Malachi 3

1 With the word, "behold," God told the people to listen carefully to these words. He promises to answer their complaint. He would not remain invisible and untouchable, but would come to live among them. He would send a special messenger to announce his coming (Isa 40:3, Mat 3:1-3). Several prophets, including Malachi, announced the coming of the Messiah, but John the Baptist would be the one to not only announce it, but to see it. John would preach repentance to prepare people's hearts for the Incarnate God. Yet, when the Lord would arrive, the people would be unprepared. Though they desired God to appear, they would not recognize Him.

He would appear as both God and the Message of the New Covenant. Jesus, in the New Testament, is declared the Word, and He lived and died to fulfill the Old Covenant so that through faith in Him, His words, and His resurrection, all people (not only the descendants of Abraham) could gain forgiveness and entrance into heaven (John 1:1-18).

2 The Messiah's appearing would not be what the people were expecting. By the time of the Roman occupation, Israel would be longing for their divine King who would conquer their enemies and establish heaven on earth. Jesus, however, came with a message that His Kingdom would be a future event. He taught that the Law, while important, was not sufficient to bring a person salvation. Faith in Him and His taking the punishment for sin on the cross was the only thing that would save them. The religious leaders were angered when Jesus performed miraculous acts of mercy on the day of rest because they felt it violated God's divine law. Instead, Jesus condemned them because they had more concern for laws than people. The thing that was ultimately used to "convict" Jesus of a capital offense was His claim to be the Son of God and to share equally with the authority and power of God the Father. They would not tolerate His teachings then and put Him to death, but at His Second Coming, they will not be able to stand up against His judgment, nor will anyone who has refused to establish a good relationship with Him.

Jesus' first mission was to purify His people, not by adding more rules, but by reminding them that faith was the most important key to their relationship with God. Proper behavior results from faith, and is even better than that required by the Law because the motivation comes from pleasing God in a personal relationship, not by merely by performing rituals to try to gain His favor. This purification process was not easy for the people, especially the religious leaders, to accept. They were told they would have to confess that they were sinners and trust in Him, rather than themselves, to please God. This is difficult for anyone's pride to overcome. Repentance is like the refiner's fire that, by heating raw material, can separate silver and gold from worthless material in rocks. This is a very difficult trial for a person to go through, but the result is someone of great value to God. Forgiveness is like being washed with strong soap. This is a sometimes irritating and painful process lasting one's whole life, but the result is someone who is clean in God's sight.

3 God will specifically purify the Levites, the men God appointed priests. Some have suggested that this refers to spiritual leaders or the "priesthood" in general, including all Christians (Rev 5:10), but this verse seems better suited to speak of the Israelite tribe. This prophecy was apparently unfulfilled until after Jesus came (Acts 6:7, 4:36). However, there is still another time prophesied when 12,000 from each tribe, including Levi, would be fitted for service again (Rev 7:4-8).
4 There is also a prophecy that all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-27), and that the city that God builds for the redeemed will be called Jerusalem where He will live forever with us (Rev 21:2-4). The offerings that will be given are not the blood sacrifices, but the giving of ourselves to God (Rom 12:1). It is not so much the form of the gift that pleases God, as has been a topic of this book, but the attitude with which it is given. God favored Abraham because of his faith and obedience, not because of rituals or animal sacrifices (Rom 4).
5 Those who do not seek to please God will be judged. Of course, only God can judge the motivations of the heart, but lack of fear of God can be evidenced in peoples' behavior, and several examples are given here:
  • Mystics who seek to use supernatural power that God has not provided (Exo 22:18, Lev 20:6)
  • Spouses who break their marital vows (Exo 20:14)
  • Witnesses who insist they have told the truth when they know they have lied (Lev 6:1-5, Lev 19:11-12, 16, Deu 19:15)
  • Employers who do not pay their employees promptly for work at the agreed wages (Lev 19:13, Deu 24:14-15)
  • Opportunists who take advantage of helpless people like widows and orphans (Exo 22:22-24)
  • Racists who will not help someone because of superficial or nationality differences (Lev 19:33-34, Deu 24:17)
  • Everyone who do not reverence God (Deu 6:13-15)
6 Two situations at work here cause a paradox that only God can solve. On one hand is His perfect justice that cannot be compromised, making it necessary to judge and eliminate those who refuse to acknowledge and obey Him. On the other hand is His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to establish Israel as His chosen nation forever. Israel broke its covenant with God, and deserved His wrath, but in His mercy, He had a plan that would allow justice to be satisfied and His promise to be kept, which is the message of the Gospel in the New Testament. At this time however, it was sufficient for God to affirm that He does not change. He is perfect, and cannot change. Thus, justice will be served and the ungodly will perish in the refinement process, but Israel will never be destroyed.
7 God repeatedly calls Israel a stubborn nation because it will not follow Him despite the miracles He performed among them and the blessings He had granted (Exo 32:9, Deu 9:6-7, 24, Isa 48:4). Yet, God's desire is to have a good relationship with people, so He always invites us back if there is any hope of our returning.

The response here is not a question like, "How do we repent?" but more like, "What have we done wrong?" The people were so used to their sin that they did not even know it was sin - they thought they were a righteous people.

The same can be true of some Christians today. Simply because one has been brought up in the church does not make him saved or righteous. In some cases, a person may never be told that certain behaviors are wrong, and so he never sees a reason to repent. In other cases, the person may justify his every wrong behavior instead of repenting. The worst case, however is where someone who has gone to church for a long time and never recognized that he is a sinner nor that faith in Jesus is the only way to become right with God. People like Malachi can bring these issues up, but it is up to the individual to recognize their sins and respond to God in faith and repentance.

8 In chapter 1, God chastised Israel for bringing defective offerings, but here He pointed out those who were neglecting to bring offerings at all. The word for "rob" here is much stronger, "to take by force." God does not consider such inattention a passive offense. The work of the ministry depended on the people bringing ten percent of their crops (the tithe) along with their offerings. The Levites were not allowed to own land, and their food was to come from the tithes and a portion of the offerings. If the people did not bring these goods, the priests would have to neglect their duties to find work to feed their families. The priests may have also been tempted to engage in illegal activities like bribery or form unethical alliances with merchants who would be given unscrupulous control over the sale of sheep and doves used in the offerings (John 2:13-16). Any of these scenarios would defame God and defile the people or the circumstances of worship.
9 The problem was widespread throughout Israel, and they had brought the curses of God upon themselves because they had broken their covenant as a nation to serve God.
10 Israel was apparently suffering under hard times. Many would have probably have been reluctant to follow God's advice. After all, if it seemed that they had too little now, how could they give up the best ten percent of what they earned? God reassures them that He can provide for their needs if they were to give the full amount of their tithe and not "steal" from Him by keeping part or all of it for themselves. If they proved to be faithful in this matter, He would supply them with more abundance than they could use. He had opened the floodgates of heaven to deluge the earth during the Flood (Gen 7:11), but He also opened the heavens to give abundant food to people (2 Ki 7:2, Psa 78:23-24). We must remember that God provides all things: our personal skills, raw materials, opportunities, and the power to make things happen. He channels all that through us and we benefit from it when we live properly. He expects us to recognize His provision by giving a portion to the ministries that serve our spiritual needs.
11 God can control problems like insect infestations and fruit productivity. If the people had a good relationship with Him, He would protect them from locust swarms and other pests, and conditions like weather and disease that caused grape vines to drop their fruit before they ripen.
12 It would be obvious to everyone that Israel was blessed if they as a nation were close to God. The promises given to the patriarchs include safety, health, wealth, understanding, and well-being. The land itself would be known for its productivity and pleasantness.
13 God expands on 2:17, indicating that not only are the peoples' murmurings burdensome, but He considers them as violence against Him. They were attacking His character by asserting that He was not keeping His promises of blessings despite the peoples' sacrifices. However, it again shows that they were ignorant of the issues, and they were arrogant enough to question God's integrity while erroneously exalting their own.
14 The people had trapped themselves into a circular paradox and did not even realize it. When they brought good offerings, everything was well. Then they, out of greed or laziness, began substituting lesser quality offerings, or simply brought less. God then silently began to replace their blessings with curses. The people were still bringing offerings, but they could not see that their low quality sacrifices were offensive and doing more harm than good. Some may have brought more sacrifices, but probably with a delusional attitude of appeasement rather than repentance (their worship was for the sole purpose of gaining a reward rather than maintaining a good relationship with God). It is also likely that as times grew more difficult that they increasingly kept the things appropriate as gifts for themselves and instead give God either what could be spared or was not fit for human use. Then the curses would have been increased and the people would become frustrated because they thought that they were doing what was right but were still being punished. At some point they would throw up their hands and exclaim, "What's the use? Why should I continue praying, fasting, and weeping before God? He is either not there or not listening! Since we are not sure He is even there, why should we weary ourselves with sacrifices or the stringent physical, social, and moral laws?"
15 It may have seemed to the people that among them, only those who were exploiting others appeared to be succeeding. Those who were immoral went on in their revelry, some openly testing and blaspheming God, seemingly with impunity. The surrounding Gentile nations were probably prospering, which was inexplicable to the Israelites since God has promised destruction to their enemies and prosperity for themselves. Of course, they had completely forgotten that the fulfillment of those promises hinged on their relationship with God. Since their relationship with Him was poor and even hostile at this point, they were experiencing the reversal of the promises of blessing, as was explicitly part of the covenant between God and Israel.
16 Not everyone was wicked - there were always at least a few true believers in Israel who remained faithful no matter how difficult their circumstances were. They took to heart what Malachi had proclaimed and discussed the implications with one another, undoubtedly encouraging one another to remain true to their faith. Their desire was to honor and glorify God. In return, God promised to remember them and their deeds were recorded in a book in heaven, similar to a king's chronicle, as a permanent memorial to them.
17 The whole world belongs to God because He created it. Among the nations, He chose Israel to be His special inheritance, but only those among the Israelites who believed in Him would be His special treasure and live forever with Him. In the present age, that blessing has been extended even to the Gentiles who believe. God hints again at the Judgment, promising to spare those who have a relationship with Him. This is an acknowledgement that all people are worthy of condemnation, but those who have faith will be saved. Only later would it be revealed that in order for justice to be served, Jesus would take the punishment for all the faithful throughout history. God speaks of a father-son type of relationship with His people, not a master-servant situation, emphasizing the personal nature of His desired relationship.
18 Once God has judged between good and evil, what people should have known all along will be obvious. Unfortunately, by that time it will be too late for those who never acknowledged Him during their lifetime.