel looked forward to the day when the LORD their God would fulfil His promise to the patriarchs and set Israel up above all nations under His rule. They expected the Messiah to come at any time for this purpose. It must be to this particular day that this prophecy refers, when the LORD of hosts makes those whose name have been written down His jewels. They will become His ornaments in His kingdom.
It is a lovely way of expressing how precious the faithful of Israel are to Him. And those who belong to His church will be there also and reign with Him. The church is represented by the Lord Jesus in a parable as a pearl of great price, purchased with His own precious blood.
The remnant of believers which will be alive at the beginning of His kingdom (the millennium) will be spared "as a man spares his own son who serves him." Then "the righteous will be discerned from the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him." In those days of Malachi those who feared God and those who were self-servers could not readily be distinguished. The LORD always knows because he can see the heart of man. The same happens in our days and it will also be the case at the end of the age. The Lord Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and the tares which illustrates the point. However, in the day which God has appointed, the day of His judgement when Christ comes again, he will separate the righteous from the wicked and all will know.