Committed to Doing Right
Malachi 2:17–3:5; 4:1
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Summarize what Malachi said in response to questions about God’s justice.
2. List some ways that a lack of commitment to doing right wearies the Lord today.
3. Make a plan to resist one cultural trend that opposes God’s expectations for justice.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Haggai. HAG-eye or HAG-ay-eye.
Sinai. SIGH-nye or SIGH-nay-eye.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Aug. 20—God’s Concern for the People (Psalm 34:11–22)
Tuesday, Aug. 21—Our Works Are Tested (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)
Wednesday, Aug. 22—God Judges Our Hearts (1 Corinthians 4:1–5)
Thursday, Aug. 23—God Will Judge (Malachi 2:17–3:7)
Friday, Aug. 24—Will Anyone Rob God? (Malachi 3:8–12)
Saturday, Aug. 25—Choosing Between Good and Evil (Malachi 3:13–18)
Sunday, Aug. 26—The Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:1–6)
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” … But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?
—Malachi 3:1, 2
Why Teach this Lesson?
We all live on a fallen and wounded planet. One result of the fall is an inherent unfairness to life. Your students have seen righteous and holy people suffer from cancer, fail in a business, or lose a child. They have also seen people who mocked God’s name get rich and live full and healthy lives. No doubt many have wondered (though they may not admit it aloud) whether God is paying attention.
Some folks frame the matter very directly. In a world where innocent children get AIDS and hurricanes devastate cities, they assert, “If God is good, he cannot be all-powerful; if God is all-powerful, then he cannot be good.” Your students may have heard that statement and struggled to respond. Today, Malachi will help your students frame a biblical response.
A. “Now Go Do the Right Thing”
Laura Schlesinger’s radio program
has become one of the most well known and most listened to in the highly
competitive world of talk radio. Her no-
nonsense approach, characterized by a strong emphasis on Judeo-Christian values, has gained her a significant following. At the end of each hour of her broadcast, “Dr. Laura” concludes with this brief but compelling advice: “Now go do the right thing.” Such counsel seems simple. Yet there is no question that if listeners really took it to heart and applied it to their circumstances, they would avoid numerous heartaches and tensions. Perhaps Dr. Laura would find herself with far fewer callers to deal with!
Today’s lesson comes from Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet chronologically, is the final messenger of God to address God’s people before the gap of 400 years until the New Testament era begins. As we will see today, the book of Malachi closes the Old Testament with an appeal from God that is appropriate for his people to hear, whether in an Old Testament or a New Testament setting. It may be summarized as, “Now go do the right thing.”
B. Lesson Background
Malachi’s circumstances were somewhat different from those of the other prophets we have studied this quarter. Yet the basic thrust of what all these men of God had to say is the same: being part of God’s covenant people means much more than basking in a special status. God expects a certain lifestyle of those who lay claim to that status. One of the primary tasks of God’s prophets throughout the Old Testament was to call his people to account when they failed to carry out their sacred responsibility.
Not much is known about Malachi himself. One bit of information is his name. In Hebrew it means “my messenger”—a theme that will become crucial in today’s text. We must examine information within the book itself to learn the time in the history of God’s people when Malachi likely prophesied.
Such an investigation points to the time of Nehemiah as perhaps the best fit for Malachi’s ministry. This is because many of the sins highlighted in the book of Malachi are the same sins that Nehemiah had to confront. These included indifference toward the kind of sacrifices required by the Lord (Nehemiah 10:37–39; Malachi 1:6–14), disregard for the Lord’s teaching concerning marriage (Nehemiah 13:23–27; Malachi 2:14–16), and the bringing of tithes and offerings to support the Lord’s work (Nehemiah 10:37–39; 13:10–13; Malachi 3:8–10). Furthermore, the mention of a governor in Malachi 1:8 fits well with Nehemiah’s time, since he was recognized by that title (Nehemiah 5:14).
