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Malachi 4 (KJV):

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts. 4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 6 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.

Given the immediate context of the Law of Moses in verse 4, Malachi then says "Behold" in verse 5 and states the God will send Elijah before the coming of Messiah. Elijah will then "turn" the heart (singular) of the fathers to the children and vice versa. What does that phrase mean?

3 Answers 3

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"Reconciliation" described in Malachi 3:24 as : Heshiv Lev הֵשִׁיב לֵֽב ( Return [the] Heart ) - illustrates a restoration of familial faith through rectifying disputes based on Chuqim of Moshe from Horev.

He shall [reconcile] fathers with children and children with their fathers, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction. (וְהֵשִׁ֚יב לֵֽב־אָבוֹת֙ עַל־בָּנִ֔ים וְלֵ֥ב בָּנִ֖ים עַל־אֲבוֹתָ֑ם פֶּן־אָב֕וֹא וְהִכֵּיתִ֥י אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ חֵֽרֶם)

In order that we all would reconcile our familial faith in our Father YHVH, by rectifying human behavior through mediation of halachic disputes.

This means that the figurative אֵֽלִיָּה Eliyahu being sent (prior to Moshiach) will be a Levite to restore חֻקִּים Chuqim (Laws) of Moshe's Torah from Mount Horev, as stated in Malachi 3:22 :

"Remember [the] Teaching-of-Moshe My-servant which I ordered him at Horev : laws and ordinances for all Yisrael." (זִכְר֕וּ תּוֹרַ֖ת מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֑י אֲשֶׁר֩ צִוִּ֨יתִי אוֹת֚וֹ בְחֹרֵב֙ עַל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל חֻקִּ֖ים וּמִשְׁפָּטִֽים)

Additional Commentaries regarding the figurative Eliyahu : [1] "Eliyahu HaNavi reminds us that the vision of the full return to Eretz Yisrael will be realized and triggered only by our unreserved and uncompromised commitment to Hashem." - [2] "Shabbat HaGadol ("Great Shabbat" שבת הגדול) is the Shabbat immediately before Passover. There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat of the book of Malachi." - This figurative Eliyahu is coming to resurrect the dead (people who forgot Torah), as believed in the Jerusalem Talmud - Shabbat 1:3 [11].


Source [1] : https://www.sefaria.org/Malachi.3.23?with=From%20David%20to%20Destruction|Quoting&lang=bi

Source [2] : https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/shabbat-hagadol

Source [3] : https://www.sefaria.org/Jerusalem_Talmud_Shabbat.1.3?lang=bi

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    This neglects the fact of the sending of the Messenger of Preparation prior to the sending of the Messenger of the Covenant which Malachi explicitly states is 'the Lord himself' - Malachi 3:1,2.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 5 at 16:26
  • I would agree with Nigel.
    – alb
    Jan 6 at 2:44
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Leaving aside the debate about whether Mal 4 applies to the first advent of Jesus, the second advent of Jesus or both, the best way to begin to understand Mal 4:5, 6 is to observe how it is understood in the NT.

Mal 4:5, 6 - Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome Day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Luke 1:16, 17 - Many of the sons of Israel he will turn back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

The fact that John the Baptist (at least partially) fulfilled Mal 4:5, 6 is confirmed in Matt 11:13, 14, 17:11-14, Mark 9:12, 13. Ellicott observes this:

(6) And he shall turn . . . to their fathers.—This does not refer to the settlement of family disputes, such as might have arisen from marriage with foreign wives. “The fathers are rather the ancestors of the Israelitish nation, the patriarchs, and generally the pious forefathers . . . The sons, or children, are the degenerate descendants of Malachi’s own time and the succeeding ages.”—Keil. “The hearts of the godly fathers and ungodly sons are estranged from one another. The bond of union—viz., the common love of God—is wanting. The fathers are ashamed of their children, and the children of their fathers.”—Hengstenberg. (Comp. particularly Isaiah 29:22-24, and the paraphrastic citation of Malachi 4:6 in Luke 1:17.)

