10. Justice, Tithing, Purifying, and Judgment (Malachi 3-4)

Audio (1:08:42)

'He will be like a refinerís fire or a laundererís soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.' (Malachi 3:2-3)
'He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.' (Malachi 3:2-3)

How much force does it take to drive a nail into hardwood? How many hammer blows does it take? Malachi, the Lord's prophet, has brought prophecy after prophecy, hitting hard at the shell of religion and self-serving practice that prevents priests and people from enjoying the full and joyous presence of their God. That prevents them from knowing him as he is. And so Malachi brings another word from God, hopeful that this time people will listen, that this time God's hammer will break their tough exterior -- our tough exterior. He brings a message of judgment.

Oracle 4. Refining, Purifying, and Judgment (Malachi 2:17-3:6)

Day of Judgment (Malachi 2:17-3:6)

Scoffers in Malachi's day seek to undermine belief in God's holiness and justice.

"17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. 'How have we wearied him?' you ask. By saying, 'All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them' or 'Where is the God of justice?'" (Malachi 2:17)

God is wearied.[324] He is so tired of hearing his people's foolish and perverted questions and excuses and unbelief. We see the same theme in Isaiah:

"You have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses." (Isaiah 43:24)

"You were wearied by all your ways...." (Isaiah 57:10)

They said:

1. God is pleased with you whether or not you obey him.

"All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them." (Malachi 2:17b)

This isn't too far from the kind of cheap grace in our day that claims, "God loves you no matter what you do." It's true but misleading. People do their best to rationalize their sins by perverting the nature of God into a soft cuddly bundle of love who spoils you like a doting uncle or saying that sin doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what you do.

God's holiness as revealed in the Bible scares us. But woe to us if we pretend God is someone who he is not in order for us feel better about our sin!

2. God isn't just.

"Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17c)

Another heresy is the claim that God won't punish sin -- a second affront to God's holiness. This attitude of unbelief is noted throughout the Bible.

"God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees." (Psalm 10:11b)

"The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land." (Ezekiel 8:12b)

"The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad." (Zephaniah 1:12)

"You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'" (2 Peter 3:3-4)

The Two Messengers (Malachi 3:1)

The prophet's answer to the people's cynicism and unbelief is a declaration that the Lord is indeed coming in judgment.

"'See, I will send my messenger,[325] who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:1)

Observe that there are two different messengers mentioned:

  1. The messenger who prepares the way.
  2. The messenger of the covenant.

1. The messenger who prepares the way. The first messenger gets ready or prepares[326] for the second. The New Testament clearly identifies this messenger with John the Baptist, quoting our passage in Malachi (Matthew 11:10). Malachi mentions this messenger who prepares the way again near the end of the book.

"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." (Malachi 4:5)

John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, prophesied this preparatory role.

"And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him." (Luke 1:76)

Jesus acknowledges that this indeed refers to John the Baptist's ministry (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13).

John the Baptist identifies Isaiah's prophecy as referring to himself (Matthew 3:1-3; John 1:23):

"A voice of one calling:
'In the desert prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5)

What a clear image major road work to prepare the King's highway -- straightening the curves, as well as cutting and filling so that the road might be level and easy to travel upon. Major roadwork -- that's what's ahead for us would-be disciples on this journey with Jesus.

2. The messenger of the covenant. The second messenger mentioned in verse 1 is the messenger of the covenant.

"Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,'
says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:1b)

When I read this verse my mind goes to the bass recitative in Handel's "Messiah," followed by the bass air and chorus putting these powerful verses to music, with the question: "Who shall stand when he appeareth? .... For He is like a Refiner's Fire."

In Malachi 3:1, the Lord whom the people claim to be seeking will suddenly[327] come to his temple. When I was in the army, we often had advance notice of company inspections so we could get ready for them. But woe to us if the officer entered the barracks suddenly, without warning.

Malachi 3:1b is an important Messianic prophecy that seems to have been fulfilled when Jesus comes to the temple following his Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:15-18). Handel's Messiah puts Malachi's prophecy of the Lord's sudden appearance in the temple alongside Haggai's prophecy that we considered in Lesson 2.

"I will shake all nations,
and the desired of all nations will come,
and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:7)

In what sense is Jesus the "messenger of the covenant"? Malachi has a particular interest in the covenant. We read about:

  • "My covenant with Levi" (Malachi 2:4, 5, 8).
  • "Profaning the covenant of our fathers," by breaking faith (Malachi 2:10).
  • "She is your wife by covenant" (Malachi 2:14).

The people have broken God's covenant with them, counting it as nothing. Now the Messenger of the Covenant will come suddenly to call them to account. John the Baptist called for repentance. Now Jesus comes proclaiming, "The time is come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Repentance is John's message. Repentance is Jesus' message. Dear friends, without repentance there is no forgiveness, no grace. Repentance is the first step to restoration.

Malachi tells us about the judgment this Messenger will bring -- which we'll look at in a moment. What he doesn't tell us, we learn from the New Testament. At the Last Supper, Jesus said:

"He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'" (Luke 22:19-20)

Time and time again, God's people have broken the Mosaic Covenant -- and have been judged for it. Jesus is the Mediator of a New Covenant, the covenant with new promises prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Jesus dies as a ransom for many to set them free from the guilt and power of sin (Hebrews 9:15; Mark 10:45). And so the Messenger of the Covenant fulfills the terms of the Covenant in his own body.

Refiner's Fire and Fullers' Soap (Malachi 3:2-5a)

Malachi says with deep irony that the people "desire" this Messenger of the Covenant. But when he comes, he will bring judgment. As John the Baptist says,

"His winnowing fork is in his hand,
and he will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into the barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12)

Woe to the chaff! But it is the chaff Malachi is addressing in this passage. Malachi asks,

"Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can stand when he appears?" (Malachi 3:2a)

The implied answer is that no one will remain standing when he appears in judgment. Then Malachi introduces two analogies to help his hearers envision the intensity of the judgment that is coming:

"For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." (Malachi 3:2b)

A regular fire that you might cook with is hot enough. But Malachi speaks of a "refiner's fire"[328] used for smelting metals. Such a fire is made extra hot through the use of bellows (Jeremiah 6:29) to the point that it melts the ore in a crucible, allowing lighter impurities to separate and rise to the surface to be skimmed off, while the heavier metals -- iron, gold, silver, etc. -- will fall to the bottom. Refiner's fire is unbearably hot.

The second analogy is "launderer's soap" or "fullers' soap."[329] "To full," in ancient times, means to make clothing clean and soft by treading, kneading, and beating them in cold water. The soap is a caustic alkali, the process a continual pounding. God's judgment is relentless and painful.

Who can "abide" (KJV) or "endure" (NIV, NRSV, ESV) such judgment? I recall the African American spiritual inspired by the punishments described in the Book of Revelation:

"O sinner man, where you gonna run to?
O sinner man, where you gonna run to?
O sinner man, where you gonna run to
All on that day?

Run to the rock, the rock was a'melting,
Run to the sea, the sea was a'boiling,
Run to the moon, moon was a'bleeding
All on that day."

The judgment here focuses on the priests and Levites who are corrupt:

"3 He will sit as a refiner[330] and purifier[331] of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine[332] them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. So I will come near[333] to you for judgment."[334] (Malachi 3:3-5a)

Notice that Yahweh doesn't want to destroy the Levites, but to refine them so they can serve acceptably. The process will be exceedingly painful, but the fruit will be sweet.

Q1. (Malachi 3:1-5) For what purpose is the Messenger sent to prepare the way? What will the Messenger of the Covenant do? Why do God's people need refining and deep cleaning? How do you sense God wants to refine and cleanse you?

A Witness against Injustice (Malachi 3:5b)

Now Malachi turns from the priests and Levites to others among God's covenant people who are committing gross sin and injustice.

"'I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:5b)

Notice that Yahweh will testify -- that is, speak what he personally knows to be true[335] -- before the Court on Judgment Day. He is quick to do so. He hastens, he is eager[336] to do it. The time has come!

Malachi gives a short list of the sinners whom Yahweh is singling out for punishment, though all sinners will be judged on that Day:

  • Sorcerers[337] are those who use witchcraft and occult arts to influence events. Sorcery is strictly forbidden to Jews (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Exodus 22:18), though it was practiced by King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6), the "witch of Endor" (1 Samuel 28:3-25), and others. In our day the occult includes use of tarot cards, Ouija boards (or "talking boards"), astrology, fortune tellers, spirit mediums, channeling, as well as practices of Wicca, among others.
  • Adulterers, those who "commit adultery," specifically, "sexual intercourse with the wife or betrothed of another man."[338] The prohibition against adultery is found, of course, in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). Jesus extends the spirit of adultery to looking at a woman lustfully (Matthew 5:27-28). In our day, the spirit of adultery would extend to looking at pornography.

The next group of sins relate to crimes committed to subvert justice and the rights of the weak and powerless in society. Of course, it begins by making false statements in court (and, in our day, on government forms)

  • "Perjurers" (NIV), "those who swear falsely" (NRSV, ESV), "false swearers" (KJV) refers specifically to those who make false statements in court under oath, as prohibited in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16). Swearing falsely is one way of oppressing others by using the legal system. Then Malachi goes on to two other forms of oppression.

The key word in the next phrase is translated "defraud" or "oppress" -- ʿāshaq, "oppress, get deceitfully, defraud, do violence," involving acts of abuse of power or authority, the burdening, trampling, and crushing of those lower in station. Those most likely to be mistreated and oppressed were those without adequate defense of their rights, i.e. the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and the poor. Such oppression is a breach of faith against Yahweh himself.[339]

  • "Those who defraud laborers of their wages" (NIV), "oppress the hired workers in their wages" (NRSV, ESV), "oppress the hireling in his wages" (KJV), are those who cheat day laborers out of their full pay because they have little recourse in the courts. This has been going on for thousands of years. The poor fear losing their jobs if they complain.
  • [Who oppress] the widows and the fatherless. Widows were often cheated out of their husband's family property because they didn't understand the law and weren't represented in court -- or the judges were bribed. As a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz protects his kinswoman Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, both widows (Book of Ruth), though widows without such protectors were often cheated (Luke 18:1-8).
  • "Deprive aliens of justice" (NIV), "thrust aside the alien/sojourner" (NRSV, ESV), "turn aside the stranger from his right" (KJV). It is common in America, for example, for contractors to hire illegal aliens as day laborers at substandard wages "under the table," that is, without reporting it to the government, and thus avoiding social security and worker's comprehensive insurance payments. If the employer doesn't pay what he promises, the illegal alien can't take him to court or he risks being deported. It has been common in our world for stronger societies to deprive weaker societies of their rights. For example, the US government repeatedly disregarded Native American treaties in the nineteenth century.

The Scripture often speaks on this subject, since it is so common.[340]

"Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'" (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Many of the urban reform movements that have taken place in the last two hundred years, have been motivated, at least in part, by Christians taking seriously God's demand for justice to the poor. Such movements include: the abolition of the slave trade, child labor laws, labor legislation and unions, social welfare, urban health clinics, human sex trafficking, etc. How well a society cares for the rights of the poor is one indicator of how much that society is pleasing to God.

As I write this, there has been an outcry against massive immigration to Europe, along with increased prejudice against aliens of all kinds. In America, we've seen increased anti-alien rhetoric. There is fear in immigrant communities of government deportation of illegal aliens -- as well as safety concerns for legal aliens. We Christians are challenged to seek God how to respond as he would have us do.

The root problem, of course, is one of personal belief in and respect for God. In our passage, Malachi gives a list of various kinds of sinners and concludes with those "who do not fear me." "Fear" is yārēʾ, "fear, be afraid, revere," which we discussed in depth in Lesson 9 under Malachi 2:5.[341] God doesn't want us to live in abject terror. But he wants us to have a healthy respect for his discipline, if we chose to rebel against him. A healthy fear of God is a helpful deterrent to sin.

The Immutable, Unchanging God (Malachi 3:6)

This section concludes with this sentence:

"I the LORD do not change.[342]
So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed."[343] (Malachi 3:6)

In other words, God is saying, if I didn't act with faithfulness to the promises I made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you would have already been destroyed for your sins -- in the modern vernacular, "you would be toast."

This passage is one of the clearest statements in Scripture about the unchangeableness of God. The hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" expresses this well.

"Great is thy faithfulness, O God our Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.[344]
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever shalt be."[345]

Wayne Grudem states the Doctrine of Immutability or Unchangeableness of God in this way:

"God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations."[346]

In addition to many passages that speak of God's eternal nature, these deal specifically with his unchangeableness:

"But you remain the same,
and your years will never end." (Psalm 102:27)

"Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17)

God's Faithfulness to His Promises

You're fortunate that I don't change, says God in our passage, or you would be destroyed. It is important for us sinners to understand that God's restraint towards us is not because we are righteous, but because of his promises. To the people of Israel, Yahweh says:

"It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deuteronomy 9:5)

Paul wrote to Timothy:

"Here is a trustworthy saying...
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:11, 13)

God's character and faithfulness to his promises never changes. Hallelujah!

Q2. (Malachi 3:6) Why should we rejoice that God doesn't change? We know that God's character doesn't change But if he is immutable, unchangeable, how can he answer our prayers? Does prayer have any effect?

Oracle 5. Repent of Robbing God in Tithes and Offerings (Malachi 3:7-12)

Repent of Your Laxity and Drifting! (Malachi 3:7)

The prophet's next oracle accuses the people of turning away from God in the area of tithing and bringing offerings.

"7 'Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:7)

When we neglect to do something our faith requires of us, we don't see it as rebellion. We view it as an excusable laxity that we'll get around to correcting one of these days. But as we've seen in Malachi's previous prophecies, laxity is really a form of passive rebellion, of cynicism towards God, a kind of unbelief. The word use here is śûr, "turn aside, depart,"[347] a word often used to refer to Israel's apostasy.

What God requires of us, when we recognize our drifting away is to "turn" or "return" (shûb), a word often used of returning to God in repentance.[348] Where we are casual about our sins of laxity, Jesus the great Discipler, calls us to repent and follow him, so as not to miss out on the blessings that accompany obedience.

Robbing God in Tithes and Offerings (Malachi 3:7b-9)

The people wonder what Malachi is talking about? What do you mean, Malachi?

7b But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me." (Malachi 3:7b-9)

You are robbing me, because you aren't bringing to me the tithes and offerings that belong to me according to the Covenant we have agreed to.

The word "rob"[349] is shocking. None of us would "rob" the church office, or strip the church sanctuary of its beautiful objects. To do so would be a desecration. The kind of people who would do something like this would have no fear of God in them at all! But failing to bring what belongs to God, is just as surely robbing him as is violently taking something from his house.

