Malachi 4:6
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.
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(6) And he shall turn . . . to their fathers.—This does not refer to the settlement of family disputes, such as might have arisen from marriage with foreign wives. “The fathers are rather the ancestors of the Israelitish nation, the patriarchs, and generally the pious forefathers . . . The sons, or children, are the degenerate descendants of Malachi’s own time and the succeeding ages.”—Keil. “The hearts of the godly fathers and ungodly sons are estranged from one another. The bond of union—viz., the common love of God—is wanting. The fathers are ashamed of their children, and the children of their fathers.”—Hengstenberg. (Comp. particularly Isaiah 29:22-24, and the paraphrastic citation of Malachi 4:6 in Luke 1:17.)

Curse.—Better, ban. (Comp. Zechariah 14:11.) As with the conclusion of Isaiah, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes, so here the Jew read in the synagogue the last verse but one over again after the last verse, to avoid concluding with words of ill omen, thus: “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of JEHOVAH.”

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Malachi 4:6
. - Revelation 22:21.

It is of course only an accident that these words close the Old and the New Testaments. In the Hebrew Bible Malachi’s prophecies do not stand at the end; but he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and after him there were ‘four centuries of silence.’ We seem to hear in his words the dying echoes of the rolling thunders of Sinai. They gather up the whole burden of the Law and of the prophets; of the former in their declaration of a coming retribution, of the latter in the hope that that retribution may be averted.

Then, in regard to John’s words, of course as they stand they are simply the parting benediction with which he takes leave of his readers; but it is fitting that the Book of which they are the close should seal up the canon, because it stands as the one prophetic book of the New Testament, and so reaches forward into the coming ages, even to the consummation of all things. And just as Christ in His Ascension was taken from them whilst His hands were lifted up in the act of blessing, so it is fitting that the revelation of which He is the centre and the theme should part from us as He did, shedding with its final words the dew of benediction on our upturned heads.

I venture, then, to look at these significant closing words of the two Testaments as conveying the spirit of each, and suggesting some thoughts about the contrast and the harmony and the order that subsist between them.

I. I ask you, first, to notice the apparent contrast and the real harmony and unity of these two texts.

‘Lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’ That last awful word does not convey, in the original, quite the idea of our English word ‘curse.’ It refers to a somewhat singular institution in the Mosaic Law according to which things devoted, in a certain sense, to God were deprived of life. And the reference historically is to the judgments that were inflicted upon the nations that occupied the land before the Israelitish invasion, those Canaanites and others who were put under ‘the ban’ and devoted to utter destruction. So, says my text, Israel, which has stepped into their places, may bring down upon its head the same devastation; and as they were swept off the face of the land that they had polluted with their iniquities, so an apostate and God-forgetting Judah may again experience the same utter destruction falling upon them. If instead of the word ‘curse’ we were to substitute the word ‘destruction,’ we should get the true idea of the passage.

And the thought that I want to insist upon is this, that here we have distinctly gathered up the whole spirit of millenniums of divine revelation, all of which declare this one thing, that as certainly as there is a God, every transgression and disobedience receives, and must receive, its just recompense of reward.

That is the spirit of law, for law has nothing to say, except, ‘Do this, and thou shalt live; do not this, and thou shalt die.’

And then turn to the other. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’ What has become of the thunder? All melted into dewy rain of love and pity and compassion. Grace is love that stoops; grace is love that foregoes its claims, and forgives sins against itself. Grace is love that imparts, and this grace, thus stooping, thus pardoning, thus bestowing, is a universal gift. The Apostolic benediction is the declaration of the divine purpose, and the inmost heart and loftiest meaning of all the words which from the beginning God hath spoken is that His condescending, pardoning, self-bestowing mercy may fall upon all hearts, and gladden every soul.

So there seems to emerge, and there is, a very real and a very significant contrast. ‘I come and smite the earth with a curse’ sounds strangely unlike ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’ And, of course, in this generation there is a strong tendency to dwell upon that contrast and to exaggerate it, and to assert that the more recent has antiquated the more ancient, and that now the day when we have to think of and to dread the curse that smites the earth is past, ‘because the true Light now shineth.’

So I ask you to notice that beneath this apparent contrast there is a real harmony, and that these two utterances, though they seem to be so diverse, are quite consistent at bottom, and must both be taken into account if we would grasp the whole truth. For, as a matter of fact, nowhere are there more tender utterances and sweeter revelations of a divine mercy than in that ancient law with its attendant prophets. And as a matter of fact, nowhere, through all the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai, are there such solemn words of retribution as dropped from the lips of the Incarnate Love. There is nothing anywhere so dreadful as Christ’s own words about what comes, and must come, to sinful men. Is there any depth of darkness in the Old Testament teaching of retribution half as deep, half as black, and as terrible, as the gulf that Christ opens at your feet and mine? Is there anything so awful as the threatenings of Infinite Love?

