when We Dispute God’s Justice
Introduction / Background / Review: Stagnation is a very interesting word. It’s a scientific term that comes from a Latin word depicting a pool of standing water. It that has to do with a body of water or air that no longer has any motion or movement and therefore becomes stale or foul. Economists picked up on the term to describe a period in which the economy has little or no movement—economic stagnation. In the Soviet Union, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he blamed the problems in the USSR on what he called an Era of Stagnation, which began with Leonid Brezhnev, and Gorbachev used that concept to bring about his reforms of Glasnost and Perestroika. A sports team can become stagnant. A marriage can become stagnant. A church or denomination can become stagnant. Well, there’s also such a thing as spiritual and moral stagnation, and that’s what Malachi is about. He came to open up the windows and dispel the stagnation.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, and it was written somewhere around 400 years before Christ. It comes at the very end of Old Testament Jewish history, and there’s no history in the world like Old Testament Jewish history. It began when God chose Abraham to be the channel through whom redemption came into the world. He gave Abraham a set of promises in Genesis 12, and the rest of the Old Testament is the unfolding and flowering of those promises. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve sons who became the tribes of Israel. One of them, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Egypt, and there through the providential appointment of God he became Prime Minister. His family later migrated there during a famine. There in Egypt, the 70-member family of Jacob multiplied in a great nation. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and back into the Promised Land. After Moses came Joshua; after Joshua came the Judges; after Judges came the three kings of the United Kingdom—Saul, David, and Solomon. After the death of Solomon, the nation broke apart. The northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. The southern kingdom of Judah was defeated and destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. Then during the Persian Empire, a remnant of Jews returned to the Promised Land, tried to rebuild the temple, tried to restore the glory and the history of the people of God. But it was hard and slow, and they were not even a nation anymore—just a province, surrounded by hostility. There was no Messiah and no great vision for the future. And they just stagnated. The prophet Malachi came to open the door, let in some fresh air, and dispel the spiritual stagnation. The format is a counseling session of questions and answers. And the book divides into six sections as each of these issues is discussed.
- When we doubt God’s Love (1:1-5)
- When we dishonor His Name (1:6 – 2:9)
- When we diminish His family (2:10-16)
- When we dispute His justice (2:17 – 3:5)
Malachi 2:17: You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied Him?” you ask. 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?”
The people had developed twin issues. First, they had begun to confuse good and evil. There’s an old story about a group of tricksters who broke into a department store. They didn’t steal anything; they just changed all the price tags. That’s what the devil has done in our day. He’s trying to change the value of everything:
- The value of human life—notice how society’s value of this is reversed.
- Sex outside of marriage—notice how Hollywood glamorizes this.
- The definition of marriage—notice how the biblical view is attacked with those who use words like bigoted.
- The exclusivity of the Gospel—notice how intolerant our “tolerant” society is over this issue.
It’s hard to be engulfed in this kind of thinking and for some of it not to seep into the church.
The other issue is: “Where is the God of justice?” The Jews in Malachi’s day didn’t have a good grasp on theodicy—the biblical answer to the problem of evil. Why does a good God let bad things happen? The people of God had begun to doubt His values and question His justice. Now, what makes this a problem is that the these Jewish settlers had the book of Job. They had the writings of Psalm 73. They had the books of Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk, where there are answers to the questions involving God’s judgment.
In the next verse (Malachi 3:1), the Lord provides the answer. The answer will be in the coming of Jesus Christ, who will be preceded by a special messenger: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. In Matthew 11, Jesus quoted this verse and said it applied to John the Baptist.
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.
This is a powerfully Messianic passage. The Lord will come into His temple. He will come suddenly. He will come as the messenger of the covenant (Jesus established the New Covenant, as repeatedly explained in the book of Hebrews). He will come to fulfill the deepest desires of your hearts. But the Old Testament prophets didn’t distinguish between the first and second comings of Christ. And the rest of the passage has to do with judgment, in the events of the Last Days and the role of the Messiah in judging good and evil. It’s a description of the Second Coming and the subsequent Millennial Kingdom.
1. It will be a time of purifying: 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 sliver.
2. It will be a time of restoring: 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.
3. It will be a time of purging: So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify about 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.
In other words, Malachi was telling his people that when Christ came as judge, he would purify both priests and people, restore everything as it should be, and perge the land of all that defiles holiness. When Jesus comes again, all questions about His justice and about theodicy will be answered.
Conclusion: The message of Malachi is similar to the message we studied this morning in Luke 21—it’s a message about the Second Coming. Jesus came the first time as Savior, but when He comes again He will judge the world. If we aren’t living for Him—if we are disputing His justice—He will judge us. One of the best ways of breaking out of our stagnation is to realize that today’s conventional wisdom isn’t wisdom at all. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord’s return and live our lives as though He were coming today or tomorrow, it would dispel stagnation and keep us fresh.