Malachi Lesson Five 2:17-3:6 Judgment at the LORD’s Coming

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you ask, “How have we wearied Him?” 

When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?” 

3 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 

“I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner.  They do not fear Me,”  says the Lord of Hosts. “Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.

This passage concludes the second address in Malachi. Judah’s sin of unfaithfulness was widespread in the community and was primarily associated with injustice. However, Judah was unable or unwilling to recognize their corruption and instead viewed their economic and social issues as an indicator of God’s unfairness or unfaithfulness. God’s response to their grumbling was to announce the coming of a messianic messenger, who would purge and purify God’s people, including the priests.

Verse 2:17

Looking back at verse 16, we see that that injustice was widespread throughout Judah. It was because of this pervasive injustice that God didn’t bless the works of their hands. In the minds of the people, they felt they deserved divine blessings, but instead, they believed they received divine injustice. Israel believed that those involved in evil (but not them) were perceived as good in the eyes of God while they received mistreatment.

  • Deuteronomy 18:12 Everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things.
  • Deuteronomy 25:16 For everyone who does such things and acts unfairly is detestable to the LORD your God.
  • Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Verses 3:1-6

This section contains four predictions, with the first three being followed by the result and the last by an antithesis. 

  • First prediction/result.
    • God is sending His messenger.
    • The path is cleared.
  • Second prediction/result.
    • The LORD will go to His temple.
    • Who will be able to endure that day?
  • Third prediction/result.
    • He will refine and purify the people.
    • The righteous will be cleansed, and the unrighteous cast aside.
  • Fourth prediction/antithesis.
    • He is coming to judge.
    • God never changes; His promises are true and endure.

Verse 1

The divine messenger spoken about here would administer the covenant in two ways.

  • In a narrow sense, it would be the covenant made with Israel in the Sinai desert that promised judgment for unbelief.
  • In a broad and ultimate sense, the messenger would be sealing the covenant God made with Abraham that promised vindication to God’s chosen people and a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Verse 2

This presents a rhetorical question as no one can endure His coming. The tense in the original Hebrew is a future tense, “who will endure…?”

The twin statement about refining and washing (cleansing lye) illustrates of a constant reminder found in the Old Testament of the separation between sinful man and an infinitely holy God. Thus, physical washing became linked to the need for cleansing a sinful soul.

  • Exodus 19:10 And the LORD told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, They must wash their clothes.
  • Psalm 51:2 Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil.
  • Jeremiah 2:22 Even though you wash with lye and use a great amount of soap, the stain of your sin is still in front of Me. This is the Lord GOD’s declaration.

However, cleansing can only be received through the sacrifice of Jesus.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Titus 3:5 He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
  • Revelation 7:14 I said to Him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Verse 3

Now we see an illustration of God as a metalworker creating a masterpiece. In contrast to the previous verse where God was depicted as fire, and the process is unpleasant, here He is depicted as an artisan who will remove all of the dross, leaving only the finest components behind. This refining will lead to a priesthood that is focused and obedient to God. Thus, throughout Scripture, we read about God “refining” people with the ultimate goal being cleansing and purification for holy work.

A second point to this verse is that the cleansing when the Lord comes must begin with the temple and the priesthood. For us today, that cleansing must begin in the church and with all of Jesus’ followers (we are all priests), but especially with those in leadership positions within the church.

Verse 4

This verse describes the result of the third prediction, contained in verse three. Since the verse contains the phrase “Judah and Jerusalem,” it should be understood that the cleansing that took place in verse three extends beyond just the official priests. 

In contrast to the beginning of this passage, where God was “wearied” by their disobedience, those who have been refined and cleansed now bring offerings that please God.

Verse 5

This verse is the last prediction contained in this passage. After the purification identified in verse three, God will exercise judgment against the wicked. There are six sins listed in this verse.

  • Sorcery: Attempting to control the physical and spiritual world through incantations, charms, and rituals. These practices were why the Canaanites were under God’s judgment. 
  • Adultery: Sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • False swearing: Making an oath but not keeping it, particular oaths that defraud or harm others.
  • Those who oppress widows and orphans: Defrauding, robbing, or oppressing widows and orphans.
  • Those who cheat their employees: Practicing extortion on employees.
  • Those who don’t give justice to foreigners: Just as the lack of fear of the Lord has resulted in religious practices that insult Him (1:6-14), this has also resulted in injustice towards the helpless. 

In the post-exilic Judah that Malachi was addressing, some members of the community had returned to the greed and corruption that had resulted in their exile. What is astounding is that although they had recently returned from this disaster, they were now speeding down the same path once again.

In this letter, Malachi has three main topics that he addresses.

  • Vain offerings (1:2-2:9).
  • Treachery in relationships (2:10-3:6).
  • Withholding of tithes (3:7-4:6).

A person’s spiritual health and completeness as a child of God can often be determined by three main indicators.

  • Attitude toward and relationship with God – the theological aspect.
  • Attitude toward and relationship with others – the social aspect.
  • Attitude toward and use of possessions – the economic aspect.

These three aspects form an ethical triangle and are woven together in our actions. Throughout this letter, Malachi is condemning the ethical state of post-exilic Judah (Israel). They are sliding quickly back into ethical bankruptcy. 

Verse 6

This verse is a direct and stinging rebuke of the peoples’ charge that Yahweh was treating them unfairly and was being unfaithful to their covenant relationship. If, in fact, Yahweh was being unfair and not remaining faithful to their covenant relationship, He would have already erased them from the face of the earth. Instead, Yahweh showed extreme patience and extended unmerited grace and mercy to them because of His faithfulness. Although God had punished them for their disobedience, He didn’t, and couldn’t, cut them off permanently. 

  • Isaiah 46:3-4 Listen to Me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.
  • Romans 11:1 I ask then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.

Applications

  • Evaluate your Christian walk. Is it possible that you are “wearying” God with your words and actions? If so, repent and live in a way that will be pleasing to God.
  • What would be the outcome for you if the “Day of the Lord” came today? Are you secure in your relationship with God, or will you not be able to endure His coming? Each of us is one breath away from eternity. When you leave this earth, will your next breath be in the coolness and peace of heaven or the agony and flames of hell?
  • If you are walking in righteousness, embrace the refining that God is putting you through. He is preparing you for future and greater works.
  • Evaluate your ethical triangle and see if you need to improve in any of the three areas. None of us are perfect; it is very likely that at least one area will be identified as needing improvement.

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