Category Archives: Biblical Scholarship

Praise be to God- Exegesis of Ephesians 1:1-10

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The New Testament letter of Ephesians is one of the profound books with foundational teaching for the body of Christ. The letter addresses both theological and practical themes that remain relevant to the contemporary church. In chapter one to chapter four, the author deals with theological truths needed by the church so that believers in Christ “will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). The next section, chapter four to six, deals with ethical implications of the teachings presented in the preceding chapters to the inclusive Christian community that comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.

The theological section of the letter primarily addresses soteriological, Christological, ecclesiological and ethical/practical concern in day-day life of a Christian. The author expounds on the doctrine of salvation in chapter one by highlighting key terms like predestination, adoption, and redemption. In chapter two he deals with the doctrine of the church and addresses critical issues such as unity and universality of Christ.

The first part of chapter one (1:1-14) begins with a hymn of praise to God for the spiritual blessing he has bestowed to all those in Christ. The rest of the chapter (1:15-23) is Paul’s passionate prayer for the saints at Ephesus. The believers in this church were already known for their faith and love and Paul further prays spiritual blessings upon them. This piece presents a verse by verse exegesis of Ephesians 1:1-10 with a focus on the Pauline metaphor υἱοθεσία (adoption as sons) in Ephesians 1:5. The ethical and ecclesiological implications will also be explored. We will first begin by looking at the background information of this letter.


Traditionally, the authorship of Ephesians has been attributed to Apostle Paul. This view is strongly attested by the Church Fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Also, references to Ephesians as a letter of Paul by Ignatus of Antioch as Pauline before his martyrdom in A.D. 115; Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, as well as the authors of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas strengthens the claim of Pauline authorship.[1] Further, internal evidence support Pauline authorship. The author identifies himself as Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (1:1); we also know from the letter that he was in prison because of the gospel (3:1, 4:1). The author makes clear his calling- he is a servant of the gospel to the Gentiles (3:1-9). This description fits Apostle Paul who in many instances pointed out that his calling was primarily to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7).

But even with above textual attestation, Pauline authorship of Ephesians is still disputed by some scholars today. The debate revolves around words, phrases and stylistic features that are deemed as non-Pauline. These critics cite significant differences between Pauline letters and Ephesians to support their claims. They observe that unusually the letter to Ephesians do not have an introduction thanksgiving and mention of ministry companions, something that is common among Pauline letters that are undisputed.[2]Considering these objections, there are still good grounds to uphold the traditional view that Paul is the author of the letter to Ephesians.


The recipients of the letter are identified as believes, in Christ, who are in Ephesus (1:1). (more comments in verse 1 on the exegesis section concerning the reservations critics have concerning the phrase, ‘In Ephesus’). The title also depict that the letter was written to Ephesians. But this is also debated because the title may have been added at a later date, perhaps second century, by copyist or scribes in seeing the need of a title for his letter.[3] Therefore the title “Ephesians” is not a guarantee that the recipients were Ephesians.

The issue of determining recipients of the letter has also raised more problems that relate to the question of authorship. From the book of Acts we know that Paul spent about three years in Ephesus doing ministry (Acts 18:19-21; 19:1-20; 20:31). Together with other ministry companions they established the church in Ephesus. One of the basic assumptions one can make is that within the period of three years Paul must have become well acquainted with the believers in this church and developed intimate relationships with the congregants. But critics have pointed out from the text that the author of Ephesians seems to be unaware of his recipients. For instance, in Ephesians 1:15; 3:2-3; 4:21, the author and recipients do not know each other personally. At least they have heard of one another and are dependent on what is told or written of them. The second objection is that nothing is made specific in terms of conditions or events in the city or church as (as Paul would do in other letters).[4] The author addresses the universal church without laying an emphasis on specifics of this church or city.

But putting all the above views into consideration, the case for Ephesians as the addressees of Paul holds more evidence. Ephesus was a big city and Paul might have written to one of the churches he founded in his three-year period in this great Asia Minor city. The fact that the letter is not personal could be because Paul expected the letter to be circulated among the churches in Ephesus.


The dating of Ephesians depends on one’s inclinations on the authorship and recipients. A choice of Pauline authorship will place the dating of this letter during the period of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (3:1; 4:1) which is around A.D 60-61. This is the period when other Prison Epistles were written by Paul. Those who dispute Pauline authorship approximate the date to be between A.D 70 and 90, a period which the Pauline letters are thought to have been collected.[5]Based on my inclination toward Pauline authorship, I would favor a date in the early 60s; that is, toward the end of Paul’s life.

In the following section we will look at the exegesis of Ephesians 1:1-10 and then in another blog focus on the huiothesia metaphor in Ephesians 1:5. In the exegesis part, I will give the Greek text (UBS 4th Edition) and offer my translation then a discussion of exegetical issues. The motivations to explore the Pauline metaphor is based on my research interests on the role of υἱοθεσία in understanding Paul’s theology.

Verse by Verse Exegesis of Ephesians 1:1-10

Greek text, verse 1: Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν [ἐν Ἐφέσῳ] καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·

Translation: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God to the saints who are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ.

The letter to Ephesians begins with the recognition of the author in verse 1 as Παῦλος. He identifies himself as being ἀπόστολος[6]Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ[7], an apostle of Jesus Christ. His apostleship was received διὰ θελήματος[8]θεοῦ[9] (through the will of God). Paul’s apologetic claim as being an apostle was necessary perhaps because he was not among the twelve disciples of Jesus who lived and witnessed the ministry of Christ including his death, resurrection, and ascension. But he now clarifies his apostolic claim; it was not by his will/choice but by God’s will.

The recipients of the letter are referred to as τοῖς ἁγίοις (the saints/holy) and πιστοῖς[10] (faithful/believing ones). Believers have been granted this status because of their union with Christ; they are said to be ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,[11]in Christ Jesus. It should be remembered that this was a mixed congregation of both Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich; but because of their faith in Christ, they have now been united in Christ as one despite their cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds. Their newfound status was not based on their rich religious backgrounds (Jews) or anything in their pagan background (of the Gentiles); what counted was being in Christ. Therefore it is true that “no man is a saint by personal effort; sainthood comes by the consecrating act of God. However, the soul that is ‘set apart’ apart’ by God’s grace has been made ‘holy’ because he has knowingly and willingly surrendered his life to God.”[12]Surprisingly, Paul also referred to believers in the church of Corinth with their imperfections as “sanctified” (1Cor. 1:2).

The geographical location where the recipients of the letter were situated is indicated  as ἐν Ἐφέσῳ; but it is indicated in parentheses because this phrase is omitted in some manuscripts. Barth comments,

“These words are missing in the olderst available Greek MS of Ephesians, also in the original script of codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus {Papyrus 46 and the fourth-century codices Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (S) before the later was corrected}, and in the Minuscule 1739 which appears to have been copied from an early text. The Parenthesized words were also absent from the texts used by Marcion, Tertullian, Origen, and Gregory the Great. But the Syriac and Latin versions (that go back to second century) and the vast majority of extant Greek MSS do contain them.[13]

Therefore there are evidence in either side of the argument but there is more plausible proof that the phrase ‘in Ephesus’ was authentic. As noted, verse one highlights the author and his claim to apostleship as being through the will of God, the recipients and their relationship with Christ and the place the recipients live in.

Greek Text, verse 2: χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

 Translation: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Apostle Paul then passes his greetings to his addressees (ὑμῖν[14]) by wishing them χάρις and εἰρήνη[15]that is ἀπὸ[16]θεοῦ πατρὸς[17]ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ[18]Χριστοῦ[19](from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the personal pronoun ‘our’ (ἡμῶν) to express the fact that all those “in Christ” share the same Father. There are other biblical references where God is referred to as Father (2 Sam. 7:14; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 1:10, 11:1; Jn. 17; 2 Cor 6:18). Fatherhood of God encompasses all those in Christ; that is, irrespective of their backgrounds. In the greetings he uses the Greek χάρις and the Jewish εἰρήνη or (Hebrew-shallom). The two words (grace and peace) are clarified,

“Grace encompasses all the providential acts of God on behalf of undeserving men to initiate and to sustain a saving relationship with Him. Peace, the twin gift, is a state of deep satisfaction and settledness. It is divinely created in the hearts and minds of men who have responded to to the redemptive overtures of God through His Son, Christ Jesus.[20]

It is worth noting that the greeting is a common formula in his writings (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Col. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2). This verse marks the end of the introductory part of his letter.

Greek Text, verse 3: Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ εὐλογήσας ἡμᾶς ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις ἐν Χριστῷ.

Translation: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Paul now begins his letter ascribing praise/blessing to God and Father of “our Lord Jesus Christ,” Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ[21] τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.[22] The adjective Εὐλογητὸς can be rendered “praised” or “worthy of praise.” The phrase ὁ εὐλογήσας[23] ἡμᾶς[24] refers to the reason why God, the Father our Lord should be praised/blessed. He should be praised because he has blessed the faithful ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ.[25] Believers in Christ have been given all spiritual blessings ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις[26]ἐν Χριστῷ[27](in the heavenly places in Christ). Here is the logic: the recipients would have asked why they should praise God the Father, and Paul’s answer would be- because he has blessed the saints with every spiritual blessing. Then they might have further asked, if that is the case then where are those blessings and in what way are we blessed; Paul would also respond by saying the blessings God has given them are spiritual and are in the heavenly places (where Christ is seated). He further adds that those blessings to them are specifically in reference to their union with Christ (because they are in Christ).

