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YHWH’s Final Charge Against His People, That They Have Spoken Against Him (Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3 ).
In this section YHWH finalises His list of complaints by distinguishing between the majority who have spoken against Him, and the minority Who have constantly spoken lovingly of Him, whose names are written in His Book of Remembrance, and He contrasts what the end will be of both groups.
‘Your words have been stout against me,
Yet you say,
What have we said to one another against you?
You have said,
It is vain to serve God,
And what profit is it that we have kept his charge,
And that we have walked mournfully before YHWH of hosts?’
YHWH now accuses Israel of speaking strongly against Him. Their response is to ask, how they have so spoken against Him. YHWH’s reply is that it is because they have said that it is vain to serve God and to keep His charge and to humiliate themselves before Him, because He simply does not respond. Note their emphasis on what they have done. They have slaved for Him, they have kept his stern charge, they have even dressed in black and made a great show of mourning over their sins. And they ask themselves what they have gained by their actions. The reply that they themselves provide is ‘nothing’, and that is because after all their arduous effort they cannot see that they have gained any benefit at all. To them their religion had been hard work, and they had expected to get a reward for it. Now they are wondering whether it is all worth while, whether to give it up and find a more convenient religion. Other gods did not make these high demands. They had reached a low ebb.
What a contrast these people were with those who ‘feared YHWH’ and spoke lovingly of Him among themselves. And they did this, not because of what they had gained from Him or hoped to gain from Him, but because they loved Him and worshipped Him as Who He was. They honoured Him and His Name. Herein lies the difference between true worshippers, and those who only worship Him for what they can get out of Him.
‘And now we call the proud happy,
Yes, those who work wickedness are built up,
Yes, they challenge God, and escape.
We have already seen in Malachi 2:17 that there were many who were grumbling that God only seemed to do good to those who did what was evil. The grumble now continues as they declare that it was the proud and arrogant who were happy, it was those who worked wickedness who were built up, it was those who tested God out who escaped from problems and difficulties. And it did not seem right or fair to them. Those being described probably included some members of the community and also some of those among whom they lived, who had been settled there before they arrived. But their words remind us of the Psalmist in Psalms 73:0. He also was puzzled as to why the wicked flourished. But the difference in his case was that he went on to discover the answer when he ‘considered their end’, and he then went on to praise God.
But these people did not see beyond their criticisms. They stopped short at criticising and blaming God, and were deciding whether after all it was worth following Him when He was not fitting into their conceptions about what He ought to do. To them serving God was a kind of bargain. They did right by Him, and He did right by them. And it was His side of it that appeared to be failing. But, of course, as we have seen they only thought that they were doing right by Him because of their stereotyped ideas. As Malachi has brought out, they were in fact not doing right by Him at all.
Then those who feared YHWH spoke one with another,
And YHWH listened, and heard,
And a book of remembrance was written before him,
For those who feared YHWH,
And that thought on his name.’
But the true believers, those who really did ‘fear YHWH’, talked with one another about Him in glowing terms, and YHWH listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared YHWH and called on His Name. Of course they did not realise that what they were saying was being recorded. They did it because they loved Him. But it is an indication to us of how God hears how we pray and how we talk with each other, and it reminds us of the joy we bring to Him when we do it aright.
Many cities in those days kept a book of those who had done great deeds on behalf of the city, and many kings had spies who kept a record of people’s conversations. Some also had ‘books of days’ in which daily events were recorded. This book was a combination of both in the best of senses.
The idea that God keeps a record of the conversations of His people brings new light to the words of Jesus, ‘him who confesses me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven’.
‘And they will be mine,
Says YHWH of hosts,
In the day that I make,
They will be a special treasure (my own possession),
And I will spare them,
As a man spares his own son who serves him.’
And because these believers had their thoughts filled with God and His goodness He affirms that they will be His ‘in the Day that He makes’ (compare Malachi 4:3), the Day that He has prepared for His final judgments. They will be His own ‘special possession’. This was the term used of a king’s private treasures, as against what was put in the public treasury. It was also the term used of Israel when God was making His promises to them before the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19:5) and setting them apart as His holy nation. Here then were the true Israel within Israel of whom Paul spoke (Romans 9:6), the true nation. And they will be YHWH’s own treasured possession.
And He will see them as His only son (compare Exodus 4:22). And He assures them that He will behave towards them as a man behaves towards his only son, even when he has been caught in some fault. He will ‘spare’ them. He knows that they are not without fault, and He may chasten them. But He will not count it against them in that Day because they have served Him from their hearts.
