GOD’S PRIZED POSSESSION Malachi 3–4″
’They will be Mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ’in the day when I make up My treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him” (Mal. 3:17).The little Jewish community in Judea may have strayed from the Lord. But God kept careful track of individuals who loved and remembered Him. In the same way God maintains our names on His “scroll of remembrance.”
Under Mosaic Law a tenth of all that the land produced belonged to the Lord. This tithe of flocks and produce was brought to the temple, where it was used to provide offerings and to support the priests and Levites who ministered there. An additional tithe was to be set aside every third year, and retained locally, for the support of widows and orphans and others in need. While the principle of the tithe can be seen before the Law was given (cf. Gen. 14:20), the concept underlying it is specific to the Old Testament Law. The Lord owned the Holy Land, in which His people were settled. As the One who gave them Canaan, God had a right to the “rent” due on the land His people worked. Malachi challenged his generation, calling on them to “test” God in this. Begin paying the tithe, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (3:10). While the tenth is not mentioned in the New Testament as a standard of giving (see 2 Cor. 8–9), certain basic principles are common to the teaching of each Testament. All we have comes from and belongs to God. We are but stewards of His possessions. We honor God by our giving, showing by our contributions to support modern ministries that the Lord is important to us. And showing too that we trust God enough not to rob Him of His share out of fear that we will not have enough.
Malachi predicted a day of purifying judgment (3:1–5). The Lord urged His people to show repentance by their tithes (vv. 6–12) and talk (vv. 13–15), and promised to bless individuals who fear Him (vv. 16–18). Malachi closed with a vivid image of the Day of the Lord (4:1–4), and a promise of Elijah’s return (vv. 5–6).
Understanding the Text
“The Lord you are seeking will come to His temple” Mal. 3:1. These words were not a promise, but a threat. The people of little Judah complained about God. “Where is the God of justice?” they asked (2:17). Now Malachi warned them that the One they said they desired, will come. We too look forward to the Day of the Lord and to Christ’s second coming. But we need to ask ourselves a question that these folks never thought to ask. “Are we ready?” There’s nothing we can do to speed His coming. But we can and must prepare ourselves for His appearance. In Judea in Malachi’s time the people talked about Messiah’s appearance. But they paid no attention to the commitment, the personal moral purity, and the zeal to do God’s work, which would prepare them for that day. It’s certain that the One whom we desire will come. Let’s make sure that when He appears, we will be filled with delight rather than regrets. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”Mal. 3:2–5. Precious metals were placed in a crucible over hot fires. The ore melted, the impurities were skimmed off, and the unadulterated metal was poured into molds. “Launderer’s soap” was a powerful chemical compound that was used to soak newly woven cloth. The bits of gummy matter that remained were dissolved, and the new cloth was thus brightened and purified. Neither image suggests a pleasant experience. Each implies purification. As a result of God’s painful purifying work, Malachi said that “the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord.” Divine discipline today too may seem as uncomfortable as a refiner’s fire or as distasteful as a powerful launderer’s soap. So when undergoing discipline, you and I need to keep our eyes focused on the product. When God has purified and cleansed us, our offerings to Him—our worship, and our lives—will be acceptable once again. “I will come near to you for judgment” Mal. 3:5. How much better not to need purifying, because we already live pure lives! Here Malachi listed some of the attitudes and actions that call for judgment. More importantly, he summed up their cause: these things are done by those who “do not fear Me.” If you and I maintain a reverential awe of God as well as love for Him, we need not worry about judgment. If we truly fear and love God, we will always do right by others. “How do we rob You?” Mal. 3:6–12 It’s possible for a believer to say in all honesty when he hears a call to turn back to God, “How am I to return?” This is because we are often unaware of straying from the Lord. Like Saul, we don’t know that the Lord has departed from us (see 1 Sam. 16:14). Malachi suggested a simple test. Go through your checkbook! Are you giving God a fair portion of what you earn? Or are you robbing God by selfishly using what He has given you without concern for others or for the ministry of the Gospel? The question comes with a challenge. If you’ve been holding back because of fear that you won’t have enough, God invites you to test Him. After all, the wealth of the universe is His. Shake off your fear, God says, and “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” God can be trusted. We need not hold back out of fear. “You have said harsh things against Me” Mal. 3:13–18. It’s not uncommon even for believers to wonder sometimes if faithfulness really pays. And as for unbelievers, they scoff loudly, preferring the ways of the arrogant rich to those of the humble. But there are two defects in all such thinking. First, the whole idea that we worship God in order to “gain” something is flawed. We keep God’s requirements because He is God, and we love Him. We do not obey God in order to be paid in the coin of earth’s realm. Second, the idea that God’s blessings are material is also flawed. And so Malachi said of those who feared the Lord and talked about His name, “They will be Mine . . . in the day when I make up My treasured possession” and “I will spare them.” The distinction between the righteous and the wicked can’t be determined by this world’s bottom line. The balance in our bank account has nothing to do with the treasure stored up for us in heaven. Yes, at times we may wonder if it pays to serve God. When we do, we have God’s Word that there is, and will be, a great distinction made between “those who serve God and those who do not” (v. 18). “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” Mal. 4:1–4. Malachi closed with another distinction between the righteous and the wicked. When the Day of the Lord comes it will “burn like a furnace” for “every evildoer,” but will be like the warming and healing sun for those who revere God’s name. What a thought. When Jesus comes, He will seem beautiful to you and me. We will exult joyfully, and rush to be near Him. But the One we find so beautiful will strike terror into the hearts of those who have failed to bow the knee to Him. How can we be sure that we will welcome Christ with delight? Malachi said, “Remember the Law of My servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” If we do those things that we know please God, we will have no fears nor regrets at His coming. “I will send you the Prophet Elijah” Mal. 4:5–6. The Old Testament closes with this promise. Jesus said that John the Baptist carried on an Elijah-like ministry. He preached repentance, and so turned hearts. But the people of Israel did not welcome their Messiah. They rejected Him, and turned Him over to the Romans to be crucified. Thus Malachi foretold another Elijah, destined to appear before Messiah returns and “that great and dreadful Day of the Lord[’s judgment] dawns” (v. 5). What a close to the Old Testament. The ancient issues are unchanged. God still struggles with men, calling His own to faith and obedience, warning the arrogant, and urging repentance. The history of God’s people is replete with cycles of revival and sin, of restoration and judgment. Through it all one would think we, and all His people, must surely learn the lesson so clearly taught. God does love us. He calls us to trust Him, and to display our trust in obedience. If we do, we can rest assured: there is blessing ahead. But for all who refuse to trust and turn to wickedness, the future holds only judgment. It is coming. Just beyond tomorrow lies a great and terrible Day of the Lord.
The Eye of the Beholder(Mal. 3)
Every once in a while, about every day, I tell my wife she’s beautiful. She usually smiles and says, “That’s what you think.” She suspects that I’m biased, even though I keep telling her that I’m totally objective about her. I must admit that in most cases, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What seems beautiful to one person won’t to another. It all depends on our perspective. That’s what Malachi said in this chapter of his little book. Our attitude depends on how we look at life. Malachi even identified three things that we need to look at from God’s perspective. The first is discipline (vv. 1–5). When some painful thing occurs, don’t despair. Look at it as a purifying fire. See the beauty that exists within you, that God is so eager to display. God is willing to burn away your impurities, even though it hurts you. Don’t think of the present experience. Look beyond it, and rejoice in what you will become. The second is finances (vv. 6–12). Don’t look at the little you have, and worry about how you’ll make ends meet. This will only shut your heart to the Lord, and make you stingy in your giving. Instead remember that God possesses all the wealth in the universe. Trust Him enough to give freely, and expect Him to provide all that you need. The third is blessings (vv. 14–18). Some media evangelists sound so much like the disgruntled of Malachi’s day. They ask us to measure blessings by financial well-being, and so beg us to give to their ministry, promising that God will more than repay in good, hard cash. But Malachi urged us to serve God not for profit, but out of love. Even so, we are abundantly repaid, not in cash here, but in blessings stored up for when Christ returns. Only in eternity will we see the distinction God makes between those who serve God and those who do not, so we should not expect large cash down payments now! And don’t expect those outside of Christ to see life as we do. Many Christians may not even share these perspectives. But you and I need to embrace the way of looking at life that Malachi adopted. We need to look beyond our pain, to look beyond limited resources, and to look beyond material rewards. When we see the beauty God seeks to create in us through discipline, the unlimited resources of our God, and the glory that awaits us in eternity, we will serve God with overflowing joy.
Be wise, and view life with spiritual eyes.