This Tuesday we are concluding our study of Malachi with a discussion of Malachi 3-4. In last week’s readings, the prophet was concerned with the profane activities of the priests and worshipers and with the breach of certain religious, societal, and marital covenants. In all cases, the ultimate offended party is God. The result of these covenantal breaches is the coming of the “messenger of the covenant” foretelling the day of the LORD’s coming. Malachi says that his coming will be like a refiner’s fire or like fullers’ soap. (v.2b) The prophet goes on to say that “I (God) will draw near to you in judgment . . . for I the LORD do not change.” (vv. 5-6).
Within this passage, we get a clear picture of the nature of God’s judgment. It is a judgment that comes not from retaliation or retribution against those who are unfaithful but from his burning loving desire towards us to cleanse us, so that we can draw draw nearer to him. Malachi begins with the basic understanding that God doesn’t change. He is immutable and impassible. When we look in the New Testament we know that God is love. (1 John 4:8). Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48) and that this perfection includes a limitless forgiveness (Matt. 6:14), a love of our enemies (Matt. 5:44) and a renunciation of retaliation (Matt. 5:38). These are the characteristics of God that we see in Malachi 3.
Malachi gives us two great analogies for God’s restorative cleansing judgment. First, God’s judgment is like a silver refiner’s fire. The refining process of silver consists of heating the metal to a liquid form so that the impurities in the silver can then run or burn off. A refiner knows the refining is finished and the dross has been fully removed when the refiner can see his image in the silver itself. Therefore, it is the consuming fire of God’s love (Heb. 12:29) and the fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2) that restore in us the image of God in which he made us. (Gen 1:26).
The second imagery is that God’s judgment is like “fuller’s soap.” A fuller was a person who cleaned and thickened (to make it “full”) freshly-woven woolen cloth. The soap was the cleansing agent used by the fuller. In its fulfillment, the cleansing agent is Christ’s blood on the Cross (Rev. 7:14), the purifying word of God (Eph. 5:26), and the waters of baptism (Rom. 6). The lesson in these readings is that in both the fire of the refiner and in the soap of the fuller, God is making all things new. Rev. 21:5.
When the scribes and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17