And the same blending of the widest proclamation of, and the most perfect rejoicing confidence in, the universal and all-forgiving love of God, with the teaching of the sharpest retribution, lies in the writings of this very Apostle about whose words I am speaking. There are nowhere in Scripture more solemn pictures than those in that book of the Apocalypse, of the inevitable consequences of departure from the love and the faith of God, and John, the Apostle of love, is the preacher of judgment as none of the other writers of the New Testament are.

Such is the fact, and there is a necessity for it. There must be this blending; for if you take away from your conception of God the absolute holiness which hates sin, and the rigid righteousness which apportions to all evil its bitter fruits, you have left a maimed God that has not power to love but is nothing but weak, good-natured indulgence. Impunity is not mercy, and punishment is never the negation of perfect love, but rather, if you destroy the one you hopelessly maim the other. The two halves are needed in order to give full emphasis to either. Each note alone is untrue; blended, they make the perfect chord.

II. And now, let me ask you to look with me at another point, and that is, the relation of the grace to the punishment.

Is it not love which proclaims judgment? Are not the words of my first text, if you take them all, merciful, however they wear a surface of threatening? ‘Lest I come.’ Then He speaks that He may not come, and declares the issue of sin in order that that issue may never need to be experienced by us that listen to Him. Brethren! both in regard to the Bible and in regard to human ministrations of the Gospel, it is all-important, as it seems to me at present, to insist that it is the cruellest kindness to keep back the threatenings for fear of darkening the grace; and that, on the other hand, it is the truest tenderness to warn and to proclaim them. It is love that threatens; ‘tis mercy to tell us that the wrath will come.

And just as one relation between the grace and the retribution is that the proclamation of the retribution is the work of the grace, so there is another relation-the grace is manifested in bearing the punishment, and in bearing it away by bearing it. Oh! there is no adequate measure of what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is except the measure of the smiting destruction from which He frees us. It is because every transgression receives its just recompense of reward, because the wages of sin is death, because God cannot but hate and punish the evil, that we get our truest standard of what Christ’s love is to every soul of us. For on Him have met all the converging rays of the divine retribution, and burnt the penal fire into His very heart. He has come between every one of us, if we will, and that certain incidence of retribution for our evil, taking upon Himself the whole burden of our sin and of our guilt, and bearing that awful death which consists not in the mere dissolution of the tie between soul and body, but in the separation of the conscious spirit from God, in order that we may stand peaceful, serene, untouched, when the hail and the fire of the divine judgment are falling from the heavens and running along the earth. The grace depends for all our conceptions of its glory, its tenderness, and its depth, on our estimate of the wrath from which it delivers.

So, dear brethren, remember, if you tamper with the one you destroy the other; if there be no fearful judgment from which men need to be delivered, Christ has borne nothing for us that entitles Him to demand our hearts; and all the ascriptions of praise and adoration to Him, and all the surrender of loving hearts, in utter self-abandonment, to Him that has borne the curse for us, fade and are silent. If you strike out the truth of Christ’s bearing the results of sin from your theology, you do not thereby exalt, but you fatally lower the love; and in the interests of the loftiest conceptions of a divine loving-kindness and mercy that ever have blessed the world, I beseech you, be on your guard against all teachings that diminish the sinfulness of sin, and that ask again the question which first of all came from lips that do not commend it to us-’Hath God said?’ or advance to the assertion-’Ye shall not surely die.’ If ‘I come to smite the earth with a curse’ ceases to be a truth to you, ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ will fade away for you likewise.

III. Now, still further, let me ask you to consider, lastly, the alternative which these texts open for us.

I believe that the order in which they stand in Scripture is the order in which men generally come to believe them, and to feel them. I am old-fashioned enough and narrow enough to believe in conversion; and to believe further that, as a rule, the course through which the soul passes from darkness into light is the course which divine revelation took: first, the unveiling of sin and its issues, and then the glad leaping up of the trustful heart to the conception of redeeming grace.

But what I seek briefly to suggest now is, not only the order of manifestation as brought out in these words, but also the alternative which they present to us, one branch or other of which every soul of you will have to experience. You must have either the destruction or the grace. And, more wonderful still, the same coming of the same Lord will be to one man the destruction, and to another the manifestation and reception of His perfect grace. As it was in the Lord’s first coming, ‘He is set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel.’ The same heat softens some substances and bakes others into hardness. A bit of wax and a bit of clay put into the same fire-one becomes liquefied and the other solidified. The same light is joy to one eye and torture to another. The same pillar of cloud was light to the hosts of Israel, and darkness and dismay to the armies of Egypt. The same Gospel is ‘a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death,’ by the giving forth of the same influences killing the one and reviving the other; the same Christ is a Stone to build upon or a Stone of stumbling; and when He cometh at the last, Prince, King, Judge, to you and me, His coming shall be prepared as the morning; and ye ‘shall have a song as when one cometh with a pipe to the mountain of the Lord’; or else it shall be a day of darkness and not of light. He comes to me, to you; He comes to smite or He comes to glorify.

Oh, brethren! do not believe that God’s threatenings are wind and words; do not let teachings that sap the very foundations of morality and eat all the power out of the Gospel persuade you that the solemn words, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die,’ are not simple verity.