The prophet mentions two things they have neglected: tithes and offerings. The tithe ("tenth") refers to an offering of 10% of their income to support the temple and God's work.[350] Offerings, on the other hand, is a general term for various sacrifices and offerings brought to the temple.[351]

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house." (Malachi 3:10a)

The prophet specifies the "whole," "full" or "all" the tithe, as opposed to only a portion.[352] Essentially the people are cheating God. Yes, they bring some of what the Covenant requires, especially when it is convenient, but often they just don't.

The "storehouse" refers to literal storeroom within the temple buildings where the tithes of the people are kept.[353] Often, these temple storerooms are filled with actual food[354] to feed the priests and Levites who serve in the temple, brought by the people as part of their regular tithe. When there is food available, priests and Levites are able to come to the temple to serve according to a regular schedule; when there isn't food, they have to stay home and work their fields and care for their flocks, so their families don't starve. As a result, the temple ministry has to work with a skeleton crew and things rapidly fall into disrepair.

You sometimes hear teaching advocating "storehouse tithing," that all of one's tithe should be given to the local church (the "storehouse"), rather than the giver distributing his or her tithe among worthy ministries. This teaching, however, requires substituting the word "local congregation" for "Jerusalem temple" -- which can't really be justified. Yes, there are comparison points, but centralized temple worship and local church ministry are vastly different. And in our day many para-church organizations exist to carry out the work of the church, a situation that didn't exist in Bible times.

A Brief History of the Tithe

It is tempting to try to give a comprehensive summary of what the Old and New Testaments teach us about giving to God, but I'll try to restrain myself. Nevertheless, it is important that we understand what the tithe is and what is required by the Mosaic Law.

Tithing predates the patriarchs. Israel is merely one among many ancient Near Eastern peoples that tithe, that is, contribute 10% of their property, produce, or currency for religious purposes. Tithing to support temples and priests is often seen in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Among the patriarchs, Abraham tithes the plunder of a successful raid to Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem; Genesis 14:20). Jacob promises to tithe to Yahweh after seeing a vision at Bethel (Genesis 28:22).

In the Mosaic Law, the tabernacle/temple is considered Yahweh's palace and courtyard, placed in the center of the encampment of his people. The priests and Levites are assigned to care for the tabernacle, and later the temple, and to offer the sacrifices to atone for sin.

The tribe of Levi is specifically excluded from the tribal division of land under Joshua. Rather, they are given certain towns and surrounding pastureland within lands assigned to other of the 12 tribes (Numbers 35:1-5). According to a schedule attributed to David, priests and Levites are assigned "shifts," when they come to Jerusalem to serve in the temple for an appointed period of time, and then return to their homes.

To support the priests and Levites, the Mosaic Law provides that the priests are entitled to a specific portion from most of the animal and grain sacrifices to provide food for them and their families (for example, Numbers 18:8-20).

In addition, a tithe of 10% of the people's income is assigned to provide for the Levites (members of the tribe of Levi who serve at the tabernacle/temple), and 10% of that (a tithe of the tithe) goes to support the priests who perform the actual sacrifices and ministry inside the tabernacle/temple (Nehemiah 10:37-39).

It appears that, in at least some periods, the tithe is not brought to the temple, but every three years distributed to the Levites and the poor living in one's region (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). How the temple services are supported those years isn't clear.

Throughout the history of Israel following the Exodus, when the nation's faith is strong, the tithe is available to support the ministry, but when it is weak, the temple is neglected. There isn't food or money to support priestly functions, and revival is necessary to restore the practice of tithing (2 Chronicles 31:12-15).

You may recall from earlier lessons, that support of the temple and priesthood are issues following the Exile. During Nehemiah's first term as governor, the system is functioning well and there is support for the priests and Levites (Nehemiah 12:47), but then he returns to Susa and things seem to fall apart. On Nehemiah's second term as governor, he records:

"10 I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. 11 So I rebuked the officials and asked them, 'Why is the house of God neglected?' Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts. 12 All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and oil into the storerooms." (Nehemiah 13:10-12)

You also see tithing mentioned in the Gospels. I'm sure that, as a good Jew, Jesus and his parents tithe, though we're not told so explicitly. By one of his backhanded compliments to the Pharisees, you can see that he approves of the principle of tithing, if not the Pharisees' particular practice.

"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone." (Luke 11:42)

The Pharisees are over-scrupulous about tithing, but clueless about practicing God's justice and mercy.

After we finish this passage in Malachi, we'll consider how the early church seems to apply the principles, and how we might apply them today. But first, let's continue with Malachi.

An Invitation to Test Yahweh by Tithing (Malachi 3:10b)

"'Test me in this,' says the LORD Almighty...." (Malachi 3:10b)

I can't recall any other place in Scripture where God invites us to test[355] him, to see if he will fulfill his promise of blessing. It's a rather remarkable challenge. You tithe and see how I'll bless you. The blessings mentioned fall into three categories.

1. Positive -- God will provide an abundant blessing.

"'See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven
and pour out so much blessing
that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:10b)

He uses the analogy of opening the "windows" or "sluices" of heaven,[356] in the way that a downpour[357] might cause a flash flood -- so much blessing[358] that you can't contain it all.[359] Along these lines, Jesus promised a "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" (Luke 6:38). We'll look at this passage further in a moment.

2. Negative -- God will prevent destruction of what they have.

"'I will prevent[360] pests from devouring[361] your crops,
and the vines[362] in your fields will not cast their fruit,'[363]
says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:11)

Unless God protects us from unforeseen problems, all our resources can easily disappear. That was the case when the returned exiles put off rebuilding the temple in favor of building their own homes. Haggai explains to them that their disobedience has brought God's curse of scarcity.

"'You have planted much, but have harvested little.
You eat, but never have enough.
You drink, but never have your fill.
You put on clothes, but are not warm.
You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it....
You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little.
What you brought home, I blew away.

Why?' declares the LORD Almighty.
'Because of my house, which remains a ruin,
while each of you is busy with his own house.
Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew
and the earth its crops.
I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains,
on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces,
 on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.'" (Haggai 1:6, 9-11)

3. A reputation of being blessed.

"'Then all the nations will call you blessed,[364]
for yours will be a delightful land,'[365]
says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:12)

When we're serving God in obedience, we're triply blessed. (1) He blesses our endeavors, (2) prevents those events that diminish that blessing, and (3) others see our blessing and honor our God.

Principles of Stewardship

Stewardship as taught in the Bible is based on several principles. They aren't taught here in Malachi, but I think it is useful to recount them in this context.

1. Everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). The tithe belongs to the Lord according to the Mosaic Law. It is his, not theirs. Thus, when the Jews do not give the tithe to the Lord, they are guilty of robbing God, since they are keeping back what belongs to him. As a result they experience a curse for robbery.

2. We are stewards, caretakers of what belongs to God (Genesis 2:15; Luke 19:11-29).

3. Tithing is a form of proportional giving. In the tithe, the rich and the poor give the same percentage of their income. The poor give a little, the rich give a lot. 1 Corinthians 16:2 teaches something similar, to give as God has prospered you.[366]

4. There is a law of spiritual causality in operation. In other words, there is often an underlying cause for our relative degree of blessing from God or non-blessing (2 Corinthians 9:6). In both Haggai 1 and Malachi 3, the people are experiencing scarcity because of their lack of giving, whereas they can experience God's blessing if they obey. I don't think the promises of blessing are given only in response to giving money. The promises of blessing are conditional upon obedience to God in general; giving money is a subset of obedience.

