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Commentary on Malachi.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons - London) DD

Introduction.

Malachi was the last of the great writing prophets and apparently exercised his ministry some time prior to the arrival of Nehemiah in 445/444 BC (he indicates that animals were still being presented to the governor (1.8), a practise stopped by Nehemiah - Nehemiah 5.14-16) and possibly on into that period. There is no reliable external information about him, but Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) in around 180 BC mentions ‘the twelve prophets’, which suggests that at that date Malachi’s contribution was fully recognised. It matters little whether it was a pseudonym, a name he took on becoming a prophet or whether it was his actual given name, although there is no good reason linguistically for denying that it is a good Hebrew name.

Approximately a hundred years previously the first of the exiles in Babylonia had returned to Palestine under the decree of Cyrus in 539/8 BC, and had eventually, as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah, rebuilt the Temple, something which was completed in 515 BC.

But while the Temple was clearly now itself active, Jerusalem itself was still not fully restored, and indeed seems to have been in fairly poor condition. While an attempt had been made to rebuild its walls, this restoration had been forbidden by Artaxerxes before it had been completed (Ezra 4.7-24), and had seemingly been to some extent reversed by their enemies. A deterioration in its condition is suggested by the fact that Nehemiah received a report that stated that, ‘the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach, the wall also of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are burned with fire’ (Nehemiah 1.3).

The community were beset with problems. Their determination to keep the worship of YHWH pure, which was in itself to be commended, had upset the people round about who had wanted a part in the new Temple so that they could introduce into it their own syncretistic Yahwism. The present state of Jerusalem was something which had partly caused the above problems. It would seem that the successors of the returned exiles were also disillusioned because there did not appear to be any sign of God’s fulfilment of His earlier promises made to Haggai and Zechariah. Nevertheless in spite of their discontent they were, unlike YHWH, clearly very satisfied with their own religious state.

But the truth was that the first zeal demonstrated by the original returnees had lapsed as the people had settled down, (as we would have expected), and Malachi has therefore to point out a number of ways in which the present people were displeasing to God. This included the fact that they were marrying wives outside the community, thus introducing the very syncretistic ideas that they had outwardly resisted, and were divorcing their ageing wives so that they could marry younger ones (2.10-11; Ezra 9.1-2; Nehemiah 13.1-3, 23). The priesthood were considered to be corrupt, and careless in their offerings (1.6-2.9; Nehemiah 13.7-9), and the people were also failing to pay their tithes to the sanctuary (3.8-10; Nehemiah 10.32-39; 13.10-14). Furthermore they were being careless in their attitude towards the poor (3.5; Nehemiah 5.1-5). Overall things were not good.

Nevertheless Malachi opens with the assertion that God loves them (1.2), a love which is emphasised by the fact that, in contrast to Edom, God has restored them to their land and has a good future in store for them if only they will truly respond to him. It is a response, however, that He only expects a certain number of them to make (3.16-17; 4.3).

As we shall see Malachi constantly uses a question and answer method in order to bring out his points. While a similar method is occasionally found in other prophets it is not used as systematically by them as it is by Malachi. It is thus distinctive to his prophecy and distinguishes him from those who have gone before. We are not to see the answers given as literally being on the tongues of the people. Rather he puts the answers in their mouths so as to clarify the picture. He was not seeking to portray them as petulant, merely seeking to bring out how they were really behaving.

Analysis.

Heading (1.1).

1). YHWH declares His love for His people. They ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ (1.2-5).

2). YHWH declares that the priests have despised His Name. They ask, How have we despised Your Name? (1.6-2.9).

3). The people assert their oneness because God is their Father. They ask ‘How then are they faithless to one another, and profaners of the covenant? (2.10-12).

4). Malachi declares that the people weep because YHWH no longer accepts their offering. They ask, ‘Why does He not do so? (2.13-16).

5). Malachi says that they have wearied YHWH with their words. They ask ‘How have we wearied Him? (2.17-3.6).

6). YHWH says that they have violently robbed Him. They ask, ‘How have we violently robbed You?’ (3.7-12).

7). YHWH says that they have spoken against Him. They ask, ‘How have we spoken against you? (3.13-4.3).

Final Exhortation (4.4-6).

Heading.

1.1 ‘The burden of the word of YHWH to Israel by Malachi.’

The heading tells us what the contents of the book are. It contains ‘the burden of the word of YHWH to Israel by Malachi’. The word ‘burden’ can mean something heavy to bear. It was never easy to be a prophet. They had to speak of distressing things to come, and they had to say unpopular things about both the present. Especially unpopular were their criticisms, for people like to hear nice things about themselves, and do not like to be told that they are in the wrong. Nor do they like responsibilities being laid on them. Thus the prophets never had an easy time.

However, the word translated ‘burden’ can also mean ‘oracle’, a ‘lifting up of the voice’. But if it simply meant that here it would tend to make the noun ‘word’ redundant. This suggests that the idea of burden has to be retained, indicating that it is ‘the burden of the word of YHWH’, something which is not easy to bear. So the book contains the word of YHWH spoken to Israel which was a heavy burden on the prophet’s heart.

But who are we intended to see as indicated by the term Israel? Israel had originally been the name for the whole of the twelve tribes, but when the kingdom was divided it was used of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. However, the prophets continued to use the term Israel to denote the whole of Israel within Palestine made up of whichever of the tribes were present, for they did not acknowledge the division. And once the various exiles had taken place it was very much used to indicate ‘all Israel’. Thus that is its major significance here. However, we may also see it as having a wider application in general to Israelites in exile who still looked to Jerusalem, wherever they were.

The word came ‘by Malachi’. As it stands the word in Hebrew malachi can mean ‘my messenger’, but a yod (translated ‘my’) could equally be added to a noun to make a proper name, so that this could simply be a proper name signifying ‘messenger’. The Septuagint translates it as ‘your messenger’. If this was an actual translation it would assume Malacho. But that may simply have arisen from the idiosyncrasy of the translators who read Malachi, but then read a significance into the name. Later tradition in the Talmud spoke of Malachi as a person,

But what was this word of YHWH to Israel? Malachi commences by declaring that it was a word of love.

The Love Of YHWH For Jacob, And His Hatred For Esau (1.2-5).

YHWH now makes a positive affirmation of love for His people Israel (Jacob). This love had often been affirmed by previous prophets. ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt’ (Hosea 11.1). ‘YHWH did not love you nor choose you because you were more in number than any people, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because YHWH loves you, and because He would keep the oath that He swore to your fathers, has He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 7.7-8). ‘YHWH appeared of old to us saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with covenant love have I drawn you’ (Jeremiah 31.2).

It was a love that arose out of God’s sovereignty, it was guaranteed because of His promises to their forefathers, it was a love that drew them into His covenant, and it was also a love that required obedience. ‘And it will come about that because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, YHWH your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers , and He will love you and bless you ---’ (Deuteronomy 7.12-13). It was also a love that would write His Instruction in their inner hearts (Jeremiah 31.33). Thus it was a love for those who truly responded to Him, although also reaching out to them even when they were holding back (as they were now).

1.2-3

“I have loved you,” says YHWH.
“Yet you say, ‘In what have you loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says YHWH.
“Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated,
And made his mountains a desolation,
And gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.’

Here then YHWH affirms His love for His people. But the question lying deep in His people’s hearts, and brought to the surface by Malachi, was ‘how have you loved us?’ And they could have added, ‘here we are living under hard conditions with our capital city in ruins, and with the future not at all rosy. Where is the coming King you promised us? Where is the prosperity? Where is the subservience of the Gentile nations? Why are we still ruled by Persia?’ What evidence is there of your love?’

God answers the suggested question by a negative example. ‘Consider Esau,’ He says. ‘I did not have the same love for him. And when, as with you, I made his land a desolation, and his heritage was handed over to the wild beasts of the wilderness, I did not restore him like I have restored you. For I hated Edom (Esau) because of how they had treated you.’

It is probable that they were intended to see this declaration of YHWH as an invitation and a warning, as well as a declaration of love. He is saying that His love was stretched out towards them, but that it was not unconditional. It was theirs if they would respond to it. Thus in 3.16-17 He will later describe those on whom His love is finally set.

It should be noted that Edom is not cited here because it was a Gentile nation (contrast verse 12), because that was not how it was seen. It is precisely because it was a brother nation that the situation arose. It is a warning that those who see themselves as among the chosen must not presume.

1.4-5

“Whereas Edom says,
‘We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places,’
Thus says YHWH of hosts,
‘They will build, but I will throw down,
And men will call them The border of wickedness,
And The people against whom YHWH has indignation for ever.’
And your eyes will see, and you will say,
‘YHWH be magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ ”

‘Indeed,’ says YHWH. ‘Edom do plan to return and build up their land again like you are doing, but the fact is that I will not allow it. I will throw it down, so that men will call them ‘The border of wickedness’, (the place in which wickedness abounds once you cross their border) and ‘the people against whom YHWH has indignation for ever’ (compare Isaiah 34).

This judgment on them was partly because of the way that Edom had regularly behaved when Judah was invaded, taking advantage of it for their own benefit and adding to Judah’s tribulations, and partly because of their general attitude towards Israel, which had even been patent in the time of Moses (Numbers 20.14-21). That was why centuries before Isaiah had spoken of the coming destruction of Edom (Isaiah 34.5-17; compare Jeremiah 24.7-22; Amos 1.11-12; 2 Chronicles 28.17; Psalm 137.7; Obadiah 1.11-14). There may, of course, also have been other factors of which we are not aware.

But however that may be, destruction was certainly to be the experience of the remnants of Esau/Edom. For the Nabataeans swept into Edom and the Edomite refugees were gradually driven into southern Judah, settling in Idumaea in the Negev, where they were eventually forced by John Hyrcanus, a Jewish leader in 1st century BC, to be circumcised and become Jews. (So even in this judgment they indirectly experienced the possibility of mercy. For if they did truly respond to the God of Israel they would now find mercy).