And then, my brethren, oh! then, do you turn yourselves to that dear Lord whose grace is magnified in this most chiefly, that ‘He hath borne our sins and carried our sorrows’; and taking Him for your Saviour, your King, your Shield, your All, when He cometh it will be life to you; and the grace that He imparts will be heaven for ever more.

Malachi 4:6. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, &c. — After the times of the Maccabees, to the times of Christ, the Jewish people were miserably divided among themselves, by discords, which broke out into civil wars, of which Josephus gives an account. And moreover, the different religious sects among them, especially those of the Sadducees and Pharisees, greatly distracted the people, and alienated and separated the nearest relations from each other. Now John the Baptist began to apply a remedy to these evils, by instilling the precepts of love and charity, and directing all to one and the same master, Christ: see Luke 3:11; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; John 1:15. This seems to be the most probable interpretation of the words, taking them in the sense of our translation, and as they are understood by the LXX., and by St. Luke 1:17. But a more easy sense may be given of them by translating the Hebrew preposition על, not to, but with, in which sense it is often used, and as Kimchi, Noldius, and others render it, namely, He shall turn the hearts of the fathers with the children, and of the children with the fathers; that is, he shall do his utmost to produce a national reformation, to turn both fathers and children from their evil practices, and to make them all unanimously join in the great duties of repentance and amendment of life; to restore a true sense of religion, which was then dwindled into a mere form, and thereby to prepare the people for the reception of Christ, in order to prevent the utter excision denounced upon the land, as it follows, Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. — By the earth here, as frequently elsewhere, is meant the land of Judea, and the clause would be better rendered, Lest I come and smite the land, namely, of Judea, with utter destruction: for so the word חרם, here rendered curse, is often translated, as the learned reader may see by referring to Numbers 21:2; Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 7:15-16; Joshua 6:21; Zechariah 14:11. So that the meaning is, Lest, when I come to execute judgment upon Judea, all the inhabitants of it should be utterly destroyed. By the preaching of John, and his directing the people to Christ, many were brought to repentance and reformation of life, and thereby escaped the common destruction of the nation. All, therefore, did not perish, but a remnant was saved, as St. Paul takes notice, Romans 9:27; Romans 9:29; Romans 11:5. Judea, however, remains a desolation, and Jerusalem a heap of ruins, both of them sad and perpetual monuments of God’s displeasure against such as reject Christ and his salvation. The three remarkable predictions, therefore, contained in this last chapter of the ancient records of the divine will, like a multitude of others, which have come under our consideration in the course of these notes, have all been punctually fulfilled. The harbinger of the Messiah appeared at the time foretold, in the spirit and power of Elias; the Messiah himself was manifested as the Sun of righteousness, as soon as that messenger sent before his face had prepared his way; and the most signal vengeance was executed, as foretold, on all such as rejected him and his salvation. These remarkable predictions, therefore, added to all that went before, being evidently verified, are so many fresh proofs of the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, of the truth of the Christian religion, of the certain accomplishment of all the promises and threatenings of the gospel of Christ, and of the absolute necessity of possessing the religion there delineated, and practising the duties there enjoined. This, indeed, is the design of all the prophecies, and even of all the books contained in the Old and New Testaments, and the principal use which ought to be made of them.

Thus, through the assistance of God, we are come to the conclusion of the writings of the prophets: for, from the time of Malachi to the time of the Messiah, for the space of near four hundred years, there was, as some of the prophets had foretold there should be, a famine of the words of the Lord; (see Amos 8:11-12;) and during this long course of time no prophet appeared in Israel, where there had been before a succession of them for a very long period of years. The divine providence, it is probable, as was intimated in the argument to this book, caused this long cessation of prophecy, this long famine of the word of the Lord in the land, in order to excite the greater expectation and a more fervent desire of the coming of the great prophet, the Christ of God; and to prepare men’s minds for a new and different dispensation, in which, after the first establishment of it, there was no longer to be a succession of prophets; but the work of God in and among men, in order to their salvation, was to be carried on through and by the grace of the Lord Jesus, that great one, who had been foretold by the mouth of all the prophets; and by the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, or a Divine Spirit, enlightening and renewing men’s minds, inspiring them with true wisdom, and communicating to them the divine nature, and forming them after the image of him that had created them. It has been observed by some, and not improperly, that whereas the last word of the Old Testament is a curse which threatens the earth, of our danger of which we must be made sensible, that we may welcome the gospel of Christ, which comes with a blessing; it is with a blessing, with the choicest of blessings, that the New Testament ends: and with it let us arm ourselves, or rather, let God arm us, against this curse. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all! Amen.

To God only wise be ascribed all the glory.

