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It's two differences in the end of Malachi 4 in KJV and ESV as follows;

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:6 - KJV)

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.” (Malachi 4:6 - ESV)

6 והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם פן אבוא והכיתי את הארץ חרם׃

חרם BLB, Strong's H2764

KJV; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse
ESV; lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction

a curse; a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something. a destruction; the action or process of causing so much damage to something that it no longer exists or cannot be repaired.

The two word has a different meaning. Will God cause us harm by a curse (boils, infected sores, itchy rash etc) or will he destroy us that is to annihilate man.

3 Answers 3

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The operative word here is חֵרֶם (cherem) whose meaning, as per BDB is listed below in the appendix. This shows that the meaning is primarily "devotion" but when such a bad, evil or shunned thing is so devoted, it is devoted to destruction which we would now call a curse.

This, we could say that חֵרֶם could be correctly translated by "curse", or, "devoted to destruction" (or similar) and the modern versions are divided between these alternatives; none are literal saying "devoted", but all must interpret to make correct sense of the original.

APPENDIX - BDB meaning of חֵרֶם

1 devoted thing.

2 devotion, ban; — ׳ח absolute Joshua 6:17 24t. (most read חֶרֶם Zechariah 14:11, Baer חֵרֶם); חֶ֑רֶם Joshua 7:1; suffix חֶרְמִי 1 Kings 20:42; Isaiah 34:5; — thing devoted to ׳י:

1 thing hostile to theocracy, and therefore (in the strictest application) to be either destroyed, or, in the case of certain objects (e.g. silver and gold, vessels of brass and iron Joshua 6:19,24), set apart to sacred uses; especially

a. of a Canaan. city, as Jericho, including all inhabitants (except Rahab's family) and spoil Joshua 6:17,18 (twice in verse); Joshua 7:1,11,15; Achan by taking מִןהַֿחֵרֶם made (camp of) Israel ׳ח Joshua 7:12; compare Joshua 6:18, and became himself ׳ח, and was stoned and, with his family and possessions, including the spoil, was burnt Joshua 7:1,11,12,13 (twice in verse) (all J E except Joshua 7:1 P; compare Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:24; Joshua 7:25); ׳מָעַל מַעַל בַּח committed unfaithfulness in the matter of the devoted thing is term for the sin Joshua 7:1; Joshua 22:20 (both P), compare ׳מָעַל בַּח 1 Chronicles 2:7; Saul and Israel spared Agag king of Amalek and ׳רֵאשִׁית הַח i.e. of the spoil (sheep and oxen), which should have been utterly destroyed 1 Samuel 15:21 (compare 1 Samuel 15:3; 1 Samuel 15:8; Saul rejected by ׳י for this 1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Samuel 15:26); so an idolatrous city in Israel should become ׳ח, with all its contents, and be utterly destroyed Deuteronomy 13:17 (compare Deuteronomy 13:13; Deuteronomy 13:15; Deuteronomy 13:16).

b. of individuals, one having relic of Canaanit. god in his house should become ׳ח, the relic being ׳ח Deuteronomy 7:26 (twice in verse); every human being who became ׳ח should be killed Leviticus 27:29 (twice in verse) (P; see Di).

2 apparently (so Di) anything devoted to sanctuary under specially stringent conditions Leviticus 27:28 (see Di; and compare Ezra 10:8); a field consecrated to ׳י becomes under certain conditions ׳כִּשְׂדֵה הַח Leviticus 27:21; every ׳ח is קֹדֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁים ליהוה Leviticus 27:28, and no ׳ח that a manmay devote, whether man, beast or field, may be sold or redeemed Leviticus 27:28; every such ׳ח (as in case of metals and metal objects Joshua 6:17,19) went to Aaron and his sons Numbers 18:14 (P), to Zadokite priests Ezekiel 44:29.

3 devotion, ban, involving destruction; אִישׁ חֶרְמִי 1 Kings 20:42 man under my (׳י's) ban (of Benhadad); עַם חֶרְמִי Isaiah 34:5 (of Edom); ׳נתן לַח Isaiah 43:28 figurative of ׳יs giving over Judah to Chaldaea; ׳ח not to be in future Zechariah 14:11; ׳מֶּןאָֿבוֺא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתהָֿאָרֶץ ח Malachi 3:24 smite the land with a ban, i.e. utterly destroy it.

II. חֵ֫רֶם noun masculine net (as something perforated; compare Arabic perforated work, Fl in NHWBii, 208; Late Hebrew חֵרֶם net; Phoenician חרם maker of nets) — absolute ׳ח Micah 7:2; suffix חֶרְמִי Ezekiel 32:3, חֶרְמוֺ Habakkuk 1:15,16,17; plural חֲרָמִים Ecclesiastes 7:26; Ezekiel 26:5,14; Ezekiel 47:10; — hunter's net Micah 7:2; Ecclesiastes 7:26; fisherman's net Ezekiel 26:5,14; Ezekiel 32:3; Ezekiel 47:10; Habakkuk 1:15,16,17.

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  • I think Deuteronomy 1:44 has a very similar usage as in Malachi 4:6. It involves both roots הכאה and חורמה just like the verse in question.
    – Kapandaria
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:57
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ESV makes the wrong choice when it translates cherem as a "decree of utter destruction" here. As @Dottard's answer states, the term has several meanings. A good example of how the term is meant in Malachi can be found in Isaiah 43:

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins. Put Me in remembrance; Let us contend together; State your case, that you may be acquitted. Your first father sinned, And your mediators have transgressed against Me. Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary; I will give Jacob to the curse, And Israel to reproaches. (25-28 NKJV)

The text goes on to speak of God's intention to restore Jacob (meaning the nation of Judah) and bless it. This is the same sense as is implied in Mal. 4.

"A degree of utter destruction" is a possible choice as a translation but "curse" is better. It conveys the spiritual quality of the word without opting for one of several other technical meanings.

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The root of the word חרם means to make something prohibited from use. This is what we find in Joshua 7:1:

וַיִּמְעֲל֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מַ֖עַל בַּחֵ֑רֶם וַיִּקַּ֡ח עָכָ֣ן בֶּן־כַּרְמִי֩ בֶן־זַבְדִּ֨י בֶן־זֶ֜רַח לְמַטֵּ֤ה יְהוּדָה֙ מִן־הַחֵ֔רֶם And the Children of Israel violated the cherem; And Achan son of Karmi son of Zavdi son of Zerech from the tribe of Judah took from the cherem

חרם here does not mean a curse. And as far as I can tell it never means a curse (note, for example, that in the entire Balaam story in which multiple worse for "curse" are used, חרם is not one of them). One way that something can be made prohibited from use is to limit is use to G-d or the Temple. So we find in Leviticus 27:28

אַךְ־כׇּל־חֵ֡רֶם אֲשֶׁ֣ר יַחֲרִם֩ אִ֨ישׁ לַֽיַ-ה֙ But any proscription that a person has proscribed to G-d

A person has the ability to make an object or animal prohibited from use by declaring it to be for G-d only.

חרם has an additional meaning of "destruction." Perhaps this is because when something is destroyed it becomes unavailable for use just as if it was prohibited through a verbal cherem. We find this use of חרם in Deuteronomy 7:2 in the discussion of the war to come against the Canaanites:

וְהִכִּיתָ֑ם הַחֲרֵ֤ם תַּחֲרִים֙ אֹתָ֔ם לֹא־תִכְרֹ֥ת לָהֶ֛ם בְּרִ֖ית וְלֹ֥א תְחָנֵּֽם And you will strike them; you shall surely destroy them (lit. destroy destroy them), do not enter into a covenant with them and show them no grace.

So which meaning of חרם fits best in the final verse in Malachi? I think it is clear that the proper translation is "destruction."

First the term והכיתי mirrors the term וְהִכִּיתָ֑ם in Deuteronomy 7:2. G-d will strike the land in the way he was ordering the Israelites to strike the land. Second, "a prohibition of use" does not fit well in the context. If the Israelites are not following the teachings of Moses (see 2 verses prior), why would they care about a new prohibition of use? And if it means that G-d will make the land uninhabitable, that is the same as destruction.

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