‘And your eyes will see, and you will say, ‘YHWH be magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ And one of the results of what will happen to Edom will be that the eyes of His people will see what happens and recognise that God is not just effective in Israel, but is revealed as powerful even outside the borders of Israel. Thus it will make them comment to one another that YHWH is magnified even outside Israel.

So YHWH was emphasising to His people that His love was truly being shown to them in the fact that He was preserving them in the land to which He had returned them, in spite of their undeserving, while acting externally against their enemies. But He will then go on to demonstrate why in spite of that, the remainder of the promises have not been fulfilled. It is because they have not been faithful to the covenant. Thus they need to take Edom as a salutary warning lest they lose His love and it happen to them.

This charge to consider their ways is demonstrated first in relation to the failures of the priesthood, then in relation to the people stumbling at His Instruction because of the priesthood (2.8; 3.5, 15; 4.1), and then in relation to their behaviour with regard to divorce (2.14-16) and foreign wives (2.11), followed by a charge that they were failing to give their tithes to His House (3.8-9) and were openly speaking against Him (3.13). And all these failures indicated an underlying hardness of heart.

Note On ‘Jacob Have I Loved And Esau Have I Hated’.

The word translated ‘hate’ has a wide variety of meaning. For example it is used in Genesis of Jacob as ‘loving Leah less’ than Rachel (Genesis 29.30-31). Furthermore the words here in Malachi clearly refer initially to God’s relationship with Jacob and Esau. But a glance at Genesis reveals that God did not hate Esau in any sense in which we mean hate. He simply arranged for him to have a lesser inheritance, and one that did in fact suit his nature better. He certainly made the greater promises through Jacob (and we should note that He did so from birth). So the point is that Esau was simply not taken up into His promises as Jacob was. There is no doubt that this was partly because of the weakness in his character, but as Paul stresses the decision was made before either of them had done good or bad. Thus Paul saw it as evidence of God’s activity in ‘election’. On the other hand God did always insist that Israel treat Edom as brothers (Deuteronomy 23.7). However, that very fact in itself was partly what drew God’s and Israel’s ‘hatred’ on Edom because of its later treatment of its ‘brother’ Judah when things were going hard for Judah, for they took advantage of it, invading their land and greatly adding to Judah’s troubles. This was why they now came under His judgment (compare Amos 1.11-12; 2 Chronicles 28.17; Psalm 137.7; Obadiah 1.11-14).

End of note.

The Failures Of The Priesthood Which Are Reflected In The People (1.6-2.9).

Having declared His love for Israel God now brings out why that love might not have produced what His people expected. And the first reason that is given is the failure of the priesthood in the fulfilment of its responsibilities, especially in regard to the condition of the offerings and sacrifices that they offered. Instead of offering the best of what they produced they were offering the worst.

1.6

‘A son honours his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am a father, where is mine honour?
And if I am a master, where is my fear?’
Says YHWH of hosts to you,
O priests, who despise my name.
And you say,
In what have we despised your name?

With the idea of His Fatherly love in mind God compares the way that a dutiful son honours his father, and a servant honours his master, to the way that the priests treat Him. Is He not their Father? Is He not their Master? Why then do they not honour and fear Him?

Indeed, He says, rather than honouring Him they demonstrate that they despise His Name, that is, they despise what He is as Father and Master and Lord. They are simply unaware of the greatness and glory of the One with whom they have to do. There is no doubt that this is also a very modern problem. It is so easy for even believers to treat God lightly. This then immediately raises the question in the priest’s mind. ‘In what have we despised your Name?’

This idea of God as the Father of Israel as a whole is a regular one in the Old Testament. See Exodus 4.22; Deuteronomy 32.6; Isaiah 63.16; 64.8; Jeremiah 4.4, 19. Jesus took this a step further by describing Him as the Father of each one who truly believes. But we must beware of assuming that because of this we can treat Him lightly. As God reminds us here. As our Father He expects to be treated with ‘Honour’, not as though He was a soft option.

1.7

‘You offer polluted food upon my altar.’
And you say, ‘In what have we polluted you?’
In that you say,
‘The table of YHWH is contemptible.’

God’s answer is that the fact that they despise His Name is revealed by how the priests are treating Him. This comes out firstly in that they continually offer ‘polluted food’ on His altar. This will later be defined in terms of the inadequate and defective condition of animals brought as offerings and sacrifices. But prior to this explanation the priests ask, ‘In what have we polluted You?’ Note the emphasis on ‘You’. They clearly recognise that if they have been offering defective sacrifices they are actually polluting YHWH Himself.

The answer is that by their actions they are saying that the Table of YHWH is only worthy of contempt. For by them they are demonstrating that they have nothing but contempt for the Table of YHWH. This may refer to the tables made available for the cutting up of the offerings prior to sacrifice, or it may refer to the brazen altar itself. It must be remembered that in most cases the priests partook of part of the sacrifice. Thus the sacrifices were food for the priests. Or the idea may be that symbolically the offering was seen as food available to God, something of which He ‘partook’ as a pleasing odour’ (Leviticus 3.16) when the offering was burned on the altar (see Leviticus 3.11, 16).

1.8

‘And when you offer the blind for sacrifice,
It is no evil!
And when you offer the lame and sick,
It is no evil!
Present it now unto your governor,
Will he be pleased with you?
Or will he accept your person?
Says YHWH of hosts.’

He then explains precisely what He means. Instead of choosing out an unblemished offering they offer up one that is blind. And then they say, ‘It is no evil’. Or they offer up one that is lame or sick. And again they say, ‘It is no evil.’ It is difficult to believe that they did not realise what they were doing, for the Torah was quite clear about the need for sacrifices to be unblemished (Leviticus 22.20). But it may be that the priests were receiving only blind, lame and sick animals from the people in general (which would thus involve the people as a whole in the charge). Or it may be that somehow they had convinced themselves that it did not really matter, or they may even have used distorted measures of adequacy. Either way God was being insulted.

Indeed this is brought out by the argument that if they offered similar animals to the Governor he would certainly not be very pleased. Nor would it be acceptable to him. He would reject anyone who brought such a gift to him and refuse him audience, or even worse. How then could they expect God to be pleased, or find their offerings acceptable?

The word for ‘governor’ is an Akkadian loan word, and indicates that this was an official in the Persian empire.

1.9

‘And now, I pray you,
Entreat the favour of God (El),
That he may be gracious to us,
This has been by your means,
Will he accept any of your persons?
Says YHWH of hosts.’

Malachi now interjects (revealed by the ‘us’) and says sarcastically, ‘And now (in view of your attitude and of what you are) entreat the favour of God (El - the use of the singular is in order to bring out His mightiness), that He may be gracious to us.’ It was one of the main duties of the priests to be intercessors for the people at the daily prayers and at special feasts. But of what use, Malachi is saying, is the intercession of those who are rejected by God? How can we expect any response when using such intercessors? For in view of the offering of these unacceptable sacrifices (‘this has been by your means’) do they really think that the Almighty God will accept any of their persons, asks YHWH of hosts?

1.10

‘Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors,
That you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!
I have no pleasure in you, says YHWH of hosts,
Nor will I accept an offering at your hand.

Indeed YHWH is so utterly displeased with their offerings and their behaviour, that He expresses a wish that someone would shut the door that leads into the outer court so that it might become impossible for them to offer sacrifices at all. For He wants them to know that when they kindle the fires of the altar they are wasting their time. He has no pleasure in them (they are totally unacceptable to Him) and under no circumstances will He accept an offering from their hands. In other words, He want the Sanctuary shut down.

The picture is a sad one. Here were the people of Israel, gathered and filled with admiration and awe as these ‘respected’ priests offered the offerings and sacrifices, and all the time it would be a sham, and would be totally unacceptable to God. It was not only a total waste of time, it was blasphemy. And it might well be that the people who had brought unacceptable offerings were equally responsible. The whole thing was a charade.

It is a warning to us that in our case also God will not accept from us anything that comes short of our best. We cannot offer Him more than we have, but woe betide us if we do not offer Him the best that we have. If we do He will simply disregard us. No wonder that we complain that God does not answer our prayers.

1.11-12

‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,
My name is/will be great among the Gentiles,
And in every place incense is/will be offered to my name,
And a pure offering,
For my name is/will be great among the Gentiles,
Says YHWH of hosts.
‘But you profane it, in that you say,
The table of YHWH is polluted,
And its fruit, even its food, is contemptible.’

YHWH then looks ahead to the future. They are wondering why YHWH has not brought the Gentiles flocking to worship at their Temple as Haggai had suggested (Haggai 2.6-7), are they? Well let them now know this. In the future from one end of the world to the other YHWH’s Name will be exalted as great among the Gentiles (His true greatness will be recognised), and everywhere incense will be offered to His Name, and a pure offering acceptable to Him will be offered by them, because His Name is recognised as so great among the Gentiles (the greatness of YHWH is a feature of this chapter, see 1.5, 14). While in contrast they, His supposed priests, are profaning His Name because of the attitude that they have towards His Table, and His offerings and sacrifices. For they instead of indicating that His Name is great, are profaning it, and indicating that His Table is a polluted thing and that its product is to be looked on as contemptible.

The verbs ‘is/will be’ are not in the Hebrew text so that the prophet may have in mind both the present and the future, the present in the fact that around the world synagogue worship was probably already causing Gentiles to worship YHWH in prayer and in obedience to the Law and by the offering of themselves and their gifts to Him, and the future in terms of the constant prophecies of blessing among the Gentiles that would both grow from such activities, and especially the blessing and worship that would result from the activities of the Messiah/Servant (Genesis 12.3; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6; etc).

However, the phrase ‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,’ points to an eschatalogical and therefore Messianic interpretation. Compare Psalm 50.1; 113.3; Isaiah 45.6; 59.19 which all have in mind great events. And thus the great stress is on what God will finally achieve through His Servant.

