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.
Verse 1. - Behold, I will send (I send) my messenger. God answers that he is coming to show himself the God of judgment and justice. Are they ready to meet him and to bear his sentence? Who this "messenger" is is disputed. That no angel or heavenly visitant is meant is clear from historical considerations, as no such event took place immediately before the Lord came to his temple. Nor can Malachi himself be intended, as his message was delivered nearly four, hundred years before Messiah came. The announcement is doubtless founded upon Isaiah 40:3, and refers to the same person as the older prophet mentions, who is generally allowed to be John the Baptist, the herald of Christ's advent (Matthew 11:10; John 1:6). Prepare the way before me. The expression is borrowed from Isaiah, loc. cit. (comp. also Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). He prepares the way by preaching repentance, and thus removing the obstacle of sin which stood between God and his people. Whom ye seek. When ye ask, "Where is the God of judgment?" Shall suddenly come to his temple. The Lord (ha-Adon) is Jehovah, as in Exodus 23:17; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:1, etc. There is a change of persons here, as frequently. Jehovah shall unexpectedly come to his temple (τὸν ναὸν ἑαυτοῦ) as King and God of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 43:7). There was a literal fulfilment of this prophecy when Christ was presented in the temple as an infant (Luke 2:22, etc.). Even the messenger of the covenant. He is identified with the Lord; and he is the covenant angel who guided the Israelites to the promised land, and who is seen in the various theophanies of the Old Testament. The Divinity of Messiah is thus unequivocally asserted. In him are fulfilled all the promises made under the old covenant, and he is called (Hebrews 9:15) "the Mediator of the new covenant." Some render," and the Messenger," etc., thus distinguishing the Angel of the covenant from the forerunner who prepares the way. But this is already done by the expressions, "My Messenger," and "the Lord." Whom ye delight in. Whose advent ye expect with eager 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:
Verse 2. - Who may abide the day of his comings? They had expected him to come and judge the heathen; the prophet warns them that they themselves shall be first judged (comp. Amos 5:18). "Malachi, like John the Baptist, sees the future Judge in the present Saviour" (Wordsworth); Joel 2:11. Who shall stand! Who can stand up under the burden of this judgment? The Vulgate Version,Quis stabit ad videndum eum? points to the brightness of his presence, which eye of man cannot endure. Like a refiner's fire, which separates the precious metal from the refuse. So the Lord at his coming shall sever the good among men from the evil (Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29; Zechariah 13:9). Like fullers' soap; Septuagint, ὡς ποιὰ πλυνόντων, "as the grass of washers;" Vulgate, quasi herba fullonum, What is to be understood exactly by the "soap" (borith), washing herb, is not known. Probably the ashes of some plant yielding a lye, like carbonate of soda, are meant. Such plants are met with on the shores of the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, and at this day large quantities of alkalies are extracted from them and exported in different directions (see Tristram, 'Nat. Hist. of the Bible,' p. 480, etc.; comp. Isaiah 4:4; Jeremiah 2:22). The Lord shall wash away all that is filthy (comp. Matthew 3:10, 12).
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.
Verse 3. - He shall sit. As a judge. The prophet confines himself to the first of the two images presented in the preceding verse. The sons of Levi. Especially the priests, who ought to set an example, and teach holiness and obedience. Thus judgment should begin at the house of God (Ezekiel 9:6; 1 Peter 4:17). The purifying consists not only in exterminating the evil, but also in correcting and improving all who are not wholly incorrigible. We may call to mind Christ's purging of the temple, and his denunciations of the teaching body among the Jews, and see herein his way of trying his ministers in all ages, that they may shine like lights in the world, and adorn the doctrine of God in all things. That they may offer (and they shall be offering) unto the Lord an offering (minchah) in righteousness. The pure sacrifice shall then be offered with a pure heart. As firstfruits of this improved condition, we read in Acts 6:7, "A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
Verse 4. - The offering of Judah and Jerusalem. When the purification has taken place, and the priests offer pure worship, then the sacrifices of the whole nation will be acceptable. Judah and Jerusalem represent the kingdom of the Messiah; for salvation is of the Jews, and the gospel was first preached at Jerusalem. As in former (ancient) years. As in the days of Moses, David, and Solomon, or still earlier in the case of Abel, noah, Abraham, and the patriarchs. (See the account of the ideal priesthood, ch. 2:5, etc.) The prophet does not necessarily expect that the Mosaic ritual is to last forever and to be maintained throughout the world, but he employs the terms with which the Jewish people were conversant to express the worship of the new covenant (comp. Malachi 1:11, and note there).
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.
