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Malachi 2:17-3:12

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
    The Lord Will Send A Messenger to Prepare For the Coming of the Day of Judgment
(2:17-3:5)
The Day of Judgment Is Near
(2:17-3:5)
The Day of Yahweh
(2:17-3:5)
2:17 2:17 2:17 2:17 2:17
The Purifier The Coming Messenger      
3:1-4 3:1-7
(1)
3:1-2a 3:1 3:1-5
  (2-3)   3:2-4  
    3:2b-4    
3:5-6   3:5 3:5  
    If the People Will Return to God With a Full Measure of Devotion, God Will Bless Them

The Payment of Tithes

Temple Tithes
  (6-7) 3:6-7 3:6-12 3:6-12
3:7-12 Do Not Rob God      
  3:8-12 3:8-12    
  (8-10)      
  (11-12)      

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:2:17-3:4
 2:17You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, "How have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them," or, "Where is the God of justice?" 3:1"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. 2But 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. 3He 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. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years."

2:17 "You have wearied the Lord with your words" The verb (BDB 388, KB 386, Hiphil perfect) means "to toil and thereby grow tired." This same verb, same tense, is used in Isa. 43:23 for Israel's sins wearying YHWH. Here it is their words of rejection and condemnation that weary Him. His own people are attributing to both His person and His motives an apathetic or indifferent attitude toward His covenant promises and judgments.

▣ "How have we wearied Him" This is a continuation of the literary form used in Malachi to present truth, which was picked up by the rabbis, Paul, and James. It is called diatribe.

▣ "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, He delights in them" This is an attack on YHWH's character and covenant. Two strong verbs describe their accusation:

1. "is good," BDB 373, this may be an adjective or a Qal perfect, masculine singular verb

2. "delights," BDB 342, KB 339, Qal perfect

They assert that not only is YHWH apathetic toward covenant disobedience, but He approves and is delighted by it! This would mean that His word (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29) cannot be trusted! This accusation probably arises from a misunderstanding of the longsuffering patience of YHWH in regard to Israel's sin. He worked with them over time to change their devotion and behavior, but many took advantage of His patience (cf. Zeph. 1:12). His seeming inactivity in judgment caused these post-exilic returnees to impugn His character (cf. Isa. 5:19; Jer. 17:15.

▣ "Where is the God of justice" This is the question which chapter 3 answers (cf. Job; Psalm 37; 73; Jer. 12:1-4; and Hab. 1:2-4). This period of Jewish history was very difficult for those who chose to return from Babylon to Palestine. The surrounding nations were openly hostile, the Persian court was ambivalent towards them, and YHWH had not manifested Himself in the new rebuilt Temple as He had in the old one (i.e., Shekinah Cloud of Glory).

3:1 "My messenger" This is exactly the same Hebrew phrase from Mal. 1:1, where it is a proper name. It (BDB 521) can also mean "angel" (cf. JPSOA, who identifies the messenger as the angel of the Lord or Michael). Many see this messenger as the Messiah or possibly Elijah of 4:5 (i.e., John the Baptist).

▣ "and he will clear the way before Me" This verb (BDB 815, KB 937, Piel perfect) in the Piel stem has the connotation of "making clear" of obstacles (cf. Isa. 40:3; 57:14; 62:10). It was used of preparing for a royal visit by preparing the roads.

The question remains, how many people are involved in this paragraph?

1. "the Lord (YHWH)," 2:17

2. "I," "My," "Me," = YHWH, 3:1

3. "My messenger," 3:1

a. Malachi

b. angel of the covenant, cf. Exod. 23:20-23

c. Elijah

d. John the Baptist

4. the Lord (Adon), 3:1

a. YHWH (His temple)

b. Messiah (He is coming)

c. covenant angel

Because v. 1 ends with "says the Lord of hosts," He is ruled out as a possibility. Notice the cleansing work of the Lord (Adon) in vv. 2-3. Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, pp. 43-44, lists several OT texts that refer to YHWH, but are quoted in the NT as referring to the Messiah:

1. Joel 2:32 - Romans 10:13

2. Isaiah 6:9,10 - John 12:41

3. Isa. 8:13-14 - Rom. 9:33; I Pet. 2:6-8 

4. Isa. 40:3/Mal. 3:1 - Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:76; 3:4; John 1:23

5. Isa. 45:23-25 - Phil. 2:9

This was the task of John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:76: 3:4; John 1:23). John denies that he is Elijah, but Jesus said (cf. Matt. 11:2-19; Luke 7:24-28) that John fulfilled the prophesied ministry of Elijah (cf. He combines Mal. 4:5-6 with Isa. 40:3).

