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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Malachi 3

 

 

Verse 1

Jehovah accepts the challenge implied in the question and replies in Malachi 3:1 ff., that he will appear speedily in a terrible judgment, that will result in the utter annihilation of the wicked, and in the purification and exaltation of the faithful. But before he himself appears he will send a messenger to prepare his way.

Behold, I will send — Better, Behold, I am about to send. The Hebrew construction implies the imminence of the event (G.-K., 116p).

My messenger — As the coming of an earthly king is heralded by a forerunner, so the coming of Jehovah will be heralded by a messenger. This messenger is not to be identified with “the messenger of the covenant” in this same verse, nor is he identical with the prophet, as if he declared himself to be the forerunner of Jehovah; on the other hand, he is identical with Elijah mentioned in Malachi 4:5.

Prepare the way — By removing every obstacle, so that Jehovah can move along smoothly. This forerunner is needed the more because Jehovah will come suddenly. The prediction is based upon Isaiah 40:3 ff.

The Lord — God himself. This title, which denotes the divine sovereignty, is frequently used by Isaiah, as here, to introduce threats. The change from the first person to the third is not uncommon in prophetic discourse.

Whom ye seek — Points back to Malachi 2:17, where they are represented as inquiring where he is (compare Isaiah 5:18).

Suddenly — Unexpectedly (compare Malachi 3:5; Luke 21:34).

To his temple — From which his activities will proceed once more (compare Amos 1:2; Isaiah 2:2-4). The coming will be in fulfillment of the prophecies of Haggai (Haggai 2:9) and Zechariah (Zechariah 2:5; Zechariah 2:10; Zechariah 8:3; compare Ezekiel 43:7).

Even the messenger of the covenant — According to this translation the messenger of the covenant is identical with the Lord; if so, he would be the same as the “angel of Jehovah,” who sometimes is identical with Jehovah himself (see on Zechariah 1:11). This identification is favored by the parallelism and the entire context, which knows of the coming of only one person to judgment. Why the title is applied to Jehovah is not quite clear; some have seen here an allusion to the new covenant of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34); Smend explains it as a title describing Jehovah as the one living in the midst of the covenant people (compare Daniel 11:22; Daniel 11:28; Daniel 11:30). Both these interpretations seem far-fetched. It seems much better to bring the expression into connection with the covenant mentioned in Malachi 2:10, and alluded to several times in chapter 2. Jehovah, appearing for judgment, is called the messenger of the covenant, because by means of the judgment he seeks to re-establish the covenant (compare Malachi 3:3-5), which priests and people have so shamefully desecrated.

Whom ye delight in — Identical in meaning with “whom ye seek” in the parallel clause; like it, it refers back to Malachi 2:17. There they express a wish for the appearance of Jehovah; this wish will be granted, though the sequel may not be to their liking (compare Amos 5:18-20). R.V. reads, “and the messenger of the covenant,” as if the messenger and the Lord were two distinct persons. Those who accept this translation, which the Hebrew permits, identify this messenger either with the messenger who is to be the forerunner of Jehovah, or with a being not mentioned otherwise. To identify the two messengers with one another is not possible, since the one precedes Jehovah while the other accompanies him. The other view sees in the messenger of the covenant the patron angel of the covenant nation (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20), who will appear with Jehovah and will sit by the side of Jehovah when he comes to dwell in the midst of the people. This is not an impossible interpretation; but on the whole the first interpretation discussed, which identifies the messenger of the covenant with the Lord, is to be preferred.

Behold, he shall come — The promise that Jehovah will come is reiterated for the sake of emphasis, and receives additional strength from the closing formula, “saith Jehovah of hosts.”


Verse 2

2. However, they will be disappointed when he appears, for he will come to execute a terrible judgment (compare Amos 5:18-20).

Who may abide… who shall stand — The moral and spiritual condition of the contemporaries of Malachi was such that it would be difficult for any one to endure the manifestation of Jehovah, for it meant death and destruction to everything impure.

Day of his coming… when he appeareth — As announced in Malachi 3:1. This is the day of Jehovah (see on Joel 1:15).

Refiner’s fire — Which burns up all the impure ingredients that are mixed with the precious metal (compare Zechariah 13:9).

