Book Of Malachi
From Bible Encyclopedia
Malachi (or Malachias, מַלְאָכִי, Malʾaḫi, Mál'akhî) is a book of the Bible Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh, written by the prophet Malachi. Possibly this is not the name of the author, since Malachi means 'my messenger' in Hebrew.
The last of the twelve minor prophets (canonically) and the final book of the Christian Old Testament is commonly attributed to a prophet by the name of Malachi. Although the appellation Malachi has frequently been understood as a proper name, its Hebrew meaning is simply "my [i.e., god's] messenger" (or 'his messenger' in the Septuagint). This sobriquet occurs in the superscription at 1:1 and in 3:1, although it is highly unlikely that the word refers to the same character in both of these references. Thus, there is substantial debate regarding the identity of the author of the biblical book of Malachi. The Jewish Targum identifies Ezra (or Esdras) as the author of Malachi. St. Jerome suggests this may be due to the fact that Ezra is seen as an intermediary between the prophets and the 'great synagogue'. There is, however, no historical evidence to support this claim. Some scholars note affinities between Zechariah 9-14 and the book of Malachi". Zechariah 9, Zechariah 12, and Malachi 1 are all introduced as "Oracle, the word of Yahweh." Many scholars argue that this collection originally consisted of three independent and anonymous prophecies. Two were subsequently appended to the book of Zechariah (as what scholars refer to as Deutero-Zechariah) and the third became the book of Malachi. As a result, most scholars consider the book of Malachi to be the work of a single author who may or may not have been identified by the title Malachi. The present division of the oracles results in a total of twelve books of minor prophets – a number parallelling the sons of Jacob who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Catholic Encyclopedia asserts that "We are no doubt in presence of an abbreviation of the name Mál'akhîyah, that is 'Messenger of Yah.'".
Nothing is known of the biography of the author of the book of Malachi although is has been suggested that he may have been Levitical.
There are very few historical details in the book of Malachi. The greatest clue as to its dating may lie in the fact that the Persian-era term for governor (pehâ) is used in 1:8. This points to a post-exilic date of composition both because of the use of the Persian period term and because Judah had a king before the exile. Since, in the same verse, the temple has been rebuilt, the book must also be later than 515 BC. Malachi was apparently known to the author of Ecclesiasticus early in the Second Century BC. Because of the development of themes in the book of Malachi, most scholars assign it to a position between Haggai and Zechariah, slightly before Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 445 BC.
The book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behaviour of the Israelites – particularly the priests – in post-exilic Jerusalem. Although the prophets urged the people of Judah and Israel to see their exile as punishment for failing to uphold their covenant with YHWH, it was not long after they had been restored to the land and to Temple worship that the people’s commitment to their God began, once again, to wane. It was in this context that the prophet commonly referred to as Malachi delivered his prophecy.
In Malachi 1:2, Malachi has the people of Israel question God’s love for them. This introduction to the book illustrates the severity of the situation which Malachi addresses. The graveness of the situation is also indicated by the dialectical style with which Malachi confronts his audience. Malachi proceeds to accuse his audience of failing to respect God as God deserves. One way in which this disrespect is made manifest is through the substandard sacrifices which Malachi claims are being offered by the priests. While Yahweh demands animals that are “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3, NRSV), the priests, who were “to determine whether the animal was acceptable” (Mason 143), were offering blind, lame and sick animals for sacrifice because they thought nobody would notice.
In Malachi 2:10, Malachi addresses the issue of divorce. On this topic, Malachi deals with divorce both as a social problem (“Why then are we faithless to one another ... ?” 2:10) and as a religious problem (“Judah ... has married the daughter of a foreign god” 2:11). In contrast to the book of Ezra, Malachi urges the people to remain steadfast to the wives of their youth.
Malachi also criticizes his audience for questioning God’s justice. He reminds them that God is just, exhorting them to be faithful as they await that justice. Malachi quickly goes on to point out that the people have not been faithful. In fact, the people are not giving God all that God deserves. Just as the priests have been offering unacceptable sacrifices, so the people have been neglecting to offer their full tithe to the Lord. The result of these shortcomings is that the people come to believe that no good comes out of serving God.
Malachi assures the faithful among his audience that in the eschaton, the differences between those who served God faithfully and those who did not will become clear. The book concludes by calling upon the teachings of Moses and by promising that Elijah will return prior to the Day of the Lord. The New Testament Gospel writers adopt this image in identifying John the Baptist with the prophet Elijah (Mark 9:13, Matthew 17:12, and especially Matthew 11:13-14).
The book of Malachi consists of three chapters in the Hebrew and four chapters in English.
