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3. The Day of Judgment
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. 2But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope: 3And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. 4Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. 5And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts. 6For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
7Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
8Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. 10Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. 11And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. 12And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.
13Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? 14Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? 15And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
16Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. 17And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. 18Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
Here the Prophet does not bring comfort to the wicked slanderers previously mentioned, but asserts the constancy of his faith in opposition to their blasphemous words; as though he had said, “Though they impiously declare that they have been either deceived or forsaken by the God in whom they had hoped, yet his covenant shall not be in vain.” The design of what is announced is like that of the declaration made elsewhere,
“Though men are perfidious and false, yet God remains true, and cannot depart from his own nature.” (Numbers 23:19.)
God then does here gloriously triumph over the Jews, and alleges his own covenant in opposition to their disgraceful slanders, because their wicked murmurings could not hinder him to accomplish his promises and to perform in due time what they thought would never be done; and he adopts a demonstrative adverb in order to show the certainty of what is said.
Behold, he says, I send my messenger, who will clear the way before my face 241241 As quoted by the Evangelists, it is “before thy face.” Jerome’s observation is, that the apostles and evangelists transferred the truth contained in passages without minding syllables and small words. — Ed. This passage ought doubtless to be understood of John the Baptist, for Christ himself so explains it, than whom no better interpreter can be found; and since John the Baptist was the messenger of Christ, the beginning of the verse can be applied to no other person. Afterwards the Father himself speaks as we shall see: but as he who appeared in the flesh is the same God with the Father, it is no wonder that he speaks, and then that the words which follow are spoken in the person of the Father.
There is here a striking allusion to Moses, whose office it was to intercede, that God might not in his just wrath destroy the whole people; for as then the majesty of God was more than could be borne without an intercessor, so that the people through fear cried out “Speak thou to us lest we die,” (Exodus 20:19,) so also now does Malachi teach us, that there is need of an intercessor, by whom God’s wrath might be mitigated, which the Jews had extremely provoked. This office John the Baptist undertook, who prepared the Jews to hear the voice of Christ.
By saying that he would send a messenger to clear his way, he indirectly reproved the Jews, by whom many hindrances were thrown as it were in the way; as though he had said, “They prevent by the obstacles they raise up the redemption and the promised salvation to be revealed: there will therefore be the need of a messenger to clear the way.” For the Jews had introduced impediments, as though they designedly wished to resist the favor which had been prepared and promised to them. But how the Baptist performed his work by clearing the way, is evident from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, as well as from the Gospels; and hence may be gathered what I have already said — that God by his fidelity and mercy struggled with those obstacles which the Jews had raised up to prevent the coming of Christ. 242242 The verb פנה, rendered “purgabit” by Calvin in the sense of clearing, can hardly bear this meaning. It signifies to turn or look to a thing, and hence to provide or prepare. In this latter sense it occurs in six other places; and is rendered by the Septuagint ἑτοιμάζω, as in Genesis 24:31, and Isaiah 40:3, though here ἐπιβλέψεται, according to its primary meaning. The version of Theodoret, here is “ἐτοιμαζει — prepares.” The idea of Calvin may be said to be included; for as Henderson justly observes, “The language is borrowed from the custom of sending pioneers before an eastern monarch to cut through rocks and forests, and remove every impediment that might obstruct his course.” — Ed.
He afterwards adds, And presently shall
“Εξαίφνης — suddenly,” by the Septuagint, “statim — immediately,” by Jerome, and by some others, “unexpectedly.” The
meaning is, according to some, that his coming would be soon after that of John, about six months; or, according to others, unexpectedly, as a light suddenly arising in darkness, without any previous symptom of its appearance.
The literal rendering of these two lines is the following, —
And suddenly shall he come to his temple,
The Lord whom ye are seeking.
The remark of Henderson and of others on the ה before “Lord” as being emphatic, is not well founded. It is owing to the relative “whom” which follows, as it is in our language. — Ed. come to his temple the Lord, whom ye seek. After having said that he would open a way for his favor, he now adds, come shall the Lord. He introduces here, not Jehovah, but the Lord, אדון, Adun; and hence he speaks distinctly of Christ, who is afterwards called the Angel or Messenger of the covenant. But the word אדון, Adun, commonly used for a Mediator, as in Psalm 110, and also in Daniel 9:17; where it is expressly said, “Hear, O Jehovah, for the sake of the Lord,” למען אדוני, lamon Aduni; the word is the same as here, come then shall the Lord. The reason for this mode of speaking was, because Christ was shown to them under the type which re presented him. As then the kingdom of David was a representation of the kingdom of Christ our Lord, it is no wonder that the Prophets designate him by this title, especially those who were the nearest to the time of Christ’s manifestation. But he is promised by another title, the angel or messenger of the covenant; but it means not the same here as in the first clause. He called John the Baptist at the beginning of this verse a messenger, the messenger of Jehovah; and now he calls Christ a messenger, but he is the messenger of the covenant; 244244 “A phrase nowhere else in Scripture.” — Secker. for it was necessary that the covenant should be confirmed by him. The title of John the Baptist was then inferior to that of Christ; for though he was God manifested in the flesh, yet this did not prevent him from being God’s minister and interpreter in order to confirm his covenant; and we know that the office of Christ consists in confirming and sealing to us the covenant of God, not only by his doctrine, but also by his blood and the sacrifice of his cross.
Malachi then promises here to the Jews both a king and a reconciler, — a king under tee title of Lord, — and a reconciler under the title of the messenger of the covenant: and we know it was the main thing in the whole doctrine of the law, that a Redeemer was to come, to reconcile the Church to Cod and to rule it.
And he says that the Mediator was sought and expected by the Jews; and through him God was to be propitious to them: but this was not said but ironically. The faithful indeed at this day have all their desires fixed on Christ, after he has been revealed in the flesh, until they shall partake at his last coming of the fruit of his death and resurrection; and under the law we know that the groaning and the sighings of the godly were towards Christ: but Malachi here, by way of contempt, checks these unreasonable charges, by which the Jews accused God, as though he had disappointed their hope and their prayers. For we have said, and the fact is evident, that God had been presumptuously and shamefully impeached by them, as though he meant not to fulfill his promises: hence the Prophet says ironically, and sharply too, that Christ was expected by the Jews, for they murmured, because God had too long deferred his coming: “O! where is the Redeemer? when will he be revealed to us?” Since then they thus pretended that they earnestly expected the coming of Christ, the Prophet upbraids them with this, and justly too, for they had expressly manifested their unbelief.
Behold, he comes, saith Jehovah of hosts
Owing to this repetition, some of the fathers, Theodoret, Eusebius, and Augustine, held that this part refers to Christ’s second coming: but the repetition is only to confirm what had been previously said, and according to the usual manner of the Prophets, contains an expansion of the former idea. A literal rendering of the whole verse would exhibit this as the real meaning, —
Behold I send my messenger, And he shall prepare the way before me: And suddenly shall he come to his temple, The Lord whom ye are seeking; Yea, the angel of the covenant, in whom ye delight, Behold, he is coming, saith Jehovah of hosts.
The four last lines exhibit an example of parallelism which often occurs. The first and the last line correspond, and so do the second and the third. — Ed. Here he introduces the Father as the speaker, as it has been already stated; and the particle הנה, ene, behold, is used for the sake of removing every doubt; and then he confirms what he says by the authority of God. He might have asserted this in his own person as a teacher; but in order to produce an effect on the Jews by the majesty of God, he makes him the author of this prophecy. It follows —
The Prophet in this verse contends more sharply with the Jews, and shows that it was a mere presence that they so much expected the coming of the Mediator, for they were far different from him through the whole course of their life. And when he says that the coming of Christ would be intolerable, what is said is to be confined to the ungodly; for we know that nothing is more delightful and sweeter to us than when Christ is nigh us: though now we are pilgrims and at a distance from him, yet his invisible presence is our chief joy and happiness. (Romans 8:22, 23.) Besides, were not the expectation of his coming to sustain our minds, how miserable would be our condition! It is therefore by this mark that the faithful are to be distinguished, — that they expect his coming; and Paul does not in vain exhort us, by the example of heaven and earth, to be like those in travail, until Christ appears to us as our Redeemer.
But the Prophet here directs his discourse to the ungodly, who though they seem to burn with desire for God’s presence, do not yet wish him to be nigh them, but they flee from him as much as they can. We have met with a similar passage in Amos,
“Wo to those who desire the day of the Lord! What will it be to you? for it will be darkness, yea darkness and not light, a day of sorrow and not of joy.” (Amos 5:18.)
