Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Coming of the Lord to judgment. Mal 3:1. "Behold, I send my messenger, that he may prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the angel of the covenant, whom ye desire; behold he comes, saith Jehovah of hosts." To the question, Where is or remains the God of judgment? the Lord Himself replies that He will suddenly come to His temple, but that before His coming He will send a messenger to prepare the way for Him. The announcement of this messenger rests upon the prophecy in Isa 40:3., as the expression וּפנּה דרך, which is borrowed from that passage, clearly shows. The person whose voice Isaiah heard calling to make the way of Jehovah in the desert, that the glory of the Lord might be revealed to all flesh, is here described as מלאך, whom Jehovah will send before Him, i.e., before His coming. This maleâkh is not a heavenly messenger, or spiritual being (Rashi, Kimchi), nor the angel of Jehovah κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν, who is mentioned afterwards and called maleakh habberı̄th, but an earthly messenger of the Lord, and indeed the same who is called the prophet Elijah in Mal 4:5, and therefore not "an ideal person, viz., the whole choir of divine messengers, who are to prepare the way for the coming of salvation, and open the door for the future grace" (Hengst.), but a concrete personality - a messenger who was really sent to the nation in John the Baptist immediately before the coming of the Lord. The idea view is precluded not only by the historical fact, that not a single prophet arose in Israel during the whole period between Malachi and John, but also by the context of the passage before us, according to which the sending of the messenger was to take place immediately before the coming of the Lord to His temple. It is true that in Mal 2:7 the priest is also called a messenger of Jehovah; but the expression הנני שׁלח (behold I send) prevents our understanding the term maleâkh as referring to the priests, or even as including them, inasmuch as "sending" would not apply to the priests as the standing mediators between the Lord and His people. Moreover, it was because the priests did not fulfil their duty as the ordinary ambassadors of God that the Lord was about to send an extraordinary messenger. Preparing the way (פּנה דרך, an expression peculiar to Isaiah: compare Isa 40:3; also, Isa 57:14 and Isa 62:10), by clearing away the impediments lying in the road, denotes the removal of all that retards the coming of the Lord to His people, i.e., the taking away of enmity to God and of ungodliness by the preaching of repentance and the conversion of sinners. The announcement of this messenger therefore implied, that the nation in its existing moral condition was not yet prepared for the reception of the Lord, and therefore had no ground for murmuring at the delay of the manifestation of the divine glory, but ought rather to murmur at its own sin and estrangement from God. When the way shall have been prepared, the Lord will suddenly come. פּתאם, not statim, immediately (Jerome), but unexpectedly. "This suddenness is repeated in all the acts and judgments of the Lord. The Lord of glory always comes as a thief in the night to those who sleep in their sins" (Schmieder). "The Lord" (hâ'âdōn) is God; this is evident both from the fact that He comes to His temple, i.e., the temple of Jehovah, and also from the relative clause "whom ye seek," which points back to the question, "Where is the God of judgment?" (Mal 2:17). The Lord comes to His temple (hēkhâl, lit., palace) as the God-king of Israel, to dwell therein for ever (cf. Eze 43:7; Eze 37:26-27). And He comes as the angel of the covenant, for whom the people are longing. The identity of the angel of the covenant with the "Lord" (hâ'âdōn) is placed beyond the reach of doubt by the parallelism of the clauses, and the notion is thereby refuted that the "covenant angel" is identical with the person previously mentioned as מלאכי (Hitzig, Maurer, etc.). This identity does not indeed exclude a distinction of person; but it does exclude a difference between the two, or the opinion that the angel of the covenant is that mediator whom Isaiah had promised (Isa 42:6) as the antitype of Moses, and the mediator of a new, perfect, and eternally-enduring covenant relation between God and Israel (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, i. p. 183). For it was not for a second Moses that the people were longing, or for a mediator of the new covenant, but for the coming of God to judgment. The coming of the Lord to His temple is represented as a coming of the covenant angel, with reference to the fact that Jehovah had in the olden time revealed His glory in His Maleakh in a manner perceptible to the senses, and that in this mode of revelation He had not only redeemed Israel out of the hand of Egypt (Exo 3:6.), gone before the army of Israel (Exo 14:19), and led Israel through the desert to Canaan (Exo 23:20., Exo 33:14.), but had also filled the temple with His glory. The covenant, in relation to which the Maleakh, who is of one essence with Jehovah, is here called the angel of the covenant, is not the new covenant promised in Jer 31:31., but the covenant of Jehovah with Israel, according to which Jehovah dwells in the midst of Israel, and manifests His gracious presence by blessing the righteous and punishing the ungodly (cf. Exo 25:8; Lev 25:11-12; Deu 4:24; Isa 33:14): (Koehler). The words "Behold he (the covenant angel) cometh" serve to confirm the assurance, and are still further strengthened by אמר יי צ (saith Jehovah of hosts). This promise was fulfilled in the coming of Christ, in whom the angel of the covenant, the Logos, became flesh, and in the sending of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Him. (See also at Mal 4:6)
