Malachi 3:16–18 says, “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. ‘They will be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him. So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.’”
The book of Malachi is a detailed account from the Lord to Israel about their disobedience. His charges against them includes offering defective sacrifices (1:8), teaching error (2:8), being unfaithful to their wives (2:13–14), and complaining that it was futile to serve the Lord (3:13–14). God pronounces strict judgments upon those guilty of such offenses (Malachi 2:2, 9). He then makes it clear that He hears and knows the intent of every heart and desires to honor those who honor Him. He knows those who refuse to murmur against Him (Numbers 14:27, 36; Deuteronomy 1:27; Psalm 106:25).
Several places in Scripture refer to God’s “book” (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 56:8; 69:28; Daniel 7:10; 12:1; Revelation 13:8; 20:15). In His infinite knowledge, God does not need a written record in order to keep track of human deeds. However, when He speaks to us, He often uses metaphor or parable to help us understand (Mark 4:33). As Malachi presented God’s words to the people, they would have understood what a book of remembrance represented. The kings of Persia kept such books, records of those who had rendered service to the king, that those servants might be rewarded. The book of Esther contains a good example of this (Esther 6:1–3).
It is also important to note that the reward was often delayed. That’s why books were needed, so that no worthy deed for the king went unrewarded. In Malachi 3:17 the Lord says, “‘On the day when I act . . . .” He is indicating that faithful service may go on for years with no apparent reward, but He is taking note. There is coming a day when He will act. One reason the Israelites had grown lax in their obedience and were becoming jealous of evildoers was that they thought the Lord did not see or care (Malachi 3:14–15; cf. Psalm 94:7; Ezekiel 8:12).
However, Scripture is clear that loyalty to God does not go unnoticed or unrewarded. Jesus spoke of this many times (Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23; Revelation 22:12). He spoke of storing up treasure in heaven, as though making deposits into a bank account (Matthew 6:20). The implication is that what is done on earth is forever recorded in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10). The book of remembrance is simply a concept God used to encourage His faithful ones that their love and service for Him was appreciated. It is His promise that, when His judgment comes against those who reject Him, He knows His own and will preserve them. The account of righteous Noah is a good illustration of God preserving those who honor Him (Genesis 6:9).
Jesus encouraged His followers to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Even as He said it, Jesus knew that their faithfulness to Him would result in earthy trouble, heartache, and even death (Matthew 24:9; Acts 9:16; 12:2). But knowing that their names were written in God’s book helped the disciples persevere to the end (Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13). Galatians 6:9 continues the theme of future reward: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Those who continue to honor the Lord when many around them fall away can rest in the confidence that their names are written in God’s book of remembrance.