Malachi 4:1
For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
IV.

(1) The day already foretold in Malachi 3:2 shall be as a fire burning fiercely as a furnace, and “the wicked”—not only the heathen, but the murmurers themselves, so far from being accounted happy (Malachi 3:15)—shall be as “stubble.” (Comp. Isaiah 5:24; Zephaniah 1:18; Obadiah 1:18, &c.)

Malachi

‘STOUT WORDS,’ AND THEIR CONFUTATION

Malachi 3:13 - Malachi 3:18
; Malachi 4:1 - Malachi 4:6.

This passage falls into three parts,-the ‘stout words’ against God which the Prophet sets himself to confute {Malachi 3:13 - Malachi 3:15}; the prophecy of the day which will show their falsehood {Malachi 3:16 - Malachi 4:3}; and the closing exhortation and prediction {Malachi 4:4 - Malachi 4:6}.

I. The returning exiles had not had the prosperity which they had hoped.

So many of them, even of those who had served God, began to let doubts darken their trust, and to listen to the whispers of their own hearts, reinforced by the mutterings of others, and to ask: ‘What is the use of religion? Does it make any difference to a man’s condition?’ Here had they been keeping God’s charge, and going in black garments ‘before the Lord,’ in token of penitence, and no good had come to them, while arrogant neglect of His commandments did not seem to hinder happiness, and ‘they that work wickedness are built up.’ Sinful lives appeared to have a firm foundation, and to rise high and palace-like, while righteous ones were like huts. Goodness seemed to spell ruin.

What was wrong in these ‘stout words’? It was wrong to attach such worth to external acts of devotion, as if these were deserving of reward. It was wrong to suspend the duty of worship on the prosperity resulting from it, and to seek ‘profit’ from ‘keeping his charge.’ Such religion was shallow and selfish, and had the evils of the later Pharisaism in germ in it. It was wrong to yield to the doubts which the apparently unequal distribution of worldly prosperity stirred in their hearts. But the doubts themselves were almost certain to press on Old Testament believers, as well as on Old Testament scoffers, especially under the circumstances of Malachi’s time. The fuller light of Christianity has eased their pressure, but not removed it, and we have all had to face them, both when our own hearts have ached with sorrow and when pondering on the perplexities of this confused world. We look around, and, like the psalmist, see ‘the prosperity of the wicked,’ and, like him, have to confess that our ‘steps had wellnigh slipped’ at the sight. The old, old question is ever starting up. ‘Doth God know?’ The mystery of suffering and the mystery of its distribution, the apparent utter want of connection between righteousness and well-being, are still formidable difficulties in the way of believing in a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, and are stock arguments of the unbeliever and perplexities of humble faith. Never to have felt the force of the difficulty is not so much the sign of steadfast faith as of scant reflection. To yield to it, and still more, to let it drive us to cast religion aside, is not merely folly, but sin. So thinks Malachi.

II. To the stout words of the doubters is opposed the conversation of the godly.

Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another,’ nourishing their faith by believing speech with like-minded. The more the truths by which we believe are contradicted, the more should we commune with fellow-believers. Attempts to rob us should make us hold our treasure the faster. Bold avowal of the faith is especially called for when many potent voices deny it. And, whoever does not hear, God hears. Faithful words may seem lost, but they and every faithful act are written in His remembrance and will be recompensed one day. If our names and acts are written there, we may well be content to accept scanty measures of earthly good, and not be ‘envious of the foolish’ in their prosperity.