It must be noted that the majority of scholars consider the book to be made up of six distinct oracles. According to this schema, the book of Malachi consists of a series of disputes between Yahweh and the various groups within the Israelite community. In the course of the book’s three or four chapters, Yahweh is vindicated while those who do not adhere to the law of Moses are condemned. Some scholars have suggested that the book, as a whole, is structured along the lines of a judicial trial, a suzerain treaty or a covenant – one of the major themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Implicit in the prophet’s condemnation of Israel’s religious practices is a call to keep Yahweh’s statutes.
The book of Malachi draws upon various themes found in other books of the Bible. Malachi appeals to the story of the rivalry between Jacob and Esau and of Yahweh’s preference for Jacob contained in Genesis 25-28. Malachi reminds his audience that, as descendants of Jacob (Israel), they have been and continue to be favoured by God as God’s chosen people. In the second dispute, Malachi draws upon the Levitical Code (eg. Leviticus 1:3) in condemning the priest for offering unacceptable sacrifices.
In the third dispute (concerning divorce), the author of the book of Malachi likely intends his argument to be understood on two levels. Malachi appears to be attacking either the practice of divorcing Jewish wives in favour of foreign ones (a practice which Ezra vehemently condemns) or, alternatively, Malachi could be condemning the practice of divorcing foreign wives in favour of Jewish wives (a practice which Ezra promoted). Malachi appears adamant that nationality is not a valid reason to terminate a marriage, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord . . .” (2:16).
In many places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures – particularly the book of Hosea – Israel is figured as Yahweh’s wife or bride. Malachi’s discussion of divorce may also be understood to conform to this metaphor. Malachi could very well be urging his audience not to break faith with Yahweh (the God of Israel) by adopting new gods or idols. It is quite likely that, since the people of Judah were questioning Yahweh’s love and justice (1:2, 2:17), they might be tempted to adopt foreign gods. William LaSor suggests that, because the restoration to the land of Judah had not resulted in anything like the prophesied splendor of the messianic age which had been prophesied, the people were becoming quite disillusioned with their religion.
Indeed, the fourth dispute asserts that judgment is coming in the form of a messenger who “is like refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap . . .” (3:2). Following this, the prophet provides another example of wrongdoing in the fifth dispute – that is, failing to offer full tithes. In this discussion, Malachi has Yahweh request the people to “Bring the full tithe . . . [and] see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing” (3:10). This request offers the opportunity for the people to amend their ways. It also stresses that keeping the Lord’s statutes will not only allow the people to avoid God’s wrath, but will also lead to God’s blessing. In the sixth dispute, the people of Israel illustrate the extent of their disillusionment. Malachi has them say “’It is vain to serve God . . . Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape’” (3:14-15). Once again, Malachi has Yahweh assure the people that the wicked will be punished and the faithful will be rewarded.
In the light of what Malachi understands to be an imminent judgment, he exhorts his audience to “Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, that statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel” (4:4; 3:22, MT). Before the Day of the Lord, Malachi declares that Elijah (who “ascended in a whirlwind into heaven . . .” 2 Kings 2:11) will return to earth in order that people might follow in God’s ways.
Primarily because of its messianic promise, the book of Malachi is frequently referred to in the Christian New Testament. What follows is a brief comparison between the book of Malachi and the New Testament texts which refer to it (as suggested in Hill 84-88).
Although Christians believe that the messianic prophecies of the book of Malachi have been fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, most Jews continue to await the coming of the prophet Elijah who will prepare the way for the Lord.
The contents of the book are comprised in four chapters. In the Hebrew text the third and fourth chapters (of the King James Version) form but one. The whole consists of three sections, preceded by an introduction (Malachi 1:1-5), in which the prophet reminds Israel of Yahweh's love to them. The first section (Malachi 1:6 - 2:9) contains a stern rebuke addressed to the priests who had despised the name of Yahweh, and been leaders in a departure from his worship and from the covenant, and for their partiality in administering the law. In the second (Malachi 2:9-16) the people are rebuked for their intermarriages with idolatrous heathen. In the third (Malachi 2:17-4:6) he addresses the people as a whole, and warns them of the coming of the God of judgment, preceded by the advent of the Messiah.
1. Name of the Prophet:
The last book of the Old Testament. Nothing is known of the person of Malachi. Because his name does not occur elsewhere, some scholars indeed doubt whether “Malachi” is intended to be the personal name of the prophet. But none of the other prophetic books of the Old Testament is anonymous. The form מלאכי, mal'ākhī, signifies “my messenger”; it occurs again in Malachi 3:1; compare Malachi 2:7. But this form of itself would hardly be appropriate as a proper name without some additional syllable such as יהּ, Yah, whence mal'ākhiah, i.e. “messenger of Yahweh.” Haggai, in fact, is expressly designated “messenger of Yahweh” (Haggai 1:13). Besides, the superscriptions prefixed to the book, in both the Septuagint and the Vulgate, warrant the supposition that Malachi's full name ended with the syllable יהּ. At the same time the Septuagint translates the last clause of Malachi 1:1, “by the hand of his messenger,” and the Targum reads, “by the hand of my angel, whose name is called Ezra the scribe.” Jerome likewise testifies that the Jews of his day ascribed this last book of prophecy to Ezra (V. Praef. in duodecim Prophetas). But if Ezra's name was originally associated with the book, it would hardly have been dropped by the collectors of the prophetic Canon who, lived only a century or two subsequent to Ezra's time. Certain traditions ascribe the book to Zerubbabel and Nehemiah; others, still, to Malachi, whom they designate as a Levite and a member of the “Great Synagogue.” Certain modern scholars, however, on the basis of the similarity of the title (Malachi 1:1) to Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1, declare it to be anonymous; but this is a rash conclusion without any substantial proof other than supposition. The best explanation is that of Professor G.G. Cameron, who suggests that the termination of the word “Malachi” is adjectival, and equivalent to the Latin angelicus, signifying “one charged with a message or mission” (a missionary). The term would thus be an official title; and the thought would not be unsuitable to one whose message closed the prophetical Canon of the Old Testament, and whose mission in behalf of the church was so sacred in character (1-vol HDB).
2. The Prophet's Times:
Opinions vary as to the prophet's exact date, but nearly all scholars are agreed that Malachi prophesied during the Persian period, and after the reconstruction and dedication of the second temple in 516 BC (compare Malachi 1:10; Malachi 3:1, Malachi 3:10). The prophet speaks of the people's governor” (Hebrew peḥāh, Malachi 1:8), as do Haggai and Nehemiah (Haggai 1:1; Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 12:26). The social conditions portrayed are unquestionably those also of the period of the Restoration. More specifically, Malachi probably lived and labored during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. Serious abuses had crept into Jewish life; the priests had become lax and degenerate, defective and inferior sacrifices were allowed to be offered upon the temple altar, the people were neglecting their tithes, divorce was common and God's covenant was forgotten and ignored; just such abuses as we know from the Book of Neh were common in his day (compare Nehemiah 3:5; Nehemiah 5:1-13). Yet, it is doubtful whether Malachi preached during Nehemiah's active governorship; for in Malachi 1:8 it is implied that gifts might be offered to the “governor,” whereas Nehemiah tells us that he declined all such (Nehemiah 5:15, Nehemiah 5:18). On the other hand, the abuses which Malachi attacked correspond so exactly with those which Nehemiah found on his 2nd visit to Jerusalem in 432 BC (Nehemiah 13:7 ff) that it seems reasonably certain that he prophesied shortly before that date, i.e. between 445 and 432 BC. As Dr. J.M.P. Smith says, The Book of Malachi fits the situation amid which Nehemiah worked as snugly as a bone fits its socket” (ICC, 7). That the prophet should exhort the people to remember the law of Moses, which was publicly read by Ezra in the year 444 BC, is in perfect agreement with this conclusion, despite the fact that Stade, Cornill and Kautzsch argue for a date prior to the time of Ezra. On the other hand, Nagelsbach, Kohler, Orelli, Reuss and Volck rightly place the book in the period between the two visits of Nehemiah (445-432 BC).
The book, in the main, is composed of two extended polemics against the priests (Malachi 1:6 through 2:9) and the people (Malachi 2:10 through 4:3), opening with a clear, sharp statement of the prophet's chief thesis that Yahweh still loves Israel (Malachi 1:2-5), and closing with an exhortation to remember the Law of Moses (Malachi 4:4-6). After the title or superscription (Malachi 1:1) the prophecy falls naturally into seven divisions:
(2) Malachi 1:6 through 2:9, a denunciation of the priests, the Levites, who have become neglectful of their sacerdotal office, indifferent to the Law, and unmindful of their covenant relationship to Yahweh.
(3) Malachi 2:10-16, against idolatry and divorce. Some interpret this section metaphorically of Judah as having abandoned the religion of his youth (Malachi 2:11). But idolatry and divorce were closely related. The people are obviously rebuked for literally putting away their own Jewish wives in order to contract marriage with foreigners (Malachi 2:15). Such marriages, the prophet declares, are not only a form of idolatry (Malachi 2:11), but a violation of Yahweh's intention to preserve to Himself a “godly seed” (Malachi 2:15).
