What does Malachi 3:14 mean?
ESV: You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?
NIV: You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
NASB: You have said, ‘It is pointless to serve God; and what benefit is it for us that we have done what He required, and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of armies?
CSB: You have said, "It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Armies?
NLT: You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?
KJV: 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?
NKJV: You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the Lord of hosts?
Verse Commentary:
Verse 13 described this attitude as "hard against" God. In context, the Hebrew word hoz'qu means "arrogant," so Malachi has already called out Israel for being disrespectful and unfair towards God.

The irony of Israel's claim was addressed earlier, in Malachi 2:17. While the people complain about God failing to judge the wicked, they themselves act wickedly! The people disobey the commands of God, then criticize Him when they receive the exact punishment His covenant promised (Deuteronomy 28:15–68). In this verse, the same hypocrisy is on display. The people are treating God with contempt (Malachi 1:7–8; 2:11–14), then wondering why they are not being blessed by Him.

This is not a problem unique to ancient Israel. Modern believers, as well as non-believers, often attack God when they suffer for their own choices. We have a habit, as sinful people, of refusing to follow God, suffering as a result, then hypocritically claiming that there is no benefit to following God. In both cases, the people actually make one valid point. That is, the way they are worshipping God is, in fact, "in vain," since God won't respond to selfish, bitter, insulting forms of worship (Malachi 1:10). The fact that God has ignored their pleas is evidence that their approach to God is, in fact, impure!

The reference to "walking as in mourning" shows that Israel's concept of spirituality is already becoming highly legalistic. As shown in earlier verses, neither the priests nor the people are following God as they should. Going through the motions, numbly rehearsing rituals and sacrifices, is not the same as seeking the face of God. And yet, the people seem to expect God to respond to this charade and bless them.

Note, also, that Israel is making another not-so-subtle dig at God. They ask why they should "keep His charge," meaning they see no benefit to upholding their end of the covenant agreement. Not only does this imply that they are keeping it (they are not) but it implies that God is not making good on His side of the bargain.

This ignorant, arrogant attitude is further described in verse 15.
Verse Context:
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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