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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Malachi 4

Verses 1-3

A NEW DEFENSE OF JEHOVAH’S JUSTICE, Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3.

These verses are parallel in thought to Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:12. They also are addressed to a class of doubters (Malachi 2:17) whose confidence in Jehovah is shaken by the apparent inequalities of life; the good suffer while the wicked prosper (13-15). They are informed that their complaint is unwarranted, that Jehovah’s eye is over all, and, though at present the lot of the pious may seem hard, Jehovah keeps a record of those who are faithful, and when he appears in his temple (Malachi 3:1) he will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (16-18). The wicked will be destroyed root and branch (Malachi 4:1), while the righteous will be exalted forever (2, 3). In this wise, the prophet argues, Jehovah will prove himself a God of judgment and of justice.

Verses 4-6


The last three verses of the book of Malachi have no immediate connection with the preceding section; they must be understood rather as closing admonitions belonging to the entire book, added by Malachi himself or by a later writer (see on Hosea 14:9). Recent commentators are inclined to the latter view, though Nowack, who accepts the originality of Malachi 4:4, admits that the question can never be settled with absolute certainty. In favor of diversity of authorship Marti advances the following reasons: (1) The change in the persons addressed; in Malachi 4:3 the pious are addressed, in Malachi 4:4 the Jews in general. (2) The expansion of Malachi 3:1, in Malachi 4:5-6 is not in accord with Malachi’s thought in the former passage. (3) Malachi never says “day of Jehovah” or “the great and dreadful day of Jehovah” (Malachi 4:5; compare Malachi 4:1; Malachi 3:17; Malachi 4:3). (4) Malachi speaks only of “the law” (Malachi 2:8-9), these verses of the “law of Moses” (Malachi 4:4). (5). Malachi frequently uses the formula “saith Jehovah of hosts,”

which is never found in these verses.

That there is an abrupt transition from Malachi 4:3-4 must be admitted, that the linguistic peculiarities mentioned exist is true; but that Malachi 4:5-6, are not in accord with the thought of Malachi 3:1, is not so evident. The former is an expansion of the latter along a line that is perfectly admissible. The evidence is not definite enough to say that the verses cannot come from the author of the rest of the book; but if they do come from him it is quite likely that they were added by him subsequently to the writing of the rest of the book, as a general exhortation to prepare for the coming of Jehovah in judgment.

4. Remember In a manner that will influence conduct. Only thus can they escape the terrors of the day of Jehovah.

The law of Moses If the entire Pentateuch was in existence in the days of Malachi this term includes the whole of it; if only a part was known it includes all that in those days went under the name of Moses (see on Hosea 4:6). In postexilic times a greater emphasis was placed upon the law, because it was thought that by regulating every detail of life by law with state authority the religious and moral lapses of the past might be avoided. This legalism was needed at the time (see p. 555 and p. 703), and it did much toward preserving intact the religion of Jehovah. The religious leaders of the early postexilic period met the crisis of their age just as effectively as the eighth century prophets met the problems of their time; it was not their fault that in later days the religious leaders failed to see their opportunities, and that the emphasis of the letter of the law resulted in the end in entire neglect of the spirit, which brought about the decline of Judaism as a vital force in religion and morals.

My servant See on Haggai 2:23; Zechariah 3:8.

Horeb Mentioned several times in the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomy, as the place where the law was given to Moses (Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 29:1; 1 Kings 8:9).

Statutes and judgments R.V., “and ordinances.” The former means literally that which is engraved or inscribed, that is, upon public tablets; hence that which is decreed by one in authority; in the Old Testament, the decrees of Jehovah intended to govern the conduct of his people. The primary idea of the second word is “judicial decision, made once authoritatively, and constituting a rule or precedent, applicable to other similar cases in the future.” The two words occur together quite frequently, especially in Deuteronomy. The difference between the two Driver indicates in these words: “Judgments being thus a term denoting primarily the provisions of civil and criminal law, statutes may be taken to refer more particularly to positive institutions or enactments, whether moral, ceremonial, or civil.”

