Malachi 3:14
You 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?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) Mournfullyi.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.

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.Ye have said, It is vain to serve the God - o "as receiving no gain or reward for their service. This is the judgment of the world, whereby worldlings think pious, just, sincere, strict men, vain, i. e., especially when they see them impoverished, despised, oppressed, afflicted, because they know not the true goods of virtue and eternal glory, but measure all things by sight, sense and taste. Truly, if the righteous had not hope of another and better life, in vain would they afflict themselves, and bear the afflictions of others. For, as the Apostle says 1 Corinthians 15:19. 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.' But now, hoping for another blessed and eternal life for the slight tribulations of this, we are the happiest of all men."

And we have walked mournfully - o Again they take in their mouths the words of Psalmists, that they took the garb of mourners, going about mourning before God for their country's afflictions.

14. what profit … that we … kept, &c.—(See on [1196]Mal 2:17). They here resume the same murmur against God. Job 21:14, 15; 22:17 describe a further stage of the same skeptical spirit, when the skeptic has actually ceased to keep God's service. Ps 73:1-14 describes the temptation to a like feeling in the saint when seeing the really godly suffer and the ungodly prosper in worldly goods now. The Jews here mistake utterly the nature of God's service, converting it into a mercenary bargain; they attended to outward observances, not from love to God, but in the hope of being well paid for in outward prosperity; when this was withheld, they charged God with being unjust, forgetting alike that God requires very different motives from theirs to accompany outward observances, and that God rewards even the true worshipper not so much in this life, as in the life to come.

his ordinance—literally, what He requires to be kept, "His observances."

walked mournfully—in mournful garb, sackcloth and ashes, the emblems of penitence; they forget Isa 58:3-8, where God, by showing what is true fasting, similarly rebukes those who then also said, Wherefore have we fasted and Thou seest not? &c. They mistook the outward show for real humiliation.

Ye; ye that are the children of forefathers who had this good land given to them, and ever made fruitful while they feared and obeyed their God; you that have been well rewarded for your obedience, or you priests who have tithes, sacrifices, offerings, and first-fruits given you for your services.

Have said; have thought first, and next have discoursed it; unthankful to your God, you have atheistlike maintained it in disputes, that

it is vain to serve God; all is lost labour, no profit to God nor any to yourselves; therefore better sit still and do nothing, than to no purpose.

What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance? while what they have before their eyes is the fruit of God’s goodness, and what they want is punishment of their not doing it better; whilst a very unsuitable observing the ordinances of God hath so much profit for you, dare you say there is no profit? Sottish atheists! who will not try what a more agreeable service would do.

And that we have walked mournfully: so the hypocrites and ungodly object against God, Isaiah 58:3; yet their dissembled mournings, as Ahab’s, had their reward, and infinitely better than they

Ye; ye that are the children of forefathers who had this good land given to them, and ever made fruitful while they feared and obeyed their God; you that have been well rewarded for your obedience, or you priests who have tithes, sacrifices, offerings, and first-fruits given you for your services.

Have said; have thought first, and next have discoursed it; unthankful to your God, you have atheistlike maintained it in disputes, that

it is vain to serve God; all is lost labour, no profit to God nor any to yourselves; therefore better sit still and do nothing, than to no purpose.

What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance? while what they have before their eyes is the fruit of God’s goodness, and what they want is punishment of their not doing it better; whilst a very unsuitable observing the ordinances of God hath so much profit for you, dare you say there is no profit? Sottish atheists! who will not try what a more agreeable service would do.

And that we have walked mournfully: so the hypocrites and ungodly object against God, Isaiah 58:3; yet their dissembled mournings, as Ahab’s, had their reward, and infinitely better than they Ye have said, it is vain to serve God,.... This they said in their hearts, if not with their lips, that it was a vain thing for a man to serve God; he got nothing by it; he had no reward for it; it fared no better with him than the wicked; nay, the wicked fared better than he; and therefore who would be a worshipper of God? see Job 21:15. Abarbinel understands this also with respect to God, who is worshipped; to whom worship, say these men, is no ways profitable, nor does he regard it; see Job 35:7 and therefore it is in vain to serve him, since neither he, nor we, are the better for it:

and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance; or "his observation" (n); that is, have observed that which he commanded to be observed; this respects not any single and particular ordinance, but every ordinance of God: the Sadducees of those times seem designed, who denied the resurrection of the dead, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and so might well conclude it in vain to serve God:

and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? or "in black" (o); which is the habit of mourners; see Psalm 38:6 with an humble spirit, as Jarchi interprets it; or with humiliation (or contrition) of spirit, as the Targum, which paraphrases the whole verse thus,

"ye have said, he gains nothing who worships before the Lord; and what mammon (or riches) do we gain because we have kept the observation of his word, and because we have walked in contrition of spirit before the Lord of hosts?''

