Malachi 3:13
Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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.)

Malachi

‘STOUT WORDS,’ AND THEIR CONFUTATION

Malachi 3:13 - Malachi 3:18
; Malachi 4:1 - Malachi 4:6.

This passage falls into three parts,-the ‘stout words’ against God which the Prophet sets himself to confute {Malachi 3:13 - Malachi 3:15}; the prophecy of the day which will show their falsehood {Malachi 3:16 - Malachi 4:3}; and the closing exhortation and prediction {Malachi 4:4 - Malachi 4:6}.

I. The returning exiles had not had the prosperity which they had hoped.

So many of them, even of those who had served God, began to let doubts darken their trust, and to listen to the whispers of their own hearts, reinforced by the mutterings of others, and to ask: ‘What is the use of religion? Does it make any difference to a man’s condition?’ Here had they been keeping God’s charge, and going in black garments ‘before the Lord,’ in token of penitence, and no good had come to them, while arrogant neglect of His commandments did not seem to hinder happiness, and ‘they that work wickedness are built up.’ Sinful lives appeared to have a firm foundation, and to rise high and palace-like, while righteous ones were like huts. Goodness seemed to spell ruin.

What was wrong in these ‘stout words’? It was wrong to attach such worth to external acts of devotion, as if these were deserving of reward. It was wrong to suspend the duty of worship on the prosperity resulting from it, and to seek ‘profit’ from ‘keeping his charge.’ Such religion was shallow and selfish, and had the evils of the later Pharisaism in germ in it. It was wrong to yield to the doubts which the apparently unequal distribution of worldly prosperity stirred in their hearts. But the doubts themselves were almost certain to press on Old Testament believers, as well as on Old Testament scoffers, especially under the circumstances of Malachi’s time. The fuller light of Christianity has eased their pressure, but not removed it, and we have all had to face them, both when our own hearts have ached with sorrow and when pondering on the perplexities of this confused world. We look around, and, like the psalmist, see ‘the prosperity of the wicked,’ and, like him, have to confess that our ‘steps had wellnigh slipped’ at the sight. The old, old question is ever starting up. ‘Doth God know?’ The mystery of suffering and the mystery of its distribution, the apparent utter want of connection between righteousness and well-being, are still formidable difficulties in the way of believing in a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, and are stock arguments of the unbeliever and perplexities of humble faith. Never to have felt the force of the difficulty is not so much the sign of steadfast faith as of scant reflection. To yield to it, and still more, to let it drive us to cast religion aside, is not merely folly, but sin. So thinks Malachi.

II. To the stout words of the doubters is opposed the conversation of the godly.

Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another,’ nourishing their faith by believing speech with like-minded. The more the truths by which we believe are contradicted, the more should we commune with fellow-believers. Attempts to rob us should make us hold our treasure the faster. Bold avowal of the faith is especially called for when many potent voices deny it. And, whoever does not hear, God hears. Faithful words may seem lost, but they and every faithful act are written in His remembrance and will be recompensed one day. If our names and acts are written there, we may well be content to accept scanty measures of earthly good, and not be ‘envious of the foolish’ in their prosperity.

Malachi’s answer to the doubters leaves all other considerations which might remove the difficulty unmentioned, and fixes on the one, the prophecy of a future which will show that it is not all the same whether a man is good or bad. It was said of an English statesman that he called a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old, and that is what the Prophet does. Christianity has taught us many other ways of meeting the doubters’ difficulty, but the sheet anchor of faith in that storm is the unconquerable assurance that a day comes when the righteousness of providence will be vindicated, and the eternal difference between good and evil manifested in the fates of men. The Prophet is declaring what will be a fact one day, but he does not know when. Probably he never asked himself whether ‘the day of the Lord’ was near or far off, to dawn on earth or to lie beyond mortal life. But this he knew-that God was righteous, and that sometime and somewhere character would settle destiny, and even outwardly it would be good to be good. He first declares this conviction in general terms, and then passes on to a magnificent and terrible picture of that great day.

The promise, which lay at the foundation of Israel’s national existence, included the recognition of it as ‘a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people,’ and Malachi looks forward to that day as the epoch when God will show by His acts how precious the righteous are in His sight. Not the whole Israel, but the righteous among them, are the heirs of the old promise. It is an anticipation of the teaching that ‘they are not all Israel which are of Israel,’ And it bids us look for the fulfilment of every promise of God’s to that great day of the Lord which lies still before us all, when the gulf between the righteous and the wicked shall be solemnly visible, wide, and profound. There have been many ‘days which I make’ in the world’s history, and in a measure each of them has re-established the apparently tottering truth that there is a God who judgeth in the earth, but the day of days is yet to come.

