Malachi is not finished with identifying specific sins of the people. He returns to the theme of their inattention to the proper worship of and reverence for God (cf. 2:1ff.) and to charges that they have actually gone so far as to say harsh things against the Lord (v. 13). The word translated as harsh is in the intensive mood indicating the severity of the charge.
Again the people question the truth of the prophet's word by asking what they have said to bring about such condemnation (v. 13). Four things are enumerated in reply. They have said that it does not pay to serve God; repentance gets us nowhere; it is the evildoer not the righteous who prosper; even those who insolently challenge God's demands escape punishment (vv. 14-15).
The prophet, however, recognizes that a faithful remnant remains. The remnant will be God's treasured possession to be spared in the coming judgment. No matter how it may appear at times there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (vv. 16-18).
Judgment will be fierce and all-consuming. None of the evildoers will escape (4:1; cf. 3:5). The Day of Judgment is a consistent tradition among the Prophets, covering a period from about 740 b.c. and now reiterated by Malachi near 450 b.c. Judgment is not to be construed as raw, vindictive retaliation for wickedness, but as an inevitable consequence of a just God upholding moral law. But judgment includes also a promise of hope and protection for the faithful in that glory. The Day of the Lord will be a day of purification. The evildoer will be consumed like a fire burning stubble. The faithful will be preserved and will survive that day. Their righteousness will show forth as a blazing sun (Verhoef, 328). The early Christians saw the sun of righteousness . . . with healing in its wings (v. 2; cf. KJV) as a clear reference to the Messiah. The reference to Elijah as the forerunner of that day (vv. 5-6) was further proof of the messianic intent. This view was intensified by Jesus' reference to John the Baptist in this connection (Mt 11:14; 17:10ff.; Lk 1:17; 9:18-19).
In the Hebrew Bible 4:1-6 is a part of ch. 3. These verses become 3:19-24. Many scholars consider vv. 4-6 as an editorial addition to Malachi that serves as a conclusion to the Minor Prophets. It is true that these twelve books were considered as one in the Hebrew tradition—it was the Book of the Twelve. Furthermore, the scroll of the Twelve was the concluding scroll of the Latter Prophets, i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve. A final remonstrance is given to obey the law of Moses, along with a promise to send back Elijah from the heavens to which he was miraculously transported (2Ki 2:11). This event will mark the coming of the Day of the Lord. Elijah's mission will be to restore concord between children and their parents, thus averting the sending of a curse upon the earth. The word for curse, cherem, means to give irrevocably things or persons to the Lord (cf. Jos 7:1, 11-13, 15 where the word is translated “devoted”).
Malachi is the bridge between the religion of the prophetic movement and later Judaism. Strong emphasis is laid upon the active involvement of Yahweh in the history of his people and upon the necessity of building a cohesive community that is responsive to the will of God (see further in Napier, 265).
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