▣ "the Lord" This is the term Adon. Originally it was substituted orally for YHWH, but here it is used as the title of the Messiah, as it is in Joel 2:32, which is quoted in Rom. 10:13. The NT authors often used OT titles for God to describe the deity and majesty of Jesus of Nazareth.

▣ "will suddenly come to His Temple" This verb (BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperfect) occurs several times in these closing verses of Malachi. It is a common verb, but has eschatological implications here.

1. Mal. 3:1 (twice)

2. Mal. 3:2

3. Mal. 4:1 (twice)

4. Mal 4:5

5. Mal. 4:6

The Lord of creation is coming in His

1. prophet (John the Baptist)

2. Spirit (i.e., the new age of the Spirit)

3. angel (cf. 3:1)

4. Son (Messianic implications of chapters 3 and 4)

This seems to be related to the Shekinah glory returning to the rebuilt Temple (cf. Ezek. 43:1-5). When the Jews of Judah went into exile, the Shekinah glory left the Temple (cf. Ezekiel 10) and moved east but now it is returning.

This was used by the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day to describe the sudden appearing of the Messiah in the Temple. Many see it fulfilled in Jesus suddenly appearing in Jerusalem and cleansing the Temple (twice).

▣ "and the messenger of the covenant" The term "and" can be translated "even." There is much discussion about the title "the messenger of the covenant." It is only used here in all of the OT. The rabbis see this as the angel of the Lord because of passages like Exod. 3:2, 4. To me there seems to be one, not two, personages mentioned here. The twice repeated phrase "in whom you..." are in a parallel relationship. This seems to bolster the interpretation that the terms "the Lord" and "the messenger of the covenant" refer to the same person. This is also confirmed by v. 2.

▣ "in whom you delight" This is the same verb used in 2:17 to attack YHWH's character. Here it asserts that YHWH will act in history. His "day" is coming. He will judge the hearts of all humans, He will set straight the fallen world systems, He will act. In Malachi, like Isaiah and Micah, we begin to see that this "day" is primarily a person (i.e., the Messiah, "He is coming"). He will both reward and punish. We know from future revelation that His work is split into two separate comings: (1) the first for salvation and the inauguration of the new age, the age of the Spirit, the age of righteousness and (2) the second for judgment.

3:2 "But who can endure the day of His coming" This verb (BDB 465, KB 463) is in the rare Pilpel stem. Its basic meaning is:

1. to comprehend (Qal), Isa. 40:12

2. to contain, cf. I Kgs. 8:27; II Chr. 2:6; 6:18

3. to sustain, to support (Pilp), cf. Neh. 9:21; Zech. 11:16

4. to endure (Pilp), cf. Pro. 8:14

In this context #1 and #4 make sense, but #4 fits better! There may be a purposeful ambiguity.

YHWH's breaking into history is described as (1) a refiner's fire; (2) a fuller's soap; and (3) judgment. It is used in two different senses: (a) although He is coming to test, it is a test for purification, not destruction; (b) for those who know YHWH by faith, it will be a day of salvation, but for those who do not know Him it will be a day of swift judgment. It is also significant to note that the judgment mentioned in v. 5 has both religious and social connotations with no distinction made between them.

▣ "And who can stand when He appears" This is a military term for "holding one's ground" (BDB 763, KB 840, Qal participle, cf. II Kgs. 10:4; Amos 2:15; Eph. 6:11, 13, 14). The standard by which God will judge humanity is the standard of His own character (cf. Matt. 5:48). That is why the Bible confidently asserts that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (cf. lists of OT quotes in Rom. 3:9-18 and the summary in Romans 3:21-31). Our only hope for righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us (cf. Gal. 3; Rom. 4; II Cor. 5:21).

"refiner's fire" This construct (BDB 77, Piel participle, BDB 864) speaks of the testing and purification of metals (cf. v. 3). It is used metaphorically of God purifying His people (cf. Job 23:10; Ps. 66:10; Isa. 1:25; 48:10; Jer. 6:29; Zech. 13:9).

▣ "fuller's soap" This construct (BDB 141 and Piel participle BDB 460) speaks of "vegetable lye" (cf. Jer. 2:22).

3:3 Notice that the Messiah as YHWH's representative refines His people. They are cleansed, but not rejected! This is a judgment of redemption. The outcome is holiness, not hell. It is difficult to transfer NT gospel categories into OT texts. However, I still think it is hermeneutically better to view OT texts through NT fulfillment than to try to read the NT through OT categories (i.e, Mosaic covenant, national Israel, geographical promises).

God wants a holy people to reflect Himself to a lost world. However, He is patiently working with an unholy people whom He has redeemed! Sin is not the stumbling block in the NT because the work of Christ has effectively dealt with this spiritual barrier. The problem is now unbelief! This is foreshadowed in the New Covenant of Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38.

