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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Malachi

- Malachi

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE AND WRITER

The name of the writer is the title of this book. "Malachi" means "my messenger." We know nothing of the prophet’s parentage, ancestral or tribal roots, geographical origin, or other vocation. All we know is that he received and communicated the word of Yahweh to the Jews of his day.

Some scholars have tried to prove that "Malachi" was not the name of a prophet but the title of an anonymous prophet. None of the references to this book in the New Testament mention Malachi by name (cf. Mat_11:10; Mar_1:2; Luk_7:27). The arguments for anonymity rest on four points. [Note: Craig A. Blaising, "Malachi," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1573. See also Douglas Stuart, "Malachi," in The Minor Prophets, pp. 1246-47.] First, "Malachi" is a title rather than a name in its form. The Septuagint translators rendered it "my messenger" in Mal_1:1. However, it could be a short form of a name such as Malachiyyah, "messenger of Yahweh." There are several other shortened forms of names similar to this in the Old Testament (e.g., ’abi in 2Ki_18:2, cf. ’abiyyah in 2Ch_29:1; and ’uri in 1Ki_4:19, cf. ’uriyyah in 1Ch_11:41).

Second, the Targum did not consider Malachi the writer but ascribed this book to Ezra. The Targum is an ancient Aramaic translation and paraphrase of the Old Testament. The Talmud credited Mordecai with writing it. The Talmud is a Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament compiled between 450 B.C. and 500 A.D. But there is little other support for Ezra or Mordecai’s authorship of this book. Third, Malachi appears in Mal_3:1 as an anonymous designation meaning "my messenger," so it may mean the same thing in Mal_1:1. However, the Malachi in Mal_3:1 seems clearly to be wordplay on the name of the prophet in Mal_1:1. Fourth, this book was the third of three oracles (Heb. massa’, Mal_1:1) in the postexilic books, the other two being in Zechariah 9-11, 12-14 (cf. Zec_9:1; Zec_11:1). Yet Malachi introduced his oracle differently from the way Zechariah introduced his. [Note: See Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, pp. 489-92.] Furthermore, other prophets introduced their books by calling them oracles (cf. Nah_1:1; Hab_1:1).

If Malachi is not the prophet’s name, this would be the only prophetic book in the Old Testament that is anonymous, which seems very unlikely.

DATE

"Haggai and Zechariah . . . are noteworthy for the chronological precision with which they related their lives and ministries to their historical milieu. This is not the case at all with Malachi. In fact, one of the major problems in a study of this book is that of locating it within a narrow enough chronological framework to provide a Sitz im Leben [situation in life] sufficient to account for its peculiar themes and emphases." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 371.]

Malachi referred to no datable persons or events in his prophecy, so we must draw our conclusions from implications in the text and traditional understandings of it. Malachi’s place at the end of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and modern translations argues for a late date. The Talmud grouped Malachi with Haggai and Zechariah as postexilic prophets. [Note: Yoma 9b; Sukkah 44a; Rosh Hashannah 19b; Megillah 3a, 15a, et al.]

Malachi’s reference to "your governor" (Mal_1:8) indicates that he wrote after 538 B.C. when Cyrus the Persian allowed the Jews to return to their land, which was under Persian control. The word translated "governor" is pehah, a Persian title (cf. Ezr_5:3; Ezr_5:6; Ezr_5:14; Ezr_6:6-7; Ezr_6:13; Dan_3:2-3; Dan_3:27; Dan_6:7). Zerubbabel bore this title (Hag_1:1; Hag_1:14; Hag_2:2; Hag_2:21), as did Nehemiah (Neh_5:14; Neh_12:26). Malachi must have written after the temple had been rebuilt since he referred to worship there (Mal_1:6-14; Mal_2:7-9; Mal_2:13; Mal_3:7-10). This would force a date after 515 B.C. when temple restoration was complete.

Since Malachi addressed many of the same matters that Nehemiah tried to reform, it is tempting to date Malachi during Nehemiah’s governorship. Both Malachi and Nehemiah dealt with priestly laxity (Mal_1:6; Neh_13:4-9), neglect of tithes (Mal_3:7-12; Neh_13:10-13), and intermarriage between Israelites and foreigners (Mal_2:10-16; Neh_13:23-28). Some have conjectured that Malachi ministered while Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem. [Note: E.g., Robert L. Alden, "Malachi," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 701-2.] In the twelfth year of his governorship, Nehemiah returned to Persia for an unknown period of time (Neh_5:14; Neh_13:6). Malachi probably wrote during the years Nehemiah served (445-420 B.C), and perhaps between 432 and 431 B.C., the years when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem.

Commentators have suggested a wide range of dates. For example, Craig Blaising suggested a date between 450 and 430 B.C. [Note: Blaising, p. 1573.] Eugene Merrill preferred a date between 480 and 470 B.C. [Note: Merrill, p. 378.] Douglas Stuart believed Malachi wrote about 460 B.C. [Note: Stuart, p. 1252] R. K. Harrison and John Bright estimated a date close to 450 B.C. [Note: R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 961, and John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 356.] Gleason Archer Jr. and Ray Clendenen concluded that Malachi wrote about 435 B.C. [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 431; and E. Ray Clendenen, Haggai, Malachi, p. 207.] Hobart Freeman was more specific: shortly after 433 B.C. [Note: Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, pp. 349-50] And Leon Wood was quite general: during the last half of the fifth century B.C., though contemporaneously with Nehemiah. [Note: Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, pp. 374, 377.]

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Malachi was one of the three postexilic writing prophets along with Haggai and Zechariah, and he was quite certainly the last one chronologically, even though we cannot be dogmatic about an exact date for his writing.

The first group of almost 50,000 Jewish exiles returned from Babylonian captivity under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel’s leadership in 537 B.C. Ezra 1-6 records their experiences. Haggai and Zechariah ministered to these returnees in 520 B.C. and urged them to rebuild the temple. Zechariah’s ministry may have continued beyond that year. The events recorded in the Book of Esther took place in Persia between 482 and 473 B.C. A second group of about 5,000 Jews returned in 458 B.C. under Ezra’s leadership. Ezra sought to beautify the temple and institute reforms that would purify Israel’s worship (Ezra 7-10). Nehemiah led a third group of about 42,000 back in 444 B.C, and the events recorded in his book describe what happened between 445 and 420 B.C. including the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. Malachi probably ministered in Jerusalem during that period.

". . . Malachi’s concerns are much different from those of either Ezra or Nehemiah, for he was almost wholly transfixed by concerns about the cult [formal worship]. [Note: Merrill, p. 378.]

Life was not easy for the returnees during the ministry of the fifth-century restoration prophet. The people continued to live under Gentile (Persian) sovereignty even though they were back in their own land. Harvests were poor, and locust plagues were a problem (Mal_3:11). Even after Ezra’s reforms and Nehemiah’s amazing success in motivating the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, most of the people remained cold-hearted toward Yahweh. Priests and people were still not observing the Mosaic Law as commanded, as is clear from references in the book to sacrifices, tithes, and offerings (e.g., Mal_1:6; Mal_3:5). Foreign cultures had made deep inroads into the values and practices of God’s people. The Israelites still intermarried with Gentiles (Mal_2:11), and divorces were quite common (Mal_2:16). The spiritual, ethical, and moral tone of the nation was low.

". . . Malachi and his contemporaries were living in an uneventful waiting period, when God seemed to have forgotten His people enduring poverty and foreign domination in the little province of Judah. . . . True the Temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory, as Ezekiel had indicated would happen (Eze_43:4). . . . Generations were dying without receiving the promises (cf. Heb_11:13) and many were losing their faith." [Note: Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 211.]

PLACE OF COMPOSITION

Malachi evidently ministered in Jerusalem, as seems clear from his numerous references to practices that were current in that city and throughout Judah.

AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE

The prophet addressed the restoration community of Israelites that had returned to the land from Babylonian captivity. His purpose was to confront them with their sins and to encourage them to pursue holiness.

"Malachi’s prophecy indicts the religious leadership of the day and chides God’s people for their spiritual apathy and their skepticism and cynicism concerning God’s plan for their future. It also calls the people to correct their wrong attitudes of worship by trusting God with genuine faith as living Lord. Furthermore, it warns the people of their immoral behavior toward one another and calls for their repentance lest they be terrorized at the coming of the Lord." [Note: Clendenen, p. 231.]

"The task of a prophet is not to smooth things over but to make things right." [Note: Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses, p 69.]

THEOLOGICAL EMPHASES

Like all the writing prophets, Malachi’s chief revelation was the person and work of Yahweh. He presented Israel’s God as sovereign over Israel and the whole world and as very patient with His wayward people.

