Malachi 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The day cometh that shall bum as an oven. Fire is one of the most familiar figures of the Divine working. It is one of the forces which man most dreads when it gets beyond control. And it is the force on which man most relies for the purifying of the good and the destruction of the evil. The fire of the oven is fire at its intensest. A hole is dug in the ground, a fire of stubble is kindled in it; by this time a large stone is heated, and on the stone the bread can be baked. Malachi has already dealt with the refining power of the fire of God. That which is good is freed and cleansed and improved by means of it. The prophet does not see the whole of the features of the day of God; only those which are directly related to the condition and needs of the people in his day. Every prophet is one-sided; and we must learn from all if we would apprehend the whole of truth, even concerning the Divine fire. Malachi had to adapt his teachings to some who were sincere but mistaken. To them the Divine fire is disciplinary. "He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." But he had also to adapt his teachings to some who were wilfully and persistently wrong. To them the Divine fire is, In some sense, destructive consuming. "The proud shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up." There are two things characteristic of the Divine fire, which are suggested by the double figure of refining and consuming.

I. THE OPERATION OF THE DIVINE FIRE DEPENDS ON WHAT IT OPERATES ON. This is one of the most marked peculiarities of common fire. It scatters water; it melts wax; it destroys wood; it hardens clay; it purifies metal. It makes silver valuable; it makes dross worthless. And so with the Divine fire. The apostle dwells on its testing power (1 Corinthians 3:13); but here its actual moral effect on differing characters is indicated. Take classes of character in Malachi's time, and show the different effects which Divine dealings had upon them. Take types of character now, and show how Divine dealings soften or harden.

II. THE DIVINE FIRE IS DESTRUCTIVE OF THE FORMS OF THINGS, NOT OF THINGS. Science now explains that common fire destroys nothing; it only Changes the forms and relations of things. When the state of the wicked is irremediable by any existing moral forces, then their form and relation must be changed. As in the time of the Flood, humanity had to be put in new conditions. God's fire destructions always begin a new regime. - R.T.

For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, etc. A graphic representation of these verses is given by Stanley: "The day spoken of was to be like the glorious but terrible uprising of the Eastern sun, which should wither to the roots the insolence and the injustice of mankind; but as its rays extended, like the wings of the Egyptian sun, God should, by its healing and invigorating influences, call forth the good from their obscurity, prancing and bounding like the young cattle in the burst of spring, and treading down under their feet the dust and ashes to which the same bright sun had burnt up the tangled thicket of iniquitous dealing." These words lead us to consider the day of the world's retribution.

I. IT WILL BE A TERRIBLE DAY TO THE WICKED. "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." Primarily this may refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was indeed a time of judgment, but it points on through the whole period of retribution. Mark two things.

1. How this retributive period regards the wicked. They are "stubble;" without life, beauty, or value; utterly worthless. They may be wealthy, learned, influential; yet they are nothing but "stubble," destitute even of one grain of moral wheat.

2. How this retributive period will destroy the wicked.

(1) Painfully; by fire. They shall writhe in the scorching flames of moral remorse and awful forebodings.

(2) Completely. "Shall leave them neither root nor branch." To destroy them root and branch may not mean the extinction of their existence, but the extinction of all that makes existence tolerable or worth having. This day of retributiun is really going on now, but it is only in dawn; the full noon is In the centuries to come.

II. IT WILL BE A GLORIOUS PERIOD TO THE RIGHTEOUS. "But unto you that fear my Name shall the Bun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." This language may be regarded as indicating the blessedness of the world to a good man.

1. It is a world of solar brightness. "The Sun of Righteousness" arises on the horizon of his soul. There are souls that are lighted by sparks of their own kindling, and by the gaseous blaze springing from the bogs of inner depravity. All such lights, whether in the forms of philosophic theories or religious creeds, are dim, partial, transitory. The soul of a good man is lighted by the sun. The sun:

(1) Throws his beams over the whole heavens.

(2) Reveals all objects in their true aspects and proportions.

(3) Quickens all into life and beauty.

(4) Is the centre, holding the whole system in order.

The soul of the good man is lighted by something more than the brightest lights of human genius; something more, in fact, than moon and stars; lighted by the Sun himself, the Source of all light and warmth and life. Christ is the Light of the good.

