Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
This admonition to the ungodly is explained in Mal 4:1. by a picture of the separation which will be effected by the day of judgment. Mal 4:1. "For behold the day cometh burning like a furnace, and all the proud and every doer of wickedness become stubble, and the coming day will burn them, saith Jehovah of hosts, so that it will not leave them root or branch. Mal 4:2. But to you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise and healing in its wings, and ye will go out and skip like stalled calves, Mal 4:3. And will tread down the ungodly, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I create, saith Jehovah of hosts." The day of judgment will be to the ungodly like a burning furnace. "A fire burns more fiercely in a furnace than in the open air" (Hengstenberg). The ungodly will then resemble the stubble which the fire consumes (cf. Isa 5:24; Zep 1:18; Oba 1:18, etc.). זדים and עשׂה רשׁעה point back to Mal 3:15. Those who are called blessed by the murmuring nation will be consumed by the fire, as stubble is burned up, and indeed all who do wickedness, and therefore the murmurers themselves. אשׁר before לא יעזב is a conjunction, quod; and the subject is not Jehovah, but the coming day. The figure "root and branch" is borrowed from a tree - the tree is the ungodly mass of the people (cf. Amo 2:9) - and denotes total destruction, so that nothing will be left of them. To the righteous, on the other hand, the sun of righteousness will arise. Tsedâqâh is an epexegetical genitive of apposition. By the sun of righteousness the fathers, from Justin downwards, and nearly all the earlier commentators understand Christ, who is supposed to be described as the rising sun, like Jehovah in Psa 84:12 and Isa 60:19; and this view is founded upon a truth, viz., that the coming of Christ brings justice and salvation. But in the verse before us the context does not sustain the personal view, but simply the idea that righteousness itself is regarded as a sun. Tsedâqâh, again, is not justification or the forgiveness of sins, as Luther and others suppose, for there will be no forgiving of sins on the day of judgment, but God will then give to every man reward or punishment according to his works. Tsedâqâh is here, what it frequently is in Isaiah (e.g., Isa 45:8; Isa 46:13; Isa 51:5, etc.), righteousness in its consequences and effects, the sum and substance of salvation. Malachi uses tsedâqâh, righteousness, instead of ישׁע, salvation, with an allusion to the fact, that the ungodly complained of the absence of the judgment and righteousness of God, that is to say, the righteousness which not only punishes the ungodly, but also rewards the good with happiness and salvation. The sun of righteousness has מרפּא, healing, in its wings. The wings of the sun are the rays by which it is surrounded, and not a figure denoting swiftness. As the rays of the sun spread light and warmth over the earth for the growth and maturity of the plants and living creatures, so will the sun of righteousness bring the healing of all hurts and wounds which the power of darkness has inflicted upon the righteous. Then will they go forth, sc. from the holes and caves, into which they had withdrawn during the night of suffering and where they had kept themselves concealed, and skip like stalled calves (cf. Sa1 28:24), which are driven from the stall to the pasture. On pūsh, see at Hab 1:8. And not only will those who fear God be liberated from all oppression, but they will also acquire power over the ungodly. They will tread down the wicked, who will then have become ashes, and lie like ashes upon the ground, having been completely destroyed by the fire of the judgment (cf. Isa 26:5-6).
Concluding Admonition. - Mal 4:4. "Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant, which I commanded him upon Horeb for all Israel, statutes and rights.
(Note: The lxx have put Mal 4:4 at the end of the book, not to call attention to its great importance, but probably for the very same reason for which the Masora observes, at the close of our book, that in the יתקק, i.e., in the books of Isaiah, the twelve prophets, the Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes, the last verse but one of these books was to be repeated when they were read in the synagogue, namely, because the last verse had too harsh a sound. The transposition is unsuitable, inasmuch as the promise in Mal 4:5 and Mal 4:6 does not fit on to the idea expressed in Mal 4:2 and Mal 4:3, but only to that in Mal 4:4. According to the Masora, the ז in זכרוּ should be written as litera majusc., although in many codd. it has the usual form; and this also is not to show the great importance of the verse, since these Masoretic indications have generally a different meaning, but in all probability it is simply to indicate that this is the only passage in the book of the twelve prophets in which the word is pronounced זכרוּ (cf. זכרו in Hos 12:6; Hos 14:8), whereas in the other books, with the exception of Job 18:17, this is the only pronunciation that is met with.)