5. You can't outgive God. When your heart is right before God, I don't believe you can outgive him, for his ability to bless you is far beyond your ability to give. Jesus said,

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38)

When Jesus talks about the measure you use, he means: If you give with a big scoop or a cup completely full, then you'll receive with the same big scoop and full cup. If you give with a tiny scoop or just a pinch, you'll receive just a tiny blessing. This truth has been distorted by some Prosperity Teachers who motivate people to give to God as a means of getting wealthy. Their motivation for giving isn't worship, but greed and selfishness.

How Should We Apply the Principle of Tithing Today?

To be direct, you don't see tithing taught in the New Testament church. You might argue that it wasn't mentioned because it was assumed, but that's an argument from silence. You might argue that we are the New Israel, but the New Testament is clear that we aren't under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14; 7:4-11; Galatians 3:23; 5:18).

Rather than tithing, I see two practices taught in the New Testament:

1. Generosity towards the poor. You can see this in Paul's organizing the churches he plants to prepare gifts to bring to the poor in Jerusalem. Regular giving for this big gift is the context of the great stewardship passages of 2 Corinthians 8-9, for example.

2. Support for Christian leaders. It is clear that Paul defends the right of apostles to be supported (1 Corinthians 9:5-12a), while at the same time waiving that right with regard to himself (1 Corinthians 9:12b-18). He also supports the right of local leaders to receive financial support from the church (1 Timothy 5:17-18). In fact, Paul implies that what is owed to the priests under the Old Covenant is now transferred in some sense to Christian pastors, evangelists, and teachers.[367]

"Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The legal requirement of tithing does not apply to Christian believers who are not Jews. Once the temple is finally destroyed in 70 AD, the tithing regulations for Jews become moot.

So how do we apply the principles in our day.

  1. Use the tithe as a guideline, not a law. My seminary professor, Dr. George Eldon Ladd used to say, "To give less under grace than under law is a disgrace." If the Jews were expected to give 10%, how can we feel a lesser amount is appropriate for us? It is not a law, but a guideline.
  2. The blessings of the tithe are blessings for obedience. Our obedience is not to the Mosaic law, but to Jesus and his Spirit. But the blessings can be just as abundant. As you give in faith from a life that seeks to be obedient to Jesus, your blessings can be just as great as those promised in Malachi 3 -- both materially and spiritually.
  3. Our giving reflects our love for God. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21). In general, a person who gives little to God and his work reflects a heart that loves God little (Luke 7:47).
  4. Our giving should support Christian workers as well as the poor. Giving to them is the same as giving to God himself, for they are his servants. For many in organized churches, this means giving to the church, allowing the church to pay the pastoral staff.
  5. Cheerful giving is the standard (2 Corinthians 9:7). I've heard some sermons that use "fear of the curse" as a motivator. Others employ motivations such as greed, a love of monetary blessings, to get people to tithe. But the best motivator for the mature believer is love. We love giving, because giving to the One we love makes us happy.

There's a lot more that can be said, but these are the principles.

Note: People differ on whether they believe that Christians are required to obey the Old Testament law of tithing. Feel free to disagree, but on the online forum be gentle, loving. Remember, we are brothers and sisters.

Q3. (Malachi 3:8-11) In our passage, why does God call people who neglect to tithe "robbers"? Why does he withhold blessing from those who don't fully tithe? Does the Old Testament law of the tithe obligate Christian believers to tithe? What principles of stewardship can we learn from this passage?

Oracle 6. Judgment of the Righteous and the Wicked (Malachi 3:13-4:6)

Now we see a dialog and more rhetorical questions that signal a new direction for the prophet. This oracle seems to provide a climax to the previous indictments of God's people and priests -- judgment for the wicked and vindication for the righteous.

Cynicism of Unbelievers towards God (Malachi 3:13-15)

The prophet speaks now to those unbelievers who say that it just doesn't pay to serve the Lord.[368]

"13 'You have said harsh things against me,' says the LORD. 'Yet you ask, "What have we said against you?" 14 'You have said, "It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.'" (Malachi 3:13-15)

Yahweh, speaking through Malachi, calls unbelievers to account for their insulting words about him. He says, literally, "You are hard against me."[369] Here are their accusations. Many of them seem familiar in our day, as well.

  1. Serving God is pointless. "Futile" or "vain" means "empty, worthless."[370] In other words, these cynics are saying that serving God is a waste of time. They characterize religion as consisting of rule-keeping and repentance, rather than anything meaningful.
  2. Serving God doesn't get me ahead. Here the emphasis is on "me." If something doesn't bring me personal "gain" or "profit," then I shouldn't do it. The connotation of the Hebrew word is "unjust gain, covetousness."[371]
  3. The proud are those who should be admired or considered happy.[372] The self-confident, those who are arrogant, even presumptuous and rebellious,[373] are the real winners here on earth. Remember Jesus' words in the Beatitudes that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)? This is the exact opposite.
  4. Law-breakers[374] come out better[375] than the righteous. This is saying that criminals do better in the end than upright people.
  5. Those who defy God[376] aren't punished. You can get away with anything. The Psalmist recognized this attitude in his day: "God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees" (Psalm 10:11). There will be no accounting for sin.

As I consider this unbelief and self-centeredness in Malachi's time, it sounds just like the glorification of Success in our society. Those who are wealthy and influential are the ones to be congratulated, even though the ways they became wealthy may be unrighteous. It is too easy for us Christians to get caught up in a pursuit of Success, rather than continue on the humble path of following our Master. The Apostle John said:

"Do not love the world or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him.
For everything in the world --
the cravings of sinful man,
the lust of his eyes and
the boasting of what he has and does --
comes not from the Father but from the world.
The world and its desires pass away,
but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

Our culture is vastly different from that of Malachi's day, but people are still the same in their unbelief. Still deceived. Still lost. Still pursuing things that will never satisfy. So needy for the salvation that Jesus offers so freely. And there for the great grace of God, we could be as well.

"People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door
People need the Lord, people need the Lord
When will we realize that we must give our lives?
For people need the Lord, people need the Lord."[377]

Sadly, these are the people who are doomed to destruction on Judgment Day, unless they turn to the Lord for salvation.

Those Who Fear the Lord (Malachi 3:16-18)

Now the prophet turns to those who believe in the Lord and follow him.

"Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard." (Malachi 3:16a)

As we discussed in Lesson 9, on Malachi 2:5b, those who "fear the Lord," aren't the ones who shudder in abject terror of him, but those who fear him in the sense of revering him, who believe in him, who take him and what he says seriously. In verse 16a, they "talked/spoke with each other." The Hebrew uses an idiom something like, "a man speaks to his friend."[378] The Message paraphrases it this way:

"Then those whose lives honored GOD got together and talked it over.
GOD saw what they were doing and listened in."

In other words, the believers are evaluating among themselves the attitude of the unbelievers, and making sure that their lives continue to follow the Lord's path. God listens to their conversation approvingly -- and rewards their faith.[379]

The Book of Remembrance (Malachi 3:16b)

Now we begin to see how God heeds the faith he sees in the believers. First, their names are written down in a special book.

