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Monday, February 6, 2012

“When God Get’s Wearied With Words” - (02/05/12)

Malachi 2:17-3:6 (Message #5 in Malachi Series)
February 5, 2012

            Have you ever been around someone who talks nonstop?  They hardly ever come up for air, and never let you get a word in edgewise.  Sometimes little kids are like this.  They just have so many things to say that they become little chatterboxes.  With children we have more patience.  In fact, with a little kid it’s kind of cute and we joke about it.  However, when an adult does this we get tired of them very quickly.  We’ll even try to avoid their company because they make our ears tired with the sound of their constant blathering about nothing.  They weary us with their meaningless words.

            Our text for this morning begins the second half of Malachi’s prophecy, which runs through 4:6 and speaks of God’s coming to His people, Israel.  The Israelites had sort of given up on God, and had grown cynical about His promises and lax in regard to keeping His commandments, including His laws about the kind of sacrifices they should offer, and about moral purity and intermarriage with unbelievers.  Through His servant, Malachi, God tells them that His coming will mean judgment and purification as well as redemption.

Verse 17: You have wearied the LORD with your words.  Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?”  In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
  • This section begins with Malachi speaking on the LORD’S behalf.  He makes a flat out statement: “You have wearied the LORD with your words.”  Isaiah 43:22-24 uses the word “wearied” in the same sense, of making a person feel drained, exhausted, and weighted down.  To be merely “tired” can be a satisfying feeling, like after a long hike in the mountains, or a hard day cutting firewood.  In spite of the physical exhaustion there is that positive feeling of accomplishment.  However, to be “wearied” as it’s used here is never a positive sensation.
  • Yet again, the people have no clue what it is they have done to make God weary of them.  Even though they know very well that their religion is nothing but empty form, they get all huffy when God questions their so-called “piety.”  How have we wearied Him?” is their question.  So Malachi explains it to them: “You say [i.e. keep saying], ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them.”  In other words they were constantly alleging, “God must love the wicked more than He does the righteous.  He delights in them and does nice things for them, and forgets us entirely.”  On top of that they said, “Where is the God of justice?”  He will address that question down in 3:5 but let’s just say that when His justice finally comes they will be sorry they asked.  You see, in essence they were saying, “God is not just as He claims.  In fact, He is unjust.”  That is an evil personal affront that God takes seriously because they were maligning His character.
  • And of course, God heard every word they spoke and every thought that passed through their heads.  The Word says that He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts.  Their attitude was really a form of practical atheism, because they were assuming that if God really did exist He would have long since done something to judge the wicked, but it seemed like the wicked were doing just fine—thriving, in fact.  This is the issue that the LORD addresses in the next verse.

Verse 1: “Behold, I am going to send My messenger [mal’akí], and he will clear the way before Me.  And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple; and the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • In this verse and beyond God speaks for Himself.  He speaks of a day yet future when He will send His messenger to prepare the way before the Messiah.  This verse is a little confusing if you don’t pay close attention because it mentions two different “messengers.”  Messenger #1 will come to prepare the way for the coming of Messenger #2.  The first messenger is a mere human; the second is called “Lord [Adonai].”  This second Messenger is none other than Jesus, the Messiah, called here the “Messenger of the Covenant.”  Indeed, He is the one who will fulfill the Covenant, to the very last detail.
  • The first “messenger” is, of course, John the Baptist, whose birth is recorded in Luke chapter 1.  According to Mark 1:2-3 it was of him the prophet Isaiah wrote 700 years before in Isaiah 40:3, saying: “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”  The LORD says, “He will clear the way before Me.”  John is called “the forerunner,” the one who runs ahead, announcing that the King is coming and warning that everyone should make himself ready.  Four hundred years or so after Malachi’s prophecy, John the Baptist showed up on the scene in Israel preaching the message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”  He preached against every form of moral decadence, including in the King’s palace, and he hammered the hypocritical religious leaders for their hollow religious formality without any real regard for God.  He fearlessly proclaimed the Advent of Messiah, and he unmistakably identified Jesus of Nazareth as that Promised One.
  • “He [Messiah, the Messenger of the covenant]… will suddenly come to His Temple.”  In the OT God’s first sanctuary was the Garden of Eden, later the Tabernacle, and after that the Temple.  However, Jesus, the God-Man came to inhabit His People, the Church (cf. I Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21; I Peter 2:5, etc.).  We are the dwelling place that He came to establish.
  • However, God here is not really speaking about Jesus’ 1st Advent, when He would come to give His life as the Savior and Redeemer, but about His 2nd Advent, an event yet future when He will come back to judge the world.  The LORD here is looking ahead to that time, referred to in the Scriptures as the “Day of the LORD.”  We know that Malachi refers to the Second Coming of Christ because it is judgment that is in view here.
  • Notice, “…whom you seek…in whom you delight.”  Many of the Jews loved the idea of a Messiah.  Some had actually been looking for His arrival.  But the thing that got them excited was the idea that when He showed up He would destroy all their enemies.  In other words, they were not excited about Him, but about what they thought He would do for them.  The idea that He might come to judge them as well apparently had never crossed their minds, so this message must have come as quite a shock.

