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This and the following brief chapter (which is included with this one in the Hebrew Bible) are among the most Messianic passages in the Old Testament. This is appropriate indeed, because of the long, long night of Israel's new status, not any longer that of the faithful covenant people, yet still preserved and protected through the providence of God until the promised Messiah should arrive - that long, long night of about half a millennium was at this point in Israel's history about to begin. Indeed it had already begun. Israel is no longer referred to by God's prophet as "the people of God," but as "this whole nation" (Malachi 3:9). They would abide many days for God "without king, without prince, without altar, without sacrifice, and without ephod and teraphim" (Hosea 3:4-5). Robinson pointed out that most of these two chapters (Malachi 3-4) regards the Messiah, "The apocalyptic character of Malachi 3:13-4:2 is fine." It is simply incredible to us that he failed to include all of Malachi 3 in such an analysis, for the first verse (Malachi 3:1) of this chapter is one of the most brilliant and revealing prophecies of Jesus Christ in the whole Bible.
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts."
Homer Hailey provided this accurate interpretation of what is actually stated here:
"Jehovah's response to their question, "Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17), is that He himself will come, and suddenly. But before he comes, he will send his messenger to prepare the way before him. This promise of a messenger rests on Isaiah 40:3-5:
The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain; and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:3-5)."
It is strange that there should be any dispute over who this messenger is.
"I send my messenger ..." This messenger was none other than John the Baptist, a fact attested by the testimony of Jesus Christ himself and the holy apostles. (See more on this under Malachi 4:5,6, below.) It is a measure of critical arrogance that any man should deny this. "No sure identification of `my messenger' is possible ... Malachi 4:5,6 is a later addition, and consequently is not a reliable index to the thought of our prophet." What if such a remark were the truth? (which of course it isn't); is not the testimony of Jesus Christ the Lord reliable? Jesus said:"But I say unto you that Elijah has come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would ... then understood the disciples that he spake unto them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:11-13)."
So much for the question of who the messenger is. Beyond any question of doubt the prophecy referred to John the Baptist.
Note also that it is Almighty God who will send the messenger.
"He shall prepare the way before me ..." Practically all commentators on this passage have recognized that Malachi's prophecy is supplementary to the promise of Isaiah 40:3-5 (quoted above). The metaphor of Isaiah's prophecy means that in a manner comparable to that of ancient monarchs who sent messengers ahead of them to make preparations, smooth the roads, etc., just so, in like manner, before the Lord will come in the person of the Christ, a preparer will go before him, herald his coming and make ready the people to receive him. Isaiah's prophecy actually included what Malachi here said; and the accurate reading of Mark 1:2 has "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet ... etc." Of course, Mark applied it unequivocally to John the Baptist. "All that Malachi here prophesied, the same had Isaiah more concisely and more clearly prophesied in other words."
There are a number of very important implications of the truth revealed here, that God will send a messenger to prepare the way before the Messiah:
(1) Israel is not yet ready to receive the Messiah. The moral and religious condition of the whole nation is such that a further period of waiting is necessary. This fact of the nation's being yet unprepared for the reception of the Lord, shows that Israel had, "No grounds for murmuring at the delay of the manifestation of divine glory."
(2) The work of this messenger would not be a literal smoothing of roads, etc., as in Isaiah's metaphor, but would be worked out in the spiritual sector. John the Baptist would call the people to repentance, and point the way to One greater than himself.
(3) The actual work of identifying the Lord when he came would be the mission of this messenger, a mission fulfilled when John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
With regard to the problem inherent in the fact that John the Baptist was not actually Elijah, see under Malachi 4:5,6, below. Suffice it here to note that:"The identification does not mean that John is Elijah come back to earth according to some principle of reincarnation. The two were distinct personalities. Rather it does mean that John ministered `in the spirit and power of Elijah' (Luke 1:17)."
"And the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple ..."
Not only, would God send a messenger, the Lord himself would come to save his people (and all mankind). The purpose of the Lord's coming would not be that of restoring the scandalous old kingdom of the fleshly Israel, but that of the redemption of all men from sin. Note the impact of two clauses: "I will send ..." and "The Lord ... will come." This makes it absolutely necessary to differentiate between the messenger who preceded, and the Lord who came afterwards. The proper identification of "the Lord" in this passage makes him one and the same with Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.
