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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Malachi 3


The Lord addressed the entire nation of Israel in this address, not specifically the priests as in the former one. His concern, as expressed through His messenger Malachi, was the peoples’ indifference toward His will. They were blaming their social and economic troubles on the Lord’s supposed injustice and indifference to them (Malachi 2:17). Furthermore they were being unfaithful to one another, especially their wives whom the husbands were apparently abandoning for foreign women. These conditions profaned the temple and the Mosaic Covenant (Malachi 2:10-15 a). The Lord’s command, which lies in the center of the section (as in the first and third exhortations), was for the people to stop their treachery toward one another (Malachi 2:15-16). Thus the major emphasis of this second main section of Malachi is social responsibility (love for and relationship with people), whereas the major emphasis of the first major section was theological (love for and relationship with God). First positive and, later, negative motivations act as bookends surrounding the Lord’s command (cf. Malachi 1:2-5; Malachi 2:1-9; and Malachi 3:10-12; Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:3).

"The style of the third oracle [according to the "disputation speeches" division of Malachi] differs from the others. Instead of an initial statement or charge followed by a question of feigned innocence, this oracle begins with three questions asked by the prophet. However, as at the beginning of each of the other oracles, the point is presented at the outset." [Note: Blaising, p. 1580.]

Verse 1

The Lord’s response to the cynical Israelites was to point them to the future. He predicted the coming of His messenger (cf. Isaiah 40:3-5). There is no question about who this was because Jesus identified him as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; cf. Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). This future messenger would clear the way in preparation for Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23). Clearly Jesus Christ is Yahweh since John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.

"Perhaps most intriguing of all the issues raised by the fourth disputation is its implicit identification of the ’messenger of the covenant’ as Yahweh himself. No other passage in the Old Testament so clearly assigns divine prerogatives and nomenclature to the figure of the Messiah (though the term masiah is not itself employed by Malachi). When one examines how this disputation describes the identity and actions of the ’messenger of the covenant,’ one can only conclude that he is divine." [Note: Stuart, p. 1347.]

Then the Lord, whom the Israelites were seeking, would suddenly come to His temple (cf. Ezekiel 43:1-5; Zechariah 8:3). Though Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem many times during His earthly ministry, this sudden coming was not fulfilled then (cf. Malachi 3:2-5). It will occur when He returns to set up His messianic kingdom.

"The fact that he will come suddenly is ominous, for suddenness was usually associated with a calamitous event (e.g. ; Isaiah 47:11; Isaiah 48:3; Jeremiah 4:20, etc.)." [Note: Baldwin, p. 243. Cf. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6.]

"The messenger of the covenant" is another name for the Lord who would come following the appearance of the first messenger promised in this verse. He would be the divine Messiah. "Messenger" means "angel," and the Angel of the Lord is in view here. The "covenant" is the New Covenant that God promised to make with the Jews in the future (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-36; Ezekiel 37:26). Another view is that the covenant in view is the Mosaic Covenant and, behind it, the Abrahamic Covenant. [Note: Clendenen, p. 386.] The Jews delighted in this Messenger because His coming had been a subject of messianic prophecy and an object of eager anticipation from early in Israel’s history (Genesis 3:15; pass.). Sovereign Yahweh promised His coming again here. The Jews had been expressing disbelief that God would intervene and establish justice in the world (Malachi 2:17), but God promised He would.

Verses 1-6

E. Negative motivation: the coming messenger of judgment 3:1-6

Like the first address (Malachi 1:2 to Malachi 2:9), this one ends with more motivation. Unpleasant things would happen if the people failed to change in their dealings with one another. The warning centers around the coming of another messenger whose arrival would bring judgment in the future. This section contains four predictions (Malachi 3:1 a, Malachi 3:1 b, Malachi 3:3, Malachi 3:5).

Verses 2-3

When the Lord came suddenly to His temple, no one would be able to stand before Him. Elsewhere the prophets foretold that this time would be a day of judgment on the whole world marked by disaster and death (Malachi 4:1; Isaiah 2:12; Joel 3:11-16; Amos 5:18-21; Zechariah 1:14-17). Here Malachi said no one would be able to endure His coming because He would purify the priesthood, the people who stood closest to Him. As a fire He would burn up the impurities of the priests, and as a laundryman’s soap He would wash them clean (cf. Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29-30; Ezekiel 22:17-22; Zechariah 3:5). The Levitical priests would then be able to offer sacrifices to Yahweh in a righteous condition rather than as they were in Malachi’s day (cf. Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 66:20-23; Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40:38-43; Ezekiel 43:13-27; Ezekiel 45:9-25; Zechariah 14:16-21). The multiple figures of cleansing and the repetition of terms for cleansing stress the thoroughness of the change that the Lord’s Messenger would produce.

