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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Malachi 3

CHAP. III.

Of the messenger, majesty, and grace of Christ. Of the rebellion, sacrilege, and infidelity of the people. The promise of blessing to them that fear God.

Before Christ about 400.

Verse 1

Malachi 3:1. Behold, I will send my messenger, &c.— Here is a description of two persons whom God promises to send to the Jews. The one God calls my angel or messenger, whose errand is said to be to prepare the way before me; meaning, that he should be a prophet of note, (for so the Hebrew word מלאךֶ malaak has been interpreted in other parts of the Old Testament,) who should usher in the LORD who was to follow him,—and supply the place of a harbinger to a great Prince; and consequently, from the nature of his employ, was as much inferior to the Lord who was to come after him, as servants are to him whose forerunners they are appointed. The other is represented in very high characters, as that Lord whom they sought, or expected to come; as the Angel or Messenger of the covenant, in whom they delighted; that is to say, under or by whom they promised themselves all felicity; and again as a severe Judge, Malachi 3:2. It was partly the atheistical behaviour and discourse of many Jews in that age, which moved God to give them this prophesy. "We are not so wicked, said they to the prophet who reproved them, as you make us; or, there are others more wicked than we, that prosper; and why may not we? If God disliked their ways, he certainly would not bear with them; or, where is the God of judgment?" "Well then," replies God, "you shall know experimentally where he is, and find him where you least look for him. By Him whom you seek,—whom you delight in, will I appear to be a God of judgement: and, that you may not be surprised at his coming, Behold, I send my messenger," &c. He is the same person, as Eben Ezra observes, who, from the dignity of his person, is called the LORD, and from his office, Angel of the covenant. His office relates to a covenant with his people, which, as it seems by the punishment which followed his coming, they should reject. The time of his coming is said to be suddenly, that is, after the messenger, who was to prepare his way; and is implied to be under that temple which they despised and profaned, but of which he shall be the glory.