We may thus find here a remarkable prophecy of the way in which:

  • 1). The majority of the priesthood will be rejected after the death and resurrection of Jesus, (but with some repenting), just as they are being here.
  • 2) Large numbers of Gentiles will respond and acknowledge the greatness of YHWH and His Name by accepting the once for all offering of Jesus Christ, and then, through Him, offering true prayer to God as the equivalent of incense (compare Psalm 141.2; Revelation 5.8).
  • 3). The resulting continual sacrifice of themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12.1-2) on the basis of that offering of Jesus Christ made once for all (Hebrews 9.28; 10.12, 14).
  • 4) And all quite apart from the Temple.

YHWH’s point is that He does not really need the Israelite sacrifices in view of the certainty of what is happening even now ‘worldwide’, and of what is to come in even greater measure. Thus their choice as to whether they heed His words or not, while it will certainly affect their own future position, will have no effect at all either on the future worldwide worship of God or on the fulfilment of His intentions. Thus they are not to see themselves as necessary to the fulfilment of His purposes. Whether therefore they respond or not is up to them. If they want to be included in His purposes they will respond. Meanwhile He will be recording in His book of remembrance all the names of those who fear YHWH and think on His Name (3.16)

It is also a reminder that being a priest was of no advantage to a man unless his behaviour towards God was genuine. They may have been anointed as belonging to YHWH but they should recognise that it makes not the slightest difference unless their response is true. Man may look at the outward appearance, and even be in awe of it, but God looks at the heart.

We should note here the contrast between Edom and the Gentiles. For Edom their brother tribe there is no future outside Israel (and indeed they would be absorbed into Israel). But as for the Gentiles, the word of God will reach out to them worldwide, and at that time all the world will hear of the Great God of Israel and will respond to Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4.24).

1.13

‘You say also, Behold, what a weariness is it!
And you have snuffed (sniffed, breathed out) at it, says YHWH of hosts;
And you have brought that which was taken by violence,
And the lame, and the sick,
Thus you bring the offering.
Should I accept this at your hand? says YHWH.’

But in total contrast to the coming wholehearted attitude and response of the Gentiles is the attitude of these priests of Israel. It is one of weariness. Indeed they sniff at each offering, and that at an offering made to YHWH of hosts! Such an indolent and contemptuous attitude towards worship and service often arises from long familiarity with it (compare Isaiah 1.11-15; Micah 6.6-8; 1 Samuel 2.12-17) so that even the most sacred things can become a joke. And in this case the offerings they brought were either those seized from others, or slain by wild beasts (which were thus not seen as suitable for sacrifice - Exodus 22.31), or lame and sick ones. Do they really expect Him to accept these from their hand?

1.14

‘But cursed be the cheat, who has in his flock a male,
And vows, and sacrifices to the Lord a blemished thing,
For I am a great King, says YHWH of hosts,
And my name is terrible among the Gentiles.

And it is not only the priests who are guilty. The people too are cheats. For regularly, although they have a stout male in their flock, they make their vow and then sacrifice to their sovereign Lord one that is inferior and blemished. So almost the whole of Israel is caught up in the scam. It is clear that, to them, anything is good enough for God, while they keep the best for themselves. Note the change from YHWH of hosts to sovereign Lord (adonai) to emphasise the greatness of the crime. And this is even further emphasised by the perpetrator of the fraud being ‘cursed’. In these extreme phrases YHWH incorporates all the people in with His casting off of the priests.

Their crime is then emphasised even more by pointing out that while He may not count for much in their eyes, He is in fact a Great King (a title usually used by conquerors of themselves, compare Isaiah 36.4) with a huge reputation among the Gentiles. This may refer to His renown from past doings, the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 1-15, see 15.14-16); the conquest of Canaan (Joshua); the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19.35-36); the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4.30-37) or it may have in mind the great Name that is to be His when the Gentiles in every place offer incense to His Name (verse 11). It is a reminder that Malachi has his sights set high. It is in the end YHWH’s worldwide rule and worship that he has in mind (compare verse 12; Psalm 2).

The idea of the kingship of YHWH occurs regularly throughout the Old Testament. Compare Numbers 23.21; 24.7; Exodus 15.18; Deuteronomy 33.5; 1 Samuel 8.7; and regularly in the Psalms (e.g. 22.28; 47.2; 48.2; 95.3; 103.19; and often). For ‘YHWH has established His throne in the Heavens and His Kingship rules over all’ (Psalm 103.19).

What a warning we should read for ourselves from these words. How easily our worship become perfunctory, how quickly we forget the greatness of the One We worship, how carelessly we can treat our responsibilities on His service, how all too easily we can justify to ourselves the giving to him of second best. We need to wake up and recognise how in doing this we are profaning Him.

2.1

‘And now, O you priests,
This commandment is for you.
If you will not hear,
And if you will not lay it to heart,
To give glory to my name,
Says YHWH of hosts,
Then will I send the curse upon you,
And I will curse your blessings,
Yes, I have cursed them already,
Because you do not lay it to heart.

Having rebuked them YHWH now calls on them to consider their ways. He has spoken and given His ‘divine command’ (mitswah) and it is up to them to hear and respond. But if they will not do so. If they will not begin to bring glory to His Name by carrying out the correct sacrificial procedures with the finest of their animals, and in a right frame of mind, then He will send the curses on them outlined in Deuteronomy 27.26; 28.15-20. He will curse their blessings. This may signify that the normal priestly blessing would become a curse both to the pronouncer and on those on whom it was pronounced (Numbers 6.23-27), or that He would turn the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 into the cursings of Deuteronomy 28.

‘I have cursed them already’ may refer to the fact that they were not having good harvests as warned in Deuteronomy 28.15-19, or to the present condition of Jerusalem with its gates burned with fire after they had rebuilt them. Or indeed to both. And either way it was because they had not laid to heart God’s warnings.

2.3-4

‘Behold, I will rebuke your seed (or ‘arm’),
And will spread dung on your faces,
Even the dung of your feasts,
And you will be taken away to it.
And you will know that I have sent this commandment to you,
That my covenant may be with Levi, says YHWH of hosts.

As a result of the failure of both the priests with their careless attitude and the people with their blemished offerings YHWH will ‘rebuke their seed’. This may mean that they will not produce a satisfactory harvest (seed in the sense of grain), something which will affect both the farmers who brought the blemished sacrifices, because their output is diminished, and the priests who offered them, because their share in the firstfruits and other portions will be reduced.

Or the reference may be to their descendants. Their disobedience will not just affect them it will result in YHWH’s rebuke and curse on their descendants (Deuteronomy 18.18). This would tie in with their being replaced by the ‘covenant with Levi’.

Alternately we may repoint (change the vowels which were not a part of the original text) to signify ‘rebuke your arm’. In this case it signifies that He will affect their activities so that they cannot carry them out properly. This affecting of their arm movements may account for why the dung (the contents of the stomach and intestines) will be spread on their faces.

The spreading of dung (which should be burned in a clean place) on their faces is signifying very unpleasant treatment. Possibly the idea is that it will be caused by jerky arm actions (‘rebuke your arm’) or by the wind blowing it in their faces, or it may simply be intended to be metaphorical indicating that they will be treated like those who have had dung flung on them, or will be treated as dung, to such an extent that they are then carried off to the place of dung. In other words they may think themselves ‘holy’ but they will become in His eyes as ‘holy animal dung’, fit only to be taken out with other holy remnants and burned (e.g. Leviticus 4.11-12; 16.27), rather than being offered up to YHWH. That is the only ‘holiness’ that He will see these ‘holy priests’ as having.

Whatever the exact meaning the contempt and diminution that it expresses towards them is clear, and it probably also includes the idea that the dung spread on them will make them patently unfit for duty.

Then, once they have been humiliated, they will know that the command that they had received and disobeyed, and which has resulted in their rejection to the dung heap, was the command of YHWH, and that as a result they will be replaced so that His covenant might be with a new Levi.

The meaning of this latter comes out in what follows. The ministry of the priests having been disgraced, and the sacrificing priests who have so misused the sacrifices having been cast out on the dung heap, the covenant made with Levi in Deuteronomy 33.8-11 will be renewed with other, worthier, ‘sons of Levi’. In other words from the moment that the priesthood is rejected if they fail to respond to YHWH’s warning, a new teaching ministry of ‘Levites’, of those uniquely set apart to the service of God, will come into prominence, replacing the old priesthood. And this because the old priesthood have debased the ministry (2.8-9).

(We can call to mind here the words of John the Baptist to those who boasted about being sons of Abraham, ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham’ (Matthew 3.9). In the same way here God is saying that He can easily raise up other ‘sons of Levi’).

Note on ‘the Covenant of Levi’ (verse 8, compare verse 4) And The Sons of Levi.

It is significant what Malachi draws out when he refers to ‘the covenant of Levi’ (verse 8). We saw in 1.12 that there was to be pure worship among the Gentiles ‘in every place’ and thus a worship not connected with Jerusalem. Here now there is to be a ministry of the Levites not connected with the old priesthood, a ministry the emphasis of which is not on sacrifice, but on loyalty to YHWH and the proclamation of righteousness and the law of truth (verse 6). Malachi foresees the old unrepentant priesthood as in some way being replaced so as to introduce a more spiritual ministry.

A ‘covenant with the Levites, the priests, my ministers’ is mentioned in Jeremiah 33.20-21, (compare also Nehemiah 13.29), but that is unlikely to directly indicate the one mentioned here because here the priests have been ‘thrown on the dung heap’. It could have been had they repented. And they may have done for a time. But as we know from the Gospels if they did it was not one that lasted. However, the wider covenant of YHWH with Levi is described in the ‘blessing of Levi’ in Deuteronomy 33.8-11 which reads as follows:

“And of Levi he said,
Your Thummim and your Urim are with your godly one,
Whom you proved at Massah,
With whom you strove at the waters of Meribah,
Who said of his father, and of his mother,
‘I have not seen him,’
Neither did he acknowledge his brethren,
Nor did he know he his own children.
For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant.
They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law.
They will put incense before you,
And whole burnt-offering on your altar.
Bless, Oh YHWH, his substance,
And accept the work of his hands.
Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him,
And of those who hate him, that they rise not again.”