Amos in this passage spoke on the same subject; for the Jews, inflated with false confidence, thought that God could not forsake them, as he had pledged his faith to them; but he reminded them that God had been so provoked by their sins, that he was become their professed and sworn enemy. So also in this place, Come, the Prophet says, come shall the Redeemer; but this will avail you nothing; on the contrary, his coming will be dreadful to you. We indeed know that Christ appeared not for salvation to all, but only to the remnant, and to those of Jacob who repented, according to what Isaiah says. (Isaiah 10:21, 22.) But since they obstinately rejected the favor of God, it is no wonder that the Prophet excluded them from the blessings of the Redeemer.
Who then will endure his coming? 246246 For “who will endure,” the Vulgate, after Jerome, has, “quis poterit cogitare — who can think of?” etc. But this is inconsistent with the Septuagint and the Targum, and with the context. The verb indeed is capable of being derived from כל as well as from יכל; but the latter is the meaning alone suitable to this passage. — Ed. and who shall stand at his appearance? as though he had said, “In vain do ye flatter yourselves, and even upbraid God, that he retains the promised Redeemer as it were hidden in his own bosom; for he will come in due time, but without any advantage to you; nor will it be given you to enjoy his favor; but on the contrary he will bring to you nothing but terrors; for he will be like a purifying fire, and as the herb of the fullers 247247 The version of the Septuagint is “ὡς πυρ χωνευτηρίου και ὡς ποια< pluno>ντων — as the fire of the crucible (or, of the furnace) and as the herb of the washers.” The word, מצרף, may be either a participle or a noun—the refiner or the place or instrument of refining. See Proverbs 17:3; 27:21. The latter sense is most suitable to this place. “Herb” is rendered “smegma — soap,” by Picator, — “Lanaria -cudwort,” by Drusius,—and “alkaline salt,” by Michaelis. It was probably the salt-wort mentioned by an author quoted by Parkhurst, a plant very common in Judea. It was burned, and water was poured on its ashes. This water became impregnated with strong lixivial salt, “proper for taking,” he says, “stains and impurities out of wool or cloth.” It is not supposed that what we call “soap” was known to the Jews. — Ed. The latter clause may be taken in a good or a bad sense, as it is evident from the next verse. The power of the fire, we know, is twofold; for it burns and it purifies; it burns what is corrupt; but it purifies gold and silver from their dross. The Prophet no doubt meant to include both, for in the next verse he says, that Christ will be as fire to purify and to refine the sons of Levi as gold and silver. With regard then to the people of whom he has been hitherto speaking, he shows that Christ will be like fire, to burn and consume their filth; for though they boasted with their mouth of their religion, yet we know that the Church of God had many defilements and pollutions; they were therefore to perish by fire. But Malachi teaches us at the same time, that the whole Church was not to perish, for the Lord would purify the sons of Levi
There is here a part stated for the whole; for the promise belongs to the whole Church. The sons of Levi were the first-fruits, and the whole people were in the name of that tribe consecrated to God. This is the reason why he mentions the sons of Levi rather than the whole people; as though he had said, that though the Church was corrupt and polluted, there would yet be a residue which God would save, having purified them. The words which I had omitted are these -
The Prophet says, that Christ would sit to purify the sons of Levi; for though they were the flower, as it were, and the purity of the Church, they had yet contracted some contagion from the corruption which prevailed. Such then was the contagion, that not only the common people became corrupt, but even the Levites themselves, who ought to have been guides to others, and who were to be in the Church as it were the pattern of holiness. God however promises that such would be the purifying which Christ would effect, and so regulated, that it would consume the whole people, and yet purify the elect, and purify them like silver, that they may be saved. He tells us afterwards that the Levites themselves would need a trial to cleanse them; for they themselves would not be without filth, because they had mixed with a perverse people, who had wholly departed from the law, and from the fear and the worship of God.
This verse shows, that though he had just spoken of the sons of Levi, he yet had regard to the whole people. But he meant to confine to the elect what ought not to have been extended to all, for there were among the people, as we have seen and shall again presently see, many who were reprobates, nay, the greater part had fallen away; and this is the reason why the Prophet especially addresses the few remaining who had not fallen away.
But he names Judah and Jerusalem, for that tribe had returned to their own country, and sacrifices were offered at Jerusalem, though not with the splendor of ancient times, the state of things having become much deteriorated among those miserable exiles. Hence the Prophet, that he might encourage the faithful, says, that though the temple was then mean, and the worship of God as then performed was unadorned and abject, yet there was no reason for the Levites or for others to despond, because the Lord would again restore the glory of his temple, and really show that what men viewed with scorn was approved by him. It follows —
Here the Prophet retorts the complaints which the Jews had previously made. There is here then a counter-movement when he says, I will draw nigh to you; for they provoked God by this slander — that he hid himself from them and looked at a distance on what was taking place in the world, as though the people he had chosen were not the objects of his care. They expected God to be to them like a hired soldier, ready at hand to help them in any adversity, and to come armed at their nod or pleasure to fight with their enemies: this they expected; but God declares what is of a contrary character, — that he would come for judgment; and he alludes to that impious slander, when they denied that he was the God of judgement, because he did not immediately, or soon enough, resist their enemies: “Oh! God has now divested himself of his own nature! for his judgement does not appear.” His answer is, “I will not forget nay judgement when I come to you, but I shall come in a way contrary to what you expect”. They indeed wished God to put on arms for their advantage, but God declares, that he would be an enemy to them, according to what he also says by the mouth of Isaiah.
He further says, I will be a swift witness. He sets swiftness here in opposition to their calumny, for they said that God was slow and tardy, because he had not immediately, as they had wished, come forth to exercise vengeance on foreign nations: he, on the other hand, says, that he would be sufficiently swift when the time came.
And as there are the like blasphemies prevailing in the world at this day, this passage may be accommodated to our circumstances. Let us then know, that though God may delay and connive at things for a time, he yet knows his own opportunities, so as to appear as the avenger of wickedness as soon as it will be necessary. But let us ever fear lest our haste should prove our ruin, for he has no respect of persons, so as to favor our unfaithfulness and to be rigid towards those who are hostile to us. Let us take heed that while we look for the presence of God, we present ourselves before his tribunal with a pure and upright conscience.
He then mentions several kinds of evils, in which he includes the sins in which the Jews implicated themselves. He first names diviners or sorcerers. It is indeed true, that among various kinds of superstitions this was one; but as the word is found here by itself, the Prophet no doubt meant to include all kinds of diviners, soothsayers, false prophets, and all such deceivers: and so there is here again another instance of stating a part for the whole; for he includes all those corruptions which are contrary to the true worship of God. We indeed know that God formerly had by his word put a restraint on the Jews, that they were not to turn aside to incantations and magical arts, or to anything of this kind; but he intimates here, that they were then so given up to gross abominations, that they abandoned themselves to magic arts, and to incantations, and the juggleries of the devil. He mentions, in the second place, adulterers, and under this term he includes all kinds of lewdness; and, in the third place, he names frauds 249249 Jurantes and fallandum — swear to deceive: the original literally is, “who swear to a lie,” or to a falsehood. — Ed. and rapines; and if we rightly consider the subject, we shall find that these three things contain whatever violates the whole law.
The design of the Prophet is by no means ambiguous; for he intended to show how perversely they expostulated with God; for they ought to have been destroyed a hundred times, inasmuch as they were apostates, were given to obscene lusts, were cruel, avaricious, and perfidious.
And this reproof ought to be a warning to us in the present day, that we may not call forth God’s judgement on others, while we flatter ourselves as being innocent. Whenever then we flee to God for help, and ask him to succor us, let us remember that he is a just judge who has no respect of persons. Let then every one, who implores God’s judgement, be his own judge, and anticipate the correction which he has reason to fear. That God therefore may not be armed for our destruction, let us carefully examine our own life, and follow the rule prescribed here by the Prophet; let us begin with the worship of God, then let us come to fornications and adulteries, and whatever is contrary to a chaste conduct, and afterwards let us pass to frauds and plunder; for if we are free from all superstition, if we keep ourselves chaste and pure, and if we also abstain from all plunders and all cruelty, our life is doubtless approved by God. And hence it is that the Prophet adds at the end of the verse, They feared not me; for when lusts, and plunder, and frauds and the corruptions which vitiate God’s worship, prevail, it is evident that there is no fear of God, but that men, having shaken off the yoke, as it were run mad, though they may a thousand times profess the name of God.
