Here is a worthwhile article on this week's OT reading: Frederick J. Gaiser, "Refiner's Fire and Laundry Soap: Images of God in Malachi 3:1-4," Word & World 19/1 (1999): 83-91. While many other Word & World issues are on the web already, the Winter 1999 issue is unfortunately not among them.
In the article, Gaiser talks about how reading and preaching this text in Zimbabwe has changed the way he sees its central images. First, a refiner's fire: "God is like that, says Malachi. A blazing fire. Hot and close," burning away faults that are as much a part of us as our virtues are. The image is industrial and (one might add cautiously) traditionally masculine. Paired with refiner's fire is laundry soap. God is like that, too: "a washer-woman, bent on cleaning up her family. Like fire, laundry soap, too, is a form of tough love," Gaiser notes (89).
Amid the disappointments and cynicism of present reality, Malachi sees, longs for, hopes for, proclaims a world of goodness and purity, where justice finally matters and integrity finally prevails. God is faithful, says Malachi, and will usher in such a world—even if it takes fire and water to get us there.
The New Testament announces that God does just this in the preaching of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus. Faithful Christian preachers will want to say the same. But they will need to do it in ways that communicate, in ways that make people pause before this big and lovingly angry God, a God who will never condone but will also never give up, a God of covenant.
Frederick J. Gaiser, "Refiner's Fire and Laundry Soap: Images of God in Malachi 3:1-4," Word & World 19/1 (1999): 87.