These final two chapters of Malachi are one combined third chapter in the Hebrew Scriptures. And I’m sure at least a few of you are like me and cannot read these verses EVER without Handel’s Messiah ringing through your ears – with the “But Who May Abide” aria followed by the thundering “He Shall Purify” chorus >> with soaring contrapunctal melodies working independently, yet arriving ultimately together in a thundering final four-part vertical harmony, “… that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness!” … Fabulous!
OK … sorry … going back to the text, here is an anticipation of a day when the Lord returns and there is a purification of the priests – the sons of Levi…
3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes
6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
The people of Israel were to bring a tithe (10%) for the sustenance of the priestly tribe of Levi. This would provide for the ongoing priority of worship in the nation through the temple service, but the people did not faithfully honor this, which demonstrated their lack of value for God’s decree. God’s mercy is still seen here as open to blessing them if they would honor Him – a theme I think we’ve mentioned a few times in this series, as well as throughout the “Revive” series from a year ago.
Israel Speaks Arrogantly Against God
13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
The difficult question of why those who are evil sometimes seem to prosper beyond those who are righteous is also an issue that transcends generations and millennia. Of course, the answer is that their prosperity is of short duration; it is a fraction of the reality of eternity and judgment. But moaning to God about this demonstrates an attitude of not believing God’s promises.
As always, there is a faithful remnant of people who will be blessed in the end for their endurance …
The Faithful Remnant
16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
Judgment and Covenant Renewal
4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
The prophet Elijah is identified in Matthew as being John the Baptist. Yet in Revelation 11 there is at the end of the Tribulation the two witnesses who turn many from Israel into repentant faith before the Christ’s second coming. And so again, this is one of those prophetic passages with near and far applications.
This is my (Randy) final time with you in this series, as Chris will finish off next week’s devotionals. I knew going into this series that it would be a challenge to not just say the same thing over and over and over – some version of “Though the times may be difficult and many are not walking in faith, trust the God who is the righteous judge at the end, and by trusting Him and living in covenant faithfulness, you will be blessed in spite of the prevailing darkness around you.” I hope we’ve said more than that, but that overarching truth is timeless, especially for this generation in which we live. And may you live in this attitude …
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Phil. 2:14-16)