"A scroll[380] of remembrance[381] was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored[382] his name." (Malachi 3:16b)

We see this mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. Moses refers to "the book you have written" (Genesis 32:32-33). The Psalmist speaks of "the book of life" where the names of the righteous are listed (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3). Daniel refers to such a book containing the names of the righteous (Daniel 12:1). Jesus says that his disciples' names are "written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). In Revelation it is called "the Book of Life" and "the Lamb's Book of Life" (Revelation 3:18; 17:8; 21:27).

Yahweh's Precious People (Malachi 3:17)

Second, Yahweh sets his people apart from the rest on Judgment Day, just as Jesus taught in his Parables of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), and the Fish Net (Matthew 13:47-50).

"'They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.'" (Malachi 3:17)

The prophet mentions "the day," no doubt referring to the Day of Judgment, which we'll discuss further at Malachi 4:1. Here, it is not just a day of punishment, but a day of vindication and reward.

I've pondered the curious expression translated in various ways:

"In the day when I make up my treasured possession." (NIV, ESV)

"My special possession on the day when I act." (NRSV)

"In that day when I make up my jewels." (KJV)

"On the day when I act, they will be my most prized possession." (NJB)

What does this mean? "Treasured possession" (NIV, ESV), "special possession" (NRSV), "jewels" (KJV), "my most prized possession" (NJB) is segullâ, "property, possession," with the basic meaning of "personal property."[383] We first see it in Exodus 19:5 as a reference to God's covenant people out of all nations (Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). In the New Testament, the followers of the Messiah, the New Israel, are heirs to this designation

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession...." (1 Peter 2:9a, ESV; cf. Titus 2:14)

The expression, "make up my treasured possession," is more difficult. The verb is ʿāśâ, "do, fashion, accomplish," sometimes used of God's creative work.[384] Is this God sorting out and preparing his jewel collection for display? Perhaps the NRSV and NJB catch the feel of the sentence by making the verb refer to the act of judging on the Day of Judgment, rather than to preparing one's special possessions.

This much is crystal clear. God looks at those who love him with a special affection. "They are mine!" he says. We belong to him, not in just a general way, but as his own selected and prized personal property, those whom he has selected to be close to him always, those whom he has redeemed or bought back "with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19).

As a result of this special affection -- "election," the New Testament calls it -- he will spare us from punishment on Judgment Day.

"I will spare them,
just as in compassion
a man spares his son who serves[385] him." (Malachi 3:17b)

The word "spare" (ḥāmal) can mean either, "spare" or "have compassion on."[386] The NIV includes both ideas in its translation. When difficulty or hardship comes, parents are quick to shield (spare) their children, because they love them.

The Distinction Will Be Clear (Malachi 3:18)

What follows is a transitional verse.

"And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not." (Malachi 3:18)

The "distinction" or "difference"[387] between the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous will be manifestly clear on the Day when God brings justice. Right now it may appear that following Jesus doesn't pay, but on that Day it will be obvious. To the wicked it is a day of punishment, but to the righteous it will be a day of vindication and reward.

Q4. (Malachi 3:16-18) In what ways does it encourage us that God keeps a list of those who love him? That he considers us his own private and treasured possession? Do we deserve this? What effect should that knowledge have on us? What does it teach us about grace?

The Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:1)

Malachi has noted the cynicism of the unbelievers, and the special place that belongs to those who fear him. Now he turns to the day when judgment will occur -- and in verse 2, the day when God's people will be set free in healing and victory.

"'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them.'" (Malachi 4:1)

The word "day" is shorthand for the "Day of the Judgment," which we'll consider in a moment. Malachi describes the punishment like the burning[388] of stubble,[389] what is left of the dry stalks of grain after the harvest. If you've ever watched dry grass burn, you know that it burns with great speed and generates great heat. But this is no ordinary fire. It is the fire of a furnace, a special oven designed to concentrate the heat for the baking of bread.[390] The fire of judgment is especially hot. It recalls the words of the Psalmist:

"At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace.
In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up,
and his fire will consume them." (Psalm 21:9)

The objects of this punishment are the arrogant and "every evildoer." We met these people in Malachi 3:14-15 claiming that serving God doesn't pay. Now they and their philosophy of life is judged. They are utterly destroyed without "root or branch," that is, the entire plant (Job 18:16; Amos 2:9).

The Day of the Lord as a Major Theme of the Bible

The Day of the Lord is a theme that begins with the Old Testament prophets and carries through to the last book of the New Testament. It is a day of judgment upon the enemies of the people of God, and upon all unbelievers. In many references it is dark and negative, a time of terror and horror for the unbeliever. It is called by various names:

  • The Day of Judgment (Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:7).
  • The Day of the Lord (Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2).
  • The Day of the Lord Jesus / Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6, 10)
  • The Great Day (Jude 6).
  • The Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31; Malachi 4:5).
  • The Day or That Day (Malachi 4:1; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25).
  • The Day of Wrath (Zephaniah 1:15, 18; 2:2-3; Romans 2:5; Revelation 6:17; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10).

In a former generation, many sermons detailed the horrors of the Day of Judgment in an attempt to frighten listeners into repentance. Then there was a strong reaction to "fire and brimstone" preaching, so that in many churches today, very, very few sermons ever mention a Day of Judgment.

If you take an objective look at the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus you see that God's judgment was a prominent theme.

  • John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-10).
  • Jesus (Matthew 12:36; 13:24-50; 19:28; 24; 25:31-46; John 3:36).

When you add the teaching of the apostles and the Book of Revelation, you see many, many references to God's judgment, referring to this Day that Malachi mentions. If we are to accurately pass on the teachings of Jesus to our generation, we can't leave out our Master's clear teaching about the Day of Judgment.

The Son of Righteousness with Healing in His Wings (Malachi 4:2-3)

But it is wrong to look at the Day of Judgment in purely negative terms. For the unbeliever it will be a day of terror and horrible punishment. But for the believer, it will be a day of joy. You'll recall Jesus' Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The "goats" experience terrible punishment, excluded from his presence, cursed, thrown into "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." But the "sheep" experience the loving welcome of the Son of Man:

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance,
the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34b)

In the same way, Malachi declares the blessings of the believers:

"But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise
with healing in its wings." (Malachi 4:2a)

It's easy for English-speakers to confuse "son" with "sun," since these words are homonyms. But Malachi specifies the "Sun of Righteousness," who rises in God's sky with healing[391] in his rays or wings.[392] Apparently, Malachi is appropriating a symbol of a winged sun that was common in the ancient Near East and associated with divinity, royalty, and power. Hezekiah uses a winged sun as part of the seal of his kingdom.[393] Upon the righteous, God's sun will rise and bring to them healing and restoration from all they have suffered. Of course, this Sun of Righteousness is a title of Jesus the Messiah.

This idea is incorporated in Zechariah's prophecy concerning his son John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah:

"... The rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." (Luke 1:78b-79)

Then Malachi compares this experience of vindication to how calves act when they are released from confinement in a stall. In a kind of exaltation, they rush out and leap up in joy.

"And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall." (Malachi 4:2b)

Whereas, the righteous had been oppressed by the wicked in the world system, now the roles will be reversed.

'"Then you will trample down the wicked;
they will be ashes under the soles of your feet
on the day when I do these things,'
says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 4:3)

Finally, Malachi gives a reminder to continue to obey God's laws.