(4) Malachi 2:17 through 3:6, an announcement of coming judgment. Men are beginning to doubt whether there is longer a God of justice (Malachi 2:17). Malachi replies that the Lord whom the people seek will suddenly come, both to purify the sons of Levi and to purge the land of sinners in general. The nation, however, will not be utterly consumed (Malachi 3:6).
(5) Malachi 3:7-12, in which the prophet pauses to give another concrete example of the people's sins: they have failed to pay their tithes and other dues. Accordingly, drought, locusts, and famine have ensued. Let these be paid and the nation will again prosper, and their land will become “a delightsome land.”
(6) Malachi 3:13 through 4:3, a second section addressed to the doubters of the prophet's age. In Malachi 2:17, they had said, “Where is the God of justice?” They now murmur: “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge?” The wicked and the good alike prosper (Malachi 3:14, Malachi 3:15). But, the prophet replies, Yahweh knows them that are His, and a book of remembrance is being kept; for a day of judgment is coming when the good and the evil will be distinguished; those who work iniquity will be exterminated, while those who do righteously will triumph.
(7) Malachi 4:4-6, a concluding exhortation to obey the Mosaic Law; with a promise that Elijah the prophet will first come to avert, if possible, the threatened judgment by reconciling the hearts of the nation to one another, i.e. to reconcile the ideals of the old to those of the young, and vice versa.
Malachi was content to write prose. His Hebrew is clear and forceful and direct; sometimes almost rhythmical. His figures are as numerous as should be expected in the brief remnants of his sermons which have come down to us, and in every case they are chaste and beautiful (Malachi 1:6; Malachi 3:2, Malachi 3:3, Malachi 3:17; Malachi 4:1-3). His statements are bold and correspondingly effective. The most original feature in his style is the lecture-like method which characterizes his book throughout; more particularly that of question and answer. His style is that of the scribes. It is known as the didactic-dialectic method, consisting first of an assertion or charge, then a fancied objection raised by his hearers, and finally the prophet's refutation of their objection. Eight distinct examples of this peculiarity are to be found in his book, each one containing the same clause in Hebrew, “Yet ye say” (Malachi 1:2, Malachi 1:6, Malachi 1:7; Malachi 2:14, Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:7, Malachi 3:8, Malachi 3:13). This debating style is especially characteristic of Malachi. Ewald called it “the dialogistic” method. Malachi shows the influence of the schools (compare his use of “also” and “again” in Malachi 1:13; Malachi 2:13, which is equivalent to our “firstly,” “secondly,” etc.).
Malachi's message has a permanent value for us as well as an immediate value for his own time. He was an intense patriot, and accordingly his message was clean-cut and severe. His primary aim was to encourage a disheartened people who were still looking for Haggai's and Zechariah's optimistic predictions to be fulfilled. Among the lessons of abiding value are the following:
(1) That ritual is an important element in religion, but not as an end in itself. Tithes and offerings are necessary, but only as the expression of sincere moral and deeply spiritual life (Malachi 1:11).
(2) That a cheap religion avails nothing, and that sacrifices given grudgingly are displeasing to God. Better a temple closed than filled with such worshippers (Malachi 1:8-10).
(3) That divorce and intermarriage with heathen idolaters thwarts the purpose of God in securing to Himself a peculiar people, whose family life is sacred because it is the nursery of a “godly seed” (Malachi 2:15).
(4) That there is eternal discipline in the Law. Malachi places the greatest emphasis upon the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law. The priests, he says, are the custodians and expounders of the Law. At their mouth the people should seek knowledge. “To undervalue the Law is easy; to appraise it is a much harder task” (Welch). With Malachi, no less than with Christ Himself, not one jot or tittle should ever pass away or become obsolete.
Driver, “Minor Prophets,” II, New Century Bible (1906); G. A. Smith, “The Book of the Twelve Prophets,” Expositor's Bible (1898); Dods, Post-Exilian Prophets: “Hag,” “Zec,” “Mal”; “Handbooks for Bible Classes”; J. M. P. Smith, ICC (1912). Among the numerous other commentaries on Mal may be mentioned: Eiselen (1907), Marti (1903), Nowack (1903), Orelli (1908), Wellhausen (1898), Van Hoonacker (1908) and Isopeocul (1908). The various Introductions to the Old Testament should also be consulted, notably those by Driver (1910), Strack (1906), Wildeboer (1903), Gautier (1906), Cornill (1907), Konig (1893); and the articles entitled “Malachi” in the various Dicts. and Bible Encs: e.g. in Encyclopedia Biblica (1902), by C. 0. Torrey; in HDB (1901), by A. O. Welch; in 1-vol HDB (1909), by G. G. Cameron; and RE (1905), by Volck.