Mal 4:5. Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the day of Jehovah comes, the great and terrible one. Mal 4:6. And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, that I may not come and smite the land with the curse" (mit dem Banne, with the ban). The admonition, "Remember ye the law of Moses," forms the conclusion not only of the last section (Malachi 3:13-4:3), but of the whole of the book of Malachi, and cannot be connected with Mal 4:3 in the sense of "Remember what Moses has written in the law concerning Christ, or concerning the judgment," as Theod. Mops. and others maintain; nor must it be restricted to the time previous to the coming of the Messiah by the interpolation of interim (v. Til and Mich.). It is rather a perfectly general admonition to lay to heart and observe the law. For this is referred to here, "not according to its casual and transient form, but according to its real essence as expressing the holiness of God, just as in Mat 5:17" (Hengstenberg). Malachi thus closes by showing to the people what it is their duty to do, if on the day of judgment they would escape the curse with which transgressors are threatened in the law, and participate in the salvation so generally desired, and promised to those who fear God. By the expression "my servant," the law is traced back to God as its author. At the giving of the law, Moses as only the servant of Jehovah. אשׁר צוּיתי אותו is not to be rendered "whom (אשׁר אותו) I charged with statutes and rights to all Israel" (Ewald, Bunsen), for we do not expect any further explanation of the relation in which Moses stood to the law, but "which I commanded him upon (to) all Israel." Tsivvâh is construed with a double accusative, and also with על governing the person to whom the command refers, as in Ezr 8:17; Sa2 14:8; Est 4:5. The words chuqqı̄ı̄m ūmishpâtı̄m are an epexegetical definition belonging to אשׁר: "which I commanded as statutes and rights," i.e., consisting of these; and they recall to mind Deu 4:1 and Deu 8:14, where Moses urges upon the people the observance of the law, and also mentions Horeb as the place where the law was given. The whole of the admonition forms an antithesis to the rebuke in Mal 4:4, that from the days of their fathers they went away from the ordinances of Jehovah. These they are to be mindful to observe, that the Lord when He comes may not smite the land with the ban.
In order to avert this curse from Israel, the Lord would send the prophet Elijah before His coming, for the purpose of promoting a change of heart in the nation. The identity of the prophet Elijah with the messenger mentioned in Mal 4:1, whom the Lord would send before Him, is universally acknowledged. But there is a difference of opinion as to the question, who is the Elijah mentioned here? The notion was a very ancient one, and one very widely spread among the rabbins and fathers, that the prophet Elijah, who was caught up to heaven, would reappear (compare the history of the exposition of our verse in Hengstenberg's Christology, vol. iv. p. 217 translation). The lxx thought of him, and rendered אליּה הנּביא by Ἠλίαν τὸν Θεσβίτην; so also did Sirach (48:10) and the Jews in the time of Christ (Joh 1:21; Mat 17:10); and so have Hitzig, Maurer, and Ewald in the most recent times. But this view is proved to be erroneous by such passages as Hos 3:5; Eze 34:23; Eze 37:24, and Jer 30:9, where the sending of David the king as the true shepherd of Israel is promised. Just as in these passages we cannot think of the return or resurrection of the David who had long been dead; but a king is meant who will reign over the nation of God in the mind and spirit of David; so the Elijah to be sent can only be a prophet with the spirit or power of Elijah the Tishbite. The second David was indeed to spring from the family of David, because to the seed of David there had been promised the eternal possession of the throne. The prophetic calling, on the other hand, was not hereditary in the prophet's house, but rested solely upon divine choice and endowment with the Spirit of God; and consequently by Elijah we are not to understand a lineal descendant of the Tishbite, but simply a prophet in whom the spirit and power of Elijah are revived, as Ephr. Syr., Luther, Calvin, and most of the Protestant commentators have maintained. But the reason why this prophet Elijah is named is to be sought for, not merely in the fact that Elijah was called to his work as a reformer in Israel at a period which was destitute of faith and of the true fear of Jehovah, and which immediately preceded a terrible judgment (Koehler), but also and more especially in the power and energy with which Elijah rose up to lead back the ungodly generation of his own time to the God of the fathers. The one does not exclude but rather includes the other. The greater the apostasy, the greater must be the power which is to stem it, so as to rescue those who suffer themselves to be rescued, before the judgment bursts over such as are hardened. For Mal 4:5, compare Joe 3:4. This Elijah, according to Mal 4:6, is to lead back the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers. The meaning of this is not that he will settle disputes in families, or restore peace between parents and children; for the leading sin of the nation at the time of our prophet was not family quarrels, but estrangement from God. The fathers are rather the ancestors of the Israelitish nation, the patriarchs, and generally the pious forefathers, such as David and the godly men of his time. The sons or children are the degenerate descendants of Malachi's own time and the succeeding ages. "The hearts of the godly fathers and the ungodly sons are estranged from one another. The bond of union, viz., common love to God, is wanting. The fathers are ashamed of their children, the children of their fathers" (Hengstenberg). This chasm between them Elijah is to fill up. Turning the heart of the fathers to the sons does not mean merely directing the love of the fathers to the sons once more, but also restoring the heart of the fathers, in the sons, or giving to the sons the fathers' disposition and affections. Then will the heart of the sons also return to their fathers, turn itself towards them, so that they will be like-minded with the pious fathers. Elijah will thereby prepare the way of the Lord to His people, that at His coming He may not smite the land with the ban. The ban involves extermination. Whoever and whatever was laid under the ban was destroyed (cf. Lev 27:28-29; Deu 13:16-17; and my Bibl. Archol. i. 70). This threat recals to mind the fate of the Canaanites who were smitten with the ban (Deu 20:17-18). If Israel resembles the Canaanites in character, it will also necessarily share the fate of that people (cf. Deu 12:29).
The New Testament gives us a sufficient explanation of the historical allusion or fulfilment of our prophecy. The prophet Elijah, whom the Lord would send before His own coming, was sent in the person of John the Baptist. Even before his birth he was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel as the promised Elijah, by the declaration that he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the unbelieving to the wisdom of the just (Luk 1:16-17). This address of the angel gives at the same time an authentic explanation of Mal 4:5 and Mal 4:6 of our prophecy: the words "and the heart of the children to their fathers" being omitted, as implied in the turning of the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the explanatory words "and the unbelieving to the wisdom of the just" being introduced in their place; and the whole of the work of John, who was to go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, being described as "making ready a prepared people for the Lord." The appearance and ministry of John the Baptist answered to this announcement of the angel, and is so described in Mat 3:1-12, Mar 1:2-8; Luke 3:2-18, that the allusion to our prophecy and the original passage (Isa 40:3) is obvious at once. Even by his outward appearance and his dress John announced himself as the promised prophet Elijah, who by the preaching of repentance and baptism was preparing the way for the Lord, who would come after him with the winnowing shovel to winnow His floor, and gather the wheat into His granary, but who would burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Christ Himself also not only assured the people (in Mat 11:10., Luk 7:27.) that John was the messenger announced by Malachi and the Elijah who was to come, but also told His disciples (Mat 17:1.; Mar 9:1.) that Elijah, who was to come first and restore all things, had already come, though the people had not acknowledged him. And even Joh 1:21 is not at variance with these statements. When the messengers of the Sanhedrim came to John the Baptist to ask whether he was Elias, and he answered, "I am not," he simply gave a negative reply to their question, interpreted in the sense of a personal reappearance of Elijah the Tishbite, which was the sense in which they meant it, but he also declared himself to be the promised forerunner of the Lord by applying to his own labours the prophecy contained in Isa 40:3.
And as the prophet Elijah predicted by Malachi appeared in John the Baptist, so did the Lord come to His temple in the appearing of Jesus Christ. The opinion, which was very widely spread among the fathers and Catholic commentators, and which has also been adopted by many of the more modern Protestant theologians (e.g., Menken and H. Olshausen), viz., that our prophecy was only provisionally fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist and the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, and that its true fulfilment will only take place at the second coming of Christ to judge the world, in the actual appearance of the risen Elijah by which it will be preceded, is not only at variance with the statements of the Lord concerning John the Baptist, which have been already quoted, but as no tenable foundation in our prophecy itself. The prophets of the Old Testament throughout make no allusion to any second coming of the Lord to His people. The day of the Lord, which they announce as the day of judgment, commenced with the appearance on earth of Christ, the incarnate Logos; and Christ Himself declared that He had come into the world for judgment (Joh 9:39, cf. Joh 3:19 and Joh 12:40), viz., for the judgment of separating the believing from the ungodly, to give eternal life to those who believe on His name, and to bring death and condemnation to unbelievers. This judgment burst upon the Jewish nation not long after the ascension of Christ. Israel rejected its Saviour, and was smitten with the ban at the destruction of Jerusalem in the Roman war; and both people and land lie under this ban to the present day. And just as the judgment commenced at that time so far as Israel was concerned, so does it also begin in relation to all peoples and kingdoms of this earth with the first preaching of Christ among them, and will continue throughout all the centuries during which the kingdom spreads upon earth, until it shall be ultimately completed in the universal judgment at the visible second coming of the Lord at the last day.
With this calling to remembrance of the law of Moses, and this prediction that the prophet Elijah will be sent before the coming of the Lord Himself, the prophecy of the Old Testament is brought to a close. After Malachi, no other prophet arose in Israel until the time was fulfilled when the Elijah predicted by him appeared in John the Baptist, and immediately afterwards the Lord came to His temple, that is to say, the incarnate Son of God to His own possession, to make all who received Him children of God, the segullâh of the Lord. Law and prophets bore witness of Christ, and Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them. Upon the Mount of Christ's Transfiguration, therefore, there appeared both Moses, the founder of the law and mediator of the old covenant, and Elijah the prophet, as the restorer of the law in Israel, to talk with Jesus of His decease which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem (Mat 17:1.; Mar 9:1.; Luk 9:28.), for a practical testimony to the apostles and to us all, that Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for us, to bear our sin and redeem us from the curse of the law, was the beloved Son of the Father, whom we are to hear, that by believing in His name we may become children of God and heirs of everlasting life.