The question now is, Who is intended by the first messenger? and again, Who by the LORD,—the messenger of the covenant? You need only turn to chap. Mal 4:5-6 to be sure that the first messenger is the same that is there called Elias. In the one place we read, My messenger shall prepare the way before me; in the other it is declared how he shall prepare it; viz. by turning the hearts of the fathers, &c. In the one place the day of his coming is described as very dreadful; But who may abide? &c. In the other, it is expressly named so, and with reference to what went before: that great and dreadful day of the Lord! in both for the same reason;—because of the terrible judgment which ensued. The Jews in St. Jerome's time interpreted the first messenger of Elias; and so did the Jews much earlier, who composed their liturgy: in the prayer at the bringing forth the book of the law, they say, "O God, animate and strengthen us, and send to us the angel (or messenger), the redeemer. Let Elias thy prophet surely come in our days, with Messiah the son of David thy servant." He is called Elias the prophet, chap. 4: but nowhere God's prophet, except in the passage before us, where God saith, I will send my messenger, &c. Knowing the first messenger, we cannot be in doubt about the second, since the coming of Elias and of the Lord Messiah are ever joined together by the Jews; the one presupposes and infers the other. You read in the prayer just quoted, "Send to us the angel (or messenger), the redeemer." This is Malachi's Angel of the covenant. Again, "Let Elias thy prophet surely come in our days, with the Messiah," &c. This is the LORD in Malachi, who shall suddenly come after the messenger, his forerunner. Kimchi, Abarbanel, and other of the ancient Rabbis, unanimously agree that the Hebrew word אדון adon, or, Lord, means the "Messiah the son of David." St. Jerome says they referred it to their ηλειμμενος, their Anointed, or Christ, which is the word that Aquila and Symmachus used for the Messiah: and indeed it is not possible to find any other person to whom the words in question will apply. What man besides was ever expected and sought, and delighted in, so long before they knew him? What man else was ever called the LORD, and the Lord of the temple, but he, whom David in spirit called My LORD, because of God's associating him as Man into dominion with himself, to sit at his right hand, till he made his enemies his footstool? What other deliverance was looked for by the Jews, as the deliverance of God himself, than that by the Messiah? There is one certain deliverance promised them in a succession of prophets, by the terms of salvation by the Lord,—by the Lord God himself, as superior to, and different from, their former deliverances by flesh and blood; and this the Jews appropriate to the redemption by the Messiah. God saves, and God judges by him: and he is, therefore, in Malachi, termed the Lord, as being Emmanuel, the God, the Saviour with us. In a word, who but one of his dignity ever had in Scripture a forerunner appointed him, that was predicted to give notice of, and prepare for, his coming? Who, but the Angel of the covenant, was likely to transact the new covenant, which God assured them he would make with them in the latter days, and, as they understood, by the Messiah? St. Mark, therefore, with good reason, introduces his Gospel with this unexceptionable text of Malachi, in order to shew the connection between the Old and New Testament; and that one began where the other ended. Malachi was the last prophet whom God vouchsafed to the Jews before the coming of Elias; and he, supposing the belief of a Messiah to come to be already received, and borrowing the expressions of the former prophets,—where-ever Malachi speaks clearly of the Messiah, he may be justly thought to direct how we should understand those prophesies before him, of the Messiah. Thus when he says, The Lord whom ye seek, &c. he plainly intimates, that in his days the Jews expected and wished for that coming; even before the assurance that he now gave them. They had certainly some grounds for such pleasing hopes; for no one desires or delights in things unknown, undescribed, unpromised: and, the event depending merely on the will of God, nothing less than God's revelation was sufficient foundation for believing it; which revelation God was wont to communicate to their nation by the prophets. The writings of the prophets were in their hands; and they read therein many gracious promises of great good under some king of the house of David, repeated frequently before and after the captivity. On these promises they built their hopes; and as their affairs became low or intricate, the more their longings for these happy times increased. In such a situation Malachi found them at the time he prophesied. But, did he tell them that they were mistaken in their expectations? On the contrary, he assures them, that the Lord whom they expected shall come, &c. He could not have established the belief of a Messiah better, if he had cited the very texts from which they expected him. Yet some of these texts he refers to in this prophesy; for the words spoken of Christ's harbinger, He shall prepare the way before me, being taken from Isa 40:1-3 we have Malachi's testimony that Isaiah prophesied of the same person as he does. Isaiah begins his prophesy thus, Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, &c. Something very extraordinary appears to be here promised. The Jewish Targum tells us what it is, Malachi 3:9. Behold, the kingdom of your God is revealed; meaning the kingdom of the Messiah; which, because the God of heaven shall set it up, is called the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven. Hence the Jews learned to call the days of the Messiah the days of consolation; and waiting for the consolation of Israel is explained by seeing the Lord's Christ, or Messiah, Luk 2:25-26 and by looking for redemption, and waiting for the kingdom of God. Hence one of the names of the Messiah is מנחם Menachem, or Comforter: and his salvation, Isa 62:1 is interpreted by the consolation of Israel, in the Chaldee. Since, therefore, Isaiah, under the figure of a voice proclaiming the approach of a greater person, prophesies of the coming of a certain messenger, to remove all hindrances out of his way, who is called the glory of the Lord, and their God; and since Malachi, predicting the coming of the same messenger, recites the very words of Isaiah, that he should prepare the way before him; and then applies the title of LORD to him whom they sought and delighted in; that is to say, to the Messiah;—we cannot avoid thinking that the same persons are intended in both the prophesies. It may be collected from this text, that angel or messenger is one of the titles of the Messiah. Malachi's fixing the character of messenger of the covenant on the Messiah authorises us to look for the accomplishment of those prophesies which speak of another covenant in the days of the Messiah. God signified by his prophets successively, that he would make a new covenant, a covenant of peace; an everlasting covenant: that he would give his servant, his elect, to be a covenant to the people, and a light to the Gentiles. To what time or person these prophesies did relate, might be disputed before Malachi prophesied, though they have internal marks which point to the Messiah. But after Malachi had said so plainly, that the Lord whom they sought, meaning the Messiah, is the Messenger of the covenant whom they delight in, and that he shall surely come, we can no longer doubt it. It is saying in other words, the Messiah shall be the declarer, the publisher, the mediator of that better covenant,—for all these ideas are comprehended in the word messenger,—as Moses was of the old covenant; and that a law should be given by him. See Bishop Chandler's Defence, p. 52, &c.