Nehemiah had traveled to Jerusalem in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia (445 b.c.). He went there primarily to spearhead efforts to rebuild the wall of the city (Nehemiah 2:1–11). This was approximately 100 years after the Jews had first returned from captivity in Babylon, and about 70 years after the second temple had been completed through the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Today’s Scripture from Malachi focuses on his challenges to God’s people in his own day. But it also highlights a portion of his glimpse into the future and of what God planned to accomplish through a messenger far greater than Malachi—the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. People’s Complaint (Malachi 2:17)
A. Malachi Alleges (v. 17a)
17a. You have wearied the Lord with your words.
Much of Malachi is written as if the Lord is engaging his people in a dialogue. Malachi pictures the Lord as making a statement; then he pictures the people as challenging the statement. The Lord then responds to the challenge. In so doing he calls attention to an area of his people’s relationship with him that they have neglected. Examples of these dialogues are found in Malachi 1:2, 6-7; 2:13-14; 3:7-8, 13–15, as well as in the verses before us.
Here Malachi claims you have wearied the Lord with your words. One may ask how this can be true in light of Isaiah 40:28, which declares, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord … will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” But there is no contradiction. The Lord does not grow weary in the sense of losing his power, strength, or majesty; he can become weary (meaning frustrated and disappointed) with the behavior of his people and their refusal to heed his call to change.
What Do You Think?
What was a situation in which you think you may have wearied the Lord with your words? How do you guard against doing so again?
[Use Psalm 78:35, 36; Matthew 7:21; and Titus 1:16 to inform your answer.]
B. People Ask (v. 17b)
17b. “How have we wearied him?” you ask.
One can understand why the people would want to know how they have wearied the Lord. Have they spoken blasphemous, angry, or lying words? Have they been “babbling like the pagans” (as Jesus would later call it in Matthew 6:7) in their prayers? Is God concerned because their lives are not consistent with their words? What’s the deal?
C. Malachi Answers (v. 17c)
17c. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
Here is the answer to the people’s inquiry. The words that have wearied the Lord are words that have questioned his justice. It appears to the people that the Lord no longer cares whether evil is punished or good is rewarded. Earlier, the prophet Isaiah declared, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Has the Lord done the same? It seems so to Malachi’s audience.
What Do You Think?
We hope that there would be very few who would openly state that those who do evil are good in the sight of God! Yet may we unknowingly convey this false message in other ways? How do you guard yourself in this respect?
Why would God’s people speak so critically of the Lord? At this point in Old Testament history, God’s people have been back in the promised land for nearly 100 years. They know the words of the prophets who had spoken of a glorious new day for God’s people. That day is to be ushered in by the coming of the Branch (Isaiah 4:2–6; 11:1–3; Jeremiah 23:5–8; 33:15-16). They know of God’s promise to “place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them” (Ezekiel 34:23).
But where is this special person? When will he come and do all that the prophets had said he would do? God’s people had finished the temple many decades previously. Hadn’t a prophet declared that at that time the Lord would “fill this house with glory” and that “the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house” (Haggai 2:7, 9)? The people have done their part—why hasn’t the Lord done his? Where is his glory?
II. Lord’s Coming (Malachi 3:1–5; 4:1)
A. Preparation (v. 1a)
1a. “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
The Lord proceeds to answer the challenge. He has not forgotten his promises. “Where is the God of justice?” He is coming, but he will not come without a messenger to prepare the way before him.
Earlier we noted that the name Malachi means “my messenger.” Here the Lord promises another messenger. Malachi 4:5 describes him as “the prophet Elijah.” The New Testament is clear that John the Baptist is the one who fulfills Malachi’s prophecy in his role as the forerunner of Christ (Mark 1:1–4). Jesus equated John the Baptist’s ministry with the promised coming of Elijah (Matthew 17:10–13).
The Advance Team
My wife and I were in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1980s when then-President Ronald Reagan was to visit the city for a speech. As we drove down the highway on which the presidential motorcade was to pass, we noticed police officers guarding the route. We drove downtown that evening to see if we could get a glimpse of the president. The streets were cleared of traffic and there were no parked cars along the path the motorcade was to follow. Barricades were up.
Arriving that evening at our friends’ house, we greeted our hostess. She worked as a nurse at a hospital between the airport and downtown. She said she would not be coming home until the president’s plane had cleared Cincinnati airspace.
