18. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
18. Et convertemini, et videbitis inter justum et impium, inter servientem Deo et eum qui non servit ei.
This verse at the first view seems to be addressed to the faithful; for there never has been a turning as to the reprobate: but as the word has a wide meaning, the passage may be suitably applied to the whole people, according to what we find in Zechariah, |They shall see him whom they have pierced;| for we have said that this might be understood both of the good and of the bad. So also the whole people might be viewed as addressed in these words. But when we more minutely examine all circumstances, it seems that Malachi more particularly addressed the ungodly, and checked again their furious blasphemies; for we find almost the same sentiment expressed here, as when he said, |The Lord whom ye expect shall come to his temple, and the angel of the covenant whom ye seek;| and at the same time he showed that the coming of Christ, which they said was advancing too slowly, would not be such as they desired or looked for. |Let not this delay,| he says, |be grievous to you; for everything terrible which his majesty possesses will be turned on your heads; for he will come as an angry judge and an avenger: ye therefore in vain hope for any comfort or alleviation from his presence.|
So also he says in this place, Ye shall see this difference between the just and the unjust; that is, |Ye shall find that God does not sleep in heaven, when the ungodly grow wanton on the earth and abandon themselves to every kind of wickedness: experience then will at length teach you, that men shall not thus with impunity become insolent against God, but that all your wickedness must come to a reckoning.| When therefore he says, that they would find the difference between the godly and the ungodly, he means that they would find by the punishments which God would inflict, that men are not permitted to indulge their own depraved desires, as though God slept in heaven, forgetful of his office. Their blasphemy was, |In vain is God worshipped; what is the benefit? for we have kept his charge, and yet the proud are more happy than we are.| As then they accused God of such a connivance, as though he disregarded and cast away his own servants, and showed favor to the wicked, Malachi returns them an answer and says, |Ye shall see how much the good differ from the evil; God indeed spares the wicked, but he will at length rise to judgement, and come armed suddenly upon them, and then ye shall know that all the deeds of men are noticed by him, and that wickedness shall not go unpunished, though God for a time delays his vengeance.|
We now then perceive the Prophet's meaning -- that the ungodly who clamor against God, as though he made no account either of the just or of the unjust, shall find, even to their own loss, that he is one who punishes wickedness.
As to the verb turn, I have already said that it has a wide meaning, and does not always mean repentance or the renovation of man: it may therefore be taken as signifying only a different state of things; as though he had said, |The dice shall be turned, and such will be your condition when God shall begin to execute his judgement, that he will then manifestly show that he has not forgotten his office, though he does not immediately hasten to execute his judgements.| Ye shall return then and see. Yet if any one prefers to regard returning as the feeling of God's judgements, by which even the ungodly shall be touched, though without repentance, the view will not be unsuitable, and I am disposed to embrace it, that is, that the Lord will shake off the stupidity in which they were sunk, and will correct their madness, so that they will not dare to vomit forth so insolently their blasphemies, as they had been wont to do: Ye then shall return; that is, |I will make my judgement known to you, and ye shall not rush on headlong as wild beasts, for being taught by facts, ye shall learn the difference between the good and the bad.|
The just, and he who serves God, mean the same person. We hence learn that there is no justice where there is no obedience rendered to God. The first thing then in a good and an upright life, is to serve God; for it would be but of little benefit to be harmless towards men, when his right is denied: and we know that God is not rightly served but according to what his law prescribes. We must then always come to this, -- that men must obey God, if they desire to form their life aright. Now follows --