The accurate date is unknown, but scholars believe that Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, wrote his book at approximately 430 B.C. Along with Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi is one of the postexilic prophets to the kingdom of Judah (Israel’s southern kingdom after the country split circa 930 B.C.).
At around 538 B.C., the Jews started returning from Babylon after 70 years of captivity. As God’s chosen people returned from exile, it was clear that the insidious, pagan practices of their oppressors permeated the Jews’ lifestyle and worship. Therefore, each prophet had been entrusted by God to admonish his people to abandon their rebellious and idolatrous ways in this postexilic era of Israel’s history.
Haggai and Zechariah’s messages confronted the Jews concerning their neglect of the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, as well as their false and profane worship. Malachi was the recipient of the last prophetic message before the 400 years of “silence” between the Old Testament prophets and the birth of Jesus Christ. The purpose of his message was to confront the Jews with their sin and announce judgment against unrighteousness.
As one reads the book of Malachi, however, the message of judgment is intertwined with God’s promises and the grace he vowed to offer, even while judgment was poured out. The central message of the last book in the Old Testament speaks of a breach that is not irreparable and a hope that is not lost. God wants to bridge the gap, and even his judgment is full of grace.
I thought about God’s grace to us during trials as I came across one of the messianic references in the third chapter of Malachi:
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”
The message was directed initially at the Levites, whose primary role in the temple included singing psalms during services, performing maintenance, security and construction. However, as it is often the case with Scriptures, the imagery offers a beautiful parallel concerning God’s methods and purpose for our trials.
The passage inspired me to research how silver is refined and purified. I found out that since ancient times, there are several methods of silver refining, and most of them are similar to the process of refining gold.
One of the earliest methods is called “cupellation,” and it involves heating crude silver at extremely high temperatures until it is liquefied and adding certain substances such as nitric acid to help absorb the impurities. Once the pollutants are consumed, and the temperature is just right, the liquefied silver should become as clear as a mirror. According to tradition, when the silversmith can see his/her reflection in the metal, it is ready to pour. Both the temperature and the moment to take the metal out of the fire must be precise, or it could destroy the silver. For that reason, the craftsman must “sit” as the verse in Malachi says, and carefully manage the process, tempering the metal until it’s ready, controlling the heat and timing.
What a powerful metaphor of God’s wisdom and grace! The vision of a skilled silversmith watching over the intensity of the fire should make us understand and trust God’s hand in the heat of the great trials that we must face in life.
Just as the silver does not know anything but the heat applied to its rough form, we too often do not understand why God allows the temperature of pain and suffering that some of life’s circumstances bring. But the melting and transforming of silver from crude metal to a beautiful substance that can be used to make useful vessels, mirror the process used by God to mold us so we can become powerful tools in his hands.
Oh! What a marvelous thought to reach the end of a trial and realize that the father — the master craftsman of the universe — sat beside us the entire time! Indeed, he watches over the furnace, ever aware of how much heat to apply and how long we must stay in the fire, so that all impurities may come to the surface, and he can see more of his reflection in us.
Then and only then, can he use us as his vessels and tools to carry out his purposes in the world.
Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com
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