Malachi 2:17 – 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?”
Now obviously, God does not grow weary. In this instance, the prophet is assigning a human characteristic to God, in order to make his point. Being human, we can understand how irksome or tiresome the constant whining of these people was to God. That is the point Malachi is trying to make. We see this several times in scripture; see Isaiah 1:14 and Isaiah 43:24 for examples.
In general, the state of the Jews is one of unbelief and mistrust in God. Despite the fact that God brought them back from captivity and restored the temple, they are ungrateful and unfaithful to God and his laws. They despise the covenant and are corrupt in their actions towards God and their fellow man.
And now they bring up the ages old complaint of God’s people – why do the wicked prosper?
When the Jews returned from Babylon, they looked at the nations surrounding them who were serving idols. These wicked people were wealthy and prosperous, seemingly happy and abounding in all the good things of this world.
Meanwhile, the Jews, who had the true oracles of God, were left in want. They were ridiculed and opposed by Gentiles; they were struggling to get by and had no hope of ever getting ahead in life.
They begin to complain and murmur against God. They allege that God must love the wicked because they are prosperous. Furthermore, if God does NOT love wickedness, then why doesn’t he judge the Gentile idol worshippers? You can almost see them stomp their foot and cry “unfair!” like a spoiled child. Or, perhaps (according to them), the world just flows along by blind chance and is not governed by the providence of God at all. If God is the judge of all men, where are judgment and justice?
[Side note – this is a bold question coming from a group of people who, based on their own sinful actions, should definitely NOT be looking for the judgment of God, or his coming!]
Prosperity of the wicked is an issue that seems to crop up in every generation. It was one of the main issues back in the book of Job. It was addressed by Asaph in Psalms 73. In the time of Jesus, we saw Lazarus sitting by the gates of the rich man, begging for crumbs while the dogs licked his sores. Maybe, just maybe, you too have questioned the prosperity of evil people.
But it’s time to slam dunk those thoughts into the pit of hell, where they belong!
The scriptures are very clear that God is completely just.
Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the habitation of your throne: mercy and truth shall go before your face.
Isaiah 30:18 – And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all they that wait for him.
Further, we need to remind ourselves that God is the only eternal being; only he can see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). When we look around and complain about the prosperity of the wicked, are we not focused on a trivial span of time? How long is the life of a man compared to eternity? James says our lives are like a mere vapor, which vanishes within seconds (James 4:14). If the wicked prosper only in this life, those riches are fleeting indeed, for earthly life is momentary!
Contrast that with the promises of eternity with God.
John 6:51 – I [Jesus] am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever…
1 John 5:11 –And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
True riches are found in an eternity spent with the Father, Son and Spirit of God! Since that is the case, we need to stop acting like children and start acting like mature believers. Renew your mind with the TRUTH – you are a citizen of heaven; this world is NOT your home. This world is going to pass away and the only thing that will matter in eternity is your relationship with God and your service in his kingdom.
The TRUTH is that God works all things out for your good, particularly your eternal good. God is not adverse to using hardships to strengthen and mature your faith. We are his servants in this life, and some of our tasks and circumstances may be difficult or trying. That is a normal part of Christianity. So cancel the pity party and turn to the Lord:
I Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Don’t EVER compare yourself to the wicked. EVER. Those thoughts have no place in a mind turned over to God and renewed by his Spirit and word. I assure you, if evil men prosper, it will only be in this life. You, however, will be blessed forever and ever as a child of the Most High God!
Let us now consider the Jews’ second question: Where is the God of justice/judgment?
The Jews believed that God was the judge of all the earth, and they are correct in this notion. But then their reasoning takes a wrong turn. Since God has not shown judgment in their timeframe, they mistakenly believe that he either will not or cannot punish evil. Therefore, they conclude that either God does not exist or that he is unjust!
But God refutes those beliefs with a prophetic word through Malachi:
Malachi 3:1 – “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.
He begins with the word ‘behold’ which is like the sound of a trumpet, arousing attention to a great proclamation. The Jews should pay careful attention, for God is about to reveal something astounding and significant to them.
God is indeed the judge of all the earth, and judgment WILL come. Of this there can be no doubt; it is a certainty that cannot be stopped by the unbelief or contempt of man.
But it will occur at the appointed time, and in the manner that God decrees.
