4. The final separation of the evil and the good at the day of judgment.
Burn as an oven (a furnace). Fire is often spoken of in connection with the day of judgment and the advent of the Judge. It is a symbol of the holiness of God, which consumes all impurity, and also represents the punishment inflicted on the ungodly (Psalms 1:1-6 :8; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 66:15, Isaiah 66:16; Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:10; Joel 2:30; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Peter 3:7, etc.). The LXX. adds, "and it shall burn them." Stubble (see note on Obadiah 1:18); or, perhaps, chaff, as Matthew 3:11, Matthew 3:12. Root nor branch The ungodly are regarded as a tree which is given up to be burned so that nothing of it is left. The same metaphor is used by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:10; comp. Amos 2:9). The Hebrew text includes this chapter in Matthew 3:1-17.
The Sun of Righteousness. The sun which is righteousness, in whose wings, that is, rays, are healing and salvation. This Divine righteousness shall beam upon them that fear the Name of God, flooding them with joy and light, healing all wounds, tee moving all miseries, making them incalculably blessed. The Fathers generally apply the title of "Sun of Righteousness" to Christ, who is the Source of all justification and enlightenment and happiness, and who is called (Jeremiah 23:6), "The Lord our Righteousness." Grow up; rather, gambol; σκιρτήσετε; salietis (Vulgate). "Ye shall leap!" comp. Jeremiah h 11). The word is used of a horse galloping (Habbakuk Jeremiah 1:8). The happiness of the righteous is illustrated by a homely image drawn from pastoral pursuits. They had been, as it were, hidden in the time of affliction and temptation; they shall go forth boldly now, free and exulting, like calves driven from the stall to pasture (comp. Psalms 114:4, Psalms 114:6; So Psalms 2:8, 17).
Ye shall tread down the wicked (comp. Micah 4:13). They who were once oppressed and overborne by the powers of wickedness shall now rise superior to all hindrances, and themselves tread down the wicked as the ashes under their feet, to which the fire of judgment shall reduce them. In the day that I shall do this; rather, as in Malachi 3:17, in the day which I am preparing.
§ 5. Concluding admonition to remember the Law, lest they should be liable to the curse. In order to avert this, the Lord, before his coming, would send Elijah to promote a change of heart in the nation.
If the people would meet the judgment with confidence and secure for themselves the promised blessings, they must remember and obey the Law of Moses. Thus the last of the prophets set his seal to the Pentateuch, on obedience to which depended, as of old (see Leviticus 26:1-46.; Deuteronomy 28:1-68.), so now, the most abundant blessings. My servant. Moses was only the agent and interpreter of God. The origin and authority of the Law were Divine. Horeb. The mention of the mountain would remind the people of the awful wonders that accompanied the promulgation of the Law (Exodus 19:16, etc.; Deuteronomy 4:10-15) For all Israel Not merely for the people who heard the Law given, but for the nation unto all time. Nor could they be true Israelites unless they observed the terms of the covenant then made. With the (even) statutes and judgments. These terms, which explain the word "Law," include all the enactments, legal, moral, ceremonial. Malachi might well remind the people of their duty, and thus support Nehemiah in his struggle to win them to obedience (see Nehemiah 9:38; Nehemiah 10:29). The LXX. places this verse at the end of the chapter, probably because the original conclusion (verse 6) was thought too harsh to be left as the close of the Old Testament. The Jews had a feeling that books in the Bible should end with the name Jehovah. In the case of Isaiah and Ecclesiastes, they repeated, after the last verse, the last but one.
Elijah the prophet. This is not the same personage as the "messenger" in Malachi 3:1; for the latter comes before the first advent of the Lord, the former appears before the day of judgment; one comes to prepare the way of the Lord, and is followed immediately by Messiah's coming to his temple; the other is sent to convert the chosen people, lest the land be smitten with a curse. There seems to be no valid reason for not holding the literal sense of the words, and seeing in them a promise that Elijah the prophet, who was taken alive from the earth, shall at the last day coma again to carry out God's wise purposes. That this was the view adopted by the Jews in all ages we see by the version of the LXX; who have here, "Elijah the Tishbite;" by the allusion in Ecclesiasticus 48:10; and by the question of our Lard's disciples in Matthew 17:10, "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come." Christ himself confirms this opinion by answering, "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things." lie cannot be referring here to John the Baptist, because he uses the future tense; and when he goes on to say that "Elias is come already," he is referring to what was past, and he himself explains that he means John, who was announced to come in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17), but of whom it could not be said that he "restored all things." The same opinion is found in the Revelation (Revelation 11:3, Revelation 11:6), where one of the witnesses is very commonly supposed to be Elijah. It is argued by Keil, Reinke, and others, that, as the promise of King David in such passages as Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5, etc; cannot imply the resurrection of David and his return to earth, so we cannot think of an actual reappearance of Elijah himself, but only of the coming of some prophet with his spirit and power. But, as Knabenbauer points out, for the attribution of the name David to Messiah, long and careful preparation had been made; e.g. by his being called "the rod of Jesse," the occupant of David's throne, etc.; and all who heard the expression would at once understand the symbolical application, especially as David was known to have died and been buried. But when they found Malachi speaking of the reappearance of "Elijah the prophet," who, as they were well aware, had never died, of whose connection with the coming Messenger they had never heard, they could not avoid the conclusion to which they came, viz. that before the great day of judgment Elias should again visit the earth in person. This prophecy concerns the very last days, and intimates that before the final consummation, when iniquity shall abound, God will send this great and faithful preacher of repentance, whose mission shall have such effects that the purpose of God for the salvation of Israel shall be accomplished. We may therefore assume that in the gospel the appellation "Elias" stands both for John and for Elijah himself; for the messenger who prepared the way for Christ's first advent, and for the prophet who was to convert the Israelites before the judgment day; for him who came in spirit and power, and him who shall come in bodily presence. The great and dreadful day. The day of final judgment. No other crisis could be named in such terms (see Joel 2:31, whence the words are taken).
He shall turn, etc.; i.e; taking the preposition, rendered "to," in the sense of "with," he shall convert one and all, fathers and children, young and old, unto the Lord. Or, in agreement with the versions, he shall bring back the Jews then living to the faith of their ancestors, who rejoiced to see the day of Christ (John 8:56); and then the patriarchs, who for their unbelief had disowned them, shall recognize them as true Israelites, true children of Abraham. Others explain—He shall unite the Jews who are our fathers in the faith to us Christians who are their children (see Luke 1:17, where the angel Gabriel quotes part of the passage, and applies it to John the Baptist). The heart. Here not the seat of the intellectual powers, but of love and confidence, which lead to union and concord. Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse; or, smite the land with the ban. This is an allusion to the ban threatened in the Law, which involved extermination (see Le 27:29; Deuteronomy 13:16, Deuteronomy 13:17; Deuteronomy 20:16, Deuteronomy 20:17). So Elijah shall come and preach repentance, as the Baptist did at Christ's first coming; and unless the Jews listen to him and turn to Christ, they shall be destroyed, shall share in that eternal anathema which shall fall on the ungodly at the day of judgment.
The Sun of Righteousness.
In Malachi 4:1 and Malachi 4:2 we are once more presented with the twofold aspect of a Divine fact. (See homilies on Malachi 3:2 and Malachi 3:6.) "Dies irae, dies ilia." But "that day" need not be a "day of wrath." It may be memorable, admirable, as the day of full salvation. As the first coming of Christ was for the "rising again" of some, "that they which see not might see" (John 9:39), so at his second coming, though "revealed from heaven in flaming fire," he shall be "admired in all them that believe;" for he shall bring "rest" and full redemption to them (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). The great and terrible day of the Lord will have both a bright and a dark side, like the cloud that came between the Egyptians and the Israelites. To "the proud and all that do wickedly" it will be a day of utter destruction. It will "burn like an oven," fire burning more fiercely in a furnace than in the open air. The wicked, having made themselves like "the dry tree," "ready for the burning," will be consumed root and branch, with no hope of renewed life such as might survive the stroke of the feller's axe (Job 14:7-9). These threats are applicable to all times of judgment, when "the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud … and upon all the cedars of Lebanon," etc. (Isaiah 2:12-17). We may see fulfilments of them in successive epochs of judgment, from the troublous times that followed the days of Malachi down to the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment of the great day. Similar figures of destruction by fire justify this extended application (Psalms 21:9, Psalms 21:10; Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:17, Isaiah 10:18; Nahum 1:5; Zephaniah 1:18; Matthew 3:12; 2 Peter 3:7-10). But such times need be no terror to the faithful servants of God, for "unto you that fear my Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings. As we do not confine the prediction of the day of the Lord to any one day, so we do not limit the promise of "the Sun of Righteousness" to any one person. Whenever a signal manifestation of God's righteousness is displayed on behalf of his servants, it is like the rising of the sun on a dark, cold, and unhealthy land. But the manifestation of the righteousness of God in the Person and work of Christ so far excels all other manifestations that we may limit our further application of the words to our Lord Jesus Christ, "that in all things he may have the pre-eminence." What the sun is to the material world, the Messiah is to the moral world. The following blessings are suggested by the figure.