"Whom ye seek ..." The thought of this is synchronous with "whom ye desire" as applied to the messenger of the covenant and shows that "The Lord whom ye seek" is the same as "the messenger of the covenant whom ye desire." Thus, the Lord himself is also a messenger, but of a far greater and more important dimension. The first messenger identified the Messenger who would reveal the New Covenant.
"Will suddenly come to his temple ..." Gill relates how:"This was interpreted by the Rabbis as a dramatic explosive visitation by which Messiah would announce his presence. It was this popular expectation which the devil exploited in tempting Jesus to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:9). To have done so would have won for him instant acceptance as the Messiah on the basis of popular though erroneous expectation.
"And the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire ..." This can be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ:"He is identified with the Lord; and he is the covenant angel who guided the Israelites to the promised land, and who is seen in the various theophanies of the Old Testament. The Divinity of Messiah is thus unequivocally asserted."
"Suddenly come to his temple ..." This was fulfilled in many ways. When Joseph and Mary presented Christ in the temple as an infant, the event was the occasion of the aged Simeon's magnificant identification of the Christ child as:"A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:32).
This, of course, was an eloquent testimony that here was indeed the Messiah. Jesus cleansed the temple twice, showing his full authority over it in both instances. He did indeed come "suddenly" to his temple. Baldwin was profoundly correct in the observation that:"The promise suggests that there was continuing disappointment with the second Temple, despite the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah (Haggai 2:7; Zechariah 2:10, etc.)."
Of course, Christ would build the true Temple, and would consign the second temple, as he had done with the first, to desecration and destruction.
"Behold, he cometh ..." There is absolutely nothing in this passage to justify the knee-jerk comment that, "Of course, Malachi thought all of this was going to happen right away." The very fact of Malachi's prophecy of John the Baptist (Elijah), who was thus identifiied with the first of the prophets, indicated that a new era was dawning. God's prophetic message was complete, and the period of waiting would ensue. That the Lord would appear "suddenly" also suggests that his coming would follow a long and indefinite period during which faith would almost disappear, and that his actual appearance would be an occasion of surprise. No Israelite could even begin to believe that the events foretold here would begin to unfold before the appearance of Elijah; and, since Elijah did not appear to that generation at all, no one could have supposed that all of this was in the process of happening right then.
"Whom ye seek ... whom ye desire ..." There is another thought in these words. The question asked by the Jews which had precipitated this prophecy (Malachi 2:17) was, in effect, a plea for the judgment day to come. They were like the people mentioned by Amos 5:18-20, who envisioned God's judgment as an occasion when God would kill all of their enemies and put them in charge of the whole world. Before Malachi was through with this, he would show that the judgment day is going to be bad news and not good news for a great many.
"But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap."
The coming of the "day of the Lord" is not the prophecy of any one-day event, except in the case of that day of the final judgment of all men, when God will judge in righteousness by that man whom he hath appointed ... even Jesus Christ; and, despite all the New Testament references to the final judgment being an apparent reference to a single, simultaneous event involving the totality of human kind, Christians should not imagine that they know all about what will occur then.
"The day of the Lord ..." refers to the Messianic age, from first to last; it referred to the Day of Pentecost; it referred to the destruction of Jerusalem; it referred to the first Advent of Christ; and it refers to the second Advent of Christ. That is why some prophecies must be applied to one event, or situation, and other prophecies to still other events, with some passages, such as the one here, having reference to a mighty principle dominating the whole Messianic age.
"Who can abide the day of his coming ...?" Israel could not abide the day of the coming of Jesus. They crucified him, incurring as a punishment the destruction of their city, state, and temple. The evil multitudes who did not accept Christ could not abide the day of his coming. But there is yet another application. At the final judgment, the New Testament prophet foretold that mighty men would hide in the caves and rocks of the mountains for terror, giving as the reason, "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17). In this connection, one should read again the startling prophecy of Amos 5:18-20. The notion that Malachi here refined and reduced the severity of Amos' prophecy is wrong. The passages are supplementary, not contradictory.
