The last few verses of the Book of Malachi are the most mysterious passages in all of the Scriptures. The Old Testament ends with this cryptic promise from Malachi. Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart the children to their fathers lest I come and split the earth with a curse. There are numerous interpretations of what this passage mean, and even the best scholars have puzzled over its meaning until their puzzlers were sore.
But it is also one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. In fact, it is the only passage that appears in all four of the standard works the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine of Covenants, and the Pearl of Grape Price. We don’t know a lot about Malachi except that he is the last prophet sent to the people of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament. We don’t even know if his name was Malachi, since the name Malachi means messenger of God and might refer to the prophet’s Job and not the prophet himself.
But Malachi has the best endorsement that any person can get, one from Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus visited the Nephites, he knew that their ancestors had left Jerusalem before Malachi received his prophecies. Jesus felt what Malachi had to say was so important that he repeated all of Malachi three and four to the Nephi and told them to write it down. The Prophecy of Malachi shows up in the Doctrine of Covenants in the Pearl Grape Price as an excerpt from the message the angel Moroni gave to Joseph Smith the first night he visited him on September 21, 1923. Moroni gives a slightly different version of Malachi’s words, saying behold, I will reveal unto you the priesthood by the hand of Elijah the Prophet, before the coming of the great and Dreadful Day of the Lord.
And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to the fathers. If it were not sold, the whole earth would be utterly wasted. This version of the prophecy found in the Old Testament is what Jesus quoted to the Nephites. And when Joseph had translated the Old Testament, he didn’t make any changes to this passage. So we can probably assume that it is translated correctly in the Bible.
So instead, think of Moroni’s reading of the passage as commentary on what Malachi was saying. And Moroni is an angel, another messenger from God, so this is probably the best commentary you could possibly get. First, Moroni is specific about why Elijah is coming to reveal the priesthood. It’s customary for many Jewish people to leave an empty place setting and the door open during Passover just in case Elijah decides to stop in. But Moroni specifies that Elijah isn’t coming for a meal or a nice visit.
He has a purpose. He’s coming back to reveal the priesthood. Second, Moroni clarifies that part of Elijah’s mission is to plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers. This had already begun to happen even before Elijah came back. You might remember that one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to help the House of Israel know the covenants or promises of the Lord and the great things he has done for their fathers.
Even beyond this, there’s something about the spirit of Elijah that moves among all people, not just Latterday Saints, to want to know about their ancestors and the lives they lived. Finally, instead of the Earth being spent with a curse, moroni said the whole Earth would be wasted. In his reading, this is less of a threat and more of a missed opportunity. Without the power of Elijah to connect families, what was the point of the whole human race? It was just a missed opportunity.
True to the promise in Malachi, Elijah did come. He came not to a private home, but to the House of the Lord, built in Kirland, Ohio. On April 31836, Elijah appeared, along with Moses and Elias to restore keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver County. Overseeing this entire event was the resurrected Jesus Christ, the focal point of the prophecies of Malachi and every other true prophet. Elijah brought back the ceiling keys of the priesthood necessary to make family relationships eternal and help us reach our deceased ancestors.
Through temple ordinances, he started the process that would save the whole human race. You see, most people don’t accept the gospel here on Earth. For most of Heavenly Father’s children, their challenge is to come to Earth and live a moral life without fully knowing the gospel. We don’t have all the reasons why, but only a small group of Heavenly Father’s children designated as Israel were given the entire plan. But the Savior asked Israel to extend the invitation to receive the ordinances and make sacred covenants with God.
That charge is placed firmly on the shoulders of the members of the House of Israel. God expects nothing less of us than to save the whole human race. But the salvation of the human race started with this simple, cryptic promise given to Malachi that’s now acted out in hundreds of holy temples throughout the world.