4:4-6 Here is a solemn conclusion, not only of this prophecy, but of the Old Testament. Conscience bids us remember the law. Though we have not prophets, yet, as long as we have Bibles, we may keep up our communion with God. Let others boast in their proud reasoning, and call it enlightening, but let us keep near to that sacred word, through which this Sun of Righteousness shines upon the souls of his people. They must keep up a believing expectation of the gospel of Christ, and must look for the beginning of it. John the Baptist preached repentance and reformation, as Elijah had done. The turning of souls to God and their duty, is the best preparation of them for the great and dreadful day of the Lord. John shall preach a doctrine that shall reach men's hearts, and work a change in them. Thus he shall prepare the way for the kingdom of heaven. The Jewish nation, by wickedness, laid themselves open to the curse. God was ready to bring ruin upon them; but he will once more try whether they will repent and return; therefore he sent John the Baptist to preach repentance to them. Let the believer wait with patience for his release, and cheerfully expect the great day, when Christ shall come the second time to complete our salvation. But those must expect to be smitten with a sword, with a curse, who turn not to Him that smites them with a rod. None can expect to escape the curse of God's broken law, nor to enjoy the happiness of his chosen and redeemed people, unless their hearts are turned from sin and the world, to Christ and holiness. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children - Now they were unlike, and severed by that unlikeness from each other. Yet not on earth, for on earth parents and children were alike alienated from God, and united between themselves in wickedness or worldliness. The common love of the world or of worldly pursuits, or gain or self-exaltation, or making a fortune or securing it, is, so far, a common bond of interest to those of one family, through a common selfishness, though that selfishness is the parent of general discord, of fraud, violence, and other misdeeds. Nay, conversion of children or parents becomes rather a source of discord, embittering the unconverted. Whence our Lord says, "Think not, that I Mat 10:34-36. am come to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household;" a prophecy fulfilled continually in the early persecutions, even to the extent of those other words of our Lord Matthew 10:21, "the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death."

It is fulfilled also in the intense hatred of the Jews at this day, to any who are converted to Christ; a hatred which seems to have no parallel in the world. Nor do the words seem to mean that fathers and children should be united in one common conversion to God, as one says Ibn Ezra. The Jews, although mostly agreed, that Elijah will come, are disagreed as to the end of his coming. By some he is spoken of as a Redeemer. Tanchuma (f. 31. 1), "God said to Israel, In this world I sent an angel to east out the nations before you, but in the future (or, in the world to come, Yalkut Shim'oni f. 98-29) myself will lead you and will 'send you Elijah the prophet.'" Pesikta rabbathi (in Yalkut Shim'oni ii. f. 32. 4)" Both redeemed Israel: Moses in Egypt, and Elias in that which is to come." (Id. ib. f. 53. 2), "I send you a redeemer." Midrash Shocher tof Ibid. f. 884, "Israel said, 'It is written of the first redemption, 'He sent Moses His servant, Aaron whom He had chosen; send me two like them.' God answered; 'I will send you Elijah the prophet: this is one, the other is he, of whom Isaiah spoke Isaiah 42:1. Behold, my servant whom I have chosen.'" "Shemoth Rabba (Sect. 3. col. 108. 2. ad loc.) 'In the second redemption, ye shall be healed and redeemed by the word I, i. e., I will send." Or, as a comforter, "I will send you Elias, he shall come and comfort you." Debarim rabba sect. 3. fin. Or to pronounce some things clean, others unclean. Shir hashirim rabba f. 27. 3.((all the above in Schottgen ad loc.) Others, in different ways, to settle, to Which tribe each belongs. Kimchi on Ezekiel 47 and this with differcut explanations as to strictness. (See Edaioth fin. Mishnah T. iv. p. 362. Surenhus.) "Rabbi Simeon says, 'To remove controversies.' And the wise and doctors say, To make peace in the world, as is said, "Behold I send." Rabbi Abraham ben David explains the peace to be "from the nations," and adds, "to announce to them the coming of the redeemer, and this in one day before the coming of the Messiah;" and to "turn the hearts etc." he explains "the hearts of the fathers and children (on whom softness had fallen from fear, and they fled, some here, some there, from their distresses) on that day they shall return to their might and to one another and shall comfort each other." Abarbanel says, that Elijah shall be the instrument of the resurrection, and that, through those who rise, the race of man shall be directed in the recognition of God and the true faith." Ibn. Ezra, "that he shall come at the collection of the captives, as Moses at the redemption of Egypt, not for the resurrection." (These are collected by Frischmuth de Elite adventu. Thes. Theol. Phil. V. T. T. i. pp. 1070ff) R. Tanehum, from Maimonides, says, "This is without doubt a promise of the appearance of a prophet in Israel, a little before the coming of the Messiah; and some of the wise think that it is Elias the Tishbite himself, and this is found in most of the Midrashoth, and some think that it is a prophet like him in rank, occupying his place in the knowledge of God and the manifesting His Name and that so he is called Elijah. And so explained the great Gaon, Rab Mosheh ben Matmon, at the end of his great book on jurisprudence, called 'Mishneh Torah.' And, perhaps he (the person sent) may be Messiah ben Joseph, as he says again - And the exactness of the matter in these promises will only be known, when they appear: and no one has therein any accredited account, but each of them says what he says, according to what appears to him, and what preponderates in his mind of the explanation of the truth." "The turning of the heart of the father to the children," he explains to be, "the restoration of religion, until all should be of one heart in the obedience to God.") "All shall be one heart to return to the Lord, both fathers and children;" for he speaks primarily of their mutual conversion to one another, not to God.

