A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
We continue our study of the Book of Malachi with chapter 3. As we’ll see the Lord isn’t finished with His criticism of Israel’s behavior, and as was the case with the previous chapters some of His complaints about them could just as easily be made about us.
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3:1-5).
Here’s another Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament. First, the Lord would send his messenger to prepare the way. This was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist who called himself “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord make straight paths for Him” (Matt. 3:3). He was quoting Isaiah 40:3.
The Bible is silent about the Lord’s formative years. From His birth to age 30 the only thing we know about is an incident at the Temple when He was 12 (Luke 2:41-52). Then shortly after John began warning the people to get ready He appeared, the one they had long desired.
But He wasn’t what they expected. Instead of being a warrior king like David who would throw off the yoke of foreign rule and restore their kingdom, He was more concerned about their own sinfulness. His focus on the errors of their religious practices angered the priests and although many among the common people loved Him, the leadership rejected Him. They presented trumped-up charges against Him to the Romans and had Him executed as a traitor never realizing that all the time He was the one putting them on trial. Unlike theirs, His verdict was just, and the same Romans who had officiated at His execution oversaw the total destruction of their nation.
Today, the state of the world is similar in many ways to that of Israel in the Lord’s time, and in our study of Malachi’s previous chapters we’ve laid out the case for judgment. But when the Lord returns again there will be no doubt about who He is.
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations (people) of the Earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30).
They will mourn because they will finally realize that the things they had heard and rejected about Him are true, and now it will be too late. Their cries for mercy will go unheard. In the series of judgments that follow His return, believers will be ushered into the Kingdom while unbelievers will be removed from the planet to be held for judgment (Matt. 24:45-Matt. 25:46).
Malachi’s prophecy about the priests will come to pass as well. Ezekiel 44:15-16 tells us that of all the descendants of Levi, only those of the family of Zadok had remained faithful when Israel went astray. Therefore only they will be allowed to stand before the Lord and offer sacrifices to Him in the Millennium. And only they will be allowed to enter His sanctuary to minister before Him.
Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3:6-12).
This first sentence should have immediately put to naught all the claims of replacement theology. It’s the false teaching that says when Israel rejected the Messiah, God transferred all the promises He had made them to the Church and has no more use for the Jewish people. But it should be obvious that while they lost their land for a time, God’s people have never been destroyed. Now He has brought them back to their land physically, and as soon as they return to Him spiritually He will return to them just like He promised. This isn’t the only time God said this. Jeremiah 31:35-37 and Ezekiel 36:22-30 are other examples among many.
In Deut. 6:16 the Lord had told His people not to put Him to the test as their parents had. But the issue of tithing was so important to Him that He dared them to test Him in this matter. In doing so He established an ongoing cause and effect relationship between their giving and His blessing.
Christians who don’t believe in tithing like to point out that we’re not under the Law, so challenges like the one God had Malachi issue don’t apply to us. What they don’t realize is while things like tithing were “have to’s” in the Old Testament, they’ve become “want to’s” in the New Testament. These folks like to remind us that there’s no New Testament commandment to tithe on our income and they’re correct. But while Malachi said Israel had to tithe to restore the loss of material blessing, both Jesus and Paul said they want the Church to tithe to gain the benefit of material blessing. Jesus made it clear that the cause and effect relationship between our giving and His blessing still exists when He said,
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).
Paul confirmed this cause and effect relationship, saying whoever sows generously will also reap generously. First he made it clear that we’re not under compulsion to give. Moreover, our attitude toward giving is important because God loves cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Then he said that forming the habit of giving generously and cheerfully will result in our being made rich in every way so we can be generous on every occasion (2 Cor. 9:11).
Israel Speaks Arrogantly Against God
“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it’”(Malachi 3:13-15).
In effect, they were denying the cause and effect relationship God had challenged them to test. They claimed to have experienced no benefit from serving Him while evil people around them prospered. They were accusing the “evildoers” who had accepted God’s challenge, and received its blessing, of putting one over on God. Like immature children they were tattling on others in an attempt to deflect the blame from themselves.
In Psalm 37 God had anticipated this complaint and provided His answer.
Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun (Psalm 37:1-6)
People who write to me complaining that they have started giving more, but haven’t seen any blessing, are missing the point. Generous and cheerful givers don’t expect anything in return, they’re giving out of gratitude for what they’ve already received. While they trust the Lord’s promise to bless them, it’s not the reason for their giving.
Giving more with the expectation of receiving more is not being generous, it’s being selfish. And unless we can learn to be grateful for the little we already have, we’ll never be grateful for the abundance He wants us to have (John 10:10). Besides, we’re not expressing our gratitude because God has made us rich, we’re expressing our gratitude because God has saved our eternal life.
The Faithful Remnant
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not (Malachi 3:16-18).
Letting the people know about the scroll of remembrance accomplished two things. First, it told them that those who improperly took advantage of His test hadn’t gotten away with anything. By saying He could hear the conversations of the people who feared Him, He was implying that He could also hear the conversations of the people who didn’t.
But more importantly, it answered their complaint that there was no benefit in serving the Lord. The people who sincerely feared Him and honored His name would be spared on the judgment day and would dwell in His Kingdom, and they would know that the Lord is able to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.
In 2 Tim 4:8 Paul spoke of a crown of righteousness that the Lord will award him on “that day”. He said he wouldn’t be the only believer who will receive one. All those who long for the Lord’s appearing will also qualify. This implies that some believers will qualify for this crown and others won’t.
You may wonder why we should be rewarded simply for wanting Him to come back for us. I think it’s because we who long for His appearing are demonstrating that we “get it.” We get that even if we have a good life here, it doesn’t compare to the life that’s coming and we can’t wait for it to begin. We get that it doesn’t matter if evildoers seem to prosper, we take delight in the Lord and will receive the desire of our heart. We get that we live in a world that openly celebrates its rebellion against God. But we know that this world will soon be gone and the next one will exist forever. We get that in this world we’ll have trouble, but we take heart because Jesus has overcome the world, and we know He has promised to come to take us out of it. In other words, we get that the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for judgment while continuing their punishment (1 Peter 2:9). Chapter 4 next time. See you then 06-29-13.