"Remember the law of my servant Moses,
the decrees and laws
I gave him at Horeb for all Israel." (Malachi 4:4)

The Prophet Elijah -- a Brief Reprieve (Malachi 4:5-6)

The Book of Malachi -- and the Old Testament canon -- concludes with a promise of hope to come. Judgment will not occur until the people hear a prophet seeking to turn them back to God.

"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day[394] of the LORD comes." (Malachi 4:5)

Elijah, as you may recall, was one of the archetypical Old Testament prophets who serves during a dark time in Israel's history. During the Intertestamental Period, the period after Malachi is written and Jesus' ministry, there is lots of interest and speculation about this Elijah who is to come, so when John the Baptist appears, he is asked if he is this Elijah. He denies it (John 1:21a), since he probably doesn't identify himself with Malachi's prophecy so much as Isaiah's Voice crying in the wilderness.

But he is indeed the prophet Elijah who was to come to prepare the people. He dresses like Elijah. Of Elijah, it was said, "He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist" (2 Kings 1:8a). Matthew declares:

"John's clothes were made of camel's hair,
and he had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey." (Matthew 3:4)

Like Elijah, John ministers in the wilderness and boldly rebukes the sins of the powerful (Luke 3:7-14; Mark 6:18). John the Baptist comes "in the power and energy with which Elijah rose up to lead back the ungodly generation of his own time to the God of the fathers."[395]

Jesus acknowledges that, indeed, John is this Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13).

Turning the Hearts (Malachi 4:6)

Malachi gives a particular flavor to the ministry of this Elijah to come:

"He will turn[396] the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers;
or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:6)

What does this mean? Does he refer to a healing of the generation gap, or to something more? Malachi certainly speaks to the healing of frayed relations between parents and children, but it seems like this is a symbol of something even great. Or perhaps Malachi is speaking of a return to the true faith of our spiritual fathers, who would have been ashamed of their descendants' apostasy. The prophet brings the two together by restoring the children to repentance, without which there is only curse and judgment.[397]

The angel's prophecy to Zechariah concerning his son John the Baptist, echoes Malachi's words and interprets them in the sense of turning of hearts in repentance.

"And he will turn[398] many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (Luke 1:16-17, ESV)

This, too, indicates a ministry of repentance and restoration prior to judgment.

And so ends our study of the post-exilic books. In one sense it is a kind of abrupt way to end, but it does so by calling for repentance, and looking forward to God who will bring his people another chance to turn before the final judgment.

The abrupt end leaves us waiting for these Messengers who will come. It leaves us waiting for the New Covenant, God's answer to our lostness and sin. Thank you for the grace you have brought, Lord Jesus. Now come, we pray, for the final judgment and victory. Amen.

Lessons for Disciples

There are many lessons for disciples in this passage.

  1. People who scoff at God, with accusations that he doesn't care, doesn't see, doesn't exist, doesn't reward those who obey him, and doesn't punish evil, have been present for thousands of years (Malachi 2:17).
  2. God's answer to the scoffers and unbelievers is to send two messengers: (a) the Messenger who prepares the way (John the Baptist), and (b) the Messenger of the Covenant (Jesus), who will suddenly come to his temple in judgment (Malachi 3:1).
  3. The Messenger of the Covenant (Jesus) will come like white hot fire and strong caustic soap to refine his priests and Levites (Malachi 3:2-5).
  4. On the Day of Judgment, God will judge all kinds of sinners: sorcerers, adulterers, liars, cheaters, and those who oppress the weak and helpless -- all those who have no respect for Yahweh and his commands (Malachi 3:5).
  5. God's character doesn't change, he is immutable. As a result, he keeps his promises to the Patriarchs by not destroying their descendants (Malachi 3:6).
  6. God calls us to repent, to turn from our sins and turn back to him (Malachi 3:7).
  7. God calls the Jews to stop robbing him by neglecting to offer the tithes and offerings to which he is due under the Covenant (Malachi 3:8-9).
  8. God invites his people to test him by bringing the full tithe to the temple, and then observing the overwhelming blessings he will bring. These blessings are both positive (abundance) and negative (protection from destruction). (Malachi 3:10-11).
  9. Principles of stewardship include:
  1. Everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1).
  2. We are stewards of what belongs to God (Genesis 2:15; Luke 19:11-29).
  3. Tithing is a form of proportional giving.
  4. There is a law of spiritual causality in operation: blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience.
  5. You can't outgive God (Luke 6:38).
  1. We apply the principle of tithing through (a) generosity towards the poor, and (b) support for Christian leaders.
  2. We apply the principles today in this fashion:
  1. Use the tithe as a guideline, not a law.
  2. The blessings of the tithe are blessings for obedience.
  3. Our giving reflects our love for God (Matthew 6:21).
  4. Our giving should support Christian workers as well as the poor.
  5. Cheerful giving is the standard (2 Corinthians 9:7).
  1. Malachi challenges the statements of cynics and unbelievers that serving God is pointless and unprofitable, that the proud should be admired, lawbreakers do better than the righteous, and that God doesn't punish the wicked (Malachi 3:13-15).
  2. God keeps track of those who fear and love him in a "scroll of remembrance." They are his special personal possession that he treasures greatly (Malachi 3:16-17).

  3. Available in paperback, PDF,  Kindle formats
    On Judgment Day the distinction between the righteous and wicked will be clear (Malachi 3:18).
  4. Judgment Day, "the Day of the Lord," will bring fiery punishment for those who don't love God, but blessing and peace to those who trust him (Malachi 4:1-2).
  5. God will send someone to come in the spirit of the Prophet Elijah (John the Baptist) before the Day of Judgment, to bring people to repentance and faith (Malachi 4:5-6).


Father, we live in a world of skeptics and unbelievers, who scoff at the idea of a righteous God and make fun of people who follow Jesus. Help us not to get caught up in the spirit of the age, and so become subject to the judgment that will surely fall upon it. Thank you, that you write our names in heaven and consider us your very special beloved people. That's your grace, Lord, not our deserving anything. Thank you. Thank you for your mercy and undeserved grace that we experience in Jesus Christ our Lord. In his name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 3:1, NIV)

"But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver...." (Malachi 3:2-3a, NIV)

"I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." (Malachi 3:6, NIV)

"'You are under a curse -- the whole nation of you -- because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'" (Malachi 3:9-10, NIV)

"'They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.'" (Malachi 3:17, NIV)

"For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall." (Malachi 4:2, NIV)

"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6, NIV)


[324] "Wearied" is yāgaʿ, "toil, labor, grow or be weary." The primary meaning is "to work until one is tired and exhausted" (Ralph H. Alexander, TWOT #842).

[325] "My messenger" in verse 1 is malʾākî, transliterated, "Malachi." However, the prophet isn't speaking of himself, but a future messenger of Yahweh, "who will prepare the way before me."

[326] "Prepare" is the Piel stem of pānâ, "turn." However, in the Piel stem means, "get rid of, clear up." Here and in Isaiah 40:3; 57:14; 62:10 with the noun "way, road" (derek) it means, "clear (the way)" ( Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 293). In verse 1a there is a wordplay: pannû ("clear") with pânîym (literally, "before my face").

[327] Pitʾōm means "suddenly, surprisingly." Of the 25 uses of this word in the prophets and writings only once does it refer to a pleasant event. Elsewhere it is connected with disaster or judgment (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #1859a).

[328] "Refiner's fire" is "fire" (ʾēsh) with a participle of ṣārap, "smelt, refine, test" (TWOT #1972).

[329] "Launderer's soap" (NIV) or "fullers' soap" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is "soap" (bōrî) and the Piel participle of kābas, "wash, be washed, perform the work of a fuller" (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #946).

[330] "Refiner" in verse 3a is uses the verb ṣārap, "smelt, refine, test" (TWOT #1972).

[331] "Purifier/purify" in verse 3a and 3b uses the verb ṭāhēr, "be pure, clean" (TWOT #792).

[332] "Refine" in verse 4b is zāqaq, "refine, purify." The basic idea is of making something pure (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #576).

[333] "Come near" (NIV), "draw near" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is qārab, "come near, approach, enter into." Basically our root denotes being or coming into the most near and intimate proximity of the object (or subject). A secondary meaning entails actual contact with the object (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #2065).

[334] "Judgment" is mishpāṭ, in the sense of deciding a case of litigation brought before a civil magistrate (Robert D. Culver, TWOT #2443c).

[335] "Testify against" (NIV), "bear witness against" (NRSV), "be a swift witness against" (ESV, KJV) is words, ʿēd, "witness." A witness is a person who has firsthand knowledge of an event or one who can testify on the basis of a report which he has heard. (Carl Schultz, TWOT #1576b). See Jeremiah 29:23, ESV.

[336] Piel stem of māhar, "hasten" is used of wicked men who are eager to shed blood and practice evil (Proverbs 1:16, 6:18; Isaiah 59:7), but also of God who will come to bear prompt or swift witness against their sins (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #1152).

[337] "Sorcerers" is a participle of kāshap, "use witchcraft" (TWOT #1051).

[338] Leonard J. Coppes, ʾap, TWOT #1273.

[339] Ronald B. Allen, ʿāshaq, TWOT #1713.

[340] See, for example, Isaiah 1:17, 23; Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:9; Jeremiah 22:3.

[341] Yārēʾ, TWOT #907.

[342] "Change" is shānâ, here, the intransitive of "to change" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 378; TWOT #2419).

[343] "Are not destroyed" (NIV), "have not perished" (NRSV), "are not consumed" (ESV, KJV) is the negative with the Qal stem of kālâ, which can be translated variously "accomplish, cease, consume, determine, end, fail, finish," depending upon the context. The basic idea of this root is "to bring a process to completion." On the negative side something which is "used up, vanished, spent, consumed" The idea of being consumed is most commonly applied to violent destruction, often by war (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #982).

[344] This phrase comes from the KJV translation of James 1:17 -- "With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning," which the NIV renders as "shifting shadows."

[345] "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," words by Thomas O. Chisolm (1923), music by William M. Runyan (1923), © 1923, Hope Publishing Company.

[346] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), p. 162.

[347] "Turned away" (NIV), "turned aside" (NRSV, ESV), "gone away" (KJV) is śûr, "turn aside, depart." The root is often used of Israel's apostasy. In many cases it is translated "turn aside/away" (TWOT #1480).

[348] "Return," used three times in verse 7b, is shûb, "(re)turn." The most important theological use of shûb in the Qal is in passages dealing with the covenant community's return to God (in the sense of repentance), or turning away from evil, in the sense of renouncing and disowning sin, or turning away from God, in the sense of becoming apostate (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #2340).

[349] "Rob" (used three times in verse 8, and once in verse 9) is qābaʿ. The meaning is uncertain, as it is rare in the Old Testament, perhaps "rob." Used only here and in Proverbs 22:23. The word is well established in Talmudic literature, meaning, "to take forcibly" (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 246). "Deceive," or perhaps "rob" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 311), achieved by transposing the consonants.

[350] "Tithe" is maʿaśēr, "tithe," related to the word for "ten." The Egyptians and Mesopotamians tithed to gods or temples (Ronald B. Allen, TWOT #1711h).

[351] "Offerings" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "contributions" (ESV) is terûmâ, "contribution," from the verb rûm, "be high; lofty; rise up." Used both as a general cultic term for various offerings and as a term for those parts of the offerings designated especially for the officiating priest (Andrew Bowling, TWOT #2133i).

[352] "Whole" (NIV), "full" (NRSV, ESV), "all" (KJV) is kōl, "totality" Kōl before a determinate noun expresses unity, e.g., "the whole earth" (Genesis 9:19) (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, pp. 156-157).

[353] "Storehouse" is two words, bayit, "house, household, home, temple," and ʾôṣār, "treasure, treasury, storehouse," from ʾāṣar, "to store up, lay up" (TWOT #154a). Bayit is used later in the verse to refer to "my house," that is, the temple.

[354] "Food" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "meat" (KJV) is ṭerep, "prey, food, leaf," from the verb ṭārap, "to seize a creature with predaciousness, tear the flesh, and consume it" (TWOT #827b).

[355] "Test" (NIV), "put to the test" (NRSV, KJV), "prove" (KJV) is bāḥan, "to examine, try, prove," denoting, "examining to determine essential qualities, especially integrity" (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #230).

[356] "Floodgates" (NIV), "windows" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ʾarubbâ, "window, chimney, sluice" (TWOT #156d). "Window, chimney" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 26).

[357] "Pour out" (NIV, KJV), "pour down" (NRSV, ESVI) is the Hiphil stem of rîq, "make empty," Hiphil, "empty out," used a few times literally of emptying vessels, sacks, etc. (William White, TWOT #2161). "Empty out, pour out" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 339).

[358] "Blessing" is berākâ, "blessing," Either the verbal enduement with good things or a collective expression for the good things themselves (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #285b).

[359] "So much" (NIV), "overflowing" (NRSV), "until" (ESV) is "until, up to, upon," here, expresses degree or measure, "to an overwhelming degree" (Malachi 3:10; Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, pp. 264-265). "Not room enough" (NIV, KJV), "overflowing" (NRSV), "no more need" (ESV) is simply day, "sufficiency, necessary supply, enough." Here, negatively, "until there is no more necessity, sufficient" (Malachi 3:10; Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 70).

[360] "Prevent" (NIV), "rebuke" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ʿar, "rebuke, reprove," indicating a check applied to a person or peoples through strong admonitions or actions (Harold G. Stigers, TWOT #370).

[361] "Pests from devouring" (NIV), "the locust" (NRSV), "the devourer" (ESV, KJV) is a participle of the verb, ʾākal, "eat, consume, devour," with the primary meaning of "to consume" (Jack B. Scott, TWOT #85). The ESV footnote says, "probably a name for a crop-consuming pest or pests."

[362] "Vine," gepen, indicates a grape vine of whatever species (Harold G. Sitgers, TWOT #372a).

[363] "Cast their fruit" (NIV, KJV), "be barren" (NRSV), "fail to bear" (ESV) is the Piel stem of shākal, "be bereaved, make childless, miscarry" (TWOT #2385).

[364] "Call blessed" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "count happy" (NRSV), here and in verse 15 is the Piel stem of the verb ʾāshar. In the Qal stem it means "walk in the way of understanding." In the Piel stem, as in our verse, it means something like, "to bless, called blessed." A more commonly used synonym is bārak. Of the two words only bārak is used by God or towards God. To be blessed (ʾāshar) a man has to do something. To be blessed (bārak), one only has to trust in God. Bārak is a benediction; ʾāshar more of a congratulation. Asher is one of the tribes of Israel, the name meaning, "happy, fortunate one" (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #183).