2. It is a world of Divine rectitude. "Sun of Righteousness." "The kingdom of God is within you." Eternal right is enthroned. God's will is the supreme law. The meat and drink of godly souls are to do the will of their Father who is in heaven. Such a soul is right:

(1) In relation to itself. All its powers, passions, and impulses are lightly adjusted.

(2) In relation to the universe. It renders to others what it would have that others should render unto it.

(3) In relation to God. The best Being it loves the most; the greatest Being it reverences the most; the kindest Being it thanks the most.

3. It is a world of remedial influence. "With healing in his wings." The sun's beams are in Scripture called his wings (Psalm 139:9). The soul through sin is diseased, its eyes are dim, its ears are heavy, its limbs are feeble, its blood is poisoned. The godly is under remedial influences. The beams of the "Sun of Righteousness" work off the disease, repair the constitution, and enable it to run without being weary, and to walk without being faint. There is a proverb among the Jews that "as the sun riseth, infirmities decrease." The flowers which droop and languish all night revive in the morning. The late Mr. Robinson, of Cambridge, called upon a friend just as he had received a letter from his son, who was surgeon on a vessel then lying off Smyrna. The son mentioned in his letter that every morning about sunrise a fresh gale of air blew from the sea across the land, and from its wholesomeness and utility in cleansing the infected air the wind was called "the doctor." Christ is the Physician of souls.

4. It is a world of buoyant energy. "Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." See the calf which from its birth has been shut up in the stall, let forth for the first time into the green fields of May, how full of buoyant energy! it leaps, and frolics, and frisks. This is the figure employed here to represent the gladsomeness with which the godly soul employs its faculties under the genial beams of the "Sun of Righteousness." - D.T.

The Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings. "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" (W.H. Lowe). The figure of "healing in his wings" may be illustrated by the fact that, off Smyrna, every morning about sunrise a fresh gale of air blows from the sea across the land, which from its wholesomeness and utility in clearing the infected air is always called "the doctor."

I. THE WORLD UNDER THE DARKNESS OF REIGNING EVIL. Represented by those dark, depressing, unhealthy days when there is no light in the sky, and the damp mists lie low. Then the plants droop, the flowers do not care to open, and the leaves hang. The song birds are silent, and the hours drag on wearily. To the good the darkness of prevailing evil sentiment, evil opinion, evil practice, is necessarily afflictive. These things make an unnourishing atmosphere and bad circumstances. When the darkness of evil prevails in

(1) the intellectual world, or

(2) the moral world, or

(3) the social world, then there will surely be abounding error, moral mischiefs, spiritual depression, and vital disease.

As Malachi saw the people in his day, they were in the gloom of triumphant self-will, and there was no sunlight of God in their sky. That sunshine was his hope for the future.

II. THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF REIGNING RIGHTEOUSNESS. And that time he saw dawning when Messiah should appear. The birth of the Babe of Bethlehem was the strong sunrise of righteousness. Picture the dawning of the sun in full, clear strength after weeks of dulness, damp, and disease. How the sunbeams dry up the mists, warm the chilled earth, waken the music of the birds, make the flowers smile, and gladden man's heart. "Notice these flowers all around us, how they turn smiling to the sun's ardent gaze, bend forward in seeming reverence, throw open their pretty cups, and cast around their sweetest perfume. So, when the Sun of Righteousness shines, all moral goodness joyously responds. Evil slinks away into the shadows. When that Sun shines on through the eternal day, man's answering goodness may flourish abundantly." - R.T.

The figure of "treading ashes" is suggested by the previous figure of "burning." When the wicked are burned up in the fire of God, all their power to injure the good will be gone. They will but be as ashes of the oven, ashes spread abroad, ashes made a path to walk over. The tone of the prophet is not one of glorying over the fate of the wicked, but of rejoicing in the removal of the hindrance which the wicked ever put in the way of God's faithful servants.

I. THE ILL ESTATE OF THE GOOD WHEN THE WICKED, OR GODLESS TRIUMPH. This may be illustrated in every sphere.

1. The National. Illustrate from the times of Jeremiah, when a godless party held power in the state, and tried to force an Egyptian alliance. Or from the times of Malachi, when formalist and careless Levites were corrupting the religious sentiments of the people. Or from the state of the Jewish nation in the time of our Lord, when the fountains of religious and secular authority were corrupt, and the crucifixion of ideal virtue was a possibility. Show in what an evil case good people, who feared the Lord, were placed at such times. See the sufferings of Jeremiah and of our Divine Lord. So there are national times now when evil sentiment prevails, and the servants of God have to "keep silence," because it is an "evil time."

2. The intellectual. The deistic age of our grandfathers was an evil time for devout believers. This critical age of ours is a time of sore strain for those who would preserve the simplicity of faith. The same truth may be illustrated in the smaller spheres of family, or school, or business. Whenever self-indulgence, bad sentiments, or evil characters have power, those who would live godly, sober, and righteous lives are sorely put to it. Though for them this need be but culturing discipline, the treading on the camomile plant that makes it yield freely its fragrance.

II. THE ILL ESTATE OF THE WICKED WHEN THE GOOD, OR GOD FEARING, TRIUMPH. This can be treated without any unworthy glorying over the disabilities of others. The point may be illustrated in every sphere, national, political, social, intellectual, or in the smaller spheres of the family, the school, the business, the Church. The point to dwell on is the distress of the wicked, not from personal suffering, but from their inability to do mischief. We may rejoice that the wicked are made helpless by the triumph of goodness. - R.T.

It was characteristic of the restored exiles that they endeavoured exactly to reproduce the old Mosaic system; but there was a grave danger involved in their effort. They could not precisely reproduce everything. There must be some adjustment to the very different social and religious sentiments and relations. But those who claimed the authority to make the adjustments would be almost sure to carry their authority too far, and claim to alter and amend the very laws and rules. Under the guise of translation, adaptation, and amplification, the new law of the rabbis became established; and the mischief that it had become in the time of our Lord is evident in its actually overlaying the revealed Law of God, and making the Jehovah religion a burden beyond bearing. Malachi seems to foresee the mischievous growth of an evil which had already begun in his time, and in this closing passage of his work solemnly calls the people back to the unquestionable and unrivalled authority of the Horeb revelation given to Moses. It is the great recall that has been again and again found necessary in the course of the ages. It is the recall needed today. "To the Law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).

I. THE SIGN OF GOODNESS IN GOD'S PEOPLE. Practical interest in God's revealed Word. The old Jew had none of the difficulties which modern infidelity and modern criticism have put in our fathers' way and in ours. Our fathers were troubled by being assured that a book revelation was impossible. They might have confidently, yet meekly replied, "But here it is." We are troubled by being told that the Bible is not at all what we think it to be, and is not trustworthy. We may quietly reply, "Whatever it is, it is 'a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path.'" Treatment of the Word is the best test of the godly life.

II. GOD'S REVEALED WORD SHOULD BE KEPT IN MIND, It is designed to replenish our life at its fountains of thought, knowledge, and feeling. Therefore the prophet says, "Remember ye the Law of Moses." Keep it in mind; freshen the memory continually.

III. GOD'S REVEALED WORD IS BEST KEPT IN MIND BY KEEPING IT IN THE LIFE. "If any will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." Practical obedience is

(1) the best teacher; and

(2) our best and constant revealer of the need of teaching. - R.T.

There is no reason for doubting that John the Baptist is referred to. Our Lord's allusions to John as fulfilling this prophecy should suffice to settle the question (see Mark 9:11-13, Revised Version). There need be no difficulty in admitting John to be the second Elijah, if we apprehend the figurative and poetical character of the prophetical Scriptures. One who would do for his age a similar work to that which was done by Elijah for his age would, in Scripture, be called an Elijah. There is no occasion whatever for imagining that any miraculous reappearance of Elijah was in the mind of Malachi, or a part of his prophetic message. The Jews overpressed a literal interpretation, and to this day they earnestly pray for the coming of Elias, which, they assume, will immediately precede the appearance of Messiah. Dean Stanley says, "Elijah was the prophet for whose return in later years his countrymen have looked with most eager hope It was a fixed belief of the Jews that he had appeared again and again, as an Arabian merchant, to wise and good rabbis, at their prayers or on their journeys. A seat is still placed for him to superintend the circumcision of the Jewish children. Passover after Passover the Jews of our own day place the paschal cup on the table, and set the door wide open, believing that that is the moment when Elijah will reappear. When goods are found, and no owner comes; when difficulties arise, and no solution appears, the answer is, ' Put them by till Elijah comes.'"

Twice in her season of decay,
The fallen Church hath felt Elijah's eye,
Dart from the wild its piercing ray,...
The herald star,
Whose torch afar
Shadows and boding night birds fly."

(Keble.) Matthew Henry, in a few skilful sentences, suggests the likenesses and the contrasts of the two Elijahs. "Elijah was a man of great austerity and mortification, zealous for God, bold in reproving sin, and active to reduce an apostate people to God and their duty. John the Baptist was animated by the same spirit and power, and preached repentance and reformation, as Elias had done; and all held him for a prophet, as they did Elijah in his day, and that his baptism was from heaven, and not of men." Rabbi Eliezer closes a curious chapter on repentance with these words: "And Israel will not make great repentance till Elijah - his memory for blessing! - come." For fair comparison of the two Elijahs, it is necessary to make careful comparison of the times to which they were sent, noticing the essential sameness underneath the manifest differences. Rabbinism had really driven the spiritual religion of Jehovah from the land in John's days, just as the Astarte form of Baalism had driven the Jehovah worship from Israel in the days of Elijah. The two men may be compared in relation to -

I. THEIR PERSONS. In each case there was an arresting personal appearance, and an unusual power of personal impression. In each case we have a man markedly different from surrounding men. This is noticeable in the dress, but more in the men themselves. And their mission largely lay in their personnel. Men minister for God in what they are in figure, countenance, and impression.

II. THEIR HABITS. Both were wilderness men, whose very food was a reproach of prevailing luxury. Their indifference to personal pleasure declared their absorption in their work for God.

III. THEIR MISSIONS. Both were sent to be forerunners of a coming God, in grace, to his people. Both were sent to call the people to repentance. Turning - turning the people to God, was the work of both. Both had to make the same abrupt demand.

IV. THEIR SPIRIT. Both were absolutely loyal to Jehovah. Both were perfectly fearless of all consequences in doing their work. Both were stern in their tone, and saw the sterner side of truth. Both were humanly weak in times of unexpected strain.

V. THEIR INCOMPLETENESS. That characterizes the work of all who have preparing work to do. Neither Elijah nor John could count up results. To both life work might seem a failure. To Elijah, in a mood of depression, it did. But no life is incomplete that is but a piece of a whole, if, as a piece, it is complete. That is a comforting truth for the two Elijahs, and for us who now may have but pieces of work given us to do. - R.T.

The margin of the Revised Version gives the rendering with, as preferable to to, in the clause, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children," etc. Then the reference is to the work and influence of the second Elijah on all classes of society, on the hearts of both fathers and children. Keil, however, suggests a more difficult, yet more likely, explanation of the verse, "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." The Messiah is designed to be the bond of union for them all. What arrests attention in these closing verses of the Old Testament canon is that the stern side of Messiah's mission gains exclusive prominence. That sterner side specially interested the judgment prophets of Israel's degenerate days. And it was more particularly suitable for Malachi, because the very form of evil that was to hinder Messiah was beginning in his day. Malachi saw rabbinism taking root.

I. THE DREADFULNESS OF MESSIAH'S DAY FOR THE JEWISH NATION. All days of God, all Divine manifestations, are necessarily two sided. They are dealings with moral beings, and their results must depend on the response of the moral beings. Every day of God must be a "'savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.' What the coming of Christ was to Simeon and Anna, to the disciples, and to the Church of all the ages, we are constantly dwelling on. That is the bright and sunny side of Messiah's mission. But we may ask - What was Messiah's coming to the officials of the Mosaic religion, and for the Jewish nation that rejected him, under the leading of those officials? It was their last opportunity, their final testing. It proved them to be beyond moral recovery. It removed the last check, and their woe came. Their house was left unto them desolate."

II. THE DREADFULNESS OF CHRIST'S DAY FOR THE SELF-WILLED IN EVERY AGE. For Christ's test of the Jewish nation did but illustrate the test that he is, wherever and whenever he comes. Men reject him still at a peril which they seldom recognize. There is the stern side to a preached gospel. Christ proclaimed as Saviour makes forevery man a new and overwhelming condition for the testing of the judgment day. - R.T.

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