The godly one who was proved at Massah and is specifically said to have been striven with by the people at Meribah was Moses himself (Exodus 17.1-7; Numbers 20.3), who was of course of the tribe of Levi. In Numbers 20 it was along with Aaron. The Urim and the Thummim was the means by which the Priest (High Priest) determined the will of YHWH in disputed or difficult cases. Thus Moses and Aaron seem to be jointly in mind here, as ‘sons of Levi’. The description of the one who ‘said of his father, and of his mother, “I have not seen him,” neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children’ has in mind the Priest when he was involved in his sacred duties. As YHWH’s holy ‘Priest’ (initially Aaron) he was forbidden to enjoy the usual family relationships when on his sacred duties. He was in some ways separated off from his family. If any of his family died, whether father, mother, brother, sister, son, or whoever, he was not to touch their dead bodies nor even to leave the tabernacle while serving there, in the event that they were to die suddenly (Leviticus 21.11). As God’s supreme representative on behalf of Israel he had to be impervious to all family loyalty. This was proof of the Priest’s dedication and his especially holy position. The picture may also have been intended to include Moses whose position and calling had meant that he had to keep himself separate from family loyalties to such an extent that they are lost sight of. In both cases it stresses an attitude of total dedication and obedience. We can compare with this how Jesus Himself, in a similar way, set Himself off against family claims in Matthew 12.46-50, and His words to His disciples about ‘loving less than God’ their father and mother, son and daughter (Matthew 10.37).

‘They observed your word and kept your covenant’ has in mind the way that Levi stood firm with Moses at Sinai (Exodus 33.26), and their ministry that followed. The result was that they were appointed as teachers of the Torah, the priests acting more centrally, with the Levites acting to a lesser and more local extent in the rest of Israel, as they went around collecting the tithes. They would guide on religious matters, including such things as tithes, firstfruits, suitable sacrifices, etc., would call men to the exaltation of the Lord YHWH, and were no doubt also called on to pass judgments. And it was the Levitical priests who were to offer the incense on the altar of incense and the burnt offerings on the brazen altar. In return they were put under the special protection of YHWH, Who would ‘smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again.’

There are important parallels between this ‘covenant’ in Deuteronomy 33.8-11 and that described by Malachi here in 2.5-6. Thus we can compare them as follows:

  • Who said of his father, and of his mother, ‘I have not seen him,’ neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children’ with ‘And he feared me, and stood in awe of My Name’’.
  • For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant’, with ‘And unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with me in peace and uprightness.’
  • They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law, with ‘the law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips --- and he turned many away from iniquity’.
  • ‘Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again’, with ‘my covenant with him was of life and peace’.

But it will be noted that in Malachi it is the teaching ministry that is being stressed. The more priestly elements have dropped away. The priests who have failed are, unless they respond to YHWH’s warning, to be replaced by new ‘sons of Levi’, whi will be teachers of righteousness rather than offerers of sacrifices, and this especially in view of the future worldwide worship among the Gentiles.

End of note.

2.5-6

My covenant was with him of life and peace,
And I gave them to him that he might fear,
And he feared me,
And stood in awe of my name.
The law of truth was in his mouth,
And unrighteousness was not found in his lips,
He walked with me in peace and uprightness,
And turned many away from iniquity.

Here is a picture of the ‘ideal’ Levi, and the emphasis in Malachi’s words is on the fact that unless they respond to YHWH’s warning the old priests will be replaced by a new Levi who will do all God’s will, and will teach righteousness and truth. The references to sacrifice and incense, and to the Urim and the Thummim (see note above), are dropped out from the old promises, and He concentrates on those to whom He will give life and peace, those who will walk before Him in reverent awe, in whose mouths will be the law of truth, whose lips will be free from unrighteousness, and who will walk in peace and uprightness and turn many away from iniquity.

The thought is thus of an inner core of Israel who will walk righteously and truly, and he may well have had in mind the faithful Servant of Isaiah described in 42.1-7; 49.1-7; 50.3-8; 52.13-53.12 Who summed up the true Israel in Himself. He would take YHWH’s Law to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42.4)

‘My covenant was with him of life and peace.’ The covenant of ‘life’ was made with all in Israel who walked rightly before YHWH (Deuteronomy 30.15-20), and it was the way that ‘Levi’, first in Moses and Aaron, and then as a whole (Exodus 33.26) chose. The result was that YHWH Himself became their inheritance (Deuteronomy 10.9; Joshua 13.33), and they were scattered throughout Israel as His servants to minister in His Name. The covenant of ‘peace’ is mentioned in Numbers 25.12; Isaiah 54.10; Ezekiel 34.25; 37.26. In Numbers 25.12 it refers to a special covenant given to one of the tribe of Levi who acted in zealous faith towards YHWH. In Isaiah 54.10 it refers to YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him by which He will continually do them good. In Ezekiel 34.25 it refers to His covenant with the coming ‘Davidic king’ guaranteeing peace and security. And in Ezekiel 37.26 it refers to His everlasting covenant as a result of which they will prosper and enjoy His presence with them for ever more in a new and more holy sanctuary. Thus it is YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him, and connected with the activity of the coming Davidic King.

‘And I gave them to him that he might fear, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name .’ The idea behind the covenant of life and peace was that of granting of fullness of life and wellbeing and security by YHWH in response to a full-hearted loyalty revealed by those who look to Him, and the purpose of His giving this was that ‘Levi’ might ‘fear YHWH, which they did, so that they stood in awe of His Name.’ We can see already the contrast with these faithless priests with their haphazard and careless ways.

‘The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity.’ And this ‘Levi’ with whom YHWH made His covenant was wholly true to the Law, and no word of unrighteousness ever passed his lips. He walked before YHWH in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity.’ That there had been such Levites, even though we have not been told of them, must have been so for a righteous remnant continually to survive in Israel, especially in the early days before the prophets. And it would be true again once the prophets had ceased operating. They were the unknown, unsung, faithful servants of YHWH who stood true when others were going astray. And YHWH’s point here is that, unless the priests repent, they will be replaced by those who are in this way truer to the ways of the ideal ‘Levi’ those whose lives reveal that they are true ‘sons of Levi’

That this ideal was fulfilled in Jesus Christ need hardly be stressed. The law of truth was in His mouth (compare Isaiah 49.2; 50.4; John 14.6) and He was indeed the only One of Whom it could be said that ‘no unrighteousness passed through His lips’ (compare Isaiah 53.9), but it was, of course, also true to a large extent in His Apostles once they had been anointed by the Holy Spirit. They received the covenant of life and peace, feared the Lord and stood in awe of His Name, had in their mouths the law of truth, abjured unrighteousness, walked before God in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity. Thus did they finally become the replacements of the old priesthood, the true ‘sons of Levi’ (those who were like the ideal’ Levi).

2.7-8

‘For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge,
And they should seek the law at his mouth,
For he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts.
But you are turned aside out of the way,
You have caused many to stumble in the law,
You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,
Says YHWH of hosts.’

YHWH now applies this ideal to the priests. He begins by outlining what they should be. Their lips should be keeping knowledge, and they should be constantly seeking YHWH’s Instruction from His very lips, because they are the appointed messengers of YHWH. What a privilege was theirs. And so their whole thought and aspiration should be on knowing His truth so that they can pass it on.

We have practical examples of how they did this in 2 Chronicles 17.7-9 when Jehoshaphat sent out teachers, which included Levites, to teach the book of the Law of YHWH to the people. Compare also Nehemiah 8.8-9.

But what was the truth of the matter concerning these priests to whom he is speaking? It was that instead of ‘keeping knowledge’ and passing it on, they themselves have turned aside out of the way. It was that instead of seeking His Instruction at His mouth they had caused many to stumble in that Instruction. And they had done it because instead of being true messengers of YHWH they had corrupted the covenant of Levi. That is His indictment.

2.9

‘Therefore have I also made you contemptible,
And base before all the people,
According as you have not kept my ways,
But have had respect of persons in the law.

And that is why He has (prophetically speaking of something in the future) made then contemptible, flinging dung in their faces, and that is why He will make them base before all people. It is because they have not kept His ways, and walked in them and taught them, and it is because they have had respect of persons in the Law.

This last charge is a new one, capping off all the remainder of their iniquities. Instead of being fair and just and open minded, and treating all God’s people alike, they have shown respect of persons in their interpretation of God’s Instruction. They have been faithless messengers.

And now his words to the priests are over, and they are left to ponder them. But they have had their warning, and unless they take heed they will be replaced. That they did not finally take heed we know, and the Chief Priests were among the most vehement opponents of Jesus and His Apostles. And thus their ministry was brought to an abrupt end, and they were replaced by the ‘new Levi’ in the persons of the righteous preachers of the early church, something which has continued to this day. But this warning equally applies to modern preachers. If they too prove unfaithful, they too will suffer the same fate. YHWH’s Cause Against His People As A Whole Because They Have Married Foreign Syncretistic Wives (2.10-12).

It should be noted here that Malachi now once again brings not only the priests, but all of Judah, within the condemnation that he has described. He has already stressed that they too had betrayed their Father and Master (1.6) and dealt treacherously (1.14). They too had broken the covenant of their fathers. Thus they were to recognise in what Malachi has been saying an indictment against them also.

Malachi’s indictment against them is that they have not only profaned the holiness, the untainted purity and ‘otherness’, of YHWH, as the priests had done, by their blemished offerings, but that they have also done so by marrying those who worship other gods and are not wholly devoted to YHWH. And the result is that they will, as a result, be cut off from the benefits of the covenant.

The people of Judah are, however, then portrayed as not happy with the suggestion that they are profaning the covenant, and are not treating each other rightly. They feel rather that they have a strong bond with each other. They declare:

2.10

‘Have we not all one father?
Has not one God created us?
Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother,
Profaning the covenant of our fathers?’

By this they are portrayed as taking up the description of YHWH in 1.6. They affirm that they all together have one Father, because one God has created them. Thus they feel that they are united as one by that fact. They have a common faith and are fellow-believers.

They speak in terms of creation, but implied within their question is the fact that He is especially the Father of Israel, and that that especially makes them a united nation. He has created them as Israel. In the words of Isaiah, ‘Thus says YHWH Who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by My Name, you are Mine’ (Isaiah 43.1). Thus they saw themselves as firmly one as His people.

Indeed had He not said, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn?’ (Exodus 4.22). And they cannot see why they should therefore be being portrayed as dealing treacherously every man with his brother, when they felt that they showed each other a good deal of neighbourliness. Nor could they understand the suggestion that they were profaning the covenant of their fathers by the way they lived.

However, as we have already seen, they have been clearly represented by Malachi in 1.14 as having been brought into the indictment against the priests, for they equally shared in the responsibility for the unsatisfactory offerings and sacrifices that were being offered to YHWH. But seemingly their consciences have not been moved and they are not happy about it. They try to turn the blame on the messenger. They feel rather that it is YHWH Who is failing them (verse 13).

It is always strange how easily people think that, in spite of how badly they behave towards Him, He should be all sweetness and light towards them, and that really everything is His fault.

Malachi now replies by listing some of their faults. And the first of these lies in the fact that many of them are marrying local women who believed in and worshipped another god, with the result that these are introducing false worship into the community of God’s people, and even into Jerusalem.

2.11

‘Judah has dealt treacherously,
And an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem,
for Judah has profaned the holiness of YHWH which he loves,
And has married the daughter of a foreign god.

This is YHWH’s reply. How have they dealt treacherously against Him? How have they besmirched and profaned the holiness of YHWH? They have done it by committing an ‘abomination’ (a word regularly connected with idolatry) in Israel and in Jerusalem. They have profaned the very holiness of YHWH which is so precious to Him. And they have done it by marrying ‘the daughters of a foreign god’. (This phrase is in contrast with the fact that Israel is ‘God’s son, God’s firstborn’ - Exodus 4.22).

The point here is not that they have married ‘foreigners’ as such. Some of the Jews had once been ‘foreigners’ before they had become proselytes. (In fact a good proportion of Israel were not direct descendants of Jacob). It was that they had married women who worshipped other gods, and had brought their worship with them. They had introduced idolatry into Israel and Jerusalem. Thus the community of God’s holy people was being infiltrated by what was ‘unholy’, and this was jeopardising the total commitment of the community to YHWH (compare Deuteronomy 7.4).

It is a warning to us lest we introduce what is ‘foreign’ among the people of God. The pathway from true holiness and dedication to having a church in which God comes second, is an easy one to follow, and one not quickly remedied. It is important that even ‘secular’ activities are kept ‘holy’.

2.12

‘YHWH will cut off,
To the man who does this,
Him who wakes and him who answers,
Out of the tents of Jacob,
And him who offers an offering,
To YHWH of hosts.

So, Malachi says, let them be in no doubt. YHWH will cut off from His covenant every man who does this, no matter who they are. They will be cut off from their fellow Israelites. They will be cut off from the sentries who wake and receive a response from the sentries from whom they take over, in other words, from the security of the community (at some stage each male would probably act as a sentry as they had no army). They will be cut off from those who worship YHWH and make their offerings to Him.

An alternative possible translation is, ‘as for the man who does this, whether it be him who wakes or him who answers, may YHWH cut him off from the tents of Jacob, even though he brings offerings to YHWH of hosts’. Here ‘him who wakes and him who answers’ simply means ‘everyone’. And the idea is that he will be cut off from Israel in God’s eyes, even though he continues to offer sacrifices to YHWH. Thus men’s sacrifices will be seen as unwelcome, not only when they are blemished, but also when they are offered by those whose heart are not right towards God. There is nothing automatic about the effectiveness of sacrifices, as the prophets had constantly made clear (e.g. Isaiah 1.11-15; 1 Samuel 15.22; Micah 6.6-8)

YHWH’s Cause against The People Because They Accuse Him Of Not Heeding Their Prayers And Because They Have Divorced Their First Wives (2.13-16).

He also points out that while the people profess to weep and be concerned because YHWH is not responding to them, the truth is revealed to be that it is they who are not responding to Him, and this is especially brought out in regard to divorcing the wives of their youth.

If anything brings out the importance of faithfulness in marriage to God, it is the fact that He sees marriage as connected with two of the crowning sins of Judah/Israel, amidst all the other sins that they were committing. The priests had been unfaithful to YHWH as His messengers, as revealed by their totally unacceptable attitudes and behaviour, but Judah are being faithless to YHWH as His witnesses because of their casual attitude towards the sacredness and purity of marriage. We can compare how Jesus would lay the same emphasis on the need for faithfulness in marriage in Matthew 19.3-12 when preparing for the establishment of the new Kingly Rule of God.

2.13

‘And this again you do, you cover the altar of YHWH,
With tears, with weeping, and with sighing,
In as much as he does not regard the offering any more,
Nor receives it with good will at your hand.

Another thing that they do is that they come before YHWH at His altar and cover it with weeping and with tears, because they cannot understand why He is not accepting their offerings and responding by doing all the good things that He has promised. They assume that it is all YHWH’s fault that He does not respond to them. And they are basically asking, ‘why does God not answer their prayers?’

‘You cover the altar of YHWH with tears.’ The priests could do it actually, the people could do it by submitting tearstained offerings, probably deliberately, feeling that by offering tear-stained offerings they were also offering their tears to God.

2.14

‘Yet you say, Why?
Because YHWH has been witness between you and the wife of your youth,
Against whom you have dealt treacherously,
Though she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant.’

So there questions are, ‘why is there no answer?’ and ‘how can you say that we are not one in the covenant’. And Malachi simply replies by listing a second grievance that God has against them. It is because they have been treacherously divorcing their original wives, even though these wives have been their companions and are their wives within the covenant. Here then is one way in which they are dealing treacherously with each other.

Thus he has now answered both their questions about how they deal treacherously with each other and how they profane the covenant, in terms firstly of marrying women whom they marry who introduce other gods, and secondly in terms of their treacherous behaviour towards their own wives who have grown old and are therefore no longer quite so attractive. They are certainly not behaving well towards them or demonstrating neighbourliness.

This not only brings out how important the binding nature of marriage is to God, but also gives us a picture of how those who called themselves God’s people felt that they could manipulate marriage for their own benefit in spite of God’s original statement that by marriage they became as one flesh (Genesis 2.24). One of the reasons for marrying local women was probably in order to obtain rights over land, and they were clearly quite willing to sacrifice their own wives in order to achieve it, once these wives were past their main usefulness.

2.15

‘And did he not make one,
And he had the residue of the spirit?
And wherefore one?
He sought a godly seed (literally ‘seed of God’).
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
And let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.’

Malachi now explains the situation in terms of Genesis 2. In Genesis 2 God had originally breathed into the man alone the breath of life and he had become ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2.7; compare Genesis 6.17 where this is described as ‘the spirit (ruach) of life’). So in terms used elsewhere he had received ‘spirit’. And then God had brought the woman out of man, thus sharing both his flesh and his spirit, and He had then brought them together through sexual union in order that through ‘marriage’ they might once again become one flesh, each enjoying part of the same spirit. They who were originally one, had been made two by the Creator in order that they might become one again. ‘And shall cleave to His wife and they will be one flesh’ (Genesis 2.24). It is against this background that any Jew would see the question of marriage.

And it is what Malachi is saying here:

  • God made man as one, and, after dividing woman from man, again made them one - ‘did He not make one?’.
  • God put the spirit within man, but then imparted some of that spirit to the woman - the result was that ‘he had the residue of the spirit’. And that was because he had shared his spirit with the woman, so that between them they shared one spirit.
  • And why did God make them one in flesh and spirit? - ‘and wherefore one?
  • It was so that they might have godly descendants coming from one united pair - ‘He sought a godly seed’. (This aspect would be especially poignant in cases where the divorce took place so that the man could marry ‘the daughter of a foreign god’ (verse 11) who would not produce a godly seed)
  • So now they needed to consider the fact that God had given them one spirit, which had been shared between them, a spirit which in marriage was in a sense united the one with the other by the blending of their spirits, thus making them again ‘one spirit’, a situation which divorce destroyed - ‘therefore take heed to your spirit’.
  • By divorce they were breaking up that one spirit and marring the unity that God had created through marriage, and thus irreparably damaging their wives quite unfairly - ‘and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth’.

The result was that they were breaking the God-given unity achieved in marriage, which was marred by divorce and a second marriage. And this was grieving to God, and seen by Him as nothing short of treachery.

2.16

‘For I hate putting away,
Says YHWH, the God of Israel,
And him who covers his garment with violence,
Says YHWH of hosts,
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you deal not treacherously.’

YHWH now indicates two things that He hates, ‘divorce’ and ‘covering the garment with violence’. Thus the first thing that God hated was ‘putting away’. He hated divorce. That is unequivocal.

Secondly He hates all violence, especially within marriage. In view of the context the thought may be that divorce is seen as an act of violence in that it rends apart what God has made one. Compare Matthew 19.6, ‘what God has joined let no man put asunder’. The idea of ‘covering the garment’ has in mind that the garment is the outward means by which a man is known to the world. Thus divorce is an outward show of violence against the God-given unity of marriage.

Alternately the words may have been spoken against violence both within marriage, and outside of marriage. It may be seen as an indication that God hates all violence.

The final exhortation is for them to take heed to their spirit, jointly shared between man and wife, and to maintain its oneness. For not to do is to ‘deal treacherously’ against the covenant, the very charge that they are trying to refute (verse 10).

Brief note on verses 15-16.

In the above comments we have taken the view which in context appears to us to bring out the significance of the words, and which appears to fit best with the Scriptural background to marriage. Verse 15 is, however, seen by most as ‘a difficult verse’. Two other interpretations put on the words (out of many), and necessarily presented briefly, are:

  • 1). We could repoint ‘residue’ as ‘flesh, and then read ‘did He not make them one, even having flesh and spirit?’ The final meaning is not significantly different from what we have suggested above. The problem here is that flesh does not occur anywhere else in the passage. Why then should it be introduced it here? In the context it is the oneness of the spirit which would seem to be seen as important
  • 2). ‘Did not One make them, and a residue of the spirit to him? And why did One make them? He sought a seed of God.’ This ties in the One with the ‘one God’ of verse 10. Here the unity arises at least partly out of their having been made by One Father, with the view of producing seed for God.

It must be stressed that variations on all these ideas can be found, together with many variations of interpretations. Some even try to introduce Abraham. But in view of the total silence about Abraham that appears to us to be very unlikely. However, as we do not see the verse as crucial to the main argument, except in so far as it strengthens the idea of the oneness between a man and his first wife, we hope we may be forgiven for leaving the matter to rest here.

End of note.

Other Allegations Against The People Of Israel (2.17).

Malachi now briefly add other sins of which they are guilty before God. No doubt in his oral prophesying he considerably expanded on these.

2.17

You have wearied YHWH with your words.
Yet you say, In what have we wearied him?
In that you say, “Every one who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH,
And he delights in them,”
Or “Where is the God of justice?”

In 1.13 the priest had found offering the sacrifices ‘wearisome’. Now we learn that God finds His people wearisome (although using a different Hebrew stem). They have wearied YHWH with their words. But how have they wearied Him?

They say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH and He delights in them.’ These words are not to be taken literally as they stand. We are not to assume that the people were openly approving of evil and saying that it did not matter. What it signifies is:

  • Either that they were manipulating the Law to justify their lawless behaviour (Jesus’ regular charge against the Scribes and Pharisees - Mark 7.8-13; Matthew 23.16-28).
  • Or that they were assuming that evil did not matter as long as sacrifices for sin were offered (the same danger as is often inherent in auricular confession).
  • Or that they are grumbling because YHWH appears to be treating those who do evil as good, something made clear by the prosperity of their lives.

Note the assumption that most of them were involved in this. They had settled down into a self-satisfied apathy, and were simply allowing the Law to be flouted in many ways, and were then justifying it in one way or another. And this it should be noted is on top of their general attitude towards sacrifices, their offering of blemished animals, their marrying of foreign idolatrous wives, and their penchant for divorce. It is clear that the community was in a general state that was displeasing to God (very similar to our own).

And in spite of their own unwillingness to do and demand from each other what was right, they grumbled because they thought that God was not just. (How like us they were). Their point was that He was not fulfilling their hopes and expectations. Thus they were saying, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ This may have indicated that they felt that God was not acting as He ought in regard to their affairs (having the feeling that they deserved better) or it may be a sarcastic question in the light of the fact that He was not punishing those that they considered deserved punishment. The question that they did not ask was what it was about their lives that prevented Him from fulfilling their expectations.

The Coming Activity of God (3.1-6)

The question, ‘Where is the God of Justice?’ (2.17) was obviously a two-edged one, but it is questionable whether the people of Judah wanted God to be too just, except in terms of their viewpoint. Their expectations and requirements were all one way. What they wanted was for God to fulfil His promises towards them. What they did not want was for God to be just by expecting the fulfilment of His covenant from them. They felt, rather foolishly, that they were in fact doing enough.

But Malachi now assures them that the God of Justice will indeed act, and then they had better beware.

3.1

‘Behold, I send my messenger,
And he will prepare the way before me,
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to his temple;
And the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire,
Behold, he comes, says YHWH of hosts.’

He assures them that God is indeed coming in justice and will in fact send His messenger who will prepare His way before Him. Such a preparation of the way for the coming of YHWH had already been declared as necessary in Isaiah 40.3-5 by ‘the voice of one who cries’. And in 4.5-6 Malachi reveals that it will be by another Elijah, and that his purpose will be to ‘turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers’. Here therefore we have another indication of the disunity that there was in the community, something which must certainly be sorted out before YHWH comes in accordance with His promises. Thus does he make clear that before YHWH fulfils His promises there must be a great sorting out and a great reconciliation and revival among the people.

And then the Sovereign Lord Himself (adonai), ‘Whom they are seeking’ when they ask where the God of Justice is, will suddenly come to His Temple, even He Who is ‘the Messenger (Angel) of the covenant’, ‘Whom they are desiring’. The idea behind the messenger of the covenant’ is probably the Angel of YHWH Who is regularly involved when God’s deliverance is in question. When YHWH acts invisibly He ‘sends His Angel before Him’ (Exodus 3.2; 14.19; 23.20, 23, 34; 33.2; Numbers 20.16; Judges 2.1; 5.23; 6.11-22; 13.3-21; 2 Kings 19.35; Isaiah 37.36; 63.9; Zechariah 1.12), and in Zechariah 3.1, 5 He is closely involved in the assessing of and cleansing of God’s people in the person of their High Priest.

‘Behold, he comes, says YHWH of hosts.’ As so often YHWH speaks of the coming One as ‘He’ not ‘I’. (As is the case with the Angel of YHWH). But the promise is that He is surely coming, and they therefore need to be ready for His coming and for His own ‘great and terrible Day’ (4.5). Note the emphasis on the unexpectedness and suddenness of His coming.

So the promise is firstly of the initial coming of the preparer of the way (whose details are given in 4.5-6; Luke 1.15-17; Matthew 3.3 and parallels), and then of the coming of the Sovereign Lord Himself, that is, the Messenger (Angel) of the Covenant. That the Lord Jesus Christ did come in the fullness of time is what the Gospels are all about, and in them He is clearly revealed as the Sovereign Lord and the Messenger of the Covenant. And that He suddenly came to His Temple occurred twice, once at the commencement of His ministry (John 2.13-17) and once at the end (Mark 11.11, 15-17 and parallels).

3.2-3

‘But who can abide the day of his coming?
And who will stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire,
And like fuller’s soap,
And he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
And he will purify the sons of Levi,
And refine them as gold and silver,
And they will offer to YHWH offerings in righteousness.’

He reminds them Who it is Who is coming. He is the Righteous One. And thus the question arises as to who will be able to bear His coming? Who will be able to remain on their feet when He comes? For He is like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s cleansing fluid. The refiner of silver especially had the most difficult of tasks, for if he did not get it right the silver would lose its lustre. Thus the picture of the refining of silver is of the skill and care with which the divine Refiner will work. The vivid picture of the heated flames that smelt the gold and silver, and the chemicals used by launderer’s to cleanse garments, demonstrate the intensity of what is to happen (see Jeremiah 2.22). People’s hearts are to be thoroughly searched out, the dross removed, and the hearts cleansed. This picture of refining fire is often previously used by the prophets, compare Isaiah 48.10; Jeremiah 6.29-30; Ezekiel 22.17-22; Zechariah 13.9, while the idea of God seen as fire occurs throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 3.2; 19.18; 24.17; Deuteronomy 4.12; Ezekiel 1.27). As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12.29).

And when He comes He will purify ‘the sons of Levi’. Note the wider term (not the sons of Zadok) for he is not thinking of the priests, but has in mind his words in 2.4-6 concerning the righteous preachers who will arise who will have the law of truth in their mouths, and no unrighteousness on their lips, and who will turn many from iniquity, the true heirs of Levi. And these He will refine as gold and silver, so that they will offer to YHWH offerings of righteousness (righteous offerings).

That there is a deliberate contrast between the righteous offerings mentioned here and the unrighteous offerings of the priests and laity mentioned earlier is undoubted. But as he has brought out in 1.12 they will also be a different kind of offering. They will be the offerings of prayer in His Name as incense (Psalm 141.2), the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13.15; 1 Peter 2.5), and the offering of their lives as a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12.1-2) through the sacrifice of the One Who would offer Himself up for them once and for all.

There can be no doubt that in the coming of Jesus and His effectiveness in changing the hearts of men such a refining process did take place, and those whom He refined then went out refining others until His Name was made great among the Gentiles, and the offerings of praise and thanksgiving rose from all parts of the world (1.12).

‘The sons of Levi.’ If we contrast this with the ‘sons of Belial’ we will see that the term can mean those who follow in the ways of Levi. It does not require that they be strictly Levites. Indeed it must be doubted if anyone today could genuinely identify themselves as sons of Levi with any authenticity, and there would have been few if any in Jesus’ day. The ‘sons of Levi’ were those who heaved like the ideal Levi.

3.4

‘Then will the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to YHWH,
As in the days of old, and as in ancient years.’

And once this happens the offering of the people of God will be acceptable and pleasant to YHWH, as they were in the best days of the days gone by. ‘Judah and Jerusalem’ indicates the whole true people of God. The early church in Acts 1-12 was of course largely composed of people from Judah and Jerusalem, and all others who joined with them by becoming ‘proselytes’ would be seen as one with them. Thus there are no grounds for denying that the early church is in mind here.

3.5-6

‘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 the false swearers,
And against those that oppress the hireling in his wages,
The widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the sojourner from his right,
And fear not me, says YHWH of hosts.
For I, YHWH, change not,
Therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.’

But the One Who comes to refine will also act swiftly to judge those who fail to respond. This will include those involved in the occult, adulterers who take other men’s wives, those who give false testimony, those who underpay their workers, or treat badly the widows and the fatherless (those who have no one to defend them), and those who are unjust towards immigrants. That this swift judgment came on Jerusalem and Judah in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans is unquestionable.

So there is a clear division between those who respond to the refining process and those who do not. For the former salvation, for the latter judgment. And this is because YHWH is unchanging. He continually shows mercy towards the repentant and continually brings judgment on the unrepentant. And it is because they are a special people to Him and because He has remembered His promises that He is yet offering the opportunity of repentance to them so that they are not consumed as Edom had been (1.2-5). The question is as to whether they will demonstrate that they are true ‘sons of Levi’ or not.

YHWH Brings A Further Charge Against His People. They Have Failed in Their Offering Of Tithes (3.7-12).

There were no doubt some who could still feel pretty pleased with themselves. They could insist that they had not brought defective offerings (1.7-14), that they had not married foreign wives who introduced idolatry (2.10-11), that they had not divorced their wives (2.14-16), that they had not been complacent about the sins of Israel (2.17). So now Malachi brings another test of their genuineness in worship. Have they contributed their full required amount in tithes? Tithes were like taxes. Unless you were very godly you paid as little as possible. There were always possible ways of manipulating situations that could result in a reducing of the tithes needing to be paid, especially at a time when the Levites were not particularly active to monitor them. And the non-arrival of the tithes (which is a small and struggling community would not be plentiful, could affect the worship at God’s House because the Levites had to give attention to their own survival (compare Nehemiah 13.10).

3.7-9

‘From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances,
And have not kept them.
Return unto me, and I will return unto you,
Says YHWH of hosts.
But you say,
In what shall we return?
Will a man violently rob God?
Yet you violently rob me.
But you say, In what have we robbed you?
In tithes and offerings.
You are cursed with the curse,
For you rob me, even this whole nation.’

Having laid out many of his accusations against the priests and the people Malachi now calls for repentance. From the days of their fathers to the present they have turned aside from God’s ordinances, and have not kept them. Now he calls on them to return to God, and then, he says, God promises that He will return to them.

Do we sometimes wonder why God is not as active in our day as we would like? Here is His answer. It is because His people have turned aside from His ordinances. It is because they are not fully obeying Him and are not genuinely dedicated to Him. It is because they are withholding themselves from God. And the solution is simple. ‘Return to Me, and I will return to you.’

But these people of God would not have it that they were not obeying God’s ordinances. ‘In what shall we return?’ They asked God. YHWH, through the prophet, comes back with a rhetorical question in return. ‘Will a man violently rob God? And yet you violently rob Me.’ This immediately brought an indignant reply. ‘In what have we robbed you?’ The idea was preposterous. They were not Temple robbers. Who would be foolish enough to rob the One Who knows everything that a man does?

God’s answer comes firm and sure. ‘In tithes and offerings.’ Let them just think back over how they have behaved in respect of His tithes and offerings. They have calculated, they have stinted, they have wrangled, they have interpreted ‘leniently’, they have avoided paying and giving to the full extent that they knew in their hearts, once they thought about it, that they should have done. Thus they are guilty of having robbed God. There would be very few if any who could deny the charge.

The ‘tithe’ or ‘tenth’ was what they should have been offering to God out of all their produce. It had been a continual requirement since the time of Moses. And it should have been of their very best, because it was made to God. Every third year the tithe would be set aside for the needs of the poor, so that food would always be available for those in genuine need (Deuteronomy 14.28-29), and the remainder of the time the tithe went to the Levites, and of that a tenth went to the priests (Leviticus 27; Numbers 18). No doubt many had argued to themselves that as not many Levites had returned full tithes need not be paid, and they had in fact carried that argument into effect so efficiently that the Levites hardly received any at all (Nehemiah 13.10).

The word ‘offerings’ covers the other offerings that should be made including such as the firstfruits and wave offerings, and other contributions due to the Temple. It should be noted what a turn around this was requiring in their hearts. From being those who offered blemished sacrifices, and begrudged tithes and offerings, they were to become wholehearted worshippers of, and givers to, God. The searching of heart would unquestionably result in religious revival.

3.10

‘Bring you the whole tithe into the store-house,
That there may be food in my house,
And prove me now herewith,
Says YHWH of hosts,
If I will not open you the sluicegates of heaven,
And pour you out a blessing,
That there will not be room enough to receive it.’

God now returns with His offer. Let them bring the WHOLE tithe into the store house so that the Levites and priests could be amply fed, and let them prove whether in return He would be faithful or not. This would, of course, produce a total revolution in their thinking. Once they began being honest about their tithes, and began to consider what was truly required, it would develop a healthy attitude of mind (calculating tithes was not mechanical, quality as well as quantity had to be considered, as they considered what they would give to God) and it would bring to mind a host of other ways in which they were not being faithful to the covenant. And the aim was that those matters would be sorted out as well.

But the very change in the attitude of their hearts would result in God responding and blessing their harvests. For once they had begun to worship Him truly and fully from their hearts His promise was that He would ensure sufficient rain to produce abundant fruitfulness. Palestine was almost totally dependent on rain for its productivity. When the rains came then life was good. The land was productive, and the harvests produced were plentiful (there was never any doubt about the sun). But when the rains were withheld the land suffered, and the harvests were poor. The sun beat down and the earth was scorched. Unlike in Egypt and in Babylonia there were not sufficient quantities of water in their rivers to irrigate the land.

‘The sluicegates of Heaven.’ They did not, of course, literally believe that there were sluicegates in Heaven. They knew perfectly well that the rain came from the clouds. It is simply a picturesque way of describing plentifulness of rain.

And what would be the final result? Their storehouses would prove too small. They would have such abundant harvests that they would be unable to store them. To people struggling as they were in difficult circumstances it must have sounded like a dream come true.

The implication is quite clear. Those who would enjoy the blessing of God must themselves ensure that they are generous and genuine towards God. This was not a promise of great prosperity. It was a promise of good returns for honest toil. It was an assurance that God would be with them and would bless them. It was a call for a total change of heart. To see it as a kind of mercenary bargain is to miss the whole point.

3.11-12

‘And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
And he will not destroy the fruits of your ground,
Nor will your vine cast its fruit,
Before the time in the field,
Says YHWH of hosts.
And all nations will call you happy,
For you will be a delightsome land,
Says YHWH of hosts.’

And how would all this happen? It would happen because of the activity of God. He would deal with all who would ‘devour’ the crops, whether humans, beasts or insects (including fruit pests and locusts), preventing them from attacking the harvest. He would ensure that the fruit of the vine remained in place, and did not fall to the ground until harvest time, a result which would denote trees destitute of water.

And the result would be that all the nations around would call them ‘happy’ and their land a ‘land of delight’, because it would be such a wonderful and fruitful land. And this was the promise and guarantee of YHWH of hosts.

YHWH’s Final Charge Against His People, That They Have Spoken Against Him (3.13-4.3).

In this section YHWH finalises His list of complaints by distinguishing between the majority who have spoken against Him, and the minority Who have constantly spoken lovingly of Him, whose names are written in His Book of Remembrance, and He contrasts what the end will be of both groups.

3.13-14

‘Your words have been stout against me,
Says YHWH,
Yet you say,
What have we said to one another against you?
You have said,
It is vain to serve God,
And what profit is it that we have kept his charge,
And that we have walked mournfully before YHWH of hosts?’

YHWH now accuses Israel of speaking strongly against Him. Their response is to ask, how they have so spoken against Him. YHWH’s reply is that it is because they have said that it is vain to serve God and to keep His charge and to humiliate themselves before Him, because He simply does not respond. Note their emphasis on what they have done. They have slaved for Him, they have kept his stern charge, they have even dressed in black and made a great show of mourning over their sins. And they ask themselves what they have gained by their actions. The reply that they themselves provide is ‘nothing’, and that is because after all their arduous effort they cannot see that they have gained any benefit at all. To them their religion had been hard work, and they had expected to get a reward for it. Now they are wondering whether it is all worth while, whether to give it up and find a more convenient religion. Other gods did not make these high demands. They had reached a low ebb.

What a contrast these people were with those who ‘feared YHWH’ and spoke lovingly of Him among themselves. And they did this, not because of what they had gained from Him or hoped to gain from Him, but because they loved Him and worshipped Him as Who He was. They honoured Him and His Name. Herein lies the difference between true worshippers, and those who only worship Him for what they can get out of Him.

3.15

‘And now we call the proud happy,
Yes, those who work wickedness are built up,
Yes, they challenge God, and escape.

We have already seen in 2.17 that there were many who were grumbling that God only seemed to do good to those who did what was evil. The grumble now continues as they declare that it was the proud and arrogant who were happy, it was those who worked wickedness who were built up, it was those who tested God out who escaped from problems and difficulties. And it did not seem right or fair to them. Those being described probably included some members of the community and also some of those among whom they lived, who had been settled there before they arrived. But their words remind us of the Psalmist in Psalm 73. He also was puzzled as to why the wicked flourished. But the difference in his case was that he went on to discover the answer when he ‘considered their end’, and he then went on to praise God.

But these people did not see beyond their criticisms. They stopped short at criticising and blaming God, and were deciding whether after all it was worth following Him when He was not fitting into their conceptions about what He ought to do. To them serving God was a kind of bargain. They did right by Him, and He did right by them. And it was His side of it that appeared to be failing. But, of course, as we have seen they only thought that they were doing right by Him because of their stereotyped ideas. As Malachi has brought out, they were in fact not doing right by Him at all.

3.16

Then those who feared YHWH spoke one with another,
And YHWH listened, and heard,
And a book of remembrance was written before him,
For those who feared YHWH,
And that thought on his name.’

But the true believers, those who really did ‘fear YHWH’, talked with one another about Him in glowing terms, and YHWH listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared YHWH and called on His Name. Of course they did not realise that what they were saying was being recorded. They did it because they loved Him. But it is an indication to us of how God hears how we pray and how we talk with each other, and it reminds us of the joy we bring to Him when we do it aright.

