Today: [Malachi 3] Refiner’s Fire and Fuller’s Soap: In Malachi 3 we have a Messianic promise of God’s messenger coming to the people of God, not just as a healing balm, but as a refiner’s fire. There is at this time a deep lack of discernment in the people Malachi writes to in our chapter. They feel they are as close to God as they possibly can be, but in reality, are living in a state of deep deficit in their relationship to the Father. Could this be you? Are you really as close to God as you think you are? Mal. 3 gives us a opportunity for clear eyed self-examination.
[Mal 3:1-18 KJV] 1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he [is] like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: 3 And he shall sit [as] a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. 4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years. 5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in [his] wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger [from his right], and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. 6 For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. 7 Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept [them]. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? 8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9 Ye [are] cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, [even] this whole nation. 10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that [there shall] not [be room] enough [to receive it]. 11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. 12 And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts. 13 Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken [so much] against thee? 14 Ye have said, It [is] vain to serve God: and what profit [is it] that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, [they that] tempt God are even delivered. 16 Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard [it], and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. 17 And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. 18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
In chapters 1-2 of Malachi the prophet reproves the people and the leadership of Jerusalem for their lukewarm state and insincere worship. It is a time of economic downturn that came in the years after the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt and the temple restored. The Persian domination of the area continues with heavy taxation and difficult times during which the people became lax in their passion for the things of God and questioned why the blessing of God was so far from them, even though their commitments to the temple were very marginal at best. Chapter 3 opens with a Messianic promised emphasizing that God indeed will be faithful even though the people are unprepared. The declaration is that the Messiah will appear as the Messenger of the covenant that the feign to delight in who will come not as a gentle restorer but as a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap to purify and purge the people in order to cleanse the offerings of God.
Verse 5 reiterates the sentiment that the Lord will come near to them in judgment to deal with the age old sins of the people that brought them into captivity in the first place. After 70 years of slavery in Babylon, and a miraculous return to Jerusalem, the people have lapsed again into widespread practices of pagan sorcery, adultery, dishonesty and oppression of the poor, the widows and the orphans, and the foreigners in their midst. As verse 7 declares, the people have once again departed from the ordinances of God as their fathers who died in captivity in years past. Without preamble the simple resolution is expressed in a call for the people to return to God and He would return to them.
In being exhorted to return to God the immediate response of the people was to reject what Malachi says. They question “what do you mean, ‘return to God’”. In other words, they didn’t feel like their commitment to Jehovah was lacking at all. To which the answer comes back as an indictment of their character, striking at the very heart of a practical matter, i.e. their tithes and their offerings. As previously pointed out, the people were bringing in sacrifice, animals they had found in their flocks that had died in the night, all the while claiming that these were the firstlings of their livestock, the very best that they had. They expected and questioned why God wasn’t giving them His best, when all they were bringing to Him were the left overs and leavings that otherwise would have been discarded in the garbage heaps of the city.
The inability and refusal of the people to see any deficiency in their worship is so deep that Malachi doesn’t dwell on it. They are a people well-nigh past the point of ever receiving correction. Therefore, the exhortation is even though God has been ever faithful in a miraculous restoration of the city and the temple just a few years before, they are encouraged to “prove God” as though He had somehow not authenticated His faithfulness in their lives in very miraculous ways. Sometimes we get discouraged and question “where is God” in our situation, forgetting the work of the cross and the provisions of Calvary, as though to say to God “I know the story of the gospel, but what have you done for me lately?” The answer God gives to the people in Malachi’s day shows the divine origination of humility in God Himself by not rebuking them but simply promising to open the windows of heaven, pour out a blessing and rebuke the devourer if they would simply return to the ordinances, and requirements of the law that were the basis of their approach to God in the first place. If the people will reform their ways the promise is that they will be called of all nations the blessed of the Lord and a delightsome land once again.
Ask yourself the question today, are you living under an open heaven? There are many books written about protocols of prayer, and secret tips on how to approach God to see the blessing of God poured out, but Mal. 3 makes the proposition very simple – return to God. If the heavens are not open to us, if the blessings of God are not poured out in a measure so great that we can’t even contain His goodness in our lives, if the devourer is not rebuked, could it be there is a need in our lives to turn our hearts once again to the living God. Could we be like these people Malachi is speaking to, who thought they were as close to God as they could possibly be, but in fact were very far from Him in heart, and suffering unnecessarily because of it? Let the word of God be the discerner in your life as to the condition of your heart!
In verse 13 in answer to the astonishment of the people to suggest they aren’t as close to God as they should be, Malachi rehearses the stout accusations of the people using their own sense of victimization as a justification for lukewarmness and sin. They have suffered and questioned whether it was vain to serve God. They walked with mournful steps through life, envying and glorifying those who were proud and boastful in their wickedness. For all of that Malachi says they tempted God (v. 15) yet still He faithfully delivered them and kept them from harm, though they chose not to be mindful of it because of their own self-centered ideals.
In the midst of this where do you place yourself? The generation that we live in today could never be construed as a high-water mark of piety and godliness in the annals of sacred history. Are you a part of the solution or part of the problem? The book of Malachi is filled with metrics for taking that measurement. Just because we think we are in an on-time relationship with God doesn’t make it so.
Yet there is the promise that a book of remembrance is being written on those that think upon the name of the Lord and keep Him first in all things. They will be His in that day when He makes up His jewels and they will be spared as a parent spares His own child. How are jewels formed? Through heat and pressure. Acts 14:22 tells us that through great tribulation we enter the kingdom. It is a fact, because we live out our lives in a fallen environment there will be challenges to overcome, mostly within ourselves, contending with our own self-referred nature, holding ourselves accountable to Christ because we are unlikely to allow anyone else to correct or effectively admonish us. The call for discernment closes the chapter with an exhortation that returning to God involves discerning between the righteous and the wicked, not just in the conduct of others but in our own hearts and lives, to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.
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