How did God choose to handle the judgment the Jews were looking for?
Jesus himself speaks through Malachi (whose name literally means messenger) and declares ‘I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me’. Of course, Jesus is referring to John the Baptist here. John is a prophet and like all prophets, his job was to call all men to repentance and reformation. John the Baptist is the first step in the promised judgment of the world.
Let me explain what I mean by that. As mentioned previously, it is a dangerous thing for sinful men to desire judgment. In order for any of us to stand in a time of God’s judgment, we will need an intercessor.
Jesus the Messiah is that intercessor, but before he could come and fulfill that role, his herald/messenger had to come first and prepare the way. Why did the way need to be prepared or cleared? Because, as Malachi clearly shows, sin had blinded the eyes and understanding of the Jews. Unless they could acknowledge their sin, they would not seek a savior/messiah. And if they would not seek/accept the savior, then they were sure to perish under God’s judgment. (Hence, God sends Malachi to the Jews of that day, and John the Baptist to the Jews of Jesus’ day. Perhaps he is sending you in this day!)
Luke 1:17 – And he [John the Baptist] shall go before him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people, prepared for the Lord.
So, the ministry of the ‘messenger’, John the Baptist, is the first ‘step’ in judgment.
The second ‘step’ is the coming of Jesus to reveal the kingdom of heaven and to die for us:
The Lord or the Messiah will come ‘suddenly’ or unexpectedly ‘to the temple’. In other words, he will come very shortly after his messenger proclaims his coming. Sure enough, from our perspective we can verify that the public ministry of Jesus began only months after John the Baptist began calling the Jews to repentance.
What did Jesus do in the temple? He cast out those who sold and bought, he over turned the tables of the money changes and those who sold doves. In short, he cleansed it from defilement (Mark 11:15-17), purified it and also filled it with his teaching and his glory. This is what Jesus desires to do in our lives (we are the temple of God), if we will accept the sacrifice of the Messiah.
The one who comes suddenly to the temple is also ‘the messenger of the covenant’. Who, then, is the messenger of the covenant? Jesus himself, of course!
Jesus was the Messiah, who would come as the fulfillment of the covenant made with the patriarch Abraham. The old covenant declared that through Abraham’s seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 26:4). As you well know, God was referring to Jesus dying as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, can be cleansed of sin and be in a covenant relationship with God because of what Jesus accomplished with his death and resurrection. He is not only the messenger of the new covenant, he is the mediator of it (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15 and 12:24).
Malachi 3:1 goes on to say that the Jews “delighted in” the messenger or messiah. This is true. Generation after generation of Jews expected, longed for, and delighted in the promise of their messiah.
The prophets of Israel and Judah had many times assured the people that a messiah/savior was coming. They prophesied many gracious and wonderful promises of good things under the kingship of Messiah, the Son of David. The Jews built their hopes on these excellent promises. During times of distress (such as they now experienced under Malachi), they turned to these promises for comfort. There is nothing wrong with that; the promises were given for their comfort and faith.
However, they concentrated on the promises of Messiah as an earthly ruler, who would sit upon the throne of David forever. They expected him to restore the power and prestige of Israel, bringing prosperity and peace to his chosen people. They understood the Messiah to be the one who would crush all of their enemies under his feet, and bring judgment upon the wicked. This is the judgment they are asking God to bring upon the wicked in Malachi chapter three.
But their request presents a problem. They did not perceive that they themselves were wicked. Malachi has shown us that the Jews felt they were okay with God because they were part of the first covenant and had Abraham as their father. They did not recognize their own sin. However, God has declared that they are just as wicked as the heathen, and they need to repent or they too will fall under judgment.
Little did they realize, God was not ignoring judgment because he wanted the wicked to prosper. He was (and is) withholding final judgment of the wicked, until the blood of Jesus could make atonement for all those who wanted to be saved.
So the coming of Jesus the Messiah and his death/resurrection were the second ‘step’ in judgment. Again, we see evidence of God’s great mercy- He put a way of escape in place before he pronounced judgment upon mankind.
Malachi 3:2 – 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.
‘Step’ 3 in God’s plan is to cleanse his people of sin. This is something God does in every generation. He was doing it back in the days of the post exilic Jews, he did it the days of the apostles, and he is still doing it in our generation. The refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap both refer to a call to holiness where sin is renounced and removed from our lives.
