Distinction

ESV Malachi 3:18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

In studying this verse, I came across this paragraph by E. Ray Clendenon in his excellent commentary on Malachi from the New American Commentary series [Broadman & Holman]:

Jesus’ parable [of the wheat and the tares] suggests why God may say ‘you will again see the distinction.’ When a garden is first planted, it is easy to see the difference between it and the surrounding countryside. The difficulty only arises after the onset of weeds. Likewise at the beginning of Israel’s history the difference between God’s people and the nations, especially Egypt, was clearly visible (1 Kgs 8:53). Beginning with the fourth plague, God would ‘make a distinction between my people and your people’ (Exod 8:23), as was the case in all the remaining plagues (Exod 9:4, 11, 26; 10:6, 23). Finally, the tenth plague against the firstborn would cause unimaginable anguish, ‘but among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal. Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ Afterwards the Sabbath would be a ‘sign’ of Israel’s distinction (Exod 31:13, 17), as would the laws of the clean and unclean (Lev 10:10; 11:47; 20:25). But in spite of the object lesson at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal teaching Israel the consequences of obedience or disobedience (Deut 27:12-13; Josh 8:30-35), Israel soon lost their visible distinctiveness and became like all the nations (Deut 17:14; Ezek 20:32). Where God’s repeated discipline had failed to restore his people, his coming to purify the priesthood (Mal 3:1-4) and destroy the wicked on that final day will succeed (3:5; 4:1, 3). The situation of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous will no longer exist after the day of the Lord brings judgment and vindication. [pp. 448-449]

The verb ‘see the distinction’ is the normal word for ‘to see’ in the OT. Sight, or seeing, is the ability to distinguish differences visually. It is interesting that Clendenon picks up on distinctiveness as a theme for God’s people through the Old Testament. God has always desired his people to be visibly distinct from the world. Part of that distinction is in a clearly distinct mode of worship and a distinct lifestyle.

Today it seems that the church generally seeks to erase distinctions more than emphasize them or at least accentuate them. In Malachi, clarity comes in “the day” when God “makes up his jewels [precious treasure]” out of those who fear Him. This is a reference to the Day of the Lord and the judgement of the world.

Is it possible for God’s people to regain distinctiveness apart from the judgement of ‘the day’?

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