Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #711 ------- January 3, 2017
The truest expression of a people is in its
dances and its music. Bodies never lie.

Agnes de Mille (1905-1993)

Cavorting Calves Christianity
Bouncy Baby Bovines Basking in the
Beams of the Sun of Righteousness

There are a number of beautiful, meaningful metaphors within the pages of the OT and NT writings depicting the Messiah and His mission. He is the "Lamb of God" who takes away our sin; He is the "bright morning star" ushering in an eternal day from which all darkness forever flees; He is our Good Shepherd who gives abundant life and security to His sheep as He leads them to that eternal green pasture. Some of these descriptives are well-known to us, for they are found many times in the Scriptures; others are far less known, for they are used sparingly. One such depiction is found in the final book of the Old Covenant canon: Malachi. In the final chapter of this work, the prophet delivers this promise to the faithful (which is sandwiched between fearful warnings to those persons and peoples who "fear not" the Lord): "But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture" (Malachi 4:2; New Living Translation). The promise of a rising sun is very apt, for the people of God, as a result of their failure to walk in the light of His will, were about to enter a time of great darkness where all they would hear from God was a deafening silence. Some have referred to these 400 years as the "silent centuries," for no prophet would arise to declare "thus sayeth the Lord." However, that darkness would be removed with the rising of the Sun/Son: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, ... There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, ... He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (John 1:4-9). This forerunner of the Messiah, John, was even mentioned by Malachi, as the words of that prophecy came to an end: "I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 4:5). Jesus informed His disciples that John was the fulfillment of this prophecy: "If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come" (Matthew 11:14). This truth was also announced to Zechariah, the father of John, by an angel: "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17), which again was a reference to the prophecy given by Malachi.

Malachi 4:2 is the only place in the Bible where the phrase "sun of righteousness" appears, and for this reason there are some scholars who doubt it is a reference to the coming of the Messiah. This is why in some English translations you will find the use of the upper case ("Sun" -- New Living Translation, King James Version), while in other translations you will find the use of the lower case ("sun" -- English Standard Version, New International Version, American Standard Version). Additional versions could be listed for each, but this suffices to show that there is a difference of understanding even among the major reputable Bibles on the market. This figure used by Malachi has generated some debate over the centuries, although most regard it as a reference to Jesus Christ. "The fathers, from Justin downwards, and nearly all the earlier commentators understand it to be Christ who is described as the rising sun" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 10, part 2, p. 468], yet these two scholars are not convinced. They believe instead that "the context does not sustain the personal view, but simply the idea that righteousness itself is regarded as a sun" [ibid]. Homer Hailey, a respected scholar within my own faith-heritage, concurs: "It is certainly true that Christ came bringing to light the righteousness of God, but it is quite doubtful that the prophet here speaks of Him in person. Instead, the thought is that righteousness itself is the sun that will arise with healing in its rays or beams" [A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 424].

The above is the minority view, however. The English theologian and pastor Dr. John Gill (1690-1771) declared, "Those are undoubtedly in the right who understand these words figuratively of the Messiah" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. The noted pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England (an Independent Reformed Baptist church), Dr. C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), proclaimed this view powerfully in his Sunday morning sermon titled "The Sun of Righteousness," which was delivered on November 12, 1871 (and which may be read in its entirety by Clicking Here). The Methodist Church founder and leader John Wesley (1703-1791) took the same view, writing, "Christ is fitly compared to the sun, being the fountain of light, and vital heat to His church" [Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Although I would refrain from being dogmatic about it, I personally favor the view that this figurative phrasing has the Messiah in view. Jesus states, "Light has come into the world" (John 3:19), a statement He makes on the heels of His proclamation that God so loved the world that He sent forth His Son to banish the darkness of sin and death. Jesus is the "light" John speaks of just two chapters earlier: a light that brings life. When this Sun of Righteousness rises, it brings spiritual healing to those who choose to bask in its beams (referred to poetically as "wings" by Malachi). "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you" (Isaiah 60:1-2). "His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from His hand" (Habakkuk 3:4). In Zechariah's song of praise unto the Lord, he spoke of his son John being the forerunner of the Messiah through whom God would extend spiritual healing: "By the tender mercy of our God, the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1:78-79). Jeremiah refers to the Messiah as "the righteous Branch" which the Lord will "raise up," and "this is the name by which He will be called: 'The Lord our Righteousness'" (Jeremiah 23:5-6). The "Sun of Righteousness" rising with healing in its "wings/beams" is most certainly an apt, and biblical, figure representing our Savior, who "by His wings or rays diffuses blessings from one end of heaven to another" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 4, p. 805] to all who fear/revere Him.

Malachi, in his prophecy, informs us that when this Sun of Righteousness rises on that great "day that is coming," it will have a dual purpose, and it will bring about dual results. For the wicked, "it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire. Not a root or a branch will be left to them" (Malachi 4:1). On that day the redeemed "will trample down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord (Malachi 4:3). The Day of the Lord will be a day of fierce judgment and punishment for the wicked. The Son will ride forth with His army and smite the ungodly on that day, and the consuming fire will reduce them to nothingness (they will be as ashes under the feet of the saved = a figure of absolute destruction). Eternal torturing of the wicked is NOT in view; rather, it is a view of the utter obliteration/annihilation of the godless. "The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7). "Sodom and Gomorrah ... serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 7) -- they have ceased to exist. So it will be with those who refuse God's grace. For the lost, the beams of the rising Sun/Son on that final day will be hellish in their effect. For the redeemed, however, those rays from the Sun/Son will bring a much different result. They will bring life, not death; joy, not sorrow. "But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture" (Malachi 4:2).

David, in Psalm 139:9, speaks of "rising on the wings of the dawn," which is just a poetic way of referring to the sun's beams that spread across the sky at its rising like the wings of a great bird. Thus, when we find much the same figure in the prophecy of Malachi, we may be fairly certain that "wings" has reference to the sun's "beams, rays." There are two major "risings" of the "Sun of Righteousness" that may be in view here, and scholars are somewhat torn between them: (1) the Incarnation and (2) the Parousia. A few scholars suggest both views may be intended ["It has reference both to the first and to the second coming of Jesus Christ" - Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword], but most favor the latter: the Day of Judgment. With respect to the former view, it is believed by some that when Jesus was born it brought an end to the long reign of darkness ("the silent centuries"); the Light had now come. "The birth of the Babe in Bethlehem was the strong sunrise of righteousness" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14: Malachi, p. 65]. "Behold, the Lamb of God," could just as easily have been, "Behold, the rising Sun of Righteousness." Both truly conveyed the dawning of a new spiritual era/day. On the other hand, the context (especially with respect to the wicked) favors far more that last great day when the Sun/Son shall rise to bring an end to evil, and to usher in that endless day in the new heavens and earth "wherein only righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). It will indeed be a sunrise of eternal righteousness, for the Sun of Righteousness will chase away with the rays of His rising all else!!

What will be the reaction and response of the redeemed on that day? "You will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall" (Malachi 4:2 - NASB). The KJV did not do this passage justice by translating it: "ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." The NKJV is no better = "you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves." The picture Malachi paints for us is one of great celebration. The NIV says these calves will "go out and frolic." On that day they "will go free, leaping with joy" as they head to the green pasture [New Living Translation]. Leaping, skipping, cavorting with great joy at being released from the stall to the rich blessings of the long anticipated pasture is the thought conveyed. "The happiness of the righteous is illustrated by a homey image drawn from pastoral pursuits" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14: Malachi, p. 61]. They were previously bound up in restrictive stalls; now they are "free and exulting" [ibid]. The primary focus of this passage is not just the termination of the wicked, but "the blessed future of the righteous ... who will gambol like calves, frisking about in their new-found freedom" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 724].

Basking in the blessings of His beneficent beams, however, is not just something the redeemed long for "in the far off by-and-by." True, it will not be fully and finally experienced in all its beauty until the Lord comes again, but in many ways we are also released from the bondage of the stalls by His first coming, and by His ushering in a new day of love over law and relationship over religion. The religious restraints and the sectarian shackles have been shed; we are free to live by the spirit of the law, not by the letter of the law; we are liberated, and so we leap with joy as we express our devotion to Him in our daily actions and worshipful expressions. Those still shackled by rules and regulations are still bound in stalls. My fellow calves, we are free in Christ ... the pasture awaits ... let's see some leaping, skipping and cavorting!! "Zechariah, John's father, described Christ's coming as a new sunrise for humankind" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 1308]. Living under grace is indeed a new day for us; lamenting is behind us, left in the stall; we now leap with joy, for we are free. Those who revere "Jehovah and bask in the light of His provided righteousness will go forth from their confinement and frolic as calves turned out of a stall into the green pasture" [Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 424]. "As an animal which has been confined exults in its regained freedom, itself full of life and exuberance of delight" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword], so do the redeemed of this dispensation leap with joy now, just as we shall leap with joy then (at His second coming), for "the title, 'Sun of Righteousness,' belongs to both comings" [ibid]. "As the sun dispels the darkness of the night, and makes the day, so Christ dispelled the darkness of the ceremonial law, and made the Gospel day; and He dispels the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and makes the day of grace; and He will dispel the darkness of imperfection, and will make the day of glory" [Dr. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Even so, come Lord Jesus, that our leaping with joy may be made complete in the eternal pastures of a restored Paradise. Let me leave you with the words of Charles Wesley in his immortal hymn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (written in 1739): "Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings. Christ, by highest heav'n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord: Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home." Amen!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Isabela, Puerto Rico:

I just read your study titled "Abandoning Our Assembling: Reflective Analysis of Hebrews 10:25" (Reflections #174). Actually, I was seeking information on the Internet regarding a particular Greek word used in Acts 20:7, but one of the links that came up on Google sent me to this article first. I find your perspective on this passage from Hebrews to be very Scriptural and reasonable, so I wonder if you can help me with some technical questions regarding the Acts 20:7 passage as well. I have only a very rudimentary knowledge of NT Greek, so I need your expertise on the tense of the word "sunegmenon" in Acts 20:7. Does the tense used indicate an ongoing or habitual action, or is it just a simple statement that this is what this particular group of people (in Troas) were doing on that particular day? Or, is the tense used inconclusive as to this point? Also, it seems that not even the King James Version translates the six words before that literally: the actual Greek text seems to mention the "Sabbath," but most translations seem to alter that text to read "on the first day of the week" instead. Perhaps you have answered all of these questions already in previous issues of your Reflections. If so, can you tell me where to find them on your web site? Thank you!

From a Reader in South Africa:

In Mark 13:26-27 we read: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall He send His angels, and shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (KJV). Regarding that final statement in verse 27 (as it reads in the KJV), the Pulpit Commentary says: "At its extremities, in the horizon, there appears to be the end alike of earth and heaven, as though earth and heaven joined, and the heaven terminated by melting into the earth and becoming one with it. The expression simply means, 'from horizon to horizon,' or 'from every part of the earth'." In 1975, when my Pulpit Commentary was published, this may have seemed reasonable. But now, as we see regular space flights and even space stations, some would wonder if those away from earth are condemned to perdition when Christ comes again to gather the elect "from every part of the earth." What if they are part of a space colony on Mars? It is my feeling that the meaning intended by the text is that every part of the 14.9 billion light years of the heavenly expanse is included. The Pulpit Commentary seems to step away from any possibility of human beings ever being on other heavenly bodies. What is your take on this passage? Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Scotland:

Just read your piece on Walter Scott (Reflections #710: "The Five Finger Exercise: Walter Scott's Mnemonic Device"). I wonder, Al, if you've ever heard of a lady named Jenny Geddes? I have an uncle here in Scotland (Jim Geddes) who informed us she was a far back relative of his, which, of course, makes her an ancient relative of mine too. Her story, though short, is an interesting one. Have a read at it if you get the time. By the way, all my mother's side are Campbells -- I dread to think I might be related to them (Thomas & Alexander Campbell) too!! (LOL)

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, your newest book, "From Ruin To Resurrection," was a very good study. I enjoyed it, though I do not agree fully with your ideas. But, like you, I do believe the end of the wicked will be extinction and not endless torment. I was wondering: could the Greek phrase "eis tous aionas ton aionon" (in Revelation 20:10) be correctly translated as "for ages and ages," rather than "forever and ever," thereby more accurately rendering the idea of the author that the punishment of the wicked will be extended rather than endless?

