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IV. JUDAH EXHORTED TO RETURN AND REMEMBER (THE ECONOMIC ANGLE) 3:7-4:6
The Lord had said that Israel’s earlier history was a time when the priests and the people of Israel pleased Him (Malachi 3:4). Now He said that those early days were short-lived (cf. Exodus 32:7-9). In contrast to His faithfulness (Malachi 3:6), they had been unfaithful.
This third and last hortatory speech in Malachi differs from the previous two in its construction. Whereas the former two both began with positive motivation and ended with negative motivation, this one begins and ends with commands. Whereas the central section in each of them was a command surrounded by evidence for needed change, this one centers on the evidence that is flanked by motivations. Thus this speech, and the entire book, ends with a climactic command to remember the Law (Malachi 4:4-6).
The focus of the first speech was on the peoples’ relationship to God (divine responsibility), the focus of the second one was on their relationship to one another (social responsibility), and the third one is on their relationship to their possessions (economic responsibility).
D. Motivation: the coming day 3:16-4:3
In the first two hortatory speeches the first motivation sections are positive and the second ones are negative. In this last speech the first is mainly positive, but the second is a mixture of positive and negative, though mainly negative.
The Lord now elaborated on the day to which He had just referred (Malachi 3:17). There is no chapter division in the Hebrew Bible; all of chapter 4 appears as the end of chapter 3. This day of the Lord would be a day of judgment. The Lord compared it to a fiery furnace in which all the arrogant and every evildoer (a hendiadys meaning every arrogant evildoer) would burn like chaff (or stubble; cf. Malachi 3:2-3; Malachi 3:15). Fire language is common in connection with divine judgment and anger (e.g., Genesis 19:24-28; Psalms 2:12; Psalms 89:46; Isaiah 30:27; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 21:12; Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7; Amos 1:10; Amos 1:12; Amos 1:14; Amos 2:2; Amos 2:5). That day would set them ablaze in that the Lord would set them ablaze in that day. He would so thoroughly purge them that they would be entirely consumed, like a shrub thrown into a hot fire is totally burned up, from root to branch (a merism of totality). The judgment of wicked unbelievers is in view (cf. Matthew 25:46). Later revelation clarified the time of this judgment, namely, the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). Because God would deal with the unsaved wicked so severely, His people needed to repent remembering that He will deal with all sinners severely.
"This verse gives no basis for the error of annihilationism. It describes physical death, not the state of the soul after death. The unsaved are in conscious eternal woe (Revelation 14:10-11; Revelation 20:11-15), as the saved are in conscious eternal bliss (Revelation 21:1-7)." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 982.]
In contrast, the Israelites who feared Yahweh (Malachi 1:14; Malachi 3:5; Malachi 3:16-17) would experience a reign of righteousness compared here to sunshine (cf. Isaiah 60:1-3). The sun can blister, but it can also bless, and its blessing effect is in view here. The prophet evidently visualized the sunrays like the wings of a bird stretching over the earth. This righteous day would have a healing effect on the inhabitants of the earth, healing them, and the planet, from the harmful effects of past millennia of sin (cf. Isaiah 53:5).
Some expositors have understood "the sun of righteousness" to be a messianic title, but it seems best to view it as a description of the day of blessing that Messiah will bring, the Millennium. The New Testament never referred to Jesus Christ as "the sun of righteousness." The figure of vigorous calves cavorting in open pasture after having been cooped up in a stall pictures the joy and freedom that the righteous will enjoy in that day (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25; Hosea 14:4-7; Amos 9:13-15; Zephaniah 3:19-20).
The righteous would also enjoy superiority over the wicked in that day, the opposite of the situation in Malachi’s day. The wicked would be as ashes (from the burning, Malachi 4:1) under their (the calves’) feet in that the wicked would suffer judgment and offer no resistance (cf. Isaiah 66:24; Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:48). Almighty Yahweh was preparing that day, so it would inevitably come.
Moses’ last words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy contain about 14 exhortations to remember the Law that God had given them. Malachi closed his book, and God closed the Old Testament, with the same exhortation. One writer identified nine connections between Malachi and the Book of Deuteronomy. [Note: Hugenberger, pp. 48-50.] Although the Hebrew canon ends with Chronicles rather than Malachi, Malachi concludes the Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible. The Jews regarded "the Law and the Prophets" as comprising their entire Scriptures (cf. Matthew 5:17; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; Acts 24:14; Acts 28:23; Romans 3:21).
The Israelites had forgotten and disregarded God’s law, and Malachi had pointed out many specific instances of that. Now he urged the people to recall and obey their Law. By calling Moses "My servant," the Lord was reminding Malachi’s audience of how faithful Moses had carried out God’s will. He was to be their model of obedience. The Law of Moses (i.e., the Pentateuch) was still God’s word to His people after all that had happened to them.
E. Second motivation: remember the Law 4:4-6
"Malachi began with an illustration from Genesis (Jacob and Esau) and spent most of the first half of the book reminding priests and people of the need to keep the Mosaic Law. Now, close to the end of his book, he gives another terse reminder of their continuing obligation to those laws." [Note: Alden, p. 724.]
"As the motivation provided in Malachi 1:2-5 extends beyond the first address to the whole book . . ., this concluding section provides the book’s climactic command. . . . Malachi begins by pointing to the past and ends by pointing to the future (Malachi 4:5-6[Hb. Mal 3:23-24]), thus appropriately grounding the ethical impact of the book in both redemption and eschatology." [Note: Clendenen, p. 454.]
The Lord promised to send His people Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrived. An angel later told John the Baptist’s parents that their son would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Yet John denied that he was Elijah (John 1:21-23). Jesus said that John would have been the Elijah who was to come if the people of his day had accepted Jesus as their Messiah (Matthew 11:14). Since they did not, John did not fulfill this prophecy about Elijah coming, though he did fulfill the prophecy about Messiah’s forerunner (Malachi 3:1).
This interpretation has in its favor Jesus’ words following the Transfiguration, which occurred after John the Baptist’s death. Jesus said that Elijah would come and restore all things (Matthew 17:11). Whether the original Elijah will appear before the day of the Lord or whether an Elijah-like figure, similar to John the Baptist, will appear remains to be seen. Since Jesus went on to say that Elijah had come and the Jews failed to recognize him, speaking of John (Matthew 17:12-13), I prefer the view that an Elijah-like person will come.
What John did for Jesus at His first coming, preparing the hearts of people to receive Him, this latter-day Elijah will do for Him at His second coming. Evidently the two witnesses in the Tribulation will carry out this ministry (Revelation 11:1-13). Who the witnesses will be is a mystery. Evidently one of them will be an Elijah-like person. These men will do miracles as Elijah and Elisha did.
Malachi revealed only one future forerunner of Messiah before the day of the Lord in view, perhaps the more prominent of the two. Elijah was a very significant person in Israel’s history because he turned the Israelites back to God at the time of their worst apostasy, when Ahab and Jezebel had made Baal worship the official religion of Israel. Moses established the theocracy on earth, but Elijah restored it when it almost passed out of existence. Similarly the eschatological Elijah will unite the hearts of the Jews to turn back and worship Yahweh.
At His first coming Jesus said that because of Him families would experience division. Some fathers would believe on Him but their sons would not, and daughters would disagree with their mothers over Him (Matthew 10:35-36; Luke 12:49-53; cf. Micah 7:6). When this Elijah comes, he will cause the Jews to believe on their Messiah, as many did in Elijah’s day. They will unite over belief in Him.
If the Lord would not send this Elijah, and if he did not turn the hearts of the Jews back to God, the Lord would have to come (in the person of Messiah) and strike the earth with a curse. Because the Jews will turn to Jesus Christ in faith (Zechariah 12:10), blessing will come to the earth, not a curse (Malachi 4:2-3; cf. Zechariah 14:11; Romans 11:26). This is another reference to millennial conditions.
The Jews of Malachi’s day needed to remember their Law and practice it to prepare for the coming day of the Lord. As Jesus said, Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46). Had Malachi’s audience and subsequent generations of Jews paid attention to the Law of Moses they would have recognized Jesus for who He was at His first coming. This was the last revelation that God gave His people before the forerunner of Messiah, whom He promised in Malachi 3:1, appeared some 400 years later. They had plenty of time to get ready.
In Malachi’s day the people needed to return to the Lord or He would smite the land with a curse. This is really what happened since they did not return to Him. The Israelites’ problems occupying the land God gave them since the Babylonian captivity is evidence of their failure.
Fortunately for them, and for the whole world, God did not cast off His people Israel because they rejected His Son (Romans 11:1). He will send another powerful prophet, like Moses, to His people in the end times. They will believe the message of that Elijah and will turn to Jesus Christ in faith when He returns to the earth (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26). Then Messiah will initiate a righteous worldwide rule that will last 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-6) rather than smiting the land with a curse.
"Genesis reveals the entrance of the curse into the human family (Genesis 3); the last word of the O.T. shows the curse still persisting (Malachi 4:6); Matthew begins (Matthew 1:1) with Him who came to remove the curse (Galatians 3:13; Revelation 21:3-5; Revelation 22:3)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 982.]
"The warning that ends the Old Testament is not absent at the end of the New (Revelation 22:10-15), but the difference is that there grace has the last word (Revelation 22:21)." [Note: Baldwin, p. 253.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Malachi 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany