Where is the God of Justice?

Sermon preached on Malachi 2:17-3:7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/13/2011 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Malachi 2:17-3:6

“Where is the God of Justice?”

Today this passage raises again the so-called problem of evil. This so-called problem is the attempt to explain the existence of evil in light of the fact that God is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, completely sovereign, and yet all good. I say so-called, because God is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, completely sovereign, and all good. I trust that God is in control and that there really is no real problem of evil. The existence of evil is something that God in his wisdom has permitted, but only for a time. Justice will ultimately be served. And yet it’s in this time, that his program of grace for sinners is to be carried out.

Well, we see this is a question addressed throughout the Bible. And yet surely many Israelites during Malachi’s time would have especially been plagued by this question. They would have been burdened in general with the existence of evil. But this would have seemed all the more pressing to them in light of God’s promises. Remember, they had just been allowed by the Persians to return from exile to their home land. God had promised that after they returned from exile that God would come to them and bring healing and comfort to his people. That God would come and make life abundantly better for God’s people. There are glorious pictures in the prophecies that paint a picture without the problems of evil. And so since Israel had just returned from exile, they assumed those promises were about to be fulfilled. This passage, particularly verse 17, expresses their concerns. Unfortunately, we’ll see here how they were expressing those concerns in an unrighteous way. So, today’s message will primarily consider verse 17. We’ll consider the rest of this passage in next week’s message.

Verse 17 begins saying, “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” They had wearied God. The word for “wearied” here is about growing tired. That’s a surprising thought at first glance. God getting wearied? Well, we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. And Scripture has something interesting to say on this point. Does God ultimately get weary, as in somehow tired and exhausted? Well, Isaiah 40:28-31 says he does not.

Isaiah 40:28-31 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Thus, in terms of energy and strength, there is no weariness in God. In fact, it’s from God that we humans can find strength in our weariness. So, then, what does God mean here in verse 17? In what way is he wearied?

Well, this is where other Scriptures help us. For example, there are several other passages in Scripture that use this language of God getting wearied. For the most part, they are about the same general thing. God is getting wearied over things such as human sinfulness and false religious worship. Isaiah 43:24, God says to Israel, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.” So, the assessment here is pretty simple. Ultimately, God does not tire like a man. He doesn’t grow weary in way like a human does. And so what Scripture is doing is using this language as an analogy of sorts. We know what it means to grow weary about something. We know what it’s like to get tired of something. So God uses this anthropomorphic language to help explain his attitude toward sin. Here in Malachi he uses this language to help Israel understand what he thought about their sin. He is expressing how his patience will only last so long with them.

In other words, this is God talking in terms to which we can relate. It’s an example from something in our realm. As we grow tired and weary of certain things, there a sense in which God had had enough of their sin. Well, if this is a human analogy, stop for a moment then and think about this example. What do you get weary over? What do you get weary over? Think of some examples. If you play chess with someone and they always win, you might be weary of losing. If you find your job dull, you might be weary of the monotony of it. And yet God specifically says that he’s grown weary with the people’s words. Well, we all have probably grown weary of someone else’s words before. It could be from an enemy, though often it happens from someone close to you. They keep making the same little rubbing comment over and over again. First few times you probably laugh it off. But over time it just keeps grating on you each time they say it. Finally, you just want to explode and tell them to be quiet – that you’ve grown tired of their words.

God had grown tired of Israel’s words. And yet when God confronts them of this, they again seem oblivious. Again, the spiritual dullness and blindness is seen. They ask, “In what way have we wearied Him?” But here we have the answer. Here we have the words that God judged as wrong. They are two related statements that weary God here. First statement they make, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them.” The second statement they make, “Where is the God of justice?” These are the words that have wearied God. These are the ones for which his patience would be coming to an end if they did not turn from them. Recognize the background here. This is how we started our sermon. This is a question of the so-called problem of evil. In light of evils going on around them, they scoff at God. Realize that is what we have going on here. This is scoffing. We often here about scoffers in the Bible, but we probably tend to not think much about what scoffing really is. Scoffing is when you talk to someone or about them in a mocking sort of way. You are expressing contempt or ridicule in your comments. Well, Israel’s words here are scoffing at God. And he had grown tired of it.

Again, as you compare Scripture with Scripture, you find something interesting here. There are a number of passages in the Bible that deal with these questions. There are passages that engage God seeking wisdom and help and action in light of the problem of evil. The prophet, Habakkuk, for example, engages God on this question. Many of the Psalms deal with this same subject. And yet in those other examples, you usually don’t see God commenting negatively on those questions and appeals. That’s very different from what we see here in Malachi. Here in Malachi God very clearly criticizes their words. He had grown tired of them. Well, surely this is because of the underlying heart and tone. The words of the people in verse 17 were surely not honest questions to God and humble appeals to him. No, they were arrogant sneering at God. They impugned all the good characteristics of God. These words were sinful scoffing, not humble prayers for help and understanding.

You see they were saying these things in light of the evil in the world. They were saying these things in light of the troubles they seemed to having with the nations around them. Surely they were thinking something like this. “I’m the righteous one, and yet these other bad people seem to be doing better than me. We’re Israel, we’re better than these pagan gentiles and yet they are the ones in control.” That seems to be sorts of things they would have been thinking. And so their words might have had some outward similarities to what some other godly people have said or asked. But God knew their heart. Their statements were slander and their questions were accusations.

And so when they said that first statement, think of the slander that is in it. They said, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” That statement questions God’s righteousness. Such scoffing says that God has a skewed perspective on righteousness. That God doesn’t know right from wrong. That if you want God to find favor in you, you better do evil because he’s a God that likes evil doers. Obviously that is not true. Obviously it goes against everything the Scriptures have revealed against God. But this was more than just an honest struggle they were having. It was more than just them struggling to grasp God’s righteousness amidst a fallen world. Evidently it was a chronic complaint against God. And it was literally blasphemous, calling God unrighteous.

And so then when they make that second statement, think of what it questions. They ask, “Where is the God of justice?” This seems to question two things. It certainly questions God’s justice. It’s essentially accusing God of not punishing sin. If he really was a God of justice, they assume he would not wait to come any longer. That he should come and judge the sinners right then and there. And yet it also appears to questions God’s faithfulness to his promises – promises that include him coming to his people to bring justice – Isaiah 40 for example. A promise they thought should have been fulfilled already, now that they were back from exile. And yet in this questioning they fail to remember their own history. When Israel had sinned time and time again, God didn’t just immediately send Babylon to wipe them out. No, God had been patient with them. God wanted them to turn from their sins and be healed. Even now, they miss the fact that God’s patience in coming has his good purposes in mind. The all wise God knows how to exercise his righteousness and justice and faithfulness in the most perfect way to accomplish his master plan. A good and perfect plan that includes the salvation of God’s elect!

So this is the problem presented in this passage. The people had been scoffing at God. They had called him unrighteous, unjust, and unfaithful. God’s answer then comes in chapter 3, verses 1 through 6. As I mentioned, we’ll delve into those verses more next time. But for now I want us to see the big picture answer that God gives. Chapter 3 verse 1 says that God is indeed coming. Verse 1 says that God will first send someone to pave the way, and then he will come. Well, in the light of the New Testament, that has been fulfilled with John the Baptist and then Jesus. John the Baptist prepared the way for the LORD with a message of repentance. Jesus was then God come in the flesh to his people.

Verses 1 through 5 then bring out something very clear. The God of justice will come to bring justice. Look at verse 5. He will draw near to them in judgment! See the list of various kinds of sinners he will judge. God is not soft on righteousness! Their accusations are not true. And yet, in the midst of their accusations, look at what God tells them. Verse 2. But who can endure the day of his coming?

You see, they scoffed at the fact that he hadn’t come. But in God’s answer to them, he essentially says it’s for their own good. God draws up a question of his own – when he comes will they be able to endure his coming? In verse 6 God is clear that they themselves are the sinful people. Israel has been the unrighteous. Given that, should Israel think that day of the Lord will be good for them? This is why they would need a messenger to prepare the way for God’s coming. They would need someone to call them to repentance. That they would not be consumed by God’s justice and wrath on that great day of the Lord. They would want God to only come and refine and purify them – verse 3 – and not utterly destroy them.

And so verses 1 through 6 give the answer they had in their scoffing demanded. And yet it was probably not the answer they expected. The question was turned back around. You want the God of justice to come? Okay, but who can endure that day of his coming? Can you? That is a sobering question. Are you righteous enough to withstand that day on your own? Are you perfect as the father in heaven is perfect? Do you never change, but only have perfect justice and righteousness and faithfulness all your days?

That’s the tension of the prophecy in verses 1-6. And yet there is hope here. There is the hope that Christ would purify his people instead of destroy them – verse 3. There is the hope that he would not consume them – verse 6. And so we see that hope realized when this prophecy is initially fulfilled. We find in its fulfillment a twofold coming of God. The first time God came in Christ was a function of grace and mercy. It was a coming that brought refinement and purification to God’s people. It was a function that did not leave his people consumed, but in salvation! It will instead be in his second coming that will be that terrible day of judgment. When God in Christ comes his second time, then God will draw near in full judgment on all who are not his.

And yet, this is not to say that in God’s first coming in Christ that there was no judgment. No, just remember the cross. Who can indeed stand when God comes in judgment? Only one man, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. The one God found perfect delight in. And yet on the cross Jesus stood in our place. The God of justice then poured out his righteous wrath upon Jesus. Because Jesus took our sin on the cross. He became a sacrifice on behalf of God’s people. That we would not be consumed by God’s wrath. That we could be forgiven, while justice is still met. That we could then have him enter our hearts to purify us as a refiner’s fire.

