17 It may be worthwhile to refer again to the structural analysis of vv. 16 and 17 (Sentences 4–9). Verse 16a and d (sentences 4 and 7) are parallel: those who feared the Lord spoke to one another (Sentence 4), and those who feared the Lord kept his name in mind (Sentence 7). The key expression in both phrases is “those who feared the Lord.” We have a similar parallel construction between v. 16b and c (sentences 5 and 6) and v. 17 (sentences 8 and 9): God takes heed of them (sentences 5 and 6), and God will spare them as his treasured possession (sentences 8 and 9). Both of these sections are again internally parallel: God takes heed and he listens (sentences 5 and 6), and they will be his treasured possession and he will spare them (sentences 8 and 9).
The identity of the pious ones and their future experiences will be fully revealed on the day that God will make. Indeed, they will be mine. The copulative in v. 17 is either explicative, “namely,” or emphatic, “indeed.” The subject is “those who feared the Lord” (v. 16). The significance of this statement is explained by the Hebrew word seg̱ullâ, “treasured possession.” There is no need to regard this word, because of its peculiar position at the end of the sentence, as a later addition to the text (so J. M. P. Smith, et al.). The reading is supported by the ancient versions, and it would be unthinkable that a glossator should have disregarded the rules of syntax by adding the word in its present position.
To be the Lord’s is to be his treasured possession. In its profane usage seg̱ullâ means “property” (Lat. peculium, “that which is accumulated by thrift”). In Eccl. 2:8 it is used of the treasures which Qohelet has amassed in the course of time (cf. 1 K. 10; 2 Chr. 1:14–17; 9:1–28). In 1 Chr. 29:3 it denotes the “personal treasures” of David. In the religious sense the word is used to denote the special position of Israel in its relationship to God as his elect people (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Ps. 135:4). The parallelism of election and possession in connection With Israel is significantly expressed in Ps. 135:4: “For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.”
This elevation of Israel to be God’s seg̱ullâ is an essential aspect of the Sinaitic covenant (Exod. 19:5, 6), with its later renewal in the territory of Moab, where the Lord declared, “that you [Israel] are his people, his treasured possession as he promised.… He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised” (Deut. 26:18, 19, NIV). The word seg̱ullâ sometimes occurs in the phrase ʿam seg̱ullâ, “peculiar people” (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18), as a parallel expression to ʿam qāḏôš, “holy people” (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:19), or gôy qāḏôš, “holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). The rendering of the LXX, peripoíēsin, “to save something,” “that which remains,” “profit,” and then “(acquired) possession,” forms the basis of the NT’s usage of the term (cf. Eph. 1:14; 2 Thess. 2:14; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). The term seg̱ullâ, usually applied to Israel as people (Exod. 19:5, 6), is here used to denote the pious remnant in an eschatological context. The? represent the true Israel (Rom. 9:6–9), “a remnant, chosen by grace” (Rom. 11:5).
The promise to those who feared the Lord to be or become his treasured possession will be fulfilled on the day that I will make. The Hebrew relative ʾašer is not taken as an accusative of time (Vulg., Calvin, et al.), but as an accusative of the object (LXX, Luther, et al.), in the sense of “the day that I will create.” This “day” is the “time” of the Lord’s unexpected appearance (3:1, 5), when he will purge his people (3:2–5), consume the wicked (3:19), and bless the righteous (3:20, 21 [Eng. 4:2, 3]).
I will spare them, just as a man spares his son who serves him. The fact that the pious will be the seg̱ullâ of the Lord entails that he will spare them. The Hebrew verb ḥāmal means “have compassion on,” with the extended meaning “spare.” Amid the tribulations of the day of judgment God will bestow his compassion on the pious by delivering, sparing them from the ordeal (cf. Jer. 50:14; Ezek. 8:18; Joel 2:18; etc.). The comparison with the behavior of a father toward a diligent and faithful son refers to 1:6 and stresses the significance of the relationship between God and those who truly belong to him. In addition it serves as an answer to the arrogant supposition that it is futile to serve the Lord (v. 14). The truly righteous ones will be revealed on the day of God’s judgment as those who are justified by the Lord himself. This is especially apparent from v. 18.
