Malachi 3 Testing Time

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Questions: What is the right and wrong way to test God? What would God say to us at our final exam? Is the day of reckoning a good or a bad thing? What is the real difference between the righteous and the wicked? When, if ever, does it matter? “Read More” to pursue answers in Malachi.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Malachi 3:1-18

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.

In contrast to the previous chapters, this one opens with what seems like good news. After all, we’re finally getting the ‘delight’ we ‘seek’, right?

Well, maybe not…

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:

Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it!

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.

Still, at one level that is good news — at least if you care about making God happy:

Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.

Though not if you care about hiding your evil behavior:

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.

Very apocalpytic, which — as former missionary-trainee Larry Wall points out — is actually a good thing: “An Apocalypse is supposed to reveal good news to good people. (And if it also happens to reveal bad news to bad people, so be it. Just don’t be bad.)”

Which, arguably, is the point God is trying to make here:

For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

In other words, it isn’t too late to be counted as one of the good people instead of the bad:

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.

That certainly sounds like good news. Ah, but what’s the catch?

But ye said, Wherein shall we return?

I tend to read that as a rhetorical, “What, we haven’t done anything wrong, have we?” — but maybe that’s just me. At any rate, God is more than willing to answer:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.

Say what?

But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.

Oops. That sounds bad:

Ye [are] cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, [even] this whole nation.

Yup, very bad. But, there is a way out:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house,

Followed by a dare!

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].

Extraordinary. As far as I can tell, this is the only time God asks people to test Him (rather than vice versa). And as Larry Wall says, there’s lots of good news for those who obey:

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. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.

However, God’s not quite finished with his list of complaints:

Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken [so much] against thee?

Hard words, as it were. But a fair description:

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? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, [they that] tempt God are even delivered.

Ouch. Yet, the saddest part is that these are not the wicked themselves boasting of their success. Rather, it is the “righteous” who have grown weary of doing good, and thus become envious of those without God.

Or maybe they aren’t really “righteous” at all:

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.

Perhaps the fear of the Lord, more than mere ethical observance, is what God really looks for:

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.

In fact, maybe discerning that is the whole point of this exercise:

Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

Prayer

God, I confess that I am often numbered among the false righteous who obey the Law due to a hope/fear of earthly consequences, rather than true fear of you. Worse, even that obedience is half-hearted and shallow, not quite daring to sacrifice to you your full due and test the depths of your goodness.

Father, remember me, your child, and spare me in the day of testing. Help me to know you and fear you as I ought. Prove to me your goodness as I seek to obey you, and give you what you so richly deserve — that I may escape the fate I so richly deserve. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, and the freedom and security we share in His Sonship. In whose name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is in honor all of those students who had their final exams just before Christmas, as well as those poor souls who have them right after the break.

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