Malachi’s answer to the doubters leaves all other considerations which might remove the difficulty unmentioned, and fixes on the one, the prophecy of a future which will show that it is not all the same whether a man is good or bad. It was said of an English statesman that he called a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old, and that is what the Prophet does. Christianity has taught us many other ways of meeting the doubters’ difficulty, but the sheet anchor of faith in that storm is the unconquerable assurance that a day comes when the righteousness of providence will be vindicated, and the eternal difference between good and evil manifested in the fates of men. The Prophet is declaring what will be a fact one day, but he does not know when. Probably he never asked himself whether ‘the day of the Lord’ was near or far off, to dawn on earth or to lie beyond mortal life. But this he knew-that God was righteous, and that sometime and somewhere character would settle destiny, and even outwardly it would be good to be good. He first declares this conviction in general terms, and then passes on to a magnificent and terrible picture of that great day.

The promise, which lay at the foundation of Israel’s national existence, included the recognition of it as ‘a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people,’ and Malachi looks forward to that day as the epoch when God will show by His acts how precious the righteous are in His sight. Not the whole Israel, but the righteous among them, are the heirs of the old promise. It is an anticipation of the teaching that ‘they are not all Israel which are of Israel,’ And it bids us look for the fulfilment of every promise of God’s to that great day of the Lord which lies still before us all, when the gulf between the righteous and the wicked shall be solemnly visible, wide, and profound. There have been many ‘days which I make’ in the world’s history, and in a measure each of them has re-established the apparently tottering truth that there is a God who judgeth in the earth, but the day of days is yet to come.

No grander vision of judgment exists than Malachi’s picture of ‘the day,’ lurid, on the one hand, with the fierce flame, before which the wicked are as stubble that crackles for a moment and then is grey ashes, or as a tree in a forest fire, which stands for a little while, a pillar of flame, and then falls with a crash, shaking the woods; and on the otherhand, radiant with the early beams of healing sunshine, in whose sweet morning light the cattle, let out from their pent-up stalls, gambol in glee. But let us not forget while we admire the noble poetry of its form that this is God’s oracle, nor that we have each to settle for ourselves whether that day shall be for us a furnace to destroy or a sun to cheer and enlighten.

We can only note in a sentence the recurrence in Malachi 4:1 of the phrases ‘the proud’ and they ‘that work wickedness,’ from Malachi 3:15 The end of those whom the world called happy, and who seemed stable and elevated, is to be as stubble before the fire. We must also point out that ‘the sun of righteousness’ means the sun which is righteousness, and is not a designation of the Messiah. Nor can we dwell on the picture of the righteous treading down the wicked, which seems to prolong the previous metaphor of the leaping young cattle. Then shall ‘the upright have dominion over them in the morning.’

III. The final exhortation and promise point backwards and forwards, summing up duty in obedience to the law, and fixing hope on a future reappearance of the leader of the prophets.

