Malachi 2:17–4:6. Israel Challenges God's Justice.
Key Notes: God gives many answers to the question of His justice.
The last half of Malachi begins just before the chapter break. The people complained that God was unjust. They complained again in 3:13–15. The rest of the passage is God’s response. There are nine answers to the question Israel raises about God’s justice.
2:17 God is weary of hearing Israel complain that He does not administer justice.
3:1 God will send His messenger before Him. Then the Lord Himself will appear suddenly in His Temple, the Angel of the Covenant.
There are four hundred years between this prophecy and its fulfillment.
The messenger, the advance-man, is John the Baptist.
The Lord, the Angel of the Covenant, is Jesus Himself, the Messiah, the Hope of Israel. They did delight in the thought of His Coming. One prophecy that thrills all of us is Isaiah 9:1–7, which is read at Christmas and sung in Handel’s "Messiah" However, when He did appear suddenly in His Temple, to cleanse it, they were not at all pleased. (Jn. 2:13–22). "Who can abide the day of His Coming?"
3:2–5 "He is like a refiner’s fire….and He shall purify the sons of Levi."
Jesus cleansed the Temple at the beginning and the end of His ministry. (Jn. 2:13–25; Matt. 21:12–17). Some of the further work of purifying of the sons of Levi is suggested by the work of the apostles: “…a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts.6:7). Perhaps the final fulfillment lies in the future. The judgment on sorcerers, adulterers, liars, etc. also appears to be in the future. Rev.22:15
John the Baptist prophesied Jesus’ baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire (Lk. 3:15–17), but he did not see enough fire to satisfy him. In his disappointment, he sent disciples to Jesus to ask whether He was the real Messiah or should they look for someone else. (Lk.7:19–21). Jesus said His immediate ministry was healing and preaching, implying that the fire was for the future.
The fire consuming the wicked was realized, however, in 70 AD when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans.
3:6–12 For those who espouse process theology, God affirms that He does not change. That is why Israel still survives: God has not given up His covenant relationship with Israel. God invites them to return to Him. They claim not to know how.
God turns them around with the challenge that they are robbing Him. (The Hebrew word is more violent than mere robbing, more like our slang expression," ripping Him off"). They are not giving the tithe. God commands that they bring their lawful dues, the tithes, into His treasury. In turn, God promises to pour out great blessing on them. The locust will not eat their crops; their vines will not fail. All the nations will recognize that God has blessed them with a land of delight.
When we face God and give Him His due, a right relationship is begun and blessing follows.
3:13–15 Again Israel complains that it is useless to follow in God’s path or dress in humility. The arrogant are blessed; the evil-doers are not touched. God is unjust.
3:16–18 The next line sounds as if there was another group beside the grumblers in the same room, those who fear the Lord. In response to the second complaint—essentially a repetition of the first—as if they had not heard God’s word, God now refers them to the godly ones. The Gripers’ Club was in one corner, the Cheerful Club in the opposite. The holy God-fearers talked together. Their names were written in a book of remembrance. God calls them His special possession.
3:19–4:3 Then once again those who fear God and those who do not will be visibly different. The evil-doers will be burned up. The “sun of righteousness” (the Light of the World; Jn.8;12) will rise upon the righteous and they will be young and energetic. They will tread down the wicked like dust.
4:4 Remember the Law of Moses.
The first law in Deuteronomy was that I must love the Lord with all my heart, soul and might. Deut. 6:5
4:5–6 Elijah the prophet is coming and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
Restoring relationships in the family involves spiritual agreement between godly fathers and their children, between godly children and their fathers. This sounds likeMal.2:15: The Father wants us to produce godly children.
John the Baptist was asked if he was Elijah and he said ""no". However, the angel Gabriel prophesied:
“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” (Lk. 1:16–17). So Elijah was not reincarnated, but his mantle—his spirit and power—rested on John the Baptist.
Everyone is concerned about justice. People often complain that the wicked are not punished—at least not in a timely fashion. Psalms 73 and 37 deal with this problem. Job had a long complaint about the prosperity of the wicked. Job 21:7–34
Israel was in the doldrums, back in their homeland but without real hope for the future. The Persians were in control. They were not back in the glory days of David and Solomon. When they grumbled about God, they were given a series of answers:
My messenger in coming. 3:1
I am coming, too .(3:1) There will be remedial repair of the priesthood. 3:2–4
Decisive judgment will be brought on the wicked. 3:5
You must turn back to Me as the owner of everything, and your tithing will be rewarded. 3:6–12
There is a God-fearing remnant that I will bless. 3:16–18
In the end, the righteous will thrive and the wicked will wither. 4:1–3
Remember the Law, to love the Lord your God. 4:4
My messenger is coming. He will restore godly families. 4:5–6
So in response to the question of whether God cares, He says He will send his personal agent—His advance-man—and then He will come Himself.
And when He came—preaching the Coming Kingdom, healing the sick and raising the dead—they killed Him after three years. Talk about injustice!
The core response that involves everyone confronting the question of God’s justice is to make sure we are just. What are we doing with what was entrusted to us? Fraud, robbery, theft of God’s resources was being done by those who complain twice that God was unjust to them. The stingy, God’s robbers,were accusing their God of injustice! It is a rule of thumb that those who accuse others reflect their own sin, which is accusing them. Jesus spelled it out in Matt. 7:1–5. Israel was trying to find lint on God’s coat, ignoring the gravy on their own.
God is inherently just. We are inherently unjust. This text tells us one way to become more just. We are like bankers in receipt of a large investment, which includes real estate, vehicles, money and other resources. We have the use of all the resources, but 10% interest on investment income must be paid back to the Owner annually. The Owner never gives up possession of the funds. It is our job to make a profit for the Owner, not to rob Him. In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), the money manager who was condemned did not rob the owner, but simply buried his money. If we bankers go further and think the goods God has invested in us are ours to keep, we are guilty of fraud or embezzlement.
Unfortunately, money and materialism blind us. We think that because we earned it, we own it. But it is God who gives us our lives, our talents, and the energy and the intelligence to make money.
”Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth….” (Deut. 8:17–18)
Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk.12:15)
“Beware of covetousness.” Jesus says we cannot trust our feelings on questions of material goods. We love our clothes, our sports equipment, our collections, our country place, our cars. We think we have had a run of good luck in business. That is why God gives us an objective standard to be our giving guide—the tenth of our gross goes back to Him, every time, all the time. No questions asked.
And Jesus raises the bar.
“…you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23)
In addition to our tithe, we have duties to the poor, the mistreated and the lost. We must extend our resources into the wider community. We must pursue justice and do acts of mercy. An example is rescuing children from the streets where they are subject to drugs and prostitution.
That is where real generosity and true philanthropy are shown.
And, if Israel complains about poor crops and small profits, God has His answer.
You have turned away from Me; I have turned away from you.
If you give to Me, I will more than give back to you.
If you give God His 10%, He will reinvest 100% back to you.
Is that difficult?
It is simply God’s word to us.