Malachi 2:17–3:12comment (0)
June 14, 2012
By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh
Related Scripture: Malachi 2:17-3:12
Bible Studies for Life
Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Samford University
How Do You Treat God?
It is not surprising that when the European Reformation took place in the 16th century the clearest expression of its influence was the radical way in which worship was transformed in the churches of Geneva, London and Edinburgh. Expressions of worship are a reflection of the inner work of God’s Spirit on our minds and hearts. Malachi follows up his critique of Israel’s attitude toward worship in chapter 1, when the people complained, “what a weariness this is!” as an expression of their complacency toward worshiping God. The prophet begins this section by telling the people that God was weary with them.
Do You Weary God? (2:17–3:5)
The word “weary” has a parallel in Isaiah 43:24 when God complains that Israel “has wearied me with their iniquities.” In this context it wearies God that Israel is questioning the way in which He acts in the world and wondering if He is just in allowing the wicked to prosper. They do this without realizing that they themselves are among the wicked.
The Lord’s answer to Israel’s complaint is to warn them that He will send a messenger who will come and refine His people with fire and “like a fuller’s soap.” God indicates that the real issue at stake here is the impurity of the people of Israel, who need to be refined. God’s presence is often likened to fire that purifies as well as judges. Here God is like a refiner who melts down silver so that its impurities can be removed. This is a delicate process that takes time and close attention, and a refiner knows that the process is complete only when he can see his reflection in the mirror-like surface of the metal.
The work of grace in our lives is not completed in a moment but over a lifetime. It is only as the image of the Lord Jesus is seen in our attitudes and actions that we can know the work of the Spirit is effective. The people had accused God of injustice; but in verse 5 He accuses them of injustice: practicing sorcery, committing adultery, telling lies in court, oppressing workers through low wages, neglecting the needs of widows and orphans and turning their backs on the plight of aliens. The source of all these sins, according to Malachi, is that the people “do not fear” God.
Do You Turn from God? (3:6–7)
Malachi is concerned that the people have turned their backs on God and have changed in their attitude toward Him. They have “turned aside” from keeping the statutes and commands of God’s law. The sins that are specified in verse 5 are all actions that the laws of Moses condemned and that earlier prophets such as Amos, Micah and Hosea had spoken against. Yet Malachi indicates in these verses that all hope has not been lost: if only the people would “return to [God]” then “[God] will return to them.” Yet even with this message of hope, the apathy of the people is seen so clearly in their response, “How shall we return?” Repentance is crucial in the life of faith, not only as we first turn to God from our sins but as we, as the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford once said, “break off a piece of sin every day.” Israel has no sense of guilt or shame; their conscience has been dulled by a history of unfaithfulness to God.
Do You Rob God? (3:8–12)
Malachi now brings his accusations to a specific item of their unfaithfulness: robbing God by failing to bring Him “tithes and offerings.” Giving to God is part of faithful worship. Amos makes it clear that we can tithe with no inner change within our lives, and he condemns those who “love to tithe” (Amos 4:4–5) but do not promote “justice roll[ing] down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21–25). Jesus warned that we could tithe our mint and cumin and yet have no concern for the “weightier” matters of God’s law such as “justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).
Malachi calls the people to return to the Lord and offer all of their lives to Him, not only in bringing their tithes and offerings but in opening their hearts to a work of grace that will lead to spiritual renewal as He “opens the windows of heaven” and pours out His blessings on their lives.