Moses and Elijah are the two giant figures which dominate the history of Israel. Law and prophecy are the two forms in which God spoke to the fathers. The former is of perpetual obligation, the latter will flash up again in power on the threshold of the day. Jesus has interpreted this closing word for us. John came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah,’ and the purpose of his coming was to ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ {Luke 1:16 - Luke 1:17}; that is, to bring back the devout dispositions of the patriarchs to the existing generations, and so to bring the ‘hearts of the children to their fathers,’ as united with them in devout obedience. If John’s mission had succeeded, the ‘curse’ which smote Israel would have been stayed. God has done all that He can do to keep us from being consumed by the fire of that day. The Incarnation, Life, and Death of Jesus Christ made a day of the Lord which has the twofold character of that in Malachi’s vision, for He is a ‘saviour of life unto life’ or ‘of death unto death,’ and must be one or other to us. But another day of the Lord is still to come, and for each of us it will come burning as a furnace or bright as sunrise. Then the universe shall ‘discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.’Malachi 4:1. For behold the day cometh — Though it may appear to be at a distance from you, yet it is coming, and will soon overtake and overwhelm you: even that great and terrible day of the Lord, as it is called Joel 2:31. That shall burn as an oven — God is described as a consuming fire, when he comes to execute his judgments, Deuteronomy 4:24, and the prediction here was remarkably verified when, upon the taking of the city and temple of Jerusalem, by the Roman army under Titus, they were both destroyed by such flames as no human power could quench. The refiner’s fire, mentioned Malachi 3:2, now became unspeakably more dreadful, raging everywhere through the city and temple, and most fiercely where the arched roofs made it double itself and infold flames within flames: by which terrible destruction, and the judgments accompanying it, an end was put to the whole state of the Jews: an awful image this of the conflagration of the heavens and the earth, and the final judgment of the last day on the whole human race. And all the proud — Such especially as those spoken of Malachi 3:15. And all that do wickedly — All impenitent sinners, of whatever kind, whether heathen, Jews, or Christians, so called, even all that do not obey the truth, whether manifested by God’s works or his word, but obey unrighteousness, shall be as stubble — Shall perish by these awful judgments. And the day that cometh shall burn them up — Shall totally and speedily consume them. It shall leave them neither root nor branch — A proverbial expression for utter destruction, and signifying, as applied to the unbelieving Jews, that both they and their families should be utterly destroyed.4:1-3 Here is a reference to the first and to the second coming of Christ: God has fixed the day of both. Those who do wickedly, who do not fear God's anger, shall feel it. It is certainly to be applied to the day of judgment, when Christ shall be revealed in flaming fire; to execute judgment on the proud, and all that do wickedly. In both, Christ is a rejoicing Light to those who serve him faithfully. By the Sun of Righteousness we understand Jesus Christ. Through him believers are justified and sanctified, and so are brought to see light. His influences render the sinner holy, joyful, and fruitful. It is applicable to the graces and comforts of the Holy Spirit, brought into the souls of men. Christ gave the Spirit to those who are his, to shine in their hearts, and to be a Comforter to them, a Sun and a Shield. That day which to the wicked will burn as an oven, will to the righteous be bright as the morning; it is what they wait for, more than those that wait for the morning. Christ came as the Sun, to bring, not only light to a dark world, but health to a distempered world. Souls shall increase in knowledge and spiritual strength. Their growth is as that of calves of the stall, not as the flower of the field, which is slender and weak, and soon withers. The saints' triumphs are all owing to God's victories; it is not they that do this, but God who does it for them. Behold another day is coming, far more dreadful to all that work wickedness than any which is gone before. How great then the happiness of the believer, when he goes from the darkness and misery of this world, to rejoice in the Lord for evermore!For, behold, the day cometh, which shall burn as an oven - He had declared the great severance of the God-fearing and the God-blaspheming, those who served and those who did not serve God; the righteous and the wicked; now he declares the way and time of the severance, the Day of Judgment. Daniel had described the fire of that day, Daniel 7:9-10, "The throne (of the Ancient of days) was a fiery flame; his wheels a burning fire: a fiery stream issued and came forth from Him: the judgment was set and the books were opened." Fire is ever spoken of, as accompanying the judgment Psalm 50:3. "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence, a fire shall devour before Him Isaiah 66:15-16. Behold the Lord will come with fire: for by fire and by the sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: 1 Corinthians 3:13 every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire: and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is." Peter tells us that fire will be of this burning world; 2 Peter 3:7-10. "the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of' ungodly men; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

The oven, or furnace, pictures the intensity of the heat, which is white from its intensity, and darts forth, fiercely, shooting up like a living creature, and destroying life, as the flame of the fire of Nebuchadnezzars Daniel 3:22 "burning fiery furnace slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego." The whole world shall be one burning furnace.

And all the proud and all that do wickedly - All those, whom those complainers pronounced "blessed," Malachi 3:15, yea and all who should thereafter be like them (he insists on the universality of the judgment), "every doer of wickedness," up to that day and those who should then be, shall be stubble." The proud and mighty, who in this life were strong as iron and brass, so that no one dared resist them, but they dared to fight with God, these, in the Day of Judgment, shall be most powerless, as stubble cannot resist the fire, in an ever-living death."