Greek Text: 4 καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ.

Translation of verse 4 : just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.

In the same manner believers in Christ have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (verse 3), they have also been ἐξελέξατο[28] (chosen) in him, ἐν αὐτῷ.[29] The phrase πρὸ[30] καταβολῆ[31] κόσμου[32] refers to the time before creation of the world. It looks at the time-past when God the Father began his salvific work to those that he chose. Believers at Ephesus will certainly be amazed at this lofty knowledge; and at the same time be encouraged by this revelation in knowing that their present experience in Christ did not begin in the present or recent past but in the eternity past.

But apostle Paul is also quick to add that this act of God was for a purpose. The purpose is given in the second part of the verse: εἶναι[33] ἡμᾶς ἁγίους[34] καὶ ἀμώμους[35] κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ,[36] (to be holy and blameless before him in love). Believers in Christ were blessed and chosen by God the Father so that they can be holy and blameless before Him. It is worth nothing that in verse 1 he had referred them as “saints and faithful”; this was a status they achieved because of their union with Christ. But in this verse, he points out that their calling was (continually) to be holy and blameless. Their heavenly Father who has blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ is holy and so they should be holy. Their status which was achieved by their union with Christ is also a calling to be continually cultivated. Just as their choosing was achieved before the foundations of the world they still needed to actualize it by living out holy and blameless lives. Therefore God’s work was manifest in their lives by His spiritual blessings and in choosing them to be holy and blameless.

Greek Text, verse 5: προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ.

Translation: He predestined us into adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.

Paul has emphatically revealed that God the Father has blessed the saints in Christ with every spiritual blessing and chosen them to be holy and blameless in his sight. But He has even done more! He has  προορίσας ἡμᾶς, predestined the believing ones in Christ. God has determined in advance believers εἰς υἱοθεσίαν[37] διὰ Ἰησοῦ[38] Χριστοῦ[39] εἰς αὐτόν.[40] The work of predestination leads to a newfound status for believers: the status of being a son, God’s son. And this is κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν[41] τοῦ θελήματος[42] αὐτοῦ.[43] Predestination of believers achieves them the status of sonship through Jesus, which is accomplished according to the good pleasure of God’s will/decision.

The family metaphor, υἱοθεσία, deserves careful consideration because Paul in this context already used other complementary terminologies for example referring to God as Father. Later in the epistle he also brings up the idea of inheritance as a legal implication of his being a son (Eph. 1:14; and in other epistles where υἱοθεσία is used, (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:1-5). In the upcoming blog, I will dig deeper into the Old Testament and the Graeco-Roman context explore the origin and the use of this metaphor. But more importantly to ascertain what background informed his Paul’s use of the term. But we will close this verse by saying, Paul wants believers in Christ to know that they are rich because of the every spiritual blessing given them in Christ. Also, they were chosen in God before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless; and in this verse, believers are reminded that they now have a status of a son; that is, by God’s predestination through Christ. The sonship status into God’s family makes both Jews and Gentiles equal and co-heirs with Christ.

Greek Text, verse 6: εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ.

Translation: to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

In verse 6, Paul expresses praise to God εἰς ἔπαινον[44] for what he has accomplished for believers through Christ in accordance to the pleasure of His good will. The phrase δόξης[45] τῆς χάριτος[46] αὐτοῦ (of the glory of his grace) expounds on the greatness of the grace of God in accomplishing all that has been described in verse 3-5. God has freely given, ἐχαρίτωσεν,[47] believers his grace; in other words, in accordance with his pleasure and will. I have translated the phrase ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ as ‘in the One he loves’; other Bible translations have: ‘in the beloved’ (KJV), ‘in the One he loves’ (NIV), and ‘in the Beloved’ (NAS). The Son whom God the Father loves is Jesus Christ (Matt. 3:17; Col. 1:13). The verb ἠγαπημένῳ (perfect, passive, participle, masculine, singular) can be taken as a substantival participle; and the one referred to in this context is Christ. It is in Christ that God the Father has liberally manifested the splendor of his grace.

Greek text, verse 7: ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν παραπτωμάτων, κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ,

Translation: In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.

Verse 7 explicitly highlights the role of Jesus in God’s overall plan of salvation. According to verse 3 every spiritual blessing was given to believers in Christ. In verse 5, adoption as sons was accomplished through Jesus Christ. In verse 6, God has freely given his grace in the One he loves. In whom (ἐν ᾧ- referring to Christ, the One God loves), ἔχομεν[48] τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν[49] διὰ[50] τοῦ αἵματος[51] αὐτοῦ.[52] The blood of Jesus brings about redemption of humanity. The second part of the verse elaborates further on redemption. The redemption here refers to τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν παραπτωμάτων[53] (the forgiveness of sins) that comes through τὸ πλοῦτος[54] τῆς χάριτος[55] αὐτοῦ.[56] The work of Jesus is complementary to the work of God the Father. In Christ there is redemption, the forgiveness of sins which is necessary to the life of the believer because the purpose of God the Father from the beginning was that those in Christ be holy and blameless (verse 4).

Greek text, verse 8-9: ἧς ἐπερίσσευσεν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ φρονήσει. 9 γνωρίσας ἡμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ ἣν προέθετο ἐν αὐτῷ

Translation: 8.which he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding. 9. he made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which he purposed in Him (Christ).

In Verse 8, Paul states that the riches of God’s grace has been ἐπερίσσευσεν[57] (lavished) on believers. In possession of πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ φρονήσει[58] (all wisdom and understanding), Jesus made known to us they mystery of the will of God the Father- γνωρίσας[59] ἡμῖν τὸ μυστήριον[60] τοῦ θελήματος[61] αὐτοῦ.[62] And that is according to good pleasure of God the Father which he purposed in Him (Christ), κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν[63] αὐτοῦ[64] ἣν προέθετο[65] ἐν αὐτῷ.[66] Therefore Christ came to reveal the mystery of the will of God the Father; he had no independent task from the Father in relation to salvation. The work of each Person of the Trinity does not contradict each other or independent of each other but complementary to each other.

Greek Text, verse 10: εἰς οἰκονομίαν τοῦ πληρώματος τῶν καιρῶν, ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἐπὶ τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς· ἐν αὐτῷ.

Translation: for administration at the fullness of time, summing up all things in Christ, the things in the heaven and things on earth, in him.

In verse 10, the phrase εἰς οἰκονομίαν is an accusative of termination with purpose as the focus. The revelation of the mystery of God was to be effective in its administration at the fullness of time τοῦ πληρώματος[67] τῶν καιρῶν.[68] And the fullness of time will bring about the ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι[69] τὰ πάντα[70] ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ[71] (summing up all things in Christ). That will involve τὰ ἐπὶ τοῖς οὐρανοῖς[72] καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς[73] ἐν αὐτῷ.[74] This shows the purpose of making know the mystery of His will, bringing everything under one head-Christ. Keener notes,

“It was common Jewish belief that history was moving through many stages to climax, when everything would be put under God’s rule. Some philosophers argued that the whole universe was permeated by God and would be absorbed back into him. Like the Jewish writers who adapted the language of such philosophers, Paul believes the history moves toward a climax of subordination to God, not absorption into him.”[75]

Therefore at the fullness of time, all things in heaven and on earth will be put under Christ. At the summation of all things, every knee will bow down and every tongue confess his lordship (Phil. 2:10,11). All that God began doing in the eternity past, (blessing with all spiritual blessings, choosing us for holiness, predestining us to adoption as sons), will completely and finally be brought to an end at the fullness of time when all things in heaven and on earth will be placed under his authority. The END.

References (footnotes):

[1] R. E. Howard “Galatians through Philemon,” In Beacon Bible Commentary,” Eds. A.F. Harper et al. Vol. IX. 19-125. (Kansas Missouri: Beacon Hill press, 1965),129.

[2] D. A. Carson, and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 482-483.

[3] Howard, Galatians through Philemon, 131.

[4] Markus Barth. “Ephesians 1-3: New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.” In The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday& Company, 1974), 10.

[5] Carson,and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 487.

[6] Nominative subject.

[7] It can be qualitative genitive to emphasize the fact that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus; he is not a witness according to people or himself (as self-proclaimed apostle). It can also be construed as a source Genitive- to emphasize the fact that his apostleship originates from Christ.

[8] This can be taken as genitive of means. The will of God is the means in which he received his apostleship.

[9] This can be understood best as a qualitative genitive.

[10] Dative of indirect object.

[11] Dative of association. They are referred to as holy and faithful not because of their merit but because of their association with Christ (which has brought a union between the two parties.

[12] Howard, Galatians through Philemon, 140.

[13] Barth, Ephesians 1-3, 67.

[14] Dative of indirect object.

[15] Nominative subjects.

[16] Genitive of source.

[17] Epexegetical genitive- explaining further on the noun θεοῦ.

[18] Source genitive- making God/Jesus Christ as the source of grace and peace. It can also be understood as qualitative genitive to bring the idea that he wishes them God’s grace and peace as opposes to grace and peace that men can offer.

[19] Epexegetical genitive- further explaining Ἰησοῦ.

[20] Howard, Galatians through Philemon, 131.

[21] Granville Sharp rule applies here; the two nouns of the same case ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ are connected by καὶ, the first noun has an article and the scond do not. Therefore πατὴρ referes to the same person (ὁ θεὸς)

[22] Epexegetical genitive explaining further concerning the nominative subject (identified as God and Father).

