The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Malachi as contained in the Book of the Twelve (The Minor Prophets). The text is Malachi 3:13-18 and is the last “back and forth” dialogue between God and man that the prophet Malachi is known for. The LORD claims the people have said harsh and untrue things about Him and the people have the audacity to question His assertion. So, the LORD God lays it out for them. He lays out how they have lamented concerning His actions and even His lack of action. This, of course, is simply the same lament people, both believers and unbelievers, have cried out throughout time. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Why do the just suffer while the evil ones prosper?” “Why does God turn His eyes away while we struggle?” While these questions are all too familiar, and are uttered by both the faithful and unfaithful, here in our text they are being lamented by unbelievers. In fact, the “bad things” are being used as an excuse or a justification for their unbelief. If there was a God, life would be fair, and we would prosper and the wicked would suffer. The irony is those who are being called out by God in these opening verses are actually unbelievers within the community of the Covenant.
Verse sixteen begins the response of the faithful believers—those who feared the LORD—and how the LORD responds to their faithfulness. It is interesting that the text does not record what the faithful said to one another. Most likely, they are asking the same question as the unbelievers, but they are asking in faith. The problem is not the sin lamented in the question. The problem is in the condition of the heart—the condition of the relationship. The believers ask the question(s) in faith.
“…and the LORD listened and He heard and a scroll of remembrance was written…” To listen, to hear and to remember are very important in this text. When the LORD God listens and hears He must act; the verbs demand action. Thus, the LORD remembers as the names are recorded on the scroll. The Lord remembers they are His very own. This is their identity, and in remembering more action is demanded! This action is spelled out in verse seventeen.
Note the LORD does not answer the lament of the unbelievers, but He does spell out an answer for the believers. On the last day it will be very clear that the LORD is just and fair. He will claim His treasured possession, separating them from the wicked and bringing them to everlasting life. This is obviously why the Church has chosen this Old Testament text for the Last Sunday of the Church Year. In many ways it brings to mind Judgement Day and the separation of the sheep from the goats when Christ the King comes to take His treasured possession home to be with Him in the courts of everlasting life.
3:13 חָזְקוּ (cha-ze-Ku) Qal: “to be hard; to be harsh”
נִּדְבַּרְנוּ (nid-Bar-nu) root: דבר (daw-bar) Piel: “to speak; to say”
3:14 שָׁוְא (shav) “vain; futile; purposeless”
בֶּצַע (Be-tza) “profit; gain”
שָׁמַרְנוּ (sha-Mar-nu) root: שׁמר (shaw-mar) Qal: “to keep; to carry out”
מִשְׁמַרְתּוֹ (mish-mar-To) “requirement; obligation; charge; injunction; ordinance” This is a participial form that has become a noun. Literally: “keeping his keepings”
קְדֹרַנִּית (ke-Do-ran-Nit) “as/like mourners; with a long face”
3:15 מְאַשְּׁרִים (me-ash-she-Rim) root: אשּׁר (aw-shar) Piel, participle: “to call blessed; to call/consider fortunate”
זֵדִים (ze-Dim) “insolent; arrogant; presumptuous”
רִשְׁעָה (rish-Ah) “offence; wickedness; evil(doers)”
בָּחֲנוּ (ba-cha-Nu) root: בחן (baw-khan) Qal: “to examine; to test; to try; put to the test; to prove”
וַיִּמָּלֵטוּ (vai-yim-ma-Le-tu) root: מלט (maw-lat) Niphal: “to escape; to flee to safety”
3:16 יִרְאֵי (yir-Ei) root: ירא (yaw-ray) Qal: “to fear; to reverence; to honor”
וַיַּקְשֵׁב: (vai-yak-Shev) root: bvq (kaw-shab) Hiphil: “to listen; to give attention; to listen attentively”
זִכָּרוֹן (zik-ka-Ron) “remembrance; reminder; memorial”
לְיִרְאֵי (le-yir-Ei) Qal: “to fear; to honor; to reverence”
3:17 סְגֻלָּה (se-gul-Lah) “property; treasured possession; valued property”
וְחָמַלְתִּי (ve-cha-mal-Ti) root: חמל (khaw-mal) Qal: “to spare; to have compassion”
3:18 בֵּין צַדִּיק, לְרָשָׁע (bein yzad-Dik le-ra-Sha) “between the righteous and the wicked”
בֵּין עֹבֵד אֱלֹהִים, לַאֲשֶׁר לֹא עֲבָדוֹ (bein o-Ved E-lo-Him la-a-Sher lo a-va-Do) “between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Malachi 3:13-18.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Malachi 3:1-20.