Verse 2: “But who can endure the day of His coming?  And who can stand when He appears?  For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap [i.e. launderer’s soap]. 
  • There is an old expression that says, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”  The Jews were aware that God had promised to send them a Redeemer, the Messiah of Israel, but they had no clue that He might be mad when He finally showed up.  Here the LORD lets them in on the fact that wicked-hearted covenant-breaking Jews, as well as the idolatrous heathens, would find the “Day of the LORD” to be a terrible day of judgment indeed (cf. Zephaniah 1:17-18).
  • The LORD uses two word pictures here.  First, Messiah’s coming would be like “a refiner’s fire.”  In other words, all the impurities would be consumed—sin, injustice, iniquity, greed, impurity, etc.  The second word picture says that His coming would be like “fuller’s soap.”  You may remember that white clothes in the Bible often symbolize purity (cf. Mark 9:3; Rev. 3:5) but making things white back then was no easy job.  The launderer’s trade involved dying, washing, and whitening clothes and other kinds of cloth.  In ancient times the washing and whitening process involved some very caustic substances like lye, niter, potash, and various types of vegetable and mineral alkali.  This cleansing process required hot water, burning acids, pounding the clothes on a flat rock and beating them with a wooden mallet.  Here in verse 2 the LORD is giving the Jews a preview of coming attractions for when the Messiah shows up.  No wonder He asks the question: “Who can endure the day of His coming?  And who can stand when He appears?” 

Verse 3: He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 
  • The LORD continues with the metaphor of the refiner’s fire.  The LORD will come quickly, but then He will sit down as a smelter at His workbench, in order to meticulously and thoroughly refine the sons of Levi.  In other words, the priesthood would be the first object of the Refiner’s attention.  There is a principle in Scripture that “judgment always begins in the house of God” (cf. I Peter 4:17).  Notice that Jehovah’s goal is not to destroy them, something He could easily do with just a word, but rather, to purify them, to purge them of all sin and impurity so that they might once again be righteous in His sight and offer up holy sacrifices in His Temple.

Verse 4: Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing [sweet, pleasant] to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
  • “Then the offering…will be pleasing to the LORD.”  The LORD will once again take great delight in their sacrifices when the ones offering them have been cleansed and purified, and are offering the sacrifices with right motives.  Transformed, righteous priests will offer up righteous sacrifices once again, like it was in the beginning, before the rot set in.  He’s referring back to the times of Moses and Phinehas, right after the Levites were first honored and singled out and the priesthood was first established.