[23] Adjectival participle (in this case substantival). As Resultative aorist emphasis is put on the conclusion of the action.

[24] This personal pronoun refers to saints and faithful ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (according to verse 1).

[25] Dative of reference (blessings in reference to that which is spiritual).

[26] I have rendered it here as a dative of place (hence- heavenly places). It could also be taken as a dative of sphere to bring the idea of blessings- in the heavenly realm.

[27] Dative of reference (in reference to Christ).

[28] Inceptive aorist-the focus is at the beginning of choosing.

[29] Dative of reference- to mean, chosen in reference to Him/God.

[30] Genitive of time.

[31] Subjective genitive.

[32] Objective genitive.

[33] Infinitive of purpose.

[34] Predicate accusative.

[35] Predicate accusative.

[36] Dative of reference or manner or reference can fit here-In reference to his love or in the manner of his love.

[37] Accusative of termination with focus on status. Predestination leads to a God-given status of being a son.

[38] Genitive of agency. Jesus Christ is the agent that makes adoption as son possible.

[39] Epexegetical genitive.

[40] Accusative of termination with focus on purpose.

[41] Accusative of manner.

[42] Objective Genitive.

[43] Subjective genitive.

[44] Accusative of termination with the purpose as focus.

[45] Objective genitive.

[46] Subjective genitive.

[47] Constative aorist.

[48] Static present- with focus on the state of things.

[49] Direct object accusative.

[50] Genitive of means.

[51] Objective genitive.

[52] Subjective Genitive.

[53] Epexegetical genitive.

[54] Accusative absolute.

[55] Objective genitive.

[56] Subjective genitive.

[57] Dramatic aorist.

[58] Dative of cause.

[59] Complementary participle.

[60] Accusative absolute.

[61] Objective genitive.

[62] Subjective genitive

[63] Adverbial accusative with manner as focus.

[64] Genitive of possession.

[65] Inceptive aorist.

[66] Dative of indirect object

[67] This can be taken as objective genitive or genitive of measure.

[68] This can be taken as subjective genitive or Genitive of time.

[69] Subject infinitive.

[70] Adverbial accusative with measure as focus.

[71] Dative of indirect object.

[72] Dative of place.

[73] Genitive of place.

[74] Dative of indirect object.

[75] Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1993) 542.


Exegesis of Psalm 4:1-9: Confidence in the Character of the Lord for Deliverance in Times of Trouble

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The book of Psalms is a poetic literature with diverse collection of songs written by different authors in different periods of time. Throughout history individual and corporate worshippers have used Psalms in their worship; “in the history of Israel and the Christian church the Psalms have had extensive use in both public and private worship which is very much a reflection of the original purpose of these sacred poems” (Bullock 2001, 23). The Psalter is divided into five “books”: Ps. 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150 (Longman III and Dillard 2006, 254).

The authorship of the Psalter cannot be easily determined. This is because the written texts in the book of Psalms must have existed many generations before they were compiled and circulated; “it was first prayed, sung, and spoken by many extremely different kinds of people. Only later, at the point where these many voices gathered in worship, did it receive the form that is normative for all and accessible to all” (Westermann 1980 15-160). Furthermore, the preposition לְ that is attached to names in the superscriptions of many psalms remain ambiguous because it has variety of possible meanings. The names associated to the Psalms are: David, Solomon, Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and the two Ezrahites. There are other 28 psalms, mostly in Book 5, have no name(s) attached to them at all (Bullock 2001, 25). Psalm 4 is attributed to David.

Sometimes the historical context of some psalms is indicated; but the context for Psalm 4 is not given. This has led some commentators to suggest that the story of Absalom in 2 Sam. 15:13 is the background of Psalm 4. Other commentators suggest it to have been a prayer of distress due to crop failures. These two opinions could be true but in my opinion, it is good to approach the psalm knowing that the author had more than one enemy and also that the psalm applied to different situations in the lives of God’s people.

Psalm 4 is an individual lament. A lament/complaint is “the petition by individuals as they approach God with their particular needs” (Estes 2005, 165).


An Exegesis of Psalm 4:1-9

As stated above, Psalm 4:1-9 deals with a prayer for deliverance based on confidence in God’s character. The psalmist confidently prays to the righteous God for deliverance from his enemies who have turned his glory to shame; he has seen God answer his petition in the past and now calls on the godly to trust in the Lord to receive inner peace, joy and security. This is developed in nine verses beginning with a superscription that attributes the psalm to David (v. 1). Psalm 4 is divided into five parts. In the first part (v. 2) the psalmist prays to God based on His righteous character and what he had done in the past (hearing and answering his prayers). The second part (v. 3-4) points out what David’s enemies had done; they had turned his glory into shame by accusing him falsely, and he now calls them to know that God has set apart the godly and answers their prayers. In the third section (v. 5-6) the psalmist exhorts in a series of imperatives in anticipation to God’s deliverance: to stand in awe, not to sin, search their hearts, be still, offer sacrifice of righteousness, and trust in the Lord. Further, the fourth section (v. 7) enlarges the scope of this individual lament to include other godly people that are equally anticipating for God’s deliverance and blessings. The fifth section (v. 8-9) ends the psalm not in a lament mood but in a joyful and confident mood. The psalmist confidently states that by trusting in the Lord alone the godly receive inner peace, joy and security.

Superscription (4:1)

“To the chief musician. With stringed instrument. A psalm of David” (v. 1).

The superscription on this psalm gives some literary information and musical terms that relates to the psalm. The word לַמְנַצֵּ֥חַ can be translated “to the chief musician/ choirmaster”. This expression occurs in the title of fifty five psalms and in Habakkuk 3:19. The verb from which this noun is derived (נַצֵּ֥חַ) means “to act as overseer, superintendent, director” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 663).

The noun בִּנְגִינ֗וֹת can be translated “with stringed instrument”; with the preposition בִּ meaning “with”. It also occurs several times in the Psalter (Ps. 6; 54; 55; 67; 76). When the noun is translated as “stringed accompaniment” it indicates that these psalms “were to be recited or sung to the strains of stringed instruments” (Bullock 2001, 29; Purkiser 1967, 150).

The word מִזְמ֥וֹר is used fifty seven times in the Psalter to mean “psalm” or “song” depicting the literary genre of the psalm. In the Septuagint (LXX) it is rendered as psalmos, from which we get the word ‘psalm’ (Bullock 2001, 28).

The phrase לְדָוִֽד occurs seventy three times in Psalms. The preposition לְ can be translated in different ways: “to, for, in regard to” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 510). Thus Psalm 4 can be rendered as, to/for/in regard to David. This makes it hard to authoritatively conclude that David was the author though we also know he was a composer of psalms. Personally, I take names prefixed by the prepositions as the name of the author(s). I concur with Calvin as quoted by Bullock on taking David as the author unless otherwise proven, “we understand the term in the authorial sense unless there are indications to the contrary, whether in the superscription or the content of the poem itself” (Bullock 2001, 25).

  1. The psalmist confidently makes a petition to God based on His righteous character, and based on what He has done in the past in hearing and answering his prayers (4:2)

Verse 2 can be divided into two sections. In the first part (v.2a) the psalmist makes his petition to the righteous God. In the second part (v.2b) the reason the psalmist petitions his case to God is because in the past God has heard and answered his prayers.

A. The psalmist confidently petitions his case to God based on His righteous character (4:2a).

“Hear me when I call O God of my righteousness” (v. 2a).

The psalmist begins the lament by making a petition to God (in vocative), a typical beginning of a lament/complaint psalm. He calls on God, עֲנֵ֤נִי(hear me). The imperative used is an imperative of request (Gesenius 1910, sec. 110a). He implores on God to respond to his prayers with the first-person pronoun “me” referiing to the psalmist. He expects God to hear him (בְּקָרְאִ֡י) “when he calls”. The preposition בּ introduces a temporal clause (Chisholm 1998, 114). David refers to God as אֱלֹ֨הֵ֤י צִדְקִ֗י  (God of my righteousness). Righteousness here is an attribute of God; it can also be rendered as the One “who vindicates me” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 841 2e). He is the God who will vindicate him from his enemies. God has also made the psalmist righteous and that is the basis of him saying “God of my righteousness”. The genitive in this phrase is abstract subjective genitive (Arnold and Choi 2003, 2.2.4). The revelation of God’s character as righteous serves as the first basis of psalmist’s confidence on God.

B. The psalmist confidently makes his petition to God based on what God had done in the past by hearing and answering his prayers (4:2b).

“When I was in distress you relieved me, had mercy upon me and heard my prayer” (v. 2b).

The second part of verse 2 is a reflection of God’s dealings in the past. Apart from trusting in God’s character (righteous), the psalmist also bases his confidence on what God has previously done to him. David remembered God’s deliverance in the past when he was in: “distress, narrowness, dread, want” (בַּ֭צָּר) (Holladay 1971, 310). The preposition (translated as “when”) is a temporal clause; but בַּ֭צָּר is used as accusative of state, describing the condition of the subject (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 10.2.2d).

