Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.Malachi 3:1. God Himself takes up (Malachi 3:1-6) the challenge, “Where is the God?” &c.
my messenger] They had been provided, in the priests, with a standing order of “messengers” of Jehovah (Malachi 2:7). From time to time His special “messengers”, the prophets (Haggai 1:13), had been sent to them. The last of such prophets, bearing as his only name, “Jehovah’s messenger”, was now exercising his office among them. But a yet more special “messenger” is to inaugurate that coming of Jehovah which they profess to desire. See Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27.
Prepare the way] Comp. Isaiah 40:3; and for the nature of the preparation, “by preaching of repentance”, Matthew 3:1-12.
the Lord] “He who had before spoken of Himself in the first person (“I will send”), now speaks of Himself in the third person.” Maurer. For a similar change of person, which is not uncommon in Hebrew, see Malachi 2:16 above. “We are sure He which spake those words was (Jehovah) the Lord of hosts; and we are as sure that Christ is that Lord before whose face John the Baptist prepared the way.” Pearson on the Creed. Article, Our Lord.
ye seek … ye delight in] A reference, not without irony, to the demand of Malachi 3:17, “where is” &c.
his temple] He, then, who comes is the Lord of the Temple. Haggai 2:9.
even the messenger of the covenant] The R.V., by printing “and” in the text instead of “even” (which however it retains in the margin), and also by the punctuation which it adopts, leaves room for the view that “the messenger of the covenant” is to be identified, not with “the Lord”, but with “the messenger” spoken of at the beginning of the verse, who is to “prepare the way” before Him: “And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts”. The weight of argument, however, seems clearly to preponderate in favour of identifying the “Messenger of the Covenant” with “the Lord”, who shall “suddenly come to His temple”. For thus the idea of the messenger, which pervades this prophecy (see Introd. pp. 13, 14) culminates (as do the Old Testament ideas of the prophet, the priest and the king) in the Messiah, who is in the highest sense the Messenger of God to man. The Angel, or Messenger, whose presence in the Church was recognised from the beginning (Acts 7:38; Exodus 23:20-21; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2; Exodus 33:14; Isaiah 63:9), follows up these “preludings of the Incarnation” by being “made flesh and dwelling amongst us”. The covenant, which was before the Law (Galatians 3:17) and yet by virtue of its later introduction “a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13), He comes, in fulfilment of promise and prophecy (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 55:3), as its Messenger and Mediator (Hebrews 12:24), to inaugurate and ratify with His blood (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 13:20); while He vindicates His claim to be “the God of judgment” whom they desired, by the work of discriminating justice which He performs (Malachi 3:2-5).
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:2. a refiner’s fire] Comp. Matthew 3:12.
fullers’ sope] “The process of fulling or cleansing cloth, so far as it may be gathered from the practice of other nations, consisted in treading or stamping on the garments with the feet or with bats in tubs of water, in which some alkaline substance answering the purpose of soap had been dissolved. The substances used for this purpose which are mentioned in Scripture are nitre, Proverbs 25:20; Jeremiah 2:22, and soap, Malachi 3:2.… The juice also of some saponaceous plant, perhaps Gypsaphila struthium, or Saponaria officinalis, was sometimes mixed with the water for the like purpose, and may thus be regarded as representing the soap of Scripture.” Dict. of Bible, Art. Fuller. But probably borax is meant.
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.3. he shall sit] The expression gives “pictorial effect” (Hengst.) to the description. Comp. “He shall stand and feed” &c., Micah 5:4, for a similar “pictorial effect”.
The figure of the fuller is dropped and the idea, common to both figures, prosecuted under this alone.
the sons of Levi] “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” 1 Peter 4:17. Those who had been first in offending (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9) shall first be dealt with. The judgment of the people at large as offenders also (Malachi 2:10-17) shall follow (Malachi 3:5).
purge them] The word is used of “straining” wine, Isaiah 25:6; but more frequently, as here, of refining precious metals. Job 28:1; 1 Chronicles 28:18; 1 Chronicles 29:4; Psalm 12:7.