"Refiner's fire ..." The smelter must be applied to all men and all the institutions of men; only the pure shall stand. Only the just shall be saved; and, according to the Bible, the rest shall perish. This was the thing "Elijah" also referred to when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Matthew 3 has an account of his message: "His fan is in his hand; and he will thoroughly purge his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). This is exactly the thought behind the metaphor of the "refiner's fire."
"Malachi seems to blend, as Joel, the first and second coming of Christ. The first coming too was a time of sifting and severance, according as those, to whom he came, did or did not receive him."
"And he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness."
The Messianic thrust of the passage continues here. The covenant with Levi is no more; but there will be a new "priesthood," namely, the totality of all Christians in Christ, and their offerings "in righteousness" shall be such as were spoken of by Peter, whose language shows that he had this very passage in mind:
"The proof of your faith, being more precious than gold ... proved by fire ... ye are built up a spiritual house ... a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ, etc. (1 Peter 1:7; 2:5).
The sacrifices "in righteousness" offered by the Christian include: our faith (Philippians 2:17), the love of God (Mark 12:33), our words, "the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2), our confession of Christ (Hebrews 13:15,16), our baptism into Christ (Romans 12:1), our praise (Hebrews 13:15), our contributions (Philippians 4:18), our songs (Colossians 3:16), our prayers (Revelation 5:8), the entire life of a Christian (2 Timothy 4:4), etc. In this dispensation, the bloody sacrifices of the Mosaic law are replaced by spiritual sacrifices. These must be distinguished from the One Great Sacrifice of the blood of Christ for all men, which is the atonement for sin.
The fact of the priesthood (Levi) being mentioned first here indicated that God's judgment would always begin with those of the greatest privilege. It is so even yet, and eternally. "For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel?" (1 Peter 4:17). Peter's conclusion here fits exactly into this prophecy. Hailey's deduction is therefore correct: "The Lord will not come simply as a judge of the heathen, but as a judge of His own as well."
"Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto Jehovah, as in the days of old, and in ancient years."
Malachi has been criticized by some for glamorizing "the good old days" in this passage, but there is eternal truth in what he said. The days of Abraham, Moses, and David had indeed revealed a better response to the word of God than was evident in the times of Malachi, but it might very well be that the prophet here spoke of the peace and righteousness and tranquility of Eden itself before sin entered. Whatever was meant, the "Judah and Jerusalem" of this verse are not to be understood in any sense as the literal land of Palestine. It is the ideal Jerusalem, the Church of the Living God, which is meant. Not all the scholars have discerned this; but, as Pusey declared: "Judah and Jerusalem then are here the Christian Church." Also, as Keil wrote:
"We must not infer from Malachi 3:3,4 that Malachi imagined that Old Testament worship would be continued during Messianic times; but his words are to be explained from the custom of the prophets, using forms of the Old Testament worship to depict the reverence for God which would characterize the new covenant."
Before leaving these verses (Malachi 3:3,4), the problem raised by Smith should be noted: "The emphasis upon sacrifice and ritual here is in striking contrast to the depreciation of ritual at the hands of the earlier prophets." Such a view derives from two fundamental errors: (1) the earlier prophets did not depreciate ritual at all, but ritual insincerely practiced. The common critical opinion that God's prophets care for nothing except social justice is a ridiculous caricature of what they really taught. (2) The "offering" here refers to the "spiritual sacrifices" of the new covenant, which throughout the New Testament receive the most emphatic emphasis.
"And I will come near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against the false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the sojourner from his right, and fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts."
This summarizes the social injustices which marked the Israel of Malachi's day, which were abhorrent to God, not merely at that time, but in all generations; and the fact of Malachi's mentioning the components of the true worship of God prior to and ahead of these obligations has been an embarrassment to some of the "social gospel" commentators; but the order given here is correct. The reason for this lies in the truth that social justice never was maintained at any place on earth in any time of human history, apart from the knowledge and worship of the true God. The worship of God and social justice stand related to each other as cause and effect. The fool's proposition that ethical and moral equity can appear apart from and totally dissociated from the worship of God in Christ is disproved by every page of human history. As Durant expressed it: "There is no significant example in history ... of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion." All of the holy apostles of the New Testament followed the same order of stressing religious duties to God first, and moral and social obligations afterward. The outline of every one of Paul's epistles was doctrine first, hortatory second. Jesus himself in giving the "first and great commandment," made "love of God" first, and "love of neighbor second." People cannot improve upon this order.