1. Light after darkness. Such is Christ to all men (John 1:4, John 1:9), especially to his own countrymen (Luke 1:78, Luke 1:79; Matthew 4:12), but in a deeper sense to all that followed him (John 8:12). He brought the light of truth (Isaiah 9:2), for he was himself" the Truth." Where he rises, like the dawn, upon the benighted and bewildered traveller, he guides into the way of peace and of salvation. The light of truth shows us "the paths of righteousness" (Psalms 143:8, Psalms 143:10).
2. Warmth after cold (Psalms 19:6). Christ not only gives light, but life. His presence causes that spiritual warmth which is a life giving power. He is "a quickening Spirit" (John 5:21, John 5:25; John 6:47, etc.). There is a spiritual as well as a solar chemistry. The beams of the Sun of Righteousness both enlighten, warm, and quicken (1 Corinthians 1:30).
3. Health after sickness. The figure of "wings" may allude to the rays of the sun, or perhaps to the breeze which in many hot regions, especially in the zones of the trade winds, begins to blow over the land early in the morning, bringing freshness and health with it. The Jews had a proverbial saying, "As the sun riseth, infirmities decrease." Christ, when in our midst, scattered around him blessings of healing, both physical and spiritual. At Jericho he brought sight to blind Bartimaeus and life to dead Zacchaeus. So is it wherever he rises, like the light of life, on the souls of men (Psalms 147:3; Isaiah 57:19; Ezekiel 47:12; 1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:12). The terms "righteousness" and "healing," being very comprehensive, remind us of the blessings brought by Christ at both his first and second comings. At the first advent he diffused the rays of righteousness, whereby he both justifies and sanctifies those who turn to him, just as the sun imparts light, life, and joy to all who turn towards it. At the second, he will own the righteousness which he gave, and will exhibit it, cleared of all the misjudgments of the world, before men and angels. By his first advent he gave spiritual healing, justification, and all its allied blessings, summed up in the royal gift of "eternal life." At his second he will bring full salvation, when, as one has said, there shall be "understanding without error, memory without forgetfulness, thought without distraction, love without simulation, sensation without offence, satisfying without satiety, universal health without sickness" (Isaiah 55:1-13 :20, 21; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:1-5).
The sufficiency of God's successive revelations.
The introduction of the appeal in Malachi 4:4 between the predictions and promises of Malachi 4:2, Malachi 4:3 and Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6 has at first sight an appearance of abruptness. The promise of Malachi 4:5 lay in the indefinite, and as we know the distant, future. Malachi proved to be the last of the prophets of the old covenant. In the long interval between Malachi and John the Baptist there were times when Israel looked and longed for a new prophet to arise (1 Macc. 9:27; 14:41). though sometimes this was only for the purpose of settling very unimportant questions (e.g. 1 Macc. 4:41-46). But all the while they had in their hands a revelation from God that was amply sufficient for their present guidance, and the right use of which would prepare them for further blessings and preserve them from wrath to come. We are thus reminded of the truth of the sufficiency of God's revelations for those to whom they are granted. We may apply this truth—
I. TO GOD'S UNWRITTEN REVELATIONS. The declarations of God's truth and of his will to Adam and the patriarchs were less definite than when "the Law came in beside" (Romans 5:14, Romans 5:20). But though in one sense "exceeding broad" as compared with the multifarious laws of Moses, they were sufficient to produce a conviction of sin (e.g. Genesis 4:7; Genesis 42:21, Genesis 42:22, etc.), and therefore of the need of forgiveness, and to enable men to walk with God (Genesis 5:24; Genesis 6:9). So is it with the heathen (Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). The revelations through the worlds of matter and of mind are sufficient as a rule of life, though not as a means of full salvation (comp. Acts 10:35, "acceptable" ( δεκτὸς) and Acts 4:12).
II. TO THE LAW OF MOSES. This answered all needful questions as to the character and the will of God. Moses, the first writer in the Bible, and his Law are honourably mentioned by the last writer, this fact supplying one out of many testimonies to the unity of the Bible. Similar witness to the value and the sufficiency of the Law of Moses "for the time then present" is borne by Christ. The prophets came not to supersede but to expound the Law, to bring out the fulness of its morality, and to apply its fundamental teachings to the changing scenes of national life (Isaiah 8:20; Jeremiah 34:12-14, etc.). Moses and the prophets "received not the promise" (Hebrews 11:32, Hebrews 11:39), yet Christ could say, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22).
III. TO THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION. Upon us "the ends of the ages are come" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Yet there is an eternity beyond. We cannot believe that God has spoken his last word to the sons of men. Now we know in part. There are treasures of wisdom and knowledge still hidden in Christ. At times we long to have fuller access to them. We should be thankful if some infallible living teacher could expound to us "the book," or guide us in the path of duty. But we find ourselves between two great epochs, the first advent and the second. We live in what a distinguished writer has called one of the great "pauses" of the world. "Miracles have ceased. Prophecy has ceased. The Son of God is ascended. Apostles are no longer hare to apply infallible judgment to each new circumstance as it arises, as St. Paul did to the state of the Corinthian Church." The written Word must be our appeal, and the Divine Spirit, leading each believer into the truth, must be our Interpreter. He may show us fresh truths in the old familiar Word, just as Christians after the destruction of Jerusalem saw further and fuller meaning in our Lord's predictions of his second coming. But the revelations of doctrine and duty in that written Word are all we now need, and all we have a right to expect. If there are future revelations, they are among "the secret things" that "belong unto the Lord our God;" it is "those things that are revealed" which "belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words" of God's Law (Deuteronomy 29:29). Then we may expect to "see greater things than these" (Matthew 13:12). As the Old Testament closes with promises of larger blessings (Acts 4:5, Acts 4:6), so does the New Testament (Revelation 21:1-7, Revelation 21:9-27; Revelation 22:1-5). We know that a glorious future awaits the sons of God (1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2). Yet in the midst of the most glowing promises occur awful threats. Here we read of "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" and "the curse." In the New Testament we find, embedded in its final chapters, such words as Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:11, Revelation 22:15, Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19 (like traces of a past volcanic eruption and warnings of a future one amidst the flowers and foliage of some sun lit mountain). These warnings emphatically bid us "remember the Law," take heed to that gospel of Christ which comes to us with all the authority of a law (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23), and is all that we need for salvation. The Jews, who would be wiser than the prophet, insert the fifth verse again, and read it a second time, because Malachi ends so awfully. But the Creator of men's hearts knew best how to reach the hearts he had created. In a somewhat similar way some Christians would not end God's present revelation where he ends it. In Christ's description of "the last day" which is revealed to us, they would, as it were, after Matthew 25:46, read again Matthew 25:34, and apply it to all. They would interpolate their own speculations of what God may do among the revelations of what God would have us to do. Instead of pursuing such a perilous path, we bid men "remember." We point them back to the only and unchangeable Saviour and the unalterable gospel (John 3:18, John 3:36; Galatians 1:8, Galatians 1:9), which is all that we need for salvation, and "whereunto we do well that we take heed,: etc. (2 Peter 1:19).
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The Divine fire.
"The day cometh that shall bum as an oven." Fire is one of the most familiar figures of the Divine working. It is one of the forces which man most dreads when it gets beyond control. And it is the force on which man most relies for the purifying of the good and the destruction of the evil. The fire of the oven is fire at its intensest. A hole is dug in the ground, a fire of stubble is kindled in it; by this time a large stone is heated, and on the stone the bread can be baked. Malachi has already dealt with the refining power of the fire of God. That which is good is freed and cleansed and improved by means of it. The prophet does not see the whole of the features of the day of God; only those which are directly related to the condition and needs of the people in his day. Every prophet is one-sided; and we must learn from all if we would apprehend the whole of truth, even concerning the Divine fire. Malachi had to adapt his teachings to some who were sincere but mistaken. To them the Divine fire is disciplinary. "He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." But he had also to adapt his teachings to some who were wilfully and persistently wrong. To them the Divine fire is, In some sense, destructive consuming. "The proud shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up." There are two things characteristic of the Divine fire, which are suggested by the double figure of refining and consuming.
I. THE OPERATION OF THE DIVINE FIRE DEPENDS ON WHAT IT OPERATES ON. This is one of the most marked peculiarities of common fire. It scatters water; it melts wax; it destroys wood; it hardens clay; it purifies metal. It makes silver valuable; it makes dross worthless. And so with the Divine fire. The apostle dwells on its testing power (1 Corinthians 3:13); but here its actual moral effect on differing characters is indicated. Take classes of character in Malachi's time, and show the different effects which Divine dealings had upon them. Take types of character now, and show how Divine dealings soften or harden.
II. THE DIVINE FIRE IS DESTRUCTIVE OF THE FORMS OF THINGS, NOT OF THINGS. Science now explains that common fire destroys nothing; it only Changes the forms and relations of things. When the state of the wicked is irremediable by any existing moral forces, then their form and relation must be changed. As in the time of the Flood, humanity had to be put in new conditions. God's fire destructions always begin a new regime.—R.T.
The healing sunrise.
"The Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings." "As the rising sun diffuses light and heat, so that all that is healthy in nature revives and lifts up its head, while plants that have no depth of root are scorched up and wither away, so the advent of the reign of righteousness, which will reward the good and the wicked, each according to his deserts, will dissipate all darkness of doubt, and heal all the wounds which the apparent injustice of the conduct of affairs has inflicted on the hearts of the righteous" (W.H. Lowe). The figure of "healing in his wings" may be illustrated by the fact that, off Smyrna, every morning about sunrise a fresh gale of air blows from the sea across the land, which from its wholesomeness and utility in clearing the infected air is always called "the doctor."
I. THE WORLD UNDER THE DARKNESS OF REIGNING EVIL. Represented by those dark, depressing, unhealthy days when there is no light in the sky, and the damp mists lie low. Then the plants droop, the flowers do not care to open, and the leaves hang. The song birds are silent, and the hours drag on wearily. To the good the darkness of prevailing evil sentiment, evil opinion, evil practice, is necessarily afflictive. These things make an unnourishing atmosphere and bad circumstances. When the darkness of evil prevails in
As Malachi saw the people in his day, they were in the gloom of triumphant self-will, and there was no sunlight of God in their sky. That sunshine was his hope for the future.
II. THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF REIGNING RIGHTEOUSNESS. And that time he saw dawning when Messiah should appear. The birth of the Babe of Bethlehem was the strong sunrise of righteousness. Picture the dawning of the sun in full, clear strength after weeks of dulness, damp, and disease. How the sunbeams dry up the mists, warm the chilled earth, waken the music of the birds, make the flowers smile, and gladden man's heart. "Notice these flowers all around us, how they turn smiling to the sun's ardent gaze, bend forward in seeming reverence, throw open their pretty cups, and cast around their sweetest perfume. So, when the Sun of Righteousness shines, all moral goodness joyously responds. Evil slinks away into the shadows. When that Sun shines on through the eternal day, man's answering goodness may flourish abundantly."—R.T.
The secret of triumph over wickedness.
The figure of "treading ashes" is suggested by the previous figure of "burning." When the wicked are burned up in the fire of God, all their power to injure the good will be gone. They will but be as ashes of the oven, ashes spread abroad, ashes made a path to walk over. The tone of the prophet is not one of glorying over the fate of the wicked, but of rejoicing in the removal of the hindrance which the wicked ever put in the way of God's faithful servants.
I. THE ILL ESTATE OF THE GOOD WHEN THE WICKED, OR GODLESS TRIUMPH. This may be illustrated in every sphere.
1. The National. Illustrate from the times of Jeremiah, when a godless party held power in the state, and tried to force an Egyptian alliance. Or from the times of Malachi, when formalist and careless Levites were corrupting the religious sentiments of the people. Or from the state of the Jewish nation in the time of our Lord, when the fountains of religious and secular authority were corrupt, and the crucifixion of ideal virtue was a possibility. Show in what an evil case good people, who feared the Lord, were placed at such times. See the sufferings of Jeremiah and of our Divine Lord. So there are national times now when evil sentiment prevails, and the servants of God have to "keep silence," because it is an "evil time."
2. The intellectual. The deistic age of our grandfathers was an evil time for devout believers. This critical age of ours is a time of sore strain for those who would preserve the simplicity of faith. The same truth may be illustrated in the smaller spheres of family, or school, or business. Whenever self-indulgence, bad sentiments, or evil characters have power, those who would live godly, sober, and righteous lives are sorely put to it. Though for them this need be but culturing discipline, the treading on the camomile plant that makes it yield freely its fragrance.
II. THE ILL ESTATE OF THE WICKED WHEN THE GOOD, OR GOD FEARING, TRIUMPH. This can be treated without any unworthy glorying over the disabilities of others. The point may be illustrated in every sphere, national, political, social, intellectual, or in the smaller spheres of the family, the school, the business, the Church. The point to dwell on is the distress of the wicked, not from personal suffering, hut from their inability to do mischief. We may rejoice that the wicked are made helpless by the triumph of goodness.—R.T.
Loyalty to God's revealed will.
It was characteristic of the restored exiles that they endeavoured exactly to reproduce the old Mosaic system; but there was a grave danger involved in their effort. They could not precisely reproduce everything. There must be some adjustment to the very different social and religious sentiments and relations. But those who claimed the authority to make the adjustments would be almost sure to carry their authority too far, and claim to alter and amend the very laws and rules. Under the guise of translation, adaptation, and amplification, the new law of the rabbis became established; and the mischief that it had become in the time of our Lord is evident in its actually overlaying the revealed Law of God, and making the Jehovah religion a burden beyond bearing. Malachi seems to foresee the mischievous growth of an evil which had already begun in his time, and in this closing passage of his work solemnly calls the people back to the unquestionable and unrivalled authority of the Horeb revelation given to Moses. It is the great recall that has been again and again found necessary in the course of the ages. It is the recall needed today. "To the Law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).
I. THE SIGN OF GOODNESS IN GOD'S PEOPLE. Practical interest in God's revealed Word. The old Jew had none of the difficulties which modem infidelity and modern criticism have put in our fathers' way and in ours. Our fathers were troubled by being assured that a book revelation was impossible. They might have confidently, yet meekly replied, "But here it is." We are troubled by being told that the Bible is not at all what we think it to be, and is not trustworthy. We may quietly reply, "Whatever it is, it is 'a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path.'" Treatment of the Word is the best test of the godly life.
II. GOD'S REVEALED WORD SHOULD BE KEPT IN MIND, It is designed to replenish our life at its fountains of thought, knowledge, and feeling. Therefore the prophet says, "Remember ye the Law of Moses." Keep it in mind; freshen the memory continually.
III. GOD'S REVEALED WORD IS BEST KEPT IN MIND BY KEEPING IT IN THE LIFE. "If any will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." Practical obedience is
The mission of the second Elijah.
There is no reason for doubting that John the Baptist is referred to. Our Lord's allusions to John as fulfilling this prophecy should suffice to settle the question. There need be no difficulty in admitting John to be the second Elijah, if we apprehend the figurative and poetical character of the prophetical Scriptures. One who would do for his age a similar work to that which was done by Elijah for his age would, in Scripture, be called an Elijah. There is no occasion whatever for imagining that any miraculous reappearance of Elijah was in the mind of Malachi, or a part of his prophetic message. The Jews overpressed a literal interpretation, and to this day they earnestly pray for the coming of Elias, which, they assume, will immediately precede the appearance of Messiah. Dean Stanley says, "Elijah was the prophet for whose return in later years his countrymen have looked with most eager hope It was a fixed belief of the Jews that he had appeared again and again, as an Arabian merchant, to wise and good rabbis, at their prayers or on their journeys. A seat is still placed for him to superintend the circumcision of the Jewish children. Passover after Passover the Jews of our own day place the paschal cup on the table, and set the door wide open, believing that that is the moment when Elijah will reappear. When goods are found, and no owner comes; when difficulties arise, and no solution appears, the answer is, ' Put them by till Elijah comes.'"
Twice in her season of decay,
The fallen Church hath felt Elijah's eye,
Dart from the wild its piercing ray,...
The herald star,
Whose torch afar
Shadows and boding night birds fly."
Matthew Henry, in a few skilful sentences, suggests the likenesses and the contrasts of the two Elijahs. "Elijah was a man of great austerity and mortification, zealous for God, bold in reproving sin, and active to reduce an apostate people to God and their duty. John the Baptist was animated by the same spirit and power, and preached repentance and reformation, as Elias had done; and all held him for a prophet, as they did Elijah in his day, and that his baptism was from heaven, and not of men." Rabbi Eliezer closes a curious chapter on repentance with these words: "And Israel will not make great repentance till Elijah—his memory for blessing!—come." For fair comparison of the two Elijahs, it is necessary to make careful comparison of the times to which they were sent, noticing the essential sameness underneath the manifest differences. Rabbinism had really driven the spiritual religion of Jehovah from the land in John's days, just as the Astarte form of Baalism had driven the Jehovah worship from Israel in the days of Elijah. The two men may be compared in relation to—
I. THEIR PERSONS. In each case there was an arresting personal appearance, and an unusual power of personal impression. In each case we have a man markedly different from surrounding men. This is noticeable in the dress, but more in the men themselves. And their mission largely lay in their personnel. Men minister for God in what they are in figure, countenance, and impression.
II. THEIR HABITS. Both were wilderness men, whose very food was a reproach of prevailing luxury. Their indifference to personal pleasure declared their absorption in their work for God.
III. THEIR MISSIONS. Both were sent to be forerunners of a coming God, in grace, to his people. Both were sent to call the people to repentance. Turning—turning the people to God, was the work of both. Both had to make the same abrupt demand.
IV. THEIR SPIRIT. Both were absolutely loyal to Jehovah. Both were perfectly fearless of all consequences in doing their work. Both were stern in their tone, and saw the sterner side of truth. Both were humanly weak in times of unexpected strain.
V. THEIR INCOMPLETENESS. That characterizes the work of all who have preparing work to do. Neither Elijah nor John could count up results. To both life work might seem a failure. To Elijah, in a mood of depression, it did. But no life is incomplete that is but a piece of a whole, if, as a piece, it is complete. That is a comforting truth for the two Elijahs, and for us who now may have but pieces of work given us to do.—R.T.
Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6
The day of Divine manifestation.
The margin of the Revised Version gives the rendering with, as preferable to to, in the clause, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children," etc. Then the reference is to the work and influence of the second Elijah on all classes of society, on the hearts of both fathers and children. Keil, however, suggests a more difficult, yet more likely, explanation of the verse, "The fathers are rather the ancestors of the Israelitish nation, the patriarchs, and generally the pious forefathers .... The sons, or children, are the degenerate descendants of Malachi's own time and the succeeding ages." The Messiah is designed to be the bond of union for them all. What arrests attention in these closing verses of the Old Testament canon is that the stern side of Messiah's mission gains exclusive prominence. That sterner side specially interested the judgment prophets of Israel's degenerate days. And it was more particularly suitable for Malachi, because the very form of evil that was to hinder Messiah was beginning in his day. Malachi saw rabbinism taking root.