"Christ’s atoning death meant that the entire sacrifice-based system could be brought to an end, its assigned purposes having been fulfilled." [Note: Stuart, p. 1354.]

Verse 4

After this cleansing of the priests, Judah and Jerusalem (i.e., all Israel) would be able to offer sacrifices that would please the Lord, in contrast to the present ones that did not (cf. Malachi 1:13-14). They would be acceptable like the offerings the priests offered earlier in Israel’s history, before the priesthood had become corrupt.

Verse 5

At that time the Lord assured His people that He would draw near to them, but it would be for judgment. He would quickly judge all types of sin that they practiced, whereas in Malachi’s day, and now, He waits to judge (cf. 2 Peter 3:9-10). The Levites would not be the only Jews He judged; all the Israelites living then would come under His judgment (cf. Ezekiel 20:34-38). He would judge them for all types of activity forbidden for His people: sorcery; adultery; lying; oppression of employees, widows, and orphans; mistreatment of aliens; even all forms of irreverence for Him. This was His answer to their claim that He was unjust (Malachi 2:17).

Verse 6

The Lord concluded by reminding His people of one of His character qualities that should have made them fear Him and have hope. He does not change, and that is why they would not be consumed totally. He was faithful to His covenant promises in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants; He would never destroy them completely but would chasten them and finally bless them. By calling the Jews "sons of Jacob," the Lord was connecting their behavior with that of their notorious patriarch. Promises are only as good as the person who makes them, so the fact that Yahweh does not change strengthens the certainty of their fulfillment (cf. Deuteronomy 4:31; Ezekiel 36:22-32). The Apostle Paul gave the same reason for expecting Israel to have a future (Romans 3:3-4; Romans 9:6; Romans 11:1-5; Romans 11:25-29).

The statement that Yahweh does not change (cf. 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 13:8) may seem to contradict other statements that the Lord changed His mind (e.g., Exodus 32:14). This statement that He does not change refers to the essential character of God. He is always holy, loving, just, faithful, gracious, merciful, etc. The other statements, that He changes, refer to His changing from one course of action to another. They involve His choices, not His character. If He did not change His choices, He would be unresponsive; if He changed His character, He would be unreliable. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 145-46; Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Does God ’Change His Mind’?" Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):387-99; and Clendenen, pp. 404-8.]


The Lord had said that Israel’s earlier history was a time when the priests and the people of Israel pleased Him (Malachi 3:4). Now He said that those early days were short-lived (cf. Exodus 32:7-9). In contrast to His faithfulness (Malachi 3:6), they had been unfaithful.

This third and last hortatory speech in Malachi differs from the previous two in its construction. Whereas the former two both began with positive motivation and ended with negative motivation, this one begins and ends with commands. Whereas the central section in each of them was a command surrounded by evidence for needed change, this one centers on the evidence that is flanked by motivations. Thus this speech, and the entire book, ends with a climactic command to remember the Law (Malachi 4:4-6).

The focus of the first speech was on the peoples’ relationship to God (divine responsibility), the focus of the second one was on their relationship to one another (social responsibility), and the third one is on their relationship to their possessions (economic responsibility).

Verse 7

From Israel’s early history the people had deviated from the straight path that Yahweh had prescribed for them to walk in the Mosaic Covenant. They had disobeyed covenant stipulations. The almighty Lord called His people to return to Him with the promise that if they did He would return to them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:30-31; Deuteronomy 30:1-10). A command to "return" to the Lord, in Malachi 3:7, occurs at the beginning of this speech, and a promise that the Lord would "return" to them, in Malachi 4:6, ends the speech. The response of the people was that they did not know how to return. The Mosaic Covenant specified how they were to return, by trusting and obeying Yahweh, so their question indicated a reluctance to change their ways.

"’How should we return?’ is not an earnest entreaty for information but a self-serving declaration of innocence. The people, in effect, are saying, ’What need do we have to return since we never turned away to begin with?’" [Note: Merrill, p. 437.]

"They were like the stereotypical husband who has failed to recognize that his relationship with his wife has deteriorated." [Note: Clendenen, p. 413.]

Verses 7-10

A. First command: return to the Lord with tithes 3:7-10a

Verse 8

The Lord proceeded to give some examples of repentance that the Israelites needed to apply. How absurd it is for human beings to rob God. To rob Him one would have to be stronger and smarter than He. Yet that is what the Israelites were doing because God was allowing it. They were thieves of the worst kind: robbers of God. They brazenly asked how they had robbed Him. They had withheld the tithes (Leviticus 27:30; Leviticus 27:32; Deuteronomy 12:5-18; Deuteronomy 14:22-29) and offerings (Numbers 18:21-32) that the Law commanded them to bring to God.

Standing beside "tithes" as it does here, "offerings" may refer to the tithe of the tithe that went to the priests (cf. Exodus 29:27-28; Leviticus 7:32; Numbers 5:9). The Levites were to receive a tenth from the people and then give a tenth of that to the priests. But the widows, orphans, and sojourners also benefited from the tithes (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), so withholding it hurt them as well. Another possibility is that Malachi was distinguishing the mandatory "tithes" from the voluntary "offerings" that the Israelites brought. Or perhaps any other offerings beside the tithes are in view. In any case, tithes and offerings constitute a merism representing all their economic responsibilities to God.

Since God owned the land and its produce in the first place (cf. Malachi 1:12-14; Leviticus 25:23), withholding tithes when He commanded the Israelites to give them amounted to robbing Him. Earlier the Lord criticized the priests for offering inferior quality sacrifices (Malachi 1:7-14), and now He criticized the people for offering an insufficient quantity of sacrifices (cf. Malachi 3:10). Failure to adequately support the priests and Levites resulted in the breakdown of priestly service (cf. Nehemiah 10:32-39; Nehemiah 13:10).

Verse 9

All the people were guilty of this offense. That is, it was widespread in the nation, not that every individual Israelite was guilty necessarily. Robbing the priests and Levites of what was due them was really robbing God since they were His servants and they maintained His house, the temple. They would receive a curse from the Lord for this covenant violation (Malachi 3:11; cf. Malachi 4:6).

Verse 10

The Lord had promised to bless the Israelites for obedience, so their obedience in bringing the full amount of tithes that the Law required would test (i.e., prove, demonstrate) His faithfulness to His promise. He promised to reward their full obedience with rain and harvests abundant enough to satisfy their needs. His "storehouse" of blessings for them was full.

This verse has often been used to urge Christians to tithe. However, the New Covenant under which Christians live never specified the amount or percentage that we should give back to God of what He has given to us. Rather it teaches that we should give regularly, sacrificially, as the Lord has prospered us, and joyfully (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Philippians 4). In harmony with the principle of grace that marks the present dispensation, the Lord leaves the amount we give back to Him unspecified and up to us. Christians who sit under a steady diet of preaching that majors on God’s grace often give far more than 10 percent. Since tithing preceded the giving of the Mosaic Covenant (Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22), many Christians regard giving 10 percent as our minimal responsibility. However, the examples of tithing that appear before the Mosaic Law are just that: examples, not commands (e.g., Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22). Examples are not binding on believers, but precepts (commands) are. Another example of this is the early Jerusalem Christians practicing communal living (Acts 2:44). Few people would say that this practice is binding on all Christians today.

This verse has also been used to teach "storehouse giving." Those who do so view the church building, or the church congregation, as the storehouse into which Christians should bring their gifts to the Lord. Some go so far as to say that it is wrong for Christians to give to the Lord in ways that bypass the local church, for example, giving directly to a missionary.

This viewpoint fails to appreciate the difference between Israel’s temple and Christian churches. Israel’s temple was a depository for the gifts that the Israelites brought to sustain the servants and work of the Lord throughout their nation. The Christian church, however, is different in that we have no central sanctuary, as Israel did, nor does the church have a national homeland. Christians live and serve throughout the world in contrast to the Israelites who were to fulfill their mission by serving God within their land. God told the Israelites to stay in the land and let their light shine from there (Exodus 19:5-6), but He has told Christians to go into all the world and let our light shine there (Matthew 28:19-20). Some Christians believe that each local church is a microcosm of Israel, so we should regard our church as Israel regarded its temple. Most Christians believe the church is not limited to a collection of local churches but includes the whole universal body of Christ (Ephesians 1; Ephesians 4). The whole is greater than any of its parts and even all its parts.

Verses 10-12

B. Positive motivation: future blessing 3:10b-12

Both motivational sections of this speech have a future orientation (cf. Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:6).

Verses 11-12

Not only would God provide adequate harvests (Malachi 3:10), but He would also preserve the harvested crops from animals and diseases that might otherwise destroy them. The Israelites’ grapes would also develop fully on their vines rather than dropping off prematurely. All other nations would acknowledge divine blessing on the Israelites because their land would be such a delightful place.

The Mosaic Covenant with its promises of material blessing for obedience is no longer in force (Romans 10:4; Hebrews 8:13). Obedience to God’s will does not necessarily result in material prosperity now (Philippians 1:29; Philippians 4:11-13). However, we do have promises that God will reward those who trust and obey Him in the next stage of our lives, after death, if not before (Acts 4:31-35; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12; Galatians 6:6-9; Philippians 4:14-19). And we enjoy many spiritual blessings now (cf. Romans 5:1-11; Ephesians 1:3-14).