Fullers’ soap — The process of fulling “seems to have consisted in washing the material with some preparation of lye, beating or rubbing it, and exposing it to the rays of the sun.” This preparation of lye, which was intended to remove all impurity, is here called soap (compare Jeremiah 2:22). That the day of Jehovah is a day of purging and purification is an idea frequently expressed in the Old Testament (Isaiah 4:2-4; Zechariah 13:9; compare Matthew 3:12).


Verse 3-4

3, 4. The first task of the Lord will be to purge the priests, that he may have once more (compare Malachi 2:5-6) a pure priesthood. Here as everywhere in the book the priests stand in the foreground.

He shall sit — As a judge upon the judgment seat; and yet his primary purpose is not to condemn, but to sift the good from the worthless, though in the process of sifting the dross will be burned.

Sons of Levi — The priests, who were the descendants of Levi (see on Malachi 2:4-5, and references there).

Purge them — From all sins and impurities that have made them unfit to represent the people before Jehovah (compare Malachi 1:9; Malachi 2:8-9). This done, they may again serve before the altar.

In righteousness — Not only in outward conformity to the law, but in a right state of heart, mind, and life. Offered by the regenerated priests, sacrifice will again be acceptable to Jehovah, and not, as now, abominable (Malachi 1:9; Malachi 2:8).

Days of old,… former years — When the faithful Levi (Malachi 2:4-6) ministered in the sanctuary.


Verse 5

5. Jehovah will prove himself a God of judgment (Malachi 2:17) to every evil doer, for the judgment will not be confined to the priests; the whole nation will feel it and all sinners will be swept away.

Near to you — To the people at large.

To judgment — A direct reference to the closing words of Malachi 2:17.

A swift witness — Jehovah is swift because (1) he will no longer delay but come speedily (Malachi 3:1; compare Zephaniah 1:14); (2) he knows the facts, and therefore needs to spend no time in securing the evidence; (3) he is both witness and judge (compare Isaiah 3:13-15; Psalms 50:6-7), and so can execute the judgment promptly.

Sorcerers — This is a general term denoting all persons who claimed to possess power over evil spirits, or to reveal secrets, or to consult the dead, etc. (compare Exodus 22:18; in the New Testament, Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6).

Adulterers — The low estimate placed upon the marriage relation (Malachi 2:10-16) would in many cases result in the practice of adultery. The laws against this form of vice were very strict (Leviticus 20:10; Exodus 20:14; compare Hosea 4:2).

False swearers — See on Zechariah 5:3-4; Hosea 4:2; compare Leviticus 19:12.

Oppress the hireling in his wages — Hebrew usage as well as the context favors the omission of “in his wages,” though the omission does in no wise affect the sense (compare Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

Widow,… fatherless — Also dependent upon the verb “oppress.” These two classes, in many cases without human defenders, were under the special care of Jehovah and of his people (Exodus 22:22-24; compare Isaiah 1:17), but again and again the unscrupulous nobles forgat their obligations (compare Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2).

Turn aside the stranger — See on Amos 5:12. The Hebrew ger, translated “stranger,” R.V. “sojourner,” is a technical term, which denotes a foreigner settled temporarily in Israel. W.R. Smith describes him as “a man of another tribe or district who, coming to sojourn in a place where he was not strengthened by the presence of his own kin, put himself under the protection of a clan or of a powerful chief.” Like the widows and orphans, these sojourners were under the special protection of Jehovah (compare Deuteronomy 27:19; Exodus 22:21).

Fear not me — See on Malachi 2:5. The lack of this fear was responsible for all other transgressions. In this manner the “God of judgment” will vindicate himself.


Verse 6-7

THE WRONGFUL WITHHOLDING OF TITHES AND OFFERINGS, Malachi 3:6-12.

Malachi 3:6 is somewhat obscure; therefore it is difficult to trace the exact relation of this section to the one preceding. Some prefer to make Malachi 3:6 the conclusion of the preceding paragraph (see below) and to begin anew with Malachi 3:7, but the verse is equally suitable as an introduction to what follows. Malachi 3:6-12 as a whole are the continuation of the thought of Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:5, since they also are directed against the skeptics of Malachi 2:17; and therefore we can speak of a break between Malachi 3:5 and Malachi 3:6 only in the sense that in Malachi 3:6-12, the prophet deals with a new phase of the question under consideration; there is continuity of thought in the entire section Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 4:3.

