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Bible Commentaries
Malachi 4

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This brief chapter of six verses is, in the Hebrew Bible, included with Malachi 3. It is an appropriate and exciting close to the Book of Malachi, to the voice of Prophecy, and to the Old Testament Canon of the Bible.

Verse 1

“For behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith Jehovah of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”

This is a reference to the final judgment, at which time God will make a summary end of wicked and rebellious men. The unique survivors of that holocaust will be those from all ages, the people of God, the redeemed in Christ. Neither Christ, nor any of the apostles, ever softened or reduced the intensity of this promise in any manner.

John the Baptist, revealed later in the chapter as the forerunner of the Judge, used exactly the same figure: “But the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). Christ himself spoke of, “The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 12:42). Peter spelled it out at some length, “The heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). It is of no consequence whatever that wicked men simply do not believe this; God will accomplish it just the same. “But a righteous God would not destroy all men!” That is what the ante-diluvian world thought; and the same God who promised that he would not again destroy the earth with a flood, has also promised a second and terminal destruction by fire. My God give men the grace to believe what he has revealed.

Verse 2

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and gambol as calves of the stall.”

Note that we have capitalized “Sun of Righteousness,” as in the Authorized Version, there being no sufficient reason whatever for writing it “sun of righteousness,” as in our version and many others. Clinton R. Gill is the only commentator we found who spoke out against the popular fad of denying the identity of Christ in this passage. He wrote:

“Here is one of the most picturesque descriptions of the Messiah to be found in the Old Testament. To dissect it is to destroy it. Suffice it to say, that as the sun is the light and source of life to all the earth, so the Christ is the light and giver of life to the true worshipper.”(F1) “The Sun of Righteousness was understood by the fathers, from Justin downwards, and nearly all the earlier commentators to be Christ, who is supposed to be described as the rising sun.(F2) … At least as early as the time of Coverdale (1535), the sun of righteousness was understood to be Jesus. This interpretation is continued in “The Translators to the Readers” of the King James Version: “But when the fullness of time drew near, that Sunne of Righteousness, the Son of God should come into the world.”(F3) (Neither Keil nor Lewis, however, accepted this).

To us, there are insurmountable obstacles to accepting the current scholarly position regarding this passage. We confess a positive certainty that they are all wrong about it. The instinct of the ancients regarding who is meant by the Sun of Righteousness is a far better guide than the doubts of the world’s current crop of scholars.

What is the reason for denying the reference here to Christ? It hinges, absolutely, upon the use of a feminine pronoun with the Hebrew word for “sun,” which is also feminine here:

The Hebrew uses a feminine pronoun “her wings” to agree with sun ([~shemesh]) which is a feminine noun in Hebrew.(F4)

The thing that astounds us is that none of the scholars suggests “emending” this text to remove the difficulty. They never hesitate to “emend it” in order to create a difficulty! But what about this reference to the sun as feminine? The Hebrew Bible uses both masculine and feminine references to the sun. J. M. Powis Smith stated that: “It is usually masculine, but it is feminine here and in Genesis 15:17; Jeremiah 15:9; Nahum 3:17, and Isaiah 45:8.”(F5) In all of these passages, “sun” is clearly a reference to the solar orb; and so it must be considered here. And that celestial body cannot represent anyone ever heard of on earth, except the Lord Jesus Christ.

Certainly, it is far more likely that Our Lord is indicated here than it is that, “The Babylonian sun-god Shamash” should be considered as having any “connection with the `sun of righteousness’“(F6) mentioned here. How amazing it is that liberal scholars who cannot find Jesus anywhere in the passage can discover the heathen sun-god of ancient Babylon!

The witness of the whole Bible identifies God (and Christ) with the sun, or the rising sun:

“He (God) shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth (2 Samuel 23:4)… Jehovah God is a sun and a shield (Psalms 84:11)… The Dayspring (the sun-rising) from on high shall visit us (Luke 1:78)… There was the true light (Christ) even the light that lighteth every man, coming into the world (John 1:9)… I am the light of the world (John 8:12)… Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead; and Christ shall shine upon thee (Ephesians 5:14)… Ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day-Star (which is the sun, of course) arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

“The Sun of Righteousness” here in Malachi fits Jesus Christ alone, and no other. No idiosyncracy of Hebrew grammar can hide this fact which is as clear as the sun at perihelion!

