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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.

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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