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In Malachi 3:2-3 the day of the Lord's coming is said to be "like a refiner 's fire and like fullers' soap." I can understand that he would purify by fire because fire was used to purify metals and such, but 'soap' seems a little off to me for some reason. I don't usually think of the Lord's coming as a kind of laundromat. It just seems a little casual or at least non-threatening to be warned about being scrubbed with some soft and sudsy soap.

What exactly does the original Hebrew mean by what the ESV calls fuller' soap?

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In Hebrew writing, it is common to express the same idea twice but using two different phrasings or metaphors. For example, in Micah 4:3, the prophet writes:

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;

The same idea is given twice: instruments of war will become instruments of peacetime. Similarly in Micah 3:2, the idea of "fuller's soap" should be understood along the lines of "refiner's fire." With the refiner's fire, someone would bring a lump of gold or silver and the refiner would use fire to burn off the dross and purify the precious metal. Similarly people would bring their wool to the fuller and he would use soap to clean the wool and remove the impurities so that what is left is pure wool.

Perhaps the reason soap doesn't sound threatening is that the metaphor is misunderstood. The gold or wool being refined or purified is not an individual, but it is the nation itself. In verse 1:1, the oracle of God spoken by Malachi is spoken to Israel. Thus the question, "Who can endure his coming?" When the soap comes only those who are pure will remain. Certainly not the sorcerers or the adulterers or those who speak falsely or the those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger, says Malachi.

Reading earlier in Malachi we see that the priesthood has been defiled; they offer polluted offerings, they have turned from God and refuse to listen to him, they profane God's covenant. Malachi therefore warns them that God is coming in judgment, and if they do not turn back to God they will certainly not be able to stand at his coming. For He is a refiner's fire who burns away the kind of dross that they represent. And He is a fuller's soap who scrubs out the kind of dirt and defilement that they represent.

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בֹּרִית -- HALOT, page 159, says "alkaline salt extracted from soap-plant" and goes on to to compare it to בר meaning II -- potash or lye. The particular word occurs twice, here and in Jr 2:22. This is not a bar of dove, but a harsh chemical that could cause injuries.

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The refiners fire purified the metal by melting it down completely so the dross hidden within it could be removed. Using fullers soap was a process that made the material become whiter than it normally was - white white - as white as it possibly could be by any other process - as I understand it, the soap was smelly and very offensive to the nose, also the process involved trampling or beating the material to obtain the desired result. If we, figuratively speaking, go through either or both of these processes so that we may be able to feel remotely at ease in the presence of the Lord at His coming, we will understand that our outer limits of endurance in keeping His commandments will be tried until we may feel as though we have passed through the process of a refiners fire or the equally rigorous process of fullers soap to become more perfect and clean than even we could imajinepossible at this time. While this may seem harsh and overwhelming, we have His promise that he will always be with us to give us strength, He will not give us more than we can handle. Remember He loves us more than anything or He wouldn't have given us commandments to help us avoid many of the hardships of life if we chose to follow them. Everything won't always turn out the way we might hope as we see it with our current understanding and desire, but in the end we will become a product that will be equally hard for us to imagine. He understands us, He has descended lower than any trial we will ever be given the opportunity to pass through in this life.

  • The refiners fire purifies the inside' the fullers soap purifies the outside – user17294 Oct 31 '16 at 3:58
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  • I'd suggest taking the site tour, viewing a few different questions and considering whether you could flesh out this answer a little bit more - perhaps by breaking it down into two or more paragraphs it would become a bit easier to read. More importantly, this doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. – Steve Taylor Nov 1 '16 at 13:43

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