Specifically, after he had prayed in his distress, God did two things in the past. First, God enlarged him (הִרְחַ֣בְתָּ- hiphil, perfect, 2nd person, masculine, singular). The verb means to “be widened, enlarged, relieved, and expanded with joy” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 931). The use of the perfect is definite past (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 112c). The second person pronoun “you” refers to God, and David refers himself with the first person pronoun “me”. The focus of the psalmist is God; his deliverance will come not from himself but from the righteous God. The pronoun לִּ֑י is a double accusative (direct object and datival accusative) (Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze 2002, 243-44). Even in this state of distress the psalmist is not crushed in spirit but confident on God who had formerly intervened in his distress to answer his prayers.

Secondly, God not only heard his prayers but also answered. The two imperative חָ֜נֵּ֗נִי “have mercy upon me” and וּשְׁמַ֥ע “and hear” are imperatives of request (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 34.4b). The psalmist had experienced deliverance from a merciful God in the past distress and now he not petitions for the same to happen again. ‘My prayer’ (תְּפִלָּתִֽי) is a genitive of the thing possessed (Arnold and Choi 2003, sec. 2.2.1). There are other instances in psalms associated with David where he had cried to God and the Lord answered him (Ps. 6:8; 118:5). In these two areas God is revealed as the One who relieves, is merciful, and hears prayers. By answering the prayers of the psalmist again, the Lord will be vindicating him.

2. The Psalmist points out what his enemies had done; they turned his glory into shame and by falsely accusing him; he also calls his opponents to knowledge on what God has done in setting the godly apart and in answering their prayers when they call to Him (4:3-4).

Verse 3 highlights who David’s enemies are, and what they have done in turning his glory into shame and by accusing him falsely. In verse 4 the psalmist calls his opponents to commit to memory what God has done in setting apart the godly and listening to their prayers when they call to Him.

A. The psalmist states what his enemies have done to him; they have turned his glory into shame and have falsely accused him (4:3).

“O you sons of men, how long will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love vanity and seek after falsehood. Selah” (v. 3).

In this verse, there is a shift in the use of pronouns. The psalmist shifts from using the first-person pronoun to refer to himself and the second person to refer to God to the third person pronoun to refer to his enemies.

The expressionבְּנֵ֥י אִ֡ישׁ  can be literally rendered “O you sons of men” (vocative). In Psalms 62:9 the (בְּנֵ֥י אִ֡ישׁ) “men of high degree” are contrasted to (‎  בְּנֵֽי־אָדָם) “men of low degree”. In Psalm 49:2 men of high degree is held synonymously parallel to “the rich” and men of low degree is synonymously parallel to “the poor”. The focus of the previous verse was God, but in this verse the psalmist exposes the nature of his enemies. David shows his enemies as high profile, influential, and rich people in the society. The construct noun בְּנֵ֥י is a genitive of genus (Chisholm 1998, 64). The noun אִ֡ישׁ is a genitive of relation (Arnold and Choi 2003, sec. 2.2.2); and is used contrastively; it is man in opposition to God (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 35).

The expression עַד־מֶ֬ה is (How long?) hints that his distress had taken some extended period of time. But also his confidence shows that during this extended time he must have also been praying. To the psalmist what was at stake was כְבוֹדִ֣י (his glory); this is a possessive genitive (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 9.5.1g). Glory is “honor, reputation, of character, of man” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 458 4). Job, in Job 29, deeply lamented over the loss of his honor. The question then is how special was ones glory or reputation in psalmist’s time,

“In the culture of ancient Israel, honor was of the greatest value; it is in most societies. Honor is the dignity and respect that belongs to a person’s position in relation to family, friends and the community. It is an essential part of the identity that others recognize and regard in dealing with a man or a woman. In Israel, its loss had tragic consequences for self-esteem and social competence. Shaming and humiliating a person was violence against them worse than physical harm” (Mays 1994, 55).

But we also know that David was a king who had been enthroned by God (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 2:6) and any dishonor or disrespect of his legality as a king amount to disrespecting and dishonoring Yahweh. Psalmists glory had been turned לִ֭כְלִמָּה (into shame); a direct object accusative (Williams 2007, 50). It can also be rendered, “reproach, ignominy” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 484 2). The rhetorical question (O you sons of men, how long will you turn my glory into shame?) is focused on his opponents.

Having shown what his enemies are after, turning his reputation into shame, the psalmist then asks his enemies how long they תֶּאֱהָב֣וּן רִ֑יק (will love vanity). The verb תֶּאֱהָב֣וּן (Qal, imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, plural) is habitual non-perfective, they habitually, repeatedly, and continuously love vanity (Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze 2002, 148). The noun that I have translated “vanity” רִ֑יק can also be rendered as “emptiness,” or “worthlessness” (Holladay 1971, 339). This noun is also a direct object accusative (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 125a, b). Ironically, his enemies love an empty thing! They love what is worthless. In this verse glory is contrasted with vanity. The attempt to turn the glory of the one whom God has enthrones is worthless. In addition, they are clinging to what is worthless by dishonoring God, the one who has enthroned David. Jerome is quoted by Terrien, “The gods and goddesses of the nations represent projections of the forces of nature or human instincts and passions. To seek and love them is done at the price of their total negation of the living God. ‘Nothingness’ seduces like death” (Terrien 2003, 100).

Psalmists enemies are not only seeking after what is worthless but they also תְּבַקְשׁ֖וּ כָזָ֣ב (seek after falsehood). The verb תְּבַקְשׁ֖וּ (Piel, imperfect, 2nd person, masculine, plural) in time reference is progressive non-perfective denoting an incomplete action still in progress in the time the present (Williams 2007, 167 1). It can also be translated “aim at,” or “practice,” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 134, 1b). The noun כָזָ֣ב (falsehood) is the object of what they are seeking after; it is the direct object accusative. Three things are clear here, psalmist’s enemies are men who: are after turning his glory or reputation to shame, they love what is empty, and they are men who are seeking after falsehood. The psalmist’s reputation is at stake from his false accusers, but the righteous God is his vindicator. He has in the past experienced God’s vindication and he again confidently looks forward for the same against his enemies.

The musical term סֶֽלָה׃ occurs seventy one times in the Psalter and three times in Habakkuk 3. Its precise meaning is uncertain but some possible meanings are: “raising of voice to higher pitch,” “for ever,” “pause (for instrumental interlude),” “an acrostic indicating change of voices or ‘da capo;” (Holladay 1971, 256).

It is observed that,

All the psalms in which it occurs with the exception of two are attributed to by title to David or to one of the Levitical singers such as Asaph, the sons of Korah, Ethan, or Heman. The remaining two have no titles. Most of the psalms in which Selah occurs are also inscribed ‘For the chief musician’ and frequently contain notes concerning the use of accompanying instruments. From these facts, Selah would seem to be a musical term, perhaps indicating a pause in the chanting of the hymn while instruments played. It generally ends a stanza or occurs before the introduction of some new and important thought. For modern readers, profitable interpretation would seem to be ‘Pause- and Meditate’” (Purkiser 1967, 147-148).

B. The psalmist confidently states to his enemies what the Lord has done and will do for the godly (4:4).

“But know that the Lord has set apart for himself him that is godly; the Lord will hear when I call to him” (v. 4).

Verse four is emphatically introduced by adversative clause וּ “but” (Williams 2007, 555). The verb דְע֗וּ “know” (Qal, imperative, masculine, plural) is an imperative of command (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 34.4b). David’s opponents are to know כִּֽי־הִפְלָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה חָסִ֣יד (that the Lord has set apart the godly). This may not be a new knowledge to them but serves as a reminder of the relationship that God has with the godly. The figure of speech in this verse is apostrophe since the enemies addressed by David might not be physically present when he is making this prayer. The consecutive clause introduced by כִּֽ showing purpose (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 168a). The Lord (יְ֭הוָה) is the nominative subject; and the name יְ֭הוָה is intrinsically definite (Gesenius 1910, sec. 125a, d-h). The verb הִפְלָ֣ה (Hiphil, perfect, 3rd person, masculine, singular) is indefinite perfective showing that the action took place in the past but with present effect (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec 30.5.1b). God has set apart the חָסִ֣יד “godly”; the one who “practices hesed,” “one who is faithful,” devout” (Holladay 1971, 111). The term ‘godly man’ is two-sided, it can either be “a person who demonstrates his love of God in the manner of his life; or a person towards whom God manifests His love and favor” (Cohen 1992, 8-9). The godly ones are all those consecrated, like the tribe of Levi, by God (Deut. 33:8-9; Ps. 50:5.); “in rabbinic literature Hasid means someone who acts beyond the strict letter of the law” (Hakham 2003, 17). God sets apart the godly for himself. The psalmist enlarges this prayer from being a private prayer to a prayer that the godly can associate with. The preposition suffix ל֑וֹ is in apposition to יְ֭הוָה and separated by a phrase (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 131i).

The second part begins with the subject יְהוָ֥ה; the article is intrinsically definite (Gibson 1994, 29).  The psalmist reiterates that Lord יִ֜שְׁמַ֗ע “will hear” (Qal, imperfect, 3rd person, masculine, singular). In time reference, it is specific future, a type of non-perfective future-time reference presents the action as a certain event in the future time (Gibson 1994, 64 a). Psalmist is full of confidence in God’s intervention. The clause בְּקָרְאִ֥י אֵלָֽיו is introduced by the preposition בּ, a temporal clause (Arnold and Choi 2003, sec. 5.2.4). The verb בְּקָרְאִ֥י (Qal, imperfect, 3rd person, masculine, singular) is a non-perfective of capability (Williams 2007, 170). The psalmist knows his identity as a person set apart by God. And as a godly person he is able to call on the Lord and expect an answer from Him. David knows that the righteous God listens to the godly; and those who seek vanity and falsehood will ultimately be disappointed. The prepositional suffix third person masculine singular אֵלָֽי is in apposition to יְהוָ֥ה for emphasis (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 12.5a).