The terror of such a judgment as that mentioned here lies in the fact that God is both witness and judge, as well as executioner of the penalty.
Regarding the abuses singled out here: sorcery, which the Jews had probably picked up in Babylon, flourished right down to the days of Elymas (Acts 13:8); adultery, a prevalent sin in Israel, was committed in an aggravated sense through their marriage of foreign wives, and by their heartless divorce of their lawful spouses; the significant fact about all these evils was that they continued unabated until the Messiah came.
"And fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts ..." As Hailey said, "The root of their actions was clear; they did not fear Jehovah." Far more than that, however, is indicated. (See, above, under this verse.) All social evils have the same root and source. If men want a better society, it must begin by a return to God, a revival of his praise and worship. Such things are not secondary; they are primary.
"For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore, ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."
Some scholars are incredulous at such a statement as this. Smith revised it with the comment that, "Nothing less than a clear threat of punishment will satisfy the context." Accordingly, he read the passage, "Therefore, ye sons of Jacob shall be consumed." However, Malachi, not Powis Smith, should be followed. Smith did not understand what the passage means.
The unchangeableness of God meant that, no matter what Israel did, God would preserve them until the Messiah was delivered to mankind through their flesh. What the passage is saying is, that if it were not for the immutable promises of God, Jacob would have been consumed in an instant, a fate which they fully deserved. If God had destroyed fleshly Israel, the Messiah would not have come; and all men would have been forever lost in sin. It was, therefore, with respect to God's eternal purpose of redemption, that he could not, and would not destroy Jacob. Adam Clarke properly discerned the import of the passage:
"Because of this ancient covenant, ye Jews are not totally consumed; but ye are now, and shall be still, preserved as a distinct people."
The continuity of fleshly Israel upon the earth, despite their perpetual and persistent rebellion against the will of God is one of the great mysteries of all time. Paul revealed in Romans 11:25,26 that this continuity of the fleshly Jews will go on until 'the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled," which many understand to be the end of the world. However, two things should be kept clearly in mind:
(1) The continuity of fleshly Israel does not mean their perpetual enjoyment of any status as "God's chosen people." That, they are not; nor have they ever been so since the days of the Minor Prophets. The unwillingness of God to destroy Jacob cannot be read as any approval of Jacob. It was only that he was a physical necessity until Messiah should be born.
(2) The continuity of fleshly Israel in the times subsequent to their official hardening and destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. shows that some very good reason attaches to God's preservation of them until this very day. In the light of what has occurred, it is clear enough that the preservation of fleshly Israel has signally aided and encouraged the growth of Christianity. They stand mid-stream in human history, still hardened, still bitterly opposed to Christ; but the Jews themselves are the proof of everything their Bible says, as well as of everything in the New Testament. This too is a mystery of God. (See full comments on this amazing truth in my commentary on Romans, pp. 411-417. But the corollary with the pre-Christian Jacob is likewise true. This fleshly continuity of Israel does not endow fleshly Jews with any status as "God's chosen people." The only "Chosen People" God has ever had since the day of Pentecost is composed of that remnant of mankind (including Jews and Gentiles exactly alike) who are baptized into Christ.
It is distressing that many commentators read God's words about "Not consuming Jacob," here as a pledge that "God will save us, no matter what we do. Our confidence is in the unchangeableness of God." This thought is foreign to the passage. The people who will be saved are those who serve God; and the people who will not be saved are the ones who do not serve God, as Malachi himself stated in Malachi 3:18.
"From the days of your fathers ye have turned aside from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, Saith Jehovah of hosts. But ye say, Wherein shall we return?"
The apostasy of Israel had begun almost from the very first and flourished unabated throughout pre-Christian and Christian history alike.
"Wherein shall we return ...?" "This is the same old Pharisaical spirit as in Malachi 1:6, etc., throughout the prophecy. They do not acknowledge their offense; they consider that they are righteous and need no repentance." As Smith said, "The question is not bona fide, but a virtual declaration of innocence."
Pusey contrasted the unchangeableness of God with the unchangeableness of Jacob! "I am not changed from good; ye are not changed from evil."