 This verse is used by Roman Catholic theologians to support the doctrine of purgatory, which they develop from a passage in The Shepherd of Hermes.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?

▣ "the sons of Levi" This refers to the priests. We must remember that Malachi spoke directly to the priests in 1:6 through 2:9 and possibly throughout chapter 2.

▣ "so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness" The key to worship is a personal relationship. Only clean people can approach God (cf. Isa. 1:16-20). In the OT the sacrificial system was God's way of providing a way for imperfect people to approach a perfect deity. The key was always an appropriate attitude and mind set (cf. Deut. 6:4-6). The OT temple has become Christ, the true temple (cf. Matt. 12:6; John 2:19-21). I guess for me some of the best examples of how interpersonal relationship affects worship are Matt. 5:23-24 and James 4:8! Ritual and liturgy can become a barrier (cf. Isa. 29:13 [Matt. 15:8-9]; Ezek. 33:31).

▣ "righteousness" See Special Topic at Joel 2:13.

3:4 The author looks back to the past history of the people of God as an idealistic period, especially the Wilderness Wandering Period (cf. Isa. 63:11; Jer. 2:2-3). It was considered a honeymoon period by later generations. In this post-exilic period the reference may be to the dedication of Solomon's temple in II Chronicles 7 in the days of David (cf. Amos 9:11).

▣ "the days of old" See Special Topic: 'Olam at Mal. 1:4.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:5-6
 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. 6"For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

3:5 "I will draw near to you" This verb (BDB 897, KB 1132, Qal perfect) means "approach." It can be used of God coming

1. in a positive sense (i.e., for blessing or aid, cf. Ps. 69:18; Lam. 3:57)

2. in a negative sense (i.e., for judgment, here)

In the OT, one's faith relationship to YHWH and their covenant obedience determines which one!

▣ "swift witness" The literal word here is "expert" (BDB 554 I) and has the idea of very rapid judgment. God's longsuffering patience, once complete, results in rapid accountability! One is surprised by the lists of sins which follows. Apparently they were still present within the post-exilic community

▣ "sorcerers" For the Mosaic context, see Exod. 22:18; Lev. 20:27; Deut. 18:9-10. My commentary on Deuteronomy is now available online at www.freebiblecommentary.org.

▣ "adulterers" This is possibly related to the post-exilic call for religious purity in marriage (i.e., no marriages to pagan women, cf. 2:10-16; Ezra 9:1-2; Neh. 13:1-3, 23-24).

▣ "oppress the wage earner of his wages" For the Mosaic context see Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14-15; James 5:4.

▣ "widow" For the Mosaic context, see Exod. 22:22-24.

▣ "those who turn aside the alien" For the Mosaic context see Deut. 24:14; 19-22; 17:19. For a good brief article, see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1, pp. 74-76.

▣ "and do not fear Me" The verb "fear" (BDB 431, KB 432) is used several times in Malachi (cf. 1:14; 2:5; 3:5; 4:5). It needs to be remembered that our treatment of our covenant partners reflects what we believe and feel about God. To abuse the downtrodden is to abuse God Himself. This is the continual emphasis of the book of Deuteronomy. We are our brother's keeper!

3:6 "I, the Lord, do not change" The verb (BDB 1039 I, KB 1597, Qal perfect) speaks of a settled character. This refers to three possible theological areas

1. God's covenant faithfulness (cf. Lam. 3:22-23)

2. God's purpose (cf. Ps. 33:11)

3. God's character (cf. Ps. 127; James 1:17)

The key issue of faith is the character of God! His word is established by His character and His actions!

See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD at Joel 2:13.

▣ "O sons of Jacob" This seems to be a play on the term "Jacob," which means "cheater" or "supplanter" (BDB 784). This verse is a comparison between the changelessness of God and the fickle rebellion of the nation of Israel. Israel's only steadfast hope is the unchanging character of God.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:7
 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?'

3:7 "From the days of your fathers" For a historical overview of Israel's history, see Nehemiah 9. Israel has a settled history of covenant disobedience.

▣ "you have turned aside" This verb (BDB 693, KB 747, Qal perfect) speaks of their settled character of rebellion. There is a play on the concept of "turning" in this verse.

1. Israel has repeatedly "turned away," BDB 693, KB 747, Qal perfect, cf. Exod. 32:8; Jdgs. 2:17

2. YHWH commands them to "turn" (i.e., repent), BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative

3. If they will, YHWH will "turn" to them, BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal cohortative (i.e., in covenant restoration and blessing)

4. The people ask "how shall we turn," BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperfect (i.e., of what should we repent)

 

▣ "My statutes" See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION (using DEUTERONOMY and PSALMS)

▣ "Return to Me and I will return to you" This is a call not to initial repentance, but to subsequent repentance (cf. Zech. 1:3; James 4:8). Our lifestyle reflects and verifies our faith commitment to God (cf. I John and James).

