The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Malachi 3:1-4

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 28, 2012

These notes are taken from a longer post I did for the First Mass reading used on December 23 in the Ordinary Form of the Rite. To view that longer post go here. All Scripture quotes, except those within the quotes of other (e.g., Jerome, Lapide) are from the RSV which is under copyright: The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows: “Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

3:1.  “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me. It is important to keep in mind that there are two messengers mentioned in this verse. The first will prepare the way before the Lord and he is later identified as being Elijah (Mal 3:23-24, in some translation 4:5-6). The second is the messenger of the covenant, the Lord himself.

Concerning the first messenger he is to prepare the way of the Lord, he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (3:24, 4:6 some translations). He will, in other words, do what the priest of Levi should have done; he will turn many from iniquity (2:6). The priests could never turn the hearts of a father or child to one another for they had destroyed their own relationship with God the Father: A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name (1:6).

3:1 cont. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming. The words seek and delight are biting sarcasm. The priests, rather than seeking the Lord turned aside from him and caused many of the people to stumble (2:8). The people themselves will be accused of turning aside in 3:7, and the last thing people who have turned aside from the Lord want is his coming to them: Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light (Amos 5:18). And recall that in the previous verse (2:17) the people were shown as claiming that God “delights” in everyone who does evil. The people are ill-prepared to either seek or delight in the Lord (see next verse), hence the need for the Messenger to come before him, preparing the way.

In the Gospels this messenger is identified as St John the Baptist who went before the Lord Jesus in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Lk 1:17).  See also Lk 1:76, 7:27; Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2.

The Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple. Recall Luke’s account of what immediately precedes the Lord’s cleansing of the Temple: And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes…because you did not know the time of your visitation (See Lk 19:41-44).

3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? The question is addressed to sinners and has a negative meaning, much like that of Isaiah 53:1~Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? Once again we come up against the need for the messenger who will be called the prophet of the Most High and who will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins (Lk 1:76-77).  For If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared (Ps 130:3-4).

The Messenger of the Covenant, the Lord himself is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

Cornelius a Lapide: How can the weakness of man endure such might; his blindness, such light; his frailty such power; his uncleanness, such holiness; the chaff, such a fire? “For he is like a refiner’s fire.” Who would not fail through stupefaction, fear, horror, shrinking reverence from such Majesty? (Commentary on Malachi).

An idea similar to the present verse appears later: For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But the prophet goes on to add: But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise (3:19-20 or 4:1-2 in some translations).

St Jerome: He shall come like a refining fire; “A fire shall burn before him: and a mighty tempest shall be round about him. He shall call heaven from above, and the earth, to judge his people.” streams of fire shall sweep before him, bearing away all sinners. For the Lord is called a fire, and a “consuming fire” (Ps 50:3-4) so as to burn our “wood, hay, stubble” (1 Cor 3:12), and not fire only, but “fuller’s soap.” To those who sin heavily, He is a refining and “consuming fire”, but to those who commit light sins, fuller’s soap, to restore cleanness to it, when washed…The nitrum and the fuller’s soap are penitence (Commentary on Malachi).

3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD.

He will sit. Sitting is the common posture of a judge issuing decrees and sentences. For those who will have it, God’s punishing judgements are intended to purify: I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness (Isa 1:25-27). And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, `They are my people’; and they will say, `The LORD is my God‘ (Zech 13:9).

He will purify the sons of Lev.This contrasts nicely with the threats of 2:2-3~I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.

Till they present right offerings to the Lord. The Douay-Rheims has, they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice.   The priests had been offering unjust or unrighteous sacrifices (1:6-14).

3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Pleasing to the Lord. Recalls the Lord’s words from 1:8~When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.

As in the days of old and as in the former years. An allusion to the covenant with Levi mentioned in 2:4-6.

3 Responses to “My Notes on Malachi 3:1-4”

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