Where Is The God Of Justice Malachi 2:17-3:6
When Judah returned to her land, she expected to experience prosperity and glory as in the days of Solomon. But such was not the case! In fact, the opposite was true. Their wicked enemies lived in prosperity while Judah suffered privation. This caused the people to question whether God was truly holy and just.
Malachi warned Judah that their murmuring was wearing thin the patience of God, for he said, “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words” (2:17). Once again Judah claimed to be ignorant of the charge against them and questioned, ‘In what way have we wearied him?” (2:17).
Malachi specified three false complaints Judah had uttered against God. First, “Everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord . . .” (v. 17). The leaders reasoned that the Lord prospered the wicked and left His own righteous people in poverty; therefore, the wicked must be considered good in God’s eyes. Second, “he delighteth in them” (v. 17). Not only did God prosper the wicked, but He took pleasure in doing so, said Judah. Third, they asked, “Where is the God of justice?” (v. 17). With sarcastic skepticism they questioned whether God was even available to take just action against the wicked.
Judah questioned God because material prosperity in the eyes of the Old Testament believer was a sign of God’s blessing only to those who were obedient to Him. Others, such as Job (Job 21:7-26), David (Ps. 73:1-14), Solomon (Eccl 8:14), Jeremiah (Jer. 12:1-4), and Habakkuk (Hab. I), were perplexed over God’s blessing of the wicked too. In the New Testament God revealed that His blessings come upon the just and the unjust alike (Mt 5:45). Although the wicked do prosper, God’s hand of judgment ultimately falls upon them (Ps. 73: 11-20; Hab. 2:3; 3:2-9).
Judah totally misunderstood the ways of God. He never winked at wickedness nor took delight in the wicked, as Judah should have known from her past history (Isa. 5:8-22). The opposite is true, for “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 17:15).
“Where is the God of justice?” Little did Judah know what she was asking! God would respond to Judah’s question, but not in the way she expected, for the Lord not only appeared to execute judgment on the Gentiles, but on sinners in Judah as well (3:5).
THE MESSENGER’S PREPARATION (v. 1)
Malachi stated that before the Lord appeared He would send His messenger to prepare the way (v. 1). Who is the messenger to whom he is referring? It is not an “angel,” although angels were used as messengers from God. There is no record that an angel brought a message to Israel before the Messiah appeared at the Temple, Neither is the messenger “Malach” (although his name means messenger), for the message was not to be presented in his day. It would be given when the Messiah came to “his temple” (v. 1).
The messenger would be one who shall prepare the way before” (v. 1; cp. Isa. 40:3) the Messiah, It is clear from Scripture that John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy (Mt. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lu. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) when he announced the Lord’s first coming. Jesus confirmed that Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist (Mt. 11:10). John was equated with Elijah as well, for he came in the spirit and power of the prophet (Mt. 11:14; 17:10-13; Lu. 1:17). But why did John deny that he was the Elijah who was to come (Jn. 1:21)? It could be that John was denying to be Elijah according to Jewish expectations in the first century.
Not only were the priests unprepared for the Messiah’s coming in John’s day (Mt 3:7-10), but they were putting spiritual stumbling blocks in the way of the people which he had to remove. In biblical times it was customary to send men ahead to smooth the road, remove obstacles such as stones of stumbling and fill in ruts for a great leader or king who was coming. The fact that John had to clear the way showed that people were spiritually unprepared for the Messiah’s coming. Neither are most people ready for His coming today.
MESSIAH PRESENTED (v. 1)
Malachi shifts from speaking about the messenger to the coming of the Messiah. The words “before me.. . saith the Lord of hosts” (v. 1) indicate that God is speaking of the Messiah, for the “me” (v. 1) is connected with “’Lord” and “the messenger of the covenant” (v. 1). The first “Lord” (v. 1) is the Messiah (God’s Son) and the second “LORD” (v. 1) is God the Father who is doing the speaking, showing a plurality in the Godhead.
