4:1 (3:19) “For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the LORD who rules over all. “It will not leave even a root or branch. 4:2 But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will skip about like calves released from the stall. 4:3 You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD who rules over all.

In the light of the exile, the question has been posed: ‘Where is the God of justice?’ (Mal 2:17).  The present passage gives the answer: put your faith in the God of the ages and you will see your vindication.

T.V. Moore invokes the principle of ‘successive fulfilment’ with reference to this verse. No one event exhausts the meaning of this prophecy; its fulfilment, rather, is found in a whole stream of events that Scriptures refers to as ‘the last days’. This principle is clearly seen in the teaching of Jesus himself: when he referred to ‘the last days’: his words no doubt referred to the destruction of Jerusalem; and yet transcend that event. Compare also Peter’s mention of the same event in Acts 2:16, as referring to the Day of Pentecost and yet not limited to that day. Indeed, the full force of scriptural predictions concerning ‘the last days’ will not be felt until the very return of our Lord in judgement.

Matthew Henry notes that the last chapter of the NT has something in common with this last chapter of the OT, in ”setting before us heaven and hell in the other world, and obliging us to adhere to the word of God in this world.’

The day is coming – The day of deliverance for God’s people and destruction of their enemies.

Burning like a furnace – in both purification (of the righteous) and destruction (of ‘arrogant evldoers’).  It is no light thing to long for God to execute justice (cf. Mal 2:17)!

‘This, like the pillar of cloud and fire, shall have a dark side turned towards the Egyptians that fight against God, and a bright side towards the faithful Israelites that follow him.’ (MHC)

‘This was fulfilled,

(1.) When Christ, in his doctrine, spoke terror and condemnation to the proud Pharisees and the other Jews that did wickedly, when he sent that fire on the earth which burnt up the chaff of the traditions of the elders and the corrupt glosses they had put upon the law of God.

(2.) When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and the nation of the Jews, as a nation, quite blotted out from under heaven, and neither root nor branch left them. This seems to be principally intended here; our Saviour says that those should be the days of vengeance, when all the things that were written to that purport should be fulfilled, Lk 21:22. Then the unbelieving Jews were as stubble to the devouring fire of God’s judgments, which gathered together to them as the eagles to the carcase.

(3.) It is certainly applicable, and is to be applied, to the day of judgment, to the particular judgment at death (some of the Jewish doctors refer it the punishment that seizes on the souls of the wicked immediately after they go out of the body), but especially to the general judgment, at the end of time, when Christ shall be revealed in flaming fire, to execute judgment on the proud, and all that do wickedly. The whole world shall then burn as an oven, and all the children of this world, that set their hearts upon it and choose their portion in it, shall take their ruin with it, and the fire then kindled shall never be quenched.’ (MHC)

The sun of vindication – NIV: ‘of righteousness’.  ‘The phrase may be a solar epithet for YHWH, given the association of God with the sun and light, or it could be merely a figurative description of the Day of the Lord, the dawning of a new day that ushers in an era of righteousness and brings about a reversal of circumstances for the people of God.’ (Hill)

This is often personalised as referring to Christ himself. We think that this is dubious (the reference is to a day, rather than to a person, and there is no definite article in the original). Nevertheless, we have included some precious thoughts from notable writers who take this line.

The dawning of the day of the Lord will mean very different things to the righteous and to the wicked. To the former, the sun will rise, not with condemnation, but with righteousness, not with destruction, but with healing.

Healing in its wings – Wings are ascribed poetically to the sun, because of its daily motion through the sky.  NIV 2011 translates: ‘with healing in its rays’.

‘From the most glorious creature, the sun,

He expresses the most glorious Creator, Christ Jesus, taking occasion to help our understandings in grace by natural things, and teaching us thereby to make a double use of the creatures, corporal and spiritual. Christ is compared to the sun

1. Because, as all light was gathered into the body of the sun, and from it derived to us, so it pleased God that in Him should the fulness of all excellency dwell.

2. As there is but one sun, so there is but one Sun of Righteousness.

3. As the sun is above the firmament, so Christ is exalted up on high, to convey His graces and virtues to all His creatures here below.

4. As the sun works largely in all things here below, so doth Christ.

5. As the sun is the fountain of light, and the eye of the world, so Christ is the fountain of all spiritual light.

6. As the sun directeth us whither to go and which way, so doth Christ teach us to go to heaven, and by what means; what duties to perform, what things to avoid, and what things to bear.

7. As the sun is pleasant, and darkness is terrible, so Christ is comfortable; for He makes all at peace where He comes; and He sends the Spirit the Comforter.

8. By the beams of the sun is conveyed influence to make things grow, and to distinguish between times and seasons. Thus Christ, by His power, makes all things cheerful, for He quickens the dead and dark soul.

9. The sun works these effects not by coming down to us, but by influence.

10. As the sun doth work freely, drawing up vapours to dissolve them into rain upon the earth, so doth Christ. He freely draws up our hearts to heaven.

11. As the sun shines upon all, but doth not heat all, so Christ is offered to all.

12. As the sun quickens and puts life into dead creatures, so shall Christ, by His power, quicken our dead bodies, and raise them up again. How shall we know whether Christ be to us a sun or not? If we find that we feel the heat and comfort of a Christian, it is a sign that Christ hath effectually shined on us. If Christ have shined upon any effectually, they will walk comely, as children of the light.

Uses of this doctrine

(1) We should pity their estate that are still in darkness.

(2) We should repair to Him, and conceive of Him as one having excellences suitable to our wants.

The text describes this Sun as with healing in His wings, or beams. In these beams there is a healing nature. Naturally, we are all sick and wounded. We should take notice of our diseases in time, and go to the healing God. Christ hath a medicine of His own, able to cure any disease, though never so desperate, any person, though never so sick. Then why are we not healed? What means this that we are subject to these infirmities of ours? Some of Christs works are all at once perfected, and some by degrees, by little and little. The text also promises, Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. You shall leap forth. Both expressions signify a cheerful moving. We need to grow up. What are means thereunto?

  1. Purge and cleanse the soul of weakening matter. Practise the duty of repentance daily.
  2. Come at good food. Digest comfortable truths.
  3. Use exercise of holy duties.

Take heed not to lightly esteem Gods ordinance; but in reverence use all means for the strengthening of our faith; by the Word, sacraments, and prayer. How shall we know whether we are grown? If we relish the food of our souls, the Word of God; are able to bear great burdens of the infirmities of our brethren; able, like Samson, to break the green cords of pleasure and profits. Our growth in grace is seen in our Performance of duties: if they be strongly, readily, and cheerfully performed. Text says, Ye shall tread down the wicked. While the Jews obeyed God, they were a terror to the whole earth. The Church treadeth, etc., in regard of true judgment and discerning of the estates of the wicked. The Church tramples on all things that rule wicked men. The promise of the text is finally accomplished at the day of judgment.’ (R. Sibbes.)

You will trample on the wicked – This expression ‘signifies victory, perhaps evoking the image of a triumphant king with his foot planted on the chest or neck of the vanquished enemy—a common motif in the biblical world (cf. Josh. 10:24; 2 Sam. 22:39–40; 1 Kgs 5:3; Ps. 110:1; Isa. 51:23).’ (Hill)

Restoration through the Lord

4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. 4:5 Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD arrives. 4:6 He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.”

This passage may be intended to link the testimony of the Torah (represented by Moses) with that of the former prophets (represented by Elijah).  Together, they authenticate the message of Malachi, representing as it does that of latter prophets.  (See Hill’s discussion)

Remember the law of my servant Moses – Either the terms of the covenant code or the entire Pentateuch/Torah.

v4 The future blessing of the righteous is conditional upon their obedience to the law of God.

“I will send you Elijah the prophet” – At least part of the idea here is that God will effect the conversion of his people not by sending the new, but but re-iterating and reviving the old. This is underlined in the next verse also.

Christ, of course, referred this passage to John the Baptist, Matt. 17:11-12. And yet John himself, denied that he was Elijah, Jn 1:21. ‘The Jews supposed that this prophecy would be fulfilled finally in a single individual, and that when this individual would come, the time of Israel’s glory was near at hand. It was this false view of the passage that John denied, and not any reference of it to him. He must have known from the communication of the angel to his father, Lk 1:16f, that this prophecy had a reference to him, and his adoption of the costume of Elijah proved the same thing; hence, it could only have been the exclusive application of the text to him that he meant to deny.’ (T.V. Moore) The meaning, then, is that one would come as a messenger in ‘the spirit and power of Elijah’, Lk 1:16f.

‘The general fact that is predicted is that before God comes in his terrible mission of judgement, he will send agencies to revive and reform his people, so that they may escape from the wrath to come. Were it announced to us that before God would cut off an apostate Church, he would send a Luther, we should instantly comprehend the meaning of the prediction, and see no confusion of language, but rather a greater clearness in this use of a typical or representative man. Then, then, it is predicted, that before God sends wrath, he will send messengers to summon to repentance. This was done before the downfall of the Jewish people. John, as the first of these sent messengers, had especial prominence, but he was not the last; others followed with the same message, “Repent, for the day is coming!” And in every subsequent revival of religion it has been so. In the reformation of the sixteenth century, Elijah came in the burning words of Luther, Calvin, and Knox; in the eighteenth, in the fervid spirits of the Wesleys, Whitefield, and Edwards…Indeed, to every regenerated soul there is essentially this coming of Elijah, this summons, “Repent, for the day is coming!”…We thus see, that instead of a narrow prediction that is exhausted by its application to a single man, and that confuses us by this restriction, we have a magnificent formula of this spiritual world, that stretches like a law over all its phases, and gives unity to them all, for the most mighty to the most minute.’ (T.V. Moore)

v6 This verse has often been taken to refer to the restoration of domestic harmony. But this interpretation (says T.V. Moore) scarcely does justice to the lofty tones of the passage, and is hardly fitted to close up the utterances of God to his people over twelve generations. The true meaning is explicated by the paraphrase in Lk 1:16f – what is being predicted he is nothing less that a return of the backslidden to the piety of their godly ancestors. This would happen under the preaching of an Elijah, and the threat, if the people should not repent, is of a devotion of the land to destruction. This was no empty threat: it was fulfilled five centuries later, when the chosen people were finally rejected. Nor are the Gentiles excluded: ‘ Rom 11:20f ‘Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.’

Curse – ‘Malachi began with the announcement of God’s electing love, yet the book ends with the threat of a curse. Malachi’s dual thrust of mercy and judgment is echoed by Paul’s pronouncement, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22).’ (New Geneva)

‘Let no present impunity encourage any to persist in sin, for out of Christ God is a consuming fire. And it is suggestive of much solemn thought, that the last utterance of God to the Church and to the world, before the coming of the Messiah, the word that was to sound through four hundred years of history, was that awful word, “Curse!”‘ (T.V. Moore)

The ending(s) of the Old Testament.  ‘At the end of Deuteronomy, Israel is warned about rebellion, exile, and death. At the end of Chronicles, the exile was still continuing. At the end of Malachi, God was promising to come back and sort everything out, but it hadn’t happened yet.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

‘The canon order of the English Bible (following that of the LXX) provides an appropriate segue to the NT, with the Gospel narratives opening the curtain on the preaching of John the Baptist, an Elijah figure preaching repentance (Matt. 3:1–12; cf. 11:11–15).’ (Hill)