One other notable testimony should be observed. If the passage here has a feminine cast (and it does), why do all the late versions translate, “sun of righteousness with healing in its wings?” The answer is, that they know the feminine does not fit here, and so they must substitute the neuter. Why not substitute the masculine, as did the translators of the KJV? That, at least, has the advantage of being in line with what the passage has to mean.

The de-personalization of this promise of the “Sun of Righteousness” is widely advocated. Hailey has this:

“Righteousness itself is the sun that shall arise with healing in its rays or beams. This divine righteousness will be as accessible to all as is the light from the rays of the sun.”(F7)

However, there is no righteousness, nor was there ever any, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. “The righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22) is that righteousness revealed “in the gospel” (Romans 1:17); and that must be identified as the only righteousness that ever arose to shine over the Messianic age. Thus, there is absolutely no way to get Christ out of what is plainly meant here. Any theory that abstract, impersonal, righteousness, shall rise over the human race like fog from the great swamp, is certainly a novel and unheard of postulation.

The position cited from Harley is the current, popular interpretation, followed by the vast majority of scholars today. Deane, for example, said it was, “This Divine righteousness that shall beam upon them”(F8) that fear the Name of God. Despite the many concurrent opinions supporting this removal of personality from this passage, such views are unacceptable. Righteousness is simply not an impersonal quality. Righteousness is one of the names of God:

Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called:

JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU (Jeremiah 23:6)
Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name whereby she shall be called:
JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU (Jeremiah 33:16)

The meaning of JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU is “The Lord Our Righteousness”; and let it be noted that Jeremiah used it in connection with both masculine and feminine words, Israel being masculine, Jerusalem being feminine; and, since Malachi’s word for the fleshly Jews was no longer “Israel,” but Jerusalem (feminine), that may account for his use of the feminine here. And here the reference is to the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ.

Bennett offers the ingenious suggestion that:

“The KJV, “Sun” with a capital letter is not a reference to a personal agent, but rather to a figurative representation of righteousness itself. It was not the prophet’s purpose to predict Christ personally in this phrase, but to contrast what the day of judgment would present to the righteous with that which it would present to the wicked.”(F9)

The weakness of this and all similar views lies in the invariable principle seen throughout the Bible that the judgment is not to be some automatic development, rising unaided and spontaneously from the populations of earth. It will be a personal judgment, conducted by Jesus Christ himself. Thus, the very nature of the thing alleged to be meant here forbids its separation from Divine Personality, in this case, as we believe - CHRIST.

As for the notion that “it was not the prophet’s purpose here to predict Christ,” it must be affirmed that “the Lord’s coming suddenly to his temple” (Malachi 3:1), the forerunner “Elijah” sent to prepare the way before him (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6), and the “Great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5) point squarely to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to no other.

“Unto you that fear my name” This identifies the people upon whom the “Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in his wings.” The mention of “My Name” is significant. The reference is to the name of God, JEHOVAH-TSIDENKU, The Lord Our Righteousness; thus the key to knowing what the “Sun of Righteousness” actually is, or rather WHO he is, stands at the head of the passage. Dentan noted that, “`To fear my name’ means `to practice reverently my religion.’“(F10)

“And ye shall go forth and gambol as calves of the stall” This is an agricultural metaphor from the care and feeding of livestock. Such carefully protected and cared-for animals exhibit a quality of playful happiness that appears most desirable.

Verse 3

“And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make, saith Jehovah of hosts.”