3. The psalmist exhorts the godly on what they should do; while anticipating God’s deliverance, the godly should stand in awe, not sin, search their hearts, be still, offer sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord (4:5-6)

Verse 5 is a message to the godly to stand in awe, not sin, to search their hearts and be still. Verse 6 continues the admonition to the godly, calling them to offer sacrifice of righteousness to the righteous God and trust in Him.

A. The psalmist gives the godly a wise counsel on what the they should do while awaiting on God’s deliverance; they should stand in awe, not sin, search their hearts and be still (4:5)

“Stand in awe and not sin; commune with your heart upon your bed and be still. Selah” (v. 5).

Having shown his opponents what God has done and will do by setting apart the godly and answering his prayers and the fact that what they are clinging to is worthless, the psalmist now turn to the godly. He gives an admonition to the godly through a series of imperatives. In the first imperative, he calls on the godly to רִגְז֗וּ (stand in awe/tremble); an imperative of command (Williams 2007, 188). The godly should in the presence of God tremble/ stand in awe in anticipation to God’s response of their petitions.  Standing in awe/trembling here means “spiritual contemplation of the fear of God” (Hakham 2003, 18).

Secondly, he calls on the  וְֽאַל־תֶּ֫חֱטָ֥אוּ(and not to sin). This clause is disjunctive, representing an alternate idea (Arnold and Choi 2003, 186). Those set apart by a righteous God are called to avoid sin. It is not elaborated why the righteous should avoid sin but Psalms 66:17-19 helps us understand the importance of this imperative, God hates sin,

I cried out to him with my mouth; his praises was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer (NIV hereafter unless noted otherwise).

Thirdly, toאִמְר֣וּ בִ֭לְבַבְכֶם עַֽל־מִשְׁכַּבְכֶ֗ם  (commune with your heart upon your bed). The phase אִמְר֣וּ בִ֭לְבַבְכֶם “commune with your heart”. This can also be rendered as, “to say in the heart (to oneself)” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 533, 7). The verb אִמְר֣וּ (Qal, imperative, masculine, plural) is an imperative of request (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 34.4b). He calls the godly to search and ponder in their hearts. The noun בִ֭לְבַבְכֶם is a genitive of inalienable possession (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 9.5.1h). The heart is the location/sphere upon which they ponder or meditate; an accusative of place (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 10.2.2b). The phrase עַֽל־מִשְׁכַּבְכֶ֗ם “upon your bed” can also be rendered as, “place of lying, couch, act of lying” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 1012). It can thus be translated when you are on your bed. The genitive used here is of location (Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze 2002, 199). In the bed,  “the voice of conscience, unheeded in the turmoil and excitement of the day, or silenced by fear of men and evil example, may make itself heard in the calm solitude of the night, and convince you of the truth” (Purkiser 1967, 151).

Fourthly, he calls on the godly to be still דֹ֣מּוּ “be still” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 198 1). The imperative used here is imperative of command (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 34.4b). In our prayers we must stop and be silent to listen to God, “too often our prayer is one-way. We tell God what we want, we think over our problems, and then we complain that the Lord never speaks to us” (Williams and Ogilvie 1989, 49). The godly are to be still in the presence of the Lord (Lev 10: 3; Ps. 37:7; 62:10) to hear Him speak.

B. The psalmist calls on the godly to offer sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord in anticipation of their deliverance (4:6).

“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord” (v. 6).

‎In the fifth imperative, the psalmist calls on the godly to זִבְח֥וּ זִבְחֵי־צֶ֑דֶק (offer the sacrifices of righteousness). The imperative verb זִבְח֥וּ (offer) is an imperative of command (Chisholm 1998, 105). The phrase זִבְחֵי־צֶ֑דֶק means “sacrifice of righteousness (offered in righteousness by the righteous)” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 257 1). David in Psalm 51: 16-17 states that the sacrifice God desires is a broken spirit,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The accusative זִבְחֵי־ is cognate internal accusative, from the same root as the verb זִבְח֥וּ. The syntactical function of the noun צֶ֑דֶק is a genitive of quality (Arnold and Choi 2003, sec. 2.2.1).

The sixth imperative is וּ֜בִטְח֗וּ אֶל־יְהוָֽה (put your trust in the Lord). The verb וּ֜בִטְח֗וּ is an imperative of command (Williams 2007, 188). The preposition אֶל־ introduces the direct object accusative יְהוָֽה (Williams 2007, 50). The proper noun יְהוָֽה is intrinsically proper (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 137b-j) and so it is translated with a definite article. The enemies of the psalmist trust worthless things, but the godly trust in the Lord (Ps. 20:7; 31:6); for trusting in the Lord involves forsaking worthless idols. The psalmist resolves to rise above his distress by trusting in the Lord.


4. The psalmist enlarges the scope of his distress to encompass the experience of other godly people facing similar situation and petition for God’s blessings (4:7).

“Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?” Lift up the light of your face, O Lord” (v. 7).

Having stated what God has done and will do, and what the godly should do, he then enlarges the scope of the psalm from being an individual psalm to represent the cries of other godly people facing similar experience. He poses a rhetoric question, רַבִּ֥ים אֹמְרִים֘ מִֽי־יַרְאֵ֪נ֫וּ ט֥וֹב “(Many are saying, ‘Who will show us any good?). The adjective “many” refers to the false accusers as explained in verse 3. The exceptions to the rule concerning agreement between a noun and attributive adjective in regard to definiteness apply here because it is about numerals and an adjective (Gibson 1994, 42). The verb אֹמְרִים֘ (Qal, participle, masculine, plural) is durative with present time reference. This is followed by a rhetorical question מִֽי־יַרְאֵ֪נ֫וּ ט֥וֹב (who will show us any good?). This question leads the psalmist to reiterate his petition to God. The pronoun suffix “us” attached to יַרְאֵ֪נ֫וּ refers to the godly. The word translated as “good” also means “welfare, prosperity, happiness” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 375, 1). The psalmist has chosen to trust in God; but many other godly people are thinking, ‘who would show us good by delivering us from our false accusers?’

The second part of the verse is a petition to God beginning with an imperative נְֽסָה־ (lift up). This is an imperative of request (Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze 2002, 151) from an inferior to a superior. The suffix pronoun (us) in עָ֭לֵינוּ refers to the direct object accusative (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 10.2.1c). The phrase א֙וֹר פָּנֶ֬יךָ refers to God’s “shining, enlightening, favoring face” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 21, 10). The figure of speech used in this phrase is anthropomorphism, the investment of God with characteristic of humans (face). Light has been used as a metaphor that is compared with God’s favor. The noun פָּנֶ֬יךָ is used as a genitive of quality (Merwe, Naudé, and Kroeze 2002, 198). The pronoun “your” refers to the noun יְהוָֽה which is vocative.

The good that many godly people are seeking is found in the light of God’s countenance. The psalmist quotes two of the blessings from the following priestly blessings in Numbers 6:25-26,

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

The next two verses shows what happens when the godly trusts in him and what the Lord blesses his people with.


5. The psalmist confidently states what he (and the godly) receive by trusting in the Lord alone; the godly receive inner joy, peace, and security (4:8-9).

In verse 8, God filled the psalmist’s heart with gladness. In verse 9 the psalmist is filled with peace and sense of security.

A. God fills the heart of the psalmist with great joy (4:8)

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the time their corn and their wine increased” (v. 8).

The verb נָתַ֣תָּה (Qal, perfect, 2nd person, masculine, singular) pronoun suffix refers to the subject, the Lord. The verb is indefinite perfective, representing a past event in which the speaker does not specify the time of its occurrence (W_O 30.5.1b). The noun שִׂמְחָ֣ה is the direct object accusative (Williams 2007, 50). The “heart” used as synechdoche of the part for the whole. The noun בְלִבִּ֑ is an accusative of place (Williams 2007, sec. 54a-b, 55). The joy that God gives him is inner joy, springing from the heart. The two parts of the verse are base comparison connected by “than”. Even the time the psalmist was waiting and trusting in God to work, the psalmist admits that God filled his heart with gladness. The gladness was more than the gladness of his opponents when their bountiful harvest and wine increase; “Harvestimes for the Hebrews and other ancient peoples were times of great celebration and rejoicing. The gladness of the Lord is greater” (Purkiser 1967, 151).

B. God blesses the psalmist with peace and protection (4:9)

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (v. 9)

Trusting in Yahweh also lead the psalmist to confidently assert, בְּשָׁל֣וֹם יַחְדָּו֘ אֶשְׁכְּבָ֪ה וְאִ֫ישָׁ֥ן (in peace I will lie down and sleep). The word ‘shalom’ here means “peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 1907, 1022 4). Peace is a fruit of trust,

The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever Isa. 32:17.