This is what a Christian tastes of now, by faith. Christians stand in this line of heritage of God’s people. We have received the testimony that Jesus has come to save us by the cross. We have answered the call for faith in that sacrifice. We have believed in Jesus and look for him now to lead us as our Lord and Savior. And yet for a Christian now, there is still more good news. You see, Christians then live in a place where we await that final day of judgment and justice. That’s a day that we do not fear as a Christian. We know that in Christ, we can endure that awesome Day of the Lord. We know that in Christ, we do not need to fear when the God of justice comes for judgment. Our judgment has already taken place, on Christ on the cross. And yet for those who have not found salvation in Christ, it will indeed be a day when justice is served.

And so this is good news then for Christians, that we can look forward positively to that day. That’s why the martyrs in heaven can ask in Revelation 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Notice there how it’s a somewhat similar question as in Malachi 2:17 here. And yet God has not tired of hearing that. Revelation 6:11 goes on to show these martyrs comforted in heaven and told to rest for a little while longer. You see the difference there again. Similar questions between Malachi 2:17 and Revelation 6:10. Yet one said from the right heart in humble petition, the other arrogant scoffing. So the good news here includes that Christ is coming again. He will one day come in the clouds and bring swift justice to this earth. Christians have already been saved in him. When will Christ come? I don’t know the day or the hour. But surely it is soon! For sure it will be according to God’s most perfect patient timing. Timing that allows for all God’s elect people to first be saved.

As we conclude our message for today, I’d like us to consider some application from this passage.

You see, we live in somewhat similar times as they did. Evil does seem to prosper from time to time. Godliness doesn’t always seem to have the success we’d expect. We are still awaiting Christ’s return when final justice will be served. How then are we to wait in these last days? Well remember the words of Peter in Peter 3:3:

Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Peter predicted that this same kind of scoffing found here in Malachi’s day will affect the church in these last days. And so as those who have been saved by Christ, we ought to guard our hearts from scoffing. As those whom Christ is refining, we should see scoffing as part of the old man. We are to put off scoffing from our lives. We should make sure we don’t scoff at God, accusing him or slandering him. It’s when trouble or trial comes that we will be inclined to do this. Or it’s when we see wicked people getting ahead of us, that we might also be inclined to do this. We must put this off. Let us never scoff at God in any way. And yet, if we are putting off scoffing, what righteous thing should we put in its place? What should we replace scoffing with, in our lives? I will offer four brief things. We should put on trust, we should put on patience, we should put on humble examination, and we should put on persistent prayer. We’ll close with these four items.

First trust. In Psalm 25, David sees his enemies around him. Those who would be wicked people. People who may for a time seem to have a victory over him. When wicked enemies seem to succeed, you could be tempted to scoff or complain to God. But that’s why in Psalm 25:1, David says in light of this, “O my God, in you I trust.” When evil seem to prosper, when our enemies seem to prosper, trust in God. Trust that Christ will see you through it all. Trust that he is even right now preparing a place for you in heaven. Trust that God will bring ultimate justice. Trust in God.

Second, patience. That same psalm goes on to say in 25:5, “You are the God of my salvation, for you I wait all the day long.” In whatever specific trials you have, wait on God. In the big picture problems of good versus evil in this world, wait on God. Wait on his salvation. That means have patience as your trust him. That you don’t grow weary in waiting for him to come and bring justice. Some of that may come in this life. The rest of it will surely come at Christ’s return. Wait on the Lord, he will bring salvation. Put on this patience.

Third, humble examination. In Malachi, the people act here like it’s everyone else that has sin. Everyone else is unrighteous. In doing so, they pridefully look down on others and incorrectly exalt themselves. Instead, remember Jesus said to be concerned about the plank in your own eye before being worrying about someone else’s sins. Or think of the parable of the Pharisee in Luke 18 who looked down upon the tax collector, while the tax collector humbly cried out to God because of his sin. Jesus said it was the tax collector who left justified that day. In other words, this passage would remind us that if we are tempted to scoff about how someone else gets away with an injustice, remember God’s grace for you. Remember God’s patience with you. Remember your own sins. Instead of scoffing at God about that person, pray for that person. And pray about your own struggles with sins.

Lastly, persistent prayer. Malachi 2:17 sounds almost like a prayer when they ask where is the God of justice? And yet you realize quickly that God was wearied by it because it wasn’t a real prayer. God tires of scoffing. But God does not tire of persistent prayer. No, Jesus taught us that we should be like the persistent widow with our troubles. We should persistently go to God looking for justice. Be careful here. Make sure you have the right heart and attitude. Don’t come as a scoffer. Come humbly before God seeking his justice. Do it day and night. God will not grow weary of this. Rather, he has told us to do that!

And so these are things we can look to put on in place of scoffing. As you do this, pray to God to grow you. God is the one who will grow us in these. Seek his grace to grow you in trust, patience, humility, and the act of prayer. Ask for his Spirit to grow you in these things. It’s God delight to give his people of his Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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