The Coming Day of the LORD
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (vv. 5–6).- Malachi 4
Judahites living in the middle of the fifth century BC found themselves in what seemed to be a hopeless situation. Though back in their land, they were not in charge of their own destiny, as they were but a small province of the mighty Persian Empire. The temple was rebuilt, but God’s presence had not yet returned to the Holy of Holies (Mal. 3:1). David’s line had no throne in Jerusalem. In sum, none of the great restoration promises seemed to be coming true (Deut. 30:1–10; Amos 9:11–15; Mic. 4:1–5). Thus, we are not surprised that the Jews who lacked faith looked around them and said, to paraphrase it: “What is the point of serving Yahweh? We are getting no blessing from it” (Mal. 3:13–14).
Those of faith such as Malachi, however, saw the real problem. God was not unfaithful to His promises; rather, the nation as a whole remained unfaithful to the covenant. Full restoration was dependent upon true repentance, but this repentance was not forthcoming (Lev. 26:40–45; Dan. 9). Blemished sacrifices were being offered. The tithe was being withheld from the Lord. The poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner living in the land were being oppressed (Mal. 1–3). By and large, the people were no longer worshipping idols. But this was merely superficial, for they were not truly worshipping the one true God.
By the end of Malachi’s ministry, the prophet understood that the restoration could not come without God’s mightily and dramatically intervening as He did in days of old. It would take a prophet no less than Elijah, whose miracles and boldness proved without a shadow of a doubt that He was God’s spokesman, to preach the message that would bring about true repentance (Mal. 4:5–6). The day of the Lord, the day in which He completes salvation, sets Israel over the nations, and defeats all of His enemies would come, but not before Elijah returned (vv. 1–4). He would be the messenger to prepare the way of the Lord (3:1a; see Isa. 40:3–5). Immediately following Elijah’s ministry, the Lord Himself would come to His temple, to His repentant people, and He would refine them in glory that they would serve Him all of their days (Mal. 3:1b–4).
With the end of the ministry of Malachi, the voice of prophecy fell silent in Israel—but not forever. The great day of the Lord in which He reveals His mighty arm of salvation would come. David would return to His throne. The conditions of exile would be ended. But the faithful old covenant believer would have to wait just a little bit longer to see all this.
The hardest thing about the life of faith is that the Lord often seems slow to keep His promises. Sometimes we feel like we must wait, wait, and then wait some more for God to intervene. Faith, however, trusts that God is not slow but is working out all things in His time. It was hundreds of years after Malachi’s day that the Messiah came—but He came. As we wait for His return and for answers to prayer, we must remember that all this will come as well.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 18