Malachi 3:7
Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, said the LORD of hosts. But you said, Wherein shall we return?
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(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.




Malachi 3:7

In previous sermons we have considered God’s indictment of man’s sin met by man’s plea of ‘not guilty,’ and God’s threatenings brushed aside by man’s question. Here we have the climax of self-revealing and patient love in God’s wooing voice to draw the wanderer back, met by man’s refusing answer. These three divine utterances taken together cover the whole ground of His speech to us; and, alas! these three human utterances but too truly represent for the most part our answers to Him.

I. God’s invitation to His wandering child.

The gracious invitation of our text presupposes a state of departure. The child who is tenderly recalled has first gone away. There has been a breach of love. Dependence has been unwelcome, and cast off with the vain hope of a larger freedom in the far-off land; and this is the true charge against us. It is not so much individual acts of sin but the going away in heart and spirit from our Father God which describes the inmost essence of our true condition, and is itself the source of all our acts of sin. Conscience confirms the description. We know that we have departed from Him in mind, having wasted our thoughts on many things and not having had Him in the multitude of them in us. We have departed from Him in heart, having squandered our love and dissipated our desires on many objects, and sought in the multiplicity of many pearls-some of them only paste-a substitute for the all-sufficient simplicity of the One of great price. We have departed from Him in will, having reared up puny inclinations and fleeting passions against His calm and eternal purpose, and so bringing about the shock of a collision as destructive to us as when a torpedo-boat crashes in the dark against a battleship, and, cut in two, sinks.

The gracious invitation of our text follows, ‘I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’ Threatenings, and the execution of these in acts of judgment, are no indication of a change in the loving heart of God; and because it is the same, however we have sinned against it and departed from it, there is ever an invitation and a welcome. We may depart from Him, but He never departs from us. Nor does He wait for us to originate the movement of return, but He invites us back. By all His words in His threatenings and in His commandments, as in the acts of His providence, we can hear His call to return. The fathers of our flesh never cease to long for their prodigal child’s return; and their patient persistence of hope is but brief and broken when contrasted with the infinite long-suffering of the Father of spirits. We have heard of a mother who for long empty years has nightly set a candle in her cottage window to guide her wandering boy back to her heart; and God has bade us think more loftily of the unchangeableness of His love than that of a woman who may forget, that she should not have compassion upon the son of her womb.

II. Man’s answer to God’s invitation.

It is a refusal which is half-veiled and none the less real. There is no unwillingness to obey professed, but it is concealed under a mask of desiring a little more light as to how a return is to be accomplished. There are not many of us who are rooted enough in evil as to be able to blurt out a curt ‘I will not’ in answer to His call. Conscience often bars the way to such a plain and unmannerly reply; but there are many who try to cheat God, and who do to some extent cheat themselves, by professing ignorance of the way which would lead them to His heart. Some of us have learned only too well to raise questions about the method of salvation instead of accepting it, and to dabble in theology instead of making sure work of return. Some of us would fain substitute a host of isolated actions, or apparent moral or religious observance, for the return of will and heart to God; and all who in their consciences answer God’s call by saying, ‘Wherein shall we return?’ with such a meaning are playing tricks with themselves, and trying to hoodwink God.

But the question of our text has often a nobler origin, and comes from the depths of a troubled heart. Not seldom does God’s loving invitation rouse the dormant conscience to the sense of sin. The man, lying broken at the foot of the cliff down which he has fallen, and seeing the brightness of God far above, has his heart racked with the question: How am I, with lame limbs, to struggle back to the heights above? ‘How shall man be just with God?’ All the religions of the world, with their offerings and penances and weary toils, are vain attempts to make a way back to the God from whom men have wandered, and that question, ‘Wherein shall we return?’ is really the meaning of the world’s vain seeking and profitless effort.

