I. Genre of the Passage:
The following passage is Old Testament Prophecy and divine revelation through divine narration. As noted in Malachi 1:1, the book of Malachi is “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.” Furthermore, as indicated later, Malachi is addressing the priests of Israel. Therefore, the emphasis will be placed upon God’s communication to the priests of Israel.
Furthermore, it is worth noticing the dialectic nature of Malachi. Instead of offering a list of indictments, commands, warnings, and so forth, the book often employs a dialectic structure – proffering rhetorical questions to which God responds with solutions.
II. Generic Conception:
The people of Israel, especially the priests, are robbing God what is due to Him and, if they desire the blessings of God, they should return what properly belongs to God.
III. Observations about the Passage:
Malachi 3:7-12 is found just after God declares the wicked acts of the priests of Israel (for turning men away from God by their wicked acts, and for being abusive towards the poor and biased towards the rich), that the priests should be disciplined, and that their continual wickedness has profaned their covenant with God.
A. General Structure:
This passage spans two paragraphs which are v. 7 and vv. 8-12.
The first paragraph (v. 7) is important because it outlines the flow of the second paragraph (vv. 8-12).
v. 7 – There are three significant points: (1) Since the days of their fathers, they have turned from God’s statues and have not kept them; (2) They are promised that in returning to God, God will return to them; (3) They are presented with the rhetorical question, “How shall we return?”
Note: It is this third point, a rhetorical question, that punctuates the dialectical structure of the book of Malachi and his use of rhetorical questions as effective transitions. Taking the rest of the second paragraph into consideration, v. 7’s rhetorical question provides a key indication of the second paragraph’s purpose: to answer, “how shall we return?”
B. Content of Structure:
The following passages are structured into the previously noted three points.
First Section: Wickedness and its consequences:
v. 8 – Opens with questioning how the priests have robbed God. The response is that they have robbed God by robbing tithes and offerings.
v. 9 – Therefore, they are cursed because they are robbing God – even the entire nation is robbing God.
Second Section: How they can come back to God?
v. 10 – Return the tithes and offerings to God. Do this to test God’ ability to send blessing to the nation until it overflows.
Third Section: What will be the consequences of their return?
v. 11 – God, himself, will rebuke the devourer and protect Israel’s harvest.
v. 12 – All the nations will call them blessed.
Following the above sections, beginning in v. 13 and continuing until v. 15, is a recapitulation of the former transgressions and habits of the Israelite priests.
vv. 13 – 15 – They are arrogant against God, they have turned people away from God, and the wicked are being built-up – testing God.
The book concludes by noting how those who feared the Lord responded, and that this book was written as a book of remembrance for God’s people. For those who esteem God, one day He will return and bring about, again, the distinction between the righteous and the wicked.
IV. Interpret Meaning of Passage:
The meaning of the passage appears to be how the Israelite priests, and even Israel as a nation, may come back to God despite robbing Him of what He justly deserves. Israel is promised that upon their return to God, God will return to them. The consequence of their return is that they will be immensely blessed by God.
V. Applications of the Passage:
Despite the highly occasional context for this passage from Malachi, I believe there could be some analogous significance for us today.
First, it appears that pastors could learn greatly from the failures of the priests. Pastors, just as much as priests, can negatively affect a congregation by their own wicked habits. These habits could be minimizing God’s significance, treating people differently based upon class status, or praising wickedness as good and good as wickedness.
Second, there appears to be an even more generic significance of the previously mentioned points concerning the individual. An individual can negatively affect their peers by their own wicked habits. These habits, likewise, could include minimizing God’s significance, treating their peers differently based upon class status, or praising wickedness as good and good as wickedness.