What does Malachi 3 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Malachi's prophecy takes the form of a wave, which flows back and forth through several topics. Chapter and verse divisions don't make this clear. Malachi, meaning "My Messenger," delivers three main lessons, each divided into two halves. The halves are mirrored around a central point, so the prophet's ideas cycle through similar themes, forwards and backwards. Unlike other prophets, Malachi speaks in the form of a dialogue. For almost every accusation, Israel responds with doubt and apathy.

Malachi's first message, to Israel's priests, ended in Malachi 2:9. The second message, scolding Israel for her unfaithfulness, began in Malachi 2:10 and runs through Malachi 3:6. The criticism of this particular lesson comes in two parts. First, Israel is marrying those who worship other gods (Malachi 2:11). Second, the men of Israel are divorcing their Jewish wives in order to marry these pagan women (Malachi 2:14). This, God described as an act of spiritual violence, condemned in the strongest terms (Malachi 2:16). That condemnation ends the first half of Malachi's second message.

Chapter 2 verse 17 began the second half of Malachi's second message. There, Israel delivers an arrogant, dangerous set of spiritual criticisms of God. Specifically, the claims that God allows the wicked to prosper, and that He is not demonstrating His justice on earth (Malachi 2:17). This is an unwise attack on God. At the very least, each person should recognize their own sin and wickedness (Romans 3:10). Asking God to judge means asking to be judged.

Chapter 3, then, begins with God's promise to do exactly what Israel is—hypocritically—asking for. God will send a messenger to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Messiah (Malachi 3:1). And, one day, that Promised One will rule with all of God's power. This, however, will be a day of judgment and division. God's holiness and judgment is described in terms of fire and potent chemicals (Malachi 3:2). The second message of Malachi's prophecy ends with a stinging rebuke of Israel: the only reason they have not been annihilated is the unchanging faithfulness of God (Malachi 3:6).

Verse 7 begins the final message delivered to Israel by Malachi. Here, God accuses the people of "robbing" Him by withholding His required tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8). God's covenant with Israel included both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Israel complains about their sad state, but fails to see that this is exactly what God promised them in return for unfaithfulness.

The end of Malachi chapter 3 takes a somewhat more hopeful tone. At least some of the priests and people of Israel were still faithful. They responded to Malachi's message as God intended. As a result, God makes a promise to remember their faithfulness (Malachi 3:16). Chapter 4, which is very short, transitions into a contrast of the fates of the righteous and the wicked. In context, these are those who follow God, with those who do not, respectively.

This last lesson from Malachi is an appeal for Israel to return to her former faithfulness. God's judgment is coming, sooner or later.
Verse Context:
Malachi 2:17—3:6 presents a dangerous accusation from Israel against God, and His sobering response. Israel accuses God of letting the wicked prosper and for not enacting enough justice in the world. God's reply reminds Israel, and us, that the first sin we need to be aware of is our own. God promises to send a messenger, preparing the way for Him. God also predicts the day when He will ''draw near'' for judgment. This uses metaphors including fire and powerful cleaning substances. In short, judgment is coming—to everyone.
Malachi 3:7–12 is both a reminder and an encouragement to Israel. God's covenant through Moses included positive promises, in response to obedience. However, it also included negative consequences, in response to defiance. Israel has been ''robbing'' God by failing to pay His tithes. Israel's lack of success, in this case, is partly because of their own disobedience. Even so, God promises to restore Israel's fortunes if they will be faithful. Though often mis-applied, these requirements and promises are meant only for Israel, not all believers at all times.
Malachi 3:13—4:3 shows that even as the nation of Israel has been unfaithful, there are individuals among the people who are faithful. At the very least, they are willing to respond to God's correction. As a result, God promises to protect them from the upcoming wrath. This reckoning is described in dramatic, fiery terms. Part of the purpose of this particular judgment is to distinguish the wicked from the righteous. In this case, those who follow God will be healed and set free. Those who do not will be completely consumed.
Chapter Summary:
The final message, completed in chapter 4, is an appeal for God's chosen people to return. God would prefer to see them redeemed, than to be destroyed, when the end finally comes. This passage includes God's promise to send a messenger heralding the Messiah. And, that the Promised One will someday rule and conquer the wicked. In the meantime, Israel must stop ''robbing'' Him by withholding His tithes and offerings. Only God's unchanging nature has kept Israel from destruction. At the same time, God will remember those who have been faithful during these faithless times.
Chapter Context:
Malachi's first message, to the priests, ended in chapter 2. The prophecy then shifts to accuse Israel of unfaithfulness across chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. The final message covers the last half of chapter 3 and all of the short fourth chapter. This last warning is centered on Israel's failure to pay God His tithes and offerings, as well as a promise to send Messiah to judge all sin.
Book Summary:
Malachi is the last message of prophecy given to Israel prior to 400 years of silence. Israel has rebuilt the temple, following the invasions of Babylon, but they are still under foreign oppression. Israel's spiritual condition, however, is dire. Hosea depicted Israel as prone to failure, but repentant. Later, Ezekiel exposed Israel's blatant disobedience. By the time of Malachi, Israel has passed into numbness and apathy. Unlike other Old Testament prophets, Malachi takes the form of a dialogue, where Israel responds to accusations as if unaware that they've occurred. The next prophetic voice from God would not come until the ministry of John the Baptist.
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