No grander vision of judgment exists than Malachi’s picture of ‘the day,’ lurid, on the one hand, with the fierce flame, before which the wicked are as stubble that crackles for a moment and then is grey ashes, or as a tree in a forest fire, which stands for a little while, a pillar of flame, and then falls with a crash, shaking the woods; and on the otherhand, radiant with the early beams of healing sunshine, in whose sweet morning light the cattle, let out from their pent-up stalls, gambol in glee. But let us not forget while we admire the noble poetry of its form that this is God’s oracle, nor that we have each to settle for ourselves whether that day shall be for us a furnace to destroy or a sun to cheer and enlighten.

We can only note in a sentence the recurrence in Malachi 4:1 of the phrases ‘the proud’ and they ‘that work wickedness,’ from Malachi 3:15 The end of those whom the world called happy, and who seemed stable and elevated, is to be as stubble before the fire. We must also point out that ‘the sun of righteousness’ means the sun which is righteousness, and is not a designation of the Messiah. Nor can we dwell on the picture of the righteous treading down the wicked, which seems to prolong the previous metaphor of the leaping young cattle. Then shall ‘the upright have dominion over them in the morning.’

III. The final exhortation and promise point backwards and forwards, summing up duty in obedience to the law, and fixing hope on a future reappearance of the leader of the prophets.

Moses and Elijah are the two giant figures which dominate the history of Israel. Law and prophecy are the two forms in which God spoke to the fathers. The former is of perpetual obligation, the latter will flash up again in power on the threshold of the day. Jesus has interpreted this closing word for us. John came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah,’ and the purpose of his coming was to ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ {Luke 1:16 - Luke 1:17}; that is, to bring back the devout dispositions of the patriarchs to the existing generations, and so to bring the ‘hearts of the children to their fathers,’ as united with them in devout obedience. If John’s mission had succeeded, the ‘curse’ which smote Israel would have been stayed. God has done all that He can do to keep us from being consumed by the fire of that day. The Incarnation, Life, and Death of Jesus Christ made a day of the Lord which has the twofold character of that in Malachi’s vision, for He is a ‘saviour of life unto life’ or ‘of death unto death,’ and must be one or other to us. But another day of the Lord is still to come, and for each of us it will come burning as a furnace or bright as sunrise. Then the universe shall ‘discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.’

Malachi 3:13-15. Your words, &c. — “From this verse to the end of Malachi 4:3, the prophet expostulates with the wicked for their hard speeches; and declares that God will make a fearful distinction between them and the righteous.” — Newcome. Have been stout against me — Your words have been blasphemous, and void of all reverence and duty. Ye have spoken injuriously of me, and have uttered such things as dishonour me. Ye have even arraigned my proceedings, and spoken against them. Yet ye say, What have we spoken, &c. — This is to the same purport as their words in Malachi 3:8, and some other foregoing verses. They impudently deny the charge, therefore the prophet renews it against them in the following words; Ye have said — If not with your lips, yet at least in your hearts; It is vain to serve God — We receive no advantage from it, it is of no use to us. That they should talk thus impiously in the times of Zerubbabel, when Malachi uttered these reproofs and exhortations, is not probable; but God, who sees into the hearts of men, saw, lurking in their hearts, the seeds of that impiety which broke out in the following age. And what profit is it — What benefit is it of to us; that we have kept his ordinance — That we have attended upon the institutions of his worship, and have governed our lives according to his laws? And that we have walked mournfully before the Lord — Have humbled ourselves before him with fasting and prayer, sackcloth and ashes. Their beholding the prosperity of the wicked made them conclude, that it was to no purpose to walk according to the laws of God, or to confess their offences and express their sorrow for them. And, or rather, but, or therefore, now we call the proud happy — Those who behave themselves arrogantly against God, the proud contemners of his law. We can now do no less than think them happiest who do not concern themselves about the observance of God’s laws, but live according to their pleasure, and do every thing that their inclination or profit prompts them to do, without any fear of God’s calling them to an account for it. Yea, they that work wickedness are set up — Are the flourishing ones; are raised to prosperity, as buildings are to their height. Yea, they that tempt God are even delivered — Yea, they who, one would have supposed, should have wearied out God’s patience with their provocations, who have seemed to act as if they tried to provoke him, even these men escape those dangers and calamities which other men are involved in. Those who spake thus seem to have expected an exact distribution of temporal rewards and punishments to be made to good and bad men in this life.

3:13-18 Among the Jews at this time, some plainly discovered themselves to be children of the wicked one. The yoke of Christ is easy. But those who work wickedness, tempt God by presumptuous sins. Judge of things as they will appear when the doom of these proud sinners comes to be executed. Those that feared the Lord, spake kindly, for preserving and promoting mutual love, when sin thus abounded. They spake one to another, in the language of those that fear the Lord, and think on his name. As evil communications corrupt good minds and manners, so good communications confirm them. A book of remembrance was written before God. He will take care that his children perish not with those that believe not. They shall be vessels of mercy and honour, when the rest are made vessels of wrath and dishonour. The saints are God's jewels; they are dear to him. He will preserve them as his jewels, when the earth is burned up like dross. Those who now own God for theirs, he will then own for his. It is our duty to serve God with the disposition of children; and he will not have his children trained up in idleness; they must do him service from a principle of love. Even God's children stand in need of sparing mercy. All are righteous or wicked, such as serve God, or such as serve him not: all are going to heaven or to hell. We are often deceived in our opinions concerning both the one and the other; but at the bar of Christ, every man's character will be known. As to ourselves, we have need to think among which we shall have our lot; and, as to others, we must judge nothing before the time. But in the end all the world will confess that those alone were wise and happy, who served the Lord and trusted in Him.Your words have been stout against Me - , probably "oppressive to Me," as it is said, the famine was strong upon the land. And ye have said, "What have we spoken among ourselves against Thee?" Again, the entire unconsciousness of self-ignorance and self-conceit! They had criticized God, and knew it not. "Before, he had said Malachi 2:17. 'Ye have wearied the Lord with your words, and ye said, Wherein have we wearied Him? When ye said, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord'" etc.

Now he repeats this more fully. For the people who returned from Babylon seemed to have a knowledge of God, and to observe the law, and to understand their sin, and to offer sacrifices for sin; to pay tithes, to observe the sabbath, and the rest, commanded in the law of God, and seeing all the nations around them abounding in all things, and that they themselves were in penury, hunger and misery, was scandalized and said, 'What does it benefit me, that I worship the One True God, abominate idols, and, pricked with the consciousness of sin, walk mournfully before God?' A topic, which is pursued more largely in Psalm 73." Only the Psalmist relates his temptations to God, and God's deliverance of him from them; these adopted them and spake them against God. They claim, for their partial and meagre service, to have fulfilled God's law, taking to themselves God's words of Abraham, "he kept My charge" .

13-18. He notices the complaint of the Jews that it is of no profit to serve Jehovah, for that the ungodly proud are happy; and declares He will soon bring the day when it shall be known that He puts an everlasting distinction between the godly and the ungodly.

words … stout—Hebrew, "hard"; so "the hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him" (Jude 15) [Henderson].

have we spoken—The Hebrew expresses at once their assiduity and habit of speaking against God [Vatablus]. The niphal form of the verb implies that these things were said, not directly to God, but of God, to one another (Eze 33:20) [Moore].

Your words; your discourses concerning my providences over you and others, your reasonings, censures, and verdicts passed on your own ways, and on the ways of your God.

Have been stout; proudly justifying yourselves as deserving better usage from God, or insolently arraigning God for his kindness to others, who in your judgment are worse than yourselves, by such words as those Malachi 2:17.

Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? you think you have spoken nothing so proudly and stoutly, and challenge me to tell you wherein, or with what words you have showed such insolence.

Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord,.... Hard and strong; they bore very hardly upon him, were exceeding impudent and insolent; murmuring at his providence; arraigning his justice and goodness; and despising his word, worship, and ordinances. Aben Ezra says, this is a prophecy concerning the time to come, that is, the times of the Messiah; and so it describes the Jews in his times.