Malachi also used the Mosaic Covenant as the standard by which he measured Israel’s conduct. He pointed out instances of covenant unfaithfulness and urged return to the covenant. He also reminded the Israelites of Yahweh’s faithfulness to His covenant promises including promises of future blessing. Thus he sought to motivate his hearers to return to the Lord by convicting them of their sins and converting them to love for their Savior.

". . . Israel’s ethics grew out of (1) the nature of God and their relationship to him, (2) their identity as a people and their relationships and responsibilities to one another, and (3) their relationship to the land, which represented their material environment and possessions. The parallel with Malachi is that these are the exact themes found in the three discourses [in the book] and in the same order-God, people, and land." [Note: Clendenen, p. 232.]

Malachi’s notable messianic prophecy deals with Messiah’s forerunner (Mal_3:1; Mal_4:5). He would be like Elijah and would call the Israelites to repentance (cf. Mat_11:14; Mat_17:12-13; Mar_9:11-13; Luk_1:17).

LITERARY FORM AND CHARACTERISTICS

Malachi’s style is quite different from that of any other writing prophet. Instead of delivering messages to his audience, he charged them with various sins, six times in all. He employed a very confrontational style of address. After each charge, he proceeded to back it up with evidence. Malachi’s rhetorical disputation speech form contains four components: assertion, questioning, response, and implication. [Note: Stuart, p. 1248.]

"Even a casual reading shows Malachi’s use of rhetorical questions. Seven times he put them into the mouths of his audience (Mal_1:2; Mal_1:6-7; Mal_2:17; Mal_3:7-8; Mal_3:13, and perhaps Mal_2:14). In addition he asked the people several rhetorical questions (e.g., Mal_1:6; Mal_1:8-9; Mal_2:10; Mal_2:15; Mal_3:2).

"The format of Mal_1:2 is typical of Malachi’s style. First there is God’s statement: ’I have loved you.’ Then follows the popular objection that questions the truth of God’s statement-viz., ’How have you loved us?’ Finally there is the justification for God’s statement." [Note: Alden, p. 704.]

"The most striking and creative aspect of Malachi’s style is its disputational form . . ." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 500.]

Malachi used the question and answer method extensively. This method became increasingly popular, and in the time of Christ the rabbis and scribes used it frequently, as did the Lord Jesus. They also used rhetorical questions as a teaching device (cf. Mat_3:7; Mat_11:7-9; Mat_12:26-27; Luk_14:5; Joh_18:38; Rom_3:1-4; Rom_4:1-3; Rom_6:21; Rom_7:7; 1Co_9:7-13; Gal_3:21; Heb_1:5; Heb_1:13-14).

This book consists of several short paragraphs on various themes. There are no long oracles against foreign nations (cf. Mal_1:2-5), or any extended burden against Israel. There are no personal experiences to which the prophet referred, yet his style is straightforward, easy to understand, and beautifully designed.

"Debate has centered on whether Malachi is a prosaic or poetic composition (compare W. Kaiser [Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love] and B. Glazier-McDonald [Malachi: The Divine Messenger]). The most commonly used Hebrew Bible (BHS [Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia]) puts it in poetic format, while the most commonly used English versions of the Bible consider the book to be in prose. That such a discussion even takes place is testimony to the difficulty of defining what constitutes poetry in biblical Hebrew and also to the close connection between these two modes of discourse . . ." [Note: Ibid.]

At least one commentator believed Malachi constructed his work in a chiasm. [Note: Stuart, p. 1250. See also G. B. Hugenberger, Marriage as Covenant, p. 25.]

A    Superscription (Mal_1:1): Yahweh has a message for Israel.

B    First Disputation (Mal_1:2-5): God distinguishes between the good and the wicked. The proof of His love is His sparing the righteous and condemning the wicked.

C    Second Disputation (Mal_1:6 to Mal_2:9): Condemnation of improper, begrudging offerings, promise of reversal of blessing, and the greatness of Yahweh’s name among the nations.

D    Third Disputation (Mal_2:10-16): The Lord is witness to marital fidelity, and Judah is unfaithful.

D’    Fourth Disputation (Mal_2:17 to Mal_3:6): The Lord is witness to marital fidelity, and Judah is unfaithful.

C’    Fifth Disputation (Mal_3:7-12): Condemnation of improper, begrudging offerings, promise of reversal of blessing, and the greatness of Yahweh’s name among the nations.

B’    Sixth Disputation (Mal_3:13 to Mal_4:3): God distinguishes between the good and the wicked. The proof of His love is His sparing the righteous and condemning the wicked.

