God Refines | Malachi 2.17-3.5 (Snohomish)
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Malachi 2:17–3:5
Good morning! We are continuing our series in the book of Malachi, Rhetorical God| Hard Answers to Easy Question. In this book we see God is having a conversation with His people about His character and about their worship, their response to who He is. While God makes several critical statements about His people, He opens the conversation by declaring and reminding them “I have loved you” He goes on to remind them He is a father and master worthy of honor and respect. The priest/leaders and the people have failed to honor God by participating in half-hearted worship though lame offerings. They have “despised his name”. The people have violated their marriage covenants and taken new wives who do not love the God of the Bible and further discourage their worship of God. The priest, the people, the marriages, have been faithless to God in every way imaginably. The people are BAD, their worship of God is both impure and indifferent, and some are chasing after idols. These are a people who have been brought back from exile a few generations previous to what they know has been a Promised Land but it has not turned into a paradise. They are still oppressed by a foreign government, they are hurting economically, and they have no army of their own. They have become so consumed by and focused on their circumstances they can no longer see God. Their expectations for life with God and His people have not been met and they have begun to drift and wander spiritually and devotionally. This has led them to sin against each other and ultimately break their relationship with God. Without question God has very hard words for His people, but they are all delivered starting with the reminder “I have loved you”. God’s desire is for our hearts, our spirit, our affections to be directed towards Him leading to lives of worship.
Our text today is challenging enough if we don’t read it through the lens of God’s love for His people where righteous conviction is intended our hearts could easily go to a place of condemnation or rejection.
Malachi 2:17-3:6 17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
3 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. 6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
This series is called hard answers to easy questions because we recognize many of the questions the people ask God, “How have you loved us?” “How have we sinned?” are all questions we easily ask God.
The questions people ask God is this section are very common ones. Why does evil prosper? Where is God in the midst of suffering and injustice? These are both easy questions and natural ones. I want to be clear it is not wrong to question God to cry out to him, to ask “Why? How? When?” But the way we question God matters because it says a lot about how we relate to God. Job, the Psalmist, Habakkuk, all faithfully question God. Even Jesus asks “why have your forsaken me?” It comes out of a deep soul yearning to be close to our Creator. Great growth can come from wrestling with God hoping to understand Him and His ways better. There is a way to question God when it comes to trials and suffering that display our desire for Him. There are also ways to question God that display our distain of Him. God will not be distained.
V17 Accused and the Accuser
Malachi is like a courtroom drama and this section of scripture is like a formal indictment. The people think God is the one on trial, who is to stand accused for His absence and injustice. The people are self-righteous critics/skeptics. I say self-righteous from the sense that they see themselves as the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong. They have looked at the condition of the world the wrongs, evils, and injustices and misinterpreted it to mean that God is not involved or disengaged at best and at worse God is unjust and delights in evil prospering. On the basis of their experiences they have come to a blasphemous conclusion that God’s character has changed so much that evil is now considered good by Him. They say God has not been responding to injustice and sin in their community. “Any evil doer is good as far as YHWH is concerned say one translation. They also question His prescience and participation. Where are you God? These are serious charges, God is NOT good but evil and God is NOT here and active but is absent and passive. They are not really asking questions seeking an answer, they are making statements based on the false premise that God is the reason things in their lives or community are broken. They have concluded that He is both unloving and unjust and He must answer to them.
Right away we see God is not the one on trial He is the one indicting self-righteous skeptics. They have wearied God with their words. That is the charge. Do not misunderstand, God is not wearied like he’s tired out when kids keep asking and asking for things. God does not wear out or wear down in hearing our petitions to where He cannot deal with them any longer. He is patient, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. The weariness is a burden in His heart, saddened spirit. God is not cold or unemotional. He is also not irrational. He is rightly offended because they have called God’s character into question and declared that he is NOT a righteous judge. They have exchanged the truth about who God is for a lie.
It is the same lie that goes back the Garden of Eden. The serpent accuses God of being unjust. “You will not die, God will not punish sin. God doesn’t really love you because He is keeping something from you. Who is God to decide what is good and evil? Humanity should be the judge.” When we stop listening to God the enemy comes in with confusion and we begin to believe things about God that are not true. What we believe about God affects how we relate to him. When we believe God is unjust, unloving ,we argue the current evil state of things, which is actually the result of our sin, is in fact God’s fault. Eve blames the serpent, Adam blames Eve AND God for putting Eve with him. When we believe God is absent or that we are not dependent on God we have forgotten what humanities relationship is to God. He is God, we are not. This is an important distinction but we often flip it around. When we question God judgment it is incredibly arrogant the only wise, holy, true, just, creator and sustain of everyone and everything should not be demanded to come down to our level and defend himself before our distorted views of justice. He has been managing the universe and raising and bringing down nations long before we were born and will remain though eternity. He imposes judgment on individuals through the outworking of sin in their lives and those they came in contact with. God does it all perfectly without our help. Yet we still accuse Him.