What is a refiner’s fire?
Refining with flame is one of the oldest methods of refining metals. It is the preferable method for larger quantities of gold. In ancient times, this form of refining involved a craftsman sitting next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible being stirred and skimmed to remove the impurities or dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. With flames reaching temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius, you can be sure that all impurities were burned away and only pure gold was left.
The spiritual implication is that the Lord will cleanse his chosen people by putting them in situations/circumstances that would burn out all of the sin in their lives, leaving a people that were pure and holy.
What was a fuller and why did he need soap?
The trade of the fullers, so far as it is mentioned in Scripture has to do with cloth or clothes. The fuller’s job was thickening (making full) freshly woven woolen cloth by cleaning, bleaching, wetting and beating/treading the fibers to a consistent and desirable condition. Fuller’s earth was a variety of clay that was used to scour and cleanse the cloth. The process of fulling or cleansing clothes involved treading or stamping on the garments with the feet or with bats in tubs of water, in which some alkaline substance (fuller’s soap) had been dissolved.
In short, it is a purifying process, just like the refiner’s fire. So the Lord will act to ‘clean, bleach, wet and beat’ our spiritual fibers to a ‘consistent and desirable condition.’
Ephesians 5:27 – That he [Christ] might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
God’s refining and cleansing processes for his people, would come BEFORE the final judgment of the wicked that the Jews of Malachi’s day were clamoring for.
Back in Malachi’s day, cleansing began with the priests and then flowed down to the common people.
Malachi 3:3 – 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.
As we noted before, the priests led the common people. Since the religious leaders were quite corrupt, the renovation/renewal of the nation must begin with their purification. That is why they are particularly addressed in this verse. They must undergo the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap, and be cleansed. Once they were righteous, they would lead the people in righteousness. It would begin with them, then flow onto the common people.
Thus, the changing of the nation is not instantaneous; it is done as one person at a time repents and commits to righteousness.
This is the way our nation will be changed too.
Today, Christians are the priesthood of the new covenant. God will refine us – he will purge us through instruction, affliction, temptation or any other way that Holy Spirit sees fit, in order to rid us of the grime of sin and make us pure and holy, fit for his service. This is not a punishment. It is a growing process that will be for the glory of God and our good.
I Peter 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The act of purification presents a dramatic picture for us. God is the craftsman, sitting by the fires of trials and tribulations, with his people in the crucible of life. He perfectly and skillfully places them into situations that are not too hot (difficult), nor too cold (easy). He keeps his people in the fire for the exact amount of time needed to burn up their sin and unholiness, then immediately and tenderly removes them to safety, so nothing is lost. The result is a people fit for service in his kingdom; a people who will rule and reign with him in the next age.
1 Peter 4:17 – For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
I know that all Christians are distressed about the things that are taking place in our nation. Many of us are frustrated beyond belief, and want to be part of the solution to this problem.
One thing you can do is to minister to those around you. Leading one person at a time to Christ will eventually change our nation as a whole. You don’t have to worry about saving thousands at a time. God will certainly call some Christians into that role, but not all. Most of us can do our part by winning and making disciples of the lost in our own circle of influence.
Malachi 3:4 – Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
What is the end result of the work of God in the lives of his people? They will be sanctified by Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16) and consecrated to God, becoming true worshippers who worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
Then and only then, can we offer sacrifices in righteousness.
No longer would Israel offer lame, diseased or torn animals to God. They will bring acceptable animals and offer then in righteousness. God will be pleased with the offerings and those who are making them. They will escape the judgment that God brings upon the wicked.
In our day, Messiah will make us acceptable in God’s sight by his blood and our sanctification. We will bear good fruit for his kingdom, and we too will escape the final judgment of God upon the wicked.
What about those who resolve to cling to evil?
Malachi 3:5 – “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.
Eventually, if the mercy of God is rejected, judgment will come. And once it comes, there will be no opportunity to turn back.
God mentions that he will come swiftly, which is a rebuke to the Jews, who earlier accused God of standing by and doing nothing while the wicked prospered. Now God declares that when the time for judgment comes, it will come swiftly and overtake all who are practicing evil.
We find that God mentions a number of specific sins when he speaks of the coming judgment. As you can guess, Israel was guilty of these exact sins.
