Inescapable light of Torah: Malachi 3-4

We have come to the final word of the Book of the XII, and the end of the Old Testament for Christians, where the Lord delivered his last plea to his people for them to remain loyal to him and follow Torah. He did not plea on his own behalf, but on behalf of the people, as only those who follow the Torah would survive his approaching dominion.  While the people continued to ask their ignorant questions, the Lord tried to teach them for the last time.  Destruction or life would not come as punishment or reward to individuals, but as two natural outcomes that followed divine wisdom, Torah.  Torah was light–but light as understood in the ancient world. In those days, light came as fire, or lightning, or sunshine. They all gave light, but they burned. It was never entirely beneficent. The instruction lay before the people, but the same light of judgment would destroy the rebellious and disloyal and would heal and give life to those who feared the Lord.

Purification and instruction: Turn back and be generous

After the Lord sent an angel messenger to the people, he himself would come to purify them (3:1-5).  The messenger of the Lord can only bring one message, the Torah or instruction, because that teaching embodies the Lord and his ethic.  The Lord never functioned separately from his word.  The Lord, when he would come, judged.  Hence the word came, and then the consequences of following or disobeying it followed.  As a silversmith eliminates all impurity from the precious metal, as a fuller scrubs out and removes every stain, so the Lord would scrub the people of every action that was not of Torah.  The Lord enumerated sins that revealed lack of trust: sorcery imposes one’s will on the world; adultery expresses dissatisfaction; false testimony serves the self; cheating and oppressing hold back good things for oneself.  Demanding one’s own will, unsatisfied with one’s wife, serving the self, and miserly behavior all betray lack of fear and respect of the Lord as the one who provides all good things in their time.  Torah is incompatible with any such actions.

Though the people fret that the Lord turned away from them, he responded to their obstinate ignorance by reiterating that he consistently loved the people and that the people fickly turned away from him (3:6-12).  The only consistent behavior was the people’s turning away from the Lord by rejecting his statutes.  In a typical fashion, they wondered how to turn back–since they probably never realized that they had turned away.  The Lord replied that they had defrauded him, but that didn’t help them understand any more.  Every time they did not tithe a full amount, they defrauded the Lord and effectively turned away from him.  If they only put him “to the test,” they would realize that gambling on success from the Lord would pay off big.  But the people thought they were playing safe by relying only on themselves and hoarding their produce–never realizing that the bounty they were holding back came from the Lord before they had placed their bets.  The Lord had already showed them grace.

The people also felt that the Lord did not act justly, but they didn’t know that they were rebelling against him by speaking so disloyally (3:13-18).  When they saw those who propspered yet did not follow the Lord, they inferred that the Lord was impotent–so following him was useless.  At the same time, some remained loyal.  On the last day, the Lord would treat everyone appropriately.  Only the loyal would remain, whom he would treat as his sons.  

The appearance of the awesome light of judgment

On that day, the Lord would come as a burning light (3:19-21 [4:1-3]).  He would burn away the disloyal at the same time as he would come to heal those who fear him.  The fearers would trample the wicked, because the latter would already have been reduced to dust under the feet of the righteous.  In this way, Malachi echoed the ideal, eschatological city depicted in Zechariah, which would be filled exclusively with doers of Torah.

We now reach the end of the Book of the XII, and the end of the Christian Old Testament, and we read that the Torah of Moses would save whoever desired loyalty to the Lord (3:22-24 [4:4-6]).  Throughout the Book of the XII, rebelling from the Lord was manifested in turning away from the Lord’s instruction.  Earlier, in “historical time” the Lord attempted to teach the people Torah through their calamities.  Later on, in “eschatologiccal time,” humans would live entirely according to Torah, and no one would survive destruction without it.  As the Prophet Elijah preceded the Lord’s judgment, he would make a last call for families to be reconciled–according to Torah.  As just a few would follow Torah, they would guarantee that not all human beings would perish in this fiery end.

The final appeal

The Torah came from Moses, and further explanation of Torah came from the prophets, depicted here by Elijah.  The people of this chapter–as well as the other ignoramuses of this book–asked ridiculous, self-righteous questions about their behavior.  The burning, purifying heat of the Lord would either sear such erroneous teaching from them, or destroy them completely.  Under the Lord, not only would the rebellious not survive, but they could not survive.  Rejecting the Torah is rejecting the Lord, and vice-versa.  When the Lord would come to rule over the entire world, no folllower of another law could live.

Leave a Reply