Verse 5. - I will come near to you to judgment. They had asked, "Where is the God of judgment?" (Malachi 2:17). He tells them that his judgment shall extend beyond the Levites even unto all the people; they will then see whether, as they supposed, the evil went unpunished. The announcement applies especially to the circumstances of Malachi's time, though, of course, it has an extended reference. Swift witness. God's judgments fall swiftly and unexpectedly; and when they fall the sinner is at once convicted, and no con-comment, excuse, or subterfuge is possible. "How terrible is that judgment," says St. Jerome, "where God is at once Witness and Judge!" Sorcerers; τὰς φαρμακούς (Septuagint); maleficis (Vulgate); see Exodus 7:11; Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10. The Jews had grown familiar with magical arts during the Captivity; that they practised them later we learn from Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6. Adulterers. They who were ready to marry heathen wives would not be likely to be restrained by any law from gratifying their passions, False swearers; Septuagint, "those who swear falsely by my name," which is from Zechariah 5:4 (comp. Leviticus 19:12; and see note on Zechariah 5:3). Oppress the hireling. Defraud him of his just wages (see Deuteronomy 24:14, 15; James 5:4). The widow, and the fatherless (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:17). Turn aside (bow down) the stranger; Septuagint, "pervert the judgment of the stranger;" Vulgate, opprimunt peregrinum (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 27:19; Amos 5:12). And fear not me. This was the root of all the evil.
For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Verse 6. - For I am the Lord, I change not; or, Jehovah, I change not. This is to show that God performs his promises, and effectually disposes of the allegation in Malachi 2:17, that he put no difference between the evil and the good. The great principles of right and wrong never alter; they are as everlasting as he who gave them. God here speaks of himself by his covenant name, which expresses his eternal independent being, "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Because God's eternal purpose stands good, and his "gifts and calling are without repentance" (Romans 11:29), therefore the Israelites are indeed chastised and corrected, but not wholly consumed; they have a place and a nation, and the great promises made to their foregathers will all be fulfilled in due time (Jeremiah 30:11; Micah 7:20). He calls them "sons of Jacob," to remind them of the covenant made with their great ancestor, which was the portion of all true Israelites (comp. Jeremiah 33:20, 21). Orelli would read, "Ye have not made an end," i.e. of your sins; so virtually the Septuagint, which joins this clause to the following verse. But the present text is most probably correct.
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?
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.
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Verse 8. - Will a man rob God? The prophet shows the people how they have departed from God, in not keeping even the outward observances of religion. The word translated "rob," defraud, found also in Proverbs 22:23, etc., is rendered in the Septuagint, πτερνιεῖ, "trip up," "supplant;" Vulgate, si affliget homo Deum, or, as St. Jerome first translated, "si affiget homo Deum," and referred the words to the crucifixion of our Lord. In tithes and offerings. These were due to the Lord, and therefore in withholding them they were defrauding not man but God. (For tithe, see Leviticus 27:30, etc.; Numbers 18:21. See the complaint of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 13:10-12.) The "offering" meant is the heave offering, the breast and shoulder of the peace offering, which were the priests' portion (Exodus 29:27; Leviticus 7:14, 32-34; comp. Nehemiah 10:37-39).
Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
Verse 9. - Ye are cursed with a (the) curse. The effect of the curse was scarcity and barrenness, as we see from vers. 10-12 (comp. Malachi 2:2; Haggai 1:6). The Vulgate assumes the result: In penuria vos maledicti estis. The next clause given the reason of the curse. This whole nation. Not individuals only, but the whole nation (he does not any longer call them God's people) were implicated in this sin. The LXX., reading differently, has, "The year is ended, and ye have brought," etc.
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.
Verse 10. - All the tithes; the whole tithe - not merely a portion of it. God is not served with partial service. The storehouse. The tithes were brought to the temple, and laid up in the chambers built to receive them (see Nehemiah 10:38, 39; Nehemiah 13:5, 12, 13; 2 Chronicles 31:11, 12). That there may be meat in mine house. That they who minister about holy things may live of the things of the temple (1 Corinthians 9:13; Numbers 18:21). Prove me now herewith. Do your part, perform your duties, and then see if I will not reward your obedience. Open you the windows of heaven. The expression implies net only the removal of drought by copious showers of rain, but the diffusion of heavenly blessing in large abundance. That there shall not be room enough to receive it; or, unto superabundance; Vulgate, usque ad abundantiam; Septuagint, ἕως τοῦ ἱκανωθῆναι, "until it suffice;" Syriac, "until ye say, It is enough." The Authorized Version retains the negation in the sentence, and perhaps comes nearest to the meaning of the original (comp. Luke 12:17, 18).
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.
