For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

3:1.  “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.”


The equality of the Son with the Father is declared here in that the speaker is now obviously the Lord Jesus Christ, the messenger referred to being John the Baptist, described in John 1 as the forerunner of the Messiah, sent to prepare the people to receive Him.  The One Whom they sought was He Who had been promised in Ge 3:15, the One Whose coming was anticipated by those addressed by Malachi, that coming being still four hundred years in the future. 


“...suddenly” is here related to the time it takes to blink an eye, and the Lord’s sudden coming to His Temple can hardly have been at His first advent, for there is no event connected with His presence in the Temple then that could be described as being with lightning-like speed, but such will indeed characterize His second advent, for just as He will come for His Church “in the twinkling of an eye 1 Cor 15:52, so will His return in power and glory, to inaugurate His kingdom, be with the same speed.


The Temple therefore will be that which will be built either in the interval between the rapture of the Church and the beginning of the Tribulation, or early in the Tribulation era itself.


“... whom ye seek.”  They were looking for Him to come and set up His millennial kingdom then, but the genuine repentance that must precede their entering the kingdom was very far from their minds, nor was it in the minds of any but the small believing remnant, at His first advent, hence the postponement of the kingdom till a day then far distant, but now imminent.  It will take the terrible Tribulation judgments to bring to repentance a remnant of Israel and of the Gentiles, but it will be they alone who will enter the kingdom when He does come.


“... even the messenger of the covenant.”  The messenger here is literally “the angel,” the Lord Himself, He having appeared in that same form several times in the OT, see e.g., Jsh 5:13; Jgs 13:3.  “... the covenant” is generally understood to be that which God made with Abraham, as recorded in Ge 15.


“... whom ye delight in” is better translated “whom ye desire.”  Unfortunately they and their descendants of Christ’s day desired Him, not for Himself, but for the promotion and enrichment they associated with His coming.  Far from their thoughts was any idea of His coming first to expiate their sin, for they had little consciousness of being sinful, their smug complacency being based on the erroneous belief that an outward observance of the Levitical ritual was sufficient to make them righteous in God’s sight.  It will take the Tribulation judgments to bring another generation of that same wilful people to consciousness of sin, and to heartfelt repentant faith in Him first as their Savior, and then as their King.


“Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.”  That glorious coming might be long delayed by the people’s sin, but come He surely will, and all the signs in the world today point to the imminence of that coming.  And for the Church there is an even better expectation: His coming first to the air to rapture them to heaven, and then His return to earth with them, to judge the nations, and set up His millennial kingdom.


3:2, “But who may abide the day of his coming?  and who shall stand when he appeareth?  for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:”


His awareness that that coming will be for Christ’s judgment of the nations, prompted the prophet’s question, Who will abide (survive) that coming and that judgment?  And well might he ask, when it is remembered that even the reflection of the Divine glory in the face of Moses was such that he had to veil his face in the presence of the people for they were afraid to look upon him, see Ex 34:29-35.  What then will mere mortals do as they suddenly find themselves in the presence of Him to Whom that glory is inherent?


“... who shall stand when he appeareth?”  “Stand” is variously interpreted, but what appears to be the thought is expressed in the paraphrase, “Who will be exonerated when He executes judgment?”  The answer, of course, is, Only those Jews and Gentiles, who in the preceding Tribulation, will have confessed themselves sinners, and trusted in Him as Savior.


The nature of that judgment is declared in its being like a refiner’s fire, for just as precious metal in the crucible is tried or refined by exposure to fire, so will men be tested metaphorically, by the Lord at His second advent.  This is not the testing of their works similar to that of believers at the judgment seat of Christ, and of unbelievers at the great white throne, but rather that discernment of Christ which knows the difference between believers and unbelievers.


Fullers’ soap is another figure of the testing that will occur on that day of the Lord’s appearing, for as fuller’s soap is used in the manufacture of cloth as a finishing process to cleanse and thicken it, so will the judgment of Christ be on that day.  The righteousness of the believers will be like cloth that has undergone the fulling process.  There will be no question as to their state, the Lord’s approval being expressed in His words, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” Mt 25:34.


3:3.  “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”


Under the figure of the Lord acting as a refiner of silver and gold, is announced the truth that the very sight of Him will beget such reverential awe in those who enter the millennial kingdom, that they will express their love and adoration, not only through the Levitical sacrifices, but in the presentation of obedient lives; the same expression of love as He expects of believers of every age, as He said Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15, and again, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John 14:21.