Aben Ezra and Abarbinel seem to understand this last clause of their being afflicted and suffering for the sake of religion, and which they endured in vain, seeing they were not respected and rewarded for it; but the other sense is best, which represents them as sincere penitents, and humble worshippers of God in their own account, and yet were not taken notice of by him: it seems to describe the Pharisees, who disfigured their faces, and affected down looks and sorrowful countenances (p).

(n) "observationem ejus", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius; "observantiam ejus", Cocceius. (o) "atrate", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; so Stockius, p. 926; "pullati", Tigurine version; "atrati", Cocceius. (p) The word is used by Josephus ben Gorion for sincere walking, l. 6. c. 20. p. 612. Vid. Not. Breithaupt. in ib.; it is interpreted "humbly" by R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 102. 2.

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?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 14. - It is vain. It brings no acknowledgment or reward. The Latin and Greek Versions have, "He is vain who serveth God." Have kept his ordinance (charge). Have done what he ordered. They are either wilfully deceiving themselves and others by pretending an obedience which they never really paid; or they think that the outward observance of certain legal requirements is all that is required. Some think that an interval of time separates this from the last section, and that meanwhile they had made some efforts at improvement, expecting, how. ever, immediate results in added blessings; and as these did not come as quickly as they hoped, they relapsed into their old distrust. Have walked mournfully; i.e. in mourning apparel, as if fasting and mourning for sin (Psalm 35:13, 14; Job 30:28). Septuagint, "Why went we as suppliants (ἱκέται)?" Before the Lord. Out of reverence and awe of Jehovah. They attributed a certain virtue to voluntary fasts, without any consideration of the spirit in which they were observed (see the reproof of such formal observances in Isaiah 58:4, etc.). This wrath is described in Zechariah 7:13, Zechariah 7:14. Zechariah 7:13. "It came to pass: as he cried and they did not hear, so will they cry and I shall not hear, said Jehovah of hosts. Zechariah 7:14. And I will scatter them with a whirlwind over all nations, who did not know them, and the land is laid waste behind them, so that no one passes to and fro. And thus they made the choice land a desert." The form of the address changes in Zechariah 7:13. Whereas in the protasis the prophet is still speaking of Jehovah in the third person, in the apodosis he introduces Jehovah as speaking (so will they cry, and I, etc.) and announcing the punishment, which He will inflict upon the rebellious and has already inflicted in their captivity. This address of God is continued in Zechariah 7:14 as far as וּמשּׁב. The opinion, that the address terminates with לא ידעוּם, and that והארץ commences the account of the accomplishment of the purpose to punish, is not so much at variance with the circumstance, that in that case the last two clauses of Zechariah 7:14 would say essentially the same thing, as with the fact that והארץ וגו cannot, from its very form, be taken as an account of the accomplishment of the divine purpose. The perfect nâshammâh in this clause does not preclude our connecting it with the preceding one, but is used to set forth the devastation as a completed fact: the land will be (not become) waste. The infliction of the punishment is expressed in Zechariah 7:13 in the form of a divine talio. As they have not hearkened to the word of God, so will God, when they call upon Him, namely in distress (cf. Hosea 5:15), also not hear (cf. Jeremiah 11:11), but whirl them like a tempest over the nations. The form אסערם is the first pers. imperf. piel for אסערם or אסערם, and Aramaic (cf. Ges. 52, 2, Anm. 2). On the nations whom they do not know, and who will therefore have no pity and compassion upon them, compare Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 16:13. מעבר וּמשּׁב (cf. Zechariah 9:8), that not one goes to and fro in the desolate land; lit., goes away from a place and returns again (cf. Exodus 32:27). In the clause ויּשׂימוּ וגו the result of the stiff-necked obstinacy of the fathers is briefly stated: They have made the choice land a desert ('erets chemdâh, as in Jeremiah 3:19 and Psalm 106:24), so that they have brought upon the land all the calamity which is now bewailed upon the fast-days.
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