I. THE DREADFULNESS OF MESSIAH'S DAY FOR THE JEWISH NATION. All days of God, all Divine manifestations, are necessarily two sided. They are dealings with moral beings, and their results must depend on the response of the moral beings. Every day of God must be a "'savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.' What the coming of Christ was to Simeon and Anna, to the disciples, and to the Church of all the ages, we are constantly dwelling on. That is the bright and sunny side of Messiah's mission. But we may ask—What was Messiah's coming to the officials of the Mosaic religion, and for the Jewish nation that rejected him, under the leading of those officials? It was their last opportunity, their final testing. It proved them to be beyond moral recovery. It removed the last check, and their woe came. Their house was left unto them desolate."
II. THE DREADFULNESS OF CHRIST'S DAY FOR THE SELF-WILLED IN EVERY AGE. For Christ's test of the Jewish nation did but illustrate the test that he is, wherever and whenever he comes. Men reject him still at a peril which they seldom recognize. There is the stern side to a preached gospel. Christ proclaimed as Saviour makes forevery man a new and overwhelming condition for the testing of the judgment day.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The day of the world's retribution.
"For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven," etc. A graphic representation of these verses is given by Stanley: "The day spoken of was to be like the glorious but terrible uprising of the Eastern sun, which should wither to the roots the insolence and the injustice of mankind; but as its rays extended, like the wings of the Egyptian sun, God should, by its healing and invigorating influences, call forth the good from their obscurity, prancing and bounding like the young cattle in the burst of spring, and treading down under their feet the dust and ashes to which the same bright sun had burnt up the tangled thicket of iniquitous dealing." These words lead us to consider the day of the world's retribution.
I. IT WILL BE A TERRIBLE DAY TO THE WICKED. "Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." Primarily this may refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was indeed a time of judgment, but it points on through the whole period of retribution. Mark two things.
1. How this retributive period regards the wicked. They are "stubble;" without life, beauty, or value; utterly worthless. They may be wealthy, learned, influential; yet they are nothing but "stubble," destitute even of one grain of moral wheat.
2. How this retributive period will destroy the wicked.
II. IT WILL BE A GLORIOUS PERIOD TO THE RIGHTEOUS. "But unto you that fear my Name shall the Bun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." This language may be regarded as indicating the blessedness of the world to a good man.
1. It is a world of solar brightness. "The Sun of Righteousness" arises on the horizon of his soul. There are souls that are lighted by sparks of their own kindling, and by the gaseous blaze springing from the bogs of inner depravity. All such lights, whether in the forms of philosophic theories or religious creeds, are dim, partial, transitory. The soul of a good man is lighted by the sun. The sun:
The soul of the good man is lighted by something more than the brightest lights of human genius; something more, in fact, than moon and stars; lighted by the Sun himself, the Source of all light and warmth and life. Christ is the Light of the good.
2. It is a world of Divine rectitude. "Sun of Righteousness." "The kingdom of God is within you." Eternal right is enthroned. God's will is the supreme law. The meat and drink of godly souls are to do the will of their Father who is in heaven. Such a soul is right:
3. It is a world of remedial influence. "With healing in his wings." The sun's beams are in Scripture called his wings (Psalms 139:9). The soul through sin is diseased, its eyes are dim, its ears are heavy, its limbs are feeble, its blood is poisoned. The godly is under remedial influences. The beams of the "Sun of Righteousness" work off the disease, repair the constitution, and enable it to run without being weary, and to walk without being faint. There is a proverb among the Jews that "as the sun riseth, infirmities decrease." The flowers which droop and languish all night revive in the morning. The late Mr. Robinson, of Cambridge, called upon a friend just as he had received a letter from his son, who was surgeon on a vessel then lying off Smyrna. The son mentioned in his letter that every morning about sunrise a fresh gale of air blew from the sea across the land, and from its wholesomeness and utility in cleansing the infected air the wind was called "the doctor." Christ is the Physician of souls.
4. It is a world of buoyant energy. "Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." See the calf which from its birth has been shut up in the stall, let forth for the first time into the green fields of May, how full of buoyant energy! it leaps, and frolics, and frisks. This is the figure employed here to represent the gladsomeness with which the godly soul employs its faculties under the genial beams of the "Sun of Righteousness."—D.T.