Malachi 4:5-6 deal with the messenger whose appearance is announced in Malachi 3:1, and with his work of preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.

Behold, I will send See on Malachi 3:1.

Elijah the prophet There can be no doubt that he is to be identified with the messenger of Malachi 3:1. Whether the author expected a literal fulfillment, in the sense that Elijah would come in person, or whether the name is to be understood, like David in Hosea 3:5 (see there), in the sense of a second Elijah, a prophet like Elijah, it may be difficult to say. That there was current even in New Testament times a belief in the coming again of Elijah himself as well as of other prophets is shown by passages like Matthew 16:14. Jesus and the New Testament writers declare that the prophecy found its fulfillment in the coming of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:11; Mark 9:13). That Elijah should be singled out as the messenger from heaven was quite natural in view of the fact that he alone of all the prophets did not die a natural death, but “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). On this promise G.A. Smith makes the following suggestive remarks: “Malachi expects this prophecy… not in the continuance of the prophetic succession by the appearance of original personalities, developing further the great principles of their order, but in the return of the first prophet Elijah. This is surely the confession of Prophecy that the number of her servants is exhausted and her message to Israel fulfilled. She can now do no more for the people than she has done. But she will summon up her old energy and fire in the return of her most powerful personality, and make one grand effort to convert the nation before the Lord come and strike it with judgment.” The promise is the same as in Malachi 3:1, that the messenger will come before the appearance of Jehovah himself in judgment.

The great and dreadful day See on Joel 2:11; Joel 2:31.

Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5, contain the promise that the messenger will prepare the way before the Lord; Malachi 4:6, explains wherein the preparation consists, namely, in an attempt to convert the nation, so that the terror of the day of Jehovah may be averted. This conversion is described as a turning of “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Two interpretations of these words have been proposed:

(1) The fathers are the patriarchs, the children their descendants, the contemporaries of the author. The patriarchs are ashamed of their descendants, and refuse to acknowledge them, on account of their corruption; on the other hand, the descendants have no heart fellowship with their ancestors, because they fail to understand and appreciate their lofty spiritual and moral ideals. Elijah will attempt to turn the hearts of the corrupt children to the fathers, so that they will seek to imitate the example of the latter and walk in their ways. When this is done the heart of the fathers will turn again to the children in paternal recognition and love.

(2)A second interpretation sees in the fathers and the children two classes in the prophet’s own time, the men of maturity and the younger generation, and between the two a great gulf. The younger generation, says Von Orelli, “had broken with the law which the fathers still held outwardly in high esteem; the latter, on this account, were estranged from the young. When that Elijah turns the nation to God, he will do away with this gulf. In again teaching the sons to fear God, he will again win the hearts of the fathers for them; and in again breathing into the fathers a fatherly spirit, he will again awaken in the hearts of the sons confidence and good will to the fathers.” On the whole, the second interpretation is to be preferred, but the correctness of the explanation of the nature of the gulf may be doubted. It is better to bring these words into connection with Micah 7:5-6, where the results of religious apostasy are described: even the closest and most sacred ties come to be disregarded and broken. A similar thought underlies the promise of Malachi 4:6. The present is hopelessly corrupt, but when Elijah comes he will try to change conditions and restore peace and good will in accord with the will and purpose of God. The words are, then, a figure of the restoration and reformation for which Elijah will labor, in order that this earth may become a fit dwelling place for Jehovah.

Smite the earth with a curse Curse is literally ban. Whatever is placed under a ban is given up to destruction (Deuteronomy 13:16-17; Leviticus 27:28-29). Jehovah will surely come, but unless sin is removed before he comes he must wipe it out by a terrible blast of judgment. This statement implies that, if the mission of Elijah is successful, Jehovah will come as King of peace, to dwell in peace in the midst of his people.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Malachi 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.