“For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” This is Malachi’s warning to the people of Israel, specifically to the Levite priests who had become corrupt stumbling blocks to the people of Israel instead of spiritual leaders to them. The people’s relationship with God was broken because of their sin, and they were showing no signs of changing their ways. Hypocrisy, neglecting God and careless living have devastating consequences…we read about it all of the time in the Bible, but do we believe the same is true in our own lives? Hopefully as participants in this blog, we are experiencing shorter periods of time where neglecting God and careless living describes our lives, but the Israelites were characterized by being unfaithful. Even though they weren’t openly saying they rejected God, they were living as if He did not exist. Men were marrying women outside the faith who were worshiping idols, people were choosing divorce for no reason other than they wanted a change, and people acted like they could do anything without being punished. Then they wondered why God refused to accept their offerings and bless them. This society sounds so much like ours today, it is frightening.
So God speaks through Malachi of the process of refining metal. In this process, the raw metal is heated with fire until it melts. The impurities separate from it and rise to the surface. They are skimmed off, leaving the pure metal. Without this heating and melting, there could be no purifying. I wish we could have witnessed what this process actually looked like in people’s lives for the 400 years after Malachi, but the Bible is silent for this period of time. We know that God did what He said He would because Zechariah is the next priest mentioned after Malachi and He was faithfully serving God in the temple when we meet him in the Gospels.
What can we learn from this name of God? If God is our purifier just as He was the purifier of the Israelites at the end of the Old Testament, what can we expect? I think we need to start by putting this name in the context of our relationship with God. Let’s start with the fact that He loves us and desires to be with us so deeply that He gave His only Son to pay the price for our sins. He did the work and made the way available to us to have relationship with Him. We may also have to look back at a few more of His characteristics to put this name into the proper perspective. He is our atoning sacrifice, our author and the perfecter of our faith, our comforter, compassionate, our defender, familiar with suffering, our fortress, gracious, our holiness, our hope, our peace, and our resting place. In the context of who God is and how He cares for us, does it not stand to reason that His purifying us is for our good?
I think we can all agree that being “refined until the impurities rise to the surface” does not sound pleasant. But can we also agree that sometimes, for specific reasons, this process may be necessary for us to become the people who God wants us to become? Are there things we hold too tightly to, or is there specific sin we refuse to be honest about in our lives? Are we blind to certain behaviors or beliefs that are enjoyable for us? I hope that we are seeking God and His truth in our lives. I hope that we are not professing God from our mouths yet living for ourselves. I hope that when sin arises in our lives, we are honest about it and asking God to help us turn away from it. I hope our hearts desire right living so much that we can see the benefit of God being our purifier.
I hope this morning that our hearts are like David’s in the 139th Psalm. “ Search me oh God, and know my heart. Test me to know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”