Yahweh’s Special Possession (3:17)
17 Yahweh speaks concerning an impending day of action (layyôm ʾăšer ʾănî ʿōśê, “the day when I act”), when a distinction will be made between those who serve God and those who do not. The Yahweh-fearers identified here with the third masculine plural form of the verb (hāyû), will be a valued possession (səgullā) to Yahweh. The noun səgullā refers to the nation, the covenant community (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18), the people chosen by God. The election of Israel may constitute its status as a valued possession (Deut 7:6; 14:2; Ps 135:4); in Exod 19:5 the status is contingent on obedience. Likewise, in Deut 26:18–19, God chose the people to be a valued possession, and they agreed to the terms of the relationship—to be a holy people (ʿam qādôš). In Mal 3:17, səgullā does not refer to the entire nation but to those within the nation, however few or many, who fear God—the very stance lacking in the priests. The priests’ lack of reverence and honor led to the accusation and contributed to the curse on the land. Consequently, while the entire nation may have been deemed God’s possession, in the postexilic community that label is used in a restrictive sense of the Yahweh-fearers. Being a member of the covenant community does not guarantee blessing. The narrowed distinction is apparent in this designation of Yahweh’s planned action. Whether or not this qualifies the status of the community before Yahweh at the present, the temporal indicator does qualify its status at a specific time—that is, the day (hayyôm) when Yahweh acts (cf. Mal 3:19, 21). The temporal indicator may also govern the other promised action: God’s future compassion.
The recipients of God’s compassion will be the covenant people—in particular, those who fear God—I will have compassion on them. Clearly, in this instance the corporate view of the community is secondary. The distinctions between the wicked and the righteous regulate how Yahweh will deal with the community. God will have compassion on (ḥāmal) only the Yahweh-fearers. The verb ḥāmal usually means “to have compassion” and “to spare,” especially in the context of war (cf. 1 Sam 15:3, 15). It may be used in negative formulations to mean not having compassion or sparing people (e.g., Ezek 8:18; Zech 11:5–6), or positively, of having compassion (Joel 2:18). By specifying the recipients of the compassion with the preposition (ʿălêhem) “on them,” the declaration excludes others—that is, those who do not fear Yahweh.
The declaration elaborates and further narrows the group of recipients by means of a comparison with the action of a father toward his son: as a man has compassion on his son. This speaks to the typical nature of the relationship (Mal 1:6); a “man” (ʾîš) would have compassion on “his son” (bənô).
As a father has compassion [riḥam] for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him [ʿal-yərēʾāyw]. (Ps 103:13 NRSV)
But a further qualification signifies that only under certain conditions is compassion normative. Compassion is for the one who serves him. The clause the one who serves (ʿābad) him alludes to Mal 3:14 regarding the possibility of reward for serving God (contrast 2:8). One would expect a servant to serve but a son to love and honor (Mal 1:6). In making this distinction, Mal 3:17 reveals that the promised actions do not apply to all but only to those who serve Yahweh. Not all are the valued possession, and not all will be spared. The idea that the wicked escape is thus addressed even here—they will not be spared if they do not fear and serve God (cf. Mal 3:15). The decisive element in the father’s compassion toward his son would be service. Arguably, the father would not have compassion on a son who does not serve him. By comparison, Yahweh would be compassionate toward the Yahweh-fearers—namely, those who serve Yahweh.
The Lord Promises A Special Privilege (v. 17)
The Lord will not only remember these people but also treat them as his own special treasure on that glorious day when he makes up his jewels. The thought is that God’s people are jewels who are scattered and mired in the mud of this world. But at the end, he will find them all, put them into his treasure chest and will look upon them with pride and satisfaction. They will be his crown jewels. God’s people may not appear to be much now, but they will be known to be much then (see Dan. 12:3).
3:17 The excitement of these words is that we can sense the pride God has in His children. The Hebrew word translated jewels could be rendered “special treasure.” It is a wonderfully endearing term that is used in the OT only of the people of Israel as they are valued by the living God (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; Ps. 135:4).