We accuse Him of wrong doing when things go differently than we desire. We question God’s justice when we don’t receive something we’ve told ourselves we deserve or when we see others prosper in a way we don’t think they deserve. When we think evil and suffering is not responded too. When evil is allowed to happen, or when calamity comes to an “innocent person” when parts of our life are difficult. Who do you blame? Where do you look? Circumstances? God made them. Other people? God made them and has permitted them to come into your life. We have to admit we either have some guilt OR God may be delaying full execution of His justice for reasons that are both wise and right to him. If not, we are saying “God acts sinfully, and we judge perfectly”. We may say, “But you don’t understand my circumstances or what I’ve done or what God allowed to happen to me!” I would simply say your story is not over yet. Christians don’t pretend there is no evil and injustice in the world. Sometimes evil does prosper and the righteous are afflicted. We recognize it is a result of humanity’s sin and not a sinful God. When asking about sin, evil, brokenness, injustice, we cannot become so blind to our personal sin and humanity’s sin that we come to a place of accusing God rather than remembering we are the accused by God.
Despite our self-righteous skepticism and questioning, God is exceedingly gracious because He answers.
V1-4 Messenger and the Messiah
God could/should smoke them for their lack of faith but instead he lovingly reminds them of His existence, His character, His justice, and His involvement in humanities affairs. He is not dead and He is not far away. Behold! He is sending a messenger. God has sent dozens of prophets to people, including Malachi, reminding them of who God is, what He’s done, and what he promises to do. This messenger will be different. He is not coming to remind or rebuke the people, but to announce and prepare them for the arrival of the King. In that day, before a King would come to a place he would send out a messenger ahead to go through the road make sure route the king was taking would be smooth, remove obstacles on the road and announce to the people in advance the king was arriving so they could prepare to receive and welcome him in an acceptable way. This was an incredibly important role to ensure the kings arrival was met by the people with proper celebration and honor. This passage is pointing to John the Baptizer.
Luke 3:4-6 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Doubting God’s goodness, His wisdom, His Justice, blaming God for evil in the world, trusting our self-righteousness are huge obstacles that need to be overcome for us to celebrate the presence of God. What are the obstacles in your heart/life that need to be removed to prepare for the King’s arrival?
These people are told more than just a messenger is coming, the messiah, the Lord Himself is coming. There will be judgment but first He is coming in humble mercy so people can “see the salvation of God.” He is a God of grace and justice. God though out His word constantly and consistently tells his people to deal justly with all, do not show partiality, do not pervert justice. He is the embodiment of justice and these people are told He is coming suddenly to His temple. This not immediately it is “unexpectedly”. Malachi and later John the Baptizer are telling the people, “Better be prepared, the God of Justice “Whom you seek” is coming.” They eagerly and selfishly desire the “day of the Lord” because they assume wrongly that when God comes he will be on their side and see things their way. God’s people are warned not be overzealous in desiring “the day of his coming” because we don’t actually want what we’re asking for.
Amos 5:18-20 18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, 19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
The people will get what they ask for in the Lord’s arrival but they will not get what they wanted; “justice” for those they have judged to be evil and finally receiving from God what they believe they deserve. Oh, they will get what they deserve, but what they deserve and what they desire are two different things. They don’t actually want what they are asking for. Earlier they have accused God of being pleased with evil doers. It begs the question “If you think God is unjust, why would you want him to come?” I can only assume they are so arrogant they thing they can convince God to change his character, use Him to enact justice as they see fit, or they desire to level charges against God formally. They misunderstand that God begins judgment with His people first before “the evil doers” or “their enemies”. They forget, Joshua before the battle of Jericho “Are you for us or our enemies? No I am the commander of the Lord’s Armies. He sees differently, He sees better. It is not all roses and cupcakes when God comes. The people learn divine justice comes to those who seek it but it is not applied how they anticipate it. God does not come to take our side but comes to call us to His. When He arrives we come before Him for judgment, not the other way around. Who can endure and stand when the Lord comes? No one! None of us are worthy.
So he comes to make us worthy. He is not absent, He is not unaware of the injustice and evil of the world. He knows what has been done to us, He knows what we have done. He comes to purify us to clean us. Fullers soap is like bleach that makes garments clean and spotless. It removes stains of sin,
those we’ve caused and those done to us.
