1 The Messenger Comes and the Lord Also
1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.
Here comes the answer to the challenging question at the end of the previous chapter: “Where is the God of justice?” Malachi lets it be known that the LORD sends His messenger, His herald, to clear the way before the God of judgment. This messenger is neither Malachi nor Elijah, but John the baptist. We know this from the quotations of this verse in the Gospels in connection with John the baptist (Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; cf. Isa 40:3-5).
In the quote in Mark 1 it becomes clear that the Lord Jesus before Whom the way is to be cleared is seen in His Godhead, that is as Yahweh (Mk 1:2). There it says “AHEAD OF YOU” – “You” is the Lord Jesus – and here in Malachi it says that the LORD says “before Me”, that is Yahweh. The clearing of the way through John happens in the hearts of people so that Yahweh can come into their hearts. It is about taking away rebellion against God through the preaching of repentance. John is the forerunner of the humble Man Jesus who is none other than Yahweh, God Himself.
Malachi does not speak here about the coming of the Lord Jesus in humiliation. He goes directly from the announcement of the forerunner to the coming of the Lord to His temple. That coming takes place in the end time and will happen suddenly. Then comes “the Lord”, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler. In this verse the first and the second coming lie side by side (cf. Isa 61:1-3). John the baptist has announced His first coming. But when He came, He was rejected. Now He is in heaven, awaiting the command of God to ask the earth (Psa 2:8). Then He comes in power and majesty.
Malachi’s contemporaries seek the Lord in His majesty. They look forward to a Messiah Who will make them the head of the nations. Only for that reason do they find their joy in Him. But with that they will end up ashamed. They reveal a spirit other than that which we hear in Psalm 143: “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous” (Psa 143:2). He will surely come, suddenly, but to judge all who live wickedly. He will come as “the messenger of the covenant” (cf. Isa 63:9; Exo 23:20,23). He fulfills all the conditions of the covenant, including the judgment on those who have broken the covenant.
The verse ends by declaring once more that He is coming. It is a confirmation of a truth that must make a deep impression and lead to sanctification and expectation. We too look forward to the coming of the Son of God. We wait for Him from heaven. He comes first to caught up to Himself believers of the church and the Old Testament believers (1Thes 4:16-17). Then He comes to earth with His own (1Thes 4:14). If we live in that prospect and expectation, it has a cleansing effect on our lives (1Jn 3:3).
2 - 4 Purifying and Refining
2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
The people long for the coming of the LORD, but who can endure His day (verse 2; cf. Amos 5:18)? When He comes, it will be to judge evil and put it away from Israel –fire speaks of judgment – so that His people will be cleansed (Zec 13:8-9). Here we find the baptism with fire of which John the baptist speaks (Mt 3:11-12). Wood, hay, and straw, representing among other things unbelievers, will be burned up through it (1Cor 3:12-15).
Malachi uses two pictures for cleaning: fire and soap. Fire is used for cleaning metals and soap for cleaning clothes. The fire cleans us internally. Clothing has to do with our behavior, our appearance. The Lord Jesus did not need something like that. Everything is made in accordance with Him, shining white as He is white.
The smelter, that is the Lord Jesus, takes away the foam after the silver has been heated so that the silver becomes pure (verse 3). He is only satisfied with the purity of the silver when He sees His own face reflected in the silver. The cleansing is for the purpose of being transformed into His image (2Cor 3:18; 1Jn 3:2).
“He will sit” as He proceeds with this process in His own. That indicates rest, care and attention. It is not a fleeting work. It does not happen in a hurry. He keeps a close eye on the temperature of the fire and makes sure that we are not tempted beyond what we are able, “but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1Cor 10:13).
Levi’s sons must be purified. They are called because they have to bring the offerings. They will be purified from the sins mentioned in the previous chapters. Then they can “present to the LORD offerings in righteousness”, that is, in accordance with the law of God (verse 4). They will be able to bring the right offerings in the right way, in the right mind. There is no more injustice in their hearts and in their deeds.
It is an offering of remembrance brought in the realm of peace (Ezekiel 40-46). It reminds us of the days of ancient times, the days of the past, the days of Moses, David and Solomon. Led by these men, the Israelites brought offerings which the LORD accepted with pleasure. The renewed, purified and refined Israel will have the spirit of faith and devotion that also characterized those days.
To cleanse the church, the Lord Jesus uses the water of the Word (Eph 5:26). God uses discipline to sanctify His children and thereby make them partakers of His holiness (Heb 12:10). Tests are also used to purify our faith, our trust in God, so that we respond to the glory of Christ at His coming (1Pet 1:6-7; Job 23:10; Psa 66:10; Pro 17:10; Isa 4:4).
