Malachi 3 – The Messenger of the Covenant
A. The coming of the two messengers.
1. (1) The two messengers are introduced.
“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,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Behold, I send My messenger: This prophesied messenger is none other than John the Baptist. Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2, and Luke 7:27 all show this promise was fulfilled in John the Baptist.
i. At the end of Malachi 2, Israel complained that God seemed to reward the wicked and did not exercise His justice in the world. God responds to their complaint by saying, “I will set things right with My Messiah, and before Him will come My messenger.”
b. And he will prepare the way before Me: In an ancient royal procession, the messenger went before the king to announce his arrival, to indicate the route, and to remove any obstacles in the road. John the Baptist fulfilled this exact ministry for Jesus. The same idea is indicated in Isaiah 40:3-5.
i. God’s purpose for bringing this specific prophecy through Malachi in his day was probably because Israel complained that the Messianic promises of Haggai and Zechariah were not fulfilled. Here Malachi showed that the way for the Messiah must be prepared, and they were not ready yet.
ii. Before Me: The LORD promised that He Himself would come – not merely a new or better prophet, but the LORD Himself.
c. Even the Messenger of the covenant: This second messenger is the LORD Himself – Jesus coming to His temple as the fulfillment of the old covenant and to institute a new covenant.
2. (2-5) This second Messenger will also come with purifying judgment; it will be a fearful coming.
“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 launderer’s soap
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver,
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the LORD
An offering in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the LORD,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.
And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Who can endure the day of His coming? Malachi 3:1 spoke of two messengers to come – one to prepare the way of the LORD, and one to be the Messenger of the covenant. The coming that man must endure is the coming of the Messenger of the covenant, but it is His second coming.
i. “Like most Old Testament prophets, Malachi, in his picture of the coming Christ, mingled the two advents.” (Alden)
b. He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap: The coming of this second Messenger will be awesome and terrible, but with a purpose. Both the launderer and the refiner work to clean, not to destroy.
i. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver: “The beauty of this picture is that the refiner looks into the open furnace, or pot, and knows that the process of purifying is complete, and the dross all burnt away, when he can see his image plainly reflected in the molten metal.” (Baldwin)
ii. “If any of you, my hearers, are seeking the Lord at this time, I want you to understand what it means: you are seeking a fire which will test you, and consume much which has been dear to you. We are not to expect Christ to come and save us in our sins, he will come and save us from our sins; therefore, if you are enabled by faith to take Christ as a Saviour, remember that you take him as the purger and the purifier, for it is from sin that he saves us.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We note that He will sit as a refiner. “What a comfort it is that He surrenders this work to no other hands than his own. He may give his angels charge concerning us when we are in danger; but he keeps our purification beneath his special superintendence.” (Meyer)
iv. At the same time, notice that He will sit as a refiner. The sitting posture shows that the refiner may seem indifferent, but He is not. He is carefully working with the silver, burning off and scraping away the dross that the flames bring to the top. “I think I see in the sitting down of the refiner a settled patience, as if he seemed to say, ‘This is stern work, and I will sit down to it, for it will need care, and time, and constant watchfulness.’” (Spurgeon)
v. “If you are just now in the fire, dear soul, be of good cheer – it shows at least that you are silver, and are capable of performing more acceptable service in God’s holy Temple.” (Meyer)
c. He will purify the sons of Levi: In the first two chapters of Malachi, the LORD spoke out against the corruption of the priesthood. Here, God gave His ultimate answer for that corruption – the Messiah will purify the sons of Levi.
i. “Have you ever reflected upon the fact that when Christ’s refining work is done upon us there will never be any need for it again? Blessed be God, there is no purgatorial fire. We need not dread that we have yet to pass through purging flames in another world.” (Spurgeon)
d. I will be a swift witness against sorcerers: God’s ultimate purpose is to cleanse society, and to change the hearts of men. When Jesus returns in glory and rules on this earth, evil will be quickly punished.
i. Sorcerers: This sin is mentioned first because the Jews became familiar with sorcery and other magical arts during their captivity in Babylon.
B. Returning to God instead of robbing God.
1. (6-7) While declaring His mercy, God asks for repentance.
“For I am the LORD, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“But you said,
‘In what way shall we return?’
a. I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed: If it were possible for God to change His mind about us, He might very well do it and we would be consumed. Fortunately, the LORD does not change in His love for us or His choice of us.
b. Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances: God’s unchanging love for Israel should have made them more obedient and submitted to Him, but they presumed upon His faithfulness and patience.
c. Return to Me, and I will return to you: This was a simple call to repentance. Those who have once walked with God and been committed to His covenant must return to Him. When they do, they will find that He will return to them with blessing and the marks of His presence.
i. In its most basic sense, repentance is turning away from sin and turning to God. It isn’t so much required if we want to return to God; repentance describes what the very act of returning is.
d. In what way shall we return? Israel didn’t know how to return to God. Either they chose not to know, or they simply were ignorant.
2. (8-12) How Israel needed to repent.
“Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try 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 such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”
Says the LORD of hosts;
“And all nations will call you blessed,
For you will be a delightful land,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Will a man rob God? It seems strange to think that a man could rob God. What could someone possibly steal from God? The LORD explained how it could happen – they robbed God by withholding their tithes and offerings.
i. It was an expression of astonishment: Will a man rob God?
· Astonishing because it is such a daring thing to do.
· Astonishing because it is shamefully ungrateful.
· Astonishing because it is senselessly self-destructive.
· Astonishing because it will certainly be punished.
ii. God called it robbery because they had unlawful possession of what belonged to God. It wasn’t because only the tithes and offerings belonged to God. In fact, everything we have belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Yet God does not normally command us to give everything that belongs to Him; He allows us to keep some as managers on His behalf. But the tithes and offerings are different; they are not given to us to manage – they belong to what the LORD calls My house, the house of the LORD.
iii. If we give a tithe – that is, 10% of your income or assets – to God, it isn’t as if the remaining 90% is yours to do with as you please. It all belongs to God, but He allows us to directly manage the remaining 90%.
iv. The Law of Moses had a detailed system of giving based on the tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22-29 is one passage describing this system). If you failed to pay your tithe, you had to pay a 20% penalty (Leviticus 5:14-16; 22:14; 27:31-32). Nevertheless, the practice and principle of tithing came long before the law (Genesis 14:18-20).
b. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me: Because God’s people did not give as He commanded, God did not bless them materially or spiritually the way He would have otherwise. Their stingy ways proved that their hearts were far from God because God is the greatest giver (John 3:16).
i. Many people with financial problems fail to do the most important thing first: obey and honor God with their resources. When we put God and His kingdom first, He promises to meet our other needs (Matthew 6:33).
c. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse: This was the answer to their problems – to actually do what God commanded them to do, and to bring all the tithes to God. It wasn’t that they didn’t give anything to God; they simply did not bring all the tithes to Him. They must not fall short in giving God everything that He asked for.
i. Under the new covenant, are we under a similar command to tithe? The New Testament nowhere specifically commands tithing, but it certainly does speak of it in a positive light if it is done with a right heart (Luke 11:42).
ii. It is also important to understand that tithing is not a principle that depends on the Law of Moses. Hebrews 7:5-9 explains that tithing was practiced and honored by God long before the Law of Moses.
iii. What the New Testament does speak with great clarity on is the principle of giving. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 makes it clear that our giving must be:
· Periodic (done at regular periods).
· Planned (thought of in advance of the giving).
· Proportional (giving in proportion to our blessings).
· Private (not done to make us known as generous givers).
iv. As well, 2 Corinthians 9 tells us that giving must be:
· Generous (giving more rather than less).
· Freely given (not done out of guilt or manipulation).
