The book of Malachi consists of six complaints which the Lord brought before his people through the prophet Malachi. So far, we’ve studied three of the complaints. In the first, the Lord complained that his people did not appreciate his love for them. And he did love them. After all, hadn’t he chosen them — the descendants of Jacob — to be his people in the world? Of all the nations of the world, he set his love on them and on them alone. And because he chose them and loved them, hadn’t he poured out one blessing after another on them? Hadn’t he given them the Promised Land? Hadn’t he protected them from their enemies? Hadn’t he filled their lives with good things to enjoy? Hadn’t he given them sacrifices to offer for the forgiveness of their sins? Hadn’t he done this and more besides? He had shown again and again that he was for them and not against them, as he was against the descendants of Esau. That was his first complaint.
In the second, his complaint focussed on the priests and on the sacrifices they offered to him. Instead of bringing the best animals to the Lord, they brought any old animal, the animals they wanted rid of, the animals which were worthless. Their attitude seemed to be that it didn’t matter what you brought because the Lord did not matter. And instead of teaching the people to love and honour the Lord, the priests led the people astray and they caused many to stumble. That was the second complaint.
In the third, the Lord complained that the men were marrying foreign women. And remember, the problem was not to do with nationality or race or anything like that. The problem was that these women were unbelievers. Instead of worshipping the Lord, the women worshipped false gods. And the Lord forbade his people from marrying such women, because they would only lead his people astray. And as well as marrying unbelievers, the men were also divorcing ‘the wife of their youth’. That is, they were divorcing their first wives, whereas the will of the Lord for his people who are married is for them to remain married. That was the third complaint.
So, we’ve had three complaints against God’s people. And there are another three to go. And in the middle of today’s passage there is a call to repent. ‘Return to me and I will return to you’, says the Lord. That’s in verse 7 of chapter 3. One Old Testament scholar [LeCureaux cited by Petterson] reminds us that a similar summons appears in Hosea 14 where the prophet said to the people: ‘Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God.’ And that Old Testament scholar makes the point that between Hosea — the first of the Minor Prophets — and Malachi — the last of the Minor Prophets — not a lot has changed. Not a lot has changed, because God’s people remained unfaithful and disobedient and the only reason they were not destroyed is because of God’s faithfulness to his promise to be their God and to keep them. And if we look at our own lives, you may see that while you may have changed in many ways over the years, some things do not change and you still sin against the Lord and you still fall short of doing his will and you still do what you know is wrong. But while we are still sinners, the Lord is still faithful to his promise to be our God and to pardon us for the sake of Christ the Saviour who loved us and gave up his life for us. And so, because of Christ, we are not destroyed, even though that’s what we deserve. We’re not destroyed, because God our Father is faithful and Jesus Christ his Son gave up his life for us. And so, as we read of Israel’s sinfulness, we’re reminded of our own sinfulness. And as we read about God’s faithfulness to them, we’re reminded of his faithfulness to us. And so, we should rejoice and be glad, because our God does not change and his love for us in Christ does not change.
Today we’re going to study the fourth and fifth complaints. The reason I’m going to take these two together is because no one is too sure where the fourth complaint ends and the fifth complaint begins. Some of the commentators say that the fourth complaint begins at verse 17 of chapter 2 and ends at verse 5 of chapter 3. That’s how the NIV divides up the passage. However, some say it ends at verse 7 of chapter 3. And then others says verses 6 and 7 of chapter 3 are transitional. That is, they’re like a hinge between the fourth complaint and the fifth complaint and belong to both complaints. And perhaps you’re thinking it doesn’t really matter one way or another and so, Colin, get on with it. So, rather than make a decision one way or the other, I decided to take the whole passage together. But it’s clear that the core of the Lord’s fourth complaint appears in verse 17 of chapter 2. And the core of the Lord’s fifth complaint appears in verse 8 of chapter 3. The core of the fourth complaint is that they’re wearying the Lord with their words. The core of the fifth complaint is that they’re robbing the Lord. And in the midst of what he says about the fourth complaint, the Lord announces through Malachi the coming of Christ the Lord to refine his sinful people.
Let’s turn to verse 17 of chapter 2 where it says: ‘You have wearied the Lord with your words.’ On Wednesday evenings recently, we were studying the attributes of God to answer the question, ‘What is God like?’ And if you were there, or if you read the sermons which are on my website, you’ll realise that God cannot become weary. He cannot get tired. He cannot get exhausted. You and I get weary. When the children were small and wanted to play, they had bags of energy, but we parents would get tired and weary and we’d want to stop and rest. But God does not get weary, because he does not change. He does not go from being not weary to being weary. And our God is eternally and unchangeably blessed. That means he’s eternally happy and nothing we do can affect his blessed or his happiness in any way. So, when we’re told here that their words were wearying him, the Bible is using human language to communicate to us that what the people were saying was wrong.
What were they saying? According to verse 17, they were saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord and he is pleased with them.’ And they were also saying, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ In other words, why won’t he come and stop the wicked? He’s meant to be a God of justice. So, why won’t he come and stop those who do evil? It almost seems as if he’s pleased with them. And by their words, they were wearying the Lord, because what they were saying about him was wrong.
And the Lord now answers them by telling them in verses 1 to 5 of chapter 3 that he is going to come. They were saying, ‘Where is he?’ And he answers by saying, ‘Where am I? I’m coming.’ But before the Lord comes, he will send his messenger. And the role of the messenger was to prepare the way for the Lord. In ancient times, if a king was coming to visit a city or a province, the king would send his messenger ahead of him to prepare the way. I suppose it literally meant to get the road ready. So, the messenger made sure the road was level and there were no obstacles in the way to impede the king’s progress. And before the Lord comes, he will send his messenger to prepare the way. In this case, it means he will prepare the people spiritually for the coming of the Lord by calling on the people to turn from their sins.
And then, Malachi adds: suddenly, the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple. He will come to his temple, because the temple is the meeting place between God and his people.
Malachi then refers to ‘the messenger of the covenant’. Some commentators think he’s referring to the same messenger as before. But some think he’s referring to someone else. For instance, to an angel. Many think this ‘messenger of the covenant’ is the Lord. It’s not entirely clear, but I don’t think it matters a great deal. The point Malachi is making is clear enough. The people didn’t think God was ever going to come; and the Lord responds by saying that he’s coming. First he’ll send his messenger to prepare the way. And then he’ll come himself.
And who will endure the day of his coming? That’s the question in verse 2. Who can stand when he appears? This suggests that his coming will mean judgment. And it will, as we’ll see in a moment. However, before Malachi speaks of the coming judgment on the unrepentant, he reveals that the Lord will come to refine his people. He will come to them and he will be to them like a refiner’s fire and like a launderer’s soap. Metal is put in the furnace is burn off any impurities. And clothes are washed in soap to remove stains and dirt. And so, when the Lord comes to his people, he will come to refine them and to purify them, to remove from them their sins and all that is unclean and to cleanse them from all that is wrong in their lives. Specifically, he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and he will purify ‘the Levites’ and refine them like gold and silver. The Levites were the ones who served in the temple. And all the priests came from the tribe of Levi. It’s possible therefore that by mentioning the Levites here, Malachi is referring to the priests alone. So, God is coming to refine them. And then, once they are refined, God will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness. In God’s second complaint, he complained that the priests were bringing unacceptable sacrifices. Now he’s announcing that he will refine and purify the priests so that they’ll bring acceptable offerings. Their sacrifices will be right and not wrong.
When the Lord comes, some will be refined and purified. But others will be judged and condemned. And so, in verse 5 he mentions sorcerers and adulterers ad perjurers and those who defraud labourers of their wages and those who oppress widows and orphans and who deprive aliens of justice. All those who do not fear the Lord. That is, all those who are unafraid of disobeying the Lord in this life. So, the God of justice is coming and he will come to condemn and punish the unrepentant wicked. Just because he hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean he has no intention of doing it. Just because he hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean he will never do it. He is a God of justice and one day he will come to condemn and punish the wicked. In that day, he will be quick to condemn.
Verses 6 and 7
But that day has not yet come. And Malachi explains why it hasn’t come yet. It’s because God does not change. He does not change and he’s the same, yesterday, today and forever. And so, in the past, he was patient with his sinful people. And he’s still patient with his sinful people. Ever since the time of their forefathers, God’s people have been unfaithful. They turned away from his decrees and they did not keep them. So, think back, for instance, to the days of Moses, when the Israelites bowed down and worshipped the golden calf instead of remaining true to the Lord their God who had rescued them from Egypt. Ever since those days, the people have been unfaithful. But God, who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, was patient with them. And he did not destroy them, but he pardoned them. And since God does not change, he was the same towards his sinful people right up to the days of Malachi. And because he remains gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, his sinful people are not destroyed. And he was patient with them because he was giving them time to return to him. ‘Return to me’, he says, ‘and I will return to you.’ I will come and bless you, if only you will return to me and obey me. They had begun to think that he did not mind what they did. They had begun to think he did not mind their wickedness. And they did not realise that he had delayed his coming in judgment in order to give them time to turn from their wickedness and to turn back to him. But if they do not repent, he will come to condemn and to punish the unrepentant.
Let’s turn now to his fifth complaint. The Lord complains that they have been robbing him. ‘How?’ they want to know. In tithes and offerings, he replied.
The rules about tithes and offerings appear in Numbers 18. In brief, God’s law required the people to bring a tithe of all their produce to the temple; and this was to be given to the Levites as their income. As I said earlier, the Levites served in the temple. Whereas the rest of the people had family farms, the Levites had no land of their own. And so, they were to live off the tithes of the people. Moreover, the Levites were to give a tithe of the tithe to the priests. The priests also had no land and so they lived off the tithe of the Levites. The priests also received part of the offerings which were brought to the Lord. So, some of the offering was burnt on the altar. Then some of what was left over was sometimes returned to the people so they could eat it before the Lord in a kind of thanksgiving meal. But then, the remainder of the offering was given to the priests and their families. There were also other special offerings which were given to the priests.
If the people were obedient to the law, the Levites and priests would have lived like kings, enjoying the best of the land. They would have had plenty of meat and oil and wine and grain and money to live on. However, it’s clear from what we read in Malachi that the people were not obedient to the Lord. Instead of bringing their tithes and offerings to the Lord to support the Levites and priests, they kept their produce for themselves. The book of Nehemiah refers to the same problem.
But do you remember how the covenant worked? Blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Therefore, since they were disobedient, God had cursed them. He put them all under a curse — the whole nation — because they were robbing God. And so, he summons them now through Malachi to change their ways and to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. That’s the storehouse in the temple where the tithes and offerings were kept. And the Lord invited them to put him to the test. Normally, we’re not to put the Lord to the test. But if he commands it, then we must obey. So, put me to the test. And what is the test? Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Your natural inclination is to think that’s madness. If I give away a tenth of my crop, I won’t have enough to live on. So, I’d better hold on to what I have. But, says the Lord, bring me the whole tithe. Don’t hold back. Don’t keep it for yourself. And see what I will do for you and how I’ll throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour down so much blessing on you that you won’t have anywhere to keep it all. You think the wisest course of action is to keep what you have, when the wisest course of action is to trust me and give your tithe away and I will fill your life with good. And the God who made all things and who sustains all things and who controls all things will prevent pests from destroying your crops and will prevent the vines from dropping their fruit to the ground. And when that happens, the nations will see it and call you blessed.
That’s God’s fourth and fifth complaint. Let’s think about the fifth one first: robbing God with their tithes. While Christians still talk about tithing today, nevertheless the tithe was part of the old covenant which God made with his people in the days of Moses and it was for those people at that time. I say that because the tithe was to support the work of the priests and Levites in the temple and it was connected to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Now that Christ has come as our Great High Priest and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins, we no longer have priests or Levites; and we no longer have animal and grain offerings to sacrifice; and we no longer have a temple. And so, nowhere in the New Testament does God command his people to tithe or to bring a tenth of their produce to the Lord.
However, before you tear up your FWO envelopes and cancel any standing orders, in 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul referred to the way the people in the Old Testament supported the priests and Levites; and he used that as the basis for making an appeal to believers in Corinth to support the work of those who preach the gospel. This is what he wrote:
Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Just as the priests and Levites were entitled to receive a living for their work, so those who preach the gospel are entitled to receive a living for their work. And so, though you’re no longer commanded to give a tithe or tenth of your income to priests and Levites, believers today are commanded to provide for those who preach the gospel. Moreover, in the New Testament, we’re commanded to give generously to help one another. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about a collection for needy believers in Judea and how he wanted the believers in Corinth to set aside a sum of money ‘in keeping with their income’ which he would take to those who needed it. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, he said. In other words, God loves it when his people give cheerfully and not reluctantly and when we give freely and not under compulsion. And Paul also said that whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Sowing generously means giving cheerfully. And God will bless those who give cheerfully so that they’ll have what they need.
Now, Paul does not ever promote what it called ‘the prosperity gospel’, which is that God will make his people wealthy. I mentioned before that we used to get the God Channel on TV when we lived in Co. Kildare and I once saw a preacher encourage his viewers to send him money which would be their seed money. If they send him their seed money, God will give them back lots more in return. So, make me rich and God will make you rich. Paul is not talking about that. He’s talking about Christians being generous with their money in order to help others who are in need and trusting that our Heavenly Father, who knows what we need — what we need mind you — will care for us. And what Paul said to the Corinthians matches what the Lord Jesus said when he taught us not to worry about what we’re eat and wear, but to trust our Heavenly Father who knows what we need and who cares for even the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. Trust him to care for you. And so, instead of seeking more and more money for yourself, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Seek to do his will and to do what is right. And his will for his people is for us to be generous with our money.
Let’s think about the fourth complaint now and, in particular, the promise about that day when the messenger will come and then the Lord will come to his temple. Mark’s gospel begins by quoting from Malachi 3:1 and Mark makes clear that the promised messenger is John the Baptist. In fact, in Matthew 11, the Lord Jesus spoke about John the Baptist. ‘What was he?’ he asked. ‘A prophet? Yes, but he was more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written….’ And then the Lord quoted Malachi 3:1 and he applied it to John.
And so, if John the Baptist was the messenger, then the Lord Jesus is the coming Lord. And when he came, he went to the temple. Do you remember? He overturned the tables there because the people had turned the house of prayer into a market place. But the Lord Jesus came to refine and purify his people, because he shed his blood on the cross to cleanse us from our sin and shame and to remove our guilt from us. Because of his sacrifice of himself, if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are eager to do what is good. And by his Spirit, he works in us to make us holy, teaching us to say ‘no’ to ungodly and sinful desires and to live self-controlled and upright and godly lives in this present evil age. So, he came to refine us by his blood shed on the cross and by his Spirit who lives in us. And not only does he purify us by his Spirit, but he uses the troubles and trials of this life to purify us. And then, in keeping with what Malachi said, the Lord has made us to be a kingdom of priests who are able to offer to God a sacrifice of praise and who are able to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. And one day, we will be glorified in his presence and made completely holy so that we will sin no more.
So, Christ has already come and he came to refine his people. But the Lord Jesus is coming again one day. And when he comes, he will not only gather his people and bring them into God’s presence, but he will come to punish the wicked, all those who did not trust in him or seek salvation from him. Right now, he is patient with them, giving them time to repent. But the day is coming when the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead and to condemn and punish those who never believed in him. They will be condemned for what they have done and for how they have disobeyed God’s laws and fallen short of doing his will. All who trusted in Christ in this life will be admitted to the life to come. But the sorcerers and adulterers ad perjurers and those who defraud labourers of their wages and those who oppress widows and orphans and who deprive aliens of justice and all those who did not fear the Lord and were unafraid to break his law and who never confessed their sin or asked for his forgiveness will be cast into the lake of burning sulphur to be punished for ever and for ever.
Malachi spoke of these things: The coming of John the Baptist. The coming of the Lord to refine and purify his people by his blood and Spirit. And he spoke of the great and terrible day of judgement. That day has not happened yet. The Lord does not change. He was patient in the past and he will continue to be patient, giving sinners everywhere the time to repent. ‘Return to me’, he says. Return to me and I will return to you and bless you with forgiveness and with everlasting life. The Lord longs to be gracious to sinners. He longs to be gracious to them and to show them mercy. And so, he’s patient with them, giving them time to repent, sending them preachers to warn them and to tell them of his love. He’s gracious and merciful and instead of destroying us, he is willing to save all who will repent and believe in his Son.