All of these details were accomplished by an advance team. This team took great care and precaution to ensure that every eventuality was covered and that the president was kept safe for his entire visit. The team wanted nothing to impede the safe progress of the president in accomplishing his mission.
John the Baptist came as a kind of one-man advance team for the Messiah. He did all he could to prepare the way for Jesus. The church today plays the role of the advance team for the second coming of Christ. How are you preparing yourself and the world for his return? —A. E. A.
Visual for Lesson 13
Point to this depiction of John the Baptist as you ask, “How will you be the Lord’s messenger today?”
B. Place (v. 1b)
1b. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.
As noted previously, part of the reason God’s people question his whereabouts and his justice is the fact that the temple had been finished many decades previously. Perhaps they are expecting a display of glory similar to what occurred when the first temple was dedicated (1 Kings 8:10-11). Thus far nothing at all like that has been witnessed with the second temple.
However, the glory of the Lord will, in time, fill this second temple. That is exactly what takes place when the Lord Jesus Christ enters there during his earthly ministry.
The word suddenly depicts how most people are caught off guard when he arrives because he comes in a manner that is unexpected. God’s glory will enter the temple, but not in the dramatic way it had filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) or the first temple. Rather it will come about because “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
What Do You Think?
How will you use Malachi 3:1b to influence your behavior as you wait for the return of Christ?
C. Program (v. 1c)
1c. The messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi now declares the Lord to be another type of messenger—the messenger of the covenant. Thus one messenger (John the Baptist) will prepare the way for another messenger (Jesus), who will establish a new covenant.
Earlier, Malachi referred to two other covenants. One was “the covenant with Levi,” involving the priests; in Malachi’s day they have “turned from the way” (Malachi 2:8) and neglected their sacred duties. The other is “the covenant of our fathers” (2:10), which probably refers to the covenant God had established at Sinai. That covenant had been profaned (again, 2:10). Clearly there was a need for a new and better covenant. That is exactly what Jesus comes to establish (Jeremiah 31:31–34; compare Hebrews 8:8–12; 10:16-17).
It may be with a tinge of sarcasm that Malachi describes the messenger of the covenant as one whom you desire. The people of Malachi’s day act as if they desire the Lord to come and vindicate himself. But will they be ready to welcome him when he does? Sadly, most in Jesus’ day were not (John 1:11).
D. Purpose (vv. 2, 3a)
2, 3a. 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.
The two questions in this portion of our text are to be considered rhetorical; that is, they are asked not in order to produce an answer but to challenge people to think. Lest people become too complacent about the Lord’s promised coming, they should realize that when he comes he will make some serious changes!
A refiner’s fire is used to burn away impurities from precious metals such as silver (compare Isaiah 48:10; Zechariah 13:9). A launderer’s soap (an alkaline lye) is used to cleanse, bleach, and sometimes dye cloth. Most likely the cleansing represented by these processes refers to a spiritual cleansing.
What Do You Think?
In what areas of your life has God had to apply his refining fire and purifying soap? How is your life better as a result? In what areas do you still need God’s purification?
Thus it is easy to see why the question is raised as to who can endure or stand such treatment. The sins from which people need to be cleansed are too numerous to count. This messenger of the covenant comes to perform what in today’s terms would be considered an extreme makeover—on the inside!
E. Product (vv. 3b, 4)
3b, 4. 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.
The Levites include the priests, who have already been called to account for having “violated the covenant with Levi” (Malachi 2:8). The priests have also been charged with offering blemished, unacceptable offerings to the Lord (1:6–10). All of this will change when the Lord’s purifying work has been accomplished.
These verses describe another dimension of the consequences of Jesus’ work as the “messenger of the [new] covenant” (Malachi 3:1). One of the most significant characteristics of the new covenant is that every Christian serves the Lord as a priest (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). Priests offer sacrifices and good works. Similarly, every Christian is called to offer the sacrifice of praise and good works to God (Hebrews 13:15-16).
