Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.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.)
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) As the rising sun diffuses light and heat, so that all that is healthy in nature revives and lifts up its head, while plants that have no depth of root are scorched up and wither away, so the advent of the reign of righteousness, which will reward the good and the wicked, each according to his deserts, will dissipate all darkness of doubt, and heal all the wounds which the apparent injustice of the conduct of affairs has inflicted on the hearts of the righteous.
Wings.—Figurative for rays. The fathers and early commentators have understood Christ by the Sun of Righteousness, and they are so far right that it is the period of His advent that is referred to; but there can be no personal reference to Him in the expression, since “sun” is feminine in Hebrew; and the literal rendering of the word translated “in his wings” is “in her wings.”
Grow up.—Better, prance, or sport.
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) Tread down.—Comp. Isaiah 26:5-6.
That I shall do this.—Better, which I am about to make. (Comp. Malachi 3:17.)
(4-6) As the prophetical books began (Joshua 1:2; Joshua 1:8) with “Moses my servant is dead . . . this book of the Law shall not be removed from thy mouth, &c.,” so they close with the admonition, “Remember ye the Law of Moses my servant.” (Comp. Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 8:14.) The path of duty is the path of safety and of light. (Comp. John 7:17.) “Mysteries belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed are for us and for our children for ever, in order to perform all the words of this Law” (Deuteronomy 29:29; comp. also Ecclesiastes 12:13). The best preparation for the reception of the New Covenant, when God would “put His law in their inward parts and write it on their heart” (Jeremiah 31:32), must needs be the hearty observance of the spirit of the Old.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:(5) Elijah.—There is no more reason to suppose that this refers actually to “Elijah” the prophet, and that he is to appear upon earth, than to imagine from Hosea 3:5; Ezekiel 24:23; Ezekiel 37:24; Jeremiah 30:9; that David himself is to come again in the flesh. When John the Baptist answered the question of the deputies of the Sanhedrim, “Art thou Elias?” by “I am not,” he simply gave a negative reply to their question, which was formulated on their misapprehension. On the other hand, that John the Baptist is the “messenger” of Malachi 3:1 and the “Elijah” of this verse is shown conclusively (as far as Christians are concerned) by Luke 1:16-17 before his birth, by Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:2-8, Luke 3:2-18, at the commencement of his ministry. Moreover, our Lord Himself assured the people that John was this “messenger” and “Elijah” (Matthew 11:10, seq.; Luke 7:27, seq.), and His disciples that he had appeared, and not been recognised (Matthew 17:11, seq.; Mark 9:1, seq.). Finally, it is a significant fact that these two greatest of Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elias, who are mentioned together in this last prophetic exhortation, are the two who appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, when all that which is contained in the Law and the prophets was about to be fulfilled.
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) 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.”