With the coming of the Lord the judgment will also begin; not the judgment upon the heathen, however, for which the ungodly nation was longing, but the judgment upon the godless members of the covenant nation. Mal 3:2. "And who endures the day of His coming? and who can stand at His appearing? for He is like the smelter's fire, and like washers' lye: Mal 3:3. And will sit smelting and purifying silver, and will purify the children of Levi, and refine like gold and silver, that they may be offering to Jehovah His sacrifice in righteousness. Mal 3:4. And the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant, as in the days of the olden time, and as in the years of the past." The question "who endures the day" has a negative meaning, like מי in Isa 53:1 : no one endures it (for the fact itself compare Joe 2:11). The prophet is speaking to the ungodly. The second clause is synonymous. עמד, to remain standing, in contrast with falling, or sinking under the burden of the judgment. The reason for this is given in the second hemistich. The Lord when He comes will be like a smelter's fire, which burns out all the corrupt ingredients that are mixed with the gold and silver (cf. Zac 13:9), and like the lye or alkaline salt by which clothes are cleansed from dirt (cf. Isa 4:4). The double figure has but one meaning; hence only the first figure is carried out in Mal 3:3, a somewhat different turn being given to it, since the Lord is no longer compared to the fire, but represented as a smelter. As a smelter purifies gold and silver from the dross adhering to it, so will the Lord refine the sons of Levi, by whom the priests are principally intended. The yâshabh (sit) serves as a pictorial description, like ‛âmad (stand) in Mic 5:3. The participles metsârēph and metahēr describe the capacity in which He sits, viz., as a smelter and purifier of silver. זקּק: to strain, or filter; a term transferred to metals, because in smelting the pure metal is allowed to flow off, so that the earthy ingredients are left in the crucible (Psa 12:7; Job 28:1, etc.). The fact that the sons of Levi are named, as the object of the refining action of the Lord, is to be explained from what is mentioned in Mal 1:6. concerning their degeneracy. Since they, the supporters and promoters of the religious life of the nation, were quite corrupt, the renovation of the national life must begin with their purification. This purification, however, does not consist merely in the fact, that the individuals who are displeasing to God will be cut off from among them (Koehler), nor merely in their being cleansed from the sins and crimes adhering to them (Hitzig), but in both, so that those who are corrigible are improved, and the incorrigible cut off. This is implied in the idea of purification, and is confirmed by the result of the refining work of the Lord, as given in the last clause of the verse. They are to become to the Lord offerers of sacrifices in righteousness. Bitsedâqâh does not refer to the nature of the sacrifices, viz., righteous sacrifices, i.e., such as correspond to the law, but to the moral character of the offerers, viz., that they will attend to the offering of sacrifice in a proper state of heart, as in Psa 4:6. היוּ מגּישׁי is a constructio periphr. to denote the permanence of the action (cf. Ewald, 168, c). The tsaqeph-qaton does not compel us to separate היוּ ליהוה (compare, on the contrary, Gen 1:6 for example). Then, namely when the priests offer sacrifices in righteousness again, will the sacrificing of the whole nation be pleasant to the Lord, as was the case in the olden time. The days of the olden time and years of the past are the times of Moses, or the first years of the sojourn in the desert (Jer 2:2), possibly also the times of David and of the first years of the reign of Solomon; whereas now, i.e., in the time of Malachi, the sacrifices of the nation were displeasing to God, not merely on account of the sins of the people (Mal 2:13), but chiefly on account of the badness of the sacrificing priests (Mal 1:10, Mal 1:13). Moreover, we must not infer from Mal 3:3 and Mal 3:4, that Malachi imagined that the Old Testament worship would be continued during the Messianic times; but his words are to be explained from the custom of the prophets, of using the forms of the Old Testament worship to depict the reverence for God which would characterize the new covenant.