The accumulation of words, refine, purify, purge, gives force to the description.
that they may offer … an offering] More exactly, and they shall offer … offerings, R.V.; the plural being doubtless adopted to denote, what the Hebrew expresses, the continuous act of offering.
in righteousness] Not only in outward conformity with the Law, as contrasted with “the lame and the sick” (Malachi 1:8; Malachi 1:13) but in pure affection of heart and holiness of life. Comp. Luke 1:6. On the similar expression “sacrifices of righteousness”, Psalm 4:5 [Hebrews 6], Dean Perowne observes, “The phrase occurs first in Deuteronomy 33:19, and denotes either (a) sacrifices that God will accept, because they are offered not merely according to the ritual of the Law, but with clean hands and pure hearts (Isaiah 29:13); or (b) fitting sacrifices, such as past sin requires, in order to put it away.” In the first of these senses it is used here.
Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.4. former] i.e., as margin and R.V., ancient. See ch. Malachi 2:5-6; Jeremiah 2:2-3.
And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.5. to judgment] This is the answer to the challenge of the people at large, “Where is the God of judgment?” The “messenger” shall be sent. The Lord of the temple shall suddenly follow him (Malachi 3:1). His first work shall be to purify the priesthood (Malachi 3:2-4). That accomplished, He shall open His solemn assize for the people generally (Malachi 3:5).
a swift witness] What need of further witnesses, when the Judge Himself is Witness also! “How great the dread of judgment, when He is witness and Judge! Witness too He is against all ‘sorcerers’ and ‘adulterers’, for these crimes are perpetrated in secret, and shall thus be brought forth to light, that they be hid no longer.” Jerome, quoted by Rosenmuller. We have a similar example of the identity of Judge and Witness, Psalm 50:6-7.
By “swift” is denoted not only the alacrity of the witness, but the suddenness with which the judgment falls: “not only that which happens without delay, but also that which bursts unexpectedly, after an interval of time, upon those who forgetful of warnings are living in security. In that sense the day of final judgment is predicted as αἰφνίδιος and sudden, Luke 21:34.” Rosenm. Comp. “suddenly”, Malachi 3:1 above.
from his right] These words are added both in A.V. and R.V. The fuller, though somewhat different expression, “turn aside (‘pervert’ A.V., ‘wrest’ R.V.) the judgment of the stranger”, occurs Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19. All the sins enumerated in this verse are condemned in terms in the Law.
fear not me] To this as to their root all the sins already mentioned are traced up, while at the same time many who were free from gross outward sins are by this condemned.
For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.6. For I am the Lord, I change not] Rather: For I, the Lord, change not: therefore (lit. and) ye, sons of Jacob, are not consumed. The unchangeableness of Him, whose name, Jehovah, “I am,” is the exponent of His nature, is appealed to as the ground (“for”) of His dealings with Israel. He changes not in His promises and purposes of grace (Romans 11:29); therefore, in spite of their rebellions and provocations, the sons of Jacob are still preserved. It is the same argument that is expanded in Psalm 89:28-37.
Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?Ch. Malachi 3:7 to Malachi 4:3. Renewed Rebukes, Threatenings and Promises
Ch. Malachi 3:7-12. Rebuke in the matter of Tithes and Offerings
7. Even from the days of your fathers] Omit even, with R.V. The connection with Malachi 3:6 is well given by Pusey: “Back to those days and from them, ye are gone away from My ordinances. ‘I am not changed from good; ye are not changed from evil. I am unchangeable in holiness; ye are unchangeable in perversity.’ ”
gone away] Rather, turned aside, R.V., as the same word is translated elsewhere, e.g. Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 23:6; and with the metaphor completed, turned aside from the way, Exodus 32:8; Deuteronomy 9:12.
Return unto me] Comp. Zechariah 1:3, where the word (turn, A.V.) is the same.
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.8. ye have robbed] Rather, rob; lit. are robbing: it is still going on.
tithes] By the Law of Moses (1) “the tenth of all produce, as well as of flocks and cattle, belongs to Jehovah and must be offered to Him” (Leviticus 27:30; Leviticus 27:32); and (2) this tenth is “assigned to the Levites as the reward of their services” (Numbers 18:21; Numbers 18:24). Nehemiah in his day had to deal once and again with the evil here rebuked. Notwithstanding the “sure covenant” into which they had entered (Nehemiah 9:38 with Nehemiah 10:32-39), he had occasion, on his return to Jerusalem after an absence of a few years, to reform them again in this very particular (Nehemiah 13:10-14).
Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.9. a curse] Rather, the curse. The threatened curse has already fallen upon you. See ch. Malachi 2:2 with Malachi 3:11.
have robbed] Rather rob, as in Malachi 3:8.