It is instructive to note that contrary to the natural order, but in harmony with the biblical order, silver, the metal of lesser value, is mentioned before the gold, because silver is the biblical emblem of redemption; and gold, of glory.  Men must be redeemed before they can be glorified.  Only the redeemed will pass out of the Tribulation into the glory and bliss of the Millennium.


The fact that these words are addressed to the Levites reminds us that with a few rare exceptions, their service had been polluted by sin as recorded in the preceding two chapters, and throughout the whole OT age.  In the Millennium there will be no more defiled service


3:4.  “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.”


The mention of both Judah and Jerusalem makes it clear that acceptable worship will be offered, not just in Jerusalem, but by the whole nation, and it will be in the Millennium, for not until then will such worship be offered.


3:5.  “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.”


The judgment spoken of here will be that executed by the Lord Jesus Christ at His second advent as He judges the nations just prior to the beginning of the Millennium, but it will also be the character of His rule throughout that thousand year era.


The variety of the sinners mentioned indicates that the judgment will be all-embracive.  Sin will not be tolerated during the Millennium, hence the blessedness of those halcyon years.


3:6.  “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”


Because God is the unchanging Jehovah Who is of great patience, He would not abandon His covenant made with Abraham to bless his  descendants, but would employ every expedient to bring a remnant of them to repentant faith in Christ, so that He could bless them; and though many generations would fail to repent, and therefore die without experiencing the fulfillment of that covenant, He foreknew that only the terrible Tribulation judgments would finally bring a remnant to repentance.  His reluctance to employ those judgments impelled Him to plead with each succeeding generation, but each stubbornly refused His mercy, leaving Him no alternative but to use those final and now imminent judgments, from which will emerge the believing remnant, the new Israel that will enter the Millennium to inherit those covenant blessings.


3:7. “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.  Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.  But ye said, Wherein shall we return?”


From the earliest generation they had rebelled against God, and when He pleaded with them to return and obey Him, they had refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on their part, and had responded by asking impudently to be shown what wrong they had done, they, with seared consciences, believing themselves to be righteous.


3:8.  “Will a man rob God?  Yet ye have robbed me.  But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?  In tithes and offerings.”


In spite of its being unbelievable that a man would attempt to rob God, the fact remained that Israel was guilty of that very sin, yet so self-righteous had they become because of their calloused consciences, that they were unaware of any guilt, and dared Him to show them what they had done wrong!  With amazing patience He responded by telling them that they had failed to present Him with the prescribed tithes and sacrifices.


It is to be remembered that while some of the offerings were voluntary, and were offered as expressions of love and gratitude, the tithe was mandated, and was to be offered as acknowledgment of God as the Giver of all that they (Israel) possessed.


Christendom has likewise robbed God, but they too in their blind self-righteousness are unaware of any guilt, for while under grace no amount is mandated, dare we under grace offer God less than was commanded under law?  In 1 Cor 16:2 it is written, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him....” so that we are to give regularly and systematically, and in proportion to what God has first given us, the spirit of our giving being indicated in 2 Cor 9:6-8, “But this I say, He who soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.  Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”  Nor is our giving to be confined to money.  God has a right also to our time: time to pray, to study His Word, to do His work.


3:9.  “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”


Instead of fitting themselves for blessing by being obedient, they had made themselves heirs of God’s wrath by their disobedience; nor was it just some of the people who were guilty: all had robbed God.  It is to be remembered, however, that in every generation there has been a small believing remnant who have remained faithful, but in the present instance they were so few as to leave virtually the whole nation guilty.


3:10.  “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”


In amazing grace God continues to plead with them to honor Him by bringing the prescribed tithes and offerings; “that there may be meat (food) in my house,” meaning that there would be not only what He would regard as His “food,” (that which would satisfy Him), but so that there would be also literal food for the Levites, He having appointed them a share of all the offerings.


“... and prove (test) me now herewith,” means that they would thus be able to determine whether His response would be to bless them proportionately as He had promised, by giving them such abundant crops that their storehouses wouldn’t be able to contain them.  This, however, required faith.  They first had to give to Him, and then wait for harvest time to verify His promise, and justify their faith.  And so is it always with God.  Those who would be blessed must first have the faith to trust His word; and before hastening to condemn the faithless disobedience of Israel, we would do well to examine our own lives.  Have we been faithful to give to God all that we owe Him?  Honesty surely will compel us to confess that we have been equally guilty of robbing Him, trusting Him for the salvation of our souls, but doubting His willingness to provide for our every need down here on earth.  Our grubbing for this world’s riches, and our corresponding spiritual poverty, reveal the sad truth that we have indeed robbed Him, and in doing so have robbed ourselves of peace here on earth, and of eternal riches in heaven.


