The sun of righteousness. 3:13-4:3
In our passage for study, 3:13-4:3, Malachi focuses on Israel's claim that their independence, their self-sufficiency, is the way to success, 3:13-15. In the face of this problem, Malachi brings a word of promise, a promise defined in terms of future blessing, of the dawning of a new age when the "sun of righteousness" comes. The promise of divine blessing is for those who repent, 3:16, but for those who do not repent, only judgement is promised, 4:1.
v13. The Lord brings a charge against his people, a charge that they speak perversely against him; they are repeating malicious gossip. The people's response is "what are the words?"
v14. The words are the whispered thoughts of a people faced with a harsh environment and a corrupted humanity. They have seen no gain in obeying the Law, nor in fulfilling their religious duty, ie. they have concluded that the righteous are not rewarded.
v15. In fact, it seems that those who live an evil life are the ones who succeed; they are the "blessed" ones - happy, prosperous and satisfied, ie. the wicked are not punished. The selfishness of the wicked is vindicated in their successful life.
v16. Some of the people recognize that these "harsh" words are evil and so they repent; they hear the prophet's words, respond in mutual confession and are, in turn, heard by the Lord. The Lord then acts to record their names in the "scroll of remembrance", the "book of life" that has always existed to record the names of those who revere and esteem the Lord, cf. Ex.32:32.
v17. In response, the Lord makes a binding promise to the remnant of the people. Because they are his special people, his own possession, he will gather them to himself and protect them as he did Israel during the time of the Exodus.
v18. It may be difficult to distinguish between the remnant and those Israelites who now consider that the selfish self-sufficient-ones are the blessed-ones, but the day is coming when the distinction will be patently clear.
4:1. The coming day of judgment will clarify the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, for the wicked will be consumed by fire, they will be annihilated.
v2. In that day, those under God's grace will be bathed with a gift of right-standing in the sight of God. This righteousness, like warm rays of the sun, will enable them to stand forgiven and eternally accepted in the sight of God. Like calves released from a stall, they will leap free, eternally free from guilt, self and fear.
v3. The remnant will then take up their task of ruling with the messiah, executing judgment on his behalf.
A Rabbi, enslaved in a Nazi concentration camp, was faced with the horror of watching his brothers and sisters being gassed. He was heard to pray, "Lord, act to vindicate your people", yet there was no vindication, just slaughter. In the midst of the horror he finally exclaimed, "there is no God."
For Israel in Malachi's day, there was a pervading sense that piety mattered little to God. In fact, it was felt that pragmatic self-sufficiency was more likely to promote success than a piety that attempted to apply Biblical principles. Yet, there was a remnant of the people who did not hold with this thinking. For this remnant, there is a coming day when the difference between right and wrong will become manifest. In that day, the self-sufficient will be totally consumed, annihilated, while the children of grace will receive the crown of salvation; they will be redeemed as if bathed in the healing rays of the sun. When this day dawns, it will be those counted righteous before God who will reign, while the self-sufficient will stand condemned. It is then the difference will become manifest.
The Rabbi had to deal with the stark reality that it seemed to matter little to God whether the holocaust continued, or not. He chose to rest on sight rather than faith, a faith in the God who promises to put things right.
God's people today have to wrestled with similar observations, although not nearly as horrific. Our eyes seem to declare that God has little concern over how we conduct our life. In fact, it would seem that the more self-sufficient we are, the more we detach ourselves from Biblical principles, or at least, the more we reinterpret those principles in line with good secular pragmatics, the more we succeed.
The prophet encourages us to give greater weight to a divine Word than a secular pragmatic, even though the distinction between the two must await the last day, the day when Christ will cover us like the warming rays of the sun. Meanwhile, we can only but rest on the Lord and his promise that he will put all things right.
1. Is a pragmatic solution to a problem evil in itself? Explain.
2. When does a good pragmatic solution become a spiritual problem?
3. Test your church program to see whether any successful pragmatics have overridden Biblical principles.
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