Many cities in those days kept a book of those who had done great deeds on behalf of the city, and many kings had spies who kept a record of people’s conversations. Some also had ‘books of days’ in which daily events were recorded. This book was a combination of both in the best of senses.

The idea that God keeps a record of the conversations of His people brings new light to the words of Jesus, ‘him who confesses me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven’.

3.17

‘And they will be mine,
Says YHWH of hosts,
In the day that I make,
They will be a special treasure (my own possession),
And I will spare them,
As a man spares his own son who serves him.’

And because these believers had their thoughts filled with God and His goodness He affirms that they will be His ‘in the Day that He makes’ (compare 4.3), the Day that He has prepared for His final judgments. They will be His own ‘special possession’. This was the term used of a king’s private treasures, as against what was put in the public treasury. It was also the term used of Israel when God was making His promises to them before the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19.5) and setting them apart as His holy nation. Here then were the true Israel within Israel of whom Paul spoke (Romans 9.6), the true nation. And they will be YHWH’s own treasured possession.

And He will see them as His only son (compare Exodus 4.22). And He assures them that He will behave towards them as a man behaves towards his only son, even when he has been caught in some fault. He will ‘spare’ them. He knows that they are not without fault, and He may chasten them. But He will not count it against them in that Day because they have served Him from their hearts.

‘In the day that I make.’ Compare 4.3 where the same expression is used of the day when the unrighteous will be trodden underfoot as ashes. This is the Day of YHWH, the Day when ‘the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13.43) and the Day in which ‘all who cause men to stumble and all who do iniquity, will be cast into the furnace of fire’ (Matthew 13.42).

3.18

‘Then will you return and discern,
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between him who serves God,
And him who serves him not.’

Malachi takes over the ideas being expressed and sums up the situation. Then in that Day (the Day when He makes His judgments and makes these believers His own special possession) He will return and will judge between the righteous and the wicked, and between him who serves God and him who does not. We have these ideas filled out in the parables of Jesus, both those in Matthew 13, and those which regularly speak of the activities of servants who are waiting for their Master or their Lord. The idea is of that great Day when all are called to account.

‘The righteous and the wicked.’ The righteous are those who are responsive to God and who love His word. They live in accordance with His covenant and seek to please Him in all that they do. They are yielded to His service in their daily lives. They are walking in the narrow way that leads to life. The wicked would not necessarily be seen as wicked by men. But they are those who do not treat too seriously God and His commandments. They do not want to be bound too strictly by the covenant. They have no desire to walk in His ways, except outwardly. Their aim is to please themselves. They want little to do with God, apart from when He can be useful to them. Then they wonder why He does not answer them. They walk in the wide way that is trodden by the majority. They live lives free of all restrictions, or alternately live them in order to put God in their debt, and their way leads to destruction.

4.1

‘ For, behold, the day comes,
It burns as a furnace,
And all the proud,
And all who work wickedness,
Will be stubble,
And the day which comes will burn them up,
Says YHWH of hosts,
That it shall leave them neither root nor branch.’

But the Day is coming. And when it comes it will burn like a furnace, and this time not a refining furnace, but a destructive one. And all the proud and arrogant (compare 3.15) and all who work wickedness (compare 2.17) will be as the stubble which is destined to be burned once the fields are harvested. The Day that is coming will burn them up and consume them. The fires of God will burn and the stubble will be totally consumed. And the proud and those who disobey His word will be left with nothing, neither root nor branch. The whole will have been burned up. This is the guarantee of YHWH of hosts.

We can compare here the words of Jesus, ‘this is how it will beat the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the unrighteous from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 13.49-50).

Here is the answer to all the grumblers. This is what will happen to the arrogant and the proud, and to all who set themselves against God, whether openly or simply by apathy. But the point being made is that they need to take heed lest they form a part of it. God’s love for them is revealed in that He is yet giving them an opportunity to come out from their folly and become true believers (1.2-5). God’s sternness in that if they do not repent thane they will face the fires of judgment.

4.2

But to you who fear my name,
Will the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings,
And you will go forth,
And gambol as calves of the stall.

But in what contrast are those who ‘fear His Name’. On them will the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. God’s righteousness will shine down on them like the rays of the noonday sun, and they will be fully restored. And they will be so full of spiritual life that they will, as it were, go out and gambol in the fields like calves newly released from their stalls.

This idea of the righteousness of God effective and powerful in the lives of men and women comes largely from Isaiah, where the righteousness of God parallels the idea of His salvation and deliverance, and speaks of an active righteousness that works in men’s lives, covering them with His righteousness and producing righteousness within them. Consider as a parallel Isaiah 45.8, ‘Drop down, O you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together; I the Lord have created it.’ See also Isaiah 46.13; 51.5; 56.1; 59.17; 61.10.

And in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the sun of righteousness walked the earth and we saw the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6). As He Himself declared, ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not dwell in darkness.’ Light had come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3.19), and that is why many did not come, and do not come today.

4.3

‘And you will tread down the wicked,
For they will be ashes under the soles of your feet,
In the day that I make,
Says YHWH of hosts.’

In that Day of God’s making, the righteous will triumph and the sinful and disobedient will be trodden underfoot like ashes, because they are as stubble burned to ashes in the fields. The thought is not one of vindictiveness. The point is that the righteous will walk the fields in which the stubble has been burned in preparation for the future good times. It is a picture of the future blessing of the righteous when the wicked are no more. Then the poor and the lowly who have followed Christ will, as it were, walk in fruitful fields, while the proud and the disobedient will simply be the dust.

The Final Exhortation (4.4-6).

YHWH finalises Malachi’s prophecy by pointing to ‘the Law and the prophets. Firstly He turns their thoughts to His Instruction given through Moses, and then to the powerful preaching of the prophets as epitomised by Elijah, as they bring home to men the words of Moses. Let them listen and take heed lest a curse come upon them.

4.4

‘Remember you the law of Moses my servant,
Which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel,
Even the statutes and ordinances.

YHWH makes His final plea to them They have no excuse for they have His word. ‘Remember you the Instruction of Moses My servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb (Sinai) for all Israel.’ This is what they must now do. They must deliberately and genuinely call to mind the words of Moses, the true servant of God. Jesus gave the same reminder to the people of His day. ‘If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16.31). So they are to diligently study God’s word and obey it.

The same command was given to Joshua as he stood on the edge of the promised land. ‘Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the Instruction which Moses My servant commanded you, turn not from it to the tight hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go’ (Joshua 1.7).

So the call comes to them to study and live in accordance with God’s word brought to them by Moses, not as a list of regulations, but as a loving response to their covenant God. Let them delight to do His will. Then they will be ready for that Day.

‘Even the statutes and ordinances.’ The Torah included direct commands, statutes (‘you shall not’) and case law, ordinances (‘if this -- then that --’). All aspects are to be observed for they are ‘commanded’ by the Commander-in Chief Himself.

4.5-6

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet,
Before the great and terrible day of YHWH come.
And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
And the heart of the children to their fathers;
Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

YHWH finishes with a message of hope. He will not just leave it like that. Before that great and terrible Day of YHWH comes, He will send to them Elijah the prophet, and he will prepare many for that Day. He will bring home to them the Instruction of Moses. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. He will cause right relationships and responses to grow. He will cause fathers to love their children and guide them aright, and children to lovingly obey their fathers. And He will remove antagonisms from between generations. He will bring peace and harmony. He will cause them all to love one another. And this will be necessary so as to avoid a curse upon the land. The assumption is thus that this preaching will be needed. The world will not grow slowly more righteous. Left to itself it would end up being cursed. But God is saying that in His graciousness, He will intervene to prevent the worst happening.

Elijah was the prophet who arrived suddenly on the scene from nowhere (1 Kings 17.1) and who departed equally suddenly to no one knew where (2 Kings 2.11-12). This was what made the Jews think that he would come back again in person. But Jesus Christ Himself made clear that Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist (although John quite rightly denied actually being Elijah himself). For Jesus emphasised that ‘this is the Elijah who was to come’ (Matthew 11.14). These very words in Malachi 4.6 were cited by the angel who announced John’s birth, about his future ministry. ‘He will go before His face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’ (Luke 1.17).

Of course Elijah did also come in person, for he appeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration when the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed (Mark 9.2-8; 2 Peter 1.16), but it was immediately after this that Jesus again confirmed that John the Baptist was the coming Elijah. ‘I say to you Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they wanted’ (Mark 9.13).

‘The great and terrible Day of YHWH’. As we have already seen ‘in the Day that I do make’ has referred to both blessing on the righteous in 3.17, and to judgment on the wicked in 4.3. For the former it is a great Day, when they become God’s own treasured possession, for the latter a terrible Day when they become ashes beneath men’s feet.

And we know now that Elijah has come, and ‘the great and terrible Day of YHWH’ followed, for it began with the crucifixion (Luke 23.28-31), was stated to have come at Pentecost (Acts 2.17-21) continued on in the destruction of Jerusalem and the great tribulation that followed for the Jews (Matthew 24.15-22; Luke 21.20-24), and would manifest itself through the ages in wars, pestilences, earthquakes and tribulation (Matthew 24.4-14), before the end finally arrives with the coming of Jesus Christ in His glory. It is depicted throughout the Book of Revelation in which the present era unfolds (Revelation 1.10). And it will come to its culmination with war on earth (Joel 3.9-14; Revelation 20.8-9) and victory in Heaven (Revelation 19.11-16). And during all this time God will be drawing His elect to Himself. And the sign of those who are His will be the amazing unity and loved depicted among them (John 13.35) because their hearts have been turned towards each other. That is why the disciples spoke of the days in which they lived as ‘the last days’, ‘the end of the ages’, and the equivalent (Acts 2.17; 1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 1.2; 9.26; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7). And those ‘last days’ will continue until His coming. It was this intervention of John the Baptist, (‘My messenger’ - 3.1a) and supremely our Lord Jesus Christ (‘the Lord and Messenger of the covenant’ - 3.1b) that has saved the world from God’s curse.

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