▣ "But you say, 'How shall we return'" This seems to focus on two possible motives: (1) their truly wanting to know how to show repentance or (2) arrogant, self-righteousness, which sees no problems that need to be corrected. It may just be the literary continuation of the diatribe technique.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:8-12
 8"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10Bring 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. 11Then 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.

3:8-12 This is the answer to the people's question in v. 7.

3:8 "How have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings" This is one example of many that the prophet could have used (cf. chapters 1-2). The tithe was given to God before the Mosaic Law was instituted (cf. Gen. 14:20; 18:22). There were three separate tithes taken in different years. It is related to both the needs of the Temple and the priests and also the special needs mentioned in v. 5. In my opinion, the tithe is not an exegetical truth from the New Testament, but an implied truth by analogy from the Old Testament. The NT speaks more of sacrificial, joyful, regular, proportionate giving than percentage giving (cf. II Cor. 8 and 9). Grace should induce greater results than the law (cf. New Testament Theology by Frank Stagg, p. 292-293 and The Authority of the Old Testament by John Bright, p. 54).

SPECIAL TOPIC: TITHES IN THE MOSAIC LEGISLATION

▣ "offerings" This refers to the priest's part (cf. Exod, 29:17-18; Lev. 7:32; Num. 5:9). This withholding of required support for the priests and the poor was simply a result of a practical atheism of the leaders and people.

3:9 "You are cursed with a curse" Literally, "the curse," (BDB 76) this is related to the cursing and blessing section of the Mosaic covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29).

▣ "the whole nation of you" This shows the widespread abuses, not only of the priesthood, but of the entire nation. The term "nation" (BDB 156) was used by Israel in a derogatory sense of the pagan nations. Now God calls them by this name!

3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse" This verse has three commands:

1. "bring," BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil imperative

2. "so that there may be food in My house," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

3. "test Me," BDB 103, KB 119, Qal imperative

The whole issue of tithing is contentious in the church because OT texts are being used as threats or greed to promote financial giving to the local churches.

The concept of "tithing" is not ever addressed to the church. It is mentioned only in isolated ways by Jesus to Jews (cf. Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12).

SPECIAL TOPIC: TITHING

▣ "storehouse" This refers specifically to the storage chambers of the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Neh. 13:5). The temple is known as God's house (cf. II Samuel 7; Hag. 1:9; Zech. 3:7).

▣ "test Me now in this" This refers to the testing of metal (BDB 103, cf. Zech. 13:9). This same term is used in v. 15, where it is obvious that attitude is the key in our relationship to God. The NT guidelines for "giving" are surprisingly scarce (only II Corinthians 8-9, which refers to a one-time gift for the mother church in Jerusalem).

▣ "the windows of heaven" Heaven was described as a domed vault (cf. Gen. 1:17, "firmament," BDB 954). The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 718, mentions that these windows can be opened for

1. blessing, II Kgs. 7:2,19; here

2. judgment, Gen. 7:11; 8:2; Isa. 24:18

See Special Topic following:

SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN

▣ "pour out for you a blessing until it overflows" The blessings of vv. 10-11 are agricultural in nature and reflect the Deuteronomy promises (cf. Deut. 11:8-13; 28:1-14). YHWH's initial desire was for Israel to be a kingdom of priests to bring "the nations" to Himself. He planned to bless Israel in order to attract the nations' interest. Note v. 12 (cf. Isa. 61:9; Jer. 4:2)!

3:11 "the devourer" The word "devourer" (BDB 37) is from the verb "to eat." It may literally refer to locusts or metaphorically to anything that destroys the crops (i.e., famine, desert wind, hail, etc.). The theological point (or Mosaic point, cf. Deuteronomy 27-29) is that YHWH controls nature for His purposes.

▣ "cast its grapes" This literally means "to suffer a miscarriage" (BDB 1013, KB 1491, Piel imperfect). Both of the terms in this verse refer to agricultural losses (cf. II Kgs. 2:19,21). This is directly related to Deuteronomy 27 and 28.

3:12 This verse reflects

1. YHWH's promise to Abraham, Gen. 12:3; Isa. 61:9; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8

2. YHWH's purpose that Israel be a kingdom of priests to bring knowledge of His person to the nations, Exod. 19:5-6; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10

3. YHWH's goal of a holy people, Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2,21; 26:18-19

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who is the messenger that will prepare the way for the Messiah and appear suddenly in the Temple?

2. Why does the Bible speak to the day of the Lord as primarily a day of judgment?

3. Is God's judgment related primarily to social injustices or spiritual commitments? cf Matt. 25:31-46; Rev, 24:11-15).

4. Explain the comparison in verse 8

5. Is tithing a New Testament principle?