Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.Malachi 4:1. the day] i.e. “the day” predicted in the preceding verse, with which this verse coheres closely. The commencing of a new chapter here in A.V. (and LXX., after Vulg., though not in our present Hebrew Bibles) is unfortunate. The R.V. rightly prints from Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3 inclusive in a continuous paragraph.
that shall burn as an oven] Rather, it burneth as a furnace, R.V. Comp. ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει, ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται, for the day shall declare it, because it (the day) is revealed in fire, 1 Corinthians 3:13.
all the proud … all that do wickedly] The judgment passed on them by the scoffers (Malachi 3:15) shall be signally reversed.
root nor branch] A sudden change of figure from the straw or “stubble” to the tree which succumbs to the raging fire, till neither root nor branch remains.
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.2. the Sun of righteousness] The capital letter with which “Sun” is printed in A.V. is of the nature of a comment. It suggests at once to the reader the personal and Messianic reference of the word. But it is better to print “sun” with R.V.; not as denying or obscuring the ultimate and designed reference to Christ, but as exhibiting it in a manner more agreeable to the genius of Old Testament prophecy and to the requirements of the context. The key-thought of this whole paragraph is righteousness. God’s righteousness has been proudly and defiantly called in question by “the wicked”: it has been humbly trusted in and waited for by “the righteous” (Malachi 3:18). The day of its manifestation is at hand. That discriminating day shall award to each their righteous recompense. To the wicked it shall come as a burning furnace to consume them: upon the righteous it shall dawn as a day of which the very sun that makes it is righteousness. Just as in the material world the shadows and distortions and illusions of night vanish before the light of the rising sun, which shows all things as they really are, so in the moral world the sun of righteousness shall put to flight the difficulties and perplexities, the inequalities and anomalies, which have been the trial of the faithful and the weapon of the scoffer. No place for them shall be found, when the sun of righteousness shall dawn from new heavens upon a new earth, “wherein dwelleth righteousness”.
But this explanation of the phrase only prepares the way for the personal and Messianic reference. To every Jew the thought of God Himself as a Sun was familiar (Psalm 84:11 [Hebrews 12]; Isaiah 60:19). His religion taught him to look for deliverance and blessing, not from the diffusion of a quality or attribute, but from the manifestation of a Personal God. And it no less plainly taught him that that manifestation would be consummated in “the righteous Branch” who should “execute judgment and justice in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). For us the Sun of righteousness is none other than “Jesus Christ, the righteous” (1 John 2:1), “the Lord, the righteous Judge, who shall give at that day a crown of righteousness unto all them that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
with healing in his wings] Comp. “the wings of the morning”, Psalm 139:9. In both cases the rising of the sun is compared, not to the use of the wings in flight, but to lifting them up, or spreading them out. In the Psalm the suddenness and rapidity with which this is done, when the sun “flares up from behind the mountain-wall of Moab,” is the point of comparison (Comp. “the morning spread upon the mountains,” Joel 2:2; and the swift travelling of the light across the landscape in our own country, when the sun emerges from a cloud on a windy day). Here the healing virtue of the outstretched wings is in view. “A pleasant”, and a wholesome, “thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” Ecclesiastes 11:7.
In Syria “the Sun god was the central object of worship.… It was here too that his special symbol was the solar disk with wings issuing from either side to denote his omnipresent energy. The winged solar disk may have been originally of Babylonian invention, but it passed at an early time to the other Semitic populations of the East. We find it above the figure of a king on a monolith from Birejik now in the British Museum, and it is specially characteristic of the monuments of the Hittites.” Prof. Sayce, Annual Address (1889) to the Victoria Institute on the Cuneiform Inscriptions at Tel El-Amarna, p. 2.
grow up] Rather gambol, R.V. σκιρτήσετε, LXX. Comp. Jeremiah 1:11, “ye are wanton”, R.V.
calves of the stall] ὡς μοσχάρια ἐκ δεσμῶν ἀνειμένα, LXX.
And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.3. ashes] to which the “stubble” has been reduced, Malachi 4:1.
that I shall do this] Rather, when I do, or work. See note on Malachi 3:17.
Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.Ch. Malachi 4:4-6. Concluding Exhortation (Malachi 4:4) and Promise (Malachi 4:5-6)
Remember ye the law of Moses] The revelation of God is always continuous. Each fresh step is evolved out of, and is in harmony with, those which went before. To “remember” the past is to prepare for the future. The exhortation here is a direction to the Church in prospect of the four centuries which would elapse, before any other prophet should arise and the promise (Malachi 4:5-6) be fulfilled.
To the more careful study of the law, in the wider sense of the O. T. Scriptures, to which this exhortation led, may be traced much of the advance in theological knowledge which we find among the Jews in the time of our Lord.
which I commanded unto him in Horeb] A statement like this, put by an inspired prophet into the mouth of God Himself, has an important bearing on the historical character and date of composition of the Pentateuch.
with the statutes and judgments] Rather (consisting in) statutes and judgments: “even statutes and judgments”, R.V.: “(Nempe) statuta et judicia.” Calv. The words are explanatory of the nature of the law. Comp. Deuteronomy 4:8; Leviticus 26:46.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:5. Elijah the prophet] The reading of the LXX., “Elijah the Tishbite” (τὸν Θεσβίτην), has been thought to indicate their belief that the actual return of Elijah to earth is here foretold. Some have traced the same belief in the appropriation by the Son of Sirach to the literal Elijah of Malachi’s description of the work of the coming prophet (Malachi 4:6) (Sir 48:10); though it may well be doubted whether the passage proves anything more than his acquaintance with our prophecy. The belief, however, was certainly current among the Jews in our Lord’s time (Matthew 17:10; Mark 9:11; John 1:21). Nor does it follow that the belief was unfounded, because He Himself distinctly claims the prophecy for John the Baptist, identifying him at the same time with the “messenger” foretold by Malachi (Matthew 11:10; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12-13). The prophecy had a first fulfilment in the Baptist, who went before the face of the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, to do the work here described (Luke 1:17). In one sense he was “Elias which was for to come”; but in another sense, and on his own confession (John 1:21), he was not. For the prophecy awaits a second and (as some believe) more literal fulfilment; and as the typical Elijah came before Christ’s first Advent, and “they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they listed”, so before His second Advent shall another Elijah come “and shall restore all things.” (Matthew 17:10-13).
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. THE END OF THE PROPHETS.6. he shall turn the heart of the fathers] The “fathers” here are the patriarchs, whom the prophet regards as estranged from their degenerate “children”, or descendants, and ceasing to acknowledge them on account of their unworthy character and conduct. (Comp. Isaiah 63:16; Matthew 3:9.) When “the heart of the children is turned to their fathers”, so that they seek to imitate their example and walk in their ways, or, in other words, when “the disobedient” are turned “to walk in the wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17, R.V.), then the heart of the fathers will turn to them again in paternal recognition and love.
Some think (and the rendering with, R.V. margin, instead of to, favours the view), that the prophet refers to a state of discord and dissension between contending sections of the Jewish people, the old conservative, the young revolutionary, such as would need the intervention of a powerful prophet to correct. But is there any proof that this was the state of society with which John Baptist had to deal? Was not rather the whole nation corrupt and in need of being restored to its pristine purity?
with a curse] The Masoretic direction is to read again at the end of this Book the last verse but one (Malachi 4:5), in order to avoid concluding with the ominous word “curse” or “ban”; and the LXX., presumably with the same object, place Malachi 4:4 after Malachi 4:5-6. Yet the dark close of the Old Testament, “Lest I come and smite with the curse”, rightly understood, is the truest preparation for the bright opening of the New, “Behold, I am come to bless!”