The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Twelve, the prophetic writings of Malachi. The text is Malachi 3:1-7b. Malachi is the last recorded prophecy until the coming of the LORD, 400 years later. This makes his message especially powerful and unique. The reference to the “temple” in verse 1 indicates that Malachi is issuing these prophetic words after the return from the Babylonian exile and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. This provides the historical setting for the text as Malachi focuses our attention ahead—400 years ahead—with his words.
As we read this pericope it is interesting to remember that the name “Malachi” means “my messenger” in Hebrew. In our text, Malachi is not referencing himself when he speaks of messengers, so our task is to identify who he is talking about. In fact, we see he is referring to two messengers. The first messenger in verse one is speaking of the prophet we know as John the Baptizer. He is also referred to as “Elijah” or the “New Elijah” by Isaiah and Malachi. The second to the last verse of the Book of Malachi says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD.” The second messenger mentioned in verse one is the “messenger of the covenant.” This is not John the Baptist but is a direct reference to the coming of Christ to His Temple, His incarnational coming into our world. With the coming of both John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ mentioned here it becomes obvious why this text was chosen for the season of Advent.
3:1 שֹׁלֵחַ (sho-le-aCh) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Qal participle: “to send” “…am sending”
מַלְאָכִי (mal-a-Chi) “my messenger” Although this is the same word we translate as “angel”, this is not a reference to an angelic being.
וּפִנָּה (u-pin-nah) “to remove; empty” The idea is the removal of obstacles, the clearing of the path. It is frequently translated as prepare (prepare the way).
וּפִתְאֹם (u-fit-Om) “suddenly; surprisingly”
הֵיכָלוֹe (hei-cha-Lo) “his temple”
“He (the LORD) will suddenly come to His Temple...,” asks the question, “When?” When does this occur in the New Testament accounts of the Messiah? Obviously, the LORD Jesus visits the Jerusalem Temple on numerous occasions during His earthly life. Does this refer to when Mary and Joseph present Him for circumcision, or when He instructs the elders, or perhaps His cleansing of the Temple, etc.? In Haggai 2 the LORD coming to the Temple is accompanied by an earthquake and smoke/darkness which is a direct reference to the events after Christ’s death on the cross. It is at the moment when the Temple curtain is torn that Jesus goes into the Holy of Holies—the last and greatest High Priest—to place His own blood as the all-availing sacrifice for the sins of the world. In Malachi we do not have any specific indicators, but the word “suddenly” might point us in the same direction as Haggai.
מְבַקְשִׁים (me-vak-Shim) root: בקשׁ (baw-kash) Piel participle (note the absence of the dagesh in the second consonant): “to seek; to request”, “…are seeking”
וּמַלְאַךְ הַבְּרִית (u-mal-Ach hab-be-Rit) ”the messenger of the covenant” This is a Messianic title.
חֲפֵצִים (cha-fe-Tzim) ”delight; desire; having delight in”
3:2 מְכַלְכֵּל. (me-chal-Kel) root: כול (kool) Piel Prtcpl: “to endure; support; contain”
בְּהֵרָאוֹתוֹ. (be-he-ra-o-To) root: ראה (raw-aw) Nifal infinitive (with suffix): “to show; to appear”, “his appearing”
מְצָרֵף (me-tza-Ref) root: צרף (tsaw-raf) Piel: “to refine”
וּכְבֹרִית (u-che-vo-Rit) “alkaline salt; soap; fullers’ soap”
3:3 וּמְטַהֵר (u-me-ta-Her) root: טהר (taw-Hare) Piel: “to cleanse; purify”
וְזִקַּק (ve-zik-Kak) root: זקק (zaw-kak) Piel: “to filter; purify”
3:4 וְעָרְבָה (ve-a-re-Vah) root: ערב (aw-rabe) Qal: “to be pleasing; sweet; to be well-pleasing” קַדְמֹנִיֹּת; (kad-mo-ni-Yat) ”former; ancient; earlier”
3:5 עֵדe (ed) “witness”
מְמַהֵר (me-ma-Her) root: מהר (maw-har) Piel participle: “to make haste; to be swift; to hasten”
בַּמְכַשְּׁפִים; (bam-chash-she-Fim) root: כשּׁף (kaw-shaf) Piel participle: “to practice sorcery”
וּבַמְנָאֲפִים (u-vam-na-a-Fim) root: נאף (naw-af) Piel participle: “to commit adultery”
וּבְעֹשְׁקֵי (u-ve-o-she-Kei) root: עשׁקֵ (aw-shak) Qal participle (in construct): “to oppress; exploit; extort”
שְׂכַר-שָׂכִיר (se-cha-r-Sa - chir) “the wages of hirelings” “the wages of laborers”
אַלְמָנָה; (al-ma-Nah) “widow”
וְיָתוֹם (ve-ya-Tom) “fatherless; orphan”
גֵר (ger) “stranger; sojourner”
3:6 שָׁנִיתִי (sha-Ni-ti) root: שׁנה (shaw-naw) Qal: “to change”
כְלִיתֶם (che-li-Tem) root: כלה (kaw-law) “to be finished; consumed; destroyed”
Because of the unchanging, faithfulness of the LORD to His covenant, the children of Jacob are not destroyed/consumed even in their changing and unfaithfulness. The LORD cannot break His covenant—He cannot change that which He has promised. There may be detours/captivities/exiles/lost battles/times of distress, but the LORD cannot change and must fulfill His promises and send His Son. This is the great and beautiful Gospel message that Malachi shouts out. The Messenger is coming—must come—because the LORD God has promised, and He is unchanging and always faithful no matter how unfaithful His people may be.
3:7 שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה (Shu-vu e-Lai ve-a-Shu-vah) root: שׁוב (shoob) “to turn; return” “return to me and I will return…”
It is unfortunate that the pericope ends here in the middle of verse 7. It would perhaps be better to continue on to at least verse 12. These last words, “return to me and I will return to you,” seem to contradict much of what has preceded. Indeed, the rest of the verse says, “How shall we return?” which is the right question. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. It is the LORD God who does not change and remains faithful and through His Son returns the people to Himself. The Messenger of the Covenant will fulfill the promise and bring all nations to Him, and these people will call the people of Israel blessed for through them they are blessed—through the Coming One.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Malachi 3:1–7b.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Malachi 3:1–7b.