They justified themselves and expended a lot of energy in concealing their sin, hoping to escape punishment. But God, who sees and knows all things, is well aware of everything they have done.
There is only one remedy for the sin of Israel – They must turn from their wicked ways, and seek the mercy of God.
The same is true for us! Only those who confess their sin and turn from it can expect to escape from the wrath/judgment of God which will come at the end of the world.
Sinners always ask ‘where is the God of judgment’ and ‘where is the promise of his coming’, but soon enough they will find judgment at their door and there will be no escape from it.
Malachi 3:6 –For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Though the sentence passed against evil in verse 5 will not be executed until the appointed time, it WILL be executed, for the Lord does not change. He hates sin as much today has he ever has.
But his unchanging nature also assures mercy and faithfulness to those who seek him. God never allows his word to go unfulfilled; he watches over his word to perform it.
Jeremiah 1:12 – Then said the Lord unto me, You have well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.
Israel is a witness to the unchanging nature of God. God had been forever faithful to the covenant he made with them and their ancestors. If God had not done so, the nation of Israel would have ceased to exist long before the day of Malachi!
The people had been sinful, unfaithful and fickle towards God. He had every reason to abandon them for not keeping up their side of the covenant, but he did not.
Eventually, the old covenant was totally fulfilled and replaced with the new covenant. Since the Jews (for the most part) rejected the blessings offered to them under the New Testament, they opened themselves up to a curse, which they will reap if they do not change.
In short, we should all take this important fact to heart: God does not change. His mercy and grace are still available to every man, woman and child who honestly seeks them. But his wrath also awaits all those who reject him, in every generation.
Malachi 3:7 – From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”
The ‘days of your fathers’ may refer to the beginnings of the nation, or to a much later period – the return of the exiles. But either way, the charges brought against Israel remain the same. They have turned aside from the covenant and have not kept the laws of God. They grew weary and rebellious under the laws of God; they betrayed his trust and served false idols.
Ezra 9:7 – Since the days of our fathers we have been in a great trespass unto this day…
But God, whose mercies are new every day, extends a gracious invitation to his chosen people. God invites them to repent and return to their duties in service to God. If they will do so, God will return and be reconciled to them, removing the judgments they are currently under and shielding them from the ones to come.
It’s a good offer. An incredible opportunity. In fact, it is much, much better than they deserved.
But with distain, they reject the offer. Instead, they say ‘What do you mean, return? How have we strayed from your law’? In essence, they are offended at having their faults exposed and being expected to change their ways. They see nothing in themselves to be repented of; in their own eyes they are justified.
They are so firmly resolved to continue in sin, that they will find a thousand excuses to turn away from repentance and remain in their sin.
I don’t think I need to add anything else – the application to us is obvious!
Let me offer you some encouragement:
We have lived our entire lives in what is known as the age of grace. It is a time when God has deferred final judgment, so that he can call sinners to repent and turn from evil. Scripture tells us that it is God’s will that none of us perish, but that we are all saved through the blood of Jesus Christ.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this offer will last forever, because it won’t. One day, Jesus will return to judge the world. In light of that, I encourage you to do two things: One, share the gospel of Christ with anyone that you can. Give them the same chance you have received to repent and come to Christ. Two, get rid of any and all sin from your life. Return to God and let him help you root out every last speck of evil and wickedness from your being.
Let me offer you some relief:
There is a day of judgment coming, but it is not coming for those who are found in Christ. If we have surrendered our lives to God and we are trusting in Jesus to cleanse us from sin, we have nothing to fear; we have passed from death to life (John 5:24). We can look forward to the coming of the Lord with great rejoicing because he is coming to get us, and bringing reward with him!
Let me offer you some strength:
When Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he gifted us with the presence of Holy Spirit to assist us in our walk here on earth. Holy Spirit has been sent to grow spiritual fruit in our lives, to bring the word of God to our remembrance, to comfort and guide us, and to give us spiritual gifts that allow us to fulfill the destiny that God has mapped out for us. You don’t need to fear Holy Spirit – you need to trust him! He is your strength and your helper! You need to open yourself up to Holy Spirit and allow him to move in your life as he desires. When you do, you will find that you no longer need to rely on your own strength or wisdom, because Holy Spirit will lead you in the way everlasting.