The Failed Remnant
We know nothing whatever of the writer of this book. His name, Malachi, meaning “My messenger,” occurs in verse 1; but we read of him nowhere else in Scripture, and we get no particulars concerning him here. He was the last of the prophetic band, and his book appropriately closes the Old Testament canon. Till the advent of John the Baptist, of whose coming he prophesied, no other messenger was directly sent to Judah from God.
The conditions he describes fit in well with what is recorded of the state of the returned remnant in the latter period of Nehemiah’s governorship. So it is quite likely that he lived and ministered the word of Jehovah either during that time, or a little later.
The divisions are not very pronounced. In this first chapter, and going on to the 9th verse of the next, the prophet gives a message to the priests, while the balance of the book is addressed to the people, but includes more than the remnant, and really amounts to an indictment of all Judah. Chapters 3 and 4 tell of the coming of the day of the Lord, to be preceded by the one who, like Malachi himself, will in a distinctive sense bear the title of “My messenger.”
A striking feature of the prophecy is the eightfold controversy of Jehovah with His people. Notice chapter 1, verses 2, 6 and 7; chapter 2, verses 14 and 17; chapter 3, verses 7, 8, and 13. Again and again they are solemnly charged with gravest departure in heart from the Lord whom they outwardly professed to serve, and each time with brazen effrontery, they dare to contradict God’s testimony to their state, ask for proofs, and manifest an utterly calloused conscience.
All this has a voice of exceeding seriousness for us, particularly if in any measure we seek to take the ground they did. Almost at the end of a dispensation, there had been an outward return to God and to His word; but there was not a corresponding subjective state. They became occupied rather with place and position than with vital godliness. As a result, we have the gross Phariseeism of our Lord’s day, which was simply the outgrowth of the conditions described by Malachi.
Sad as Judah’s state had become, it is of love, not of judgment, that the opening chapters treat. “I have loved you, saith the Lord.” What could be more tender, more calculated to touch the hearts of His people, if indeed they had any heart left, and were not altogether hardened and unconcerned! Unchanging was that mighty love of His, whatever the perversity of their ways. Yet, with supreme contempt, they impudently retort, “Wherein hast Thou loved us?” They looked for temporal prosperity and worldly glory as the proof of His love. Bereft of both, they called His affection in question, utterly ignoring the prolonged course of carelessness and infidelity to Himself, for which He had chastened them. Patiently He deigns to reply to their caviling query: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” And He goes on to picture the desolations of Edom, and to declare that they shall never be retrieved, for the seed of Esau are “the people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.” On the other hand, though Israel’s blessing seem to tarry, it shall surely come at last, so that all nations shall confess, “The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel” (vers. 1-5).
It is His dealings with Jacob and Esau after long centuries had shown what they really were that are referred to. The phrase, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” is quoted triumphantly by the apostle in Rom. 9:13 to prove the wisdom of God’s choice made before the children were born, when He said, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Carefully observe, there is no hyper-Calvinistic question here of reprobation for hell and predestination for heaven. It is Jehovah’s inalienable right to dispose of His creatures as He will, that the apostle is contending for; and He manifests with holy joy that He wills to show mercy to those who deserved only wrath. Jacob and Esau are cited as illustrations. Before either was born, God chose Jacob to be superior to Esau, nationally. The elder was to serve the younger, and thus own the superiority of God’s choice. Then, when the whole Old Testament history had come to a close, He sums up all, and says, “I have loved Jacob, and hated Esau.” The grace which took the poor heel-catcher up at first, was shown to his seed to the very end.
But what return had He received from Israel for all this? It is clear duty for a son to honor his father, and a servant his master; but what honor had He received as a Father, or what reverence as a Master? Even the very priests in the newly-restored temple despised His name. But when the charge is brought, they superciliously inquire, “Wherein have we despised Thy name?” (ver. 6).
Solemnly He brings their sins before them, declaring that polluted bread was offered on His altar, thus failing to own His holiness, and ignoring His claims. Again they are ready to answer back, ere the reply to their former question is complete, asking, “Wherein have we polluted Thee?” On His part there is amazing patience and grace; on theirs, almost incomprehensible insensibility and levity. They practically said, “The table of Jehovah is contemptible;” for they offered the blind, the lame and the sick to Him in sacrifice, and kept the best for themselves. Would they dare to so act toward their governor, or any other earthly ruler? Yet He, the great King, they could treat in a manner so unbecoming. But He pleads with them to repent, and cry to Him for that grace they were ignoring, yet needed so much. Covetousness was the root-sin that was leading them daily farther astray. The priests would not so much as shut the temple doors save for wages, nor kindle the altar-fire except for gain. True love for Himself was lacking, and their holy office had been prostituted to a mere worldly profession, and used as a means of enrichment. Because of this, He could have no pleasure in them, nor accept an offering at their hands (vers. 9, 10).
It seems almost unnecessary to attempt to draw attention to the similar state prevailing in so many places at the present time. Is it not patent to even the least spiritual that worldliness and covetousness are the characteristic features in the professing Church, and godliness and true devotion the exceptions?
Even where there has been a measure of revival and return to what is written in the word of God, the same evil principles have crept in insidiously, and are doing their deadly work in many quarters. Nothing but a spirit of prayerfulness, coupled with careful watchfulness, will keep any from being carried away by the unholy current.
But it is blessed to know that, whatever the present failure, God shall yet be fully glorified; so we read, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of hosts” (ver. 11). It is hardly the present work of grace among the Gentiles that is here contemplated, but rather that wonderful era of blessing which is still in the future—the times of restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the ages began. Then shall Jehovah’s name be honored and His word obeyed throughout the whole earth, when all nations shall bask in the sunshine of His favor.
In the next verse the prophet reverts to the serious charge made above. Judah profaned the table of the Lord, characterizing it as a thing polluted, and its meat contemptible. They declared it a weariness to attend upon its service, and made light of what should have been both sacred and precious. Their wretched thoughts were manifested by the unsuitable offerings they brought, which He would not accept, but, instead, invoked a curse upon the deceiver who brought Him that which was corrupt, while keeping the better for himself. Was it thus they would treat the King of kings, whose name was to be reverenced among the heathen? (vers. 13, 14). They who had known so much of His power and grace had proven altogether unworthy of His love. But the nations who had been passed by during the time of Israel’s special favor were yet to bow at His feet and own His greatness and glory.
They who have never learned the distinctive character of the Spirit’s work in this dispensation invariably apply such passages to the present outgoing of the gospel to the Gentiles; but while they may indeed, and do, prove that the call of the nations now is not out of harmony with the scriptures of the prophets, all these promises will have their complete and literal fulfilment in the Millennium. We wait in faith for brighter and more glorious hopes to be consummated.
Let shame be upon us if our state be in any wise like that depicted in the solemn chapter we have thus briefly gone over!
The Sin Of The Priests
In a fuller and more pointed manner are the sins of the priesthood brought home to their consciences in this second chapter. Anointed for temple service, set apart to holiness, and devoted to the most sacred of all offices, “ordained for men, in things pertaining to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices,” they had proved recreant to their sacred trust, and thought only of their own profit. “Supposing that gain is godliness,” they lost no opportunity of ministering to their own desires, while neglecting their holy calling.
There is no such official sacerdotal order recognized by God in the present dispensation, but all believers are now anointed priests, both holy and royal, having immediate access to the holiest in virtue of the blood of Jesus. As worshipers they go in to God to offer up spiritual sacrifices. As royal priests separated to Himself, they come out to show His praises to a needy world, and as holy priests they are appointed to intercede on behalf of those who pray not for themselves. What cause, then, for shame and humiliation when our feet stumble and our paths are crooked! All that is here said to the earthly priesthood may well be pondered by the heavenly company, as we challenge our consciences as to whether we too have not failed grievously, as they did.
“O ye priests, this commandment is for you.” Thus clearly and distinctly the hierarchy is addressed in verse 1. If they refused to hear and heed the word so solemnly given, the Lord would send a grievous curse upon them, cursing their blessings, as He had already begun to do. Their seed should be rejected, and thus the family of Levi set aside from their appointed place of privilege, as has been the case ever since the rending of the veil, though only manifestly since Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans under Titus. Their solemn feasts too should be polluted, and they themselves rendered unclean, ceremonially, to set forth the uncleanness of their hearts and hands (vers. 2, 3).
Of old His covenant of life and peace had been with Levi, when he was separated from his brethren to find his all in God. For the fear wherewith he feared Jehovah, when Israel made the calf in the wilderness (Exod. 32:25-29), an everlasting covenant had been confirmed to him; but this should not hinder the outpouring of divine wrath during the season of Israel’s dispersion because of their sins. No longer were they afraid before His name, as they had been in those days of the wilderness. Then the law of truth was in their mouths and iniquity was not found in their lips, when in singleness of heart they walked with God in peace and equity, and were His honored instruments in executing judgment upon evil (vers. 4-6). It is a lovely description of true devotion to the Lord. Only as the priest thus keeps his heart and guards his ways will God be glorified in his life. To talk of separation and holding the truth while neglecting what is here set forth is mere sham and hypocrisy.
The priest’s lips should keep knowledge and men should seek the law at his mouth, thus approving himself as the messenger of the Lord of hosts (ver. 7). Therefore the need of earnest, prayerful study of the whole word of God, with a view to bringing all the life into practical subjection thereto. The servant of God in the New Testament is exhorted to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). It is not a question of following some favorite teacher or cleaving to a particular line of doctrines, but giving the Holy Scriptures, in their entirety, that honored place which God intended they should hold as the complete guide for His people and the suited food for their souls.
Nor is it merely Bible study that is enjoined, but we are called to be “doers of the Word,” allowing no portion of it to be a dead letter to us, but giving it all its due weight and authority over our hearts and consciences, seeking to walk in all that is written therein.
This, the priests addressed by Malachi utterly ignored. Having departed from the path of obedience themselves, they caused the simple to stumble at the law, and to go astray from the word of the Lord. Therefore the covenant of Levi had become corrupted, as they had shown themselves to be anything but the moral seed of Phinehas, whose javelin had stayed the plague, and whose faithfulness would be remembered to all generations. Contemning the law, these recreant priests had been made contemptible themselves, and they should be despised by the people they had misled. Their ways testified against them, so the Lord refused their service (vers. 8, 9).
The tenth verse is the beginning of the second division of the book, which goes on to the end of the prophecy. It is now the people of Judah as a whole who are addressed in the last message they were ever to get directly from God until the coming of the Just One, the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, preceded as to public ministry by John, the messenger whose coming is predicted in the first verse of chapter 3.
They had all sprung from one common father, Abraham, and were created by one God, Jehovah of hosts. Why then should brethren deal treacherously with each other by profaning the covenant of their fathers? (ver. 10). It is not the so-called “Fatherhood of God” that is here declared. There is not the slightest evidence that “one father” refers to the Deity. It was the Lord Jesus who made known the Father. Only in a national sense could Israel say, “Doubtless Thou art our Father.” Individually they all had one father, however, in whom they gloried, even Abraham, whose seed they all were. Thus they were a nation of brethren. But, alas, how un-brotherly had they acted!
What can be more shocking than to be called by a name so suggestive of love and tenderness (even as Abraham himself said to Lot, “We be brethren”), and yet to treat one another with callous indifference and cold-heartedness, amounting at times even to enmity and hatred. “Who are these brethren?” one is reported to have asked, concerning certain companies of factious saints. “They are people,” was the reply, “who are very particular about breaking bread, and very careless about breaking hearts!” What a crying shame that such a testimony concerning any Christians should ever be more than an evil calumny invented by the father of lies! “Let brotherly love continue” is God’s admonition to us all. And let us bear in mind that, since our Head has gone back to the glory, we manifest our love to Him by love to His members here upon the earth.
The feeble remnant, returned to the place of the Name, separated from the nations, surely needed the strength to be derived from heart-unity and each other’s love and brotherly encouragement. Outside, the wolves raged and snarled. Inside, the sheep were biting and devouring one another! It is a pitiable picture. Alas, it has been often duplicated by Christ’s sheep since. It was not the outside opposition that wounded the heart of Nehemiah: but when he found the separated people exacting usury of one another, and treating their brethren with cruelty and rigor, his great soul was moved to its depths. That the evil had never been really departed from, only temporarily checked, Malachi makes evident.
Dealing treacherously every man against his brother, it was only to be expected that they would prove traitors to their God. And this the prophet charges directly upon all Judah and Israel. They had profaned the holiness of Jehovah, that holiness “which He loved” (how striking the expression!), and had been united in marriage to the daughters of strange gods (ver. 11). These mixed marriages are also mentioned in Nehemiah and Ezra, thus helping us to decide as to the true time of Malachi’s ministry. Neither true to each other nor to the Lord, they defiled themselves by forming unholy alliances with the idolatrous people around them. When brotherly love is lacking, true godly separation will soon be only a name, and none need be surprised if the rising generation turn to the world for their companions when they have seen bickerings and variance among those professedly separated to the one only Name.
But God’s face is against all those who so act, and He will cut them off. He could not accept offerings from a people so indifferent to His holy character, whatever the outward expression of grief and penitence (vers. 12, 13).
The manner in which they inquired, “Wherefore?” in response to words of such pathos and solemnity, exhibits the actual state of their souls. He is not slow to reply. He was the witness to all their evil-doing. Forbidden to enter into marriages with the heathen, He had made of twain one flesh among His own people. But they had violated their nuptial pledges by adding to their households outlandish women who were leading them away from Himself. It was that He might seek a godly seed that He had thus decreed concerning their family relationships. But laxity as to divorce, and mixed marriages, were fast corrupting the seed of God (vers. 14, 15).
The practice of setting aside their wives (so common, alas, in our own degenerate times) to gratify a passing whim was detestable in His eyes. He hates putting away. Hidden violence would all be searched out, and could not remain forever covered. All must come to light in due time. “Therefore take heed to your spirit,” was His word, “that ye deal not treacherously” (ver. 16).
We need only to turn to the nineteenth chapter of Matthew to see how little effect this remonstrance had upon them. Divorces were granted on most trifling and absurd pretences, and meantime all their lawlessness was covered with a cloak of extreme punctiliousness in outward religious observances. How easy it is to make much of externals while habitually careless as to the true piety and sincere obedience to the weightier matters of the word of God!
The Lord was wearied with their empty religiousness—mere words from the lips, and not the genuine utterance of the heart acceptable in His sight. But again they answer Him with a caviling question, saying, “Wherein have we wearied Thee?” He replies, “When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (ver. 17). It was thus they were setting aside His revealed Word and congratulating themselves on being Abraham’s seed, and therefore in the line of promise. The merits of the fathers were made to cover all possible delinquencies in their own lives. It could not be, thought they, that God would visit in judgment those in whose veins flowed the blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus they dwelt negligently in a fool’s paradise, having already forgotten the lesson of the Babylonish captivity. Nor has it been otherwise with the Church. Ruin and disaster early came in, because of departure from the living God. For centuries spiritual Babylon held sway over the consciences of His children, and kept them in bondage and ignorance.
At last, through the recovery of the word of God, came deliverance and blessing, followed, even in the lifetime of the Reformers, by a lifeless orthodoxy, coupled with relaxation of morals and indifference to that Word so graciously entrusted to them.
Since then, there have been various revival periods when the special work of the Spirit has been to emphasize practical godliness and devotion to Christ. Each successive movement has begun with more or less loyalty to God and to His word. But decay and disintegration have soon followed. At last the truth of the mystery of Christ and the Church was brought to light, and the name of Jesus became the rallying-standard for many of His people, wearied of the failing systems of men. But again have pride and self-will wrought sad havoc; and it remains now to be seen how far there will be a judging of what has thus marred the lovely testimony raised up to the excellency of the peerless name of the Lord.
The hour is late. The Judge is at the door. The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Lowliness and self-judgment become us all. May we have grace given to discern the signs of the times, and to bow our hearts to His Word.
Preparation For The Messenger Of The Covenant
Malachi means, “My messenger.” It was through him Jehovah declared, “Behold, I will send My messenger (using the same word as the prophet’s name), and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” (ver. 1). Thus was John’s coming predicted as the herald of the King, Messiah, but in such a way as to make it plain that Messiah Himself was identified with Jehovah; for the word is, “He shall prepare the way before Me.” (See Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; and Luke 1:76; 7:28). It is also of importance to notice that “angel” and “messenger” are one in the Hebrew. So John was the angel of Jesus, but Jesus Himself was the Covenant-Angel of whom Jehovah had said long ago, “My name is in Him” (Exod. 23:20, 21). To the very temple but lately rebuilt by Zerubbabel, though afterwards enlarged and beautified by Herod, did He suddenly come as the Nazarene, only to be despised, rejected, and crucified.
But another coming is clearly foretold here; for when it actually takes place, the unholy will not be able to abide it, nor to stand in His presence. As a refiner and purifier He shall sit to purify and purge the Levitical family, setting apart for Himself the sons of Zadok (Ezek. 48:11), who shall have turned to Him, owning their guilt and judging themselves for their share in the sins of the priesthood. Upon the rest judgment must burn like fire (vers. 2 and 3).
It seems plain from verse 4, as also the 43rd chapter of Ezekiel, that in the days when the kingdom is established over all the earth, sacrifices and offerings will be reinstituted in Jerusalem and the land of Judah, though only as commemorative of the one great sacrifice of the cross; thus sustaining to millennial saints the same relationship that the Lord’s Supper now occupies among Christians.
The evil-doers will be weeded out from among the people, and a righteous remnant alone be preserved, “For I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (vers. 5, 6).
Never had they kept His ordinances in a completely scriptural manner. But from the days of their fathers they had departed from what He had caused to be written for their guidance. So, in view of the advent of the Messenger of the covenant, He bids them return unto Him in heart, that He may return unto them with blessing and loving favor. But, as so often before, they arrogantly ask, “Wherein shall we return?” (ver. 7). There was no sense of need or of failure. Quite the contrary; they were self-satisfied and content. So long as outward forms and ceremonies were attended to, they saw no reason to search and try their ways.
So their sinfulness has to be pressed upon them more strongly still. “Will a man rob God?” Yet they had deliberately robbed Him. With amazing effrontery, they ask, “Wherein have we robbed Thee?” He replies, “In tithes and offerings,” and declares that the curse of the violated law rested upon the whole nation. It is a question which was the most solemn—their sinful course, or their calm indifference concerning it. Conscience seemed completely gone; and when a good conscience has been put away, anything can be indulged in with a degree of self-assurance that seems inexplicable (vers. 8, 9).
Still, terrible as their failure had been, it is not too late yet to repent. He calls upon them to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, in this way acknowledge their stewardship under Him, and that needful provision may be made for those who served in the temple, thus releasing them from attention to carnal things; and they are promised abundant blessing if they but heed His voice. He would have them prove Him, and see if He would not open the windows of heaven and pour out upon them such a shower of spiritual refreshment that they would be straitened as to storing it. The devourer, too, He would rebuke for their sakes, causing their enemies to cease from molesting them, that in peace and quietness they might enjoy the abundant fruits of their labor. Blessed with all that heart could desire, both spiritually and temporally, all nations would call them the happy people, and theirs should be a land of delight (vers. 10-12).
All this is to be literally fulfilled when the spirit of grace and supplication is poured out upon the future repentant remnant, and they return to God with their whole heart. Everything waits upon this, even as the Lord Jesus Himself declared, “Ye shall not see Me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
But for saints of every dispensation an important principle is here enunciated—blessing waits on true devotion of heart. Let all that is due to the Lord, long withheld because of our selfishness, be rendered to Him—all the tithes brought in, and He will rejoice to pour down showers of blessing upon His waiting and expectant people. God delights to give; but our low, earthly-minded state so frequently hinders His visiting us with a gracious revival. “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord” (Lam. 3:40) is a word in season at the present solemn moment in the Church’s history.
For Judah, the era of blessing had not yet dawned, nor has it ever really come since; for they knew not the time of their visitation. Their words were stout, or strong, against God; yet, when He challenged them as to this, for the eighth time, they brazenly challenged Him in return, inquiring, “What have we spoken so much against Thee?” (ver. 13). No appeal, entreaty, or warning, seemed to move them, or to turn them in the slightest degree from their self-complacency and egoism.
Yet they had said, “It is vain to serve God,” for they blindly estimated things by the standard of worldly prosperity; and as they contrasted their lowly lot with the proud surrounding nations, they considered there had been no profit in keeping Jehovah’s word and seeking to obey His voice. What they did not take into account was that they were part of a failed nation, and still reaping the sad fruit of their fathers’ evil sowing, So they were stumbled at the prosperity of the wicked, but did not, like Asaph, enter with unshod feet into the sanctuary, that they might understand the end of the enemies of the Lord. (See Ps. 73.)
Nevertheless all were not thus insensate and gainsaying. A remnant is distinguished in vers. 16 to 18 that may well be a shining example to us. In the midst of all the declension and cold-heartedness of the mass, a few there were who feared Jehovah, and sought each other out in the dark and cloudy day, speaking often one to another of the precious and serious things pertaining to a walk with God. The Lord took pleasure in this feeble company, and hearkened, and heard their communings and their confessions, and entered their despised names in a book of remembrance, which will soon be opened at the judgment-seat of Christ: “And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My peculiar treasure;” for as they had found their treasure in Him, He found His in them. In the day when He shall visit upon the wicked their iniquities He will spare the remnant, discerning between those who truly served Him, and those who had no heart for His Word. It is a striking and beautiful passage, that is rich in the ministry of comfort and cheer to the tried and tested ones who value fellowship with God above all else.
Occupation with the evil can only weaken the hand and distress the spirit. But occupation with Him who sits in peace above all the mists of earth will strengthen and cheer, and prove the only real power for practical holiness and victory over all the might of the enemy.
The break between these two chapters seems unfortunate, and helps to divert the mind from what has just been presented. The fact is that verse 1 of chapter 4 is but a continuation of what has gone before. The Lord is going to discern between the righteous and the wicked. When? In the coming day that shall burn as an oven, the day of the Lord toward which all prophecy points as to the time when all the wrongs of the ages are to be put right. For, be it remembered, “the day” is not a brief period of twenty-four hours, but a day that will embrace the entire Millennium, concluding with the passing away of the earth and the heavens, thus introducing the day of eternity, or the day of God, as set forth in Peter’s second letter (3:10-12). The present season is called “man’s day,” for it is the time (of undefined duration) when man is doing his own will (1 Cor. 4:3; marginal reading, “day,” in place of “judgment”). For the heavenly saints, “the day of Christ” will immediately follow, when, caught up to meet their Lord in the air, they shall be manifested before His judgment-seat (Phil. 1:6, 10). The day of the Lord then begins for Israel and the nations, embracing the judgments to be visited on the earth and the reign of righteousness, closing when the kingdom is delivered up to the Father, and God (Father, Son, and Spirit) will be all in all throughout the never-ending “day of God,” the eternal state.
It is then, of the day when the Lord Jesus returns in manifested glory to visit judgment on all who have refused the everlasting gospel, that the opening verse treats. That day will “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.” Thus will men be made to know the wrath of the Lamb, when He shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God.
But in that day of thick darkness and gloominess, for a preserved remnant light shall break forth in overwhelming glory. “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. 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” (vers. 2, 3). This is very different from the hope of the Church. We wait for the shining-forth of the Morning Star, not the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, which latter is distinctively Israel’s hope. The Morning Star is the herald of the dawn, and rises ere the Sun is yet visible. So will the Lord Jesus descend from heaven with a shout, and translate the heavenly saints to the Father’s house prior to the time of Jacob’s trouble, the great tribulation, which takes place upon the earth in a brief interval between the coming of Christ for the Church and His appearing with His holy ones in glorious majesty, for the relief of the remnant of Judah, and Israel, in the day of their sore trial as a result of their rejection of the Lord when He came before in grace. This is the shining-forth of the Sun of Righteousness, whose beams will bring healing for His own, but will consume the wicked with their intensity. It will not be the Church, but Israel, who will then tread down the evil-doers as ashes beneath their feet, in accordance with the universal testimony of the prophets.
It should be plain to all thoughtful students of the word of God that this passage completely nullifies the theory of a converted world at the coming of Christ. Where, then, would be the wicked who are to be trodden down? The fact is that Scripture knows nothing of this favorite system of modern divines. There will be no Millennium till Christ appears, for He must first act in power for the destruction of all who have refused to own His claims, thus purging the scene for the establishment of His kingdom.
Much has been made of these three opening verses by annihilationists of every school. They suppose the prophet to refer to the final day of judgment, and the ultimate destruction of the lost in the lake of fire. Their argument is that as the wicked will then be burnt up root and branch, and be ashes under the feet of the righteous, they will have ceased entirely to exist, and thus will have been effectually blotted out of God’s universe.
The mistake is made by failing to observe that it is temporal judgment which is here foretold, of which that which fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah was a sample. Fire from heaven will consume the bodies of the wicked on the earth before the millennial kingdom is set up, and thus become ashes under the feet of the righteous. But there is no hint here as to what will become of the soul and spirit. We learn elsewhere in Scripture of judgment after death, though the body be burned to ashes. Our Lord tells us that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for certain of the cities in which His mighty works had been performed but He Himself had been rejected.
Nearly forty centuries have elapsed since the wicked dwellers in the cities of the plain were burned up root and branch. Had Abraham or Lot walked over the sites of those destroyed places a few days after the fire fell from heaven, the wicked would have been ashes under the soles of their feet. But were they then annihilated? Far from it. They have yet to stand before the Great White Throne for judgment where they will be dealt with in accordance with the light they had, and which they refused.
The same may be said of “the proud, and all that do wickedly,” spoken of here by Malachi. Destroyed utterly as to their bodies and place on earth, they yet exist in the world of spirits, and will prove that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” For, as our Lord Jesus said, “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him” (Luke 20:38). Let not the reader, if unsaved, be lulled to sleep by the devil’s gospel of final extinction. Abiding wrath and eternal judgment are terrible realities from which the precious blood of Christ alone can deliver.
In Gen. 1:16 the sun is first introduced, the type of the Lord Jesus from whom His Church gets all her light, even as the moon reflects the glory of the sun. Ere Malachi closes the Old Testament canon, he reverts to that first type, and presents the same glorious person as “the Sun of Righteousness.”
In view of all the expostulation that has gone before, the last three verses take on a most solemn character. Judah is exhorted to remember the law of Moses, which God had commanded for all Israel, but which they had violated from the first, and were now filling up the cup of their iniquities. To call them back to Himself, He would send them Elijah the prophet, ere the coming of that great and dreadful day of the Lord which we have been contemplating. We know from Matt. 17:10-13, and Mark 9:11-13, that, for faith, John the Baptist was that Elijah; but the nation received him not as such; therefore the ministry here referred to is yet future. As Moses and Elijah are coupled together in these verses (the lawgiver and the restorer), so we see the signs of each wrought by the two witnesses of Revelation 11, which would seem to make plain the character of the ministry to be raised up as a testimony in Jerusalem at the time of the end.
Elijah is to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, thus bringing all the remnant into subjection to the revealed will of God, that He may not come and smite the earth with a curse.
And so with this solemn word, curse, the Old Testament abruptly comes to a close. The law had been violated in every particular. On the ground of the legal covenant the people had no hope whatever. Wrath like a dark cloud was lowering over their heads. The awful curse of that broken law was all they had earned after long ages of trial. But a Redeemer had been promised; and where there was faith, in any who felt the seriousness of their condition, they looked on to the coming of the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head, and Himself be made a curse, that all who put their trust in Him might be redeemed from the doom they had so long and fully deserved. “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Through Him alone can guilty men, who own their lost estate and trust His grace, be delivered from the “curse.”
After many months of intermittent labor, I have been, through grace, enabled to complete this volume; and I send it forth with the earnest prayer that God may use it—imperfect in many respects as I know it to be—to the glory of His great name and the blessing of many of His people.
Everywhere we have found the same great facts emphasized. Man in his best estate is altogether vanity; but grace abounds over all our sin and failure.
If at times the notes seem pessimistic, and unduly burdened with a sense of the failure of the testimony committed to man, it is not intentional, but rather an evidence of human frailty and imperfection. For the prophets, rightly read, lead to optimism of the brightest hue, occupying the soul with evil only that it may be judged in oneself, but pointing on to the glad morning without clouds when He for whom we wait shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, and His displayed kingdom shall be like clear shining after the storm has passed.
Evil is but transitory, and has sway only for a moment. The good shall abide forever, when the last remains of sin will be banished to the lake of fire, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless… Therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:14, 17, 18).