The Cambridge commentary is similar:

  1. he shall turn the heart of the fathers] The “fathers” here are the patriarchs, whom the prophet regards as estranged from their degenerate “children”, or descendants, and ceasing to acknowledge them on account of their unworthy character and conduct. (Comp. Isaiah 63:16; Matthew 3:9.) When “the heart of the children is turned to their fathers”, so that they seek to imitate their example and walk in their ways, or, in other words, when “the disobedient” are turned “to walk in the wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17, R.V.), then the heart of the fathers will turn to them again in paternal recognition and love.

Some think (and the rendering with, R.V. margin, instead of to, favours the view), that the prophet refers to a state of discord and dissension between contending sections of the Jewish people, the old conservative, the young revolutionary, such as would need the intervention of a powerful prophet to correct. But is there any proof that this was the state of society with which John Baptist had to deal? Was not rather the whole nation corrupt and in need of being restored to its pristine purity?

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  • Thanks for the response, however, I was looking for some discussion about the change over from Old Covenant to New Covenant since the entire book of Malachi deals with that subject. That's why I referred to verse 4 in my question statement. Also, in what way did both Elijah and John the Baptist “return” the heart of the children to the fathers? Please notice the word “heart” (2 places) in verse 6 is singular, so wouldn’t that indicate one overarching return and not individual returns? I think your final question starts to get to the “heart” of the answer.
    – alb
    Jan 5 at 22:07
  • @alb - the singular "heart" could possibly be interpreted in a collective (singular) sense.
    – Dottard
    Jan 6 at 10:25
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The meaning of the phrase “and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and heart of the children to their fathers” can be found by understanding the connection between Elijah and John the Baptist. Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 11:14 that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah in Malachi 4:5.

Matthew 11:14 (KJV):

14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

Malachi 4:5-6 (KJV):

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 6 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.

In verse 6 of Malachi 4, we are told that John the Baptist’s purpose would be to turn the heart of Israel back to the Lord just as Elijah had done.

In 1 Kings 18 is the story of Elijah slaying the 450 prophets of Baal. The story goes that Ahab the king of Israel led Israel away from worshipping the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the worship of Baalim. In chapter 18, Elijah confronts Ahab and challenges him to a contest between Baal and the Lord. They set up two altars of sacrifice and then take turns (Baal’s prophets and then Elijah) calling on their god to send fire to consume the sacrifices. After the 450 prophets of Baal fail in calling fire from heaven, Elijah then prays to the Lord. He prays in verse 37:

1 Kings 18:37 (KJV):

37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.

The Lord then sends fire from heaven and totally consumes the sacrifice.

Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon defines the phrase “and that thou has turned” in verse 37 as “Figuratively, to turn or direct any one’s heart to some person or thing”. The verse goes on to say that the heart turning is “back again” giving clear indication that Elijah pleaded with the Lord to turn Israel’s heart back toward Him as in days past.

In 1 Kings 18, after the people witness the fire fall from heaven after Elijah’s prayer, they state in verse 39:

1 Kings 18:39 (KJV):

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.

This statement by the people has little to do with repentance of sin per se but more to do with belief and unbelief. The people whose heart had left the Lord did not believe that He was in fact the Lord, now do believe as they state that “He is THE God”.

In the same way that Elijah was to turn the heart of the people back to believe in the Lord again, John the Baptist’s mission was to do the same thing right before the Lord Jesus was revealed. Note the following verses:

  1. The angel of the Lord talking to Zacharias speaking of John the Baptist in Luke 1:16-17 (KJV):

16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Please note the “b” portion of verse 17. The phrase “and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” is synonymous with “turn the hearts of the children to the fathers” by explaining that John will point to the way of salvation through Christ by the grace and mercy of God.

  1. Zacharias’ speech after the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:76-79 (KJV):

76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Please note that Zacharias is also explaining John’s mission which is to herald the new covenant way of salvation through the grace and mercy of God.

  1. John the Baptist shows the way of salvation by preaching the “baptism of repentance” for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24). Please note that this message was NOT “repent” for the forgiveness of sins, but the “baptism of repentance” for the remission of sins. The Holy Ghost was responsible for this baptism.

  2. The “baptism of repentance” is defined as believing on the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 19:4 (KJV):

Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

So both Elijah and John the Baptist were tasked with helping to turn the heart of Israel from unbelief to belief.

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