The pronouns in the Hebrew are emphatic: Me ye are robbing. And the evil is not confined to the priests (ch. Malachi 1:6-8; Malachi 1:12-14), but extends to “the whole nation”.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD 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.10. all the tithes] More exactly, the whole tithe, R. V. Cf. Deuteronomy 26:12.
the storehouse] This may have been the “great chamber”, or “lean to”, surrounding the second Temple on three sides, and consisting of three stories, each containing several rooms, which had been perverted from its original purpose as a receptacle of the tithes and offerings, and assigned by the High-priest to Tobiah, but which Nehemiah had restored to its proper use again (Nehemiah 10:38; Nehemiah 13:5-9; Nehemiah 13:12-13). It is not improbable that the “chambers”, which abutted to the height of three stories on the walls of Solomon’s Temple, were intended in like manner for storehouses (1 Kings 6:5-6). In the great Reformation under Hezekiah such chambers were “prepared”, either built or restored, in some part of the Temple area, to receive the enormous influx of tithes and offerings (2 Chronicles 31:11-12).
meat] The Hebrew word properly means “prey”, or “booty”. It has, however, the same meaning of “food” as here in Proverbs 31:15 (comp. Proverbs 30:8 for the verb in the same sense), and in Psalm 111:5.
the windows of heaven] Comp. Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2; 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:19.
that there shall not be room enough to receive it] Heb. till not enough. The ellipsis has been supplied in various ways: “till there be not (barely) enough, but much more than enough, i.e. abundance”; or “till there be no longer sufficiency with Me, or, as that can never be, in boundless measure”. The rendering, however, of A.V. and R.V., is the simplest and most satisfactory.
The history of the Jews in the time of Hezekiah had already afforded an example of the reward of faithful obedience, in the matter of tithes and offerings, in overflowing abundance bestowed upon them by God. 2 Chronicles 31:10.
And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.11. the devourer] lit. eater, i.e. any insect, especially the locust, that would devour the fruits of the earth. The same verb is used of the ravages of four insects, “probably different kinds of locusts, or locusts in different stages of growth” (R.V. marginal note), Joel 1:4.
The threatened curse was the “rebuke” (ch. Malachi 2:3, note) of the seed: the promised blessing is the “rebuke” of the devourer.
cast her fruit before the time] lit. miscarry. Comp. “a miscarrying womb”, Hosea 9:14; “miscarrying ground”, 2 Kings 2:19; 2 Kings 2:21. So Pliny speaks of “arborum abortus”. (Pusey after Gesen.) In Revelation 6:13 we read: “the stars of the heaven fall unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs, when she is shaken of a great wind.”
And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.12. call you blessed] or happy, R.V., as in Malachi 3:15. μακαριοῦσιν ὑμᾶς, LXX. Comp. μακαριοῦσι με, Luke 1:48, and James 5:11.
Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?Ch. Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3 The righteous judgment of God
13. have been stout] See Malachi 2:17. Comp. Job 21:14-15; Judges 15.
so much] Omit so much here, and often, Malachi 3:16. The force of the Hebrew conjugation is “reciprocal” (Gesen.), to speak “together”, or “one with another”. Comp. Psalm 119:23; Ezekiel 33:30.
It was not the perplexed questioning of a devout heart (Psalms 73), nor the secret cogitation of an ungodly heart (Psalm 14:1), but the open blasphemy of those who “sat in the seat of the scorner” (Psalm 1:1).
Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?14. kept his ordinance] lit. observed his observance. Kept his charge, R.V.
It is the same tendency to regard mere outward observance as true religion, which earlier prophets had denounced (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 58:1-4), and which culminated in the Pharisaism of New Testament times (John 18:28).
walked mournfully] With outward signs of mourning: “in mourning apparel”, R.V. as a sign of humiliation and contrition. Comp. Joel 2:13; Isaiah 58:5; Matthew 6:16-18.
There may possibly be a reference to the frequent national Fasts which were observed after the return from Babylon. See Zechariah 7:3; Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19.
And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.15. we call the proud happy] The word we is emphatic, and suggests a reference on the part of the speakers to Malachi 3:12 above: “Thou sayest that all nations shall call them that obey Thee happy; we, on the contrary, call the proud rebels against Thee happy.”
set up] Rather, built up, as A.V. margin, and R.V. Comp. Jeremiah 12:16; Job 22:23.
they that tempt, &c.] Rather, yea, they tempt God, and are delivered, as R.V. The persons are the same as in the preceding clause, “they that work wickedness”.
