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The Coming Messenger


See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the L ord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the L ord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the L ord as in the days of old and as in former years.

5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the L ord of hosts.

6 For I the L ord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the L ord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Do Not Rob God

8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the L ord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the L ord of hosts. 12Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the L ord of hosts.

13 You have spoken harsh words against me, says the L ord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 14You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the L ord of hosts? 15Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.”

The Reward of the Faithful

16 Then those who revered the L ord spoke with one another. The L ord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the L ord and thought on his name. 17They shall be mine, says the L ord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. 18Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

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 243243     “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 245245     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 250250     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.” 251251     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 —

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