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God’s Word for You

Malachi 3:5 occult arts and other sins

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 27, 2021

5 I will approach you to judge you. I will be quick to give testimony against those who practice occult arts, those who commit adultery, those who swear false oaths, those who cheat workers out of their wages, those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child, those who turn away a resident alien—all those who do not fear me, says the LORD of Armies. (EHV)

Many readers will wonder: When will this approach take place? Is this judgment day, or is this the first coming of Christ, or is this even sooner? For Malachi’s listeners, it was ultimately the first coming of Christ, but it was also sooner, right then and there in their own lifetime. We look back to Jesus’ preaching and his many warnings, and we are looking ahead to his second coming. But as for Malachi’s immediate audience, we must look to our own lives right now, while we walk God’s green earth, because the whole book is a call to repentance. How do I measure up? Where have I sinned? What must I repent about, and leave behind, and discard from my life?

Malachi focuses on seven sins that were especially rampant in his day, each of which leads people away from Christ or oppresses them in a specific way:

  1. Those who practice occult arts. This was common in ancient times, and it still is today. We still have horoscopes in the newspaper, TV ads for astrologers, mystics, tarot readers, and on and on. God personally told Moses: “Let no one be found among you who uses divination or engages in fortune telling, or who observes omens, or who practices witchcraft, or who casts a magic spell, or who consults a ghost or a familiar spirit, or who inquires of the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 EHV). Luther is not subtle about these arts: “The soothsayers, however, and all that brood of abominations which Moses enumerates [in Deuteronomy 18] denote the godless teachers who divine out of their own heads what God has not commanded them and burdened consciences” (LW 9:190). There is no form of astrology, fortune telling, or anything else in this list that helps a Christian or leads anyone toward Christ.
  2. Those who commit adultery. This general statement covers over a whole army of sins, adultery, fornication, incest, and various perversions such as homosexuality and gang rape (the sins that brought down Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:5; Jude 1:7). When God condemns idolatry, he often compares it with adultery, since he treats and loves his church of believers as a bride (Isaiah 61:10; Jeremiah 2:2; Revelation 21:2). When Balaam could not get Israel to turn from God through idolatry, he got them to turn from God through adultery in Moab (Numbers 25:1-3). Sexual sins oppress everyone involved because they burden both the body and the conscience. Men and women should marry, and lead chaste lives in the sexual freedom that is truly only possible within marriage.
  3. Those who swear false oaths. That is, they swear or confess something with empty words, without meaning what they say. This could be done in a courtroom, in a legal document, at the water cooler or the break room at work, sitting in the chairs at the hair salon or barbershop, or in the stinking holes of lies and filth that mutilate phones and computers everywhere. False oaths and fake news oppress everyone but most especially those who are directly lied against, because they rarely have any way to recover their reputation once anyone has decided to point a finger at them.
  4. Those who cheat workers out of their wages. The hired worker waits eagerly for his wages (Job 7:2). Too often he must live hand to mouth, and when his employer cheats him, that employer is worse than a thief. “The worker,” Jesus said, “deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). This is one of the devil’s sins, who beguiles men into becoming false teachers and prophets, promising them the kinds of things he tried to tempt Jesus with (Matthew 4:9, etc.). But he is a con man; he doesn’t have the ability to pay anyone anything at all. He hires and then he defaults; he cheats at everything.
  5. Those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child. God is especially concerned with widows and orphans, who no longer have a husband or father to look after them. “Do not take advantage of a widow or a fatherless child,” God said. “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry” (Exodus 22:22-23). And God went on to promise: “My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:24). Today those who prey on people through phone or internet scams fall into this special category of condemnation. They are worse than those who steal from soldiers who lie wounded on the battlefield. Their victims are helpless.
  6. Those who turn away a resident alien. This is done when an outsider is deprived of justice because of racism, bigotry, or other petty motives. God shows his special love to such strangers, as he did to Abraham when he called him into a new land, or Moses, who said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22). God feeds them and clothes them, but he uses us to bring the gospel to them and to feed them with spiritual food. If a wanderer is forced away or oppressed, or even makes a mistake and is driven out with the peculiar hostility of a self-righteous public servant who thinks he is paid to be a bigot, then let them remember that the Lord still watches over such strangers and their children. For God is the Father of us all (Romans 4:16).
  7. All those who do not fear me. This is the summary of the preceding sins, but it is also a reminder that God doesn’t forget other sins, or overlook them. To fear the Lord is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13), to treasure his word in the heart in order to turn away from sin (Psalm 119:11). This judgment shows how each and every single sin is a sin against the First Commandment in addition to whatever special sin has been committed. The power of this judgment thoroughly kills the human heart. “It leads man into an unbearable awareness of his sin and into terror of death, so that man sighs [groans] for a mediator and yearns for a more pleasant word, that is, the Gospel of grace… For what would a man not endure and do to escape being forced to hear the Law!” (LW 9:64).

The approach of God and his judgment should make every heart terrified. We sweep out the sins of our lives and prepare a guest room for our Savior in our hearts, because there is nothing better than the love of Christ. He soothes the guilty conscience, he mends the broken heart, he binds up the wounds of guilt and fear, because he brings healing and compassion to everyone. We put our trust in him, and he has healed us. Then we return to the text of a verse like this, and respond to his forgiveness by making corrections in our lives. How can I serve my Savior today? That is the voice of thanksgiving.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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