A Refiner's Fire & Launderer's Soap (Malachi 3.1-4; 3 of 4)
"But who can endure the day of His [Messiah's] coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire And like launderer's soap." (Malachi 3.2).
It is funny how fire is so universally perceived as destructive while soap is almost universally perceived as good (except to a 6 year old boy, of course). The two phrases in the cited verse are actually part of a Hebrew literary tool called parallelism. Simply stated, parallelism is present when two or more phrases in a text are related in that they express the same fact or truth, but do so through the use of differing terms or phrases. There are countless examples of this device in the Old Testament. For instance from the Psalms comes this example. "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork." (Psalm 19.1). Both phrases of this text express the same truth but they state it in different, but related, ways. Their message is this: God's existence can be perceived through His creation. Now we turn to the phrases in today's text from Malachi.
The expression "launderer's soap" is found only here in the scriptures. In the KJV it is translated "fullers' soap," fuller being an old Anglo-Saxon word for whitening. Hence, the verse under consideration speaks of His [Messiah's] appearing as a day in which His effects could be likened to a laundry process designed to whiten clothes; He would be "like a refiner's fire and like launderer's soap." The refiner's fire removes impurities and so does the launderer's soap. Literally, the launderer's soap whitens because it removes the dirt and soils that might otherwise cause clothing to appear dingy or dirty. The Messiah's coming would be a day of purification and cleansing. How very fitting this description is!
Sin was the moral stain that had affected mankind in general and Israel in particular. Without cleansing, man stands before Holy God as impure and dirty. However, though man's sins are like scarlet, God has the means to make them white as snow. However, the cleansing needed is exclusively available through Divine means. Other products may offer cleansing, but none but God's soap can deliver. That is why God called Israel to reason with Him and, by implication, forsake their own human attempts to cleansing (see Isaiah 1.18). Only when man agrees to use God's remedy can the dinginess of sin be removed from our soiled souls. In the metaphor, this may seem trite, but the eternal implications of the metaphor are everything but trite: Man's eternal destiny depends upon His being cleansed by Messiah and the "launderer's soap."
When Jesus came on the scene, there were people seeking God's face who realized the eternal import of His mission. One of those who realized this great truth was Simeon a worshiper in Jerusalem. In observance of the Mosaic Covenant, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple when He was about 40 days old. An aged Simeon took the babe up in his arms and said, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." (Luke 2.29-32).
Messiah, God's launderers' soap, was here! Who would be able to stand? (concluded tomorrow)
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