5 The LORD, a Swift Witness
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
From the future days of purifying and blessing Malachi returns to the situation in his days. The judgment will not only affect the wicked in the future, but also now. Evil must be judged by the holy God. He will act as a Quick Judge, sealing His judgment with His testimony.
1. The first to hear His judgment are “the sorcerers” (Exo 22:18). They reject the truth of God and turn to the father of lies, the devil, for advice.
2. He then passes judgment on other forms of evil, evil directed against one’s neighbor. The “adulterers” commit a great sin. They ignore God’s plan of marriage as He instituted it at the time of creation. Their behavior is an attack on the relationship between God and His earthly people and between Christ and the church.
3. “Those who swear falsely” are those who take perjury. They call upon God when committing injustice and thus bind His Name to sin. Where God is thus set aside or put in a bad light, the consequences are also catastrophic for relations between people.
4. They are people “who oppress the wage earner in his wages”. They have used someone’s services, but refuse to pay him the wages. They are also in a position to commit this evil.
5. They don’t care about “the widow and the orphan” and “turn aside the alien”. They exploit these socially weak groups of people. They do not share in the special care God has for them.
All these forms of evil, all these wicked actions occur because there is no fear of God. The mentioned wicked have in common an irreverence for God, they do not fear Him. And God is still “the LORD of hosts”. They have to deal with Him and He will judge them.
6 The LORD Does Not Change
6 “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
People may change, God does not change (Jam 1:17b). He always remains the same (Heb 13:8). This applies to all His divine attributes, including His love for His people (Mal 1:2). He will not consume the God-fearing among His people. Because He is immutable and will fulfill His promises, it is not a done deal with Israel.
He speaks here about His people as “sons of Jacob”. That refers to what the people are in their often unfaithful ways. How often have they changed, yet they have not perished. Across all their unfaithfulness, God has led them and brought them to the land that He had promised their fathers to give them.
In the land, they committed the greatest crime of all time by crucifying the Son of God, Who came to them in love. They are badly disciplined for that, but God did not consume them. He has always kept a remnant alive. In the near future His people will go through a great tribulation. Many will perish in that great tribulation, but a remnant will come to repentance and conversion. To them He will show that He has not changed anything in His promises and that He will fulfill everything to the letter (Psa 89:35; Deu 4:31; Psa 106:45).
7 Call to Return and the Response
7 “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept [them]. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
The fact that God will fulfill His plans in spite of the unfaithfulness of His people does not release the people from the obligation to repent. God’s plans and man’s responsibility do not exclude each other, but complement each other. Malachi tells the people for how long they have deviated from God’s ordinances and have not lived up to them.
All generations before them have been unfaithful, and those who are a new generation follow the same path. The LORD calls them to return to Him. Then He will return to them. He has had to turn away from them because of their sins, but He will turn to them again when they confess their sins and stop doing them.
But the people see no reason to return for the simple reason that they feel they have not deviated. They have an answer again. It sounds cheeky again: ‘Returning? How shall we return? Surely we are neat, careful members of your people, aren’t we? What a fuss Your prophets make of repentance and conversion. Why have we fallen into disgrace?
The people answer the confrontation with their error by evasive questions. They also insult the prophet or challenge him to be a bit clearer, to mention some more details. This is how people react when they do not intend to face the truth. The call to return stirs their pride and brings them to the question how they should return. It proves how dull they are in their sense of what sin is. The answer comes in the following verses.
8 - 9 Robbing God
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation [of you]!
God answers their question in which they must return with a question in which the answer is included (verse 8). The answer is that it is of course impossible to rob God. Yet God asks that question, because He wants to draw their attention and make them think about it. In a certain sense they do rob God, and that is by withholding something from Him. With great emphasis He says: “Yet you are robbing Me!“
Again, the brutal reaction is to substantiate this accusation. God needs to prove how they have robbed Him. Immediately the answer comes. They rob Him “in tithes and offerings”. They disobey what He said about it in His Word. He often speaks about giving the tithes, of which there are also different kinds (Lev 27:30-33; Num 18:26-28; Deu 12:18; 14:28-29).
If the people do not give the tithes, the Levites and priests, who live on the tithes, cannot do their work either and have to look for other work for their income (Neh 13:10-13). The offerings are also part of the priest’s food (Exo 29:27-28; Lev 7:34; 10:14-15; Num 5:9). If the offerings are not brought, they lack food.
When the Levites, due to lack of income, have to do other work, it is also at the expense of their service to God. God is thus deprived of their service. Failure to bring the tithes also affects the widows and orphans. God has decreed that they must receive of the tithes for their livelihood (Deu 26:12). Whoever robs God, that is, whoever withholds Him what He is entitled to, causes a lot of evil.
He who robs God does not receive a blessing either, but a curse (verse 9). The people are miserable. They sigh under the curse (Mal 2:2). Here God indicates the cause of it. They rob Him and they continue to do so. And it is not just a single person who does that. No, “the whole nation of them” is guilty of it. But they refuse to understand that the curse that afflicts them is their own fault.