Verse 2

Malachi 3:2. But who may abide the day, &c.— Though the Jews promised themselves great felicity from the coming of the Messiah, yet he was to be considered by them in the character of a severe and just judge: for, however they delighted themselves with the hopes of his coming, the prophet declares that it should eventually prove no matter of joy to them; for the day of his coming should be a day of exact retribution; when he appears, he shall be like a refiner's fire, and as fuller's soap; he shall separate the metal from the dross, and punish the impenitent with impartiality; and then they should be able to answer their old question mentioned in the former chapter, Malachi 3:17. Where is the God of judgment? The divine judgments are often called a fiery trial, such as separates the genuine metal from the dross, purifies the former, and consumes the latter. The word ברית boreth, translated soap, was, according to St. Jerome, the name of an herb growing in Palestine, and used by the fullers. This passage may be understood of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, or of John the Baptist, who reproved with the greatest freedom and force the sins of the people. See Bishop Chandler, p. 53. Calmet, and Jeremiah 2:22.

Verse 3

Malachi 3:3. And he shall purify the sons of Levi Not all of them; for the similitude is taken from gold and silver; which being purified, there remains some dross behind. So it happened after the ministration of the Lord Jesus Christ; a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith, Acts 6:7. Of the other sons of Levi, who did not believe in Christ, but wilfully rejected him, it is just before said, Who may abide the day of his coming, when, the metal being purified, he will cast the dross into the fire. See Houbigant.

Verse 5

Malachi 3:5. And I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers God tells them, that he will hasten the day of his vengeance, and that it shall come speedily upon those whose sins are become epidemical; and if they refuse to repent on the preaching of the Gospel, he will proceed to destroy the nation utterly. This may also farther refer to the second coming of our Lord to judge both quick and dead. See Lowth and Calmet.

Verse 6

Malachi 3:6. For I am the Lord, I change not "Because I am the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and am true to the promises given to your fathers, therefore you still continue a people, and are not consumed as your iniquities deserve." See Lowth and Calmet.

Verse 8

Malachi 3:8. Will a man rob God "Pretend what you will to the reverence and fear of God, if you take away what is consecrated, according to the law of Moses, to the service of God and his temple, you do no better than rob God himself."

Verse 9

Malachi 3:9. Ye are cursed with a curse Ye have been under a curse through want, because, &c. Houbigant.

Verse 11

Malachi 3:11. The devourer The moth. Houbigant. Any of those insects are meant which consume and destroy the corn.

Verses 16-18

Malachi 3:16-18. Then they that feared the Lord Houbigant remarks, that by the word jewels in Mal 3:17 are meant those who feared God, and embraced the faith of the Gospel. This, says he, is principally to be understood of those Jerusalem Christians who retreated to Pella, when the destruction of Jerusalem drew nigh. But Mr. Peters, I think, justly observes, that the last verse fixes the time to the resurrection, and the general judgment; when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, and when alone it will be possible for us to discern who are righteous, and who are wicked, by the divine distributions towards them; when every man shall receive his final lot, either of reward or punishment; and then shall we know with certainty, both who are, and what is to be God's סגלה seguliah, his jewels or treasure, for so the word signifies; something highly valuable. See his Dissert. on Job, p. 316. The words may be read, And they shall be to me, saith the Lord of Hosts, in the day that I shall appoint, a peculiar treasure.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, If the words of the conclusion of the foregoing chapter be considered, as they are by some commentators, as the scoff of the infidel, who, because the Messiah's appearing was long delayed, concluded that he would never come, the opening of this chapter contains a full answer to such a suggestion. See the Critical Notes.