In this as in the earlier section of the prophecy the rebuke and denunciation of evil leads up to the prediction of impending judgment. In the earlier section the discriminating nature of the coming judgment is not lost sight of. It will purify as well as destroy (Malachi 3:3-4 with 5). But in this latter section this feature of discrimination becomes more prominent. And the thought is added, for the comfort of the godly, that the discriminating judgment exists already (Malachi 3:16-17), though its manifestation must be waited for till “the day” comes (Malachi 3:18). The day in which all men shall “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not”, will be the day, not of the inception, but of “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).
Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.16. Then] When they heard “the hard speeches which ungodly sinners spake against Him” (Judges 15), then they spake one to another words of reverent trust and love and piety. “The more the ungodly spake against God, the more these spake among themselves for God’ ” Pusey.
Some modern commentators, however (e.g. Maurer and Hitzig), regard Malachi 3:14-15 as the substance of what the godly spake one to another; and this view, unsatisfactory as it is, appears to be that of the LXX.: ταῦτα κατελάλησαν οἱ φοβούμενοι τὸν κύριον, ἕκαστος πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ.
spake often] Omit often. See note on Malachi 3:13 above.
a book of remembrance] Canon Rawlinson (in The Speaker’s Commentary, on Esther 6:3) says, “It was a settled principle of the Persian government that ‘Royal Benefactors’ were to receive an adequate reward. The names of such persons were placed on a special roll (Herod. VIII. 85), and great care was taken that they should be properly recompensed (see Herod. III. 140, v. II, VIII. 85; Thucyd. I. 138; Xen. Hel. 111. 1. § 6, &c.). It is a mistake, however, to suppose (Davidson) that they were always rewarded at once. Themistocles was inscribed on the list in b.c. 480, but did not obtain a reward till b.c. 465. Other ‘benefactors’ waited for months (Herod. Malachi 3:11) or perhaps years (ib. IX. 107) before they were recompensed.” The figure of a Book of record or remembrance, as kept or directed to be kept by Almighty God, is of early as well as of very general occurrence in Holy Scripture. Moreover there was a ‘Recorder’ in the court of the Hebrew kings. See Exodus 17:14; Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 7:10; Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12.
thought upon] Gesenius compares “which shall not regard silver”, Isaiah 13:17; “he regardeth no man”, Isaiah 33:8; “we esteemed him not”, Isaiah 53:3; in all which places the same Hebrew word is used. In all these places in Isaiah (though not here in Malachi) the LXX. have λογίζομαι as the equivalent, which is the word employed by St Paul in a similar sense, ταῦτα λογίζεσθε, Php 4:8.
And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.17. in that day when I make up my jewels] This rendering is supported by the Hebrew accents, and is adopted substantially in R.V. margin, wherein I do make a peculiar treasure. The phrase, however, to make a treasure, is awkward and unusual, and it seems every way better to take the word (for it is really one word) a-peculiar-treasure as exegetical of the former part of the verse: They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts … (as) a peculiar treasure. This accords with the early use of the same word by Almighty God with reference to Israel (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18). And it leaves us free to give the same meaning to the intermediate clause, in the day that I do, or make, here and in ch. Malachi 4:3. That clause is rendered by many commentators, and in R.V. text, in the day that I do make. (Comp. Psalm 118:24). But the frequent use in the O.T. of the verb here employed, absolutely and without any subject expressed, to denote the doing or working of the Almighty, the nature of that doing or working being undefined, or easily deducible from the context, support the rendering of R.V. margin, in the day that I do this. Perhaps, however, it would be better to leave the subject, as it is, unsupplied, and render, in that day when I do, (or act) i.e. when observation and purpose and promise pass into action. Comp. Psalm 22:31 [Heb. 32]; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 48:11; Jeremiah 14:7; Daniel 8:24. This view is confirmed by the emphatic personal pronoun, when I act, both here and in Malachi 4:3. The LXX. render in this verse, εἰς ἡμέραν ἣν ἐγὼ ποιῶ; but in Malachi 4:3, ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ᾖ ἐγὼ ποιῶ.
Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.18. return, and discern] When “judgment shall return unto righteousness” (Psalm 94:15), when, that is, the judgement of God shall not only be, as it ever is, but be seen to be righteous, then not only shall “all the upright in heart follow it” with glad approval, but those who have impiously called it in question (Malachi 3:14-15) shall witness and confess the justice of the discriminating sentence.