PEOPLE MAY BE FAITHLESS, but the Lord does not change. That changelessness threatens judgment; it is also the reason the people are not destroyed (Mal. 3:6). Hope depends on God’s gracious intervention, grounded in his changeless character (Mal. 3).
(1) “ ’See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Mal. 3:1). This promise sounds as if it is responding to the cynicism that set in after the second temple was built. There was the temple, but where was the glory Ezekiel had foreseen (Ezek. 43:1-5)? Only when the Lord comes will the purpose of the rebuilding of the temple be fulfilled. And the Lord will fulfill that promise. First, he will send his “messenger,” a forerunner “to prepare the way before me.” And then suddenly “the Lord you are seeking” will come to his temple, “the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire.” Despite valiant efforts to explain the text some other way, the most obvious reading is the one picked up just a few pages later in the Bible (though actually a few centuries later). Before the Lord himself comes—the Lord they seek, the messenger of the new covenant long promised—there is another messenger who prepares the way. Jesus insists that the forerunner of whom Malachi spoke is none other than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10).
(2) Whenever God discloses himself in a special way to his people, and not least in this climactic self-disclosure, there is wrath as well as mercy. Anticipation of the “day of his coming” (Mal. 3:2) therefore calls for profound repentance (Mal. 3:2-5). Such repentance covers the sweep from the ugly sins listed in Malachi 3:5 to something more easily passed over, but clearly ugly to God: robbery, robbing God of the tithes and offerings that are his due (Mal. 3:6-12). Away with the cynicism that says serving God is a waste of time and money, that there is no percentage in putting God at the center, that it is “futile” to serve the Lord (Mal. 3:13-15).
(3) Not a few of the Old Testament prophets faithfully discharged their ministry and saw little fruit in their own times. Others witnessed something of a revival. Haggai saw the Lord so work among the people that the temple was rebuilt. Malachi, too, saw fruit in the lives of those who heeded his message and began to live in the light of the promise yet to be fulfilled: “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other [presumably encouraging and stimulating one another to faithfulness], and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name” (Mal. 3:16).