Are you familiar with the solo “For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire” from Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah? And the very difficult chorus which comes right after that, “And He Shall Purify”? Those lyrics come directly from this passage in Malachi, in which the prophet reminds the traditional line of priests (Levites) that their ways have failed and that God is ready to do something completely new. God will accomplish the difficult task of making them clean so that their offerings are worthy to present to God. He will refine them and take away all their impurities.
But there are some odd things in this passage. For instance, what is “fuller’s soap?” A fuller was someone who would take the raw, dirty wool after sheep shearing and purify it using a variety of techniques, which included scrubbing with an extremely harsh soap that would make it clean. It was back-breaking, nasty work.
Malachi also compares God’s work to refining silver. But how is silver refined? A silversmith once explained to me how it’s done:
“While you are refining silver, you have to keep holding the container over the fire, holding it carefully with your hands. You can’t just set it down on some stationary device. You can’t be in a standing position. You have to sit down so you can stabilize the liquid and not allow it to sway. You can’t walk away from it, nor can you look away from it. Although the metal changes gradually, at the end it changes very quickly. It is in that final moment of refinement you can actually see your reflection in the silver. And that’s how you know it’s finished.”
God will refine us. Though that process can be painful, God is like a refiner. He will keep His faithful hands on us the whole time. He will not take His eyes away from us as we change until that moment when finally we become a reflection of our heavenly Father. In everything and at all times, be assured that our Lord always holds you lovingly in His hands.