Beyond the Lectionary Text: Malachi 4

by Bill Sytsma

Comments and Observations

In his book, The End of Memory, Miroslav Volf gives us a glimpse into the torment he endured while serving in the Yugoslavian army under the (erroneous) suspicion of being a traitor. Because he was a Christian who was married to an American, the communist army suspected him of treason. His time in the military was marked by “interrogations” that left lasting impressions. If the concept of evil and the desire for justice were merely intellectual propositions before he served in the army, they were concrete life experiences by the time he completed his military obligation. His book offers insights into practicing forgiveness when faced with the memories of being intentionally victimized.

Many times, the practice of forgiving another for offenses requires little more than saying, “I forgive you.” We wouldn’t give a second thought to someone who accidentally stepped on our foot in a crowded elevator, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” We might not even think of our response as forgiveness, as much as overlooking an accident. Some offenses can be simply overlooked when we understand that there was a mistake, a misunderstanding, or poor judgment.

There are other times, however, when the offenses we have suffered are much more sinister. We cannot overlook the intentional efforts to defraud elderly people as a mistake. The disregard for human life that was displayed during the days of slavery in the United States cannot be dismissed as poor judgment. There are moments when the words we use for sin do not seem so tame (mistake, error, mishap, accident, etc.). The offenses we have endured may need to be categorized as evil or unjust.

The final chapter of Micah contains reassurance for people who have faced evil and injustice. The words may seem harsh to those who take justice for granted, but they are reassuring to those who have felt the pain of being victimized.

While the text seems to induce fear as it speaks of a purifying fire turning evildoers into stubble, it is meant to be a word that reassures. God’s people have been crying out for justice, and God promises that He will deliver. Those who have suffered devastating injustice will see their circumstances set right.

Textual Considerations

Consider the Congregation's Context