The Messiah will “suddenly [unexpectedly] come to his temple” (v. 1). Jesus did appear unexpectedly at the Temple during His first coming when He was dedicated by His parents (Lu. 2:21-38), and He later came to cleanse it (Jn. 2:14-16; Mt. 21:12-13). But the word “sudden” appears “twenty-five times in the Old Testament and in every case except one (2 Chr. 29:36) it is connected with disaster or judgment.”1 Therefore, reference in this verse is to the Messiah’s Second Coming, a time called “Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), when His judgment will fall on all unrighteous men.
Messiah is called “the messenger [angel] of the covenant” (v. 1). Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy in a number of ways. First, He was involved with God the Father when He made a number of covenants with Israel, both unconditional (such as the Abrahamic Covenant [Gen. 12:1-3] and conditional (as in the Mosaic Covenant [Ex. 19:5-8]). Second, He was the “angel of the Lord” who appeared in a number of Christophanies unto Israel (Gen. 17:1; 18:1; Ex. 3:2; Jud. 13:6,9). Third, He was the “angel of the Lord” who led Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 14:19), protected her in the wilderness (Isa. 63:9) and provided safe passage to the land of Canaan (Ex. 23:20-23). Fourth, He is “the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:24; 8:8-13).
Malachi reminded Judah that this coming Messiah is the One they “seek” and “delight in” (v. 1). The prophet could mean this in one of three ways. First, the Messiah for whom you desire, seek and hope will come. Second, you only seek His coming to bring judgment on the Gentiles (2:17).
Third, in light of their sinful condition, Malachi spoke sarcastically to expose their real motive — they professed to seek the Lord while not truly desiring His coming.2
Many today profess that they are wanting, waiting and watching for the Lord’s return, but in reality do not want Him to come until they finish living out the good life.
MESSIAH’S PURGING (vv. 2-4)
The prophet asked two rhetorical questions concerning the Messiah’s coming, “But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth?” (v. 2) . This prophecy combines aspects of Messiah’s first and second comings but finds ultimate fulfillment at His second advent when He judges the nations (Mt. 25:31-41) and the rebellious in Israel (Ezek. 20:33-44) . Who shall stand when He appeareth? No unrighteous person!
The illustrations of “fire” and “soap” (v. 2) are given to describe what Messiah’s purging will be like when He comes in judgment. Fire is used to purge the dross from metal. The “refiner [smelter] and purifier of… gold and silver” (v.3) sits over a pot of molten metal in control of the purifying process. He strains or filters out the dross until the metal is pure. When the metal becomes like a liquid mirror and he sees the reflected image of his face, the process is complete.
The fuller (laundryman) would take his soap (like lye or bleach), mixed with water, and scrub the cloth on a hard surface until the dirt was removed and the white garment glistened. Judah was so steeped in sin before her captivity (586 B.C.) that “lye, and … soap” (Jer. 2:22) would not remove her iniquity. Even after her captivity, violence covered the garments of many in Judah (2:16).
God’s purpose in cleansing the “sons of Levi” (v. 3) was to make them fit for service so they could present their “offering in righteousness” (v. 3). Only then would “the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant [acceptable] unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years”
(v. 4). Most likely these “days” are in reference to the time of Moses and the united kingdom period under David and Solomon. During the Millennial Kingdom, animal sacrifices will be offered in righteousness by Israel’s priesthood (Ezek. 44:15), not for sin, but in memorial to the finished work of Christ’s sacrificial death.
There are a number of different judgments mentioned in the Bible. First is the judgment of the believer’s sins which occurred when Christ died on the cross. He has now been Justified by putting faith in Christ (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1). Second, the believer judges himself whenever there is known sin in his life — he confesses and forsakes the sin (1 Cor. 11:31). Third, the believers works, not sin (for they were judged on the cross), will be judged at the bema judgment after the Rapture of the Church (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15). Fourth, during the Great Tribulation, God will pour out His wrath upon the ungodly (Rev. 6-19). Fifth, after His return to earth the Messiah will regather the Jewish people from every land and take them into the wilderness where He will purge out all rebels and unbelievers. Only the righteous out of Israel will enter into the Kingdom (Ezek. 20:33-34). Sixth, after His return the Messiah will judge the Gentile nations. Only the righteous will enter into the Kingdom; the unsaved will be cast into everlasting fire (Mt. 25:32-46). Seventh, after the Millennial Kingdom. God will judge all wicked angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:10). Eighth, after the Kingdom Age, a great white throne will be set up, and all people whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be judged and cast alive into the Lake of Fire (Rev, 20:11-15). All judgment has been given over to Jesus the Messiah (Jn. 5:22).
There is the immutable law of sowing and reaping which all men experience. Paul said, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). The apostle is saying. Stop your self-deception; you cannot fool God, If you keep on sowing sin. God’s judgment will fall upon you, resulting in your physical and spiritual destruction.
MESSIAH’S PUNISHMENT (v. 5)
Malachi ushered the reader into God’ courtroom. God, who is the great Judge, is also the prosecuting attorney and key witness against Judah. He used three legal terms to present His indictment: “come near,” “judgment” and “swift witness” (v. 5). God was about to answer Israel’s question mentioned in chapter two, verse seventeen. Judgment might seem to tarry, but when it falls, it will be swift.
One is reminded of the scoffer’s words, “… Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). The Lord is not slack concerning His coming. He will come. The reason for His seeming delay is love and longsuffering for the sinner. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Malachi named seven sins in four categories which will bring swift judgment from God. First, He will judge the “sorcerers.” (v. 5), or those involved in witchcraft, a practice highly condemned under the Law which carried a penalty of death (Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:27; Dt. 18:9-14; Acts 8:9). Occultism is growing in the United States as many oriental, philosophical religious systems have swept the country. Second, God will judge “adulterers” (v. 5). The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; 14) strongly condemned such sin, but Judah continued to practice it (2:10-16). Adultery is running rampant in the United States as many practice premarital and extramarital sex. Third, God will judge “false swearers” (v. 5). Those who committed perjury in a court of law were condemned under the Law of Israel (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Dt. 19:16-20). Today lawsuits are at an all time high in this country, many bringing false suits or, at best, bordering on the truth. Fourth, God will judge those who defraud the defenseless in society — the employer oppressing “the hireling in his wages” (v. 5) or cheating the employee out of his pay. Such practices were condemned by Old Testament Law (Lev. 19:13; Dt. 24:15) as well as in the New Testament (Jas. 5:4). Three other groups are mentioned as being defrauded as well; “the widow, and the fatherless, and… the sojourner [alien]”’ (v. 5; Ex. 22:22-24; Lev. 19:10; Dt. 24:19-22; Zech. 7:10). In most cases they are unable to defend themselves and will be victimized by many who capitalize on their weak position. Those who commit such acts “fear not” (v. 5) the Lord. Their lack of fear toward God is evident, for they show Him no respect nor do they have any relationship with Him. Any true believer would avoid such heinous acts.
MESSIAH’S PRESERVATION (v.6)
God is not as one who winked at wickedness and took delight in the wicked as depicted by Judah (2:17). God said of Himself, “I change not” (v. 6). He is the unchangeable God (Ps. 102:26-27) who will not break His covenant relationship with Judah (2:10).
For this reason the “sons of Jacob are not consumed” (v. 6). Malachi calls Judah “sons of Jacob” to remind them of ‘ their covenant relationship with God and to reemphasize His expressed love for them (1:2).
Although God might chasten Judah, she will not be consumed in judgment, for He will not break or take away His covenant promise to her. Although Israel sins, she will not lose her national hope of complete restoration (Rom. 11:25-29). The Jew’s survival is guaranteed as long as the earth exists (Jer. 31:35-37).
“Where is the God of justice?” This is a question voiced by many today when they see criminals acquitted because of a technicality in the law; when they read about a politician receiving a slap on the wrist when committing impropriety in business; or when they hear about small fines levied against large corporations who defraud people out of millions of dollars.
Remember, when we point a finger at others asking, Where is God’s justice?, three fingers are pointing back at US. If God were to pour out His justice on this world, where would we stand?
Be thankful that God, out of love and longsuffering, has not rained down judgment upon mankind! Be thankful that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9)! Be thankful that “It is because of the Lord’s mercies [loving kindness] that we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22)! Be thankful that the God of justice appeared at His first coming to provide for man’s salvation! Have you received salvation from the God of justice?
- Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p. 84.
- Herbert Wolf. Haggai, Malachi: Rededication and Renewal (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 100.