God's judgment on the wicked, and his blessing on the good: he exhorteth to the study of the law, and telleth of Elijah's coming and office.
Before Christ about 400.
Malachi 4:1. Behold, the day cometh— This is a continuation of the discourse in the preceding chapter; and would be more properly joined to it, than made the beginning of a new chapter.
Malachi 4:2. The Sun of righteousness— The Lord Jesus Christ; consequently, the day, of which it is said in the preceding verse that it shall burn as an oven, is not the day of the last judgment, but of the destruction of the Jews, which immediately followed the coming of the Sun of righteousness. Houbigant; who renders the last clause, And ye shall leap as calves going out of their stall.
Malachi 4:3. Ye shall tread down the wicked— This seems to refer to the miracles of the rising church; by which the wicked, through divine grace, yielded and submitted themselves; for there could be no other way employed for their subjugation to the Gospel by Christians as such. See Houbigant.
Malachi 4:4. Remember ye the law of Moses— "Because your republic can no otherwise subsist, till the Sun of righteousness shall arise, than by your observance of the law of Moses, especially as you are to have no prophets till the forerunner of the Messiah."
Malachi 4:5-6. Behold, I will send you Elijah, &c.— This prophesy, says Bishop Chandler, is a repetition of that in chap. Malachi 3:1 only the name of the messenger is added to it, with the manner of his preparing the way, which is declared to be spiritual: he shall turn the hearts of the fathers with the children; and of the children with the fathers (as Kimchi properly renders the particle על al); that is to say, he shall do his part to cause a national reformation to convert fathers and children all together from their evil practices, and restore a true sense of religion, which was then dwindled into form, and so remove the curse, the utter excision denounced upon this land, namely Judaea; lest I come, and smite the land with a curse. The coming of the day of the Lord, and Jehovah's coming to smite the land with a curse, is the coming of the Lord, Messiah; which should prove a terrible time to the wicked Jews, though to the godly he should arise as the Sun of righteousness. It was the universal opinion when Christ was upon earth, received by the learned and unlearned, the governors and the people at large, that Elijah should usher in the Messiah, and anoint him: all expected that Elijah should first come, and restore all things; and long before that, the son of Sirach grounded it on the passage now before us. Thus he speaks to the true Elijah: Thou wast ordained for reproof,—(thou wast written of as a type) in after-times to pacify the wrath of the Lord's judgment, before it break into fury, and to turn the heart of the father unto the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob; which is part of the Messiah's office, Isaiah 49:6. The Jews have not since varied from this notion: in all their later prophets the coming of Elijah and of the Messiah are usually mentioned together; and this is the reason why they pray so heartily for the coming of Elijah, even without mention of the Messiah; because the coming of the one, according to Malachi, infers the other. But it is neither said nor implied in the text, that Elijah the Tishbite should come in person: if any one else came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Malachi's words were fulfilled; who meant no more that Elijah should rise again, than Hosea and Jeremiah did that David should be restored to life, in order to reign over Israel and Judah, when they prophesied that the tribes should hereafter serve David their king. It is common with them to describe persons by the names of others whom they resemble in the most eminent qualities. And as it is not said, so it could not be intended, here, that Elijah should come again in person. Whoever he was, he must precede the final destruction of the Jews, which has been over 1700 years ago, and no real Elijah come to warn them of it, as is confessed by them. But, take the words as they are interpreted by the very learned Grotius, and the sense is easy, and the completion manifest. "After me you shall have no prophet for a long time: the next shall be the harbinger of the Messiah, in whom prophesy shall revive. He shall be another Elijah for zeal, for courage, austerity of life, and labour for reformation." The fact is allowed by the Jews, that prophesy was sealed up with Malachi, and to be restored in the days of the Messiah. Had they been able to receive it, they would have concluded that John the Baptist, in whom this gift did revive, must be therefore the Elijah of Malachi: for all the people held John as a prophet, Matthew 14:5; Matthew 21:26. The Sanhedrim, astonished at his preaching and actions, thought that he must be Elijah; that prophet in Moses, or the Messiah: and many of the scribes and pharisees, as well as the rest of the country, went to be baptized of him, confessing their sins; John 19:25. Matthew 3:5-7. His preaching exactly answered the description of it by Malachi. As Elijah was to notify the coming of the day that shall burn, &c. Malachi 4:1 that great and dreadful day, wherein the Lord, Messiah, shall smite the land of Jewry with a curse; so did John the Baptist exhort to repentance from this motive, that the kingdom of God was at hand; and to flee from the wrath to come, for there was one to come after him, mightier than he, whose fan was in his hand, to purge the floor, and to burn the chaff with unquenchable fire; Matthew 7:10-11. Josephus confirms the account given of him in the sacred historians: "It was the opinion of the Jews," says he, "that Herod's army was cut off by the Arabs, through God's just judgment, for the sake of John, who was surnamed the Baptist. For he killed that excellent man, who stirred up the people to the exercise of all virtues, especially piety and justice, and to receive his baptism, which he assured them was grateful to God, if to purity of body they added purity of life, and first cleansed their souls, not from one or two, but every sin. But when the people resorted in numbers to him, greedy of his doctrine, and ready to do any thing by his counsel, fearing what might be effected from so great authority of the man, he imprisoned and then slew him." Antiq. lib. 18: cap. 7. If there were nothing else for it, the fulfilling of his predictions demonstrated John to be a true prophet: for, as John had foretold, Jesus suddenly after him appeared in the temple, preaching likewise repentance for remission of sins, and warning the Jews of the impending desolation of their country; which he executed accordingly, as he threatened he would, within a few years after they put him to death, and rejected his doctrine. No such events fell out at any time before; and these at this time came up to the words of the prophesy. The events, therefore, are another proof of the sense of the prophesy. The coming of John the Baptist as a prophet, and of Jesus as the Messiah, and the final destruction of Judaea following their coming, according to their preaching, is a plain evidence, that they only were intended in the present prophesy. See Bishop Chandler's Defence, p. 64, &c. We shall have occasion to speak more on this subject when we come to the history of John the Baptist in the Evangelists; and in the meantime have great pleasure in recommending the reader to the very ingenious Dr. Bell's "Inquiry into the Divine Missions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The coming of Christ, spoken of in this chapter, for the destruction of Jerusalem and the wicked Jews, is the type and figure of his appearing at the last for the perdition of the ungodly; and the day of their final judgment will be the day of final recompence for the faithful saints of God.
1. The Lord Jesus will be a consuming fire to the wicked. Behold, with surprise and terror, the day cometh, the evil day, which the transgressor put far away, that shall burn as an oven; when the wrath of God shall be revealed, and the fire be kindled around the devoted city; and all the proud, the scribes and pharisees who rejected the Lord Jesus; and all that do wickedly, the apostate Jewish people; shall be as stubble to the devouring flames; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch; the whole nation being destroyed, and the city and temple burnt and razed to their foundations.
Thus in the great day of the wrath of the Lamb, he shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on the proud, the self-righteous, and unhumbled sinner, who trusted for salvation on his own doings and duties; and on all that do wickedly, the careless and profane, who know not God and obey not his Gospel; they shall be all devoted to destruction, and fuel for the flames, and cast together into the everlasting burnings of hell, where their worm never dies, and their fire is not quenched.
2. He will be a reviving sun to his people. Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; he led his people out of Jerusalem to Pella, when it was ready to be destroyed; and more generally on all his believing people he thus arises, when first they yield in faith to his gracious invitations, and he then calls them out of darkness into his marvellous light; he is their sun, the fountain of all spiritual light and life; by his bright beams they are quickened, bring forth fruit abundantly, rejoice before him, and walk in the light of truth, which leads the faithful soul to the mansions of glory. He is their Sun of righteousness, shining without spot himself, the author of everlasting righteousness to his faithful people, and the powerful and effectual agent, who by his mighty working transforms them into his own image of righteousness and true holiness: in his wings, his rays of light and grace, there is healing; our spiritual diseases are cured, the native darkness of the mind removed, and our sin-sick souls restored to health and strength by the genial influences of his reviving beams: and in the resurrection-morn with brighter lustre shall this glorious sun appear, and shine for ever upon his glorified saints.
3. In consequence of this, ye shall go forth, either out of Jerusalem to Pella, where the Christians found a place of refuge; or rather, the faithful shall go forth to walk in the light of the Lord, rejoicing in his salvation, steadily advancing in the path of grace, and running with delight the way of God's commandments; and grow up as calves of the stall, fat and well-liking; so replenished shall they be with the influences of God's spirit, and fed with the bread of life, strengthening and increasing with the increase of God. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of Hosts: the wicked Jews who persecuted them shall now be burnt with their cities, and trod into the dust. Thus when the conquests of the Redeemer shall be completed, and death itself destroyed, then shall the wicked be brought low, and every foe that troubled God's saints be trodden under foot; while the triumphs of the glorified shall be everlasting. See the Notes.
2nd, The canon of the Old Testament now receives a solemn close. The Jewish people are to expect no more prophets till the great forerunner of the Messiah appears; and therefore,
1. They must keep stedfast to the law and the testimony, and be guided only by God's past revealed will. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments, moral and ceremonial; all which would have a direct tendency to lead them to Christ; for which purpose the law was their schoolmaster, and it must now be their only rule, in contradistinction to the corrupt glosses which their teachers shortly after began to put upon it. Note; The word of God alone, exclusive of all traditions and human expositions, must be our rule; the labours of others may assist our inquiries after truth; but, after all, we must call no man master; one is our master, even Christ, and he has promised that we shall be taught of him; and by prayer and meditation on his word, humbly desiring to know his mind, he will lead us into all truth.
2. They must live in the constant expectation of the Messiah, and his forerunner John the Baptist. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, one in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17 one in zeal, courage to rebuke sin, piety and austerity of manners resembling him, Matthew 11:14 before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, when, for the rejection of the true Messiah, wrath to the uttermost should be poured out upon their land, and their city and temple be utterly destroyed; Acts 2:20. He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, or of the fathers with the children; both one and the other by his preaching shall be turned to Christ, and directed to the Lamb of God, who is come to take away the sin of the world; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse, which would be the certain consequence of their rejecting the Lord's Christ, and which visibly remains upon the Jewish people to this day.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Malachi 4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany