Devotional: Malachi 3:1-18
Often prophecies have multiple layers in them, both announcements of near events and those that involve the last days of this sinful world system and Christ’s second coming. At first glance, this seemed to be the case here in Malachi 3. Verse 1 definitely falls into the category of near events (well, 400 years from the time of this prophecy, but NOT referring to the end times). The “messenger” that God says He will send to prepare the way is John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:1-3 and 11:7-10). The Lord they were seeking is Jesus, the “Anointed One” (translated Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek). Then, in verse 2 it sounds more like a description of our LORD when He comes as the conquering King. Take a look at Revelation 6:17, 19:12, Zechariah 12-13. The description sounds similar, but let’s apply Hebrews 13:8 here. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. I think that can mean not only that what He was (part of the Holy Godhead) at His first coming, He still is, but also that what He WILL BE, He already is now—and was at the time of Malachi’s prophecy. Think of it this way, absolutely no one who came into contact with Him while He walked this earth remained the same as they were before they met Him. People either repented and accepted Him as their Messiah or they rejected Him and absolutely hated Him. The New Living Translation words verse 3 this way, “3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” His holiness burned away the “Godly” outer coating of the Pharisees and religious leaders, leaving their dark hearts fully revealed to all.
I notice that verse 6 connects with Hebrews 13:8. This is also a promise to the people of Israel: God has not and will not reject His chosen people (see Romans 9:27 and Romans 11). This is important to remember now in the time when anti-Semitism is once again becoming prevalent in the world—including the USA.
Verses 7-12: What are tithes, and how do they tie in with “food in My house”? A little background here makes this clear, and also tells us how it can apply to us today. Numbers 18:8-14 tells us that the LORD designated what was left over from the sacrifices and offerings was given to the priests and the Levites to eat. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 explains the tithe as an offering of “one-tenth” (the meaning of the word “tithe”) of a new crop. This ties in also with “firstfruits” offerings, I think, in that it is not only a thank offering for the LORD’s provision of food, but also the guarantee of the rest of the crop being set apart by God as “useful” (in this case, for food). Since the Levites didn’t have a portion of land to call their own, and they were kept busy working in the Tabernacle and then (by Malachi’s time) the Temple, they did not have the ability to grow their own food. This was God’s plan for providing for them. God is saying through Malachi that they have been shortchanging Him in what they brought as a “tenth” of their new crops (“bring the WHOLE tithe in to the storehouse”), and because of this there was not enough food in His House (the Temple) to feed the Temple workers.
While we think of tithes generally as money, this ties in with what we have been learning about using our gifts to build up the body of Christ. If we are not using those gifts that He has provided us with (as He provided the crops to Israel), then we are in some fashion adversely affecting the amount of spiritual food that is designed to equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11-14). If we are not all using our gifts, then someone is having to fill in that “gap” and that takes away from their fulfilling their own function.
It is also important to remember that nowhere is the Body of Christ called to tithe, to give a tenth of our income. Instead, according to Paul (2 Corinthians 9:7), we are to give cheerfully whatever is on our hearts to give, which could be more or less than a “tenth” would be. Applying this to using our gifts, we are to use them cheerfully, and not stingily.
Verses 13-18: The thing that stood out to me in this section was the last sentence. The NLT puts it this way, “18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” I have to ask myself, can people see a difference between me and the world system? Our culture is hard at work seeking to undermine our testimonies for Christ. Public figures claim faith in God, but by their actions prove that they are not concerned about what He thinks. Society is pressuring us to follow suit. While it looks like verse 15 is true in our day, I think Malachi is calling the Body of Christ to re-affirm their commitment to serve Him. We need to quit seeking what we can “get” from Him, and start to give Him what He is due instead.
Putting this all together, there are a three things we must ask ourselves. First, how often do I treat Lord Jesus as a silent Lamb and forget He is at the same time my King and Holy Judge. We need to remember that and give Him the honor, respect and obedience due to Him. Second, are we giving back to Him what He has put in us (spiritual gifts) or are we withholding it, “robbing” Him of a healthy Body? Lastly, are we following/serving Christ because of what we think we will get out of it, or because we know He deserves our allegiance?
Most musicians and people who enjoy classical music recognize Handel’s Messiah as an inspired masterpiece, and “The Hallelujah Chorus” is known world-wide. I have always felt like something of an oddball because my favorite piece from the Messiah is the chorus “And He Shall Purify,” which is based on Malachi 3 verse 3. The bass vocal soloist sings, from verse 1, “The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in.” Then he sings “But who may abide the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire.” At the end of that song, the chorus immediately begins to sing “And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” The sopranos, altos, tenors and basses all take turns, singing in a complicated round that repeats and overlaps and echoes. Meanwhile, playing in the orchestra, I have had a page to turn, and only two beats to jump into the bass part which is like a speeding train. I love to play this because of the challenge (if I miss the beginning, it is almost impossible to find the right place) and also because of the joy of the words and the music that remind me of the purification Jesus makes available to us, so that we can be righteous in His sight. This week I read some commentaries about this passage. The question “Who can endure?” uses a word, mekalkel, which grammarians call a reduplicated form. Part of the word is doubled, the k and l sound in this case, which supposedly signifies repeated action or sustained state. This commentator, (from working preacher, from Luther seminary) wrote that with this sound effect Malachi emphasizes the challenge and struggle that will accompany the Lord’s coming. It will require endurance. The metaphors for cleansing, refining by fire, cleansing with fuller’s soap “suggest stringent reproof that is bound to involve pain,” but reveals the high value placed on that which is being purified. After purification, the priests will be able to present offerings in the way God requires, in righteousness. (Jin H Han, professor of Biblical studies.) I thought it interesting that Handel also interpreted this verse with repetition and challenge and struggle. A refiner’s fire melts. It separates, so that each metal can be purely itself. God changes us by releasing us from impurities. Only Jesus has the power to make clean what is unclean, so that we can offer what is pleasing to the Lord. (these thoughts are from Melinda Quivik, another commentator on this site.) This week I listened to several recordings of this song, including choirs and a newer version by Quincy Jones called “Handel’s Messiah, A Soulful Celebration” which is a modern gospel interpretation. If you are so inclined, you might like to check it out. If I didn’t love this music, from many years of exposure to it, I might think it is boring. Repetitious. And yet the promise is worth hearing over and over again, worth shouting from the rooftops in praise. All our righteousness is filthy rags, all our offerings are blemished and imperfect, but He shall purify, that we may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness, in righteousness, in righteousness, in righteousness. In His righteousness.
Devotional reading to be shared on July 1st: Malachi 4 (or 3:19-24, depending on your Bible)