McFadyen disapproved of what God here revealed:

“In their joy, they would frisk like calves, and part of that joy would be to trample the wicked like ashes under the soles of their feet. This ugly vindictive trait reminds us how fierce the temper of the later time could be.”(F11)

If this text is read, it must be clear that nothing in it speaks about the joy the saved shall receive from trampling the wicked or seeing them punished. There is nothing vindictive, ugly, or mean in God’s Word here, or anywhere else. What is revealed is the fact: (1) that the gross wickedness of mankind shall be burned up like stubble, (2) that the ashes will remain, and (3) that a new generation of God’s people would tread upon the ruins and remains of what preceded it. Many of earth’s great cities today are built upon the ruins of previous cities and civilizations; and the citizens of those cities are not vindictive or hateful because they are “treading” upon the ashes of former generations. Instead of complaining about what is perceived as a flaw in the character of God, men should heed what he said; for it is sure to come to pass.

The destruction of the earth by fire at the end of this age, and the coming of the “new heaven and the new earth” prophesied by the apostles of Christ, leave unanswered the question of where the new heaven and the new earth will be located. Will our planet be completely removed, and a new sphere become the home of the redeemed, or does “destruction,” or “burned up” refer to a purging of the old location, which would be the site of the new? There could be a clue to the answer here. The ashes of the old will lie beneath the feet of the new. If this is correct, it would correspond to the first destruction of the earth by water. “It overflowed with water… perished.” Yet in that instance also, the remains of the old lie beneath the feet of the new.

Verse 4

“Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances.”

The last three verses of Malachi are generally rejected and downgraded as an interpolation, gloss, or editorial addition to the prophecy of Malachi. As Gailey put it:

“The final verses of the Book of Malachi are probably a postscript by a pious scribe, seeking to provide a suitable conclusion for the Book of Twelve (Minor) Prophets as well as for the Book of Malachi.”(F12)

Such views are erroneous. There could be no truth at all in the allegation that this passage has any other source than the prophet who wrote the rest of the book; and even Malachi was a source secondary, God Himself being the author of the prophecy “through Malachi.” The destructive critics speak of “the editor.” What editor? There is no evidence in this prophecy or anywhere else on earth of there ever having been an “editor.” If there was one, he could not have been a Jew, for nor Jew in a thousand years would ever have closed the book with the threat of a curse upon the whole earth! So the alleged “editor” must have been a pagan, but when did the Jews allow the pagans to edit their Holy Scriptures? Furthermore, our Lord Jesus Christ himself affirmed the last two verses of this book as a genuine word from God, a true prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist to be the Herald and forerunner of the Christ. How could some interpolator, “pious scribe” (he must really have been “pious”), or editor have appended a holy, genuine, and marvelously fulfilled prophecy from God, doing so in the fraudulent act of palming off his “postscript” as an authentic portion of another man’s prophecy? One simply has to be both naive and gullible to accept the nonsense shamelessly advocated by critical enemies of the Bible.

One rather timid commentator suggested that after all, “perhaps Malachi could have written these verses.” As a matter of fact, no one ever known except Malachi could have written them.

“The law of Moses” The mention of Mount Horeb, the name given in Deuteronomy for Mount Sinai, in the same clause here indicates that Deuteronomy was in the mind of the prophet. One thing that has been revealed vividly throughout the Twelve Prophets is the prior existence of the Pentateuch. All of the Minor Prophets addressed Israel in respect of the prior sacred covenant that existed between them and God; and the countless examples of appeal to specific instances of the sacred law demonstrated that at the time of these prophets, the Law of Moses was a unified whole, understood and accepted by all the people (at least in theory), and that the Pentateuch is prior to and earlier than any of the Minor Prophets.

“Even the statutes and ordinances” This reference to specific parts of the Mosaic law indicates that there was a certain complexity in it, and that all of it, even the details of it, were to be respected and obeyed. Scholars differ as to just which provisions were called “ordinances,” and which were called “statutes.”

Verse 5

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible days of Jehovah come.”