By mentioning the orphan, the widow, and the stranger, he amplifies the atrocity of their crimes; for the orphans, widows, and strangers, we know, are under the guardianship and protection of God, inasmuch as they are exposed to the wrongs of men. Hence every one who plunders orphans, or harasses widows, or oppresses
strangers, seems to carry on open war, as it were, with God himself, who has promised that these should be safe under the shadow of his hand. With regard to the expressions, it seems not suitable to say that the hire of the widow and of the orphan is suppressed; there may therefore be an inversion of the words
There is no need of this inversion, if we render the word עשק, defraud, or rob, or deal wrongfully with, which is no doubt its secondary meaning, —
And against the robbers of the hireling’s hire, Of the widow, and of the fatherless, And those who oppress the stranger, And fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts.
The Septuagint give the meaning of the word as above, αποστερουνται — defrauders, robbers, and supply “tyrannizers — καταδυναστεύοντας,” before “widow.” — Ed. — they oppressed the widows, the orphans, strangers. It follows —
Here the Prophet more clearly reproves and checks the impious waywardness of the people; for God, after having said that he would come and send a Redeemer, though not such as would satisfy the Jews, now claims to himself what justly belongs to him, and says that he changes not, because he is God. Under the name Jehovah, God reasons from his own nature; for he sets himself, as we have observed in our last lecture, in opposition to mortals; nor is it a wonder that God here disclaims all inconsistency, since the impostor Balaam was constrained to celebrate God’s immutable constancy —
“For he is not God,” he says, “who changes,” or varies, “like man.” (Numbers 23:19.)
We now then understand the force of the words, I am Jehovah. But he adds as an explanation, I change not, or, I am not changed; for if we do not take the verb actively, the meaning is the same, — that God continues in his purpose, and is not turned here and there like men who repent of a purpose they have formed, because what they had not thought of comes to their mind, or because they wish undone what they have performed, and seek new ways by which they may retrace their steps. God denies that anything of this kind can take place in him, for he is Jehovah, and changes not, or is not changed.
The latter clause is variously explained. The verb כלה, cale, means, in the first conjugation, to be consumed; but in Piel, to complete, or to make an end; and this sense would be very suitable; but a grammatical reason interferes, for it is in the first
conjugation. Did grammar allow, this meaning would be appropriate, “Ye children of Israel have not made an end:” Why? “From the days of your fathers,” etc.: then the verse which follows would be connected with this. But we must be content with the present reading; and a twofold view may be taken of it: the copulative “waw” may be taken as an adversative, “Though ye are not consumed, I yet am not changed:” as though it was said, “Think not that you have escaped, though I have long spared you and
your sins: though then ye are not yet consumed, as I have borne with you in your great wickedness, I yet continue to be Jehovah, nor do I change my nature, and ye shall at length find that I am a just Judge; though I shall not soon execute my vengeance, punishment being held suspended, or as it were buried, yet the end will show that I am not changed.”
The words may be so rendered as to allow the copulative ו its ordinary meaning. The verse contains two announcements bearing on the subject in hand, —
For I am Jehovah, I have not changed; And ye are the house of Jacob, ye have not been consumed.
This, I conceive, is the natural rendering of the original. God was not changed, because he was Jehovah; and they were not consumed, because they were the house of Jacob, a people in covenant with God. — Ed.
But the Prophet seems rather to accuse the Jews of ingratitude in charging God with cruelty or with negligence, because he did not immediately assist them; and at the same time they did not consider within themselves that they remained alive because God had a reason derived from his own nature for sparing them, and for not rendering to them what they had deserved. The meaning then is this, “I am God, and I change not; and ought ye not to have acknowledged that wonderful forbearance through which I have spared you? for how has it been that you have not perished, and that innumerable deaths have not swallowed you up? How is it that you are yet alive? Is it because you have dealt faithfully faith me, so that it behaved me to exercise care over you? Nay, it is indeed a wonder that I had not fulminated against you so as to destroy you long ago.” We hence see that he upbraids them with ingratitude for accusing him, because he did not immediately come forth in their defense: For he answers them and says, that had he been rigid and vehement in his displeasure, they could not have continued, for they had not ceased for many successive ages to seek their own ruin, as we find in what follows, for he says —
The Prophet expands more fully what he had referred to — that it was a wonder that the Jews had not perished, because they had never ceased to provoke God against themselves. He then sets this fact before them more clearly, From the days 252252 The words are singular, “days,” being preceded by two prepositions, ל and מ, למימי, “to — from the days,” etc., which seems to mean, “To this time from the days of your fathers;” or it may mean, “To and from the days of your fathers, your immediate predecessors.” — Ed. of your fathers, he says, ye have turned aside from my statutes. He increases their condemnation by this circumstance — that they had not lately begun to depart from the right way, but had continued their contumacy for many ages, according to what the apostles, as well as the Prophets in various places, have testified:
“Ye uncircumcised in heart, ye have ceased not to resist the Holy Spirit like your fathers.” (Acts 7:51.)
“Harden not your hearts as your fathers did; in the righteousness of your fathers walk not.” (Psalm 95:8.)
But I will not multiply proofs, which very often are to be met with, and must be well known.
We now understand the Prophet’s intention — that the Jews for many ages had been notorious for their impiety and wickedness, and that they had not been dealt with by God as they had deserved, because he had according to his ineffable goodness and forbearance suspended his rigour, so as not to visit them according to their demerits. It hence appears how unreasonable they were, not only in being morose and proud, but especially in being furious against God, when they accused him of tardiness, while yet he had proved himself to be really a God towards them by his continued forbearance.
The words, And ye have not kept them, are added for amplification; for he expresses more fully their contempt of his law, as though he had said, that they were not only transgressors, but had also with gross wilfulness so departed from the law as to regard it as nothing to tread God’s precepts under their feet.
He then exhorts then to repentance, and kindly addresses them, and declares that he would be propitious and reconcilable to them, if they repented. He has hitherto sharply reproved them, because their necks being hard they had need of such correction; for had the Prophet gently and kindly exhorted them, they would either have kicked or have set on him with their horns; be now mitigates his sharpness, not indeed with respect to all, but if there were any healable among the people he meant to try them; and hence he offers them reconciliation with God, as though he had said, “Though God has been in various ways wantonly offended by you, and though you have repudiated his favor, and have become wholly unworthy of being regarded by him, yet return, and he will meet you.”
We have said elsewhere that all exhortations would be in vain without a hope of pardon; for when God commands us to return to the right way, our hearts would never be touched, nay, they would on the contrary turn away, had we no hope that he would be reconciled to us. This course the Prophet now pursues, when in the person of God himself he promises pardon, provided the Jews repented.
God is said to return to us, when he ceases to demand the punishment of our sins, and when he lays aside the character of a judge, and makes himself known to us as a Father. We indeed know that God neither returns nor departs; for he who fills all places never moves here and there; and we also know that we exist and live in him, but he shows by outward evidences that he is alienated from us, and by the same he shows that he is propitious to us; for when he favors us with fruitful seasons, with peace and with other blessings, he is said to be near us; but when he lets loose the reins of his wrath, or exposes us to the assaults of Satan and to the wanton power of men, he is said to be far removed from us. But this is so well known that I need not dwell longer on the point.
The promise which the Prophet states serves to show, that God would manifest tokens of his paternal favor to the Jews, provided only they were submissive; but that it would be their own fault, if they did not find through his blessings that he was their Father. It would be on account of their sins, which, as Isaiah says, hinder the course of that beneficence to which he is of his own self inclined, (Isaiah 59:2.) And he bids them to return. Hence the Papists very foolishly conclude, that repentance is in the power of man’s free-will. But God requires what is above our strength; and yet there is no reason why we should complain that there is a too heavy burden laid on us; for he regards not what we can, or what our ability admits, but what we owe to him and what our duty requires. Though then no one can of his own self turn to God, he is not on this account excusable, because we must consider whence comes the defect; and how much soever, as I have already said, a man may pretend his own impotency, he cannot yet escape from being bound to God, though more is required of him than he of himself can perform. But this subject has often been discussed elsewhere. The import of what is said here is, — that men are not miserable through the unjust rigour of God, but always through their own sins.