The skeptics have come to doubt that Jehovah is doing anything for them or the nation, and as a result they no longer observe the requirements of the law concerning tithes and offerings (Malachi 2:6-8). They have cried out for his manifestations (Malachi 2:17), but, says the prophet, he can return in power and mercy only if the people repent and turn to him (Malachi 2:7). When they inquire how they are to return, he informs them, by the bringing of tithes and offerings which they owe to him. If they do this they will soon discover that Jehovah still lives and that he can bless them with abundant prosperity (Malachi 2:9-12). In order to rightly understand the spirit of the prophet’s message, the connection of this passage with the one preceding (especially Malachi 2:3-5) must not be overlooked. He condemns the neglect of tithes and offerings, not because he considers that in itself the greatest sin in the sight of God, but because he understands that this neglect is due “to a religious cause, unbelief in Jehovah, and that the return to belief in him could not therefore be shown in a more practical way than by the payment of tithes.”

Malachi 3:6 declares that the charge brought in Malachi 2:17, is unwarranted.

I am the Lord, I change not — R.V., “I, Jehovah, change not.” He is still the “God of judgment.” If there seems to be a change in the character of his manifestations, this must be accounted for by the change in the people’s attitude toward him (compare Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).

Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed — This can only mean that because he is an unchangeable God, still recognizing certain covenant obligations (see on Malachi 2:5), the destruction which they fully deserve on account of their rebellion has been withheld thus far. It must be admitted that this thought is not quite suitable in the present context; a thought like “but ye, sons of Jacob, have changed” would be more in accord with the preceding statement. There is no objection against substituting but for therefore, as the Hebrew permits either translation; the difficulty is in the verb. Von Orelli, with a slight change in the vocalization, reads “you have not completed,” that is, your sins. This reading connects Malachi 3:6 more closely with Malachi 3:5, and the verse becomes the conclusion of Malachi 3:1-5, “I will be a swift witness,… for I change not (I am still the God of judgment)”; on the other hand, “you have not stopped sinning.” The emendation improves the present text, but it does not give the thought one would naturally expect. There remains more or less obscurity and uncertainty.

In accord with his custom to state first a general proposition, and then enlarge upon it, the prophet, in Malachi 3:7, points out more fully their inconsistency and fickleness hinted at in Malachi 3:6.

From the days of your fathers — An indefinite expression pointing to the distant past; from time immemorial they have rebelled against Jehovah.

Mine ordinances — Or, statutes. This term comprehends here all expressions of the divine will, written or oral, set forth by priest or prophet; all alike they have disregarded. This disobedience on their part is responsible for the failure of Jehovah to manifest himself as in the days gone by.

Return unto me — In obedience and love (see on Hosea 14:1; Amos 4:6; Joel 2:12).

I will return — In mercy and loving-kindness. As in other cases (Malachi 1:2; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:17), the prophet forestalls any excuse or attempt of self-justification.

Wherein shall we return? — In what particular? The question is intended to make the impression that they have done all that may be expected of them.


Verses 8-11

8. The reply is in the form of a question.

Will a man rob God? — A better translation of the first two clauses would be, “Will a man rob God, that you rob me?” (Compare Amos 6:12.) A question of astonishment that anyone should think of such a preposterous thing; and yet they have done it and are still doing it. The verb is unquestionably used in the sense of “defraud” — they do not pay their just dues; but there seems to be insufficient reason for substituting a different verb in Hebrew. Again an attempt is made to combat the prophet, and again he meets the objection.

In tithes and offerings — These they have withheld, and by doing so they have defrauded Jehovah. The last word means literally peace offering (compare Ezekiel 44:30; Nehemiah 10:39), which belongs to the priests (Ezekiel 44:30); here it includes every offering due to Jehovah. How they are defrauding him is stated in Malachi 1:6-14. The regulation of the tithes is found in Deuteronomy 14:22 ff.; Leviticus 27:30 ff.; Numbers 18:21 ff. (compare Amos 4:4); they also went to those ministering in the sanctuaries. Some portion they may have given, but not the proper percentage (compare Acts 5:1 ff.). 9.

You are cursed with a curse — Jehovah has already shown his displeasure, and still they continue in the evil ways. Wherein the curse consisted is not stated, but Malachi 3:10-12 imply that it came in the form of drought, poor harvests, and perhaps a plague of locusts. The curse has fallen upon the whole nation, because the whole nation has defrauded him.

In Malachi 3:10 the prophet returns to the question asked in Malachi 3:7; he informs his hearers wherein they should return.

Bring ye all the tithes — R.V., “the whole tithe.” The emphasis is upon whole; fraud is to cease, and they are to bring to Jehovah his full share.