The period described as the days gone by and former years may refer to any period in the history of God’s people when there was a greater consistency between the sacrifices they offered and the lives they lived. This would have been true during the reigns of godly kings such as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
F. Punishment (3:5; 4:1)
5. “So I will come near to you for judgment. 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 aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
While some will choose to accept the refiner’s cleansing fire, others will refuse to undergo the purifying process. Those who refuse will one day learn, to their ruination, that the fire of refinement can also become a fire of judgment.
Several of the sins mentioned in this verse bring to mind some of the Ten Commandments as listed in Deuteronomy 5. These include the actions of adulterers (Seventh Commandment), perjurers (Ninth Commandment), and those who defraud laborers of their wages (this amounts to stealing, a violation of the Eighth Commandment).
To engage in the practices of sorcerers could violate the First Commandment, which prohibits the worship of other gods. The neglect of the widows, the fatherless, and aliens is forbidden in Exodus 22:21-22; Deuteronomy 24:17–22. All of these sins (indeed, any sin) can be traced to one root cause: they are the consequence of failing to fear the Lord.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think that many today do not fear the Lord? In what ways would your life change for the better if you had a greater fear of the Lord?
Recall how our printed text began with Malachi alluding to the people’s inquiry: “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17). The verse before us gives the answer: he will come, and his judgment will be quick when he does come. Malachi’s words are reminiscent of what Peter writes concerning Jesus’ return in 2 Peter 3:9, 10.
I was visiting a church one Sunday for the first time. In talking with the minister, he learned that I too was a preacher. But somewhere along the line he got my first name (Gene) confused with another man he knew (Gus). Gus and I have the same last name, although we are not related and have never met.
At the close of the service, the preacher called on me for the prayer. Before I prayed, he told the congregation about the family of Gus and how they had meant so much to his family through the years back in West Virginia. Many came to me after the service just thrilled at the great story the preacher had told about “my family.”
This case of mistaken identity was hard to deal with given the situation. But there is another case of mistaken identity that is even worse. We see the fatherless and the widow, and we mistake them for the lazy who shouldn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Though we may smugly rejoice at the thought that swift judgment will be meted out on the sorcerers and the adulterers, we fail to see that the same judgment will be made against those who ignore innocent people who are in genuine need. —A. E. A.
4:1. “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”
This verse also emphasizes the certainty of coming judgment. Both the attitudes of the arrogant and the actions of every evildoer are highlighted. Earlier prophets had used the terms root and branch as the basis for prophecies concerning the coming Messiah (Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). Now we see that this judgment pronounced by Malachi will be so complete as to leave not a root or a branch.
Thus we have seen today’s text describe the impact of both the first and second comings of the messenger of the covenant—Jesus. With his first coming, he initiates a ministry of cleansing and purifying through his sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection. That ministry continues through the testimony of faithful Christians who bear witness to what Jesus can do for others through the gospel message.
At his second coming, however, the refining ministry of Jesus will mean judgment on those who have not accepted for themselves his cleansing power. It is similar to saying that those who do not acknowledge Jesus as the “cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6) will find him to be “stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (1 Peter 2:8). The kind of rock and the kind of refiner that Jesus will be for us is up to us. Our choice!
The phrase “might makes right” is familiar. This reflects a belief that the strong or those in positions of authority generally gain the upper hand because of their ability to exercise sheer force. The supremacy they possess due to these factors gives them the power to determine what is “right” and to enforce their will on others.
The more biblical view (and the theme of today’s study) is that “right makes might.” When an individual is committed to doing right in the sight of the Lord, he or she gains a sense of accomplishment and purpose that not even the mightiest “might makes right” advocate can possess.
We began with a reference to Dr. Laura’s oft-heard counsel, “Now go do the right thing.” Consider how often Jesus gave essentially the same challenge. After telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). He told the disciples after washing their feet, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
Have you learned some important lessons from your studies this quarter? Sit down and make a list of the top ten lessons you have gleaned. With each one, list an action step that you can take in order to apply that particular insight. And then—“Go and do likewise.”
Thought to Remember
Right makes might—not just believing it, but doing it.
Father, forgive us when we fail to do right. Forgive us for those times when a Christian’s influence was needed—yet we remained silent and inactive. May we follow the example of Jesus, “who went around doing good” (Acts 10:38). May our light shine in this sinful world. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing