This chapter contains the very last verses of the Old Testament. After the prophet’s lips had finished pronouncing these words, there was to be no direct message from the Lord for over 400 years. And it is of the utmost importance that the final word of this discourse was one that would arrest attention: curse! But as we look at it a little more closely, we shall see that even though the Old Testament thus ends, yet the tenderness of the Divine heart may still be seen here; for God’s last message to His Old Testament people was intended to arouse them, in order that the threatened curse might never rest upon them!
The whole history of mankind to this point had been a story of failure; and so the only word that was possible from the God of all perfection, as revealing His attitude toward this state of things, was the word curse. As we read the Biblical narrative, we observe how constantly it manifests the faithfulness of God, the tenderness of His heart, and the ever-moving compassion of His nature toward human beings. Nevertheless, side by side with the bright and wondrous story of infinite pity and untiring compassion, we have a record of human failure, disobedience, rebellion, and murmuring. Every significant era in the Old Testament history – the Garden of Eden, the Patriarchal age, the Mosaic period, the days of the kings, and the times of the prophets – ended in failure. And when God looked upon the Jewish nation – whom He had called and created in order to be a blessing to the whole earth – He said to them, “Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
But it is in the first word of that clause that a ray of hope and gladness shines forth: “Lest I come!” Although the Old Testament concludes with a curse threatened, it does not end with a curse pronounced. It is not a word that declares that hope is forever past, and that there can be no redemption or deliverance. It is a statement intended to teach us that Jehovah has not yet pronounced this curse, and that He does not desire to do so. Thus the word which concludes the prophetic writings is the Lord’s last appeal of love, and it is aimed at averting calamity by announcing it as the natural outcome of sin against Him.
The first three verses of this chapter were originally a prophecy of the first coming of Christ, but they are also a reference to the day of His Second Advent; and those who do wickedly shall surely feel the fiery vengeance of His burning wrath on that day. To those who are not a child of God, Christ shall be revealed in flaming fire to execute judgment upon the proud and all who do wickedly. But to His own people, Jesus is a rejoicing Light – the Sun of righteousness, Who came to bring not only light to a dark world, but also health to a sin-diseased world! Through Him, believers are justified and sanctified and brought to see the light of the Gospel; and His influences render the sinner holy, joyful, and fruitful. His people are like “calves of the stall” – that is, they are not turned loose to pasture on their own, but they are like a calf that is petted and personally fed and cared for by the farmer.
The last three verses of this passage are a solemn conclusion indeed, wherein Malachi bade God’s people to remember the Law of Moses. Even though we do not have prophets anymore, yet as long as we have Bibles, we may keep up our communion with the Lord. Let others boast in their proud reasoning and call it “enlightenment”; but let us keep near to the Sacred Word, through which the Sun of Righteousness shines upon His children! Since the Lord’s people were about to experience a long period in which there would be no direct revelation from Him, Malachi here exhorted them that they must keep up a believing hope and expectation of the Gospel of Christ. They must watch for the beginning of it, which would be when the “second Elijah” – that is, John the Baptizer (Matt. 17:10-13) – would appear on the scene and prepare the way for the appearance of the Messiah by preaching repentance and reformation, as Elijah had done in his own days. John would preach a doctrine that would reach people’s hearts, work real change in them, and restore broken relationships (verse 6). And thus he would prepare the way for the Kingdom of heaven.
No one can expect to escape the curse of God’s broken law, or to enjoy the happiness of His chosen and redeemed people, unless their hearts are turned from sin and the world to Christ and holiness. May the grace and love of our Lord Jesus work such a change in us all, and thereby make our hearts ready to receive Him! And let us pray that this change may not merely be an internal experience; but rather, that it may be a transformation that is played out in the way we live our daily lives, and in the way we show love in our relationships with one another – whether as a parent, child, spouse, or friend!
Between the time when Malachi preached these powerful words and the days when John the Baptizer began to preach in the spirit and power of Elijah, 400 long and silent years ran their course. During this period, the Gospel-message that was contained in these final words of prophecy was the last Divine communication to mankind. Surely, to many, it was a word of power – transforming lives and changing conduct by virtue of the promise of the dawning of the day of the Lord. To those who eagerly looked for the time of Divine interposition, life became a new experience; and in their lives and characters, the Gospel of love worked wonders of transformation and beauty. Nevertheless, it is to be feared that many of the professing people of God slighted this message of the Gospel, and probably argued against it; for when the Messiah did arrive in human flesh, we only read that Simeon and Anna and a few wise shepherds made up the entirety of the Lord’s chosen remnant who were waiting for the glorious day when “the Sun of righteousness” would “arise with healing in his wings!”
Thus the Old Testament ends. Malachi’s voice became silent. He had told his countrymen of God’s infinite love; and he made the final announcement that Jehovah was not abandoning them nor the world, and that the day was coming when the Sun of righteousness would rise. And thanks be to God, His merciful love is still being poured out upon us all – just as it was being poured out in the days of Malachi! He still calls to His people today in words of infinite tenderness. He has never left Himself without a witness on earth. He has never allowed His Church to be completely silenced and defeated, even though she has experienced dark times indeed throughout the ages. And it is pleasant to think that it is likely that there never were so many hearts everywhere that are loyal to Jesus Christ as there are today, in the uncountable multitude of men, women, and children who desire that His Kingdom may cover the face of the whole globe, and who realize that it must begin in their own hearts and lives as they listen to and honor the voice of their Beloved Shepherd and Friend!
In the 12th verse of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation – which is Christ’s last words to His New Testament people until He returns in glory – we read this announcement: “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me!” Just as the Old Testament ended with the voice that told of the coming of the Lord Jesus, so also does the New. The day is rapidly drawing near when the Sun of righteousness shall appear in all His glory and majesty, with healing in His wings. And our eyes are eagerly looking toward that event. The eyes of the whole world are looking toward that event! Knowingly or unknowingly, humanity waits in its suffering, sorrow, sin, tears, and bloodshed – for what? For the King! Political parties are leaderless, and whole nations are in a state of turmoil and unrest. Creation is broken, earth’s foundations are shaken, and each nation is anchorless. O Lord, come quickly! The Kingdom is waiting for the King! Even people who do not realize it are nevertheless waiting for Him. But what will His coming mean? It depends upon one’s individual character. To those who fear His name, the Sun of righteousness shall bring healing and eternal life; but to the proud and all who do wickedly, He shall be a scorching fire to burn them like stubble.
Let us conclude our study of the Old Testament with a question which we may answer solemnly in our own hearts when we are alone with the Lord. In Revelation 22:16-17, we read these words: “I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you these things in the Churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” If we are a part of Christ’s Church and Bride, then we are now waiting for the rising of that Star. “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come!” The question that each one of us must answer is this: “Can I say, ‘Come,’ in answer to Christ’s announcement that He is coming?” “Behold, I come quickly!” says He. But can we say, “Come, Lord Jesus”? There is no test concerning holiness of life and character that is equal to this one. “I cannot say, ‘Come,’” someone might say; “there are ties that hold me here to earth.” Well, the sooner that earthly tie is broken, the better; and the sooner that we are in harmony with the Holy Spirit, and we can say to Him, “Come!” – then the better it will be for us. Elijah came before the coming of Jesus long ago; and through his preaching, the hearts of the children were turned to their fathers by the thousands. And today, the nearness of the coming of Jesus Christ is very sure and certain. There never was a day when the hunger for true love and power in spiritual labor was as keen as it is today. The need for pure and definite teaching from the Book of God has never before been felt as strongly as it is felt now by the Lord’s sons and daughters in our own times. Everywhere, churches are desperately crying out for spiritual life. What does all this mean? It is a herald of the speedy coming of our King! Let us pray for grace to walk with persistent and never-ceasing care in our spiritual lives, and let us beseech Him to come to us quickly. For when Jesus does appear the second time in glory, He will finally and forever set all things right in His heavenly Kingdom of Love!
Lord Jesus, let Your grace and love work a change in our hearts, and thereby make our hearts ready to receive You when You return again in glory as the Sun of righteousness! Amen!
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sunrise painting by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1870 | Wikimedia Commons
photo of woman standing near window by cottonbro studio | pexels.com