‘In the day that I make.’ Compare Malachi 4:3 where the same expression is used of the day when the unrighteous will be trodden underfoot as ashes. This is the Day of YHWH, the Day when ‘the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13:43) and the Day in which ‘all who cause men to stumble and all who do iniquity, will be cast into the furnace of fire’ (Matthew 13:42).
‘Then will you return and discern,
Between the righteous and the wicked,
Between him who serves God,
And him who serves him not.’
Malachi takes over the ideas being expressed and sums up the situation. Then in that Day (the Day when He makes His judgments and makes these believers His own special possession) He will return and will judge between the righteous and the wicked, and between him who serves God and him who does not. We have these ideas filled out in the parables of Jesus, both those in Matthew 13:0, and those which regularly speak of the activities of servants who are waiting for their Master or their Lord. The idea is of that great Day when all are called to account.
‘The righteous and the wicked.’ The righteous are those who are responsive to God and who love His word. They live in accordance with His covenant and seek to please Him in all that they do. They are yielded to His service in their daily lives. They are walking in the narrow way that leads to life. The wicked would not necessarily be seen as wicked by men. But they are those who do not treat too seriously God and His commandments. They do not want to be bound too strictly by the covenant. They have no desire to walk in His ways, except outwardly. Their aim is to please themselves. They want little to do with God, apart from when He can be useful to them. Then they wonder why He does not answer them. They walk in the wide way that is trodden by the majority. They live lives free of all restrictions, or alternately live them in order to put God in their debt, and their way leads to destruction.
‘ For, behold, the day comes,
It burns as a furnace,
And all the proud,
And all who work wickedness,
Will be stubble,
And the day which comes will burn them up,
Says YHWH of hosts,
That it shall leave them neither root nor branch.’
But the Day is coming. And when it comes it will burn like a furnace, and this time not a refining furnace, but a destructive one. And all the proud and arrogant (compare Malachi 3:15) and all who work wickedness (compare Malachi 2:17) will be as the stubble which is destined to be burned once the fields are harvested. The Day that is coming will burn them up and consume them. The fires of God will burn and the stubble will be totally consumed. And the proud and those who disobey His word will be left with nothing, neither root nor branch. The whole will have been burned up. This is the guarantee of YHWH of hosts.
We can compare here the words of Jesus, ‘this is how it will beat the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the unrighteous from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 13:49-50).
Here is the answer to all the grumblers. This is what will happen to the arrogant and the proud, and to all who set themselves against God, whether openly or simply by apathy. But the point being made is that they need to take heed lest they form a part of it. God’s love for them is revealed in that He is yet giving them an opportunity to come out from their folly and become true believers (Malachi 1:2-5). God’s sternness in that if they do not repent thane they will face the fires of judgment.
But to you who fear my name,
Will the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings,
And you will go forth,
And gambol as calves of the stall.
But in what contrast are those who ‘fear His Name’. On them will the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. God’s righteousness will shine down on them like the rays of the noonday sun, and they will be fully restored. And they will be so full of spiritual life that they will, as it were, go out and gambol in the fields like calves newly released from their stalls.
This idea of the righteousness of God effective and powerful in the lives of men and women comes largely from Isaiah, where the righteousness of God parallels the idea of His salvation and deliverance, and speaks of an active righteousness that works in men’s lives, covering them with His righteousness and producing righteousness within them. Consider as a parallel Isaiah 45:8, ‘Drop down, O you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together; I the Lord have created it.’ See also Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 61:10.
And in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the sun of righteousness walked the earth and we saw the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). As He Himself declared, ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not dwell in darkness.’ Light had come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19), and that is why many did not come, and do not come today.
‘And you will tread down the wicked,
For they will be ashes under the soles of your feet,
In the day that I make,
Says YHWH of hosts.’
In that Day of God’s making, the righteous will triumph and the sinful and disobedient will be trodden underfoot like ashes, because they are as stubble burned to ashes in the fields. The thought is not one of vindictiveness. The point is that the righteous will walk the fields in which the stubble has been burned in preparation for the future good times. It is a picture of the future blessing of the righteous when the wicked are no more. Then the poor and the lowly who have followed Christ will, as it were, walk in fruitful fields, while the proud and the disobedient will simply be the dust.
The Final Exhortation (Malachi 4:4-6 ).