God has answered man’s question; for Christ is at once the way back to God, and the motive which draws us to walk in it. He draws us back by the magnetism of His love and sacrifice. We return to God when we cling to Jesus. He is the highest, the tenderest utterance of the divine voice; and when we yield to His invitation to Himself we return to God. He calls to each of us, ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ What can we reply but, ‘I come; let me never wander from Thee’?Malachi 3:7. Even from the days of your fathers, &c. — Here the discourse is again addressed to the wicked, and from hence to the end of Malachi 3:12 the people are reprehended for slighting the institutions of divine worship, and for withholding the legal tithes and oblations; are assured that they are under a curse for these violations of the law, and that an opposite conduct would bring on them the divine blessing. Ye are gone away from mine ordinances — Those which directed you respecting my worship, or your dealings one with another. Return unto me — Namely, by repentance, and amendment of life; and I will return to you — I will pardon and accept you, and bestow my blessings upon you. But ye said — Or, ye say, Wherein shall we return? — You persist to justify yourselves, and inquire what it is you are to repent of? as if your crimes were not most notorious and shameful. And your words, or at least your actions, show that you have no sense of, nor remorse for, your former sins, nor any purpose of forsaking them.3:7-12 The men of that generation turned away from God, they had not kept his ordinances. God gives them a gracious call. But they said, Wherein shall we return? God notices what returns our hearts make to the calls of his word. It shows great perverseness in sin, when men make afflictions excuses for sin, which are sent to part between them and their sins. Here is an earnest exhortation to reform. God must be served in the first place; and the interest of our souls ought to be preferred before that of our bodies. Let them trust God to provide for their comfort. God has blessings ready for us, but through the weakness of our faith and the narrowness of our desires, we have not room to receive them. He who makes trial will find nothing is lost by honouring the Lord with his substance.Even from the days of your fathers - 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."

Return unto Me - The beginning of our return is from the preventing grace of God. Jeremiah 31:18; Lamentations 5:21, "turn Thou me, and I shall be turned, for Thou art the Lord my God," is the voice of the soul to God, preparing for His grace; Psalm 85:4, "turn us, O God of our salvation." For, not in its own strength, but by His grace can the soul turn to God. "Turn thou to Me and I will return unto you," is the Voice of God, acknowledging our free-will, and promising His favor, if we accept His grace in return.

And ye say, Wherein shall we return? - Strange ignorance of the blinded soul, unconscious that God has aught against it! It is the Pharisaic spirit in the Gospel. It would own itself doubtless in general terms a sinner, but when called on, wholly to turn to God, as being wholly turned from Him, it asks, "In what? What would God have of me?" as if ready to do it.

7-12. Reproof for the non-payment of tithes and offerings, which is the cause of their national calamities, and promise of prosperity on their paying them.

from … days of your fathers—Ye live as your fathers did when they brought on themselves the Babylonian captivity, and ye wish to follow in their steps. This shows that nothing but God's unchanging long-suffering had prevented their being long ago "consumed" (Mal 3:6).

Return unto me—in penitence.

I will return unto you—in blessings.

Wherein, &c.—(Mal 3:16). The same insensibility to their guilt continues: they speak in the tone of injured innocence, as if God calumniated them.

Even from the days of your fathers: we need not fix a particular time or age wherein this apostacy began; it is an old apostacy that is here charged on them, and they were notoriously guilty of it.

Ye are gone away; are turned away by the examples and by the corrupt doctrines of your fathers and false teachers; yea, you have voluntarily and of choice gone away.

From mine ordinances; which either directed my worship, or your dealings one with another; so that you have sinned greatly by polluting my temple with your own additions or diminutions, with idolatry, or corrupt manner of performing my service; and you have sinned against one another by injustice, unfaithfulness, and cruelty, since you have gone away from my laws, which direct the way of righteousness and equity.

And have not kept them: it is a further asseveration, confirming the truth of the charge, and added to make them more sensible of their sin. Some tell us that this chargeth on them their sins against negative precepts, as the other charged them with sins against positive precepts; so the whole law was now, and had long been, broken by their fathers and themselves.

Return unto me; it is the only course you can take, repent ere it is too late, return whilst there is hope.

And I will return unto you; I will yet pardon, accept you, establish, and bless you; amend your ways and doings, and I will soon amend the state of your affairs.

But ye said, Wherein shall we return? as to other, so now to this advice, they return a proud, shameless, and self-justifying question; Wherein, or what is the evil from which we should return to thee? what is our sin? Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances,.... Here begins an enumeration of the sins of the Jews, which were the cause of their ruin; and here is first a general charge of apostasy from the statutes and ordinances of the law, which they made void by the traditions of the fathers; and therefore this word is used as referring to this evil, as well as to express their early, long, and continued departure from the ways of God; which as it was an aggravation of their sin, that they should have so long ago forsook the ordinances of God,

and have not kept them, but transgressed them by observing the traditions of men, Matthew 15:3 so it is an instance of the patience and forbearance of God, that they were not as yet consumed; and of his grace and goodness, that he should address them as follows:

Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts; this message was carried to them by John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and by Christ himself, who both preached the doctrine of repentance to this people, Matthew 3:2. The Targum is,

"return to my worship, and I will look in my word to do well unto you, saith the Lord of hosts;''

and such who returned, and believed in Christ, and submitted to his ordinances, it was well with them.

But ye said, Wherein shall we return? what have we to turn from, or repent of? what evils have we done, or can be charged on us? what need have we of repentance or conversion, or of such an exhortation to it? do not we keep the law, and all the rituals of it? this is the true language of the Pharisees in Christ's time, who, touching the righteousness of the law, were blameless in their own esteem, and were the ninety and nine just persons that needed not repentance, Luke 15:7.

Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. {g} Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?

(g) Read Zec 1:3.

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.Verses 7-12. § 2. God indeed is faithful to his promises, but the people's own conduct has occasioned the withholding of favours: they have been shamefully negligent in the matter of tithes and offerings; let them amend their practice, and they shall be blessed. Verse 7. - Ye are gone away (have turned aside) from mine ordinances. Disobedience was no new offence; they had always from early days been persistent in wickedness; and if the performance of God's sure promise was delayed, this was because they had not fulfilled the conditions on which rested its accomplishment. Return: unto me, and I will return unto you (Zechariah 1:3, where see note). Man must cooperate with God's preventing grace, and then God gives him further grace unto repentance and amendment. Here, if the people followed the preaching of the prophets and obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, God promises to bless and save them. Wherein shall we return? Here is the Pharisaical spirit, as in Malachi 1:6, etc. They do not acknowledge their offence; they consider that they are righteous and need no repentance. The first of these four words of God contains an exposure of what might be unwarrantable in the question and its motives, and open to disapproval. Zechariah 7:4. "And the word of Jehovah of hosts came to me thus, Zechariah 7:5. Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh (month), and that for seventy years, did ye, when fasting, fast to me? Zechariah 7:6. And when ye eat, and when ye drink, is it not ye who eat, and ye who drink? Zechariah 7:7. Does it not concern the words, which Jehovah has preached through the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and satisfied, and her towns round about her, and the south country and the low land were inhabited?" The thought of Zechariah 7:6 and Zechariah 7:7 is the following: It is a matter of indifference to God whether the people fast or not. The true fasting, which is well pleasing to God, consists not in a pharisaical abstinence from eating and drinking, but in the fact that men observe the word of God and live thereby, as the prophets before the captivity had already preached to the people. This overthrew the notion that men could acquire the favour of God by fasting, and left it to the people to decide whether they would any longer observe the previous fast-days; it also showed what God would require of them if they wished to obtain the promised blessings. For the inf. absol. see at Haggai 1:6. The fasting in the seventh month was not the fast on the day of atonement which was prescribed in the law (Leviticus 23), but, as has been already observed, the fast in commemoration of the murder of Gedaliah. In the form צמתּני the suffix is not a substitute for the dative (Ges. 121, 4), but is to be taken as an accusative, expressive of the fact that the fasting related to God (Ewald, 315, b). The suffix is strengthened by אני for the sake of emphasis (Ges. 121, 3). In Zechariah 7:7 the form of the sentence is elliptical. The verb is omitted in the clause הלוא את־הדּברים, but not the subject, say זה, which many commentators supply, after the lxx, the Peshito, and the Vulgate ("Are these not the words which Jehovah announced?"), in which case את would have to be taken as nota nominativi. The sentence contains an aposiopesis, and is to be completed by supplying a verb, either "should ye not do or give heed to the words which," etc.? or "do ye not know the words?" ישׁבת, as in Zechariah 1:11, in the sense of sitting or dwelling; not in a passive sense, "to be inhabited," although it might be so expressed. שׁלוה is synonymous with שׁקטת in Zechariah 1:11. ישׁב, in the sense indicated at the close of the verse, is construed in the singular masculine, although it refers to a plurality of previous nouns (cf. Ges. 148, 2). In addition to Jerusalem, the following are mentioned as a periphrasis for the land of Judah: (1) her towns round about; these are the towns belonging to Jerusalem as the capital, towns of the mountains of Judah which were more or less dependent upon her: (2) the two rural districts, which also belonged to the kingdom of Judah, viz., the negeb, the south country (which Koehler erroneously identifies with the mountains of Judah; compare Joshua 15:21 with Joshua 15:48), and the shephēlâh, or lowland along the coast of the Mediterranean (see at Joshua 15:33).
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