Can you think of a time when you were punished harshly by your parents because you deserved it? I am a parent of a 2 year old, and while on most instances she is the cutest, most adorable child on the planet, she inherited her daddy’s selective hearing. To put it plainly, she doesn’t listen; or worse, she actively does the opposite of what you’re asking.
Stepping into the book of Malachi, God’s covenant people had been disobedient. Like a father having a conversation with his child after a spanking, Malachi records the conversation between Himself and a whooped Israel. The Babylonian Exile is the second most significant event in the OT behind the Exodus, and was a severe punishment for outright disobedience. Although the nation was led to repentance through the efforts of guys like Ezra and Nehemiah, it seems that they’ve returned to their old sins to the point where they are challenging the very character of God—”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?’” (2:17)
These two challenges are super important for understanding chapter 3—(1) God delights in evil and (2) does not bring justice. From a human perspective, it’s easy to see the sins of others. In addition, some of the worst sinners are living the most enviable lives. Fame, wealth, power, influence are not words often associated with righteousness; however, many of us crave these things. These challenges form one bookend, while the other is found in 3:13–15. Essentially, God’s people have verbally assaulted God’s character, God delights in evil, he doesn’t punish the wicked, serving him is useless, and evil people test God, prosper in testing, and escape.
In the middle of these bookends, God responds. He starts with a “Behold,” in Hebrew this should cause you to pause and pay attention to what comes next. What comes next is serious! First, we see this great Messianic statement validating the ministry of John the Baptist and foretelling the coming of Jesus, “He is coming, says the Lord of Hosts” (i.e. the Lord of Heaven’s Armies). Some of the things mentioned in this passage were fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming, however, most of it will be fulfilled when he returns—when acts as “a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap” (painful purification).
No one can test God and remain unscathed. God responds to the challenge of His character by essentially saying, “You have no idea what’s coming.” Although it feels like people are rewarded in their sin from our perspective, when the Messiah comes, they will face judgement. Therefore, people ought to repent and “return.” So, the people ask, “How shall we return?” (8)
Interestingly, God does invite people to test him one way. Although testing God in sin will lead to judgment, testing God in your generosity will lead to tremendous blessing. God addressed Israel’s polluted offerings in chapter 1, but in chapter 3 we see a challenge for people to out-give God with the assurance that it can’t be done.
Finally, in verses 16–18 some people get it. When people truly come to grips with the fact that life, sin, and the world’s gratification is extremely temporary, then people will fear the Lord of Hosts and they shall be His.
Malachi is probably my favorite OT book because it shows a patient Father, working to change the heart of a disobedient child after punishment. Where in your life has God been patient with you? Where do you need to test God’s generosity by being as generous as possible?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate