Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: July 2007, p. 426.
The Sixth Disputation, Chapters 3:13-4:3 (continued)
4:1. For, 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.
There can be no doubt that this prophecy of the destruction of the wicked is a reference to the end of the world and the eternal state that follows for the wicked. It must refer to that great event, because its opposite, the salvation and blessedness described in chapter 3:16, 17, refers to the end and to eternity. This is part of “the day” that will be for those who fear the Lord, a day of salvation and bliss, but for those who do wickedly a day of terror. It is the day so often referred to in Scripture that ends the long history of this world.
Nevertheless, we must remember that almost all prophecy has a continuing or successive fulfillment and that the day of the Lord referred to here includes the whole New Testament age. It is described as a day because on God’s calendar it is the short time in which He finishes all His work and cuts it short in righteousness (Rom. 9:28).
In that day the prophecies of the Old Testament have an ongoing fulfillment, so that this Word of God is fulfilled throughout the New Testament. Moore describes it well:
It is true that the deluge, the destruction of Sodom, Babylon and Jerusalem, and all subsequent visitations of God’s wrath, were days of the Lord, and in each one of them the proud and evil-doers were as chaff. But as each one did not exhaust these ominous predictions, so all together have not yet met the full reach of the terrors, which will only be done in that future day in which the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the drama of earth shall be ended. All previous judgments were but reddenings of the dawn, that betokened the coming, but did not unfold the terrible brightness of that awful day. As the prophet in this verse gazes upon its distant rising, he exclaims, as if in breathless emotion, It comes! burning like a furnace! the wicked proud are chaff! the day burns them! There is something very forcible in these abrupt exclamations, as if the prophet was elevated on some mount of vision, and actually beheld this terrible pomp come rolling up the distant skies, on its reddening pathway of fire and blood.¹
Thus Peter speaks of blood and fire on the day of Pentecost, and Jesus of judgment in connection with His cross. Thus it is that the proud are not just living under the threat of judgment but in the midst of judgments that are already beginning and increasing as the final hour approaches. They live in a world that is already on fire with the conflagration that will finally consume it (cf. II Pet. 3:7). Already now before the judgments of the Lord they are as chaff, as the recent disasters in Southeast Asia have shown.
Not only shall they themselves, the wicked and the proud, be consumed, but that day, as the prophet reminds us, will leave them neither root nor branch. “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Pet. 3:10). Even the elements shall melt with fervent heat and “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved” (II Pet. 3:12). Nothing will be left to show that wicked men ever lived on this planet. All their vaunted works and culture will be burned and destroyed as a bit of hay flares and is gone in the fire.
Then, too, it will be evident that there is a difference between the righteous and the wicked, a difference that is the result of God’s gracious work upon and in His people. When all is consumed, they shall endure. When all is destroyed, they shall stand. When the wicked call for the mountains and the hills to fall on them and hide them from the face and wrath of the Lamb, they will with uplifted heads and outstretched arms be waiting for their redemption.
2. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
Those judgments of Malachi 4:1 are part of the coming of the Sun of righteousness. The fire is the fire of His holiness (Heb. 12:29), and the brightness of that day the brightness of His coming. What a contrast the verse presents, therefore. Instead of destruction, healing; instead of judgment, righteousness.
That this Sun of righteousness is Christ cannot be doubted. Moore says: “We cannot think that the prophet here meant to predict Christ personally,”² but he is wrong. Even those who prepared the KJV, as the capitalization of the word “Sun” shows, understood Malachi to be giving a specific prophecy of the coming of Christ. And when Jesus calls Himself the light of the world (John. 8:12) and is seen by John on Patmos with His countenance “as the sun shineth in his strength” (Rev. 1:16), we know it is He of whom Malachi speaks. Because He is the Sun of righteousness, there will be no need of sun or moon in His everlasting heavenly kingdom (Rev. 21:23).
Christ is called the Sun of righteousness because, by bringing in everlasting righteousness, He brings light into our dark night of sin and dispels the darkness of our unbelief, ignorance, and depravity. He is called the Sun because His righteousness is righteousness of God, and shines with the glory of God. His coming is described as the rising of the sun because when He comes the awful night of sin will be over, and the darkness of unbelief and the lie will be banished forever.
Here again those who wait for Him are described as those who fear His name. They know how great He is—that without Him we sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. They know who He is as the Son of God: the one in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. They know what He does in God’s name and by God’s power in order to save those whom God loved, and, knowing, they tremble in adoring awe and humble reverence.
That He as the Sun is described with wings is an allusion to the apparent movement of the sun as it “flies” through the heavens, and in His case to His swift coming. Like the sun He brings light, the light of life, and with it spiritual healing and peace, for just as no man can live without the light of the sun, so cannot we live without His light. Apart from Him we know only pining sickness and death.
The joy that shall be ours is described in terms of the young calves running and leaping in the fields when first released after the long confinement of winter. Moore calls it “a striking image of the joy that the righteous shall feel after being kept so long waiting for deliverance.”³
4:3. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.
Not only shall the righteous see the destruction of their enemies, the ungodly, but they shall have a part in their judgment and destruction. They shall sit in judgment with Christ over their enemies (Jude 14). That day of judgment is also presented as a day of victory, for those whom they shall judge are not only the ungodly but their enemies. The victory will be Christ’s, but will also be theirs with Him. It will be a complete victory, for every wrong shall be righted, every tear avenged.
It is this promise that gives heart and patience to God’s people as they live out their lives here and suffer for the kingdom’s sake. They know, though the ungodly seem not to know, that there is a God of judgment (chap. 2:17) and that He judges in perfect righteousness.
The Belgic Confession, in the article from which we previously quoted, expresses the very same sentiments as Malachi and shows how the word of God here in Malachi 4:3 is a comfort to God’s people:
And therefore the consideration of this judgment is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect: because then their full deliverance shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labor and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all, and they shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked, who most cruelly persecuted, oppressed, and tormented them in this world (Art. 37).
This recurring emphasis on the coming judgment in the last chapters of Malachi is an important part of the message of the book, for it is the final revelation of God’s faithfulness to His elect and of the unfaithfulness of many.
The Conclusion: Chapter 4:4-6
4:4. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
The last three verses of the book form a kind of conclusion to the whole and are in the form of a double admonition to remember the law of Moses and to look for the coming of Elijah the prophet. The first admonition is a reminder that covenant faithfulness is a matter of obedience to the law of God, and the second admonition a reminder of how this covenant faithfulness would be worked in the hearts of God’s people, that is, by the work of God’s messenger.
Many modern so-called scholars do not believe that these concluding verses were written by Malachi, but were added later. There is, of course, no proof for this, and it reflects the prevailing unbelief of modern Bible scholarship, which does not see Scripture as the Word of God. In fact, even a child can see the similarity between verse 5 and chapter 3:1 and can see therefore that these verses not only belong to Malachi but are an important part of the book.
In seeking to understand the admonition to remember the law, we should remember that the Mosaic law was at the heart of God’s covenant with Israel. It is so described in Deuteronomy 4:13. All the sins that Malachi admonishes were not only violations of the law, therefore, but of God’s covenant with Israel.
We understand that the covenant is God’s, and that the making or breaking of that covenant does not in any way depend on the obedience or disobedience of His people. He makes and He keeps His covenant without any help from them. Nevertheless, it is by their obedience that they show that they are God’s friends and that they have a place in His covenant. It is impossible to do so in any other way but the way of obedience. The law, therefore, which shows the way of obedience, is part of God’s covenant with them, an essential part.
The law is referred to in three ways, not only as law, but also as statutes and judgments. Each of these words has a slightly different but important emphasis. The word “law” emphasizes the fact that the commandments of God are a “way.” It is so translated in many passages. The idea, then, is not only that the law encompasses one’s whole life, but that it is only in the “way” of the law that covenant fellowship and friendship with God are possible.
The other two words emphasize respectively the permanent character of the law (statutes) and the important truth that the law is not only a way of life but a code according to which all shall be judged. God is saying by these three words: “Walk in my ways. In spite of the changing circumstances of your lives, I do not change, and this is the only way that you can know and love me. Do not forget that you must stand before me someday and give an account of what you have done in keeping or not keeping my law. Those who walk in my ways shall experience the eternal healing that my Messenger will bring when He comes. Those of you who do not shall be as ashes under His feet.”
Always God’s judgment is according to works. That does not mean that works are of merit and that we earn our way into His favor, but works are nevertheless the evidence of whether or not we belong to Christ and are among the sons of Levi who have been purified by Him, or whether we are among the proud and impenitent who say, either by words or conduct, that it is vain to serve God. Those, therefore, who by grace keep His commandments will live forever before Him and enjoy Him into eternity. Those who do not will be banished from His presence.
¹ T.V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai and Malachi, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974, pp. 170, 171.
² Moore, p. 172.
³ Moore, p. 172.