That shall leave them neither root nor branch - "i. e. they shall have no hope of shooting up again to life; that life, I mean, which is worthy of love, and in glory with God, in holiness and bliss. For when the root has not been wholly cut away, nor the shoot torn up as from the depth, some hope is retained, that it may again shoot up. For, as it is written Job 10:4 :7, 'There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sproul again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.' But if it be wholly torn up from below and from its very roots, and its shoots be fiercely cut away, all hope, that it can again shoot up to life, will perish also. So, he saith, will all hope of the lovers of sin perish. For so the divine Isaiah clearly announces Isaiah 66:24, "their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring to all flesh."

CHAPTER 4

Mal 4:1-6. God's Coming Judgment: Triumph of the Godly: Return to the law THE Best Preparation for Jehovah's Coming: Elijah's Preparatory Mission of Reformation.

1. the day cometh … burn—(Mal 3:2; 2Pe 3:7). Primarily is meant the judgment coming on Jerusalem; but as this will not exhaust the meaning, without supposing what is inadmissible in Scripture—exaggeration—the final and full accomplishment, of which the former was the earnest, is the day of general judgment. This principle of interpretation is not double, but successive fulfilment. The language is abrupt, "Behold, the day cometh! It burns like a furnace." The abruptness imparts terrible reality to the picture, as if it suddenly burst on the prophet's view.

all the proud—in opposition to the cavil above (Mal 3:15), "now we call the proud (haughty despisers of God) happy."

stubble—(Ob 18; Mt 3:12). As Canaan, the inheritance of the Israelites, was prepared for their possession by purging out the heathen, so judgment on the apostates shall usher in the entrance of the saints upon the Lord's inheritance, of which Canaan is the type—not heaven, but earth to its utmost bounds (Ps 2:8) purged of all things that offend (Mt 13:41), which are to be "gathered out of His kingdom," the scene of the judgment being that also of the kingdom. The present dispensation is a spiritual kingdom, parenthetical between the Jews' literal kingdom and its antitype, the coming literal kingdom of the Lord Jesus.

neither root nor branch—proverbial for utter destruction (Am 2:9).God’s judgment on the wicked, Malachi 4:1, and his blessing on the good, Malachi 4:2,3. He exhorteth to the study of the law, Malachi 4:4, and telleth of Elijah’s coming and office, Malachi 4:5,6.

The words immediately foregoing (which, as we have the chapters divided, did end the third chapter) foretold a day to come then, though it is now long since past, in which such judgments should be executed upon the Jewish nation, as should make the stoutest contemners of God to see and acknowledge his different respects and providences toward the good and toward the evil. Now in this verse (which continueth the discourse) he accounteth how it should be.

Behold; mark well what now the Lord doth foretell

The day, before mentioned, the day of visitation and discerning of men, cometh; though it be at some four hundred years’ distance from you, yet it is coming, and will overtake you, and overwhelm you too about that time; nay, you shall have some tastes of bitter cups before, some less and shorter troubles, the presage and assurance of that dreadful day I now speak of, saith our prophet.

That shall burn as an oven: the refiner’s fire, Malachi 3:2, is now represented to us as a fire burning more dreadfully, which really was more dreadful in the fulfilling than here it is in the prediction; when Jerusalem and the temple were on fire, and none could quench it; when the fire raged every where, but burnt most fiercely where the arched roofs did make it, as in ovens or furnaces, to double itself, and infold flames with flames, and with dreadful roarings increased its terrors. This day may well be an emblem of the day of judgment, and this place may be accommodated thereto, but it principally speaks of the times of vengeance on Jerusalem in its final desolation.

All the proud; such as are described Malachi 1:13 3:13-15. All that do wickedly: this is another part of the character of these persons, and explicatory of the former passage; proud men, such as the text mentions, will be wicked workers.

Shall be stubble; dried and cast into the oven, consumed as soon as cast in.

The day that cometh; of which already, Malachi 3:17, and in this verse.