The form of the expression seems to imply that the effect of the preaching of Elijah shall be, to bring back the children, the Jews then in being, to the faith and love which their fathers, the patriarchs, had; that John 8:56 "as these believed, hoped for, longed exceedingly for, and loved Christ to come, so their sons should believe, hope in, long exceedingly for and love Christ, Who was come, yea is present; and so the heart of fathers, which before was turned from their unbelieving children, he should turn to them, now believing, and cause the patriarchs to own and love the Jews believing in Christ, as indeed their children, for 'your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad, Christ saith. '"

Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse - , i. e., with an utter destruction, from which there should be no redemption. In the end, God will so smite the earth, and all, not converted to Him. The prayer and zeal of Elijah will gain a reprieve, in which God will spare the world for the gathering of His own elect, the full conversion of the Jews, which shall fulfill the Apostle's words Romans 11:26, "So shall all Israel be saved."

After the glad tidings, Malachi, and the Old Testament in him, ends with words of awe, telling us of the consequence of the final hardening of the heart; the eternal severance, when the unending end of the everlasting Gospel itself shall be accomplished, and its last grain shall be gathered into the garner of the Lord. The Jews, who would be wiser than the prophet, repeat the previous verse , because Malachi closes so awfully. The Maker of the heart of man knew better the hearts which He had made, and taught their authors to end the books of Isaiah and Ecclesiastes with words of awe, from which man's heart so struggles to escape. To turn to God here, or everlasting destruction from His presence there, is the only choice open to thee." "Think of this, when lust goads thee, or ambition solicits thee, or anger convulses thee, or the flesh blandishes thee, or the world allures thee, or the devil displays his deceitful pomp and enticement. In thy hand and thy choice are life and death, heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, bliss or misery everlasting. Choose which thou willest. Think, 'A moment which delighteth, eternity which tortureth;' on the other hand, 'a moment which tortureth, eternity which delighteth.'"

"I see that all things come to an end:

Thy commandment is exceeding broad."

6. turn … heart of … fathers to … children, &c.—Explained by some, that John's preaching should restore harmony in families. But Lu 1:16, 17 substitutes for "the heart of the children to the fathers," "the disobedient to the wisdom of the just," implying that the reconciliation to be effected was that between the unbelieving disobedient children and the believing ancestors, Jacob, Levi, "Moses," and "Elijah" (just mentioned) (compare Mal 1:2; 2:4, 6; 3:3, 4). The threat here is that, if this restoration were not effected, Messiah's coming would prove "a curse" to the "earth," not a blessing. It proved so to guilty Jerusalem and the "earth," that is, the land of Judea when it rejected Messiah at His first advent, though He brought blessings (Ge 12:3) to those who accepted Him (Joh 1:11-13). Many were delivered from the common destruction of the nation through John's preaching (Ro 9:29; 11:5). It will prove so to the disobedient at His second advent, though He comes to be glorified in His saints (2Th 1:6-10).

curse—Hebrew, Cherem, "a ban"; the fearful term applied by the Jews to the extermination of the guilty Canaanites. Under this ban Judea has long lain. Similar is the awful curse on all of Gentile churches who love not the Lord Jesus now (1Co 16:22). For if God spare not the natural branches, the Jews, much less will He spare unbelieving professors of the Gentiles (Ro 11:20, 21). It is deeply suggestive that the last utterance from heaven for four hundred years before Messiah was the awful word "curse." Messiah's first word on the mount was "Blessed" (Mt 5:3). The law speaks wrath; the Gospel, blessing. Judea is now under the "curse" because it rejects Messiah; when the spirit of Elijah, or a literal Elijah, shall bring the Jewish children back to the Hope of their "fathers," blessing shall be theirs, whereas the apostate "earth" shall be "smitten with the curse" previous to the coming restoration of all things (Zec 12:13, 14).

May the writer of this Commentary and his readers have grace "to take heed to the sure word of prophecy as unto a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn!" To the triune Jehovah be all glory ascribed for ever!

And he; John the Baptist, who comes in the spirit and power of Elias.

Shall turn; it shall be his office and work to turn, as it is the office of every preacher. The success is of God, who also gives it as he pleaseth, and did give it to John’s ministry; and so the words include the event of John’s preaching, which did, as here it is foretold he should, convert many.

The heart of the fathers to the children: there were at this time many great and unnatural divisions and quarrels among the Jews, in which fathers studied mischief to their own children; they were divided and spitefully bent against them, in civil matters and on account of religion, and these turned their hearts from the dearest relations. Some by fathers and children understand Jews and Gentiles, whose souls being converted to Christ, their hearts were turned one to another.

And the heart of the children to their fathers; undutiful children estranged by the same means and on the same accounts from their fathers, but now, by obeying the call to repentance, embracing the doctrine of the Messiah immediately to be revealed, and baptized into it, religious quarrels cease, and both parents’ and children’s hearts unite to Christ first, and then to each ofher, and all to God.

Lest I; God or Christ, who indeed first tenders the blessings of grace and peace, and gives them to such as accept; but this the Jews would not, the rulers, the priests, the body of the people, refused them: the next thing Christ (Lord and King, rejected and disowned) will do, is to curse and destroy.

Smite the earth, the land of Judea, and the inhabitants of it,

with a curse; which brings with it and ends in utter destruction; as at this day we read in the story of the Romans invading, subduing, captivating the Jews, and razing their city and temple. That time is past now one thousand six hundred and forty-four years since a stone was not left upon a stone, as was foretold by Christ, Matthew 24:2, since those unparalleled hardships and miseries befell the Jews, which no heart almost can read and not bleed at reading, (though at this distance of time,) and the sufferers so deservedly endured such a curse as leaveth Jerusalem a desolate heap, and a perpetual monument of God’s displeasure against a people that finally sin against his sovereignty and his mercy.


And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,.... Or "with" the children, as Kimchi; and Ben Melech observes, that is put for and so in the next clause:

and the heart of the children to their fathers; or "with" their fathers; that is, both fathers and children: the meaning is, that John the Baptist should be an instrument of converting many of the Jews, both fathers and children, and bringing them to the knowledge and faith of the true Messiah; and reconcile them together who were divided by the schools of Hillell and Shammai, and by the sects of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and bring them to be of one mind, judgment, and faith, and to have a hearty love to one another, and the Lord Christ; see Matthew 3:5; see Gill on Luke 1:17. The Talmudists (t) interpret this of composing differences, and making peace.

Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse; the land of Judea; which, because the greater part of the inhabitants of it were not converted to the Lord, did not believe in the Messiah, but rejected him, notwithstanding the preaching and testimony of John the Baptist, and the ministry and miracles of Christ, it was smitten with a curse, was made desolate, and destroyed by the Roman emperors, Vespasian and Adrian, as instruments doing what God here threatened he would do; for not the whole earth is intended, as the Targum and Abarbinel suggest; but only that land, and the people of it, are intended, to whom the law of Moses was given; and to whom Elias, or John the Baptist, was to be sent; and to whom he was sent, and did come; and by whom he was rejected, and also the Messiah he pointed at; for which that country was smitten with a curse, and remains under it to this day.

(t) Massachet Ediot, c. 8. sect. 7.

And he shall {g} turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and {h} smite the earth with a curse.

(g) He shows in what John's office would consist: in the turning of men to God, and uniting the father and children in one voice of faith: so that the father will turn to the religion of his son who is converted to Christ, and the son will embrace the faith of the true fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

(h) The second point of his office was to give notice of God's judgment against those that would not receive Christ.

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!”

Verse 6. - He shall turn, etc.; i.e., taking the preposition, rendered "to," in the sense of "with," he shall convert one and all, fathers and children, young and old, unto the Lord. Or, in agreement with the versions, he shall bring back the Jews then living to the faith of their ancestors, who rejoiced to see the day of Christ (John 8:56); and then the patriarchs, who for their unbelief had disowned them, shall recognize them as true Israelites, true children of Abraham. Others explain - He shall unite the Jews who are our fathers in the faith to us Christians who are their children (see Luke 1:17, where the angel Gabriel quotes part of the passage, and applies it to John the Baptist). The heart. Here not the seat of the intellectual powers, but of love and confidence, which lead to union and concord. Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse; or, smite the land with the ban. This is an allusion to the ban threatened in the Law, which involved extermination (see Leviticus 27:29; Deuteronomy 13:16, 17; Deuteronomy 20:16, 17). So Elijah shall come and preach repentance, as the Baptist did at Christ's first coming; and unless the Jews listen to him and turn to Christ, they shall be destroyed, shall share in that eternal anathema which shall fall on the ungodly at the day of judgment.

Malachi 4:6Concluding Admonition. - Malachi 4:4. "Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded him upon Horeb for all Israel, statutes and rights.

(Note: The lxx have put Malachi 4:4 at the end of the book, not to call attention to its great importance, but probably for the very same reason for which the Masora observes, at the close of our book, that in the יתקק, i.e., in the books of Isaiah, the twelve prophets, the Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes, the last verse but one of these books was to be repeated when they were read in the synagogue, namely, because the last verse had too harsh a sound. The transposition is unsuitable, inasmuch as the promise in Malachi 4:5 and Malachi 4:6 does not fit on to the idea expressed in Malachi 4:2 and Malachi 4:3, but only to that in Malachi 4:4. According to the Masora, the ז in זכרוּ should be written as litera majusc., although in many codd. it has the usual form; and this also is not to show the great importance of the verse, since these Masoretic indications have generally a different meaning, but in all probability it is simply to indicate that this is the only passage in the book of the twelve prophets in which the word is pronounced זכרוּ (cf. זכרו in Hosea 12:6; Hosea 14:8), whereas in the other books, with the exception of Job 18:17, this is the only pronunciation that is met with.)

