“Ah Yes, I REMEMBER It Well” – Do You?

~ Fourth and Final Commentary In The Series On The Book Of Malachi

MALACHI 4:4-6 (NLT)

[4]  “Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant-all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

[5]  “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. 

[6]  His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.  Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

With only three verses to look at, I thought this particular word investigation would be fairly short.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way and there are many reasons why this final chapter commentary is longer than I expected. 

The Book Of Malachi certainly serves as a bridge from the past to the future for the Israelites during Malachi’s day.  And for him and for us, as the last book of the Old Testament, it also serves as a bridge to the New Testament.

So let’s use the theme ‘s statement as an outline which we can examine this passage of Scripture:  WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE PAST – “Remember it well!”

In verse 4, God commands the people to remember the law of His servant, Moses.  The entire book of Malachi has shown us a covenant-keeping God who still loves and pursues His people even though they haven’t remained faithful to Him.  It’s not surprising that the final command of the book is to remember the Law of Moses which the people who had come to pay little attention to.

But the word “remember” conveys much more than just mental recognition:  “remember” (Heb. “zokar”) means “to bring to mind and act accordingly.”  So when God commands His people to remember the law, He’s calling them to once again become a covenant-keeping people who not only know the Law but also puts it into practice.

The idea of remembering is a common theme in the book of Deuteronomy.  The command or admonition to REMEMBER is found 14 times in that book alone and the majority of those verses are connected with the need to obey or keep God’s command.

The Book Of Deuteronomy also uses some form of the same phrases that I’ve found here in Malachi – “the statutes and rules” – 17 times in the book of Deuteronomy including this very relevant passage:  (Deut. 6:1-3)

There’s no mistaking here that the purpose of knowing and remembering the law so that the people can put it into practice.  That principle is certainly just as applicable today to New Testament Christians as it was to the Israelites of Malachi’s day.

As we know, keeping God’s law isn’t a requirement for SALVATION – which can’t be earned but completely an act of God’s grace – but it should be a result of that salvation.

LEARNING FROM THE PAST –

While reading the Scripture, we’re not only exposed to God’s LAW so we can know and understand what that law is, but we also read the historical accounts and demonstrate the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience.  So we look back to learn from the past as we remember God.  And once we do that, we can move onto the next step – WE NEED TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT – “TURN”

I spent a lot of time contemplating the first part of verse 6, where Malachi describes that Elijah will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.  And frankly, I’m still somewhat up in the air – confused!  But with the help of a couple other passages that shed some light on that verse, I think I can at least develop some useful applications we can use in our lives.

There seem to be two major camps when it comes to VERSE 6 –

In reading several commentaries I found some hold that the fathers here are the fathers of FAITH, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses.  Certainly the idea of the Israelites turning back to the faith of their spiritual ancestors would be consistent with the idea of REMEMBERING the commands given to Moses.  But the problem with that position is it really doesn’t explain how the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children.

The other major position if this verse deals with God restoring relationships of the family – particularly the relationships between fathers and children.  But to me, the weakness of that viewpoint is that it doesn’t fit into the ending of Malachi’s prophecy that deals with the much larger issue of the whole nation’s rebellion against God and His law.  Obviously, that impacts relationships within the family, but it doesn’t seem to be the main point of the prophecy.

Since I adhere to the idea that Scripture is always the best commentary on Scripture, we need to look together at a couple of other passages in the Bible that gives additional insight, a practice we should stay with when looking for answers in the Bible.

I have already looked up one of those passages –  Deuteronomy 6, lets notice and underline verse 2 – the purpose of observing the statutes and rules is to “FEAR GOD” – and we have seen that idea frequently if you’ve been following along in the series on Malachi [See previous Word Detective posts, 1, 2, and 3.].  And you’ll also notice here that “you and your sons and your son’s son” keep the law.  So the idea planted here is that successive generations of Israelites are to keep the Law as the law is constantly passed down from father to son.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how that’s done, the next part of Deuteronomy 6 goes on to give some wonderful guidelines on how fathers are supposed to do that.

In the Hebrew language, Malachi 4:6 seemed to be confusing at first reading.  Most of the English translations tend to translate the verse, “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers..” (NIV).

But it’s also possible to translate that phrase like this:  “And He will turn the hearts of the fathers together with those of the children [to Me], and the hearts of the children with those of their fathers [to Me].”  That seems to be consistent with Deuteronomy 6 and consistent with what is seen earlier in the Book of Malachi 3:7…

The word “RETURN” in the above verse is the same word that is translated “turn” in Malachi 4:6, another connection that seems to support the alternate translation which focuses on ALL the people turning their hearts toward God rather than toward each other.

Back to my last blog-post, the third in the series, Malachi 3:1, that prophecy is multi-layered.  The “messenger” was fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus by John the Baptist, and Jesus confirmed the prophecy with these words:

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  (Matthew 11:13-14)

Jesus is clearly connecting John to both Malachi’s and Isaiah’s prophecies about the forerunner to be like Elijah. (See Isaiah 40:3-4). 

During his day as a prophet, Elijah had turned the Israelites back to God at the time of their worst apostasy when Ahab and Jezabel made Baal worship part of Israel’s worship.  John had a similar ministry.

But notice that Jesus indicates here in Matthew that since Israel wasn’t willing to accept Him as Messiah, and also refused to accept that John was the forerunner who had been prophesied in the Old Testament, so because of that, there will be a second Elijah who will precede the second coming of Jesus and he is the one who will bring to its final fulfillment of this prophecy of hearts being turned.

The angel who comes to Zechariah informing him of the coming birth of his son John, almost certainly had Malachi’s prophecy in mind when he spoke these words about John:

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Although the angel mentions the turning of the hearts of the father to the children, the main idea here is that John’s role is to turn ALL hearts – fathers and children – to the Lord their God.

So even if Malachi is focusing on the relationship of fathers and children, the way reconciliation occurs in the family when ALL the hearts are turned back to God.  Our horizontal relationships with other people should never surpass our vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father.

So regardless of our views of Malachi 4:6, the bottom line is that it all comes down to our hearts being turned to God.

THE KEY to living in the present then, according to the passage of scripture in Malachi, is to “turn our hearts.”

I’ve already pointed out the underlying Hebrew word “to turn”, but it also can be translated “return.”  That same Hebrew word in the OT is frequently translated “repent”, which isn’t surprising and given that repentance is the idea of turning our hearts from sin and turning then back to God.

Repentance, or turning back to God, isn’t just something that we do once in our lifetime and then forget it.  It’s something that we must do every minute of every day.  The people of Malachi’s day had forgotten that and look where they ended up.

It’s easy to criticize the Israelites who had descended into lukewarm worship by merely giving God the leftovers. But the fact is, we are in danger of ending up there ourselves if we don’t guard our hearts and consistently turn them from evil and turn back to God.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT –

We learn from the past as we remember God’s law – We live in the present by turning our hearts to God.

Finally…We need to look to the future – “behold”

The word “behold” is used in the prophets to grab our attention.  It’s like God shouting to the people here to take notice of what He’s about to say.  And what follows is a message of God’s grace and mercy.

Yes, the great and awesome day of the Lord Jesus is coming!  And as we’ve seen it’s not going to be a pleasant time for those who’ve rebelled against God and refused to turn back to Him.

Before He does that, he’s going to send his messenger, either Elijah himself or someone else like John the Baptist, to minister like Elijah in giving people one last chance to turn to Him.

Although there’s certainly not enough biblical evidence to definitely identify this forerunner with one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, that’s certainly one possibility.  There in Revelation, those two witnesses preach God’s Word for 3 1/2 years prior to the second coming of Jesus.  But regardless of the identity, God’s purpose is made clear.  His aim is to spare people from being cursed – separated from God’s glory; His person and the coming wrath.

So before Jesus returns to the earth one more time to carry out swift justice to those who have rejected Him, He’s going to give people one last chance to return to Him.  And the good news is…at least some people are going to have their hearts turned toward God as the result of his ministry.

What Malachi makes clear here is how we view the future is dependent on how well we’ve remembered the past and turned in the present.

If you remember God’s law (His Word in the Bible) by seeking to understand it and do it, and if your heart is turned toward God, then you can look to the future with great hope and anticipation, knowing God’s faithful remnant who will be spared from God’s wrath will spend eternity in God’s presence.

But if you fail to remember God’s law – if you fail in repentance in turning your heart to God, then if you’re not fearful of the future, you certainly should be!  Because God is holy and just, He must judge those who have chosen to rebel against Him and that judgment is going to be swift, horrible and everlasting.  It truly will be the utter destruction that Malachi writes about at the end of his prophecy.

Several people in the past have asked me, “Teacher, how about giving us some practical applications from the Word Study?”  So I’m going to list three:

#1.  We must turn our hearts to God through faith in Christ Jesus.

God’s desire for us is to turn our hearts–body, mind, and soul–to Him.  But that’s not something that we can do on our own.  Trust me, for you will find yourself in frustration when you try to accomplish this on your own terms.  Although the word Messiah or the name of Jesus is never mentioned in the Book of Malachi, is the idea of a Messiah that comes first to save God’s people and then returns a second time to judge those who refuse to turn their hearts to Him is a central theme.  Because God is holy and we are not, then the only way we can truly turn our hearts toward Him is by placing our trust in that Messiah, Jesus.  By taking our sins upon Himself and dying on the cross to pay the penalty for those sins, He’s made it possible for us to have a relationship with God in which we are able to turn our hearts to Him.

#2.  We must consistently spend time in God’s Word.

The only way we can live in obedience is to know what God’s Word says!  That means that we have to be spending consistent time in God’s Word, reading, and praying over it on a consistent basis.  A half-hour once a week on Sunday morning will never be adequate to really know and understand the Bible.  And what I’ve been personally missing lately, and I’m not alone, and is necessary and valuable for all of us, is spending time with other believers each week, where digging into the Bible is benefitting from one another’s insights in the Scriptures.

#3.  We must be intentional, living, vocal witnesses for Jesus.

In light of the possible two destinies faced by every human being – eternal life for those who have placed their faith in Jesus and eternal punishment for those who have not, our witness for Jesus Christ is essential.

Our effectiveness in our witness –

It’s likely that God has brought some people into your life that has no one else in their lives that’s going to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.  For our witness to be effective, I want to throw out three adjectives to describe what that WITNESS is to be like.

First, our witness must be intentional.  

We must strategically pray for the people that God brings into our lives and then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prepare, as Peter urges in 1 Peter 3:15…

That means being able to share my own testimony of my relationship with Jesus and able to use the Bible to explain how the other person can have the same type of relationship with Him.

Second, our witness has to be lived out.  Some call it Lifestyle Evangelism.

There’s nothing that will turn a person off when it comes to their relationship with God than someone whose life isn’t consistent with their words.  But at the same time, it’s not enough to just live for Jesus with the hope someone else is going to figure out your life is different than theirs.  That’s a great start, but at some point, we’re going to have to open our mouths.

In concluding this study on Malachi, the most important thing we should take away is to understand just how much God loves us.

He’s a covenant-keeping God, a promise-keeper, a God who loves us so much that He continues to pursue us even when we fail Him.  And if we’ll take and apply the principles He has given us in His Word, we’ll be in a much better position to pursue Him.

And in that same way remembering that God desires for me (and you) to pursue Him in the same way He pursued us!

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CREDITS:

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search; YouTube Music Video – I Remember It Well from the movie, Gigi.

Bible Translations Used:  New Living Translation (NLT); New International Version (NIV); English Standard Version (ESV); 

Word Sources:  Bible Hub:  NASB Hebrew Lexicon.

Commentary:  HEBREW WORD STUDY – FORETELLER OR PROPHET, by Chaim & Laura – Sept. 13, 2014 Devotionals; Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible – Malachi 4 – StudyLight.org.