YHWH finalises Malachi’s prophecy by pointing to ‘the Law and the prophets. Firstly He turns their thoughts to His Instruction given through Moses, and then to the powerful preaching of the prophets as epitomised by Elijah, as they bring home to men the words of Moses. Let them listen and take heed lest a curse come upon them.
‘Remember you the law of Moses my servant,
Which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel,
Even the statutes and ordinances.
YHWH makes His final plea to them They have no excuse for they have His word. ‘Remember you the Instruction of Moses My servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb (Sinai) for all Israel.’ This is what they must now do. They must deliberately and genuinely call to mind the words of Moses, the true servant of God. Jesus gave the same reminder to the people of His day. ‘If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16:31). So they are to diligently study God’s word and obey it.
The same command was given to Joshua as he stood on the edge of the promised land. ‘Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the Instruction which Moses My servant commanded you, turn not from it to the tight hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:7).
So the call comes to them to study and live in accordance with God’s word brought to them by Moses, not as a list of regulations, but as a loving response to their covenant God. Let them delight to do His will. Then they will be ready for that Day.
‘Even the statutes and ordinances.’ The Torah included direct commands, statutes (‘you shall not’) and case law, ordinances (‘if this -- then that --’). All aspects are to be observed for they are ‘commanded’ by the Commander-in Chief Himself.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet,
Before the great and terrible day of YHWH come.
And he will 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.
YHWH finishes with a message of hope. He will not just leave it like that. Before that great and terrible Day of YHWH comes, He will send to them Elijah the prophet, and he will prepare many for that Day. He will bring home to them the Instruction of Moses. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. He will cause right relationships and responses to grow. He will cause fathers to love their children and guide them aright, and children to lovingly obey their fathers. And He will remove antagonisms from between generations. He will bring peace and harmony. He will cause them all to love one another. And this will be necessary so as to avoid a curse upon the land. The assumption is thus that this preaching will be needed. The world will not grow slowly more righteous. Left to itself it would end up being cursed. But God is saying that in His graciousness, He will intervene to prevent the worst happening.
Elijah was the prophet who arrived suddenly on the scene from nowhere (1 Kings 17:1) and who departed equally suddenly to no one knew where (2 Kings 2:11-12). This was what made the Jews think that he would come back again in person. But Jesus Christ Himself made clear that Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist (although John quite rightly denied actually being Elijah himself). For Jesus emphasised that ‘this is the Elijah who was to come’ (Matthew 11:14). These very words in Malachi 4:6 were cited by the angel who announced John’s birth, about his future ministry. ‘He will 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 the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’ (Luke 1:17).
Of course Elijah did also come in person, for he appeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration when the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed (Mark 9:2-8; 2 Peter 1:16), but it was immediately after this that Jesus again confirmed that John the Baptist was the coming Elijah. ‘I say to you Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatever they wanted’ (Mark 9:13).
‘The great and terrible Day of YHWH’. As we have already seen ‘in the Day that I do make’ has referred to both blessing on the righteous in Malachi 3:17, and to judgment on the wicked in Malachi 4:3. For the former it is a great Day, when they become God’s own treasured possession, for the latter a terrible Day when they become ashes beneath men’s feet.
And we know now that Elijah has come, and ‘the great and terrible Day of YHWH’ followed, for it began with the crucifixion (Luke 23:28-31), was stated to have come at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21) continued on in the destruction of Jerusalem and the great tribulation that followed for the Jews (Matthew 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24), and would manifest itself through the ages in wars, pestilences, earthquakes and tribulation (Matthew 24:4-14), before the end finally arrives with the coming of Jesus Christ in His glory. It is depicted throughout the Book of Revelation in which the present era unfolds (Revelation 1:10). And it will come to its culmination with war on earth (Joel 3:9-14; Revelation 20:8-9) and victory in Heaven (Revelation 19:11-16). And during all this time God will be drawing His elect to Himself. And the sign of those who are His will be the amazing unity and loved depicted among them (John 13:35) because their hearts have been turned towards each other. That is why the disciples spoke of the days in which they lived as ‘the last days’, ‘the end of the ages’, and the equivalent (Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7). And those ‘last days’ will continue until His coming. It was this intervention of John the Baptist, (‘My messenger’ - Malachi 3:1 a) and supremely our Lord Jesus Christ (‘the Lord and Messenger of the covenant’ - Malachi 3:1 b) that has saved the world from God’s curse.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Malachi 4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17