“Elijah” Did this mean that Elijah who was “caught up” to the Lord, and who therefore, apparently did not die, -that he would return to prepare the way before the Lord? (2 Kings 2:1-12). Of course, the Jews generally understood this to mean that the same Elijah the Tishbite would be the one who returned. There was a strong tradition among the Jews that continues to the present day, to the effect that the literal, self-same Elijah the Tishbite, would in time return. The Feast of Purim among the Jews until this day sets a plate, goblet, and empty chair for “Elijah”; and so the myth is perpetuated. The LXX, notoriously wrong in many instances, actually translated this place, “I will send you Elias the Tishbite.” That is not what God said, nor is it what God meant.

The Septuagint (LXX) introduction of a literal identification with Elijah the Tishbite into this promise of God’s sending “Elijah the prophet” was but another example of how the Jews had “improved on the Word of God” to compel its conformation with their interpretations and prejudices. We may be certain that when the Pharisee sent to inquire of John the Baptist if he was “Elijah,” that they presented the question in terminology that identified him as the Tishbite; for, at least, that is the question that John the Baptist answered, saying, “I am not” (John 1:21). The Jewish religious hierarchy had accepted that false interpretation of a literal return of Elijah for over four centuries before Christ came; and this shows that wrong interpretations long “accepted” are still, nevertheless, wrong. However, the religious “false shepherds” of Israel were without excuse for their error.

(1) An angel of God had appeared in the temple, breaking a four-century absence of any such wonder. The angel had appeared to Zacharias from the right hand side of the altar of incense saying:

“Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John… He shall be great in the sight of the Lord… He shall go before his face in the Spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him” (Luke 1:13-17).

If there had been any spiritual discernment whatever among the whole roster of Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, and Elders of Israel, - if they had possessed the slightest degree of spiritual perception, they would instantly have recognized John, the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, as the divinely appointed fulfillment of this remarkably specific promise in Malachi. Elijah would be, not the literal Tishbite, but a new personality going forth “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Note that the very terminology of Malachi was quoted by an angel of God, “hearts of the fathers to the children,” etc. Of course, this divine revelation was rejected out of hand by the Pharisees, because it contradicted their literal view that the Tishbite was meant. Nevertheless, as Keil said:

“This address of the angel gives an authentic explanation of Malachi 4:5-6: the words, “and the heart’ of the children to the fathers” being omitted, as implied in the turning of the heart of the fathers to the children, and the explanatory words, “and the unbelieving to the wisdom of the just,” being introduced in their place.”(F13)

(2) John the Baptist himself adopted the very type of clothing worn by Elijah the Tishbite, i.e., the raiment of camel’s hair, and a leather thong around his waist, indicating that John himself was fully conscious of his identity with Elijah prophesied by Malachi. It was a clever bit of maneuvering on the part of the Pharisees to extract from John the Baptist the words, “I am not”; and the only way that could have been accomplished was for their question to have made an affirmative answer impossible, asking, “Are you Elijah the Tishbite?” If those ancient hypocrites had looked upon John with honor, had received the baptism that he preached, and had paid strict attention to the very clothing that he wore, to say nothing of the words of an angel of heaven, they would instantly have known that he was that “Elijah which was to come.”

(3) The testimony of Christ that John the Baptist was indeed “that Elijah which was to come” (Matthew 17:12-13) was within a few years certainly, and much earlier probably, available to the Pharisees; but they even refused that testimony, and have continued till this day “the empty chair” routine at the annual feast of Purim!

(4) The Pharisees knew that, “The Son of David,” whom they expected to ascend the throne of the literal David in Jerusalem, would nevertheless not be “the literal David,” but another of his posterity and in his likeness. It is true that there were differences in the situations as regarded Elijah and David; but the principle of two distinct personalities being stamped with a single designation was one with which they were already familiar; and they should have had no trouble at all applying it to the two Elijah’s, (1) the Tishbite, and (2) the son of Zecharias.

(5) Jesus doubtless knew that the literal view of the Tishbite’s returning to earth would continue to be advocated and used by Satan throughout history; and, therefore, Jesus Christ presided over a literal return of Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration, in which event Moses and Elijah met Jesus upon the holy mountain and carried on a conversation with him in the hearing of Peter, James, and John. Whether or not the Pharisees knew of this until afterward is immaterial. They surely learned of it eventually. “That Elijah” promised by Malachi was John the Baptist.

If one thinks it is a mystery why the Pharisees did not understand this, let him try to explain why a scholar like Smith would exclaim: “There is no warrant for going beyond what is written here and refusing to accept the language at its face value!”(F14) The reason for such a view lies in the adamant fundamentalism of liberal scholars in all scriptural passages where a literal view contradicts spiritual truth. It was this spirit which denied the death of Jairus’ daughter on the grounds that Jesus had said, “She is not dead, but sleepeth.” (See a full discussion of the disease of “Fundamentalism Among Liberals” in my commentary on James-Jude, p. 289.)

“Before the great and terrible day of Jehovah” Deane did not identify the messenger “Elijah” of Malachi 4:5 with the messenger that was foretold as preceding the “messenger of the Covenant” in Malachi 3:1, giving as the reason the following: “The latter (in Malachi 4:5) comes before the first advent of our Lord, the former appears before the day of judgment.”(F15) However, there is actually no impediment to receiving the messenger mentioned in Malachi 3:1 as the same messenger mentioned in Malachi 4:5. Peter himself identified, “The day of the Lord, the great and notable day” and “The great and terrible day of Jehovah” (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:17-20) as being the same. That “That DAY” was identified with Pentecost on one occasion (by Peter) and with the final judgment on another (by Malachi) is no problem. The frequent expression in all the Minor Prophets regarding “that day,” “the last days,” “the latter days,” and “in those days,” etc… all pertain to the Messianic Age, that is, all of the time between the first and second Advents of Christ. There is a melding and blending by all prophets of events in the Messianic times which actually are separated by vast intervals of time. Jesus himself continued this characteristic by prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the coming of the final judgment with a single set of answers, some portions of which are applicable to one event, some to the other, and some to both alike. (See Matthew 24.)

That the two messengers of Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:5 are identical is evident. “The thought in Malachi 4:5 is parallel to that of Malachi 3:1. Prior to the Day of the Lord, a heaven-sent messenger would prepare the way.”(F16) “The prophet (Elijah) in 4:5 is usually identified with the messenger of Malachi 3:1. Both will appear in order to make preparation for the coming of the Lord to judge his people.”(F17)

Verse 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.”

All except the last clause of this verse was discussed in the notes on the preceding Malachi 4:5.

“Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” This verse could not have been written by any Jew who ever lived, except by the true prophet of God, Malachi. That no pious scribe, editor, or interpolator wrote it is inherent in the fact that Jews have never accepted this verse at all, even while knowing it to be a genuine part of the prophecy; and this accounts for the fact of none of their versions of the Old Testament allowing this verse to stand as the conclusion. In order to avoid it, they repeat one of the previous verses after verse 6, thus making the repeated verse to be the conclusion.

Thus, the Old Testament Canon closes with an admonition for “those who fear God’s name” to keep the sacred Law, and to wait for the great Herald who would usher in the age of Messiah by calling the people to repentance and identifying the Christ himself, a mission gloriously and faithfully fulfilled by John the Baptist, whose witness of Christ is as eloquent as any found upon the sacred page: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the World.”

It is a most significant truth that no other prophet appeared between Malachi and John the Baptist. The bitter prophecy of Hosea 3:4-5, began at this point to be fulfilled. Many true souls grieved over the long spiritual drought:

We see not our signs:
There is no more any prophet;
Neither is there among us any that knoweth how long!
(Psalms 74:9).

All of God’s prophets had done their work, but the people had rejected them all. There was no further word that God could send. The hardened and rebellious nation would continue to exist (according to God’s holy purpose); but the precious fellowship of other days was gone forever. A hint of all this may be found in these final six verses. This promise that God would send Elijah, who had left the earth four hundred years previously, was, “A promise which suggests that the age of the prophets is now felt to be over.”(F18) When that Elijah appears, his business will be that of restoring the broken harmony. In the meanwhile, let the true followers of God keep the sacred Law and await the unfolding of the purpose of the Almighty.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Malachi 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/malachi-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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