10 Test Me
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
The case is not hopeless. God gives a clue that is a challenge to faith. He asks them to bring “the whole tithe,” not just part of their income, “into the storehouse” of the temple. Then there will be “food in My house”, that is, the priests and Levites serving in the sanctuary will then have food to eat.
If they respond to this, He will give an abundant blessing. It must be on His terms. If they want God to open His storeroom, they must first open their storeroom to take the tithes. Those tithes must be brought into “My house”, which is the temple (Neh 10:38; 13:12; 2Chr 31:10).
We often reason that God must first give us abundance and then we can give. But God says: ‘First bring all tithes into the storehouse. If you do that, you will see what I do.’ He then opens “the windows of heaven” to pour out blessing on them in such quantities that there are no barns enough to contain them.
By this He means that He will give an abundance of rain by which the land will give an abundant harvest. The abundance will be so great that they will not have enough barns to store it (cf. Deu 28:12). He can also fulfill this word by providing His people with food in a special way, as with the miraculous salvation of Samaria (2Kgs 7:2,19).
If we first give God His share, He gives us what He has, which is many times more than we have given Him. We see an example of this in what Elijah says to the widow of Zarephath. The woman has only a handful of flour and a little oil, just enough for a last meal for her and her son. Still, Elijah asks the woman to make him a little bread cake from it first. He adds that she can afterward prepare something for her and her son. The woman does that. Her faith is richly rewarded, because “the bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty” (1Kgs 17:13,16).
God answers our trust in Him with abundant blessing. We “are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). But from this we should not draw the conclusion that ‘therefore’ it does not matter how much we give. Would God be satisfied with two or three percent instead of ten percent? Those who think in this way have little understanding of the true Christian position, of the love that is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10).
Without any command, the first Christians in Jerusalem do not give ten percent, but hundred percent (Acts 2:45). Would not love lead us not to give as little as possible, but as much as possible? Coercion comes from a law, love gratefully and joyfully gives what it can, and especially enjoys fellowship therein with God, the great Giver (2Cor 9:7,15).
To the extent that the believer has prosperity (1Cor 16:2), the Lord expects a generous gift from him for His work and for the needy saints. Why does it say: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing” (Heb 13:16)? Because we tend to forget them, and then hastily and arbitrarily fish a bit out of our wallets. Let’s see if we have anything left. God often has to be content with our leftovers. That goes for our possessions and also for our time.
Also to us applies: “Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce” (Pro 3:9). Everything we have belongs to Him. Christ bought us for God with His blood (1Cor 6:20; Rev 5:9). This concerns our body and everything we possess. We rob Him when we live for ourselves and use our possessions for ourselves. Should He also say to us: ‘Look at your bank account. To whom does that money belong? What do you want to do with it?’ The Christian does not look at what he can miss, but asks the Lord what he may spend for himself, because everything is His.
11 - 12 Blessed and Be a Blessing
11 Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast [its grapes],” says the LORD of hosts. 12 “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts.
When they test the LORD, not only does He give them an abundance of blessing, but He will make sure that there is no more destruction in the land (verse 11). He will remove judgment and stop the advance of the voracious grasshopper, the devourer, so that he no longer destroys the fruit of the land and the fruit of the trees. God has authority over all creatures; He calls them and sends them wherever He wants, even to His people if necessary. He can also put an end to them when they are no longer needed.
The result is that “all the nations will call” them “blessed” (verse 12). By their return to the LORD they will not only receive blessing themselves, but will also be a blessing for others. They will “be a delightful land”. The revelation of the favor of God will be so rich that the surrounding countries will call them blessed.
These promises are based on the Old Testament principle that blessing is given by God when the people obey, just as the curse comes upon them when they disobey (Deu 28:15). Their stay in the land, their freedom from disease, earthly blessings in every form and shape, it all depends on their behavior toward the statutes and precepts they have received from God. They have also committed themselves to this (Exo 19:8; 24:3,7).
13 - 15 Serving God Is Useless
13 “Your words have been arrogant against Me,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ 14 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 in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.’”
In verse 13 we are back in the topicality of the days of Malachi. The LORD has a new indictment against them. He brings to the attention of His people the words they have spoken against Him. These words have shown that they are audacious, hard and rebellious, even aggressive. There is an increase in the resistance against God.
And again they react with an insolent objection as to whether the LORD wants to show what they have spoken among themselves against Him. They feel absolutely nothing of what God accuses them of. They lack all Godliness. Nothing in them is attuned to God. And let’s not forget: we are dealing here with members of God’s people.
The LORD says to them what their talk among themselves consists of (verse 14). Their arrogance is clear from what they say: “It is vain to serve God.” And that is precisely the life of man. Serving God is the privilege and duty of the creature and gives him the true meaning and purpose of his life. But they do not agree with that. Serving God, according to them, yields nothing, because they do not get what they want, namely material prosperity.
Well, if so, you’d better stop serving Him. Why will they do their duty for Him if He will not reward them for it? That is how they talk among themselves. Instead of encouraging each other to faithfully fulfill their task for the LORD, they encourage each other to give up their faithfulness to Him. They complain that they have gained nothing with their religion. On the contrary, they suffer from poverty and sorrow.
Walking “in mourning” doesn’t help either, they conclude. Keeping fasts, refraining from food, does not bring any profit either. And for that you do your religious obligations, don’t you? Quid pro quo. They do what God asks, so God must be very happy with that and give them prosperity. But look at the state they are in… only misery.
What they are blind to is that the problem lies with them and not with God. They don’t realize that they only serve God outwardly and that they are depraved inwardly. God sees the heart and that does not beat for Him. What He seeks are torn, repentant hearts and not torn or black clothes (Joel 2:13).
They have completely finished with God. “So”, it is better to be arrogant and proud (verse 15). Such people make it in the world. They are prosperous, and even if they test God – here in the sense of proudly challenging – they are not punished, but escape. Life in the world is much better than doing your best to please God as a Christian. If you want to live for God, all you get is trouble. Many so-called Christians have already talked like that.
16 - 17 Those Who Fear the LORD
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard [it], and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare [My] own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”
In the previous three verses, God reveals that He knows what ungodly people say to each other about Him. He takes note of that (cf. Jer 8:6). In verse 16 we read that He also knows what the God-fearing people say to each other about Him. Among the rebellious people of the previous verses are some who are not rebellious, they know each other and talk to each other. The LORD finds His joy in them and joins them, however few they are.
In the midst of all the bragging, there is a remnant that does not have a big mouth about their own abilities, but talk a lot about the LORD. They fear Him, they are full of reverence for Him. Instead of inciting one another to become unfaithful to a God Who makes things so difficult, they encourage one another. They point out to each other that He does heed them and listens to them. This remnant trusts Him, right through all the trials. We see them, for example, in Luke 1-2, just before and just after the birth of the Lord Jesus, in Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna.
The Lord knows also in our time all those who remain faithful to Him in the midst of apostate Christianity. We do not usually see this in mass meetings, but in personal contacts. We should not think like Elijah that we are left alone. The Lord takes note of everything someone says about Him in order to encourage others to remain faithful to Him.
It is human speaking to say that everything is written in a “book of remembrance” (cf. Est 6:1-2; Psa 56:8). God does not need that book. The book serves to give us insight into the value He attaches to us speaking about Him. It is about those “who fear the LORD and who esteem His name”. Reverence for Him is evidenced by the esteem of His Name. His Name is the expression of His Being, Who He is. Esteem for His Name is evident not so much from what is said about that Name, but from meditating on it day and night (Psa 1:2). Esteem means to have such a high regard for that Name that it completely occupies the heart and mind.
Not denying His Name is also one of the characteristics of those who remain faithful to Him in the midst of total decay in the end times in which we live (Rev 3:8). Esteem or reverence for His Name means that we honor Him for Who He is. We may experience this in a special way when we come together as a church. The Lord Jesus speaks about the fact that even if there are only two or three who come together in His Name, He is there in the midst (Mt 18:20). The end time in God’s Word is not connected to mass gatherings and impressive signs and miracles, but to small numbers.
The LORD speaks of the believers who form this remnant out of the joy of what they will be to Him (verse 17). They are to Him His “own possession” (Exo 19:5; Deu 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). In it we hear that they are precious to Him, that they are a special treasure (Isa 62:3). His eye and His heart go out to them.
He will openly express this “on the day I prepare”, which is the day of His coming. Then they will shine as something precious to Him in the face of the wicked. Now they are still hidden, but then they will be revealed with Him in glory (Mt 13:43).
They will be spared and will not perish in judgment because they are in relationship to Him as a son who serves his father faithfully. It is His appreciation of their devotion to Him, right through all opposition. He can spare them because He has not spared the Son, His own Son, Who served Him perfectly (Rom 8:32).
18 The Distinction Is Seen
18 So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
The differences between the righteous and the wicked members of God’s people are now only appreciated by God. The wicked are still in control. But the time will come when this distinction will be seen and acknowledged by everyone. This will happen on the day that the LORD will prepare (verse 17).
The faithless have thrown at God that it is useless to serve Him (verses 14-15). But on the day the LORD will prepare, they will clearly see the difference to their great shame and disgrace. They will then have to admit that God is righteous. They will then see who really lived for Him and have to acknowledge that and admit that they themselves were the wicked ones. The further explanation will come in the next chapter.