It follows, Ye have said, In what shall we return? It is an evidence of perverseness, when men answer that they see not that they have erred, and that hence conversion is to no purpose required of them; for this is the meaning of these words, Whereby shall we return? that is, “What dost thou require from us? for we are not conscious of any defection; we worship God as we ought: now if our duties are repudiated by him, we see not why he should so expressly blame us; let him show in what we have offended; for conversion to him is superfluous, until we be proved guilty of apostasy, or of those sins which God determines to punish in us.” To this the Prophet answers —
Will a man defraud the gods? Some give this version, “Will a man defraud God?” But it is strained and remote from the Prophet’s design; and they pervert the meaning. For I do not see what can be elicited from this rendering, “Will a man defraud God?” But there are other two meanings which may be taken. The first is, “Will a man defraud his gods?” The word אלהים, Aleim, though it be in the plural number, is applied, as it is well known, to the true God; but it is applied also to idols; and in this place the Prophet seems to me to compare the Jews to the Gentiles, that their impiety might be made more evident. The same is the object of Jeremiah, when he says,
“Go, and survey the islands, is there a nation which has changed its gods, while yet they are no gods.” (Jeremiah 2:10.)
Since their blindness and obstinacy held fast the Gentiles in darkness, that they continued to worship the gods to whom they had been accustomed, it was an abominable wickedness in the Jews, that having been taught to worship the true God, they were yet continually influenced by ungodly levity, and sought new modes of worship, as though they wished to devise another god for themselves. So also in this place the Prophet seems to bring forward the Gentiles as an example to the Jews; for they discharged their duty towards their gods; but the Jews despised the supreme and the only true God: “Behold,” he says, “go round the world, and ye shall not find among the nations so unbridled a liberty as prevails among you; for they render obedience to their gods, and sacrilege is abominable to them; but ye defraud me. Am I inferior to idols? or is my state worse than theirs?”
Some take the word אלהים, Aleim, for judges, as judges are sometimes so named; but this meaning seems not suitable on account of the word, Adam. As then this word generally means man, the Prophet, I have no doubt, intimates what I have stated, — that unbelievers, though sunk in darkness, are yet restrained by reverence and fear from changing their deity, and that they dare not to show levity when the name only of their god is pronounced. Since then such humility prevailed among unbelievers, could the impiety of that people, who had been trained up in the law, be excusable? a people too, upon whom God had ever made the doctrine of the law to shine. 253253 Most differ from Calvin as to the word אלהים in this passage. The Septuagint render it “God — Θεον,” the Targum, “judges,” but commentators generally “God,” i.e., the true God, supposing the audacity of the people to be here reprobated. The word for “defraud or rob,” is only found here and in Proverbs 22:23, and rendered “supplant” by the Septuagint, but “rob — αποστερησει,” by Aq. and Sym., the only meaning consistent with the context. — Ed.
He afterwards adds, Because ye have defrauded me; and ye have said, Thereby have we defrauded thee? In tenths and in oblations 254254 Literally it is, “in the tenth (or, tithe) and the heave-offering.” The last word comes from רם, to raise or lift up, because this offering was raised or heaved, and thus presented as it were to the Lord. See Exodus 29:27,28. It is rendered “first-fruits” by the Septuagint Here the Prophet again proves the people guilty of perverseness: it was indeed hypocrisy, and though gross, it was yet surpassed by impudence; for they asked, whereby they had defrauded God? and yet this was evident even to children: for we know, and we have seen elsewhere, that avarice so ruled among them, that every one, bent on their own profit, neglected the temple and the priests. Since then they were openly sacrilegious, how shameless they must have been to ask whereby they had defrauded God! The thing itself was indeed manifest and commonly known, so that children could see it. God however deemed it enough to convict them by one sentence, — that they defrauded him in the tenths and in the first-fruits; not that any advantage accrued to him from oblations, as he had no need of any such things; but he rightly calls and counts that his own which he had appointed for his own service. Since then he had instituted that order among the Jews, that they might by the tenths support the priests, and a part also was required for the poor, since God designed the firstfruits and other things to be offered to him, that men might thereby be continually reminded, that all things were his, and that whatever they received from his hand was sacred to him, he had previously called the bread laid on the table his own, and had called the sacrifices his own food, as though he did eat and drink. But as I have already said, we ought to regard the object in view, because his will was to be thus worshipped, and at the same time to keep as his own whatever belonged to his service. This then is the reason why he now complains of being defrauded of the tenths.
But we know that other sacrifices are now prescribed to us; and after prayer and praises, he bids us to relieve the poor and needy. God then, no doubt, is deprived by us of his right, when we are unkind to the poor, and refuse them aid in their necessity. We indeed thereby wrong men, and are cruel; but our crime is still more heinous, inasmuch as we are unfaithful stewards; for God deals more liberally with us than with others, for this end — that some portion of our abundance may come to the poor; and as he consecrates to their use what we abound in, we become guilty of sacrilege whenever we give not to our brethren what God commands us; for we know that he engages to repay, according to what is said in Proverbs 19:17, “He who gives to the poor lends to God.”
Malachi pursues the same subject; for he answers the Jews in the name of God — that they unjustly complained of his rigour as being immoderate, since they themselves were the cause of all their evils. He says that they were cursed, but he adds that this happened to them deservedly, as though he had said — “Be that granted what you say, (for lamentations were continually made,) why is it that God afflicts us without end or limits?” God seems to grant what they were wont reproachfully to declare; but he says in answer to this — “But ye have defrauded Me; what wonder then that my curse consumes you? As then I have been robbed by you, as far as ye could, I will render to you your just recompense; for it is not right that I should be bountiful and kind to you, while ye thus defraud me, and take from me what is my own.”
The meaning then is this — that it was indeed true that the Jews lamented that they were under a curse, but that the cause ought to have been searched out. They indeed wished their rapines and sacrileges to be forgiven, by which they defrauded God; but God declares that he punished them justly in consuming them with poverty and want, since they so sparingly rendered to him what they owed.
He mentions the whole nation,
The words are expressive, for literally they are —
And me have ye robbed, the nation, the whole of it.
— Ed. and thus aggravates the wickedness of the Jews; for not a few were guilty of the sacrilege mentioned, but all, from the least to the greatest, they all plundered the tenths and the oblations. It hence follows that God’s vengeance did not exceed due limits, since there was as it were a common conspiracy; there were not ten or a hundred implicated in this sin, but, as he says, the whole people. It follows —
He at length declares that they profited nothing by contending with God, but that a better way was open to them, that is, to return into favor with him. After having then repelled their unjust accusations, he again points out the remedy which he had already referred to — that if they dealt faithfully with God, he would be bountiful to them, and that his blessing would be promptly extended to them. This is the sum of the passage. They had been sufficiently proved guilty of rapacity in withholding the tenths and the oblations; as then the sacrilege was well known, the Prophet now passes judgement, as they say, according to what is usually done when the criminal is condemned, and the cause is decided, so that he who has been defrauded recovers his right.
So also now God deals with the Jews. Bring, he says, to the repository
The literal rendering is —
Bring ye the whole of the tenth Into the house, the treasury, And let the prey be in my house.
That is — “Let what you rob me of, the prey, or plunder, be in my house.” The word is טרף, properly prey, or plunder, and so rendered by the Septuagint, “διαρπαγὴ—plunder.” It was the Targum that gave a wrong meaning to the word, which most have followed. — Ed. (for this is the same as the house of the treasury, or of provisions) all the tenths, or the whole tenths. We hence learn that they had not withholden the whole of the tenths from the priests, but that they fraudulently brought the half, or retained as much as they could; for it was not without reason that he said, Bring all, or the whole. They then so paid the tenths as to supply the priests with a part only, and thus they trifled with God, according to what hypocrites do, who ever claim to themselves high honor, and try to perform their duty in such a way as not to discover their own perfidy, and yet they are not ashamed of the liberty they take to illude God; and of this we have here a remarkable example. We then see that it is no new or unusual thing for men to pretend to do the duties they owe to God, and at the same time to take away from him what is his own, and to transfer it to themselves, and that manifestly, so that their impiety is evident, though it be covered by the veil of dissimulation.
He then adds, Let there be meat in my house. We have elsewhere explained this form of speaking, and in the last lecture the Prophet spoke also of the meat of God, not that God needs meat and drink, but that whatever he has given us ought to be deemed his. We have already stated, that it has been recorded for our sake, that the Jews offered bread, and victims, and things of this kind, and that they feasted at Jerusalem in the presence of God: for what is more desirable than that God should dwell in the midst of us? and this is often repeated in the law. But this could not have been set forth to us in a way so familiar, as when God is represented as in a manner sitting at table with us, as though he were our guest, eating of the same bread and of the other provisions: and hence it is said in the law, “Thou shalt feast and rejoice before thy God.” (Deuteronomy 2:18.) Now as God needs not meat and drink, as it has been said, and as men in their grossness are ever prone to superstitions, he substituted the priests and the poor in his own place, to prevent the Jews from entertaining earthly notions respecting him. And this kind of modification or correction deserves to be noticed: for the Lord on the one hand intended to draw men in a kind manner to himself; but, on the other hand, he proposed to raise their minds upward to heaven, lest they should ascribe to him anything unworthy of himself, as is wont to be done, and is very common.
But, at the same time, he again accuses them of sacrilege, for he complains that he was deprived of meat; Let there then be meat in my house; and prove me by this, saith Jehovah, if I wily not open, etc. He confirms what he said before, and yet proceeds with his promise, for by subjecting himself to a proof, he boldly repels their calumny in saying that they were without cause consumed with want, and that God had changed his nature, because he had not given a large supply of provisions. God then briefly shows, that wrong had been done to him, for he admits of a proof or a trial, as though he had said, “If you choose to contest the point, I will soon settle it, for if you bring to me the tenths and them entire, there will immediately come to you a great abundance of all provisions: it will hence be evident, that I am not the cause of barrenness, but that it is your wickedness, because ye have sacrilegiously defrauded me.”
Then he adds, If I will not open to you the windows of heaven. It is the first thing as to fertility that the heavens should water the earth, according to what Scripture declares: and hence God threatens in the law that the heaven would be iron and the earth brass, (Deuteronomy 28:23,) for there is a mutual connection between the heaven and the earth, and he says elsewhere by a Prophet,
“The heaven will hear the earth, and the earth will hear the corn and wine, and the corn and wine will hear men.”
For when famine urges us, we cry for bread and wine, as our life seems in a manner to be dependent on these supplies. When there is no wine nor corn, we meet with a denial; but the wine and the corn cry to the earth, and why? because according to the order fixed by God, they seek as it were to break forth; for when the bowels of the earth are closed, neither the corn nor the vine can come forth, and then they in vain call on the earth. The sense is the case with the earth; for when it is dry and as it were famished, it calls on the heavens, but if rain be denied, the heavens seem to reject its prayer. Then God in this place shows that the earth could not produce a single ear of corn, except the heavens supplied moisture or rain. God indeed could from the beginning have watered the earth without rain, as Moses relates he did at first, for a vapor then supplied the want of rain. Though then rain descends naturally, we are yet reminded here that God sends it. This is the first thing.
But as rain itself would not suffice, he adds, I will unsheath, etc.; for רק, rek, means properly to unsheath; but as this metaphor seems unnatural, some have more correctly rendered it, “I will draw out” Unnatural also is this version, “I will empty out a blessing,” and it perverts the meaning. Let us then follow what I have stated as the first — that a blessing is drawn out from God when the earth discharges its office, and becomes fertile or fruitful. 257257 The verb in Hiphil, as it is here, is applied to the drawing forth of a sword or lance, Exodus 15:9, and to the drawing out of an army for battle, Genesis 14:14. It is rendered, “εκχεῶ—I will pour out, or forth,” by the Septuagint. — Ed. We hence see that God is not only in one way bountiful to us, but he also intends by various processes to render us sensible of his kindness: he rains from heaven to soften the earth, that it may in its bosom nourish the corn, and then send it forth from its bowels, as though it extended its breast to us; and further, God adds his blessing, so as to render the rain useful.
He subjoins the words עד-בלי-די, od-beli-di, which some render, “that there may not be a sufficiency,” that is, that granaries and cellars might not be capable of containing such abundance. They then elicit this meaning — that so great would be the fruitfulness of the earth, and so large would be its produce, that their repositories would not be sufficiently capacious. But others give this version, “Beyond the measure of sufficiency.” The word די, di, means properly sufficiency, or what is needful, as by inverting the letters it יד, id 258258 די not only means sufficiency, but also what is necessary to suffice, demand, requirement, as in Leviticus 25:26, כדי גאלתו, according to the demand of his redemption, or what was necessary or sufficient for his redemption. See Deuteronomy 25:2, where it means “according to what his sin may require,” or literally, “according to the requirement of his sin.” See also Nahum 2:13, בדי גרותיו, “for the demand of his whelps,” or, for what was necessary to suffice his whelps. There is a similar phrase to what we find here in Psalm 72:7, עד בלי ירח, “until no moon,” that is, until there be no moon. The literal rendering then of the phrase here would be, “until no demand,” that is, until nothing be required fully to suffice. Corresponding with this is the version of the Septuagint “εως το ἱκανωθηναι —until there should be enough.” — Ed. With regard to the general meaning there is but little difference. Suitable also is this version, “Beyond sufficiency;” that is, I will not regard what is needful for you, as though it were measured, but the abundance shall be overflowing. It follows —
God now again confirms the truth, that he would not in one way only be bountiful to them. He might indeed distribute to us daily our food, as we know that he thus fed his people in the wilderness; but his will is that the seed should rot in the earth, that it should then germinate, and in course of time grow, until it shoots into ears of corn; but it is still in no small danger, nay the corn is subject to many evils before it be gathered into the garner; for the locusts, the worms, the mildew, and other things may destroy it. God therefore, in order to set forth his kindness to men, enumerates here the ways and the means by which food is preserved; for it would not be enough that the seed should germinate, and that there should appear evidences of a great produce, the ears being fine and abundant, but it is necessary that the ears of corn themselves, before they become ripe, should be preserved from above; for on the one hand the chafers, the locusts, the worms, and other grubs, may suddenly creep in and devour the corn while in the field, and on the other hand, storms, and hail, and mildew, and oilier pestilential things, as I have said, may prove ruinous to the corn.
Hence God shows here, that he takes constant care of us, and every day and every night performs the office of a good and careful head of a family, who always watches for its benefit.
In the word devourer, I include all the evils to which we see that corn is subject; he therefore says, he shall not destroy the fruit of the earth; nor bereaved shall be the vine for you in the fields. The verb שכל,
shecal, properly means to bereave or to deprive; but as this version, “bereaved shall not be vine,” would be harsh, some have rendered the words thus, “Miscarry shall not vine,” which I do not disapprove: Miscarry then shall not the vine for you in the fields, saith Jehovah of hosts
There is no necessity for giving to שכל here any other than its ordinary meaning of bereaving or depriving. The reference is to depredators who bereaved or stripped the vine of its fruit—an evil common in a confused and disordered state of things.
The word לכם, “on your account,” is repeated in this verse three times; and it has no doubt an emphatic meaning. What is intimate evidently is, that the evils promised here to be removed were on their account, i.e., for their sins. I render the verse thus, —
And I will restrain on your account the devourer, And he shall not destroy on your account the fruit of the ground, And bereaved on your account shall not be the vine in the field, Saith the Lord of hosts
— Ed. It follows —
This verse is taken from the law, in which among other things God promises so happy a state to his chosen people, that the nations themselves would acknowledge in them the blessing of God. There is yet a contrast to be understood, — that having fallen into such misery, they were become as it were detestable to all nations, according to what the law also declares concerning them,
“If thou shalt keep my precepts, all nations shall call thee blessed; but if thou wilt despise me, thou shalt be a sport to all nations, all shall shake the head and move the lips; yea, they shall be astonished at the sight of thy misery, and whosoever shall hear his ears will tingle.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 15.)
As then the Jews were consumed as it were in their miseries, the Prophet says, “If you turn to God, that happiness which he has promised you shall not be withheld; he has it as it were ready in his hand, like a treasure that is hidden, according to what is said in Psalm 31:19, ‘How great is the abundance of thy goodness! but it is laid up for them who fear thee.’” God then means, that he will not prostitute his blessing to dogs and swine, but that it is always in reserve for his children, who are teachable and obedient. The nations then shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a land of desire
This promise also is taken from the law, in which God says, that he had not in vain separated that land from the rest, because it was to be an example or a representation of his kindness through the whole world. We indeed know that God has ever been bountiful even to all nations, so as to satisfy them abundantly with provisions; but the land of Israel is called the land of desire, or a desirable land, because it was the special scene of God’s bounty, not only as to meat and drink, but also as to other more excellent blessings. He now adds —
Here again God expostulates with the Jews on account of their impious and wicked blasphemy in saying, that he disappointed his servants, and that he made no difference between good and evil, because he was kind to the unfaithful and the faithful indiscriminately, and also that he overlooked the obedience rendered to him.
He says now that their words grew strong; by which he denotes their insolence, as though he had said, Vous avez gagné le plus haut; for חזק, chezak, is to be
strong. He means that such was the waywardness of the Jews that it could not by any means be checked; they were like men whom we see, who when once seized by rage and madness, become so vociferous that they will not listen to any admonitions or sane counsels. At first they murmur and are only heard to whisper; but when they have attained full liberty, they then send forth, as I have said, their furious clamours against heaven. This is the sin which the Prophet now condemns by saying, that the
Jews grew strong in crying against God.
Your words have waxen bold against me. — Newcome
Your words against me have been hard. — Henderson.
Ye have made heavy (or, overcharged — ἐβαρύνατε) against me your words. — Septuagint
To “grow strong” is the idea expressed by Jerome and Marckius; and it is the common meaning of the verb. “Strong of forehead” in Ezekiel 3:7, is rendered “impudent” in our version, and very justly. Impudence or insolence is what is here evidently meant, —
Insolent against me have been your words.
— Ed. They again answer and say, In what have we spoken against thee? 261261 Rather, “What have we been talking together against thee? The verb is in Niphal, and only found so here, in the sixteenth verse, Psalm 119:23, and Ezekiel 33:30. It denotes a mutual converse, a talking together, or a frequent converse. — Ed. It appears from these so many repetitions that the hypocrisy, which was united with great effrontery, could not be easily corrected in a people so refractory: it ought indeed to have come to their minds that they had wickedly accused God. But they acknowledge here no fault, “What meanest thou?” as though they wished to arraign the Prophet for having falsely charged them, inasmuch as they were conscious of no wrong.
He then gives the reason why he said, that their words grew strong against God, that is, that they daringly and furiously spoke evil of God; and the reason was, because they said, that God was worshipped in vain. They thought that they worshipped God perfectly; and this was their false principle; for hypocrites ever lay claim to complete holiness, and cannot bear to confess their own evils; even when their conscience goads them, they deceive themselves with vain flatteries, and always endeavor to draw over them some veil that their disgrace may not appear before men. Hence hypocrites seek to deceive themselves, God, angels, and men; and when they are inflated with the confidence that they worship God purely, rightly, and without any defect, and that they are without any blame, they will betray the virulence which lies within, whenever God does not help them as they wish, whenever he submits not to their will: for when they are prosperous, God is hauntingly blessed by them; but as soon as he withdraws his hand and begins to prove their patience, they will then show, as I have said, what sort of worshippers of God they are. But in the service of God the chief thing is this — that men deny themselves and give themselves up to be ruled by God, and never raise a clamor when he humbles them.
We hence see how it was that the Jews found fault with God; for they were persuaded that they fully performed their duty, which was yet most false; and then, they were not willing to submit to God, and to undertake his yoke, because they did not consider in how many ways they had provoked God’s wrath, and what just and multiplied reasons he has for chastising his people, even when they do nothing wrong. As then they did not seriously consider any of these things, they thought that he was unjust to them, In vain then do we serve God. These thoughts, as we have said, sometimes come across the minds of the faithful; but they, as it becomes them, resist such thoughts: the Jews, on the contrary, as though they were victorious, vomited forth these blasphemies against God.
In vain we serve God; what benefit? they said: for we have kept has charge, we have walked obscurely, or humbly, before Jehovah of hosts;
The verse is differently arranged in our version, and by most interpreters. The first sentence is a general announcement, and what follows is an expansion and an illustration of that announcement —
14. Ye have said, “It is vain to serve God; For what profit is it that we have kept his charge, And that we have walked mournfully before Jehovah of hosts?
15. We therefore now felicitate the proud; Even built up have been the workers of wickedness, They have even tempted God, and escaped.”
The word for “tempted” is בחן, which commonly means to try, to prove, to test a thing; but used here evidently in a bad sense: they presumptuously tried, as it were, the patience of God, and “escaped,” i.e., from the punishment which they deserved. — Ed. and yet we are constrained to call the proud, or the impious, happy. Here they bring a twofold accusation against God, that they received no reward for their piety when they faithfully discharged their duty towards God, — and also that it was better with the ungodly and the despisers of God than with them. We hence see how reproachfully they exaggerated what they deemed the injustice of God, at least how they themselves imagined that he disappointed the just of their deserved reward, and that he favored the ungodly and the wicked as though he was pleased with them, as though he intended the more to exasperate the sorrow of his own servants, who, though they faithfully worshipped, yet saw that they did so in vain, as God concealed himself and did not regard their services.
That the good also are tempted, as we have said, by thoughts of this kind, is no wonder, when the state of things in the world is in greater confusion. Even Solomon says,
“All things happen alike to the just and to the unjust, to him who offers sacrifices, and to him who does not sacrifice,”
hence the earth is full of impiety and contempt. There is then an occasion for indignation and envy offered to us; but as God designedly tries our faith by such confusions, we must remember that we must exercise patience. It is not at the same time enough for us to submit to God’s judgement, except we also consider that we are justly distressed; and that though we may be attentive to what is just and upright, many vices still cleave to us, and that we are sprinkled with many spots, which provoke God’s wrath against us. Let us then learn to form a right judgement as to what our life is, and then let us bear in mind how many are the reasons why God should sometimes deal roughly with us. Thus all our envying will cease, and our minds will be prepared calmly to obey. In short, these considerations will check whatever perverseness there may be in us, so that neither our wicked thoughts nor our words will be so strong as to rise in rebellion against God.
This verse is connected with the last, for the force of these words, “We have walked sorrowfully before God and have carefully kept his precepts,” does not fully appear, except this clause be added — that they saw in the meantime that the proud flourished and had their delights, as though they said, “We strive to deserve well of God by our services; he overlooks all our religious acts, and pours as it were all his bounty on our enemies, who are yet ungodly and profane.” We now see how these verses are connected together, for God disappointed the Jews of the reward they thought due to them, and in the meantime bestowed on the impious and undeserving his kindness.
To call any one blessed, as we have before seen, is to acknowledge that God’s blessing is upon him, according to what God had promised, “Behold, all nations shall call thee blessed.” So a changed state of things is here set forth, for the Jews, when they were miserable, called others blessed; not that they willingly declared this, but envy forced them to complain of the cheerful and hamper state of the Gentiles, who were yet ungodly. And by the proud they meant all the despisers of God, a part being mentioned for the whole; and they were so called, because faith alone humbles us. Many unbelievers are indeed lauded for their humility, but no one becomes really humble without being first emptied of every conceit as to his own virtues. Some rise up against God, and rob him of what is his own, and then it is no wonder that they act insolently towards their neighbors, since they dare even to raise up their horns against God himself. And in many parts of Scripture the unbelieving are called proud, in order that we may know that we cannot be formed and habituated to humility until we submit to the yoke of God, so that he may turn us wherever he wishes, and until we cast aside every confidence in ourselves. 264264 Leigh says, that the verb, from which the word rendered here “proud” is derived, meand to deal arrogantly, insolently, to be lifted up with swelling pride. It is applied in Psalm 124:5, to the swelling waves of the sea. To be insolent or presumptuous against God seems to be intended here. — Ed.
As well as, they said; for גם, gam, is here repeated, and must be rendered “as well as,” that is, “All who do iniquity as well as all who tempt God, are built up and are delivered. In the first place what is general is stated, and then what is particular, and yet the Prophet speaks of the same persons, for he first calls God’s despisers iniquitous, and he afterwards says, that the same tempted God, which is more special. The sum of the whole is, — that God’s favor was conspicuous towards the despisers of the law, for they lived prosperously, and were also delivered, and found God their helper in adversity.