"Will a man rob God? yet ye rob me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings."
A proper appreciation and understanding of what Malachi taught here would prostrate many a Christian upon his knees in repentance. If God considered the non-payment of tithes, or the mere partial payment of them as "robbing God," what about millions of professed Christians who do not give as much to the work of God as they spend for soft drinks and tobacco? Any candid appraisal of what men are doing today must reach the conclusion that they have certainly not stopped robbing God!
CONCERNING THE TITHE
The tithe means "a tenth," that part of the year's harvest which was due to be paid for the support of the worship of God. It was holy unto the Lord (Leviticus 27:30-33). God had commanded it to be given, not because God needed to receive it, but because men needed to pay it. As for the question of whether or not a Christian is obligated to tithe his income, it appears to this writer that nothing less than this should be expected of every true child of God.
Yes, there are liberties in Christ that did not apply in the Law of Moses; yes, it's true that no specific regulation regarding the tithe is to be found in the New Testament; yes, it's true that many Christians boldly affirm that the old laws on tithing do not apply in the church. However, we are commanded to give "freely," and to give "liberally," and to give "as God has prospered us," etc. Therefore, we emphatically deny that giving less than a tenth can, by any stretch of imagination, be designated as giving freely and liberally, or as God has prospered us. The arrogant selfishness of God's redeemed people, as demonstrated by what they give, must be put alongside the example of those ancient Jews, and must be classified by the same words of Malachi. It is robbing God! (See further discussion of this subject in my commentary on Hebrews, pp. 144-146.)
It has already been noted that ethical and social morality flow downward and receive their motivation from a proper relation to God. Malachi had just enumerated some of the gross immoralities of the people; but in this passage he blasted the pinnacle of their sins. They were robbing God! When one deliberately robs his God and Creator, will he then be faithful to his wife? When one has already violated the highest obligation that the soul knows, will he then avoid swearing a lie, defrauding a neighbor, or swindling a sojourner out of his rights? Let a man honor his duties to God first, for only God is able to convince him of the sanctity of any lesser duty.
An illustration: This writer once performed the wedding ceremony for a lovely couple. The groom was a devoted Christian, faithful in every way. His bride was not religious, and she deliberately set out to change his religious life. Seven years afterward, and a number of years after her husband had drifted completely away from the church, that worldly little woman came desperately seeking help for the preservation of her marriage. Her husband had taken up with one of the girls at the office! She was patiently listened to and then told as tenderly as possible:
"Look, dear, when you took him away from his God and Saviour, you cut the bud out of his moral and spiritual life. Why should he be faithful to you, when he is not faithful to his God? Bring him back to Jesus; and then, but not before then, something might be done to save your home."
It is not a light thing when one of the Christian partners stops attending church. The wreck of the top of the structure of man's moral life will, in the process of time, usually be communicated downward, ultimately destroying all honor, virtue, and morality.
"Ye are cursed with the curse; for ye rob me, even this whole nation."
"The curse ..." Again, note the definite article. It is indicative of the end of relationship with God. It is that which followed the final and judicial hardening visited by God upon incorrigible sinners. (See under Malachi 2:2, above.)
"Even this whole nation ..." Israel is not here designated as my people," or "the people of God"; the status of Israel from this time forward in human history was simply that of any other people on earth. "The word here, `nation,' is normally used only of the heathen; and so it reminds them that their conduct was unworthy of a covenant people."
"Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
"The whole tithe ..." As Smith said, "The form ... suggests not that the tithe had been allowed to go wholly by default, but that it had not been paid in full."
"There shall not be room enough to receive it ..." This carries the meaning that, "God's gifts will overflow the capacity of his children to receive them." It will be remembered that in 2 Kings 4:1-7, Elisha aided the widow in preventing her sons from being sold as bondmen. The oil flowed as long as there was a vessel in which to place it; but when no other vessel remained, the oil ceased. How limited indeed are the capacities of men to receive the blessings of God!
"And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before the time in the field, saith Jehovah of hosts."
"The notable thing about this entire description of the manifestation of God's favor is that the only blessings mentioned are of a material character." It would seem that God decided to meet the people on their own level. Since they do not appreciate anything except material prosperity, that also would be revealed to them as a blessing from God and from God only. Let them return to God, and he would bestow upon them material prosperity.