3:17 Mine … My own possession. “Mine” is emphatic in the Hebrew. The godly remnant will belong to Him and will be His special treasure, or “possession” (cf. same word in Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4). In the midst of judgment, He will spare them (cf. Ps 103:13).
3:17 They shall be mine. This phrase refers to the remnant described in v. 16.
my treasured possession. In the early stage of Old Testament revelation the nation of Israel is called God’s “treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2).
17. He shows by the issue itself why a book of remembrance was written—that God in due time would again undertake to defend and cherish his Church. Though then for a time many troubles were to be sustained by the godly, yet the Prophet shews that they did not in vain serve God; for facts would at length prove that their obedience has not been overlooked. But the two things which he mentions ought to be noticed; for a book of remembrance is first written before God, and then God executes what is written in the book. When therefore we seem to serve God in vain, let us know that the obedience we render to him will come to an account, and that he is a just Judge, though he may not immediately stretch forth his hand to us.
In the first place then the Prophet testifies that God knows what is done by every one; and in the second place he adds that he will in his own time perform what he has decreed. So also in judgments, he preserves the same order in knowing and in executing. For when he said to Abraham that the cry of Sodom came up to heaven, (Gen. 18:20,) how great and how supine was the security of the city. How wantonly and how savagely they despised every authority to the very last moment! But God had long before ascended his tribunal, and had taken an account of their wickedness. So also in the case of the godly, though he seems to overlook their obedience, yet he has not his eyes closed, or his ears closed, for there is a book of memorial written before him.
Hence he says, They shall be in the day I make. The verb is put by itself, but we may easily learn from the context that it refers to the restoration of the Church. In the day then in which I shall make, that is, complete what I have already said; for he had before promised to restore the Church. As then he speaks of a known thing, he says shortly, In the day I shall make, or complete my work, they shall be to me a peculiar treasure. This phrase confirms what I have already stated—that God has his season and opportunity, in order that there may be no presumption in us to prescribe to him the time when he is to do this or that. In the day then when he shall gather his Church, it will then appear that we are his peculiar treasure.
Thus the Prophet in these words exhorts us to patience, lest it should be grievous to us to groan under our burden, and not to find God’s help according to our wishes, and lest also it should be grievous to us to bear troubles in common with the whole Church. Were one or two of us subject to the cross, and doomed to sorrow and grief in this world, our condition might seem hard; but since the godly, from the first to the last, are made to be our associates in bearing the cross of Christ, and to be conformed to his example, there is no reason for any one of us to shun his lot; for we are not better than the holy patriarchs, apostles, and so many of the faithful whom God has exercised with the cross. Since then the common restoration of the Church is here set before us, let us know that a reason is here given for constancy and fortitude; for it would be disgraceful for us to faint, when we have so many leaders in this warfare, who by their examples stretch forth as it were their hands to us; for as Abraham, David, and other Patriarchs and Prophets, as well as Apostles, have suffered so many and so grievous troubles, ought not this fact to raise up our spirits? and if at any time our feet and our legs tremble, ought it not to be sufficient to strengthen us, that so many excellent chiefs and leaders invite us to persevere by their example? We then see that this has not been laid down for nothing, when I shall make, or complete my work.
By the words peculiar treasure, God intimates that the lot of the godly will be different from that of the world; as though he had said, “Ye are now so mixed together, that they who serve me seem not to be peculiar any more than strangers; but they shall then be my peculiar treasure.” This is to be taken, as I have already mentioned, for the outward appearance; for we know that we have been chosen by God, before the foundation of the world, for this end—that we might be to him a peculiar treasure. But when we are afflicted in common with the wicked, or when we seem to be even rejected, and the ungodly, on the other hand, seem to have God propitious to them, then nothing seems less true than this promise. I therefore said that this ought to be referred to the outward appearance—that the faithful are God’s peculiar treasure, that they are valued by him, and that he shows to them peculiar love, as to his own inheritance.
And this mode of speaking occurs in many parts of scripture; for God is often said to repudiate his people; the word separation, or divorce, is often mentioned; he is said to have destroyed his inheritance. Grievous is the trial, when God cherishes as it were in his bosom the ungodly, and we at the same time are exposed to every kind of misery; but we see what happened to the ancient Church: let us then arm ourselves for this contest, and be satisfied with the inward testimony of the Spirit, though outward things do not prosper.