Mal 3:5. "And I will draw near to you to judgment, and will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against those who swear for deceit, and those who press down the wages of the hireling, the widow and the orphan, and bow down the foreigner, and fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts. Mal 3:6. For I Jehovah, I change not; and ye sons of Israel, ye are not consumed." The refining which the Lord will perform at His coming will not limit itself to the priests, but become a judgment upon all sinners. This judgment is threatened against those who wanted the judgment of God to come, according to Mal 2:17. To these the Lord will draw near to judgment, and rise up as a swift witness against all the wicked who do not fear Him. The word קרבתּי does not imply that the judgment announced will actually commence at once. The drawing near to judgment takes place in the day of His coming (Mal 3:2), and this is preceded by the sending of the messenger to prepare the way. The words affirm nothing as to the time of the coming, because this was not revealed to the prophet. Nor is there any intimation on this point in the word ממהר, but simply the announcement that the Lord will come with unexpected rapidity, in contrast with the murmuring of the people at the delay of judgment (Mal 2:17). ממהר answers substantially to פּתאם in Mal 3:1. God comes as a practical witness against the wicked, convicting them of their guilt by punishing them. The particular sins mentioned here are such as were grievous sins in the eye of the law, and to some extent were punishable with death. On sorcerers and adulterers see Exo 22:17; Lev 20:10; Deu 22:22. That sorcery was very common among the Jews after the captivity, is evident from such passages as Act 8:9; Act 13:6, and from Josephus, Ant. xx. 6, de bell. Jud. ii. 12, 23; and the occurrence of adultery may be inferred from the condemnation of the marriages with heathen wives in Mal 2:10-16. On false swearing compare Lev 19:12. The expression to press the wages of the labourer is unusual, since the only other passage in which עשׁק is construed with a neuter object is Mic 2:2, and in every other case it is applied to persons; for עשׁק שׂכיר compare Lev 19:13 and Deu 24:14-15, to which the reproof refers. אלמנה ויתום are not genitives dependent upon שׂכר, but further objects to עשׁקי. For the fact itself compare Exo 22:21-23; Deu 24:17; Deu 27:19. To מטּי גר we are not to supply משׁפּט, after Deu 24:17 and Deu 27:19; but הטּה is used of the person as in Amo 5:12 : to bow down the stranger, i.e., to oppress him unjustly. The words, "and fear not me," point to the source from which all these sins flowed, and refer to all the sinners mentioned before. This threat of judgment is explained in Mal 3:6 in the double clause: that Jehovah does not change, and the sons of Israel do not perish. Because Jehovah is unchangeable in His purposes, and Israel as the people of God is not to perish, therefore will God exterminate the wicked out of Israel by means of judgment, in order to refine it and shape it according to its true calling. The perfects are used to express established truths. The unchangeableness of God is implied in the name Jehovah, "who is that He is," the absolutely independent and absolutely existing One (see at Gen 2:4). For the fact itself compare Num 23:19; Sa1 15:29; Jam 1:17. Jehovah is in apposition to 'ănı̄ (I), and not a predicate in the sense of "I am Jehovah" (Luther, Hengstenberg, etc.); this is evident from the parallel ואתּם בּני יעקב (and ye, the sons of Jacob), where no one thinks of taking בני יעק (sons of Jacob) as a predicate. Kâlâh, to come to an end, to be destroyed, as the parallel passage, Jer 30:11, which floated before the prophet's mind, clearly shows. The name "sons of Jacob" (poetical for sons of Israel) is used emphatically, denoting the true members of the people of God, who rightly bear the name of Israel. These do not perish, because their existence rests upon the promise of the unchangeable God (cf. Rom 11:28-29).
After the Lord has announced to the murmuring people that He will suddenly draw near to judgment upon the wicked, He proceeds to explain the reason why He has hitherto withheld His blessing and His salvation. Mal 3:7. "From the days of your fathers ye have departed from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, saith Jehovah of hosts; and ye say, Wherein shall we return? Mal 3:8. Dare a man indeed defraud God, that ye have defrauded me? and ye say, In what have we defrauded Thee? In the tithes and the heave-offering. Mal 3:9. Ye are cursed with the curse, and yet ye defraud me, even the whole nation." The reason why Israel waits in vain for the judgment and the salvation dawning with it, is not to be found in God, but in the people, in the fact, that from time immemorial they have transgressed the commandments of God (see Isa 43:27; Eze 2:3; Hos 10:9). And yet they regard themselves as righteous. They reply to the call to repentance by saying, בּמּה נשׁוּב, wherein, i.e., in what particular, shall we turn? The prophet thereupon shows them their sin: they do what no man should presume to attempt - they try to defraud God in the tithe and heave-offering, namely, by either not paying them at all, or not paying them as they should into the house of God. קבע, which only occurs here and at Pro 22:23, signifies to defraud, to overreach. המּעשׂר וגתר is either an accusative of free subordination, or else we must supply the preposition ב from the question itself. On the tithe see Lev 27:30., Num 18:20., and Deu 14:22. (see also my Bibl. Ant. i. p. 337ff.); and on the heave-offering (terūmâh), the portion of his income lifted off from the rest, for the purposes of divine worship, see my Bibl. Ant. i. p. 245. And this they do, notwithstanding the fact that God has already visited them with severe punishment, viz., with the curse of barrenness and of the failure of the harvest. We may see from Mal 3:10-12, that the curse with which they were smitten consisted in this. ואתי is adversative: yet ye defraud me, and indeed the whole nation, and not merely certain individuals.
Mal 3:10. "Bring ye all the tithe into the treasure-house, that there may be consumption in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I do not open you the sluices of heaven, and pour you out a blessing to superabundance. Mal 3:11. And I will rebuke the devourer for you, that he may not destroy the fruit of your ground; and your vine will not miscarry in the field, saith Jehovah of hosts. Mal 3:12. And all nations will call you blessed; for ye will be a land of good pleasure, saith Jehovah of hosts." In Mal 3:10 the emphasis lies upon kol: the whole of the tithe they are to bring, and not merely a portion of it, and so defraud the Lord; for the tithe was paid to Jehovah for His servants the Levites (Num 18:24). It was delivered, at least after the times of the later kings, at the sanctuary, where store-chambers were built for the purpose (cf. Ch2 31:11.; Neh 10:38-39; Neh 12:44; Neh 13:12). Tereph signifies here food, or consumption, as in Pro 31:15; Psa 111:5. בּזאת, through this, i.e., through their giving to God what they are under obligation to give Him, they are to prove God, whether in His attitude towards them He is no longer the holy and righteous God (Mal 2:17; Mal 3:6). Then will they also learn, that He causes the promised blessing to flow in the richest abundance to those who keep His commandments. אם לא is not a particle of asseveration or oath (Koehler), but an indirect question: whether not. Opening the sluices of heaven is a figure, denoting the most copious supply of blessing, so that it flows down from heaven like a pouring rain (as in Kg2 7:2). עד בּלי די, till there is no more need, i.e., in superabundance. This thought is individualized in Mal 3:11. Everything that could injure the fruits of the land God will take away. גּער, to rebuke practically, i.e., to avert the intention. אכל, the devourer, is here the locust, so called from its insatiable voracity. Shikkēl, to miscarry, is affirmed of the vine, when it has set a good quantity of grapes, which perish and drop off before they ripen. In consequence of this blessing, all nations will call Israel blessed (Mal 3:12), because its land will be an object of pleasure to every one (cf. Zac 7:14; Zac 8:13, Zac 8:23).
The impatient murmuring of the nation. - Mal 3:13. "Your words do violence to me, saith Jehovah; and ye say, What do we converse against Thee? Mal 3:14. Ye say, It is vain to serve God; and what gain is it, that we have kept His guard, and have gone about in deep mourning before Jehovah of hosts? Mal 3:15. And now we call the proud blessed: not only have the doers of wickedness been built up, but they have also tempted God and have been saved." After the Lord has disclosed to the people the cause of His withholding His blessing, He shows them still further, that their murmuring against Him is unjust, and that the coming day of judgment will bring to light the distinction between the wicked and those who fear God. חזק with על, to be strong over any one, does not mean to be harsh or burdensome, but to do violence to a person, to overpower him (cf. Exo 12:33; Sa2 24:4, etc.). The niphal nidbar has a reciprocal meaning, to converse with one another (cf. Eze 33:30). The conversations which they carry on with one another take this direction, that it is useless to serve God, because the righteous have no advantage over sinners. For שׁמר משׁמרתּו see the comm. on Gen 26:5. Hâlakh qedōrannı̄th, to go about dirty or black, either with their faces and clothes unwashed, or wrapped in black mourning costume (saq), is a sign of mourning, here of fasting, as mourning for sin (cf. Psa 35:13-14; Psa 38:7; Job 30:28; 1 Maccabees 3:48). מפּני יהוה, from awe of Jehovah. The fasting, and that in its external form, they bring into prominence as a special sign of their piety, as an act of penitence, through which they make reparation for certain sins against God, by which we are not to understand the fasting prescribed for the day of atonement, but voluntary fasting, which was regarded as a special sign of piety. What is reprehensible in the state of mind expressing itself in these words, is not so much the complaint that their piety brings them no gain (for such complaints were uttered even by believing souls in their hours of temptation; cf. Psa 73:13), as the delusion that their merely outward worship, which was bad enough according to what has already been affirmed, is the genuine worship which God must acknowledge and reward. This disposition to attribute worth to the opus operatum of fasting it attacked even by Isaiah, in Isa 58:1-14; but after the captivity it continued to increase, until it reached its culminating point in Pharisaism. How thoroughly different the persons speaking here are from the believing souls under temptation, who also appeal to their righteousness when calling upon God in their trouble, is especially clear from their further words in Mal 3:15. Because God does not reward their fasting with blessing and prosperity, they begin to call the proud sinners, who have happiness and success, blessed. ועתּה is the particle of inference. The participle מאשּׁרים has the force of a futurum instans (cf. Ewald, 306, d), denoting what men prepare to do. Zēdı̄m, the haughty or proud, are the heathen, as in Isa 13:11, who are called עשׂי רשׁעה in the following clause. The next two clauses are placed in a reciprocal relation to one another by gam ... gam (cf. Jer 12:16-17; Exo 1:21), and also, notwithstanding the fact that they have tempted God, are delivered when they fall into misfortune. Bâchan Elohim, to prove or test God, i.e., to call out His judgment through their wickedness.