There is use of hendiadys in this verse: the two verbs אֶשְׁכְּבָ֪ה and וְאִ֫ישָׁ֥ן express the same idea and they are joined by the conjunction “and”. The two Qal imperfect verbs (אֶשְׁכְּבָ֪ה and וְאִ֫ישָׁ֥ן) are cohortatives of resolve/determination (Williams 2007, 184a-b). The psalmist is confident and determined; he does not end where he began (lamenting); trusting in God changes him and his situation. The clause introduced by כִּֽי־ is an explanatory causality (Gibson 1994, 125). The subject יְהוָ֣ה is in vocative and is emphasized by the independent pronoun אַתָּ֣ה; but can also be a pleonasm, a redundant expression for emphasis. The verb תּוֹשִׁיבֵֽנִי׃ (Hiphil imperfect 2ndperson masculine singular; suffix- 1cs) is an iterative non-perfetive (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 113c). The noun לָ֜בֶ֗טַח is accusative of state (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 126a-f, 127a). The psalmist will rest assured that God is in control. It is this verse that prompted believers of all ages to use Psalm 4 as an evening prayer of hymn (Mays 1994, 56). The righteous God who is also his peace, He makes him to lie down in safety. In Psalm 127:1-3 God is expressed as a protector,

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay late, toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to those he loves.

The psalm ends not in a sad and lamenting mood but with a calm and joyful praise to God whom he has trusted.


In Psalm 4, the psalmist expresses confidence in the character of the Lord for deliverance in times of trouble. God is revealed as righteous and as God who hears and answers prayer. The psalmist had been falsely accused by his enemies who had turned his glory into shame. But the psalmist chose not to focus on his enemies but on God. His deliverance will only come from the Lord not from himself or other people. Knowing who God is and remembering what he has done in the past to us should change the way we handle hard times and also change our attitude from complaining to trust in God alone for deliverance. David knew the reality of his enemies and their false accusation but he also knew God as revealed through past actions toward him and other godly people. In addition, the psalmist knew his identity as one who has been set apart by God for Himself. David’s opponents cannot shake this glorious identity; they cannot turn it into shame because it is solidly based on God’s declaration. Our Christian identity in Christ is also unshakable. Christians are God’s children (Jn. 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1), saints (1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1), and co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). The knowledge of God and of his identity as a godly person leads the psalmist to: stand in awe, not to sin, search his hearts, be still, offer sacrifice of righteousness, and trust in the Lord. By trusting in the Lord alone the psalmist was changed, his lament changed to a song of praise and confidence on the God who sets apart the godly, gives joy, peace, safety and sleep. Trusting in Jesus yields joy and peace for he promises to gives peace not as the world gives (Jn. 14: 27). Christians today, like David, live in a world full of evil and evil people. From time to time we will have to deal with unanswered prayers, or face life crises and challenges, in which we are tempted to fear, complain, fight, despair, or question God. But this individual psalm reminds us to trust in the Lord with confidence for our deliverance no matter what. The Lord is a righteous God who hears and answers prayers and is able to deliver us from our distress. We should learn from the psalmist who because of the trustworthiness of God and His sustenance he is able to confidently and peacefully lie down sleep and wake up again (Ps. 3:5; 4:8).



Psalm 4 is an individual lament containing nine verses beginning with a superscription that attributes the psalm to David (v. 1). The psalm has five parts. The first part (v. 2) a petition of the psalmist to God based on His righteous character and what he had done in the past (hearing and answering his prayers). The second part (v. 3-4) points out what David’s enemies had done; they had turned his glory into shame by accusing him falsely, and the psalmist calling them to know that God has set apart the godly and answers their prayers. In the third section (v. 5-6) the psalmist exhorts the godly in a series of imperatives on what to do in anticipation to God’s deliverance: to stand in awe, not to sin, search their hearts, be still, offer sacrifice of righteousness, and trust in the Lord. Further, the fourth section (v. 7) enlarges the scope of this individual lament to include other godly people that are equally anticipating for God’s deliverance and blessings. The fifth section (v. 8-9) ends the psalm not in a lament mood but in a joyful and confident mood. The psalmist confidently states that by trusting in the Lord alone the godly receive inner peace, joy and security.

This passage should have challenged not only David but also other worshippers who faced a similar distressful situation to trust in the Lord alone. This is also true to us today. Christians are faced with life challenges, trials, temptations and unanswered prayers in their walk with God. This can be disheartening. But this psalm encourages believers in Christ not to despair but to remember who God is, what he has done and to trust Him to bring deliverance and answer in various situations of life.


Work Cited

Arnold, Bill T., and John H. Choi. A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1907.

Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction. Encountering Biblical Studies. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2001.

Chisholm, Robert B. Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Cohen, Amnon. The Psalms. Soncino Books of the Bible. Brooklyn: Soncino Press, 1992.

Danhood, Mitchell. Psalms I: 1-50. The Anchor Bible 16. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1965-66.

Gesenius, W. Gesenius. Hebrew Grammar. Edited by E. Kautzsch. 2nded. rev. by A. E. Cowley. Oxford: Clarendon, 1910.

Gibson, J. C. L. Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar: Syntax. 4thed. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994.

Holladay, William L. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971.

Joüon, Paul, and T. Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Subsidia Biblica 27. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 2006.

Longman III, Tremper and Dillard Raymond B. An Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006.

Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994.

Merwe, Van der, Christo H. J., Jackie A. Naudé, and Jan H. Kroeze. A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar. With minor revisions. Biblical Languages: Hebrew 3. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Purkiser, T. W. “Psalms.” The Beacon Bible Commentary. Vol. III. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1967.

Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Waltke, Bruce K., and M. O’Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. 9th corrected printing. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990.

Westermann, Claus. The Psalms: Structure, Content & Message. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1980.

Williams, Ronald J. William. Hebrew Syntax. 3rd ed., rev. and exp. by John C. Beckman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Williams, Don, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Psalms 73-150. Communicator’s Commentary Series. Old Testament 14. Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1989.

Wilson, Gerald H. Psalms–Volume 1. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.




The authorship of Malachi has been a subject of debate by Bible commentators. The superscription (Mal. 1:1) is inadequate and unclear to give us reliable information concerning the author. The word  מַלְאָכִֽי can be interpreted either as “A message: the word of Yahweh to Israel through Malachi” or “A message: the world of Yahweh to Israel through my messenger” (McComiskey 1992, 1245). Some scholars agree it could be a proper name though unusual. However many commentators are of the opinion, which I also subscribe to, that these oracles were originally anonymous, and that the name ‘Malachi’ was introduced at a later stage, perhaps when tradition had come to see this prophet as himself the messenger of the coming one on whose behalf he had been commissioned to speak (Verhoerf 1987, 162).

The book of Malachi does not explicitly mention the date it was written. But commentators have used the issues that Malachi addresses as a guide toward figuring out a date of the book. When looked from this standpoint, Malachi addresses similar issues addressed by Nehemiah and Ezra, meaning that they could have been contemporaries. And so the year 460BC is suggested; that is two years prior to the reforms of Ezra, and 14years prior to the Nehemiah’s arrival to Jerusalem (McComiskey 1992, 1252). This date is supported by the reference to the ‘governor’ (1:8) who were appointed by Persian authorities. The word “governor” is also used of Zerubbabel in Haggai and also of Nehemiah (5:14;12:26).

The book contains six major disputations after the superscription (1:1). The first disputation (1:2-5) is an oracle against Edom. The second disputation (1:6-2:9) is an oracle against priests concerning their unfaithfulness to the covenant; the third disputation (2:10-16) is an oracle against the people of Judah concerning their unfaithfulness to the covenant on intermarriage; the fourth disputation (2:17-3:5) is an oracle against the people of Judah concerning their unfaithfulness to the covenant on being unrighteous and unjust. The fifth disputation (3:6-12) is an oracle against the people of Judah concerning their unfaithfulness to the covenant on failure to provide tithes and offerings to God. The sixth disputation (3:13-21) is an oracle against the people of Judah concerning their unfaithfulness to the covenant (McComiskey 1992, 1249). Other commentators have come up with seven separate periscopes by dividing the second disputation (1:26-2:9) into two (1:6-14; 2:1-9) (Verhoerf 1987, 162 987). The book concludes (3:22-24) with a brief charge and summary of the book, to observe the law of Moses and be prepared for the coming day of the Lord. As a poetic literature, the disputations are structured chiastically “the first disputation is comparable to the sixth disputation, the second to the fifth, and the third to the fourth” (McComiskey 1992, 1250).

Malachi 3:19-21 falls in the sixth (or seventh depending on the position taken) disputation in a context where the people fail to fear and honor God, the arrogant are called blessed, and the people think serving God is futile. In addition, the people doubt that God distinguishes between good and the wicked because evildoers are prospering and those who challenge God escape. But in Malachi 3:19-21 the prophet describes the judgment that will befall the wicked, the vindication of the righteous and their ultimate victory over the wicked during the coming of the day of the Lord. It may presently seem that evildoers are triumphing and the righteous losing but ultimately the opposite will happen: the righteous will triumph and evildoers will be judged.

This paper discusses the meaning and message of 3:19-21, and demonstrate how the passage relates to the church today. What comes out strongly for application from these verses is that:

God’s ultimate destruction of the wicked and vindication of the righteous in the coming day should encourage believers and ministers of God’s word today to endure in their walk and work to the Lord knowing that God is aware of their devotion to him.

An Exegesis of Malachi 3:19-21

As stated above, Malachi 3:19-21 deals with the coming day of the Lord. He says that the coming day of the Lord is certain and it will bring about the destruction/judgment of all the wicked, the vindication and triumph of the righteous over the wicked. The first part of verse 19 shows certainty of the coming day. This is developed further by a figurative description of what the day will be like to all that do evil. They will be destroyed. In figurative terms they shall be chaff, burned up. In addition, no root nor their branch will be left. Verse 20 deals with the righteous; and shows that the righteous will be vindicated, they will finally triumph. Figuratively, they will be vindicated and they will be like calves released out of stalls. Verse 21 continues the thought in verse 20, the Lord of hosts declares that they will triumph, trampling down the wicked.

  1. The Lord states the certainty of the coming day whereby all the arrogant and all those who do evil will face destruction with nothing left (3:19).

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and all that do evil shall be chaff; and the day that is coming shall burn them up” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (3:19).

Verse 19 connects is connected with the former context by the use of  כִּֽי־. In the preceding verse (v. 18) God expresses determination to distinguish between evil doers and those who fear him upon the coming of the day he has set. In this coming day all people will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. Therefore according to the preceding context כִּֽי־ can be best translated as “For” (Clines 1993, 384a), that is, as an explanatory causality (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, sec. 170) (HALOT 975). The conjunction כִּֽי־ links verse 19 in a manner that continues the explanation of the mentioned separation of the righteous and the wicked in verse 18.

The exclamation הִנֵּ֤ה is used to introduce the idea of time. (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 40.2.1d). It reinforces the determination of Yahweh to act as seen in the verse, also “the abruptnesss of the language presents it in catastrophic suddenness with which it will burst upon the heads of evildoers and rebels against God.” (Unger 1988, 2084). The author adds it after כִּֽי־ to introduce a positive oath exclamation (Gibson 1994,156a).

The word הַיּוֹם֙ “the day” serves as a nominative subject. It has a definite article and is noun masculine singular. The day is qualified by two participles בָּ֔א and בֹּעֵ֖ר. Malachi refers to this day being in the future, but in the imminent future. ‘The day of the Lord’ forms part of the eschatology of the Bible. Other equivalents are: ‘the day’, ‘in that day’. It is “the occasion when Yahweh actively intervenes to punish sin that has come to climax” and Malachi’s reference to ‘the coming day’ can be interpreted as eschatological because it speaks of a radical change in events that will take place in the future (Wood and Marshall eds. 1996, 261). The day has also been interpreted differently by different people, according to Calvin it refers to the first coming of Christ, while other think it is the second coming of Christ to judge and others think it is God’s judgment until the last day. Other think it was an imminent catastrophe which his contemporaries would experience (Verhoef 1987, 324-325).

Other OT passages that bear similarities with reference to ‘the day’ include: Jer. 30:7, “How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it” (NIV hereafter unless noted otherwise). “Doom has come upon you, upon you who dwell in the land. The time has come! The day is near! There is panic, not joy, on the mountains” (Ezek. 7:7).  “It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of “(Ezek. 39:8).

That day will be a day of wrath- a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness (Zeph. 1:15).

Prophecies have various specific stages of application, the first has to do with regard to the immediate audience in their situation, the second is related to the coming of Christ and the third application to the day of the final judgment (Vehoef 1987, 325). Malachi uses “the day” in an eschatological sense referring to a future time when God will ultimately and decisively deal with the wicked. This has not been fulfilled in totality because the wicked and wickedness is still prevalent. The use of two participles בָּ֔א and בֹּעֵ֖ר (both Qal participle masculiine singular.) as opposed to imperfects has a predicate function as significance. Though the participle and imperfect are equivalent in aspect, the participle gives a more durative aspect than the imperfect (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, 121h).

The figure of speechבֹּעֵ֖ר כַּתַּנּ֑וּר  is a simile. It is a declaration that makes an explicit comparison of two things of unlike nature that have something in common. Likening the day with a burning furnace gives a picture of the magnitude of the burning (destruction). The article in כַּתַּנּ֑וּר has a generic use. This is a common feature in comparisons and in accordance with good English style is should be translated with indefinite article (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 13.5.1f-g).

A similar context is found in Ps 21:9 which states the Lord’s destruction of the wicked:  “When you appear for battle, you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and his fire will consume them” (Ps 21:9).

In light of the context, the author singles out “all the arrogant” and “all who do evil” to further specify on what he referred as “wicked” in 3:18. They are also the object of burning in the day that is coming. There is also hendiadys- two nouns joined by “and” that express a single idea-all the arrogant and all who do evil are one. The reason why the wicked are addressed here in the 3rd person as opposed to the 2nd person is makes it clear that God is not talking directly to the wicked but to the righteous, as seen in the next verse. It indicates explicit antithesis between the righteous and the wicked. Also God sent his messenger Malachi to his righteous people as a response to their prayers, v. 16, and so the use of 3rd person in reference to the wicked is justifiable.

The figurative expression קַ֔שׁ is a metaphor. It makes an implicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that have something in common (all the arrogant and all who evil are compared with chaff that will be burned). It does not mean that the wicked are literally chaff but speaks of their destiny. The metaphor of chaff shows that the wicked will be of no use. This figure of speech also appears in Isa. 5:24: “Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so the roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty”.

In this verse, הַיּ֣וֹם הַבָּ֗א and‎  הַיּוֹם is the same. First it has been mentioned twice for emphasis because it is the subject of the verb. Secondly it is mentioned twice to show certainty of the coming day.

The coming day will “set them on fire” by consuming all the arrogant and all who do evil. It speaks of their complete destruction. There is also a parallel to this earlier in the verse, “burn like a furnace”. And so the idea of setting them (chaff) on fire (like a furnace) is consistent with the figure of expression as earlier mentioned. The coming judgment will not be to refine or to purify (3:2) but to consume. It will leave them no root or branch. This is a proverbial expression showing complete destruction compared to cutting down a tree and digging up its roots so that it will never sprout to grow again” (Unger 1988, 2085). A similar scriptures is Joel 1:19 conveying judgment to the house of David by failing to administer justice,

“O house of David, this is what the Lord says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-burn with no one to quench it” (Joel 1:19).

The use of the third person masculine plural אֹתָ֜ם is in apposition to “all the arrogant” and “all who do evil”. In line with the imagery in this verse, the pronoun אֹתָ֜ם specifically refers to the object that will burn, that is all the arrogant and all who do evil. The clause‎  אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־יַעֲזֹ֥ב לָהֶ֖ם שֹׁ֥רֶשׁ וְעָנָֽףis result clause. Its antecedent is “For behold the day is coming, burning like a furnace”. Therefore the coming day will set the wicked on fire that cannot be quenched and all the wicked shall be destroyed as chaff.

The figures of speech שֹׁ֥רֶשׁ and עָנָֽףare synecdoche of the part for the whole. These are individual parts of a plant. It conveys the idea of totality. Not a single part (of the wicked) will remain during the burning in the coming day. It shows complete destruction. “The reference to root and branch is particularly important because roots and branches play important roles in sustaining a plant. Without them, the plant cannot survive. The metaphor therefore conveys a complete destruction of the wicked” (Sweeney 2000, 748). The two words occur in Job 18:16 in a context concerning the fate of the wicked,

His roots dry up below and his branches wither above. The memory of him perishes from the earth; and no name in the land.

The figure of speech‎  שֹׁ֥רֶשׁ וְעָנָֽףis a metaphor. It is an implicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that have something in common. It conveys the total destruction of all the arrogant and all those who do evil. The evildoers, in the previous verses, had said harsh things against the Lord (v. 13) and were prospering (v.14) but not in the coming day, they will be completely be destroyed. A similar passage that has similar figurative expressions is Amos 2:9 referring to the destruction of the Amorites,

“I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below” (Amos 2:9).

Having dealt with the judgment and destruction of the wicked, the author in the next verse proceeds to describe what the coming day of the Lord holds in store for the righteous. The next verse (v. 20) is introduced by the contrastוְ  “but” shifting emphasis from the wicked to the righteous. It deals with the righteous, and their destiny that is characterized by healing and joy.

2. The Lord states that the coming day will bring about the vindication, joy, and healing to the righteous (v. 20).

“But to you that fear my name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go out and grow up as calves of the stall” (3:20).

It is worth noting that the prophet in verse 20 addresses his readers in the 2nd person unlike in the previous verse where he addressed the wicked in 3rd person. This because his message is specially directed to the righteous, those that fear the Lord. The shift in from third person to second person in this verse is introduced by a  וְwhich in this case is an adversative clause (Arnold and Choi 2003, 5.2.10). The righteous who talked to each other (v.16) at the sight of the prosperity of the evildoers are the direct audience of the author.

The phrase לָכֶ֜ם יִרְאֵ֤י שְׁמִי֙ refers to the righteous and those who serve God, according to v. 18. A use of similar expression referring those who fear the Lord as those who honor his name is also found in Ps. 61:5 referring to giving of heritage to those who revere/fear the Lord’s name: “For you, God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name”.

The word שֶׁ֣מֶשׁ is syntactically a nominative subject ((Waltke and O’Connor 1990, sec. 8, 3a-b).

The word שֶׁ֣מֶשׁ is a masculine. It is noted that sometimes the gender of an adjective does not agree with the noun it modifies, also called violation of concord (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 6.6b). An example of a passage with this kind of violation, where Hebrew follows semantics rather than grammatical orientation of a noun is Eccles. 12:9‎ קֹהֶ֖לֶת חָכָ֑ם. Here the noun קֹהֶ֖לֶת (‘teacher’) is feminine, but the adjective חָכָ֑ם (‘wise’) is masculine. Normally, in this instance we would expect the adjective to be feminine to agree with the feminine subject, but it does not. However the meaning of the corresponding words in different genders does not differ based on the change in gender (Gibson 1994, 16(c), 17 (b).