Malachi 4:5. Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the day of Jehovah comes, the great and terrible one. Malachi 4:6. And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, that I may not come and smite the land with the curse" (mit dem Banne, with the ban). The admonition, "Remember ye the law of Moses," forms the conclusion not only of the last section (Malachi 3:13-4:3), but of the whole of the book of Malachi, and cannot be connected with Malachi 4:3 in the sense of "Remember what Moses has written in the law concerning Christ, or concerning the judgment," as Theod. Mops. and others maintain; nor must it be restricted to the time previous to the coming of the Messiah by the interpolation of interim (v. Til and Mich.). It is rather a perfectly general admonition to lay to heart and observe the law. For this is referred to here, "not according to its casual and transient form, but according to its real essence as expressing the holiness of God, just as in Matthew 5:17" (Hengstenberg). Malachi thus closes by showing to the people what it is their duty to do, if on the day of judgment they would escape the curse with which transgressors are threatened in the law, and participate in the salvation so generally desired, and promised to those who fear God. By the expression "my servant," the law is traced back to God as its author. At the giving of the law, Moses as only the servant of Jehovah. אשׁר צוּיתי אותו is not to be rendered "whom (אשׁר אותו) I charged with statutes and rights to all Israel" (Ewald, Bunsen), for we do not expect any further explanation of the relation in which Moses stood to the law, but "which I commanded him upon (to) all Israel." Tsivvâh is construed with a double accusative, and also with על governing the person to whom the command refers, as in Ezra 8:17; 2 Samuel 14:8; Esther 4:5. The words chuqqı̄ı̄m ūmishpâtı̄m are an epexegetical definition belonging to אשׁר: "which I commanded as statutes and rights," i.e., consisting of these; and they recall to mind Deuteronomy 4:1 and Deuteronomy 8:14, where Moses urges upon the people the observance of the law, and also mentions Horeb as the place where the law was given. The whole of the admonition forms an antithesis to the rebuke in Malachi 4:4, that from the days of their fathers they went away from the ordinances of Jehovah. These they are to be mindful to observe, that the Lord when He comes may not smite the land with the ban.

In order to avert this curse from Israel, the Lord would send the prophet Elijah before His coming, for the purpose of promoting a change of heart in the nation. The identity of the prophet Elijah with the messenger mentioned in Malachi 4:1, whom the Lord would send before Him, is universally acknowledged. But there is a difference of opinion as to the question, who is the Elijah mentioned here? The notion was a very ancient one, and one very widely spread among the rabbins and fathers, that the prophet Elijah, who was caught up to heaven, would reappear (compare the history of the exposition of our verse in Hengstenberg's Christology, vol. iv. p. 217 translation). The lxx thought of him, and rendered אליּה הנּביא by Ἠλίαν τὸν Θεσβίτην; so also did Sirach (48:10) and the Jews in the time of Christ (John 1:21; Matthew 17:10); and so have Hitzig, Maurer, and Ewald in the most recent times. But this view is proved to be erroneous by such passages as Hosea 3:5; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24, and Jeremiah 30:9, where the sending of David the king as the true shepherd of Israel is promised. Just as in these passages we cannot think of the return or resurrection of the David who had long been dead; but a king is meant who will reign over the nation of God in the mind and spirit of David; so the Elijah to be sent can only be a prophet with the spirit or power of Elijah the Tishbite. The second David was indeed to spring from the family of David, because to the seed of David there had been promised the eternal possession of the throne. The prophetic calling, on the other hand, was not hereditary in the prophet's house, but rested solely upon divine choice and endowment with the Spirit of God; and consequently by Elijah we are not to understand a lineal descendant of the Tishbite, but simply a prophet in whom the spirit and power of Elijah are revived, as Ephr. Syr., Luther, Calvin, and most of the Protestant commentators have maintained. But the reason why this prophet Elijah is named is to be sought for, not merely in the fact that Elijah was called to his work as a reformer in Israel at a period which was destitute of faith and of the true fear of Jehovah, and which immediately preceded a terrible judgment (Koehler), but also and more especially in the power and energy with which Elijah rose up to lead back the ungodly generation of his own time to the God of the fathers. The one does not exclude but rather includes the other. The greater the apostasy, the greater must be the power which is to stem it, so as to rescue those who suffer themselves to be rescued, before the judgment bursts over such as are hardened. For Malachi 4:5, compare Joel 3:4. This Elijah, according to Malachi 4:6, is to lead back the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers. The meaning of this is not that he will settle disputes in families, or restore peace between parents and children; for the leading sin of the nation at the time of our prophet was not family quarrels, but estrangement from God. The fathers are rather the ancestors of the Israelitish nation, the patriarchs, and generally the pious forefathers, such as David and the godly men of his time. The sons or children are the degenerate descendants of Malachi's own time and the succeeding ages. "The hearts of the godly fathers and the ungodly sons are estranged from one another. The bond of union, viz., common love to God, is wanting. The fathers are ashamed of their children, the children of their fathers" (Hengstenberg). This chasm between them Elijah is to fill up. Turning the heart of the fathers to the sons does not mean merely directing the love of the fathers to the sons once more, but also restoring the heart of the fathers, in the sons, or giving to the sons the fathers' disposition and affections. Then will the heart of the sons also return to their fathers, turn itself towards them, so that they will be like-minded with the pious fathers. Elijah will thereby prepare the way of the Lord to His people, that at His coming He may not smite the land with the ban. The ban involves extermination. Whoever and whatever was laid under the ban was destroyed (cf. Leviticus 27:28-29; Deuteronomy 13:16-17; and my Bibl. Archol. i. 70). This threat recals to mind the fate of the Canaanites who were smitten with the ban (Deuteronomy 20:17-18). If Israel resembles the Canaanites in character, it will also necessarily share the fate of that people (cf. Deuteronomy 12:29).

