Today’s Bible reading

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. – Malachi 4:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

The Prophet Malachi, painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1310 (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena Cathedral).

Malachi is called a “minor” prophet since his work is brief (four chapters). His is the last word in the Nevi’im, and also the last book in the Old Testament in the Bible.

Malachi was a prophet of God sent to the Jews who had resettled in Judea and to all Israel in general. Toward the close of the book, it becomes clear that God is also speaking to all of humankind. The Lord will not endure humanity’s sins forever, and a day of judgment is coming. God also reveals through Malachi that wrath will be held back if people will reconnect.

When the Jews began returning from their 70 years of Babylonian captivity, God directed them to begin restoring Jerusalem and building the second temple, often called Zerubbabel’s temple. The completion of the new temple by 516 B.C. allowed the Jews to carry out the ritual services of the sanctuary (Malachi 1:10; 3:10). Many years later the walls of Jerusalem were also rebuilt under Nehemiah. Malachi appears to have been a contemporary of governor Nehemiah, indicated by many common themes between the two writers.

His work has a few consistent themes: spiritual purity, faithful leadership, a promised messenger (chapter three prophesies both John the Baptist and Jesus), and, as today’s reading shows, attention to the coming day of judgment.

In the closing words of his message, Malachi shares God’s promise (last paragraph in today’s reading). His prophecy points to a messenger coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, just as John the Baptist came with a similar message (Luke 1:16-17). It also points to an end-time work of the Church. Through its caring for the people whom God calls, the Church is turning the hearts of parents to children, as well as the hearts of children to parents. Thereby, the physical family structure is restored and renewed. The Church’s preaching to the world also turns the hearts of people who are God’s children by creation back to Him, their heavenly Father. In this present evil world, people by nature are more and more turned away from their Father and His expectations for how they should live. There has never been a greater need for “an Elijah work.”

For such a small book, Malachi is full of colorful, frightening and encouraging images that make it in to many songs. Charles Wesley quotes him in Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Jesus alludes to Malachi twice in Matthew 11 as he praises John the Baptist, his prophesied forerunner. If Jesus finds Malachi important, so do we.

Suggestions for action

People resent the “oven” in today’s reading so much that they ignore the picture of dancing in their stall like a young calf. We humans are very interested in our autonomy and our illusions about our future. We not only create stubble as a result, we become it (and then name stubble “normal”). Thank God for all the prophets in your life who just can’t stand that, along with God. They are like Elijahs who point the way to Jesus and joy.

Check out the Bible Project video for Malachi [link]