The question of God's giving material blessings to Christians in the present times is also related to what is revealed here. Although, the blessings of the New Testament include primarily the spiritual and holy blessings of a renewed fellowship with God, material blessings are also positively included. Note:
"There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life!" (Mark 10:29,30).
"God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:7,8).
"And all nations shall call you happy; for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith Jehovah of hosts."
This is a summary of promises of blessing, showing that God's blessing would include everything necessary for a wholesome and happy environment of the people of God, provided only, that they would respond to his love by obeying his commandments, honoring his name, and giving to him their praise, thanksgiving and offerings as he had commanded them.
Isaiah 62:1-4 has a description of such times:
"The nations shall see thy righteousness ... thou shalt be a crown of beauty in the land of Jehovah ... thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken ... nor Desolate: but thou shalt be called My-delight-is-in-her, and thy land, Beulah."
By no imaginative accommodation may such promises be applied to fleshly Israel in the land of Palestine. What is surely in view here is the righteousness and peace of the new covenant people who will come to the foreground in the New Testament. The certainty of this lies in this very passage from Isaiah which also contains the prophecy of the "new name," which can be none other than the name Christian (Isaiah 62:2).
"Your words have been stout against me, saith Jehovah. Yet ye say, What have we spoken against thee?"
In response to the charge of speaking against God, the people make their usual denial, professing an innocence which they are too wicked to merit, but their wickedness is not apparent to those whose minds have been darkened and whose hearts have been hardened. Very well, Malachi will spell it out for them in the next line of the prophecy.
"Ye have said, It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge, and that we have walked mournfully before Jehovah of hosts?"
This is the age-old problem of the prosperity of the wicked contrasted with the struggles and tribulations of the righteous. Psalms 73 addresses the same problem. The saints of all ages have confronted it and have been perplexed by it. There is only one answer; and it is the same in the Psalm, or in Malachi, or always.
"It was too painful for me,
Until I went into the sanctuary of God,
And considered their latter end" (Psalms 73:16-17).
"Their latter end ..." If this life alone constituted the sum and total of all being, then it would have to be allowed that there are many situations in which the wicked clearly have an advantage. However, the Word of God teaches that there is a judgment of Almighty God, upon which occasion the wicked will be punished and the righteous rewarded. The child of faith should therefore be established and grounded in the conviction that the Father will surely see to it that he receives all, and far more, than he could deserve, and that, "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ's, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Mark 9:41).
The reason many today fall into the same evil attitude as that here rebuked by Malachi lies in the fact that the New Testament doctrine of the eternal judgment has been soft pedaled, or even eliminated from the perverted theology of our times. The doctrine of the judgment is one of the fundamentals of Christianity (Hebrews 6:2); and, without it, there is no answer at all to such problems as this one. There is also another phase of the problem, as cited by Jamieson:
"The Jews mistook utterly the nature of God's service, converting it into a mercenary bargain. They attended to outward observances, not from love of God, but in the hope of being well paid for it in outward prosperity."
"We have walked mournfully ..." Like Hailey, we identify the mourning here with those self-originated fasts of Zechariah (Zechariah 7-8). Whether or not the Jews were sincere in observing such unauthorized fasts, is immaterial. The point is, they were trusting in their own devices, instead of returning to God.
"And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are built up; yea, they tempt God and escape."
The "proud" mentioned here, or "arrogant," are not the heathen but the godless Israelites who have cast off all restraints of holy religion and were living like the pagans which they in heart had become. Malachi will answer their objections. In the next three verses (Malachi 3:16-18):
"He assures the plus that Yahweh has not forgotten them, but intends to treat them with a Father's love in the great day of judgment that is coming. They will then realize fully the distinction that God makes between the godly and the ungodly. In that day, the wicked will be wholly consumed, like stubble in the flames, whereas the righteous will rejoice exceedingly and will triumph gloriously over their enemies.
"Then they that feared Jehovah spake one with another; and Jehovah hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared Jehovah, and that thought upon his name."
Christians should not trouble themselves about the justice of God. God Himself is keeping the records; he knows them that are his; their eternal felicity is assured; God hears their prayers; God will reward them gloriously.
