According to an ancient rabbinic story, one sabbath day a rabbi saw a man climb a tree to capture a mother bird and her young babies from their nest. In doing so, the man broke two Jewish laws: the prohibition against working on the sabbath (Climbing the tree was work.) and the commandment in Deuteronomy 22:6-7 that if
a person comes upon a mother bird in her nest, the babies can be taken but the mother must remain free. The man broke both of these rules, but he climbed down safely and went on his way.
The next day, the rabbi saw another man climb a tree. Since the sabbath had passed, this man was not breaking the sabbath law. When this man got to a nest, he took the babies but dutifully let the mother go free. Yet a poisonous snake was in the tree and bit this man so that he died. Contrasting these two incidents, the rabbi said, “There is no justice; there is no judge.”1
I have a personal story that seems to lead to the same conclusion. When I was a child, my parents were officers in the Salvation Army. During Christmas each year, they were especially busy, overseeing fundraising efforts, distributing food baskets to the poor, taking “sunshine baskets” to nursing homes, and doing other good deeds. Yet one Christmas Eve we came home from evening worship to find our house burglarized and our gifts gone. My parents were good guys, but bad guys got the gifts! I was not ready to conclude that there is no judge, but I was convinced that “there is no justice.”
Some of the people of Malachi’s time were arriving at a similar conclusion about the lack of justice in the world. However, they received a response from the prophet that caused them to look forward to a change to come in the course of time on this earth.