Verse 5: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
  • In this verse the LORD mentions several things that were symptoms of the spiritual disease that had taken root all across the country.  He says that He has been a “witness” to these things:
    • Sorcery and all manner of occult practices and idolatry
    • Sexual impurity, including adultery, intermarrying, and divorce
    • Lying, bearing false witness, dishonesty
    • Injustice against wage-earners, withholding their paychecks
    • Not caring for widows and orphans as God had always commanded
    • Mistreatment of foreigners which was strictly forbidden
    • Having no fear [awe, respect] for God, His Word, and His laws
  • As a result these things, Yahweh says that He will be a “swift witness.”  That means that though He might delay His coming, when He came He would come suddenly, unexpectedly, with no warning.  He will “draw near to them for judgment.”  In other words, He is going to lower the boom on them for these sins that He here enumerates.  When He comes He’s going to purify the Levites, and judge the people, and it won’t be pretty!

Verse 6: “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
  • “For I, [the] LORD, do not change.”  This is best translated by leaving out the definite article before the word, “LORD.”  What He actually says is, “For I, Yahweh, do not change.”  You’ll remember that the root of His sacred name is the Hebrew verb “I AM,” which by its very meaning includes the idea of immutability (i.e. unchangeableness).  Now this can be both positive and negative for us sinners.  On the one hand, His love toward us endures forever.  On the other hand, His unchanging holiness and justice demand that sin be punished.  Because He is a righteous God He will never change His attitude toward sin, and thus, though judgment may be long delayed it will eventually be carried out.
  • You and I change all the time, every day.  We are in a constant state of flux—physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.  Nothing about us stays the same.  We can’t comprehend a God that never changes because we can’t begin to envision such a thing.  However, the Word declares that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  • Hearing the LORD say this, the Jews should have breathed a big sigh of relief.  In essence God was saying, “If you weren’t my kids I’d burn you up and wipe you out in a heartbeat.  But because I love you I won’t destroy you, even though that’s what you deserve.”  Here we see that the unchangeableness of Jehovah is also the guarantee of His grace.  He promises that the refining fires will not completely destroy His people.  He gives them His assurance of His continuing mercy.

            So in the Day of Judgment who will be able to stand before God?  Is anyone good enough to be acceptable to Him?  The psalmist asks this same question in Psalm 24:3-4, Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?  And who may stand in His holy place?” Then he answers his own question: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  But wait, that sounds like David is offering us salvation by works!  But David is not talking in absolute terms here, or else no one would ever be able to be saved.  We certainly cannot clean our own hands or purify our own heart—only God can do that, when we humbly come to Him and confess our sins and receive His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
            Notice again that this passage begins with the LORD saying, “You have wearied Me with your words.”  I can’t help but wonder if we too weary Him sometimes, with our pious sounding prayers that are more for the sake of men than for His ears, with our mouthing of the words to praise songs while our minds and hearts are miles away, and with our sometimes hypocritical service done out of obligation rather love for Him.  When we are just going through the motions, does that weary Him?  When we show up for church because we don’t want people to think we are backsliding, but in reality we’d rather be anyplace else, does that tired Him out?  Are we really all that different or that much better than the people He is planning to take to the woodshed in this passage?
            I think that the church in America could use some of that “refiner’s fire” and that “fuller’s soap.”  We need a revival in our land too.  We need what the songwriter, Bessie Porter Head, was asking God for in 1914 when she penned these words to the hymn, “O Breath of Life”:
1. O Breath of life, come sweeping thru us; revive Thy church with life and power.
O Breath of life, come cleanse, renew us, and fit Thy church to meet this hour.

2. O Wind of God, come bend us, break us, till humbly we confess our need;
Then in Thy tenderness remake us; revive, restore, for this we plead.

3. O Breath of love, come breathe within us, renewing thought and will and heart;
Come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us; revive Thy church in every part.

4. O Heart of Christ, once broken for us, ’tis there we find our strength and rest;
Our broken, contrite hearts now solace, and let Thy waiting church be blest.

5. Revive us, Lord!  Is zeal abating, while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive, us Lord, the world is waiting.  Equip Thy church to spread the light.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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