There’s been a phrase stuck in my head since our study of the minor prophets last year. It came to mind over and over — in prayer, randomly while thinking about something else, and after hearing someone had died (which happened quite a lot last year). The phrase comes from Malachi 4:
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts. (Mal. 4:1-3)
Obviously a prophetic context, but what might it mean for us today? What can we learn from, and about, “the Sun of Righteousness” and the “healing in His wings”?
We’re surely intended to understand “the Sun of Righteousness” as a reference to Jesus Christ. He “is to men’s souls as the sun is to the visible world, which without the sun would be a dungeon: so would mankind be darkness without the light of the glory God shining in the face of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s commentary on Malachi 4).
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:4-5, 9)
The prophecy in Malachi refers to a time yet in the future — the “Day of the Lord” preceding Jesus Christ’s second coming. It will be a time of judgement, but for those who “fear God” it will also be a time of joy and victory because our Sun is rising again.
Christ’s first coming was described as a sunrise as well, a fact I didn’t realize until I’d started this study. This appears in a prophecy delivered by Zacharias about his son, John the Baptist.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)
“Dayspring” is such a beautiful word, isn’t it? so poetic. The Greek word here, anatole (G395), is similar to the Hebrew phrase mizrah shemesh. Both mean “sunrise,” “dawn” or “east” (as in, the place where the sun rises). Shemesh (H8121) is also the word translated “sun” in Malachi 4, and “arise” in that verse is from zarah (H2224), the root of mizrah.
Ephesians 5:14 says Christ will give light to those who arise from slumber and death (in this case, probably meant to indicate spiritual apathy). In other words, “Christ will pour upon you the divine truth as the sun gives light to men aroused from sleep” (Thayer, entry for G2017, epiphanuo). This ties in with another interesting passage, where Peter talks about “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:16), then advises us to pay careful attention to His words:
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Pet. 1:19)
This is the only place in the New Testament where the word phosphorus (G5459) is used. It means “light bringing,” “morning star,” or “day star.” Here, it is used metaphorically of Christ as the Light.
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Is. 60:1-3)
In the future, there won’t be any need for the physical sun to shine in new Jerusalem, for the Father and Son are going to take on the role of Light-giver in every sense (Rev. 21:23; 22:5). They will shine righteousness into every corner of the world.
In Exodus 15:26, God says, “I am the Lord, who heals you.” If you’ve seen Jehovah Rophe or Yahweh Raphah listed as one of the names of God, it comes from this verse. The word translated “healing” in Malachi 4 uses a form of the word rapha, marpe (H4832). It means pretty much the same thing as “heal” or “cure” in English.
We need look no further than the gospels to see numerous examples of the Sun of Righteousness healing. In addition to those examples, we know He’s healed throughout history, working through His servants in answer to prayer. That part of the phrase “healing in His wings” is pretty clear, but what’s up with the wings?
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Ps. 36:7)
The Hebrew word kanaph (G3671) is used of wings and/or the edges of a garment. Messianic teachers speak of God covering Israel with His wings as enfolding them in a prayer shawl. One can picture this when Jesus stands looking over Jerusalem longing to gather them “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matt. 23:37). The connection between wings and garment boarders is particularly relevant to one gospel account of healing.
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” (Matt. 9:20-21)
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:46-48)
Just touching the Sun of Righteousness’ “wing” in faith healed this woman. And the sort of healing that flows from Jesus goes beyond physical. In Matthew Henry’s words, “His healing bodily diseases was a specimen of His great design in coming into the world to heal the diseases of men’s souls and to put them into a good state of health, that they may serve and enjoy both God and themselves.”
I want a relationship with this Sun of Righteousness. I want to drink-in His light, snuggle up under His wings, and partake of the healing that brings me close to God.
The passage in Malachi 4 gives us clues for how to do just that. In verse 2, we see the people who benefit from Christ’s sun-rising are those who fear God’s name. There’s another verse right after this, which we didn’t quote yet, where God instructs them, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel” (Mal. 4:4). If we want a relationship with the Sun of Righteousness, and to be sheltered under His healing wings, then we have to reverence and obey God.