Storehouse — Connected with the temple and built for the purpose of receiving gifts of this sort (Compare 2 Chronicles 31:11-12; Nehemiah 10:38-39).

Meat — R.V., “food”; both for Jehovah (see on Malachi 1:7) and for the ministering priests and Levites.

Prove me — Whether or not he is the God he was in the days when he chose Israel (Malachi 3:6), the God of judgment (Malachi 2:17), who rewards the good. That he punishes the evil they should have discovered long ago (Malachi 3:9; Malachi 3:11-12).

Herewith — Giving to Jehovah all his dues.

If I will not — May be translated “surely I will.”

Open… the windows of heaven — A figure denoting abundance of supply; the blessings will come like pouring rain (Genesis 7:11; Isaiah 24:18; compare 2 Kings 7:2).

There shall not be room enough — Literally, until there is no need, which means, in superabundance. While the whole of Malachi 3:10 may be understood as a promise of blessings of every sort, in view of Malachi 3:11-12 it is not improbable that the prophet has in mind a specific blessing, abundant rain, the lack of which has caused the harvests to fail (compare Joel 1:16-20; Joel 2:23; Amos 4:7-8).

Rebuke — The rebuke of Jehovah will cause flight or destruction.

The devourer — The locust, so called because of his destructiveness (see on Joel 1:7; compare Amos 4:9).

For your sakes — Who in those days will deserve the favor of Jehovah.

Your vine cast her fruit before the time — Before it ripens and brings benefit to the owner.

Field — See on Joel 1:11.


Verse 12

12. The prosperity of the people will become so marked that all the nations will call them blessed (Zechariah 8:13; Zechariah 8:23).

A delightsome land — A land where joy and felicity reign (Zechariah 7:14; Isaiah 62:4). In Malachi 3:1-5, the prophet states how Jehovah will manifest himself as a God of judgment by destroying the evil doers; in Malachi 3:6-12, how he will do it by rewarding the good.


Verse 13

A NEW DEFENSE OF JEHOVAH’S JUSTICE, Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3.

These verses are parallel in thought to Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:12. They also are addressed to a class of doubters (Malachi 2:17) whose confidence in Jehovah is shaken by the apparent inequalities of life; the good suffer while the wicked prosper (13-15). They are informed that their complaint is unwarranted, that Jehovah’s eye is over all, and, though at present the lot of the pious may seem hard, Jehovah keeps a record of those who are faithful, and when he appears in his temple (Malachi 3:1) he will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (16-18). The wicked will be destroyed root and branch (Malachi 4:1), while the righteous will be exalted forever (2, 3). In this wise, the prophet argues, Jehovah will prove himself a God of judgment and of justice.


Verse 13

13. Your words — Who are the persons addressed is made clear in Malachi 3:14-15, a class of people whose faith was shaken. The prophet may have in mind the same persons whose skepticism is met in Malachi 3:1-12.

Stout — Literally, are strong. Compare the colloquial “to be hard on a person.” Their words contain a serious accusation, which casts reflections on the character of Jehovah. Again the prophet places the general accusation at the head, to be expanded in the succeeding verses, and again he makes a question raised in self-defense his starting point (see on Malachi 1:2).

What have we spoken so much So much should be omitted; literally, what have we conversed, that is, spoken to one another, against Jehovah. It would seem that the complaint was a subject of conversation.

In Malachi 3:14-15 the prophet answers the question by reminding them of the contents of their conversations.

Serve God… have kept his ordinance… have walked mournfully — The first is a general statement that they recognized Jehovah as their Lord and Master, the second affirms ready obedience to his will (Zechariah 3:7), the third refers to acts of penitence and mourning over shortcomings and sins (Joel 2:12). They claim that, so far as they know, they have done all that the law requires. But, they argue, if they have done this they are entitled to the divine blessings. This belief found support in the law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), and it was the popular idea that a righteous and just God must reward the faithful service with prosperity and punish faithlessness with adversity (see on Amos 4:6-11). When these contemporaries of Malachi found that their expectations were not realized, they were seriously perplexed. So far as they could judge, no special benefits came to those who served Jehovah; on the contrary, pious persons were deeply afflicted, while the wicked lived in ease and prosperity.

And now — Introduces the statement of a present fact and experience.

