““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.”” (Malachi 4:5–6 ESV)
I have spent the last nine months reading through the Old testament, and when possible, writing about it here. To say the very least, it has been incredible. Despite the absolute failure of the nation of Israel, God’s mission prevails and the God of the Hebrews is known throughout all the world as a great God worthy of being feared. But as Malachi closes, there is a feeling that the story of God is incomplete. The theme throughout all of the prophets, a theme that gets stronger and stronger through the exile and post-exile of Israel, is that a day is coming when justice would be served and the kingdom be restored forever. If the old Testament begins with creation, then it ends with the hope of re-creation. But it only ends with the hope, not the actualization.
I want to focus in on two perspectives before I leave the Old Testament for a few months and dig into the New Testament. I want to think through the human perspective as Malachi ends, and then I want to consider God’s perspective.
Where the Old Testament leaves men:
As a Christian, I read the last two verses of the Old Testament and got incredibly excited. Malachi ends prophesying the coming of John the Baptist and the awesome day of the Lord that would bring both restoration and damnation – namely, Christ. So after having read through the Pentateuch, and then the history, and then the poetry, and finally the prophets, I felt empathetic to where the Jews were in the fifth century B.C. Even after being returned from exile and rebuilding the walls and the temple, their physical restoration was a poor shadow of its former glory. Despite Jerusalem being rebuilt, they were still a vassal state to Persia. Even though Nehemiah and Ezra were great leaders, they weren’t David or even remotely close to the Davidic King prophesied to restore Israel completely.
In many ways, Israel at the close of the Old Testament is in the same place that they began, wandering through the unknown wilderness of other lands or stuck in the wilderness of a Jerusalem they didn’t recognize, longing for God to remember them. But the Old Testament doesn’t end without hope. Scattered throughout the diatribes against false worship, the mourning for their lost kingdom, and the judgment of their oppressors are shouts of life. A new spirit, a new Jerusalem, a new heart, a new covenant, a new kingdom – these shouts are so juxtaposed to the typical monologues of the prophets they stick out like me at a Jay-Z concert.
Malachi ends with one of these shouts from the wilderness. A man is coming to announce a day that is coming to bring a restoration that is desperately needed to a broken, scattered, and tired people. The Old Testament leaves men longing for the fulfillment of all the dispersed hope and anxious waiting present in the prophets.
Where the Old Testament leaves God:
There are always two stories going on in any biblical narrative. There is the human story, and there is the divine story. For the most part, the story we study is the human one. We tell our children about Abraham and the alter, Moses and the Red Sea, David and Goliath, but we often time forget to teach God’s story moving through the background of all of those moments of history. By the end of the Old Testament, the human story ends in a failure. Overall, the history of Israel is a history of failure, a waxing and waning between righteousness and sin, with heroes rising rarely and villains frequently that ends with dispersion and a city rebuilt from rubble.
But God’s story is different. The divine narrative of the Old Testament is one of faithfulness and steadfast love, of patience and favor. It is a story of God using every situation, every victory and failure, to advance his mission. God’s mission is that the whole world would know and fear him, and that he would be the salvation of his creation. So by the end of the Old testament, God has set the stage perfectly to continue his mission that he began through the calling of Abraham. God is known as a great God in the surrounding nations (cf. Ezra 5:8). He has caused momentary relief and periodic salvation to his people, but he has not given them the salvation promised through his prophets. This is where God is at the end of the Old Testament. His name is known as great, but his salvation is His next move.
I find it interesting the way Malachi puts the idea of restoration and salvation. “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” As a new dad, I’m very keen to this kind of language. The children of Israel were in many ways disconnected with their heritage, families were still torn apart, and there was resentment and bitterness in their families. When Malachi wrote this, it was a very fitting way of talking about restoration.
But there is more going on in this language than just families being restored through the coming Kingdom of the Savior. God saw ahead in his story with regards to what it would take to restore his kingdom. In order to turn the the hearts of fathers and children back to each other, he must turn his heart away from his own Son. For the family of Israel to be made complete, and later those grafted into his promise (the church), the family of God must be torn apart through crucifixion.
As a father, this realization broke my heart. I don’t think I will ever fully know the amount of love it took for God to turn his heart from his Son for the sake of our salvation.
The Old Testament ends with Israel shouting with hope from the wilderness, and God mourning from the garden, knowing the suffering that lies ahead. As I think of how this applies to me, I relate to Israel’s longing. Although I have been justified by Jesus, I am still wandering the wilderness of a fallen world, longing for the second coming. I know that I am a new creation, but most of the time I don’t feel like it. Furthermore, I am in debt to a love that goes beyond my comprehension. The suffering endured by God for the sake of his mission and our salvation is something that I will never understand, but always praise.
Lord Jesus, we wait anxiously for you to return. Come Lord Jesus, Come!