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I hope you are enjoying the festive season. It is very warm here; we have just had our longest day of light. I walk around Mt. Maunganui most mornings, which is on the coast of the Atlantic, just a ten minute drive from my house. The mountain has sheep, rabbits, and all types of bird life, plus if you climb to the top there are spectacular views. Anyway, regarding your recent article on Walter Scott and his "five finger exercise," I have read this study of yours over and over again, and I believe it is one of the best you have written! It gets to the crux of the matter, and it should be read by every member of the Church of Christ. It reveals the very real danger of "meddling and peddling." Again, thank you for this article, for it shows again the folly of tampering with what God has done through His Son. Man in his weakness cannot improve on what God has already done. Religion is man trying to make himself right with God; righteousness is God making man right with Himself on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ.

From a Reader in Unknown:

Your essay on Walter Scott and his "five finger exercise" reminded me of something Roy Osborne wrote a long time ago (Roy was a long time pulpit minister for the Sunset Ridge congregation in San Antonio; he had a great sense of humor; he passed away not so long ago). He wrote: "You can't be a Church of Christ preacher if you've had a finger or thumb amputated." Merry Christmas, Al, and may God continue to bless you.

From a Minister in Indiana:

Al, I have been blessed to read your articles for some time now, so thank you for these studies! I have quoted from a number of your Reflections in my book "Agree to Disagree? Not Acceptable!" (which is a reexamination of Church of Christ teachings). I have given you credit and sited where these quotes may be found. I hope you don't mind me quoting you; if you do, please let me know. I'll also send you a copy of the book if you like.

From an Author in Arizona:

Al, my brother, your piece on Walter Scott's mnemonic device ("The Five Finger Exercise") is quite insightful. As part of the heading, you quote Adrian Rogers: "You are not saved by the plan of salvation; you are saved by the Man of salvation." I like that quote very much, but I would add: "And that Man of salvation is the plan." "Soldier on," Al, as our dear brother Leroy Garrett always said.

From a Reader in Georgia:

"The Good News has been watered down" ... good one!! Max Lucado might have said it best: "The only thing I contribute to my salvation is my sin." For baptism to save us requires our dependence on someone to actually immerse us, which puts Jesus and the immerser on the same level. Hogwash! GREAT Reflections on the "five finger exercise," brother!

From a Reader in Texas:

I can't think of a single article of yours that I have read that I didn't love! I love your tributes to people, your definitions of biblical terms, your intelligent understanding of grace, your love for helping people grow spiritually, and most of all your love of God. May you and your family have the loveliest of Christmases and a New Year full of good health, happy times, and many blessings!

From a Reader in Texas:
(she visited our congregation on Dec. 18)

Al, it was so good to finally meet you in person, and your wife as well. I know you've heard this many times, but your writings have done so much good! For those of us who question the rigid rules of "the one true church" and what it means to be part of a "sound congregation," you are a voice of reason: one who is able to clearly, logically, and respectfully articulate a response to our questions and concerns. THANK YOU!! Many blessings to you and your family.

From a Reader in Unknown:

I have been reading your Reflections articles online for years, and I agree with Jay Guinn (an author, elder, and attorney in Alabama) that you and Edward Fudge have the two most influential web sites among the Churches of Christ on the Internet. Jay also mentions that he loves you and respects you greatly. I have also read many of your detractors' comments, and I commend you greatly for continuing in your zeal for grace, truth and unity!

From a New Reader in Unknown:

You probably don't remember me from Hawaii so many years ago, but I recently found your web site when doing some self-study research on the Internet. I can't wait to dig in and read your archived Reflections articles. Also, please add me to your mailing list for these weekly studies. I see that you have a number of critics out there, but I'm glad that you keep on pressing on! The problem with many of those critics out there is that they think like the Sadducees and Pharisees: i.e., that they (and they alone) have God all figured out. Jesus taught that God was much different than the little box religious people often try to put Him into, and that true understanding comes from keeping an open mind while studying His Word. Division is Satan's #1 favorite tool in his toolbox. Don't let these critics discourage you.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

We've corresponded in the past, and I really appreciate your work! I'm at a grace-centered, yet fairly traditional, Church of Christ in North Carolina. We have a member who is wrestling with our congregation having a Christmas play at the building. Is there a Reflections or two that you could point me to as a resource for helping this person deal with this? Thank you very much! Soldier on!

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