We call the proud happy — The proud are not the heathen, but the arrogant persons within the Jewish community, who have no regard for God and who think that they can get along without him and religion, the very opposite of the humble, God-fearing persons mentioned in Malachi 3:16 (compare Psalms 19:13-14). These arrogant persons, who, according to the law (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:15 ff.), should have been smitten with the curse of God, were enjoying the greatest prosperity and every one considered them perfectly happy and contented (compare Psalms 37).

Are set up — R.V., “built up.” Instead of being destroyed they are built up like a magnificent structure; they flourish in all their undertakings. All this was contrary to the passages quoted from Deuteronomy, as well as to such prophetic utterances as Jeremiah 12:16-17.

Tempt God — The same verb is translated in Malachi 3:10 “prove”; here the thought is that they challenge Jehovah through their wickedness (Isaiah 5:18-19). Persons who do these things surely deserve to be destroyed, but instead, when they do get into difficulties, Jehovah graciously interferes and delivers them. With these experiences in everyday life contradicting the teaching of the past, is it any wonder that the people were perplexed, that grave doubts came into the minds of some? Had they “gone to the sanctuary of God” (Psalms 73:17) they might have found relief.

Not the entire community was carried away by these doubts; there were those who possessed a stronger faith, who passed through the same perplexities, but believed that Jehovah was still in the heavens, and that somehow at some time he would reward the faithful and punish the faithless. To these patient saints the prophet turns in Malachi 3:16.

Then — When the skeptically inclined had given expression to their misgivings (Malachi 3:14-15).

They that feared Jehovah — The God-fearing persons (see on Malachi 2:5) are the truly pious, whose faith in Jehovah is not easily shaken.

Spake often one to another — The evidences of skepticism on every hand caused the faithful to join forces and come together frequently for the purpose of strengthening one another’s faith and counteracting the spread of skepticism. What they “spake” is not stated; it is clearly implied, however, that they spoke words of counsel, encouragement, and exhortation, to wait patiently until Jehovah in his own good time would manifest his righteousness. It is not possible to identify the God-fearing persons of Malachi 3:16 with the persons who gave expression to their doubts in the language of Malachi 3:14-15; two distinct classes are meant. If so, the LXX. reading this or thus in the place of then cannot be considered an improvement over the present Hebrew text; and if it were original, this could not refer backward to Malachi 3:14-15, but must point forward to the conversations of the pious, which are not stated. It seems best to retain the present Hebrew text.

Hearkened,… heard — God paid attention to these conversations, and they were so pleasing to him that he determined to make a record of them and of the names of those who continued to fear him.

A book of remembrance — Certainly this is to be understood figuratively; the thought is that Jehovah will remember the conduct of these pious souls until the day of reckoning, when their patience and fidelity will receive suitable reward. The figure may have been suggested by the “book of chronicles” of the Persian court (Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2), in which seem to have been recorded the names and deeds of those who merited the royal favor (compare Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1).

For them — For the benefit of them.

Thought upon his name — Better, highly esteemed (Isaiah 13:17) or honored. For name see on Malachi 1:6, and references there.

17a is rendered more literally in R.V., “And they shall be mine, saith Jehovah of hosts, even mine own possession, in the day that I make”; margin, “do this”; literally, And they shall be to me, saith Jehovah of hosts, for the day on which I do, a possession. In the day (R.V.) — Literally, “for the day.” The names of the pious will be preserved (Malachi 3:16) for the day of reckoning, so that on that day they may be singled out to receive their reward. Make (R.V.) — Or, do; better, act, that is, in judgment. His inactivity of which the skeptics complain will then cease. A possession (R.V.) — He will acknowledge them as his own, and this acknowledgment will assure them the divine favor and protection (compare Exodus 19:5), in the day of reckoning, and will result in their salvation and glorification.

I will spare them — From all suffering and harm, just as a loving father protects his son who has rendered loving and obedient service to him.


Verse 18

18. In that day the skeptics will see that Jehovah does distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, and that he does reward all according to their deeds, whether they be good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Then — In the day mentioned in Malachi 3:17.

Ye — The skeptics addressed in Malachi 3:13 ff.

Return, and discern — Better, ye shall discern again. Accounts had been handed down from ancient times telling how Jehovah rewarded the good and punished the wicked; in their own days these divine manifestations seemed to have ceased, hence the skepticism; but in the day of Jehovah’s coming his fairness and justice will be recognized once more.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Malachi 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/malachi-3.html. 1874-1909.

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Monday, August 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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