Malachi 4

By Not Known

For the Jews, Malachi marks the close of God’s revelation for Israel in about 450bc when the book was completed.  Malachi expressed God’s final words to Israel as the Hebrew (Old Testament) canon closed.  No prophet nor words of prophecy was to come from God for the next 400 odd years.  God remained silent to His people until John the Baptist came preparing the way for Christ, recalling the prophecies of Malachi and Isaiah (Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3): I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way − a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (Mk 1:2-3).         

Interestingly, the great English theologian of the last century, Revd Dr G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) had noted that from Malachi’s time until the coming of Christ, Jewish rabbis did not end their reading of Malachi with chapter 4 verse 6: He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.  Instead skipping from verse 4 to verse 6, they reverted to verse 5, effectively turning God’s final words of anger into that of love: See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  

In so doing, were the rabbis trying basically to change the thrust of God’s words?  Or was it more a veiled attempt to appeal to God’s mercy to cease from anger with Israel?  We cannot tell. 

Yet, even when Malachi 4:6 appears pessimistic, the inclusion of the words or else in verse 6, makes it into a positive warning which stems from the love of a gracious Father.  No doubt it was a warning but it is not negative and certainly not to be taken as such.  God desires His people to return to Him and His promise remains forever.  His call to repentance: to return to Him on His terms so as to receive His pardon is always present.  He is like the father of Luke 15, waiting day in and day out, longing for the son’s return to be forgiven.  More than that, the unbroken thread of prophecy which continues into the New Testament after a silence of 400 years spells hope and redemption not only for Israel, but going beyond Israel to the Gentiles. 

With these prophetic words, Christ came, not only to save Israel but also to save those outside Israel, so that the whole earth − Jew and Gentile − can receive divine sonship through faith in Him and be clothed with Him, all one in Him (Gal 3:26-28).       

Joseph Teng