The New Testament gives us a sufficient explanation of the historical allusion or fulfilment of our prophecy. The prophet Elijah, whom the Lord would send before His own coming, was sent in the person of John the Baptist. Even before his birth he was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel as the promised Elijah, by the declaration that he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the unbelieving to the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:16-17). This address of the angel gives at the same time an authentic explanation of Malachi 4:5 and Malachi 4:6 of our prophecy: the words "and the heart of the children to their fathers" being omitted, as implied in the turning of the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the explanatory words "and the unbelieving to the wisdom of the just" being introduced in their place; and the whole of the work of John, who was to go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, being described as "making ready a prepared people for the Lord." The appearance and ministry of John the Baptist answered to this announcement of the angel, and is so described in Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:2-18, that the allusion to our prophecy and the original passage (Isaiah 40:3) is obvious at once. Even by his outward appearance and his dress John announced himself as the promised prophet Elijah, who by the preaching of repentance and baptism was preparing the way for the Lord, who would come after him with the winnowing shovel to winnow His floor, and gather the wheat into His granary, but who would burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Christ Himself also not only assured the people (in Matthew 11:10., Luke 7:27.) that John was the messenger announced by Malachi and the Elijah who was to come, but also told His disciples (Matthew 17:1.; Mark 9:1.) that Elijah, who was to come first and restore all things, had already come, though the people had not acknowledged him. And even John 1:21 is not at variance with these statements. When the messengers of the Sanhedrim came to John the Baptist to ask whether he was Elias, and he answered, "I am not," he simply gave a negative reply to their question, interpreted in the sense of a personal reappearance of Elijah the Tishbite, which was the sense in which they meant it, but he also declared himself to be the promised forerunner of the Lord by applying to his own labours the prophecy contained in Isaiah 40:3.

And as the prophet Elijah predicted by Malachi appeared in John the Baptist, so did the Lord come to His temple in the appearing of Jesus Christ. The opinion, which was very widely spread among the fathers and Catholic commentators, and which has also been adopted by many of the more modern Protestant theologians (e.g., Menken and H. Olshausen), viz., that our prophecy was only provisionally fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist and the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, and that its true fulfilment will only take place at the second coming of Christ to judge the world, in the actual appearance of the risen Elijah by which it will be preceded, is not only at variance with the statements of the Lord concerning John the Baptist, which have been already quoted, but as no tenable foundation in our prophecy itself. The prophets of the Old Testament throughout make no allusion to any second coming of the Lord to His people. The day of the Lord, which they announce as the day of judgment, commenced with the appearance on earth of Christ, the incarnate Logos; and Christ Himself declared that He had come into the world for judgment (John 9:39, cf. John 3:19 and John 12:40), viz., for the judgment of separating the believing from the ungodly, to give eternal life to those who believe on His name, and to bring death and condemnation to unbelievers. This judgment burst upon the Jewish nation not long after the ascension of Christ. Israel rejected its Saviour, and was smitten with the ban at the destruction of Jerusalem in the Roman war; and both people and land lie under this ban to the present day. And just as the judgment commenced at that time so far as Israel was concerned, so does it also begin in relation to all peoples and kingdoms of this earth with the first preaching of Christ among them, and will continue throughout all the centuries during which the kingdom spreads upon earth, until it shall be ultimately completed in the universal judgment at the visible second coming of the Lord at the last day.

With this calling to remembrance of the law of Moses, and this prediction that the prophet Elijah will be sent before the coming of the Lord Himself, the prophecy of the Old Testament is brought to a close. After Malachi, no other prophet arose in Israel until the time was fulfilled when the Elijah predicted by him appeared in John the Baptist, and immediately afterwards the Lord came to His temple, that is to say, the incarnate Son of God to His own possession, to make all who received Him children of God, the segullâh of the Lord. Law and prophets bore witness of Christ, and Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them. Upon the Mount of Christ's Transfiguration, therefore, there appeared both Moses, the founder of the law and mediator of the old covenant, and Elijah the prophet, as the restorer of the law in Israel, to talk with Jesus of His decease which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem (Matthew 17:1.; Mark 9:1.; Luke 9:28.), for a practical testimony to the apostles and to us all, that Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for us, to bear our sin and redeem us from the curse of the law, was the beloved Son of the Father, whom we are to hear, that by believing in His name we may become children of God and heirs of everlasting life.

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