1. The harbinger of the Messiah approaches. Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. Of whom this is spoken we cannot be in doubt (see Matthew 11:10. Mark 1:2.), John the Baptist being sent to point out the Lamb of God, and, by preaching repentance, to lead the people to him who alone can give remission of sins.

2. The Lord of life and glory shall immediately follow his herald and forerunner. The Lord, whom ye seek, the long-expected Messiah, to whom the eyes of Israel were directed, shall suddenly come to his temple, and by his presence fulfil the prophesy of Haggai, putting the most distinguished honour on that holy place,—even the messenger of the covenant of grace, who, as the great prophet sent from God, publishes and explains the tenor of that covenant more clearly and distinctly than it was ever done before; whom ye delight in: they in general pleased themselves with the expectation of him, though they entirely mistook the nature of his office; but many there were also among them, who waited for him as a spiritual Messiah, coming to save his people from their sins. He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts, whose promise is faithful, and the accomplishment of it, in the fulness of time, sure.

3. The great end of his coming is declared. Many wished for his appearing, who little understood the design of it; therefore is the question asked, But who may abide the day of his coming? who will be able to bear the doctrines that he advances, concerning his own Deity, the purpose of his coming to die for sinners, the nature of his kingdom, &c. or his sharp and piercing rebukes against the characters of the men of that generation, held in highest admiration; and who shall stand when he appeareth? before the piercing energy of his word; which intimates how few would endure or receive the truths that he taught while he abode upon earth; for he is like a refiner's fire; by his word separating the precious from the vile; distinguishing the true sense of God's word from the adulterating glosses of the scribes; and purifying his believing followers who received him; while the wicked, who rejected him, are cast away as dross: and like fuller's soap, which cleanses the garment from spots, so shall he cleanse his believing people from their sins.

Many shall be happy partakers of his grace, willingly receiving him with penitent hearts. On them he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; by the various methods that he uses, he will purge away the dross of guilt and corruption from their souls; making every means of grace effectual, and every providence sanctified. When he puts those who thus believingly cleave to him into any furnace of affliction or temptation, he himself will regulate the fire, and take care that they shall be in it no longer, nor feel it fiercer, than they are able to bear; and the whole shall ultimately be for their good. And he shall purify the sons of Levi; not merely those Jews who were of that family, or the apostles and ministers of the gospel; but all his people, who are, through faith in him, consecrated to be priests unto God; and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness, even themselves a living sacrifice, and the well-pleasing oblation of prayer and praise, and all their works and labours of love, accepted now in Jesus Christ. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years; like the offering of Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, or the burnt-offering of Aaron, which the heavenly fire devoured. Justified through the infinite merit of Christ's sacrifice, and sanctified by the Spirit of Jesus, all the services of his people shall be a sweet-smelling favour.

To some for judgment he will come into the world, a savour of death unto them through their wilful impenitence, as of life unto others. Their characters are declared: they are sorcerers, who used enchantments and divination; adulterers, wallowing in the lusts of uncleanness; false swearers, who profaned God's name, and called him to witness to a lie; oppressors of the hireling, defrauding him of his wages; of the widow and fatherless, taking advantage of their helplessness to plunder and devour them; and turn aside the stranger from his right; because ignorant of the law, or through the partiality of the judges; and they fear not me, saith the Lord of Hosts, nor obey his Gospel. For all which things Christ threatens to be a swift witness against them, and will bring their sins to light, however secretly committed; and execute just judgment in consequence upon them, and that quickly; as he did, shortly after his appearing in the flesh, in the destruction of Jerusalem; and as he will do in the great day of perdition of all the ungodly.

4. He ratifies the determined purposes of his word. I am the Lord, Jehovah, self-existent, self-sufficient, able to save or destroy to the uttermost. I change not; I am love itself towards every returning penitent, and in me is fulness of grace for every genuine believer; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed; I still wait to receive you, if ye will turn and live: but if ye will not return, ye have only yourselves to blame: still I change not; but my decrees of judgment against the finally impenitent shall stand for ever.