3:11.  “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”


The “devourer” was the locust, and in response to Israel’s obedience, God would prevent the locusts from destroying their crops, as He would also prevent the blight from affecting their vines, so that the former scarcity would be replaced with abundance. 


Many Christians fail to understand that Israel’s blessings were temporal, while those of the Church age saints are spiritual, but nonetheless valuable, and the result is that they sometimes envy those who have more of this world’s riches than they, and in their hearts, if not in actual words, murmur against God.  How different their attitude would be if they could only realize that their eternal reward will be in direct proportion to the measure in which they gladly accept God’s will for their lives as being “good, and acceptable, and perfect,” and live in the peaceful assurance that “all things” even poverty, sickness, persecution, etc., “work together for good to them that love God”!


3:12.  “And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.”


Throughout the centuries Israel’s disobedience has made her the object of God’s chastening judgment, and anathema to the nations, but in that coming day everything will be changed.  Her changed heart will make her the object of God’s blessing, and the admiration of the nations, as her land burgeons with the riches so long prevented by her stubborn rebellion.


3:13.  “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord, Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?”


“... stout” is variously translated strong, accusing, hard, harsh, defiant, proud, arrogant.  Unable to comprehend the enormity of their sin, smugly complacent in a righteousness measured by their own deluded minds, and not realizing how wicked they were, they dared, arrogantly and defiantly, to charge God with fault for refusing to bless them!


The adversity which God sometimes uses for our necessary chastisement, or for the refinement of our faith, may evoke the same attitude in our hearts, if not the actual words on our lips.


3:14.  “Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?”


Their wrong heart attitude towards God is disclosed in their words.  Instead of rendering willing service, and gladly obeying His laws, their reluctant outward obedience was prompted, not by love, but by selfish desire for temporal gain.  They had forgotten that He had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage, made them His own special people, fed and protected them for forty years in the desert, brought them into Canaan, under David and Solomon had given them the place of prominence and honor among the nations.  But they had forgotten all that, and instead of teaching the nations the truth about their omnipotent, omniscient, holy, loving God, they had quickly joined their sinful neighbors in gratifying the lusts of the flesh, and in worshiping their idols, their so-called worship of Jehovah being a mere outward, cold, loveless, ritualistic sham, maintained in hope of securing His blessing in the form of gold and silver, abundant crops, multiplied herds, and good health.


Their walking “mournfully” before Jehovah wasn’t the outward evidence of genuine repentant contrition for their multiplied

sins, but rather the disclosure of how wearisome it was to them to maintain even the outward form of obedience to Him.


3:15.  “And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”


This continues their tirade against God.  They saw the arrogant enjoying happiness; the wicked prospering; those who by their brazen sinfulness tested God, yet suffered no harm; and clearly their thought was that even though they themselves observed the ritual which He had commanded, they couldn’t please Him.


What they failed to understand was that they were His people, and because they were, He would chasten them as a father his children, in order to bring them back to Himself, so that He could bless them; nor did they understand that the maintenance of a mere outward form of worship divorced from love, provoked His righteous anger rather than His pleasure.  He could reserve the punishment of others till the judgment of the great white throne.


It is necessary at this point to digress in order to make clear something that is generally misunderstood.  By His omniscience God foreknows who will and who will not believe the Gospel; and in His sovereignty He chooses to withhold it from some of those who He foreknows will not believe it; and by that same sovereignty, He chooses to bring it to others, even though He foreknows that they too will reject it.  As God He has the right to do this without explaining to us why He does it.  Some, failing to understand this, confuse His foreknowledge with His right to predestinate, and conclude very wrongly that some, without choice on their part, are predestinated to salvation; and the rest, also without choice on their part, to damnation.  Scripture is crystal clear in its refutation of this deadly error, as a few verses demonstrate, e.g., “The Lord ... is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pe 3:9; “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Mt 11:28; “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” John 5:40.


God has predestinated that every believer will enjoy eternal bliss in heaven; and every unbeliever eternal torment in the lake of fire, but He has not predestinated the choice.  Every man, by an act of his own free will, chooses to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and by that choice selects his eternal destination.


And now to return to our study of this verse.  In this present  context (and it is emphasized that it is only in this present context), the Gentiles represent the foreknown unbelievers from whom God withholds the Gospel; and Israel - consisting of the apostate mass, and the small believing remnant - the other part of humanity whom He does cause to hear it.  His chastisement of Israel therefore portrays His striving with that second segment of humanity, even though He knows that the majority will refuse to repent (as did the majority addressed by Malachi), and only a few will believe, those few being represented by the small believing remnant.


3:16.  “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”


Up to this point the prophet’s message has been directed mainly to the apostate mass of the nation, and particularly the corrupt priesthood; but now the tone of the book changes dramatically, and we learn something about the small believing remnant.  And how great is the contrast!  There is no evil for God to condemn; no arrogance; no pride; no self-righteousness; no accusations against Him; no complaining; no envying the prosperity of the wicked.  Their activity is that which delighted God’s heart in that distant day, and that delights Him still.


First, they feared Him, i.e., lived not in slavish fear of punishment, but in loving reverential awe which expressed itself in obedience, obedience being the highest form of worship in every age, see e.g., 1 Sa 15:22, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams”; John 14:15,21, “If ye love me, keep my commandments ... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him.”


“... spake often one to another...”  We aren’t told what they spoke about, but can there be any doubt that it was of His love and mercy in delivering them from Egyptian bondage, His care in the desert, His having given them Canaan, etc?  “often” isn’t in the original, but unquestionably God was constantly in their thoughts.


How different were their thoughts and words from those of the apostate majority mentioned in verse 13!


Surely this must rebuke the infrequency with which we speak of Him to one another, our guilt being compounded by reason of the fact that by the death, not just of a lamb, but of His beloved Son, He has delivered us from a far more terrible bondage, and enriched us with blessings far beyond anything Israel had ever known.  We have been made joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ, of all that is the Father’s!


They may have been unaware of it, but the Lord “hearkened, and heard,” i.e., He listened carefully to what they said, and surely He must have been pleased.  A question we might well ask ourselves is, How much pleasure does He derive from our conversation?


“... and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord....”  It wasn’t their words that were recorded in God’s book of remembrance: it was their names.  As they remembered Him, so would He remember them, the book being “the Lamb’s book of life,” Re 21:27; the imperative of having one’s name inscribed in that book being declared in Re 20:15, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” the impossibility of one’s entering heaven apart from the inscription of his name in that book, being recorded in Re 21:27, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”


3:17.  “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”


That little believing remnant, like believers of every age, were precious to God, as well they might be.  It had cost His beloved Son His life to cleanse their sin and redeem them, and all the other believers of all the ages, to the Father.  Their worth in God’s sight is declared in their being likened to His jewels, the day when He “makes up my (His) jewels” being that day when He will publicly present them as His Own special treasure, i.e., the day when the Lord Jesus Christ, returned to earth in power and glory, will judge the nations, banishing every unbeliever into hell, and inviting the surviving living believers, to enter the millennial kingdom to enjoy its blessings.  Standing with Him will be the believers of this present Church age, and the resurrected saints of the Tribulation and OT ages: all of them glorified, and acknowledged by God as those who are precious to Him.


“... and I will spare them” means that He will preserve them alive for blessing when the unbelievers are banished into hell at the end of the Tribulation. 


“... as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”  These redeemed ones, together with the redeemed of all the ages, will be spared from judgment because all of them will have been cleansed from all sin by the precious blood of the Lamb Whom God did not spare at Calvary: His Own beloved Son Who served Him and all the redeemed, even unto death.


3:18.  “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”


On that same day saved and lost alike will see the difference between God’s treatment of those who will have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and those who will have refused to trust Him.  The former will be the redeemed, all of whom will be eternally blessed; the latter, those who will be tormented eternally in the lake of fire.


“... between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”  This does not imply that one is saved by works, but rather that the grateful response of every true believer should be to express his love and gratitude by being willing to yield himself as an instrument whom the Father can use for the accomplishment of His purposes, the Lord Jesus Christ being our perfect example, as it is written, He “made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant ... and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,”Php 2:7-8.


The prayer of every believer ought to be for the grace to serve God, even unto death.

[Malachi 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough