Malachi

MALACHI (măl'a-kī, Heb. mal’ākhî, messenger of the Lord or my messenger). The name given to the last book of the OT, and probably also the name of the prophet whose oracles the book contains. The book’s title reads: “An Oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi” (Mal.1.1). Thus it would seem that the prophet’s name was Malachi. Malachi is the Hebrew expression meaning “my messenger,” and it is so translated in Mal.3.1, where there is an obvious play on the author’s name. For this reason, some have supposed Malachi to be a title for the prophet, not his proper name. But since the other prophetic books of the OT always begin by stating the prophet’s name, it seems more likely that here, too, the name of the prophet is given. It is not unusual to have word-plays on the names of real people (Ezek.3.8-Ezek.3.9). Nothing more is known about the author of this book.

The Book of Malachi is believed to be one of the latest of the OT books. Since no statement as to its date is made in the book, one must seek to determine this by the nature of its contents. It is clearly postexilic. The temple had been completed and sacrifices were being offered (Mal.1.7-Mal.1.10; Mal.3.8). A Persian governor (the word for governor in Mal.1.8 is a borrowed word, used for the Persian governors in Palestine in postexilic times) was ruling in Jerusalem. This indicates a date later than that of Haggai and Zechariah.

It is also clear that the early zeal for the rebuilding of the temple had died out, and a situation of moral and religious declension had set in. The mixed marriages (Mal.2.10-Mal.2.12), failure to pay tithes (Mal.3.8-Mal.3.10), and offering of blemished sacrifices (Mal.1.6-Mal.1.14) are conditions not unlike those referred to in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra.7.1-Ezra.7.28-Neh.13.1-Neh.13.31); and it would seem that Malachi’s prophecy was given at about that time, or possibly shortly thereafter—about the middle or end of the fifth century b.c.

There are two principal themes in the book: (1) The sin and apostasy of the people of Israel, emphasized in Mal.1.1-Mal.1.14-Mal.2.1-Mal.2.17; and (2) the judgment that will come on the faithless and the blessing in store for those who repent, predominating in Mal.3.1-Mal.3.18-Mal.4.1-Mal.4.6. A more detailed analysis follows:

I. Contents

1. Title, Mal.1.1.

2. An argument for the love of God toward Israel as shown in the contrasted experiences of Edom and Israel, Mal.1.2-Mal.1.5.

3. A protest against the negligence of the priests in worship, 1:6-2:9.

4. A condemnation of those who divorce their wives and marry foreign women, Mal.2.10-Mal.2.16.

5. An answer to those who complain that God is indifferent to injustice: a day of judgment is at hand, 2:17-3:5.

6. A rebuke for the neglect of tithes and offerings, Mal.3.6-Mal.3.12.

7. A reply to doubters and a promise to the faithful, 3:13-4:3.

8. A recall to the law and prophecy of the coming of Elijah, Mal.4.4-Mal.4.6.

II. Unique Features

1. The use of the rhetorical question and answer as a method of communication. This device begins most of the eight sections referred to above. It anticipates the later catechetical method of teaching.

2. Malachi contains prophetic and priestly interests. It has been called “prophecy within the law.” Generally the prophets exhibit little interest in sacrifices and ceremonial laws, preferring to stress the more inward aspects of religious life. Malachi, however, sees the people’s apostasy manifested by their carelessness in the sacrificial offerings (Mal.1.6-Mal.1.14), the priests’ neglect of their duties (Mal.2.1-Mal.2.9), and the failure of the people to pay their tithes and other offerings (Mal.3.7-Mal.3.12). This book is thus an antidote to the view commonly held today that the prophets did not believe in the necessity of the ritual law. They accepted the sacrificial system but often protested against its abuse that resulted from the people’s failure to apprehend the necessity of inward faith and outward moral righteousness in addition to ritual cleanness.

3. The growing OT messianic expectation is witnessed to in the announcement of God’s “messenger of the covenant,” by whose coming Israel will be purified and judged (Mal.3.1-Mal.3.5; cf. Matt.11.10), and of the prophet Elijah who will announce the Day of the Lord (Mal.4.5-Mal.4.6; cf. Matt.17.9-Matt.17.13).

Bibliography: J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (TOTC), 1972; Rex Mason, The Books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 1977.——JBG


MALACHI măl’ ə kī (מַלְאָכִֽי, my messenger, my angel; LXX Μαλαχίας). The concluding composition of the short prophetic writings known collectively as the twelve minor prophets.

Background.


Unity.

The prophecy consists of six sections or oracles, which can be distinguished quite clearly. They reflect an accredited historical background, and deal in a uniform manner with interrelated problems. The series of questions and answers in the prophecy has obviously been arranged in such a manner as to convey an overall message relating to divine judgment and blessing, and the book bears all the marks of a single author. The only serious question as to the unity and integrity of the prophecy has been raised in relation to its final words (Mal 4:4-6), which may actually be an integral part of the sixth oracle. Some scholars have taken the reference to Elijah as constituting a later addition by the editor of the minor prophets, who may have believed that, with the end of prophecy, it was more than ever necessary for the precepts of the Torah to be followed as a preliminary to the advent of the divine herald. While this view has certain points in its favor, not the least of which was the attitude of the Qumran sectaries toward prophecy and the law, it does not admit of objective demonstration.

Authorship.

The traditional ascription of the prophecy to an individual named Malachi was derived from the superscription in Malachi 1:1. Considerable scholarly debate has surrounded the question as to whether or not “Malachi” is a genuine proper name, since the LXX, unlike the Heb., took the word not as a cognomen but as a common noun. Thus the LXX rendered it by “my messenger,” which is in fact the meaning of the Heb., but which gave an anonymous quality to the authorship of the prophecy in the process. Unless this work was one of three separate prophetic oracles which terminated the twelve minor prophets, as some scholars have supposed, it would seem preferable on the analogy of the other prophetic compositions, to regard “Malachi” as a proper name, since the writings of the literary prophets were never anonymous works.

That there was some question in antiquity about the authorship of the Book of Malachi is apparent from the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, which added the explanatory gloss “whose name is Ezra the Scribe” to Malachi 1:1. Despite the fact that this tradition was accepted by Jerome, it is actually no more valuable than similar ones which were associated with Nehemiah and Zerubbabel. While there may perhaps be some ground for thinking of the prophecy as an anonymous composition, it cannot be stated for certain that this was the case. In any event, even liberal scholars have found it convenient to refer to the author as “Malachi.” Other considerations apart, such a position weakens seriously any argument for anonymity of authorship.

Date.

The internal evidence points clearly to the postexilic period as the time when Malachi proclaimed his oracles. Yet the religious and social conditions indicate that he prophesied some time after the second Temple had been rebuilt. The absence of any reference to the work of Ezra and Nehemiah would indicate a date prior to the religious reforms of 444 b.c. Most scholars posit a time of composition about 450 b.c., which is consistent with the internal evidence of the book. There is no reason to suppose that any significant interval of time separated the oral and written forms of the prophecy.

Place of origin.

Given a date in the middle of the 5th cent b.c., it appears obvious that the oracles of Malachi originated in Jerusalem itself. In the light of the intimate knowledge which the prophet possessed of abuses within the cultus it would seem that he was a resident of the city, and was suffering under the somber conditions of life which obtained in the province of Judah prior to the work of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Destination and occasion.

Because the primary objective of the prophet was to restore to the contemporary scene a sense of the essential worth of the service of God in terms of the covenant relationship, his oracles were meant for consumption by the local populace. The lay members of the theocracy had succumbed largely to indifference and skepticism, while less responsible individuals had lapsed so far from the covenantal ideals as to treat the religion of the cultus with scorn (Mal 1:14; 3:7-12). Intermarriage with pagan women brought with it the danger of indulgence in heathen religious rites, while adultery, perjury and oppression of the poor were rife (Mal 3:5). To the priests in Jerusalem Malachi addressed equally severe reprimands, accusing them of becoming bored with their religious duties and of compromising the offerings intended for the altar of God. The gross laxity of contemporary religious life, coupled with the almost complete indifference of the people of Jerusalem toward the obligations of covenant living in the restored theocracy, prompted the strictures and the promises contained in the prophecy.

Purpose.

The prophet Malachi appears to have been as concerned as Haggai and Zechariah were about the deteriorating spirituality of the repatriated exiles. While Malachi was not in a position to engender enthusiasm for the construction of some visible symbol of the divine presence in Judea, he was able to point to the heart of the spiritual malaise which had overtaken his people. His aim was to restore the Jews to a fresh relationship with God by indicating the precise causes of contemporary spiritual declension and setting out the steps by which the life of the community could be renewed. Mindful of the fact that those elements which had precipitated the catastrophe of the Exile in 597 b.c. were still very much alive in the social order of his day, Malachi sought to instruct his hearers in the lessons taught by history, and guide them to a state of deeper spirituality and increasing material prosperity. Like Haggai before him, his dominant concern was for the recognition of spiritual priorities on the part of the restored community.

Canonicity.

The prophecy of Malachi ranked last in the collection of minor works known as the twelve prophets. As well as regarding it as an anonymous composition, some scholars have thought that it originally had been part of the prophecy of Zechariah, but had somehow assumed an independent existence under the name of Malachi, its attributive author. But a fundamental difference in the historical background of the two works precludes such a situation, and although there may be some doubt about “Malachi” as a proper name, there was never any question among the Jews as to the canonicity of the prophecy itself. See CANON OF THE OT.

Text.

On the whole the Heb. text of Malachi has been transmitted in good condition. Only a few minor corruptions are at all evident, and in such cases the LXX is a great help in attempts at restoring the text. This VS contains the occasional extra word which may have become displaced from the original Heb., as in Malachi 1:6; 2:2, 3; 3:5. However, the LXX textual tradition was not uniform, since a few MSS omitted the Heb. of Mal 3:21.

Content.

The prophecy can be analyzed as follows:

The foregoing oracles can be distinguished in the text quite clearly. The first oracle (1:2-5) followed the thought of Hosea in reaffirming his statement of divine love for the chosen people. Although the economic circumstances of the repatriated exiles were far from ideal, their hereditary enemies the Edomites, who had exulted over the fall of Jerusalem (Ps 137:7), had themselves suffered a major disaster. By comparison with the judgment of God upon Edom, the blessings of the divine love upon Israel were quite evident.

The second oracle (1:6-2:9) employed an arresting dialog form to denounce the priestly hierarchy for its inability to furnish that kind of moral and religious leadership which would have enabled the returned community to avoid much of the current distress. Far from honoring their God in sacrifice and cultic worship, the priests had been indifferent and even contemptuous in discharging their duties. They condoned the offering to God of animals which would have been pronounced unworthy of the service of the civil Pers. governor (1:7, 8), and their behavior contrasted unfavorably with that of pagan Gentile cults, where the sacrificial tariffs were much more stringent. Whereas the primitive Levitical priesthood had displayed spiritual integrity, its postexilic successors were in danger of falling into the evil ways of their pre-exilic forebears. The true priest must be essentially an evangelist, and a “messenger of the Lord of Hosts” (2:6, 7).

In the third oracle (2:10-16), the prophet concerned himself with the problem of mixed marriages and divorces among the laity. The whole issue had arisen because the Israelites had disregarded the implications of the covenant for community life. As a result, they had felt free to leave the fellowship of the theocracy in their search for suitable marital partners, and had imported alien women with strange beliefs which by nature were contrary to those of the Law. Such actions could hardly go unpunished (2:12), nor could the people make legitimate protest when they received the due reward of their sins, since they had only themselves to blame (2:13).

The coming of God in an act of judgment was the subject of the fourth prophetic oracle (2:17-3:5). God had grown tired of the common complaint that, by not interfering, He was actually condoning the prosperity of the wicked (2:17), and leading His people to think that there was no justice in human life. Because He was morally and ethically consistent He would come suddenly upon the nation in judgment, being heralded in this intent by means of His messenger. His purpose would be to separate the faithful from the impious, and the Temple priesthood would be the first to feel the weight of His judgments. Once the cultus had been purified and the worship of the Temple had been made more acceptable (3:3, 4), the lay members of the theocracy would themselves be judged. All who had been guilty of religious or moral crimes would be condemned (3:5), and the covenantal ideals of purity and holiness would be re-established. In consequence of these procedures the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem would once again be pleasing to God.

The fifth oracle (3:6-12) laid the responsibility for the current displeasure of God with His people squarely upon their shoulders. Because God was ethically consistent, His attitude toward them could not change without a good reason. A change had in fact occurred because the people had disobeyed His laws, and His former feelings of graciousness could be restored only when the repatriates submitted in obedience to His demands. The offense about which Malachi complained in particular was their failure to pay the tithe laid down by the law (Num 18:21). Only when this deficiency had been remedied would their land again bear fruit, and freed from the devastation of locust plagues would be the envy of their neighbors for productivity (3:8-12). The final oracle of the prophecy (3:13-4:3) dealt again with the problem of evil in human life (cf. 2:17). The devout members of the theocracy, perplexed by the fact that arrogant and willful unbelievers in the nation seemed to be more prosperous than their fellowmen and under no apparent reproach from God, had begun to question the value of a life lived in obedience to the commands of God (3:13-15). In reply the prophet indicated that a “book of remembrance” was kept before the Lord, in which the deeds of the righteous were recorded. When the day of judgment upon sinners came into being, the Lord would remember the virtuous life of the faithful and would make it clear that His service brings its own rich blessings. The promised judgment would see sinners destroyed for their iniquity, while the pious believers would enjoy felicity and blessedness (4:1-3).

The concluding verses of the prophecy (4:4-6) have been regarded by some scholars as an editorial addition to the entire book, on the ground that they either summarized the message of Malachi or that they indicated that the people should henceforth look to the traditional Mosaic law now that the voice of prophecy had ceased.

Theology.

The spirituality of Malachi is akin to that of the 8th and 7th cent. b.c. prophets. He recognized the absolute lordship of the God of Israel, and the implications of the covenant relationship for the growth and well-being of the postexilic theocratic community. Personal commitment to the claims of God could alone insure blessing and peace, either for the individual or the nation. While, with Ezekiel, he laid considerable stress on the importance of proper ritual procedures in worship as a means of preserving a pure and holy nation, he never condoned ritual as a substitute for an obedient heart. The true service of God included moral rectitude, justice and mercy, as well as correct ritual forms. Important also in the theology of Malachi was the insistence that the first step toward a proper spiritual relationship with God was true repentance. Because of the many objections which had been raised against the traditional approach to the problem of evil, Malachi found it necessary to emphasize that iniquity would not go unpunished for ever, but that a just and holy God would exact proper recompense in due time. His eschatology drew heavily upon prophets such as Amos and Zephaniah in outlining the conditions which would obtain in the “day of the Lord.” It would be a time of calamity rather than blessing, in which deluded sinners would be punished for their violations of covenant love. Malachi, however, introduced an original theme, namely the concept of a book of remembrance, in which the deeds of the righteous were recorded. This development was important in subsequent thought relating to the idea of a life beyond death. Another significant emphasis was upon the personage of a forerunner who would herald the coming of the Lord at the time of judgment. Since this individual was identified with a revived Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 2:11) it would seem probable that the forerunn er was thought of as a prophetic figure who would offer a disobedient people one last chance of repentance before the onset of divine judgment. Christ regarded the prophecy as foreshadowing the work of John the Baptist (Mark 9:11-13), and the Early Church saw in the relationship between the work of the Baptist and that of Jesus the fulfillment of this prophecy (Mark 1:2; Luke 1:17).

Bibliography

W. O. E. Oesterley and T. H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament (1934), 427-433; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1968), 958-962.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mal’-a-ki:

1. Name of the Prophet

2. The Prophet’s Times

3. Contents

4. Style

5. Message

LITERATURE

1. Name of the Prophet:

The last book of the nodetitle. 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 mal’akhi, signifies "my messenger"; it occurs again in 3:1; compare 2:7. But this form of itself would hardly be appropriate as a proper name without some additional syllable such as Yah, whence mal’akhiah, i.e. "messenger of Yahweh." Haggai, in fact, is expressly designated "messenger of Yahweh" (Hag 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 -yah. At the same time the Septuagint translates the last clause of Mal 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 (1:1) to Zec 9:1; 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:


3. Contents:

The book, in the main, is composed of two extended polemics against the priests (Mal 1:6-2:9) and the people (Mal 2:10-4:3), opening with a clear, sharp statement of the prophet’s chief thesis that Yahweh still loves Israel (Mal 1:2-5), and closing with an exhortation to remember the Law of Moses (Mal 4:4-6). After the title or superscription (Mal 1:1) the prophecy falls naturally into seven divisions:

(1) Malachi 1:2-5, in which Malachi shows that Yahweh still loves Israel because their lot stands in such marked contrast to Edom’s. They were temporarily disciplined; Edom was forever punished.

(2) Malachi 1:6-2:9, 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 (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 (2:15). Such marriages, the prophet declares, are not only a form of idolatry (2:11), but a violation of Yahweh’s intention to preserve to Himself a "godly seed" (2:15).

(4) Malachi 2:17-3:6, an announcement of coming judgment. Men are beginning to doubt whether there is longer a God of justice (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 (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 3:13-4:3, a second section addressed to the doubters of the prophet’s age. In 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 (3:14,15). 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.

4. Style:

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 (1:6; 3:2,3,17; 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" (1:2,6,7; 2:14,17; 3:7,8,13). 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 1:13; 2:13, which is equivalent to our "firstly," "secondly," etc.).

5. Message:

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 (Mal 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 (Mal 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" (Mal 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.

LITERATURE.

Driver, "Minor Prophets," II, NewCentury 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.

George L. Robinson