2nd, We have,
1. The charge, drawn up against the Jewish people, of long-continued iniquities. From the days of their fathers the apostacy began; they had forsaken God's ordinances, and had not kept them; yet he, patient and gracious, invited them to return, with the kindest assurances of forgiveness and acceptance. Return unto me, and I will return unto you; but they, instead of obeying, in the pride and stubbornness of their hearts, replied, Wherein shall we return? as if they had done nothing amiss, and needed no repentance; or were displeased at the gracious invitation, because it implied a rebuke. God therefore lays their crimes to their conscience: Will a man rob God? or the gods? even a heathen would not act thus toward his idols: or the judges; none could think with impunity thus to treat a magistrate; how daring the attempt then, and how insolent the provocation, to rob God of his honour, glory, and service, as they had done; yet ye have robbed me. Note; Robbers of God are the worst of robbers: all these persist in maintaining their innocence, and impudently challenge him to prove the accusation: Wherein have we robbed thee? The proof is evident; in tithes and offerings: they robbed God's altar of its due, and his ministers of their maintenance; making no conscience of defrauding them of their appointed portion, or giving them the worst, when the best should have been brought; as if the blind and lame were good enough for an offering. This was the sin of the whole nation, and the universality of the crime was an aggravation of it; therefore ye are cursed with a curse; with barrenness, want, and locusts, which devoured their labours. So little is got by robbing God; for they who think that they shall grow the richer by their fraudulent dealings with God's ministers, will find the curse of God, like a canker-worm, devouring their substance.

2. They are warned to amend their ways: and the gracious invitation still abides the same; Return unto me, and I will return unto you: and they would find themselves abundant gainers by rendering to him his due; bring ye all the tithes into the store-house; all, conscientiously scrupulous that nothing in quantity or quality be kept back; that there may be meat in mine house; for God's altar* should be served before our own tables, and the support of his worship and service should be dearer to us, than any secular concerns more immediately our own; and such honesty will be found the best policy, as it will procure God's blessing. And prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if they should not find abundantly their advantage in so doing. They who dare trust God will be convinced by experience, that their dues and benefactions for the support of a Gospel-ministry, and their charity to the poor, shall never impoverish but enrich them. Prove me, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, which had been shut up; and send the needful refreshing rains, and pour you out a blessing, abundant fruitfulness, and plenty of all good things; so that ye shall not be sufficient; there shall be more than there are hands to reap and gather, barns to fill, or vessels to receive: and I will rebuke the devourer for your sake; the locust and caterpillar shall no more destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall the vine, through drought, blasting, or hurricanes, cast her fruit before the time in the flesh. And all nations, who before reproached them with their want and poverty, shall call you blessed, beholding the evident care and kindness of God towards them; for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of Hosts; where plenty reigns, and over which God continually watches with his peculiar love and favour; and these indeed make the truly delightsome land.

* In these Reflections, I have applied the prophet's words to the Christian dispensation; but the reader is requested to make all due allowances for the dissimilarity of circumstances.

3rdly, The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. He observes the characters of men, and they will be punished or rewarded accordingly.
1. He observed among the Jews some who, with daring insolence, arraigned the dispensations of his providence and grace, and revolted from his worship and ordinances. Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord: yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? as if they had been clear from blame: or if an inadvertent word had dropped from them, it was not a matter that deserved such sharp admonition. So ready are sinners to extenuate their faults; and because they have no sense of the evil of sin themselves, they think God severe in his rebukes: yet surely they had provoked him most highly. Ye have said, It is vain to serve God, since there is nothing to be got by his service; but the wicked often fare better than the righteous; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, exact in the observation of his worship and ceremonies, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts, in the habit of penitents. Perhaps reference is here had to the Sadducees, who denied a future state, and the Pharisees, who, rigidly scrupulous in the form of godliness, observed it merely for worldly ends, and looked upon it as a burthensome task. But their evil report will be confuted by the experience of every gracious person, who will find God's ways both pleasant and profitable; and count God's service perfect freedom, and its own reward. And now we call the proud happy; they judged of happiness by outward wealth and splendour, and because they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are delivered, for such they beheld who prospered in iniquity; and though their presumptuous sins seemed to cry for vengeance, no evil came upon them; therefore they were ready to conclude, that there was neither a providence here, nor a judgment to come; and that those were the happiest who gratified every desire of the flesh and of the mind. And these were the hard speeches that God heard, which he will confute and confound when the wrath, which pursues the most prosperous sinner, shall quickly overtake him.