A’    Summary challenge (Mal_4:4-6): Yahweh has a message for Israel.

Essentially the Israelites disputed God’s love, His name, His will concerning marriage and divorce, His justice, His demands regarding stewardship, and His service.

Ray Clendenen challenged the view that Malachi is a series of "disputation speeches," a term coined by Herman Gunkel and applied to Malachi by E. Pfeiffer in 1959. Many commentators adopted Pfeiffer’s view. Clendenen analyzed Malachi as monologue interspersed with exchanges between the Lord and His audience and believed Malachi is a prophecy composed of three hortatory addresses. Hortatory addresses in ancient Near Eastern literature contain three elements: situation, change, and motivation, and all of these are present in the speeches that Clendenen identified in Malachi. [Note: See Clendenen, pp. 218-26, for a full discussion of Malachi’s literary style.]

"Identifying paragraphs or subparagraphs as expressing either situation, command, or motivation (on the basis of the grammatical structure of the paragraph) uncovers a pattern of inverted repetition or chiasm. Whereas such chiasms are often identified on the basis of repeated words, here the chiasm appears in the semantic structure. There are three such chiasms in the book, identifying three divisions, addresses, or embedded discourses." [Note: Ibid., p. 230. See the outline of the book below.]

UNITY, CANONICITY, AND TEXT

Most scholars view the book as the product of one writer, and there is no textual support for viewing some verses as later additions. The general structure and dialog pattern that appear throughout the book argue for its unity. Its canonicity has never been challenged because it appears in all the authoritative lists of canonical books and is quoted in the New Testament. The text is well preserved.

OUTLINE

I have provided two outlines of the book below. The first represents the popular "disputation speech" approach represented well by Stuart and others.

I.    Heading Mal_1:1

II.    Oracle one: Yahweh’s love for Israel Mal_1:2-5

III.    Oracle two: The priests’ illicit practices and indifferent attitudes Mal_1:6 to Mal_2:9

A.    The priests’ sins Mal_1:6-14

1.    Disrespectful service Mal_1:6-7

2.    Disqualified sacrifices Mal_1:8-10

3.    Disdainful attitudes Mal_1:11-14

B.    The priests’ warning Mal_2:1-9

IV.    Oracle three: The people’s mixed marriages and divorces Mal_2:10-16

V.    Oracle four: The problem of God’s justice Mal_2:17 to Mal_3:6

VI.    Oracle five: The people’s sin of robbing God Mal_3:7-12

VII.    Oracle six: The arrogant and the humble Mal_3:13 to Mal_4:3

A.    The people’s arrogance Mal_3:13-15

B.    The remnant’s humility Mal_3:16

C.    The coming judgment of Israel Mal_3:17 to Mal_4:3

A concluding promise and warning Mal_4:4-6

The second outline expresses the "hortatory discourse" approach to Malachi advocated by Clendenen. In the notes that follow, I have followed this second outline of the book. [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, pp. 846-47, divided the body of the book into three parts differently: God’s faithful covenant love for Israel affirmed (1:2-5), Israel’s unfaithfulness rebuked (1:6-2:16), and I AM’s coming announced (2:17-4:16).]

Introduction Mal_1:1

The priests exhorted not to dishonor the Lord (the theological angle) Mal_1:2 to Mal_2:9

Positive motivation: the Lord’s love Mal_1:2-5

Situation: the priests’ failure to honor the Lord Mal_1:6-9

Command: stop the pointless offerings Mal_1:10

Situation: the priests’ worship profaning the Lord’s name Mal_1:11-14

Negative motivation: the results of disobedience Mal_2:1-9

Judah exhorted to faithfulness (the social angle) Mal_2:10 to Mal_3:6

Positive motivation: spiritual kinship among Israel Mal_2:10 a

Situation: faithlessness against a covenant member Mal_2:10-15 a

Command: stop acting faithlessly Mal_2:15-16

Situation: complaints of the Lord’s injustice Mal_2:17

Negative motivation: the coming messenger of judgment Mal_3:1-6

Judah exhorted to return and remember (the economic angle) Mal_3:7 to Mal_4:6

First command: return to the Lord with tithes Mal_3:7-10 a

Positive motivation: future blessing Mal_3:10-12

Situation: complacency toward serving the Lord Mal_3:13-15

Motivation: the coming day Mal_3:16 to Mal_4:3

Second command: remember the Law Mal_4:4-6

Bibliography

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Blaising, Craig A. "Malachi." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 1573-89. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1985.

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