"The issue in Malachi 3:7-12 is not tithing but apostasy. Judah is charged here with abandoning the God who had chosen and blessed them and turning away from the statutes he had given them to test their loyalty and to mark the path of life he would bless. By retaining for themselves the tithes and other offerings they owed to God, the people showed their idolatrous hearts in placing themselves before God, and they showed their callous hearts in leaving the Levites and landless poor to fend for themselves." [Note: Ibid., p. 429. See also his excursus on tithing in the church, pp. 429-33.]

Verse 13

The people had spoken arrogantly against the Lord, yet when faced with their disrespect they asked for proof.

Verses 13-15

C. Situation: complacency toward serving the Lord 3:13-15

Now the Lord identified the sinful attitude that lay behind the peoples’ failure to tithe. This is the longest speech of the Judahites in the book, and it shows the hardness of the peoples’ hearts.

Verse 14

The Lord obliged them. They had said that serving the Lord and obeying Him did not benefit them, that it did not pay to serve Yahweh. When they mourned over their sins, their physical conditions did not improve.

"Some of the people who made the complaint (Malachi 3:14) were guilty of the myopic legalism that eventually led to Jewish pharisaism in the first century A.D. This legalism concentrated on performing certain rigorous activities and not doing other things as the means of vindicating themselves before God. But this actually stifled the full expression of inner righteousness required by God (Matthew 5:20-48; Matthew 23:1-36)." [Note: Blaising, p. 1586.]

"So-called good works that do not arise from genuine faith and gratitude to God are simply ’hot checks’ drawn on an empty bank account. They may provide a temporary sense of self-satisfaction, but God recognizes their true value-zero, and he will eventually bring to justice anyone who tries to live on them." [Note: Clendenen, p. 437.]

"I hear this complaint from some believers about their churches. ’We’re not getting anything out of it!’ But a church is like a bank or a home: you don’t get anything out of it unless you put something into it." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 487.]

Verse 15

It seemed better for them to become self-assertive because then some good things would come their way. It was those who practiced wickedness who got ahead and grew stronger materially (cf. Malachi 2:17). For them life was all about material prosperity, so it seemed better to be wicked than righteous. Even though they tested the Lord’s patience and tried to provoke a reaction from Him by behaving as they did, they escaped His punishment only temporarily.

D. Motivation: the coming day 3:16-4:3

In the first two hortatory speeches the first motivation sections are positive and the second ones are negative. In this last speech the first is mainly positive, but the second is a mixture of positive and negative, though mainly negative.

Verse 16

Upon hearing the Lord’s rebuke through His prophet, some of Malachi’s hearers who genuinely feared the Lord got together. Evidently they discussed Malachi’s message and agreed among themselves that they needed to repent. They even wrote down their commitment on a scroll.

"Almost surely this was a scroll that contained their names as signatories to some sort of statement of their commitment to Yahweh in faith that they were disassociating themselves from the prevailing sins, that his promises were reliable, and that his covenant was to be kept. In other words, it was a covenant renewal document." [Note: Stuart, p. 1382.]

Yahweh paid attention to their heart attitude and heard what they said.

"How can an individual remain faithful to God in a faithless world? Malachi gave three tips for developing a lifestyle of faithfulness.

• Vow to be faithful to God, even if those around you are not. Consider writing your own ’scroll of remembrance.’

• Surround yourself with a group of likeminded individuals for encouragement. This group ’talked with each other’ (Malachi 3:16) as they encouraged each other to remain faithful (see Hebrews 10:25).

• Remember that God’s day of reckoning will come someday. Keep a long-range perspective (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 841.]

Verse 17

Almighty Yahweh announced that He would honor those who feared Him as His own on the day He prepared His own possessions. This probably refers to the day of the Lord (cf. Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:3) when He will resurrect Old Testament saints and judge them (cf. Daniel 12:2). This will be when Jesus Christ returns to rule and reign on the earth. The faithful will receive a reward in His kingdom for their submission (Daniel 12:3). He also promised to spare them as a man spares his own son. When Jesus Christ judges Old Testament saints, He will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Here God described the sheep as His sons. He will spare them the humiliation and punishment that will be the lot of those who did not honor Him (Malachi 3:14-15).

Verse 18

In that day it will be clear who behaved righteously and who behaved wickedly because Jesus Christ will reward the righteous and not reward the wicked among the Israelites. Then the true and the false servants of the Lord will be manifest. In Malachi’s day, and in ours, the true motives of God’s people are not obvious, but in the future they will become clear for many to see.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Malachi 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.