The word שֶׁ֣מֶשׁ is figurative. Its meaning can be better understood by treating it as a figurative language.  And so, the figure of speech שֶׁ֣מֶשׁ is a hypocatastasis; a comparison between two things of unlike nature (sun and righteousness) which the subject of comparison must be inferred from the context. The use of this word with the verb “rise” at the beginning of the verse conveys a sense of dawning of a day. The figurative language in line with the context, referring to the dawning or the day that is coming as referred in verse 18. This figurative expression also occurs in, Isaiah 60: 20, “Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.” In this instance it refers to a future promise to the chosen people of God; that the light of God will shine upon them.

The wordצְדָקָ֔ה ‎ means ‘righteousness’. It as “righteousness as vindicated, justification, salvation” (of God) (Brown and Briggs 1907, 842). The syntax of the word צְדָקָ֔ה ‎is an attributive genitive; the word in this case is the adjective of the construct noun שֶׁ֣מֶש (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 9.5.3b).This word also has a parallel usage in Isa. 58:9:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

In this context of disputation between God and his people on true fasting, Isaiah proclaims the promise of vindication to God’s people. The figurative language of ‘the sun of righteousness’ is something from the ancient Near East cultures, “the sun of righteousness here is bringing justice. Throughout the ancient Near East solar deities are connected to justice. It is not unusual in the Old Testament for Yahweh’s work to be depicted using this metaphor of solar terminology” (Walton et al. 2000, 811). The destruction of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous emanates from the nature of God who is just.

Syntactically, מַרְפֵּ֖א is an apposition to the ‘sun’ (GKC 131k). The word ‎  מַרְפֵּ֖א means ‘healing’. It as “healing, cure, health” (Brown and Briggs 1907, 951); in this context it is used with spiritual implication. The vindication that arises out of God’s justice to the righteous is in a way healing. A parallel verse to the usage in this verse is Jer. 14:19 whereby the people of Judah, like Malachi’s audience who revere the Lord’s name, are longing for a healing from the Lord, it reads:

“Have you rejected Judah completely? Do you despise Zion? Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror”.

The word‎  כְנָפֶ֑יהָ means ‘wings’. It is defined as “fence in, enclose,” and Aramaic “collect, assemble” (Brown and Briggs 1907, 489b). ‘Healing in its wings’ is “a symbolic use of the wings of a bird with the rays of the sun. The wings denote protective care (hence the healing). An ancient Near Eastern motif in astral religions has the sun depicted as a winged disk. This is especially pervasive in the Persian period” (Walton et al. 2000, 811). The referent for the suffix   בִּכְנָפֶ֑יהָ(third person feminine singular) is Yahweh. It is in apposition to “my name” in the same verse.

A passage with a same nuance is Ps.17:8-9 which refer to the protective wings of the Lord: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me”.

The conjunction וִֽ “and” links verse 20 and 20b in a sequential manner depicting the resultant experience of those who fear the name of the Lord when they will finally experience healing and vindication.

The figure of speech וִֽיצָאתֶ֥ם וּפִשְׁתֶּ֖ם כְּעֶגְלֵ֥י מַרְבֵּֽק ‎ is a hendiadys, in this case two verbs that express a single idea are joined by “and” (Snyman and Cronje 1986, 113-21). In this figure of speech therein is also a simile. It all conveys the freedom, and joy that comes wither the vindication of the righteous, those who fear the Lord’s name, when the day of the Lord comes.

There is a sequence from verse 20b to verse 21. In verse 20b the righteous will not only be freed, vindicated, and be full of joy as calves released out of stalls but they shall also triumph trampling down the wicked, v. 21. There is a progression of thought to further show that those who fear the Lord’s name shall finally prevail over the wicked.


3. The Lord states that the coming day be characterized by the triumph of the righteous over the wicked (v. 21).

“Then you shall trample on the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day when I shall act,” says the Lord of hosts” (3:21). ‎

The verb עַססּ means to press, crush, by treading, tread down. It is defined as to “go the rounds (trample), prowl. The word is defined based on the Arabic reading (Brown and Briggs 1907, 779a).  In the coming day the righteous will triumph over the wicked. The figure of speech וְעַסּוֹתֶ֣ם רְשָׁעִ֔ים is a metaphor. It conveys the ultimate victory of the righteous over the wicked, “all the arrogant and all that do evil” as stated in v. 19. The clause כִּֽי־יִהְי֣וּ אֵ֔פֶר תַּ֖חַת כַּפּ֣וֹת רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם is an ordinary causality, showing that the righteous shall trample on the wicked (Joüon and Muraoka 2006, 170).

The day בַּיּוֹם֙ refers to the eschatological day of the Lord, the time when he will punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous. The preposition בַּ in this word has been used in a temporal sense and can be translated “when”. It refers to a time in the future of triumph, and vindication of the righteous; the time when all the arrogant and all that do evil will be destroyed.

The phrase בַּיּוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲנִ֣י עֹשֶׂ֔ה means ‘in the day that I will act’ refers to the coming day that the Lord will execute the judgment of the wicked and vindicate those who fear his name. It is “day of Yahweh, chiefly as time of his coming in judgment, involving often blessedness for righteous (Brown and Briggs 1907, 399a). Isaiah 34:8 is similar to this context whereby the Lord will act in vengeance in the coming day, “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause”.

The message in Malachi 3:19-21 points out to a time that is coming, the day of the Lord, when all the arrogant and all that evil doers will be judged and destroyed with nothing left. Malachi wrote to the righteous who lived among the wicked who said harsh things about God and ridiculed service to God. In this context, God promises to act, in his coming day. The book does not explain when but what will happen during the coming day. But it is clear that when that day come the wicked will be no more. The righteous are still suffering and their vindication has not yet come in totality. This makes this passage eschatological, because though God has always judge the wicked before and after Malachi’s time, the wicked and wickedness is still a reality. It has not been totally wiped out. This will happen at the second coming of Jesus (Mt. 25:46).


The message of Malachi 3:19-21 has shown that the coming day of the Lord will bring about the vindication of the righteous and judgment/destruction of the wicked. The righteous and the wicked will be distinguished in the coming day. In that day the Lord will decisively deal with all the arrogant and all who do evil. He will destroy them like a farmer would destroy chaff by fire and they will be no more. On the other hand, the righteous or those who revere his name will receive joy, vindication and victory over the wicked in the coming day. God’s ultimate destruction of the wicked and vindication of the righteous in the coming day should encourage believers and ministers of God’s word today to endure in their walk and work to the Lord knowing that God is aware of their devotion to him.

In Malachi’s day, the evildoers said harsh things against the Lord (v.13), they said it is futile to serve God (v.14), they prospered, the arrogant were called blessed, and many who challenged God escaped (v.15). Certainly, this was a very challenging and oppressive to the righteous who might have been seen by their contemporaries as foolish or failures by serving God or by observing his commandments (in relation to disputations).

There are some parallels to this in our world today. It is not popular to serve God, we live in a continent plagued by corruption and each time godly values are pushed to the periphery; as a result those who fear God’s name and his commandments suffer insults, ridicule or severe persecution. The message of Malachi is an encouragement to believers and church leaders/pastors/missionaries who diligently obey the Lord and revere his name amidst prevalence of evil. It may seem that they are losing it all or that they are not successful in human terms; but even in their difficulties as they serve God they are regarded as successful by God and in due time they will be vindicated. The prosperity of the wicked is only short-lived, when the day that the Lord has set comes, they will be destroyed and the righteous will triumph and be vindicated.



Malachi 3:19-21 shows that the coming day of the Lord is certain and it will bring about the vindication to the righteous and the destruction/judgment of all the wicked. The idea is developed in verse 19 by stating that the coming day is certain. This idea is developed further by a figurative description of what the day will be like to all that do evil. They will be destroyed. In figurative terms they shall be chaff, burned up. In addition, not even their root nor their branch will be left. Verse 20 turns to the righteous and shows that they will be vindicated, they will finally triumph. Figuratively, they will be vindicated and they will be like calves released out of stalls. Verse 21 continues the thought in verse 20 making Yahweh’s declaration that righteous finally triumph, trampling down the wicked.

This passage should have been a strong warning to the wicked that though they presently seemed to prosper in their evil schemes, the Lord has set a day that will bring judgment and destruction to them; the day will burn them up and they will not escape. In addition, this passage must have encouraged the righteous/those who serve God that despite prevalence of wickedness and evil people God is aware of their plight. And in due course he will vindicate them, for those that fear his name will finally triumph.


Works Cited

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Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1907.

Clines, David J. A., ed. The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. 8 vols. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993-2011.

Gibson, J. C. L. Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar: Syntax. 4th ed. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994.

Joüon, Paul, and T. Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Subsidia Biblica 27. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 2006.

McComiskey, Thomas Edward, ed. The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1992.

Sweeney, Marvin L. The Twelve Prophets. Vol. 2: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary /1208. Chicago: Moody press, 1988.

Van der Merwe, Christo H. J., Jackie A. Naudé, and Jan H. Kroeze. A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar. With minor revisions. Biblical Languages: Hebrew 3. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Verhoef, Pieter A. The Books of Haggai and Malachi. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987.

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Walton, John H., Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Background Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

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Wood, D. R. W., and I. Howard Marshall, eds. New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Leicester, England ; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1996.