Shall burn them up; totally and speedily consume them.

Saith the Lord of hosts; added to confirm the certainty of the thing; the Lord of hosts hath said it shall be, and he can do what he saith he will.

It shall leave them neither root nor branch; in allusion to the utter extirpation of trees for the fire, whose branches lopped off, the body cleft, and the roots stocked up, and all cast into the fire; so that nothing remains but the ashes, into which all is turned: and this was fully accomplished upon the irreligious Jews, when the Romans burnt their city and temple, and destroyed the people.

For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven,.... Not the day of judgment, as Kimchi and other interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, think; but the day of Christ's coming in his kingdom and power, to take vengeance on the Jewish nation, which burned like an oven, both figuratively and literally; when the wrath of God, which is compared to fire, came upon that people to the uttermost; and when their city and temple were burnt about their ears, and they were surrounded with fire, as if they had been in a burning oven: and this being so terrible, as can hardly be conceived and expressed, the word "behold" is prefixed to it, not only to excite attention, but horror and terror at so dreadful a calamity; which though future, when the prophet wrote, was certain:

and all the proud; yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; the proud Pharisees, that boasted of their own righteousness, trusted in themselves, and despised others; all workers of iniquity, in private or in public; all rejecters of Christ, contemners of his Gospel and ordinances, and persecutors of his people; as well as such who were guilty of the most flagitious crimes, as sedition, robbery, murder, &c. of which there were notorious instances during the siege of Jerusalem; these were all like stubble before devouring fire, weak and easily destroyed:

and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts: which is repeated, to show the certainty of it, and to apply it to the persons before described:

that it shall leave them neither root nor branch: which signifies an entire and complete destruction; the city and temple so utterly destroyed, that not one stone shall be left on another; both magistrates and subjects shall perish, priests and people, so that there shall be no form of government, civil nor ecclesiastical; tribes and families lost, they and their posterity: and so the Targum,

"which shall not leave them son and nephew:''

and, indeed, the numbers cut off were so many, and the destruction so general, that it may be wondered at that any remained: it is a proverbial expression, setting forth the greatness of the calamity; see Matthew 3:10.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall {a} 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.

(a) He prophesies of God's judgments against the wicked, who would not receive Christ, when God would send him for the restoration of his Church.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 1. - Burn as an oven (a furnace). Fire is often spoken of in connection with the day of judgment and the advent of the Judge. It is a symbol of the holiness of God, which consumes all impurity, and also represents the punishment inflicted on the ungodly (Psalm 1:8; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 66:15, 16; Daniel 7:9, 10; Joel 2:30; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Peter 3:7, etc.). The LXX. adds, "and it shall burn them." Stubble (see note on Obadiah 1:18); or, perhaps, chaff, as Matthew 3:11, 12. Root nor branch The ungodly are regarded as a tree which is given up to be burned so that nothing of it is left. The same metaphor is used by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:10; setup. Amos 2:9). The Hebrew text includes this chapter in ch. 3. Zechariah 8:4. "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Yet will there sit old men and women in the streets of Jerusalem, every one with his staff in his hand, for the multitude of the days of his life. Zechariah 8:5. And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in their streets." Long life, to an extreme old age, and a plentiful number of blooming children, were theocratic blessings, which the Lord had already promised in the law to His people, so far as they were faithful to the covenant. Consequently there does not appear to be any Messianic element in this promise. But if we compare this fourth verse with Isaiah 65:20, we shall see that extreme old age also belonged to the blessings of the Messianic times. And as Israel had almost always to suffer most grievously from wars and other calamities, which swept off the people at an untimely age, during the time which extended from Zerubbabel to Christ; it must be admitted, notwithstanding the description of the prosperous times which Israel enjoyed under the government of Simon (1 Maccabees 14:4-15), that this promise also was only fulfilled in a very meagre measure, so far as Jerusalem was concerned, before the coming of Christ.
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