With these foolish speeches the prophet proceeds in Mal 3:16. to contrast the conduct of those who fear God, pointing to the blessing which they derive from their piety. Mal 3:16. "Then those who feared Jehovah conversed with one another, and Jehovah attended and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who fear Jehovah and reverence His name. Mal 3:17. And they will be to me as a possession, saith Jehovah of hosts, for the day that I create, and I will spare them as a man spareth his son that serveth him. Mal 3:18. And ye will again perceive the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." אז, then, indicates that the conversation of those who feared God had been occasioned by the words of the ungodly. The substance of this conversation is not described more minutely, but may be gathered from the context, namely, from the statement as to the attitude in which Jehovah stood towards them. We may see from this, that they strengthened themselves in their faith in Jehovah, as the holy God and just Judge who would in due time repay both the wicked and the righteous according to their deeds, and thus presented a great contrast to the great mass with their blasphemous sayings. This description of the conduct of the godly is an indirect admonition to the people, as to what their attitude towards God ought to be. What was done by those who feared Jehovah ought to be taken as a model by the whole nation which called Jehovah its God. Jehovah not only took notice of these conversations, but had them written in a book of remembrance, to reward them for them in due time. Writing in a book of remembrance recals to mind the custom of the Persians, of having the names of those who deserved well of the king entered in a book with a notice of their merits, that they might be rewarded for them at some future time (Est 6:1); but it rests upon the much older idea, that the names and actions of the righteous are written in a book before God (cf. Psa 56:9; Dan 7:10). This book was written לפניו, before Jehovah, i.e., not in His presence, but in order that it might lie before Jehovah, and remind Him of the righteous and their deeds. ליראי is a dat. com.: "for those who fear God," i.e., for their good. חשׁב שׁם, to consider or value the name of the Lord (cf. Isa 13:17; Isa 33:8). This writing was done because the Lord would make them His own on the day of His coming, and show them mercy. Layyōm: for the day = on the day; the lamed denoting the time, as in Isa 10:3; Gen 21:2, etc. The day which Jehovah makes is the day of the judgment which attends His coming. Segullâh is the object, not to ‛ōseh, as we might suppose according to the accents, but to hâyū: they will be my possession on the day which I create. This is evident partly from a comparison of Mal 4:3, where the words יום אשׁר אני עשׂה recur, and partly from the original passage in Exo 19:5 : ye will be to me segullâh, i.e., a valued possession (see the comm.). The righteous will then be a possession for Jehovah, because on that day the glory of the children of God will first be revealed, and the Israel of God will reach the mark of its heavenly calling (see Col 3:4). The Lord will spare them in the judgment as a father spares his son who serves him. The expression to spare may be explained from the contrast to the punishment of the ungodly. In Mal 3:18 the prophet bids the murmurers consider what has been said concerning the righteous, by telling them that they will then see the difference between the righteous who serve God, and the wicked who do not serve Him, that is to say, will learn that it is always profitable to serve God. שׁבתּם before ראיתם is to be taken adverbially: ye will see again. The expression "again" presupposes that the difference between those who feared God and the ungodly was to be seen before, and that the Lord had already made it manifest by former judgments. This had been the case in Egypt, where the Lord had caused such a separation to be made (Exo 11:7). The words do not imply that the persons addressed had previously stood in a different relation to this question from that in which they were standing then (Koehler). ראה בין does not mean to look in between (Hitzig), but בּין is used in the sense of a substantive, signifying that which is between the two, the difference between the two. That בּין was originally a noun is evident from the dual הבּינים in Sa1 17:4, Sa1 17:23.