Yet ye say, what have we spoken so much against thee? or "what have we spoken against thee?" as if they were not guilty in any respect, and as if nothing could be proved against them; and as though the Lord did not know what they had said in their hearts, seeing they had not spoken it with their mouths: though the supplement of our translators, "so much", is confirmed by the Targum, which is,

"and if ye say, how (or in what) have we multiplied speech before thee?''

and so Kimchi observes, that the form in which the Hebrew word is denotes much and frequent speaking: and Abarbinel agrees with him, though he rather thinks it has this sense, "what are we spoken of to thee?" what calumny is this? what accusation do they bring against us to thee? what is it that is reported we say against thee? thus wiping their mouths, as if they were innocent and harmless.

Your words have been stout {m} against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?

(m) The Prophet condemns them of double blasphemy against God: first, in that they said that God had no respect for those that served him, and next, that the wicked were more in his favour than the godly.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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).

Verses 13-18. - § 3. The impious murmuring of the people is contrasted with the conduct of those who fear God; and the reward of the pious is set forth. Verse 13. - Your words have been stout against me. Ye have spoken hard words of me (comp. Jude 1:15, where we read of "the hard speeches (σκληρῶν) which ungodly sinners have spoken against" God). Some specimens of these speeches are given in answer to the usual sceptical inquiry. They are of the same character as those in Malachi 2:17, and imply that the course of this world is not directed by a moral Governor. What have we spoken so much (together) against thee! What have we said against thee in our conversations with one another? Malachi 3:13The impatient murmuring of the nation. - Malachi 3:13. "Your words do violence to me, saith Jehovah; and ye say, What do we converse against Thee? Malachi 3:14. Ye say, It is vain to serve God; and what gain is it, that we have kept His guard, and have gone about in deep mourning before Jehovah of hosts? Malachi 3:15. And now we call the proud blessed: not only have the doers of wickedness been built up, but they have also tempted God and have been saved." After the Lord has disclosed to the people the cause of His withholding His blessing, He shows them still further, that their murmuring against Him is unjust, and that the coming day of judgment will bring to light the distinction between the wicked and those who fear God. חזק with על, to be strong over any one, does not mean to be harsh or burdensome, but to do violence to a person, to overpower him (cf. Exodus 12:33; 2 Samuel 24:4, etc.). The niphal nidbar has a reciprocal meaning, to converse with one another (cf. Ezekiel 33:30). The conversations which they carry on with one another take this direction, that it is useless to serve God, because the righteous have no advantage over sinners. For שׁמר משׁמרתּו see the comm. on Genesis 26:5. Hâlakh qedōrannı̄th, to go about dirty or black, either with their faces and clothes unwashed, or wrapped in black mourning costume (saq), is a sign of mourning, here of fasting, as mourning for sin (cf. Psalm 35:13-14; Psalm 38:7; Job 30:28; 1 Maccabees 3:48). מפּני יהוה, from awe of Jehovah. The fasting, and that in its external form, they bring into prominence as a special sign of their piety, as an act of penitence, through which they make reparation for certain sins against God, by which we are not to understand the fasting prescribed for the day of atonement, but voluntary fasting, which was regarded as a special sign of piety. What is reprehensible in the state of mind expressing itself in these words, is not so much the complaint that their piety brings them no gain (for such complaints were uttered even by believing souls in their hours of temptation; cf. Psalm 73:13), as the delusion that their merely outward worship, which was bad enough according to what has already been affirmed, is the genuine worship which God must acknowledge and reward. This disposition to attribute worth to the opus operatum of fasting it attacked even by Isaiah, in Isaiah 58:1-14; but after the captivity it continued to increase, until it reached its culminating point in Pharisaism. How thoroughly different the persons speaking here are from the believing souls under temptation, who also appeal to their righteousness when calling upon God in their trouble, is especially clear from their further words in Malachi 3:15. Because God does not reward their fasting with blessing and prosperity, they begin to call the proud sinners, who have happiness and success, blessed. ועתּה is the particle of inference. The participle מאשּׁרים has the force of a futurum instans (cf. Ewald, 306, d), denoting what men prepare to do. Zēdı̄m, the haughty or proud, are the heathen, as in Isaiah 13:11, who are called עשׂי רשׁעה in the following clause. The next two clauses are placed in a reciprocal relation to one another by gam ... gam (cf. Jeremiah 12:16-17; Exodus 1:21), and also, notwithstanding the fact that they have tempted God, are delivered when they fall into misfortune. Bâchan Elohim, to prove or test God, i.e., to call out His judgment through their wickedness.
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