Refiner’s fire separates precious metal from unwanted or impure metal. God is going to smelt away the “dross” of wickedness of His people. A silver or gold smith will look into the crucible as the gunk and garbage rise to the top, is cast aside and when he is able to see the reflection of his face clearly in the metal he knows it is pure. He is a peaceful and expert goldsmith, but one who uses fire.
I am thankful for that! Rarely in the moment because it is painful, but when I am able to look back and see God was/is painfully bringing more and more of my imperfection to the surface so I can better reflect His character. That is what we are made for to reflect His face, His character, His Glory. We wrongly assume all that is difficult or painful for us must be wrong. Not every trial, every difficult circumstance, every painful event, every time we are denied our desires is because of evil or injustice or because God does not value us. It maybe because we are so valuable to Him, so precious that he is willing and loving enough to let us endure temporary pain for eternal joy. It is purification for a purpose, that we would be made vessels of pure worship. He starts with the leaders and moves on to the rest of his people. He says Jerusalem and Judah, the city, the nation will give pleasing offerings to the Lord. This fire, this judgment this day of the Lord will be a revival of people worshiping the Lord, not half-heartedly or indifferently but in way that is pleasing to the Lord. Alone we have no hope in pleasing the Lord or rising to his level, so God will come down and make it possible to please Him. He also knows there is some injustice and evil so great we cannot endure the judgment, the weight of our own sin. That is where Jesus meets us. We cry out for God to come down to our level, He does in Jesus. Jesus comes unexpectedly not to punish our enemies but to purify His people. We cry for justice, Jesus brings justice to the oppressed. Luke 4 Jesus is in a synagogue in his home town and gets up to read this prophecy and says it is about him.
Isaiah 61:1-2 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
The people responded “speaking well of him” and what he said. Until Jesus reminded them of times of famine and of leprosy when God did not did not heal his people but gave relief to their enemies. They became “filled with wrath” drove Jesus out of town and tried to execute him on the spot. They couldn’t conceive of a God that would allow “good people” to suffer and give relief/salvation to “evil people”. They were ok with Jesus as a savior for them but not for those they had judged unworthy. They were just like the people in Malachi, just like us, self-righteously judging God. They wanted God to come down and face trail before human judges. Jesus did and was found guilty declaring He was God and man is not and He was executed. He rose to remove doubt He is guilty of being God, He ascended to heaven and He will return to fulfill the next line in the prophecy from Isaiah Jesus read, and the day of vengeance of our God;
V5-6 Convicted, Condemned, not Consumed
This courtroom drama began with the people accusing God of a lack of justice. It ends with God returning to bring charges against all people. There is evil in the world, there is injustice, and God will deal with it. God will come and dispense justice to the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner. He also comes and charges people with sin. Not just general, debatable, relative, impersonal wrongness of the world, but specific sins of specific sinners. Those who practice idolatry, worshiping false gods ANY god besides the God of the Bible, guilty. Those who participate in any sexuality outside of marriage between one man and one woman, guilty. Liars, guilty. Thieves and shady business men and politicians, guilty. Those who exploit immigrants, widows, single moms, the fatherless, the unborn, guilty. It is a diverse list if not a comprehensive one, so God says simply those who do not “fear/honor/worship” Him as they were made to do since that is the root of all sin. Every action of lives, every thought in our minds, and the orientation of our hearts matters to and are witnessed by God. He will draw near to bring us into His court room where He serves as witness, judge, prosecuting attorney, advocate for the oppressed, executioner for the wicked. What is our defense? None of us can stand before God’s judgment; none of us can endure His justice. We are all convicted, we are all condemned, but we do not all need to be consumed by the fire of wrath.
The gospel, the good news, is while God is the judge and executioner, in Jesus He is also the executed. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 Because He stood in our place and endured the cross for our sin those in Christ do not have to fear God drawing near for judgment because God poured out His judgment on His son. This is how justice centric sermon/text should still lead us to great Joy. Joy because we are in a day of grace, a day of repentance, a day of salvation, because final judgment has not yet come. But there will be a final day of the Lord and judgment but as it has not yet come he is inviting us to turn from the wrath to come and bow before Him. Jesus did not come first in judgment but to seek and save the lost. But he will return in perfect glory and justice. Because there is a perfect justice coming we can endure in all things knowing in Christ we will not be consumed by the fires because it is for our purification. But we do not desire that day day of justice yet, because we know there is work to be done, captives to be set free from the bondage of sin, spiritually blind people who need to see the truth and beauty of Jesus. So until that day we will not stop preaching the justice of the living and active God and the grace and mercy in Jesus Christ to a world condemned sinners facing a fire not of purification but of punishment, hoping conviction of sin leads not to judgment but to salvation.
2 Peter 3 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.