Verse 11. - The devourer. The locust (see Introduction to Joel, § 1.). God would not only give a fruitful season, so that the crops sprang up well, but would guard them from everything that could injure them before they were gathered in. Septuagint, διαστελῶ ὑμῖν εἰς βρῶσιν, which perhaps means, as Schleusner thinks, "I will give a charge unto consumption for your good," though Jerome renders, "dividam vobis cibos."
And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.
Verse 12. - Shall call you blessed; or, happy, as ver. 15 (comp. Deuteronomy 33:29; Zechariah 8:13, 23). A delightsome land; γῆ θελητή (Septuagint); literally, a land of good pleasure - a land in which God is well pleased (comp. Isaiah 62:4; Jeremiah 3:19).
Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?
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?
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?
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.).
And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
Verse 15. - We call the proud happy. This is still the speech of the murmurers. We, they say, do not reckon the humble and meek blessed; we consider that the only blessed ones are the arrogant heathen, or free thinkers, who meet with prosperity and happiness in this world. For the "proud," the LXX. has, ἀλλοτρίους, "strangers," which, doubtless, gives the meaning (comp. Isaiah 13:11). Are set up; literally, are built up - have wealth and families, and leave a name behind them (Psalm 17:14; see in the original, Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:3; and comp. Exodus 1:21; Jeremiah 12:16, where the phrase, "being built," includes all temporal prosperity). They that tempt God are even delivered; they tempt God, and are delivered (ver. 10). They try and provoke God by their impiety, and yet escape punishment. Septuagint, Ἀντέστησαν τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἐσώθησαν, "They resist God, and yet are safe."
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.
Verse 16. - With these impious murmurers the prophet contrasts those who fear God, as above (Malachi 2:5-7) he set the picture of the true priest in opposition to his delineation of the evil ministers. Then. When the impious made the above infidel remarks, the pious spake often, conversed together. What they said is not repeated, but it was language well pleasing unto God, who deigned to listen to their words, and to console them by announcing the future destiny of the good and the evil. They may have argued with these impious talkers, and warned others against them; or they may have expostulated as Jeremiah 12:1, but yet with full faith that what God does is always good; and this sentiment was all the harder to cherish because they lived under a system of temporal rewards and punishments. The Septuagint and Syriac have, "These things spake they that feared the Lord," as if the two preceding verses reported the words of the pious. Some Fathers and commentators have taken the same view. But it is difficult to conceive such words coming from the mouth of those who fear God; unless they are so called ironically. But this is inadmissible, as we see that in the present verse they are represented in their true character, and such a sudden change from irony to actuality is unnatural and quite opposed to the prophet's usual manner. A book of remembrance was written before him. The hook represents God's providence and omniscience, his ever-wakeful care, his unfailing knowledge. "Are not these things noted in thy book?" says the psalmist (Psalm 56:8); and when the dead were judged, Daniel saw that the books were opened (Daniel 7:10). The idea is taken from the national records wherein were noted events of importance, such as we find in the cuneiform inscriptions (comp. 1 Kings 11:41, etc.; Ezra 4:15; Ezra 6:1; Esther 6:1; Revelation 20:12). This book was to lie, as it were, always before the eyes of the Lord, to remind him of the pious. Rosenmuller compares the proverbial saying, Αγράφη ἐν Διὸς δέλτοις, "It is written on the tablets of Zeus" on which Erasmus comments in his 'Adagia,' under the title "Fides et Gravitas." For them that feared the Lord. For their benefit, to preserve their name forever. Thought upon his Name. Prized his Name, regarded it with awe. Septuagint, ἐυλαβουμένοις τὸ ὅνομα αὐτοῦ, " who reverenced his Name."
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.
Verse 17. - They shall be mine, etc. This is better rendered, in accordance with the Septuagint and Vulgate, "They shall be to me, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day which I am preparing, a peculiar treasure." This day of the Lord is the day of judgment, which God is always preparing by his visitation of nations and individuals. Then shall the righteous be to God a peculiar treasure (segullah), that which he prizes as his special possession (see Exodus 19:5, whence the expression is derived; and comp. Deuteronomy 7:6: 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4). I will spare them; i.e. when I punish sinners. They are spared on two grounds, because they are his sons, and because they serve him like obedient children (Psalm 103:13). Septuagint, αἱρετιῶ αὐτούς, "I will choose them."
Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
Verse 18. - Then shall ye return, and discern; or, ye shall again discern. They had already had many opportunities, both in the history of the nation and the life of individuals, of observing the different treatment of the godly and of sinners; but in the day of the Lord they should have a more plain and convincing proof of God's moral government (comp. Exodus 11:7; Wisd. 5:1-5); "So that men shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalm 58:11).