[365] "Delightful land" (NIV), "land of delight" (NRSV, ESV), "delightsome land" (KJV) is two words: the noun is ʾereṣ, "earth, land." The adjective is ḥēpeṣ , "delight, pleasure," where it speaks of the pleasure which the land gives. It is formed from the verb ḥāpēṣ, "take delight in, be pleased with, desire," the basic meaning being to feel great favor towards something, suggesting a definite emotional involvement. The word can also be used in reference to that in which God finds delight (Leonard J. Wood, TWOT #712b).

[366] Euodoō, BDAG 410. Danker translates the phrase, "save as much as he gains." But Fee notes that the Christian community contained a number of slaves who might have no income at all. He sees the verb as "intentionally ambiguous, and does not mean that each should lay aside all his or her 'profits,' which a literal translation of the Greek text would allow, but that in accordance with 'whatever success or prosperity may have come their way that week,' each should set aside something for this collection. There is no hint of a tithe or proportional giving; the gift is simply to be related to their ability from week to week as they have been prospered by God" (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary; Eerdmans, 1987), p. 814). The NRSV's translation "whatever extra you earn," misses the sense of it, I think.

[367] You can see this spelled out much more fully in my article, "Does Your Church Run a Spiritual Sweatshop?" https://www.joyfulheart.com/church/sweatshop.htm

[368] Baldwin (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 248) notes that some think Malachi is speaking to the discouraged believers here as in Psalm 73:2-15, but I think the attitudes expressed in Malachi 3:13-15 clearly reflect the mindset of the wicked, the unbeliever.

[369] The idea of speaking words is implied, not stated. "Harsh" (NIV, NRSV), "hard" (ESV), "stout" (KJV) is ḥāzaq, "be(come) strong, strengthen, prevail, harden, be courageous, be sore" (meaning "be severe"). This can include the ideas of being severe, and hardening of the heart (TWOT #636). The same word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to hardened hearts.

[370] "Futile" (NIV), "vain" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is the noun sihāwʾ, "emptiness, vanity, falsehood." The primary meaning of shāwʾ is "emptiness, vanity." It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #2338a).

[371] "Gain" (NIV), "profit" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is beṣaʿ, "profit." The root idea is to cut off what is not one's own, or in the slang of our day, to take a "rip-off," thus to be greedy, covetous. So beṣaʿ is "profit, unjust gain, covetousness," personal advantage derived from some activity, usually in a negative sense (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #267a).

[372] "Blessed" (NIV, ESV), "happy" (NRSV, KJV) is ʾāshar, which we saw in Malachi 3:12.

[373] "Arrogant" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "proud" (KJV) is zēd, "proud, arrogant," from zûd, "boil, act proudly, presumptuously, rebelliously" (TWOT #547a).

[374] "Evildoers" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "they that work wickedness" (KJV) is rishʿâ, "guilt, wickedness," mostly in the abstract sense of wickedness or act of wickedness. This word group is used as the opposite of righteousness (ṣdq). "In contrast to ṣdq it denotes the negative behavior of evil thoughts, words and deeds, a behavior not only contrary to God's character, but also hostile to the community and which at the same time betrays the inner disharmony and unrest of a man" (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #2222c).

[375] "Prosper" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "are set up" (KJV) is the Niphal stem of bānâ, "build, rebuild" (TWOT #255).

[376] "Challenge" (NIV), "put to the test" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is bāḥan, "to examine, try, prove." In most cases, it is God testing man. But in three instances we see man challenging God to perform, once in the Psalms (Psalm 95:9) and twice here in Malachi (Malachi 3:10, 15).

[377] "People Need the Lord," words and Music by Greg Nelson and Phil McHugh (© 1983 River Oaks Music Co.).

[378] "One another" uses two words in an idiom, using ish, "man" to rēaʿ, "friend, companion, another person, neighbor, associate -- close or occasional" (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #2186a).

[379] "Listened and heard" (NIV), "took note and listened" (NRSV), "paid attention and heard" (ESV), "hearkened and heard" (KJV) are two nearly synonymous words: qāshab, "hear, be attentive, heed," and shāmaʿ, "hear, listen to, obey."

[380] "Scroll" (NIV), "book" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is sēper, "writing, book" (TWOT #1540). In this era this would refer to a scroll, not a codex that has bound sheets.

[381] "Remembrance" is zikkārôn, "memorial, reminder, token, record." The zikkārôn is an object or act which brings something else to mind or which represents something else. As such it may be a "memorial," a "reminder," a historical "record," or a physical "token" which calls to mind a deity (Thomas E. McComiskey, TWOT #551b).

[382] "Honored" (NIV), "thought on" (NRSV, KJV), "esteemed" (ESV) is the Qal stem of ḥāshab, "think, plan, make a judgment, imagine, count." The main idea is "the employment of the mind in thinking activity." Here it probably has the idea of "running thoughts through the mind, meditating" (Leonard J. Wood, TWOT #767).

[383] Segullâ, TWOT #1460.

[384] "Make up" (KJV, NIV, ESV), "day when I act" (NRSV, NJB) is ʿāśâ, "do, fashion, accomplish." Used of God's creative work. (TWOT #1708).

[385] "Serves" is ʿābad, "work, serve" (TWOT #1553).

[386] Coppes says, "Basically, this root connotes that emotional response which results (or may result) in action to remove its object (and/or its subject) from impending difficulty" (Leonard J. Coppes, ḥāmal, TWOT #676).

[387] "See the distinction" (NIV, ESV), "see the difference" (NRSV), "discern" (KJV) is the Qal stem of ʾâ, "see, look at, inspect" (TWOT #2095).

[388] "Burn/burning," "glowing" (NJB) is ʿar, "to burn, consume, be kindled" (TWOT #263).

[389] "Stubble" is qash, "stubble, chaff." (TWOT #2091a).

[390] "Furnace" is tannûr, "furnace, oven." The word denotes basically the relatively small and sometimes portable stove or oven rather than the larger furnace. Constructed of clay and often sunk into the ground, they had a cylindrical or beehive shape and were two to three feet in diameter. Bread and other foods were baked in them (Roland F. Youngblood, TWOT #2526).

[391] "Healing" is marpēʾ, "healing," from rāpāʾ, "heal, make healthful" (TWOT #2196c). In many of the occurrences, it is God who causes healing or afflicts with disease or catastrophes which cannot be healed but by divine intervention.

[392] "Wings" is kānāp, "wing, winged, border, corner, shirt." Malachi 4:2 speaks of the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings. Evidently this is an appropriation of the winged sun disc symbol which is used throughout the ancient near east as a manifestation of the deity's protection (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #1003a).

[393] Meir Lubetski, "King Hezekiah's Seal Revisited," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2001.

[394] "Great and dreadful day" (NIV, KJV), "great and terrible day" (NRSV), "great and awesome day" (ESV) is gādôl, "great" plus the Niphal stem of yārēʾ, "fear, be afraid."

[395] C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, in loc.

[396] "Turn" is the extremely common verb shûb, "turn, return," that we've encountered before. Sometimes it's used in the sense of repentance, but usually it lacks a theological connotation.

[397] This seems to be the approach of Keil and Delitzsch, op. cit.

[398] "Bring back" (NIV in vs. 16), "turn" (NRSV, ESV, KJV, and NIV in vs. 17) is epistrephō, "to turn to," here, "to cause a person to change belief or course of conduct, with focus on the thing to which one turns, turn," in a spiritual or moral sense (BDAG 382, 3).

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