In this section, Malachi begins by pointing out to the Israelites that their words are burdensome to the Lord. He specifies these words as deductions that the people were making concerning God’s providence. They had looked around, observed that evil people were prospering, and concluded that the Lord must approve of them and was not interested in justice. It is not clear if the workers of evil refer to foreign nations who were enjoying prosperity despite worshipping idols or if the term describes people in Israel who openly flouted God’s law. In any case, the people assumed that the reason for their own problems was not connected to their own attitudes but to God’s failures.
Of course, a dangerous situation is reached for a people when the Lord becomes weary of them. A similar situation is described in Isaiah 43:23-24: ‘You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honoured me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities.’
Not everybody had this attitude as can be seen in those mentioned in 3:16 who feared the Lord and thought upon his name. These people were a cause of joy to the Lord, unlike the people in general who were complaining wrongly about the Lord’s dealing in providence. The second group failed to realise that the reason they were not being blessed by God was connected to their disobedience to his will which was expressed in their shallow worship, sinful religious leaders, and sinful actions concerning their wives.
Nevertheless the Lord has a word for them. He himself is going to come suddenly to his temple. His coming will not be immediately but suddenly. The Lord assures them that he will come, but he does not tell them when he will arrive. Yet he gives one sign: his messenger will be sent to prepare the way before him.
The description of the messenger in verse 1 is fulfilled in John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Mark links this verse with verses from Isaiah 40 in order to describe John’s role (Mark 1:2-3). Therefore John the Baptist was the sign that the Lord was about to come to his temple. It is obvious from the Gospels that many people were wondering about this possibility. What would it mean? We will see tomorrow what Malachi had to say about it.