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” (
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 (
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 (
There are two principal themes in the book: (1) The sin and apostasy of the people of Israel, emphasized in
2. An argument for the love of God toward Israel as shown in the contrasted experiences of Edom and Israel,
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,
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,
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,
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 (
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 (
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.
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 (
The traditional ascription of the prophecy to an individual named Malachi was derived from the superscription in
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
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 (
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.
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.
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
The prophecy can be analyzed as follows:
The foregoing oracles can be distinguished in the text quite clearly. The first oracle (
The second oracle (
In the third oracle (
The coming of God in an act of judgment was the subject of the fourth prophetic oracle (2:17-
The fifth oracle (
The concluding verses of the prophecy (
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.
W. O. E. Oesterley and T. H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the(1934), 427-433; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1968), 958-962.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. Name of the Prophet
2. The Prophet’s Times
1. Name of the Prophet:
The last book of the
2. The Prophet’s Times:
The book, in the main, is composed of two extended polemics against the priests (
(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.
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.).
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 (
(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 (
(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" (
(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, 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