2. He heard with pleasure the gracious conversation of the few faithful ones, who feared and served him. We have,
[1.] Their character. (1.) They feared the Lord, reverenced his authority, submitted to his providential will without murmuring, were jealous of offending, and kept themselves with constancy in his holy worship and ways. (2.) They thought upon his name; remembering him, his word, his promises; and meditated thereon, supporting their faith in these trying days with the consideration of his adorable perfections, and maintaining still their communion with him. (3.) They spoke often one to another; the more iniquity abounded, the more they stirred each other up to love and to good works: whilst others spake so much against God, they made bold profession of his religion, and encouraged each other with zeal to appear in his cause: when their neighbours had renounced all religious worship and conversation, they assembled to talk of God's goodness, and to unite in prayer and praise at a throne of grace. May we, who live in these ungodly days, be enabled to go and do likewise!

[2.] The honour that God put upon them. (1.) The Lord hearkened and heard it: was present in their private assemblies; and where two or three met together for these gracious purposes, he was in the midst of them, testifying his approbation of their conduct, by the comfort, strength, and encouragement that he bestowed upon them. (2.) A book of remembrance was written before him; he entered every gracious word into his sacred records,—treasured them up in his all-comprehensive mind,—laid them up for the comfort of the faithful unto the great day, when they shall come into remembrance, and be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (3.) They shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels, delivered from the flames of Jerusalem, in which the others fell; or in general this is spoken of all God's faithful saints, who are jewels dear and precious to him, glittering with divine graces, and intended to deck the crown of the eternal King; they are mine, saith God; he has a peculiar property in his believing people, and regards them as a man does his own things, with especial affection. The day referred to is that of the appearing of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who shall separate the precious and the vile: and when the wicked are made as the dung, the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father: he will make them up, collecting them together into his glorious treasury in heaven, and there shall they be ever with the Lord. (4.) I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him; loving God, and walking with him, they shall continually experience from him a father's love: since they shew themselves in spirit and temper his dutiful children, he will overlook their infirmities, will forgive their offences; tenderness shall soften all his rebukes, whilst every feeble effort to please him, though but like the lispings of a child, shall be accepted. (5.) He will put such a distinguishing difference between them and others, that all shall take knowledge of them, and own that they are the blessed of the Lord. Then shall ye, who have spoken so stoutly against the Lord, and the unprofitableness of his service, return; shall change your sentiments and language, and shall discern, by the sequel, the difference which God makes between the righteous and the wicked between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not; and this was evident at the destruction of Jerusalem, out of which the people of God had escaped before the siege; and shall be abundantly manifest in the judgment-day. The real characters of men are now difficult to be discerned; the veil of hypocrisy, our prejudices, and the weakness of our understandings, make us often mistake, and count them gracious whom God will disown, and those vile who are beloved of him: but every man's true state will then appear: the righteous in Christ Jesus, through his blood and Spirit, who have loved and served him faithfully, will then be without spot before the throne of God, and go with him into eternal glory; while the wicked, who lived in impenitence or hypocrisy, shall be seen and abhorred of all, and go away into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Reader, Judge nothing before the time concerning the characters of others, or at least judge mercifully; but judge thyself, that thou mayest not be judged of the Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Malachi 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/malachi-3.html. 1801-1803.