He adds, And I will spare them as a man spares, &c. He states here a promise which ought especially to be observed: it contains two clauses; the first is, that the Jews who remained alive would render obedience to God, by which they would prove themselves to be children indeed, and not in name only: and the second is, that God would forgive them, that is, that he would exercise pardon in receiving their services, which could not otherwise please him. And there is no doubt but that the Spirit of regeneration is included in the words, the son who serves him; not that the faithful addressed here were wholly destitute of the fear of God; but God promises an increase of grace, as though he had said, “I will gather to myself the people who faithfully and sincerely worship me.” Though then he speaks not here of the beginning of a religious and holy life, it is yet the same as though he had said, that the faithful would be under his government, that they might devote themselves to his service.
The second promise refers to another grace,—that God in his mercy would approve of the obedience of the godly, though in itself unworthy to come to his presence. How necessary this indulgence is to us, they who are really and truly acquainted with the fear of God, fully know. The sophists daringly prattle about merits, and fill themselves and others with empty pride; but they who understand that no man can stand before God’s tribunal, do not dream of any merits, nor do they believe that they can bring anything before God, by which they can conciliate his favour. Hence their only refuge is what the Prophet here teaches us, that God spares them.
And it must be observed, that the Prophet does not speak simply of the remission of sins: our salvation, we know, consists of two things—that God rules us by his Spirit, and forms us anew in his own image through the whole course of our life,—and also that he buries our sins. But the Prophet refers here to the remission of sins, of which we have need as to our good works; for it is certain, that even when we devote ourselves with all possible effort and zeal to God’s service there is yet something always wanting. Hence it is that no work, however right and perfect before men, deserves this distinction and honour before God. It is therefore necessary, even when we strive our utmost to serve God, to confess that without his forgiveness whatever we bring deserves rejection rather than his favour. Hence the Prophet says, that when God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will yet be acceptable to him, and though we labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us: for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.
We hence see the design and meaning of the Prophet,—that he promises pardon from God to the faithful, after having been reconciled to him, because they serve God as children willingly,—and that God also, though their works are unworthy of his favour, will yet count them as acceptable, even through pardon, and not on the ground of merit or worthiness.
Grant, Almighty God, that as Satan strives to draw us away from every attention to true religion, when things in the world are in a state of disorder and confusion,—O grant, that we may know that thou carest for us; and if we perceive not this by what we find in the world, may we rely on thy word, and doubt not but that thou ever watchest over our safety; and being supported by this confidence, may we ever go on in the course of our calling: and as thou hast deigned to make us partakers of that evidence of thy favour, by which we know that we are reconciled to thee in thine only-begotten Son; and being thus made his members, may we never hesitate cheerfully to offer to thee our services, however defective they may be, since thou hast once promised to be a propitious Father to us, so as not rigidly to try what we offer to thee, but so graciously to accept it, that we may know that not only our sins, which justly deserve condemnation, are forgiven and remitted to us, but that thou also so bearest with our infirmities and our defects in our imperfect works, that we shall at length receive the reward which thou hast promised, and which we cannot attain through our merits, but through the sanctification of thy Spirit, and through the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Amen.
Lecture One Hundred and Eighty-First
We saw in the last lecture that no works of the faithful please God, except through a gratuitous acceptance: it hence follows, that nothing can be ascribed to merits without derogating from the grace of Christ; for if the value of works depends on this, that God is our Father and is reconciled to us in Christ, nothing can be more absurd than to set up works, which ought to be subordinated to this paternal favour of God.
We now see how these two things harmonize—that reward is promised to works, and that works themselves deserve nothing before God; for though God can justly reject them, he yet regards them as acceptable, because he forgives all their defects. Thus have we briefly stated the reason why our works are approved by God; they are not so on account of any worthiness, but through his favour alone; for there is no work which would not on account of its imperfection be displeasing to God, were he to require that it should be according to the rule of his law. Hence God departs from his own law and turns to mercy, that he may regard works as acceptable, which otherwise could not, being defective, stand before his presence.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mal 3:17). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1349). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.