· Cheerful (given happily and with rejoicing in God).
v. Since the New Testament doesn’t emphasize tithing, one might not be strict on it for Christians (though some Christians sadly argue against tithing on the basis of self-interest). Nevertheless, because giving is to be proportional, we should give some percentage, and ten percent is a good benchmark. For some people, 10% should really be the beginning of their giving and not the end of it.
vi. If our question is, “How little can I give and still please God?” then our heart isn’t in the right place at all. We should have the attitude of some early Christians, who essentially said: “We’re not under the tithe – we can give more!” Giving and financial management are spiritual issues not only financial issues (Luke 16:11).
d. That there may be food in My house: The purpose of the tithe was primarily to support the priests who ministered before the LORD. When the people did not bring their tithes, the priests were not properly supported and there was not enough food for them in the house of the LORD.
i. The tithe in Israel was also to be used to help the poor, and once every three years some of it was put aside for that purpose (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Still, the main purpose of the tithe was to support the tribe of Levi and the priests (Deuteronomy 14:27).
ii. The same principle carries over in the New Testament. Some people claim that a paid ministry is an abomination before God, but Paul made it clear that not only do ministers deserve to be supported by those they minister to (1 Timothy 5:18, 1 Corinthians 9:4-14) but also that their support is even more worthy than the poor (1 Timothy 5:17). Nevertheless, Paul voluntarily yielded his right to be supported when he thought it was in the best interests of the gospel to do so (1 Corinthians 9:12, 9:15).
e. And try Me now in this: It’s hard to find a comparable passage of Scripture – where the LORD commanded His people to test Him. Here, in regard to giving and His blessing of it, He told His people try Me now in this. It was as if God said, “See if you can give to Me and be the poorer for it. See if you can out-give Me.”
i. “The context for God’s words about tithes is the teaching that God is faithful. The matter of tithes is only an illustration of that teaching.” (Boice)
f. Open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it: This is the response God promised when His people give as He told them to. He would bless them both with provision and protection (I will rebuke the devourer).
i. The reference to the windows of heaven reminds us of the glorious account of provision in 2 Kings 7, when God provided in a completely unexpected way. God has resources that we know nothing about, and it is often of no help to try and predict – or worry about – how God will provide.
C. What good is it to serve God?
1. (13-15) God’s people ask the question.
“Your words have been harsh against Me,”
Says the LORD,
“Yet you say,
‘What have we spoken against You?’
You have said,
‘It is useless to serve God;
What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance,
And that we have walked as mourners
Before the LORD of hosts?
So now we call the proud blessed,
For those who do wickedness are raised up;
They even tempt God and go free.’”
a. Your words have been harsh against Me: Israel spoke against the LORD in a harsh and sinful way – and they apparently didn’t even realize they did so.
b. It is useless to serve God: These were the harsh words spoken by God’s people against God. They saw the prosperity of the proud and those who did wickedness, and they felt that it was useless to serve God as long as those who didn’t serve Him seemed to live comfortably.
i. It cost something to keep God’s ordinance, and they had to humble themselves to walk as mourners before the LORD. Yet it seemed to God’s people that the cost wasn’t worth the reward.
2. (16-18) The comfort of knowing that God remembers.
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another,
And the LORD listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the LORD
And who meditate on His name.
“They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts,
“On the day that I make them My jewels.
And I will spare them
As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
Then you shall again discern
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between one who serves God
And one who does not serve Him.
a. Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another: Discouraged by the sense that it wasn’t worth the trouble to serve God, the people of God came together – spoke to one another – and encouraged each other in the LORD.
i. When God’s people speak to one another in this way, the LORD listens from heaven. He loves to see true fellowship and love among His people.
b. A book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name: When they saw the wicked rewarded and the righteous suffer, it made them think that God forgot all their goodness. Here Malachi promises that not only will God remember, but He will write it down!
i. The thought that God has a book of remembrance is common but varied (Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; 87:6; Daniel 12:1).
c. They shall be Mine…My jewels: In the midst of suffering, assaulted by doubt and discouragement, God’s people didn’t feel like God’s jewels. Yet their feelings didn’t change the fact, and they needed to let God’s fact be greater than their feelings.
i. It was a spiritually low time for Israel – the priests and the people were steeped in corruption and mediocrity. At the same time, God always has His jewels. Even if everyone around you turns away from the LORD, you can still be one of His jewels.
ii. There are several ways that Christians are like jewels.
· They are hard and durable.
· They are prized for their luster.
· They are prized for their rarity.
· They are made by God alone.
· They are of all different sizes, yet they are all jewels.
· They are found all over the world.
· They are associated with royalty.
· They are protected.
· Some are hidden and undiscovered.
· Some are not yet polished.
d. Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked: One day this dilemma will be cleared up. In the end, the distinction between the righteous and the wicked will be evident.