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This chapter contains an account of the destruction of the wicked Jews, and the happiness of the righteous by the coming of the Messiah; an exhortation to regard the law of Moses; and a description of John the Baptist and his work. The day of Christ’s coming, reaching to Jerusalem’s destruction, is compared to a burning oven; the wicked Jews to stubble, whose ruin would be utter and complete, ( Malachi 4:1) the appearance of Christ is signified by the arising of him, the sun of righteousness; the manner, with healing in his wings; the effects of which are, going forth in the exercise of grace, and the discharge of duty, and spiritual growth and triumph over their enemies, in which will lie the happiness of them that fear God, ( Malachi 4:2,3) who are put in mind of the law of Moses on Horeb, ( Malachi 4:4) the sending of John the Baptist under the name of Elijah, before the coming of Christ is prophesied of, ( Malachi 4:5) and his work pointed out, with the end of it, ( Malachi 4:6).
Ver. 1 . For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven , etc.] Not the day of judgment, as Kimchi and other interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, think; but the day of Christ’s coming in his kingdom and power, to take vengeance on the Jewish nation, which burned like an oven, both figuratively and literally; when the wrath of God, which is compared to fire, came upon that people to the uttermost; and when their city and temple were burnt about their ears, and they were surrounded with fire, as if they had been in a burning oven: and this being so terrible, as can hardly be conceived and expressed, the word “behold” is prefixed to it, not only to excite attention, but horror and terror at so dreadful a calamity; which though future, when the prophet wrote, was certain: and all the proud; yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble ; the proud Pharisees, that boasted of their own righteousness, trusted in themselves, and despised others; all workers of iniquity, in private or in public; all rejecters of Christ, contemners of his Gospel and ordinances, and persecutors of his people; as well as such who were guilty of the most flagitious crimes, as sedition, robbery, murder, etc. of which there were notorious instances during the siege of Jerusalem; these were all like stubble before devouring fire, weak and easily destroyed: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts : which is repeated, to show the certainty of it, and to apply it to the persons before described: that it shall leave them neither root nor branch : which signifies an entire and complete destruction; the city and temple so utterly destroyed, that not one stone shall be left on another; both magistrates and subjects shall perish, priests and people, so that there shall be no form of government, civil nor ecclesiastical; tribes and families lost, they and their posterity: and so the Targum, “which shall not leave them son and nephew:” and, indeed, the numbers cut off were so many, and the destruction so general, that it may be wondered at that any remained: it is a proverbial expression, setting forth the greatness of the calamity; (see Matthew 3:10,12).
Ver. 2. But unto you that fear my name , etc.] The few that were of this character among that wicked nation; (see Gill on “ Malachi 3:16”): shall the Sun of righteousness arise ; not the Holy Ghost, who enlightens sinners, convinces of righteousness, and gives joy, peace, and comfort to the saints, but Christ: and thus it is interpreted of him by the ancient Jews, in one of their Midrashes or expositions f97 ; they say, Moses says not they shall be for ever pledged, that is, the clothes of a neighbour, but until the sun comes, until the Messiah comes, as it is said, “unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise”, etc.; and Philo the Jew not only observes, that God, figuratively speaking, is the sun; but the divine “Logos” or Word of God, the image of the heavenly Being, is called the sun; who, coming to our earthly system, helps the kindred and followers of virtue, and affords ample refuge and salvation to them; referring, as it seems; to this passage: indeed, they generally interpret it of the sun, literally taken, which they suppose, at the end of the world, will have different effects on good and bad men; they say f99 , “in the world to come, God will bring the sun out of its sheath, and burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, and the righteous will be healed by it:” for the proof of the former, they produce the words in the first verse of this chapter, “behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven”; and of the latter these words, “but unto you that fear my name etc.”; and a very ridiculous notion they have, that Abraham their father had a precious stone or pearl hanging about his neck, and every sick person that saw it was healed by it immediately; and, when he departed out of the world, God took it, and fixed it to the orb of the sun; hence the proverb, the sun rises, and sickness decreases f100 ; and as it is elsewhere quoted f101 , this passage is added to confirm it, as it is said, “to you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings”: unless this fable should be intended to mean, as Abarbinel interprets it, that Abraham, while he lived, clearly proved the unity of God and his perfections; and that, after his death, the same truth was taught by the wonderful motion of the sun: but, be this as it will, those are undoubtedly in the right who understand these words figuratively of the Messiah; who is compared to the “sun”, because, as the sun is a luminous body, the light of the whole world, so is Christ of the world of men, and of the world of saints; particularly of the Gentiles, often called the world; and of the New Jerusalem church state, and of the world to come: and as the sun is the fountain of light, so is Christ the fountain of natural and moral light, as well as of the light of grace, and of the light of glory: as the sun communicates light to all the celestial bodies, so Christ to the moon, the church; to the stars, the ministers of the word; to the morning stars, the angels: as the sun dispels the darkness of the night, and makes the day, so Christ dispelled the darkness of the ceremonial law, and made the Gospel day; and he dispels the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and makes the day of grace; and will dispel the darkness of imperfection, and will make the day of glory; as the sun is a pure, clear, and lucid body, so is Christ, without the least spot of sin; and so are his people, as they are clothed with his righteousness: as the sun is a glorious body, so is Christ both his natures, divine and human; in his office as Mediator; and will be in his second coming: as the sun is superior to all the celestial bodies, so is Christ to angels and saints: as the sun is but one, so there is but one Son of God; one Mediator between God and man; one Saviour and Redeemer; one Lord and Head of the church: its properties and effects are many; it lays things open and manifest, which before were hid; communicates heat as well as light; make the earth fruitful; is very exhilarating; has its risings and settings, and of great duration: so Christ declares the mind and will of his Father, the hidden mysteries of grace; lays open the thoughts of men’s hearts in conversion; and will at the last day bring to light the hidden things of darkness: he warms the hearts of his people with his love, and causes them to burn within them, while they hear his Gospel, and he makes them fervent in spirit while they serve the Lord; he fills them with the fruits of righteousness, and with joy unspeakable, and full of glory; but he is not always seen, is sometimes under a cloud, and withdraws himself; yet his name is as the sun before the Lord, and wilt abide for ever. He is called “the sun of righteousness”, because of the glory of his essential righteousness as God; and because of the purity and perfection of his righteousness as man, which appeared in all his actions, and in the administration of all his offices; and because of the display of the righteousness of God in him, in his sufferings and death, in atonement, pardon, and justification by him; and because he is the author and bringer in of righteousness to his people, the glory of which outshines all others, is pure and spotless like the sun, and is everlasting; those who have it are said to be clothed with the sun, and on such he shines in his beams of divine love, grace, and mercy, which righteousness sometimes signifies; and his rays of grace transform men into righteousness and true holiness. The “arising” of this sun may denote the appearance of Christ in our nature; under the former dispensation this sun was not risen, it was then night with the world; John the Baptist was the morning star, the forerunner of it:
Christ the sun is now risen; the dayspring from on high hath visited mankind, and has spread its light and heat, its benign influences, by the ministration of the Gospel, the grace of God, which has appeared and shone out, both in Judea, and in the Gentile world: it may be accommodated to his spiritual appearance: this sun is sometimes under a cloud, or seems to be set, which occasions trouble, and is for wise ends, but will and does arise again to them that fear the Lord. The manner is, with healing in his wings ; by which are meant its rays and beams, which are to the sun as wings to a bird, by which it swiftly spreads its light and heat; so we read of the wings of the morning, ( <19D909> Psalm 139:9). Christ came as a physician, to heal the diseases of men; he healed the bodily diseases of the Jews, and he heals the soul diseases of his people, their sins; which healing he has procured by his blood and stripes: pardon of sin by the blood of Christ is meant by healing, which is universal, infallible, and free, ( <19A303> Psalm 103:3 Isaiah 33:24 53:5 Hosea 14:4) it may denote all that preservation, protection, prosperity, and happiness, inward and outward, which they that feared the Lord enjoyed through Christ, when the unbelieving Jews were destroyed; and which is further expressed by what follows: and ye shall go forth ; not out of the world, or out of their graves, as some think; but either out of Jerusalem, as the Christians did a little before its destruction, being warned so to do f103 , whereby they were preserved from that calamity; or it intends a going forth with liberty in the exercise of grace and duty, in the exercise of faith on Christ, love to him, hope in him, repentance, humility, self-denial, etc.; and in a cheerful obedience to his will; or else walking on in his ways; having health and strength, with great pleasure and comfort; and, as Aben Ezra says, by the light of this sun. And grow up as calves of the stall ; such as are fat, being put up there for that purpose; (see Amos 6:4 1 Samuel 28:24). Bochart has proved, from many passages out of the Talmud f105 , that the word which the Targum here makes use of, and answers to that in the Hebrew text, which is rendered “stall”, signifies a yoke or collar, with which oxen or heifers were bound together, while they were threshing or treading out of corn; so that the calves or heifers here referred to were such as were not put up in a stall, but were yoked together, and employed in treading out the corn; now as there was a law that such should not be muzzled while they were thus employed, but might eat of the corn on the floor freely and plentifully, ( Deuteronomy 25:4) these usually grew fat, and so were the choicest and most desirable, to which the allusion may be here, and in ( Jeremiah 46:21) ( Amos 6:4) and are a fit emblem of saints joined together in holy fellowship, walking together in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord; where they get spiritual food for their souls, and are in thriving circumstances; where they meet with the corn of heaven, with that corn which makes the young men cheerful, and that bread which nourishes up to everlasting life. The apostle alludes to the custom of oxen yoked together, either in ploughing, or in treading out the corn, when he says, speaking of church fellowship and communion in the ordinances of the Gospel, “be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers”, ( 2 Corinthians 6:14) for this hinders spiritual edification, as well as the promotion of the glory of God; but where they are equally yoked, and go hand in hand together in the work and ways of the Lord, they grow and flourish; they are comfortable in their souls, and lively in the exercise of grace; and they are the most thriving Christians, generally speaking, who are in church communion, and most constantly attend the means of grace, and keep closest to the word and ordinances: for the metaphor here used is designed to express a spiritual increase in all grace, and in the knowledge of Christ, and a growing up into him in all things, through the use of means, the word and ordinances; whereby saints become fat and flourishing, being fed with the milk of the word, and the breasts of ordinances, and having fellowship with one another; and, above all, this spiritual growth is owing to the dews of the grace of God, the shining of the Sun of righteousness, and the comfortable gales of the south wind of the Spirit of God, which cause the spices to flow out. The Septuagint version, and those that follow it, render it, “ye shall leap” or “skip as calves loosed from bonds”; as such creatures well fed do when at liberty; and may denote the spiritual joy of the saints upon their being healed, or because of their secure, safe, and prosperous estate: and so the word is explained in the Talmud f106 , they shall delight themselves in it; and where the Rabbins interpret this and the preceding verse ( Malachi 4:1) of the natural sun in the firmament, which will be the hell in the world to come, and which will burn the wicked, and heal the righteous.
Ver. 3. And ye shall tread down the wicked , etc.] As grapes in the winepress, as Christ did before them, ( Isaiah 63:2,3) and they by virtue of him; who makes them more than conquerors through himself, over all their enemies, spiritual and temporal: for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet ; this refers to the burning of them, ( Malachi 4:1) and may be literally understood of their being burnt with the city and temple; when afterwards, as Grotius observes, the city of Jerusalem being in some measure rebuilt, and called Aelia, there was a Christian church in it, governed by bishops, who were converted Jews; and so might be literally said to trample upon the ashes of the wicked, who had persecuted them in times past, they being upon the very spot where these men were destroyed by fire: in the day that I shall do [this], saith the Lord of hosts : or “in the day which I make” f108 ; that is, by the rising of the sun of righteousness, the Gospel day. The Talmud interprets this verse of the bodies of the wicked in hell, which after twelve months will be consumed, and the wind will scatter them under the soles of the feet of the righteous.
Ver. 4. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant , etc.] Who was faithful as such in the house of God, in delivering the law to the children of Israel, which was given him; and who are called upon to remember it, its precepts and its penalties, which they were apt to forget: and particularly this exhortation is given now, because no other prophet after Malachi would be sent unto them, this is what they should have and use as their rule and directory; and because that Christ, now prophesied of, would be the end of this law; and this, and the prophets, were to be until the days of John the Baptist, spoken of in the next verse ( Malachi 4:5); and the rather, because in this period of time, between Malachi and the coming of Christ, the traditions of the elders were invented and obtained, which greatly set aside the law, and made it of no effect: which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel ; for though the law came by Moses, and is therefore called his, yet God was the author and efficient cause of it; Moses was only a servant and minister; and this was given in Horeb, the same with Sinai: these are names of one and the same mountain, at least of the parts of it; one part of it was called Horeb, from its being a dry desert and desolate place; and the other Sinai, from its bushes and brambles. So Jerom says, “Horeb, the mountain of God, is in the land of Midian, by Mount Sinai, above Arabia in the wilderness, to which are joined the mountain and wilderness of the Saracens, called Pharan; but to me it seems the same mountain is called by two names, sometimes Sinai, and sometimes Horeb;” (see Exodus 31:18 32:1,2 33:6). Agreeably to which Josephus calls Horeb, where Moses fed his flock, and saw the vision of the burning bush, Mount Sinai; and says, it was the highest of the mountains in those parts, very convenient for pasture, and abounded with excellent herbage. Some say the eastern part of it was called Sinai, and the western part Horeb; it is very likely they joined together at the bottom of the mountain, and were the two tops of it. This being mentioned shows, that the law, strictly taken, and not the prophets, is here designed, for no other was commanded, ordered, or delivered in Horeb; and that was for all the children of Israel in successive ages, until the coming of the Messiah, and for them only, as to the ministration of it by Moses. [With] the statutes and judgments ; the laws ceremonial and judicial, which were given to Moses, at the same time the law of the decalogue was, to be observed by the children of Israel, and which were shadows of things to come; namely, those of them that were of a ceremonial nature, and therefore to be remembered and attended to as leading to Christ, and the things of the Gospel.
Ver. 5 . Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet , etc.] Not the Tishbite, as the Septuagint version wrongly inserts instead of prophet; not Elijah in person, who lived in the times of Ahab; but John the Baptist, who was to come in the power and spirit of Elijah, ( Luke 1:17) between whom there was a great likeness in their temper and disposition; in their manner of clothing, and austere way of living; in their courage and integrity in reproving vice; and in their zeal and usefulness in the cause of God and true religion; and in their famous piety and holiness of life; and in being both prophets; (see Matthew 11:11 14:5) and that he is intended is clear from ( Matthew 17:10-13 Mark 9:12,13). It is a notion of the Jews, as Kimchi and others, that the very Elijah, the same that lived in the days of Ahab, shall come in person before the coming of their Messiah they vainly expect, and often speak of difficult things to be left till Elijah comes and solves them; but for such a notion there is no foundation, either in this text or elsewhere. And as groundless is that of some of the ancient Christian fathers, and of the Papists, as Lyra and others, that Elijah with Enoch will come before the day of judgment, and restore the church of God ruined by antichrist, which they suppose is meant in the next clause. Before the coming of the great and, dreadful day of the Lord ; that is, before the coming of Christ the son of David, as the Jews themselves own; and which is to be understood, not of the second coming of Christ to judgment, though that is sometimes called the great day, and will be dreadful to Christless sinners; but of the first coming of Christ, reaching to the destruction of Jerusalem: John the Baptist, his forerunner, the Elijah here spoken of, came proclaiming wrath and terror to impenitent sinners; Christ foretold and denounced ruin and destruction to the Jewish nation, city, and temple; and the time of Jerusalem’s destruction was a dreadful day indeed, such a time of affliction as had not been from the creation, ( Matthew 24:21) and the Talmud interprets this of the sorrows of the Messiah, or which shall be in the days of the Messiah.
Ver. 6. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children , etc.] Or “with” the children, as Kimchi; and Ben Melech observes, that l[ is put for µ[ , and so in the next clause: and the heart of the children to their fathers ; or “with” their fathers; that is, both fathers and children: the meaning is, that John the Baptist should be an instrument of converting many of the Jews, both fathers and children, and bringing them to the knowledge and faith of the true Messiah; and reconcile them together who were divided by the schools of Hillell and Shammai, and by the sects of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and bring them to be of one mind, judgment, and faith, and to have a hearty love to one another, and the Lord Christ; (see Matthew 3:5,6 (see Gill on “ Luke 1:17”)). The Talmudists interpret this of composing differences, and making peace. Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse ; the land of Judea; which, because the greater part of the inhabitants of it were not converted to the Lord, did not believe in the Messiah, but rejected him, notwithstanding the preaching and testimony of John the Baptist, and the ministry and miracles of Christ, it was smitten with a curse, was made desolate, and destroyed by the Roman emperors, Vespasian and Adrian, as instruments doing what God here threatened he would do; for not the whole earth is intended, as the Targum and Abarbinel suggest; but only that land, and the people of it, are intended, to whom the law of Moses was given; and to whom Elias, or John the Baptist, was to be sent; and to whom he was sent, and did come; and by whom he was rejected, and also the Messiah he pointed at; for which that country was smitten with a curse, and remains under it to this day.