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The Heart of the Elijah Message (Malachi 4:5,6)

The Heart of the Elijah Message (Mal 4:5-6)

Malachi 4:5-6 which says in the NASB:

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

is copiously cited, and with reason, in Seventh-day Adventist circles as a major part of the Church’s Mission and Message even though that passage is not really precisely understood. It therefore has found a common, almost social, application in that it would come to mean that ‘parents and children would have perfect relationships and/or “see eye-to-eye” on Biblical issues and/or that ‘the youth of the Church would come to be in harmony with the older members of the Church on diverging issues, i.e, dress, music, entertainment, etc,’ or, oddly enough, ‘a lack of social intimacy in SDA families’.[1]  These interpretations/applications do find an, albeit merely homiletical, basis in this text, for “nuclear family dysfunction” was most likely not a crucial problem, if at all, in Israel then, particularly as their then strict and legalistically-hedged, adherence to the Ten Commandments in that post-Babylonian captivity Era, particularly when there was not an ‘“expert’s” sanctimonious loophole’ around the literalistic reading of a Law, (cf. Mar 7:9-13), probably precluded what would be an explicit violation of the letter of the Fifth Commandment. In fact, if that was the object of that Mal 4:5-6 statement, and John the Baptist preached and realized it, then Jesus would soon completely undermine and explode its supposed “nuclear harmony” message (see e.g., Matt 10:34-37|Luke 12:51-53; 14:26ff, 33 = Deut 33:8-10a ff; Matt 12:46-50). Jesus was instead seeking for people who would be boldly singular to restore Israel and God’s Law to God’s initial/original intent and purpose; and it was actually a spurious ‘my parents don’t believe so’ rationalization/excuse that was hindering this ‘collective and Historical Israel restoration’. (Matt 10:38; 11:12|Luke 16:16-17).
            The one exegetically accurate application that has not been seen from this passage is the one that more closely mirrors what this statement was initially meant to address in its historical context, as succinctly explained here.
            Like in any accurate understanding of a Biblical passage, the first step must be a proper exegesis of the passage in question, and that always begins with an accurate translation from the Hebrew or Greek. Without entering in detail into key linguistic points for translation here, the more accurate translation of the NASB above can be enhanced by the following exegetical facts.

            - What is often understood as a directional statement of “turning hearts to (i.e. towards)...” is actually more accurately understood as a bestowal statement with the possible meanings of “upon, onto, to the height (i.e., level) of” as the Hebrew preposition “*al” is used instead of the expressedly directional preposition “le”.
            - Because of the use of a Hebrew marking here known as a maqqef, the expression “hearts of the fathers” can be understood as a single nominal expression here as: “hearts-of-fathers” while the corresponding expression “hearts of the children” which does not include this marking, is not.
            - As it can be seen in the NASB translation, the first mention of “their” in the English phrase “their children” is in italics because it is not found in the original text, while its use later with “their fathers” is not in italics because it is indeed found in the original text.
            - The Hebrew expressions which are translated here as “fathers” and “children” is rightly understood in context here as their literal meaning of “ancestors” and “descendants”, respectively.
            - The Hebrew conjunction “and” (Heb.: waw) can be understood in three main ways as either being conjunctive (“and”); consecutive (“then”); or explicative (“that is”), all depending on the context in which it is found.

            Therefore based on these points, when applied, a more accurate translation of this passage reads as follows:

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the heart-of-fathers upon descendants; that is, [raise] the heart of descendants to the height (i.e, level) of their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

            This translation is corroborated by the Gabriel’s quoting of this passage for John the Baptist’s mission as Luke 1:17a should be accurately translated as: ‘...in order to return* hearts of fathers upon children...’ *[also an intransitive occurrence - contra Balz, EDNT 2:40]; that is, as priorly similarly stated in Luke 1:16 and also presented above: ‘restore the hearts of descendants to that of righteous forefathers/ancestors’ (= “turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God” Luke 1:16) which is understood as: ‘turning “the disobedient to the attitude/mindset/understanding/(practical) wisdom/insight of the righteous’ and all “so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17b)

            As indicated in John the Baptist’s ministry (Luke 3:8-9) he was to fight against this false belief that he current generation of Israelites were still acting in accordance to their forefather(s). (cf. John 8:39-41)
            Indeed this more accurate translation reveals several key interpretative statements. Plainly stated, it speaks of an Elijah Message which would seek to bring the ‘hearts/minds of descendants back into harmony with the heart/mind that their spiritual fathers had and which was approved of by God.’ In other words, it is the spiritual disposition of the descendants of these “institutional” pioneers/forefathers that needs to be recalibrated here. They have not continued in the right paths set out by their fathers, and have lost their way. Therefore, the Elijah Message would come to cause this spirit to be restored among these descendants. So rather than a reciprocal view here, the focus for reform is solely upon the descendants, as emphasized by the explanative follow up statement which speak of ‘the children’s heart/mind being raised up to the height of that of their forefathers.’
            With this more accurate, ‘waywardness/apostasy of descendants’ view of this passage, it can be more clearly understood why ‘the land would be struck with a curse if this reform, and return to the proper ways of the pioneers is not returned to.’ It can also be seen why this is chronologically, indeed, the last prophetic message uttered in the Old Testament.
            It may be argued here that these descendants did not have exemplary forefathers to emulate, or even that the post Babylonian Captivity generation was more righteous than their forefathers whose unfaithfulness led them away to this Babylonian Captivity. And this is indeed true, however, the forefathers that is in view here is not necessarily the strictest, latest ancestors, but instead, more vastly, any righteous ancestor, from the founding of Israel as a nation, who had (much more than less) walked in the ways of God. These would include fathers such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Josiah, etc., It is these “hearts, minds and spirits” that God wants to restore with this present generation of descendants through an Elijah reform.

The Elijah Reform and Laodicea
            Interestingly enough, John the Baptist, of whom it was said was a fulfilment of the Elijah reform (see e.g., Mat 11:13-14; 17:10-12) also had this “heart-of-fathers” warning/discussion with the leaders of his day which he was seeking to reform. (See Matt 3:9|Luke 3:8). They were absolutely obstinate that they were as righteous and approved of as Abraham, their forefather. Jesus also encountered this blinding false belief with them in His Ministry. (John 8:39). It was told to these leaders that ‘if Abraham was really their “father” then they would be “doing the works of Abraham,”’ which in turn would mean that they had the heart/mind/spirit of Abraham. As this never came to be the case with these leaders, nor with the majority of that 1st century generation of Israelites, the land was indeed struck with a most severe, and most lasting, curse. (cf. e.g., Matt 23:29-39).
            It is enlightening to note that the message that the prophet Elijah delivered to the wayward generation of his day (1 Kgs 18:21) is almost identical in meaning to the message given to the Laodicean by their True Witness (Rev 3:15-16). Translated literally, Elijah’s statement in 1 Kgs 18:21 was:

 “How long do you limp upon the two divided (i.e., irreconcilable) opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.

            In other words, Israel was trying to walk along with ‘one foot in God’s ways and the
other foot in Baal’s ways.’ As Elijah said to them, this actually greatly hampered their walk, in either direction, and caused them to “limp” along. So here, in order that they could "run unhindered" in either direction, they needed to wholly choose one side or the other. This almost verbatim, at least in spirit, mirrors God’s message to the Laodicean Church, namely: ‘either be hot or be cold, but do cease being lukewarm.’ So it can be seen here that the Elijah message is also found in the heart of the reform message to the prophetic Laodicean Church. 
            Elijah’s message, interestingly enough, in turn echoes the message given by his forefather Joshua, as he stood before the newly formed Israel of his generation and charged them to ‘Choose for themselves this day whom they would serve. Whether it would be foreign gods as their fathers had done in Egypt or whether it would be God.’ (Jos 24:14-15). Again the message was clear here. ‘Do not think that you can serve both the God of Heaven and a man-made god.’ All of these related messages all have their origin in the initial ultimatum of God towards Israel to: ‘choose between the life with Him or the death without Him.” (Deut 30:15-20). Jesus also preached the same message with exhortation such as choosing either ‘God or Mammon/wealth” because both cannot be simultaneously served.’ (Matt 6:24).  It is so detrimental and hindering to the work of God, and impossible for Him to work with a People who chooses to spiritually “straddle the fence” that He even has to supernaturally, ‘push recalcitrant professed believers off of this fence of unbelief in His Truth.’ (2 Thess 2:8-12).

The Elijah Message Today
            So from this brief study it can be seen that the Elijah Message centers on an exhortation for a current generation to return to the heart/mind/spirit of righteous forefathers, and that this is largely done by a whole-hearted, and non-comprising commitment to the Work and Ways of God.
            As such, the Elijah Message does definitely have a place and work to do in the current generation of the SDA Church. Just a simple look at the way in which current SDA institutions are not being operated for the specific/consecrated purpose which SDA Pioneers (who, most significantly here, in those founding days/times were all late teens or young adults[2]) were divinely instructed for them to have, shows that a whole-hearted return to these ways is most urgently needed. If an SDA institution really does not make a tangible, and wholly dedicated, direct contribution to the very Work and Mission of the Remnant Church, then it really has lost its way and reason for existence. Contrary to “popular beliefs” these institutions were not raised to be slaves to the Capitalistic world, e.g., training up professionals to work for the world, only contributing to the work of the Church by returning a tithe. The Elijah Message here would therefore call those operating and also attending these institutions today to ‘restore the mind/heart/spirit of their pioneers in them as they pursue this solemn work.’
            The Elijah Message also pertinently applies to a Church today which is seeking to carrying the work of God today by espousing the worldly ways such as the pervasive and prominent dictates of Capitalism; a system whose required principles for “success” all go categorically against anything that is godly or Biblical. As in Elijah’s day, this only causes them to “limp along” by not being able to, on one hand, fully/openly engage in these worldly/ungodly money making ways (though this is, tellingly enough, becoming less and less of a restriction), and, on the other hand, preventing the abundant blessings and fulfillment of promises of God. (e.g., Isa 58:8-14). This is thus, either way, a great detriment to them, and indeed render these intendedly potent Institutions as neutrally inconsequential as they are today. As Jesus clearly says on this topic, God and Wealth cannot be simultaneously served. So the Church will have to make a determinative, definite choice here.  (See 3T 265-267).