"They that feared Jehovah spake often with one another ..." The need of the community of fellowship is basic and necessary for meeting the trials and temptations of life. It was true of ancient Israel, and it is true today. Men who forsake the fellowship of the church are unquestionably on the way to eternal shame. The human soul needs the support, fellowship, and encouragement of "the communion of the saints," all of which are abundantly available to the Christian in the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, ordained of God to supply these basic pre-conditions of fidelity.
"A book of remembrance ..." This is a metaphor, of course. God does not need a literal book, or anyone to write in it. The thought here is quite similar to that in passages which mention the "book of Life." The thought of God's keeping his records in a book occurs in several Old Testament passages (Exodus 32:32,33; Psalms 69:28; 86:6; and Daniel 12:1). "But only Malachi calls it a book of remembrance." Keil thought the metaphor here is founded, "On the custom of the Persians, of having the names of those who deserved the king's favor written in a book with a notice of their merits."; Esther 6:1 refers to such a custom as it affected Mordecai. (Compare Philippians 4:3; Revelation 20:12).
Of the very greatest importance is the glimpse afforded in this passage of that "righteous remnant," so often mentioned in the Old Testament. "There is never a time when Jehovah does not have his `seven thousand in Israel' whose knees have not bowed unto Baal (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4)." The great and final apostasy had already descended upon the nation once called "the chosen people"; but God's purpose of redemption was not at all frustrated. In the midst of the wicked nation, there were those who "waited for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43). "were looking for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 1:25), and who also, "departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day" (Luke 1:37). There were a few Israelites indeed, true sons of Abraham, who were without guile (John 1:47), and a few whom Jesus Christ himself identified as "sons of Abraham" (Luke 19:9). No one knows how large this minority was at any given time; but the truth of its existence is clearly given.
This priceless verse in Malachi gives the secret of maintaining faith and confidence in a time of widespread wickedness:
"When the fire of religion burns low, true believers should draw the nearer together, to keep the holy flame alive. Coals separated soon go out."
"And they shall be mine, saith Jehovah of hosts, even mine own possession, and in the day that I make; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him."
In the background of such a prophecy as this, and in many other such promises in the Old Testament, there is the haunting fear of that "day," that terrible day that shall conclude the course of men on earth. A proper understanding of God's promise to "spare them" must be read against the universal consciousness of Doomsday that flies like a banner over both the Old Testament and the New Testament. "The end of the world" was mentioned in the giving of the Great Commission; and that ultimate catastrophe which, like the sword of Damocles, hangs over the heads of all mankind, is a definite part of holy revelation; and the concept of it is inseparably joined to all of the sacred promises of the entire Bible.
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the prognosis for man's future upon earth, as provided by the philosophies of infidels and unbelievers, invariably carries this pathetic threat. Bertrand Russell, for example, stated that the future of man on earth was no more promising than that of the pterodactyl or the brontosaurus. The world around us indeed seems to be rushing headlong forward on a collision course with disaster. Particularly, the last great prophecy delivered to mankind, the Book of Revelation, is a sevenfold description of the end of the present order and the founding of a new one. The assignment of the true follower of God in Christ is exactly that of the saints of old who waited patiently for the kingdom. True, the kingdom for us has come; but the ultimate execution of the wrath and judgment of God upon human wickedness has not yet occurred. And amid the howls and shrieks of unregenerated men who scoff at such things, let the true Christian remember that "In your patience ye shall possess your souls" (Luke 21:19).
"Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."
"Him that serveth God ... serveth not ..." Again, in the Bible there appears here the grand cleavage of human kind into two, and only two classes, a division that appears repeatedly throughout the Bible. The wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad, the right hand and the left, the keepers and the rejects, the wheat and the tares, the wise and the foolish there are many examples.
Gasque gave the meaning here as: "Therefore, it does make sense to serve God even in a day when it seems that the majority have forsaken him."
"The parallelism here identifies the righteous as one who served God, and the wicked with one who does not serve him." The relationship of the soul to God is determinative; and that relationship is either proved or disproved by whether or not one does or does not serve God. Jesus strictly advocated the same principle:
"The people who hear Jesus' words and do them will be saved; the people who hear his words and do them not will be lost" (Matthew 7:24-27).
"Not everyone that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of God; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Malachi 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13