Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.III.
(1) I will send.—Or, I send. It is the participle used as the prophetic present. (Comp. Note on Malachi 1:11.)
My messenger.—Heb., Malachi, my angel, or my messenger, with a play on the name of the prophet. In Malachi 2:7, he calls the priest the angel or messenger of the LORD. There can be little doubt that he is influenced in his choice of the term by his own personal name (see Introd.). This “messenger,” by the distinct reference to Isaiah 40:3, contained in the words, “and he shall prepare,” &c., is evidently the same as he whom [the deutero-] Isaiah prophetically heard crying, “In the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Moreover, from the nature of his mission, he is proved to be identical with the “Elijah” of Malachi 4:3. These words had their first, if not their perfect fulfilment in John the Baptist (Matthew 17:12).
The Lord.—This word “Lord” occurs eight times with the definite article, but always, except here, with the name of God following it: viz., Exodus 23:17, followed by “Jehovah;” Exodus 34:23, by “Jehovah, the God of Israel;” in Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 19:4, by “Jehovah Zebaoth;” and in Isaiah 10:16, by “the Lord of Zebaoth.” And here, as elsewhere, it must mean God Himself, because He is said to come “to his temple,” and because He is said to be He “whom ye seek:” i.e., “the God of judgment” (Malachi 2:17).
The messenger (or angel) of the covenant.—This expression occurs only in this passage. Identified as He is here with “the Lord,” He can be no other than the Son of God, who was manifested in the flesh as the Messiah. In the word “covenant” there is, perhaps, some reference to the “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31), but the meaning of the word must not be limited to this.
Delight in.—Rather, desire.
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) This coming of the Lord to His temple acts as a crucial test (comp. Luke 2:35); the people ought, therefore, seriously to have considered how far they were prepared for that advent before they desired it so eagerly and impatiently.
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) Sons of Levi.—Meaning especially the priests, the sons of Aaron, son of Amram, son of Kohath, son of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20); for judgment must begin at the house of God. (Comp. Jeremiah 25:29; Ezekiel 9:6; 1Peter 4:17.)
In righteousness refers rather to the moral character of the offerer than to the nature of the sacrifices, as being such as were prescribed by the Law. This and the following verse do not, of course, imply that there are to be material sacrifices in Messianic times. The prophet speaks in such language as was suitable to the age in which he lived. (See Note on Malachi 1:11.)
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) Days of old . . . former years.—Perhaps, if we must define the period, from the time of Moses to the first year of the reign of Solomon. But we cannot be certain on this point. It seems to be one of the characteristics of Malachi to be somewhat of a laudator temporis acti. (Comp. Malachi 2:5-7.)
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) All these crimes were explicitly forbidden by the Law. Sorcery (Exodus 22:18), adultery (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), false-swearing (Leviticus 19:12), defrauding, or withholding of wages (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15), oppressing the widow and orphan (Exodus 22:22-24), doing injustice to a stranger (Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19). (Comp. also Zechariah 7:9-10; Zechariah 8:16-17.)
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.—Better, For I Jehovah change not. Because it is the Eternal’s unchangeable will that the sons of Jacob, His chosen people, should not perish as a nation, He will purify them by the eradication of the wicked among them, that the remnant (the superior part; see Note on Malachi 2:15) may return to their allegiance. (Comp. Romans 11) Ewald renders the words: For I, the LORD, have not changed: hut ye sons of Jacob, have ye not altered? But the last verb does not mean “to alter;” and, moreover, the former translation is exactly in accordance with the wording of the prayer in Ezra 9:14-15.
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?(7) Even from . . . fathers.—Throughout the whole course of their history they had been a people (Exodus 32:9, &c.); and now, when exhorted to repent, they ask in feigned innocence:—
Wherein shall we return? . . . Return unto me . . . unto you.—Comp. Zechariah 1:3.
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.(8) Robbed me.—Because the tithes are said to be offered to Jehovah, and then He gives them to the Levites in place of an inheritance (Numbers 18:24).
Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.(9) Comp. Malachi 2:2; Malachi 3:11.
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) The emphasis is on the word “all.”
Storehouse.—From the time of Hezekiah (2Chronicles 31:11) there were at the Sanctuary special storehouses built for this purpose; so, too, in the second Temple (Nehemiah 10:38-39; Nehemiah 12:44; Nehemiah 13:12-13).
Meat—i.e., food for the priests and Levites.
Open you . . .—According to the promise of Deuteronomy 11:13-15, &c. For a practical commentary on this verse, see 2Chronicles 31:10. “And Azariah, the chief priest of the house of Zadok, answered Hezekiah and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty; for the Lord hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.”
There shall not be room enough . . .—This rendering gives the correct meaning of the words (Compare an expression of similar import in Zechariah 10:10.) We cannot agree with the rendering of Gesenius, “until my abundance be exhausted,” as equivalent to “for ever.”
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) For your sakes.—The same word as in Malachi 2:3 : here in a good sense, there in a bad.
The devourer—i.e., the locust, &c.
And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.(12) Comp. Zechariah 7:14; Zechariah 8:13-23; also Isaiah 62:4; Daniel 11:16.
Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?(13) Your words . . . against me.—Better, your words put a constraint on me: viz., to prove myself to you to be “the God of judgment.”
Spoken.—Or rather, conversed together. (Comp. Malachi 3:16.) They seem to have been in the habit of conversing together, and comparing the promises of God towards them with the then state of affairs. God had promised that they should be a proverb among the nations for blessedness; but, say they, seeing that things are as they are, “we [feel more inclined to] call the proud happy [or blessed].” (See further in Note on Malachi 3:15.)
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) Mournfully—i.e., with all outward signs of fasting. (Comp. Matthew 6:16.) The fasting referred to is not that of the Day of Atonement, but of voluntary fasts. We see here, in already a somewhat developed form, that disposition to attribute merit to observances of outward forms of religion for their own sake, without regard to the secret attitude of the heart, which reached such a pitch among the majority of the Jews in the time of our Lord, and especially among the Pharisees.
And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.(15) And now means and so, consequently. In this verse the prophet gives the words of the murmurers. (See Note on Malachi 3:13.) The statements of Malachi 3:13 show that they were of a very different character from such faithful servants of Jehovah as were at times sorely tempted against their will to waver in their faith. We may observe here the seeds of sceptical Sadduceism, as in Malachi 3:14 of hypocritical Phariseism. (Comp. Psalms 37, 73, and the Books of Job and Eccl.)
Proud . . . they that work wickedness—i.e., the heathen, who do not profess to serve Jehovah. (Comp. Isaiah 13:11.)
Proud is a common Biblical expression for presumptuous sinners; the same word is also used for ‘presumptuous sins (Psalm 19:13).
Tempt.—The same word is used which in Malachi 3:10 is translated “prove.” The difference in the two cases consists in the different nature of the actions. In Malachi 3:10 the Jews are exhorted to obey the Law faithfully, and prove whether God would not (i.e., experience that God certainly would) perform His part in the covenant. In Malachi 3:15 the heathen, by their pride and wickedness, tempt God to judgment.
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.—As a consequence of the unbelieving conversation of the wicked. What “they that feared the Lord” said is not recorded; but it is implied, by His approval of them, that they strengthened one another in their faith and reliance on the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord, in spite of the present appearance of things. As the godless in Israel conversed together, so did the godly; but the converse of the one was the very reverse of the converse of the other. In Ezra 9:4 we read of such a consultation among those “that trembled at the word of the God of Israel.” (Comp. the expression in Malachi 2:5.)
For them—i.e., for their future reward.
Thought upon—i.e., valued, esteemed.
(16) Then shall ye . . . between.—Better, Then shall ye again perceive the difference between. For the construction, comp. Zechariah 4:1. As in former cases God had made this difference manifest, so He would again. Compare, for instance, the difference between the case of the Egyptians and of the Israelites in the matter of the miraculous darkness (Exodus 10:23).