The verb, to build, is taken in Hebrew in the sense of prospering, and is applied to many things. When therefore any one grows and increases in honors or in riches, when he accumulates wealth, or when he is raised as it were by degrees to a higher condition, he is said to be built up. It is also added that they were delivered, for it would not be enough to acquire much wealth, except aid from God comes in adversity, for no one, even the most fortunate, is exempt from every evil. Hence to building up the Prophet adds this second clause, — that God delivered the wicked from all evils, as though he covered them under his shadow, and as though they were his clients. With regard to the second verb, when he says that the ungodly tempted God, it is, we know, the work of unbelief to contend with God. The Prophet used the same word shortly before, when he said, “Prove me in this:” but God then, after the manner of men, submitted to a trial; here, on the contrary, the Prophet condemns that insolence which very commonly prevails in the world, when men seek to confine God, and to impose on him a law, and to inquire into his judgements: it is in short as though they had a right to prescribe to him according to their own caprice, so that he should not do this or that, and which if he did, to call on him to plead his own cause. We now then perceive what it is to prove or tempt God. It follows —
In this verse the Prophet tells us that his doctrine had not been without fruit, for the faithful had been stimulated, so that they animated one another, and thus restored each other to a right course. They who explain the words — that the faithful spoke, indefinitely, pervert the meaning of the Prophet, and they also suppress the particle אז, az, then. The very subject proves that a certain time is denoted, as though the Prophet had said, that before he addressed the people and vehemently reproved their vices, there was much indifference among them, but that at length the faithful were awakened.
We are hence taught that we are by nature slothful and tardy, until God as it were plucks our ears; there is therefore need of warnings and stimulants. But let us also learn to attend to what is taught, lest it should become frigid to us. We ought at the same time to observe, that all were not moved by the Prophet’s exhortations to repent, but those who feared God: the greater part no doubt securely went on in their vices, and even openly derided the Prophet’s teaching. As then the truth profited only those who feared God, let us not wonder that it is despised at this day by the people in general; for it is given but to a few to obey God’s word; and the conversion of the heart is the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit. There is therefore no reason for pious teachers to despond, when they do not see their doctrine received everywhere and by all, of when they see that but a few make any progress in it; but let them be content, when the Lord blesses their labor and renders it profitable and fruitful to some, however small their number may be.
But the Prophet not only says that individuals were Touched with repentance, but also that they spoke among themselves;
Or, “talked together:” the verb is in Niphal, as we find it in verse 13. The good as well as the wicked talked together, mutually conversed, or talked often. The Targum renders it, “They multiplied speech;” our version introduces “often.” Newcome give the simple word, “spake;” and Henderson has “conversed.” If the verb in Niphal has a frequentative meaning, and not a reciprocal, our version is right, “spake often.” Then it
should be so rendered in verse 13. It is to be observed that what the ungodly often spoke or said, is mentioned, but not the frequent or the mutual converse of the godly. Jerome imagines it to have been a defense of God’s dealings with them.
The words which follow, “Every one to his neighbor,” seem to favor the opinion that speaking “often” is the real meaning of the verb here used; for the fact of speaking “together” is conveyed in these words: and yet speaking “together” is more suitable in the thirteenth verse. — Ed. by which he intimates, that our efforts ought to be extended to our brethren: and it is an evidence of true repentance, when each one endeavors as much as he can to unite to himself as many friends as possible, so that they may with one consent return to the way from which they had departed, yea, that they may return to God whom they had forsaken. This then is what we are to understand by the words spoken mutually by God’s servants, which the Prophet does not express.
He says that Jehovah attended and heard, and that a book of remembrance was written before him. He proves here that the faithful had not in vain repented, for God became a witness and a spectator: and this part is especially worthy of being noticed; for we lose not our labor when we turn to God, because he will receive us as it were with open arms.
Our Prophet wished especially to show, that God attended; and hence he uses three forms of speaking. One word would have been enough, but he adds two more; and this is particularly emphatical, that there was a book of remembrance written. His purpose then was by this multiplicity of words to give greater encouragement to the faithful, that they might be convinced that their reward would be certain as soon as they devoted themselves to God, for God would not be blind to their piety.
The Prophet at the same time seems to point it out as something miraculous, that there were found then among the people any who were yet capable of being healed, since so much wickedness had prevailed among the people, nay, had become hardened, as we have seen, to an extreme obstinacy; for there was nothing sound or upright either among the priests or the common people. As then they had long indulged with loose reins in all kinds of wickedness, it was incredible, that any could be converted, or that any piety and fear of God could be found remaining among them. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, that God attended and heard, and that a book was written; he speaks as though of a thing unusual, which could not but appear as a miracle in a state of things so confused and almost past hope. The design of the whole is to show, that the faithful ought not to doubt, but that their repentance is ever regarded by God, and especially when the utmost despair lays hold on their minds; for it often distresses the godly, when they see no remedy to be hoped for; then they think that their repentance will be useless: hence it is that the Prophet dwells so much on this point, in order that they might feel assured, that though no hope appeared, yet repentance availed for their salvation before God; and for this reason he adds, that this book was written for those who feared God 266266 In the “book of remembrance” we have an allusion to the records kept by kings. See Ezra 6:2,3; Esther 6:1,2. — Ed.
With regard to the participle חשבים, cheshebim, the verb חשב, chesheb, means to reckon or to count, and
also to think; and so some render it here, “Who think of his name.” And doubtless this is a rare virtue; for we see that forgetfulness easily creeps over us, which extinguishes the fear of God, so that we take such a liberty, as though they who forget God can sin with impunity: and hence it is said often in the Psalms, that the fear of God is before the eyes of the godly. This seems frigid at the first view; but he who remembers God has made much progress in his religious course; and we also
find by experience that the mere remembrance of God, when real, is a bridle to us sufficiently strong to restrain all our depraved lusts. But as the price of a thing is attained by reckoning, the other version is appropriate, — that the faithful value or esteem the name of God.
This latter meaning is the true one. The word never means what is understood by “thinking on” a thing; but to count, to reckon, and hence to contrive, to plan, to devise, and hence also to make an account of, to value, to regard. To make an account of and thus to regard and reverence, is its meaning here. The whole verse may be thus rendered, —
16. Then spake they often who feared Jehovah, Every one to his neighbor; And hearken did Jehovah and hear; And there was written a book of remembrance before him, For those who feared Jehovah, Yea, for those who regarded his name.
The last two lines describe the same persons,—they feared God and valued and regarded his name or his authority. — Ed. It follows —
He shows by the issue itself why a book of remembrance was written — that God in due time would again undertake to defend and cherish his Church. Though then for a time many troubles were to be sustained by the godly, yet the Prophet shows that they did not in vain serve God; for facts would at length prove that their obedience has not been overlooked. But the two things which he mentions ought to be noticed; for a book of remembrance is first written before God, and then God executes what is written in the book. When therefore we seem to serve God in vain, let us know that the obedience we render to him will come to an account, and that he is a just Judge, though he may not immediately stretch forth his hand to us.
In the first place then the Prophet testifies that God knows what is done by every one; and in the second place he adds that he will in his own time perform what he has decreed. So also in judgements, he preserves the same order in knowing and in executing. For when he said to Abraham that the cry of Sodom came up to heaven, (Genesis 18:20,) how great and how supine was the security of the city. How wantonly and how savagely they despised every authority to the very last moment! But God had long before ascended his tribunal, and had taken an account of their wickedness. So also in the case of the godly, though he seems to overlook their obedience, yet he has not his eyes closed, or his ears closed, for there is a book of memorial written before him.
Hence he says, They shall be in the day I make. The verb is put by itself, but we may easily learn from the context that it refers to the restoration of the Church. In the day then in which I shall make, that is, complete what I have already said; for he had before promised
to restore the Church. As then he speaks of a known thing, he says shortly, In the day I shall make, or complete my work, they shall be to me a peculiar treasure
Such is the arrangement of the sentence as given in the Septuagint, the Targum, and by Jerome, and most interpreters. “The peculiar treasure” is connected with “they shall be to me,” and not with the verb “make,” as in our version, which is that of Jun. and Trem. The intervening clause, “In the day,” etc., may be rendered in a way different. The verb “to make” means something to appoint, to ordain, to
constitute. The following version of Newcome is no doubt the correct one —
They shall be unto me, saith Jehovah of hosts,
In the day which I shall appoint, a peculiar treasure.
The “day” is again mentioned in the next chapter, verse 3, and the same words come after it, which ought to be rendered in the same way. Henderson’s version is materially the same.
The word rendered “jewels” in our version, is everywhere also rendered a peculiar treasure, or a special property. See Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6. The common rendering of the Septuagint is either περιποιησιν — a purchased acquisition, as here, or περιουσιον — peculiar, special, as in Exodus 19:5. The latter is the word used here by Symmachus. — Ed. This phrase confirms what I have already stated — that God has his season and opportunity, in order that there may be no presumption in us to prescribe to him the time when he is to do this or that. In the day then when he shall gather his Church, it will then appear that we are his peculiar treasure.