[1] See e.g., this Endtime Newsletter article by SDA Theological Seminary professor Roy Gane entitled: “Elijah and the Third Angel”; this sermon entitled: “The Glory of Children - Identity Wars”; this 2011 3ABN “Pillars of Our Faith” sermon by Jay Rosario [46:33ff]; and the glibly presuming claim here [mp4] [23:36-24:20] by It Is Written’s John Bradshaw that this statement is to ‘also turn then reconciled nuclear families back to God’, -a limited and ‘two-step’ notion that the text does not actually begin to say nor imply, as it easily could/should have.

[2] Relatedly here, it is actually quite spiritually confirming to clearly hear, some ca. 15+ years later, that, as I had since back then highly suspected, as Kameron Devasher pointedly, rightly, decries in this 06-04-2010 sermon [37:13-40:10ff] there indeed is something, frankly, ‘retardingly dumbing down’, about the SDA’s official Collegiate Sabbath School Class designation which is supposed to be from age 18-35!! I.e., SDA young people are expected to be fed from that distinctly, also “retarded” Collegiate Quarterly which, (at least), in my day was (comparatively so), at best, nothing more than a collection of Bible verse-less, tangential and spiritually bland, ditsy and mundane anecdotes. Which is why I virtually long chucked it (i.e., didn’t actually read it anymore) in ca. 1994, around the age of 20 and was (also) (indignantly) requesting an Adult Sabbath School Quarterly from the Church’s front desk when it was time to get our new quarterlies (and I am glad that the secretary at the desk[see T.S. in page 323; cf. in p. 324, in this document (ca. 1990 photos)], for the first several quarters, conceded to provide me with one, though the quarterlies were limited, and that manifestly/may have eventually led to her asking the Church to order more adult quarterlies because just a few quarters later, she reassuringly informed me that ‘I didn’t have to worry about asking for it now’ I.e., my request, by now being expressedly supplied for, was fully legit.’ I am also glad that my Collegiate Sabbath School teacher then, the late Elder Duane Peterson[see in page 322 in this document (ca. 1990 photo)], though he would not openly do so, manifestly at him finding nothing worthwhile to teach from the Collegiate Quarterly would instead teach a somewhat slightly simplified/relational version of the Adult Quarterly’s Lesson. (Relatedly, on the other end, see this sermon by Jeffrey Rosario on the creating history of the “teenager” demography. -See similar observations by Francis Chan here [27:40-29:35ff], summarily commenting of the prior week’s (11-16-2008): “Raising Our Children” sermon [video] by Dave Phillips.).
            Pertinently related here, it was Mr. Peterson, who worked at the local Miami Adventist Book Center store, who implying opened my understanding that there was something “exegetically” much deeper in Pastoring than the present English Text of Bible versions, as his gift to me as I was preparing to leave in 1997 for an SDA College to study for the ministry (see in the bio-history in this post), [while we were assembled at his house after Church for a (surprise) goodbye party for me and another girl who was also leaving for College that fall], was a Critical New Testament Greek-English (KJV) Interlinear Bible with copious Manuscript Textual variants, a succinct Greek Lexicon, and other linguistic analytical features. I was surprise at the “depth” of the gift, expecting the evidently wrapped-book-gift to be merely an English book, perhaps and EGW book or a devotional, but instead it was this Scholarly Greek NT. And my actual initial, not-so-innerly-contained reaction there was: ‘Come on...haven’t they figured all of this “Greek” thing out by now.’ Notwithstanding all loudly quite eye-openly said, to at least me and my uninitiated youthful and laymen’s understanding then, that all was not as it “simply” seem, and it indeed was not too long after that, and from then on, indeed way beyond what any of my professors either knowledgeable of, diligent to study, and/or merely comfortable with discussing, that I found out that, (as really merely introductorily, cursorily and samplingly seen throughout this blog), there indeed was much more than met the surface eye in the field of Scholarly [vs. Philosophical] Theological Studies.

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