Thus the Prophet in these words exhorts us to patience, lest it should be grievous to us to groan under our burden, and not to find God’s help according to our wishes, and lest also it should be grievous to us to bear troubles in common with the whole Church. Were one or two of us subject to the cross, and doomed to sorrow and grief in this world, our condition might seem hard; but since the godly, from the first to the last, are made to be our associates in bearing the cross of Christ, and to be conformed to his example, there is no reason for any one of us to shun his lot; for we are not better than the holy patriarchs, apostles, and so many of the faithful whom God has exercised with the cross. Since then the common restoration of the Church is here set before us, let us know that a reason is here given for constancy and fortitude; for it would be disgraceful for us to faint, when we have so many leaders in this warfare, who by their examples stretch forth as it were their hands to us; for as Abraham, David, and other Patriarchs and Prophets, as well as Apostles, have suffered so many and so grievous troubles, ought not this fact to raise up our spirits? and if at any time our feet and our legs tremble, ought it not to be sufficient to strengthen us, that so many excellent chiefs and leaders invite us to persevere by their example? We then see that this has not been laid down for nothing, when I shall make, or complete my work.
By the words peculiar treasure, God intimates that the lot of the godly will be different from that of the world; as though he had said, “Ye are now so mixed together, that they who serve me seem not to be peculiar any more than strangers; but they shall then be my peculiar treasure.” This is to be taken, as I have already mentioned, for the outward appearance; for we know that we have been chosen by God, before the foundation of the world, for this end — that we might be to him a peculiar treasure. But when we are afflicted in common with the wicked, or when we seem to be even rejected, and the ungodly, on the other hand, seem to have God propitious to them, then nothing seems less true than this promise. I therefore said that this ought to be referred to the outward appearance — that the faithful are God’s peculiar treasure, that they are valued by him, and that he shows to them peculiar love, as to his own inheritance.
And this mode of speaking occurs in many parts of scripture; for God is often said to repudiate his people; the word separation, or divorce, is often mentioned; he is said to have destroyed his inheritance. Grievous is the trial, when God cherishes as it were in his bosom the ungodly, and we at the same time are exposed to every kind of miser; but we see what happened to the ancient Church: let us then arm ourselves for this contest, and be satisfied with the inward testimony of the Spirit, though outward things do not prosper.
He adds, And I will spare them as a man spares, etc. He states here a promise which ought especially to be observed: it contains two clauses; the first is, that the Jews who remained alive would render obedience to God, by which they would prove themselves to be children indeed, and not in name only: and the second is, that God would forgive them, that is, that he would exercise pardon in receiving their services, which could not otherwise please him. And there is no doubt but that the Spirit of regeneration is included in the words, the son who serves him; not that the faithful addressed here were wholly destitute of the fear of God; but God promises an increase of grace, as though he had said, “I will gather to myself the people who faithfully and sincerely worship me.” Though then he speaks not here of the beginning of a religious and holy life, it is yet the same as though he had said, that the faithful would be under his government, that they might denote themselves to his service.
The second promise refers to another grace, — that God in his mercy would approve of the obedience of the godly, though in itself unworthy to come to his presence. How necessary this indulgence is to us, they who are really and truly acquainted with the fear of God, fully know. The sophists daringly prattle about merits, and fill themselves and others with empty pride; but they who understand that no man can stand before God’s tribunal, do not dream of any merits, nor do they believe that they can bring anything before God, by which they can conciliate his favor. Hence their only refuge is what the Prophet here teaches us, that God spares them.
And it must be observed, that the Prophet does not speak simply of the remission of sins: our salvation, we know, consists of two things — that God rules us by his Spirit, and forms us anew in his own image through the whole course of our life, — and also that he buries our sins. But the Prophet refers here to the remission of sins, of which we have need as to our good works; for it is certain, that even when we devote ourselves with all possible effort and zeal to God’s service there is yet something always wanting. Hence it is that no work, however right and perfect before men, deserves this distinction and honor before God. It is therefore necessary, even when we strive our utmost to serve God, to confess that without his forgiveness whatever we bring deserves rejection rather than his favor. Hence the Prophet says, that when God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will yet be acceptable to him, and though we labor under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us: for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be. 269269 There is something more in the verb here used than the idea of “sparing.” When followed as here by על. it is commonly rendered by “having pity or compassion.” See Exodus 2:6; 1 Samuel 15:3; 2 Chronicles 36:17. It means a tender compassion or sympathy for another, such as felt towards a weak, helpless, or miserable object. — Ed.
We hence see the design and meaning of the Prophet, — that he promises pardon from God to the faithful, after having been reconciled to him, because they serve God as children willingly, — and that God also, though their works are unworthy of his favor, will yet count them as acceptable, even through pardon, and not on the ground of merit or worthiness.
This verse at the first view seems to be addressed to the faithful; for there never has been a turning as to the reprobate: but as the word has a wide meaning, the passage may be suitably applied to the whole people, according to what we find in Zechariah, “They shall see him whom they have pierced;” for we have said that this might be understood both of the good and of the bad. So also the whole people might be viewed as addressed in these words. But when we more minutely examine all circumstances, it seems that Malachi more particularly addressed the ungodly, and checked again their furious blasphemies; for we find almost the same sentiment expressed here, as when he said, “The Lord whom ye expect shall come to his temple, and the angel of the covenant whom ye seek;” and at the same time he showed that the coming of Christ, which they said was advancing too slowly, would not be such as they desired or looked for. “Let not this delay,” he says, “be grievous to you; for everything terrible which his majesty possesses will be turned on your heads; for he will come as an angry judge and an avenger: ye therefore in vain hope for any comfort or alleviation from his presence.”
So also he says in this place, Ye shall see this difference between the just and the unjust; that is, “Ye shall find that God does not sleep in heaven, when the ungodly grow wanton on the earth and abandon themselves to every kind of wickedness: experience then will at length teach you, that men shall not thus with impunity become insolent against God, but that all your wickedness must come to a reckoning.” When therefore he says, that they would find the difference between the godly and the ungodly, he means that they would find by the punishments which God would inflict, that men are not permitted to indulge their own depraved desires, as though God slept in heaven, forgetful of his office. Their blasphemy was, “In vain is God worshipped; what is the benefit? for we have kept his charge, and yet the proud are more happy than we are.” As then they accused God of such a connivance, as though he disregarded and cast away his own servants, and showed favor to the wicked, Malachi returns them an answer and says, “Ye shall see how much the good differ from the evil; God indeed spares the wicked, but he will at length rise to judgement, and come armed suddenly upon them, and then ye shall know that all the deeds of men are noticed by him, and that wickedness shall not go unpunished, though God for a time delays his vengeance.”
We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning — that the ungodly who clamor against God, as though he made no account either of the just or of the unjust, shall find, even to their own loss, that he is one who punishes wickedness.
As to the verb turn, I have already said that it has a wide meaning, and does not always mean repentance or the renovation of man: it may therefore be taken as signifying only a different state of things; as though he had said, “The dice shall be turned, and such will be your condition when God shall begin to execute his judgement, that he will then manifestly show that he has not forgotten his office, though he does not immediately hasten to execute his judgements.” Ye shall return then and see. Yet if any one prefers to regard returning as the feeling of God’s judgements, by which even the ungodly shall be touched, though without repentance, the view will not be unsuitable, and I am disposed to embrace it, that is, that the Lord will shake off the stupidity in which they were sunk, and will correct their madness, so that they will not dare to vomit forth so insolently their blasphemies, as they had been wont to do: Ye then shall return; that is, “I will make my judgement known to you, and ye shall not rush on headlong as wild beasts, for being taught by facts, ye shall learn the difference between the good and the bad.” 270270 Both Newcome and Henderson regard this verb as used here adverbially. “And ye shall again discern, or, see the difference, between the righteous and the wicked.” The Septuagint give it as a verb “ἐπιστραφήσεσθε—ye shall return.” The same is done by Jerome and Marckius; and the latter gives a similar view of its import to what is given here. Dathius takes it meaning to be the same, “And being better taught (or instructed — medius edocti) ye shall then understand how great is the difference between the godly and the ungodly, between the worshipper of God and his despiser.” — Ed.
The just, and he who serves God, mean the same person. We hence learn that there is no justice where there is no obedience rendered to God. The first thing then in a good and an upright life, is to serve God; for it would be but of little benefit to be harmless towards men, when his right is denied: and we know that God is not rightly served but according to what his law prescribes. We must then always come to this, — that men must obey God, if they desire to form their life aright. Now follows —