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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Malachi

- Malachi

by Charles John Ellicott

MALACHI.

Malachi

BY
THE REV. W. H. LOWE, M.A.


INTRODUCTION
TO
MALACHI.

I. The Prophet and his Name.—Absolutely nothing is known historically of the life of the prophet Malachi. Josephus, though he speaks of Haggai and Zechariah, does not mention Malachi. By some the word Malachi, which might be taken to mean “my messenger,” has been regarded as the prophet’s official title, not as his personal name. Thus, the Chaldee paraphrase[29] (the Targum) takes the word as a mere appellative, and identifies the prophet with Ezra the Scribe; but, as Kimchi well remarks, Ezra is nowhere called a “prophet,” but “the scribe.” Again, Talmudic testimony is uncertain on the question. Thus, in Talmud Babli, Megillah, 15a: after other suggestions an old tradition is adduced to the effect that “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha (first and second century after Christ) says, Malachi is the same as Ezra; but the (other) sages say, Malachi was his name.” Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are also mentioned in the Talmud together (without any doubt being expressed as to Malachi being a personal name) as the last of the prophets (e.g., Talmud Babli, Synhedrin, 11a), and as members of the Great Synagogue—i.e., the School of Sages, which existed from the time of Ezra to that of Simon the Just. The testimony of the LXX. is equally uncertain, for while in Malachi 1:1 the word is translated “his angel” (either by way of paraphrase or reading Malacho, not Malachi), we find, on the other hand, the prophet in the title of the book called Μαλαχίας, just as Zachary (Zechariah) is called Ζαχαρίας. The passage in the Apocrypha (2Es. 1:39-40), “Unto whom I will give for leaders Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Oscas, Amos, and Micheas, Joel, Abdias, and Jonas, Nahum and Abacoe, Soponias, Aggeus, Zachary, and Malachy, which is called also an angel of the Lord,” is also equivocal. Several of the fathers speak of his name as merely official, an opinion upheld by Vitringa and many modern critics, while Pseudo- Dorotheas, Epiphanius, and others (Köhler Mal. pp. 10, 11), state that he was a Levite of Zebulun, and born at Sophá, or Sofirá. Thus tradition helps us but little, and we are, accordingly, reduced to a priori arguments to decide whether Malachi was a personal name or no.

[29] I have shown (Fragment of Psachim, p. 66, Note Hh. 1) that the Targumin of the prophets were in existence in substantially the same form in which we now have them in the time of Rab-Yoseph (270-333 A.D.).

(1) Jerome’s argument is worthy of notice: he says most reasonably that “if names are to be interpreted, and history framed from them. . . . then Hosea, who is called Saviour, and Joel, whose name means ‘Lord God,’ and other prophets, will not be men, but rather angels, or the Lord and Saviour, according to the meaning of their name.” (2) While it is true that Malachi might be a mere official title, meaning angelic, or my messenger, it is equally true that personal names in i (for iyyah, yahu, yah, or îêl, meaning “of Yah” and “of God”) are of by no means unfrequent occurrence in the Bible. Thus in 2 Kings 18:2 we find Abi for Abiyyah (2 Chronicles 29:1), Palti (1 Samuel 25:44) for Paltiel (2 Samuel 3:15), Zabdi (Joshua 7:1) compared with Zebadyah (Ezra 8:8), Zabadyahu (1 Chronicles 26:2), and Zabdiel (Nehemiah 11:14), besides Gamri, Zichri, and many other. (3) The use of the word Malachi in the sense of “my messenger” (Malachi 3:1) is no argument against Malachi being the prophet’s personal name; on the contrary, his application there of the word Malach (“angel”) to the Messiah’s forerunner, and in Malachi 2:8 to the priesthood—a word which elsewhere, except in Haggai 1:13, Isaiah 42:19, is never used of any but a supernatural being—may be taken as showing that the prophet was fond of making use of a word which carried with it a covert reference to his own name. (4) That no one else in the Old Testament is called Malachi is no valid objection, for neither is there more than one person called Amos (Amos in Isaiah 1:1 is quite a different name), Jonah, Habakkuk, &c. (5) Nor is there any force in the argument that the name stands alone in Zechariah 14:1 without any further personal definition, for that is also the case with Obadiah. (6) If Malachi be a mere official title, the case is an unique one, for in every other instance the prophets have given their real names (if any) in the heading of their books. (7) The case of the names Agar (Proverbs 30:1) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1) is not parallel, for even if it were proved that these latter are not historical names, no conclusion bearing upon a prophetic writing could be drawn from a collection of proverbs. “A collection of proverbs is a poetical work, whose ethical or religious truth is not dependent upon the person of the poet. The prophet, on the contrary, has to guarantee (to his contemporaries) the divinity of his mission, and the truth of his prophecy by his own name or his own personality.”—(Keil.) We conclude, therefore, in default of any positive evidence to the contrary, that it is only reasonable to suppose that Malachi is the personal name of the prophet, and that it is an apocopated form of Malachiyyah, Malachyahu, Malachyah, or of Malachi’el, meaning “Messenger of Yah,” or “of God.”

II. Date of the Prophecy.—All are agreed that Malachi prophesied after the captivity, and there is not much difficulty in determining from internal evidence the probable period of his labours. We find that he makes no reference to the re-building of the Temple or of Jerusalem. The Temple seems to have been for some time completed, and its services so long restored, that the zeal of both priests and people had cooled down, and given place to the most profane slovenliness in the Temple service, and a mere formal observance (Malachi 3:14), or rather a deceitful evasion of the Law (Malachi 1:14). The priests admitted to the Temple sacrifices what they should have rejected (Malachi 1:7-12), and demonstrated by their whole conduct that they looked on their duties as a wearisome burden (Malachi 1:13). They had ceased to give the people true instruction in the Law (Malachi 2:8), and showed partiality in their administration of justice (Malachi 2:9). The people had intermarried freely with the heathen, and heartlessly divorced their Israelitish wives, so that the altar of the Lord was covered with tears and weeping and crying out (Malachi 2:11-16). They neglected to pay the tithes and other dues, and as a punishment were visited with dearth and famine (Malachi 3:8-12). They had begun to cherish the most sceptical views, and openly to scoff at the notion of God’s exercising a beneficent providence over them (Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:15), though there was still a remnant among them of those who feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name (Malachi 3:16).

Now, the state of the country soon after Ezra came up from Babylon (458-457 B.C.) seems to agree in some respects with the description of it which we have drawn from the materials contained in the prophecies of Malachi. Thus we read that when Nehemiah came up a few years later the people were put to such straits through famine that they came to him with the complaint, “We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth” (Ezra 5:3). Moreover, Ezra on his arrival found that both the people and the priests had “not separated themselves from the people of the lands, for they had taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons” (Ezra 9:1-2). In the space of less than three months he compelled every one of those who had contracted such marriages to divorce his heathen wife, and send her back to her own people, and so “they made an end of all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month” (Ezra 10:17[30]). On the other hand, of his having to reform any abuses in connection with the Temple service we hear nothing. It should also be mentioned that in Ezra’s time, or, at all events, immediately after his arrival, as well as in the time of Darius (Ezra 6:9-10), all things that were necessary for the Temple services were provided out of the royal revenues (Ezra 7:0), so that the rebukes of the prophet with regard to the niggardly manner in which the people presented the offerings would be out of place, if the prophecy had reference to this period. Nor would the vivid picture which the prophet draws of the state of the “desolate places” of Edom (Malachi 1:3-5), have been of much comfort to Israel, if at the time of his speaking their own “city, the place of their fathers’ sepulchres, was still lying waste, and the gates thereof consumed with fire,” as was the case at this time (Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:3). We must, accordingly, look for some later events as the occasion of the prophet’s ministry.

[30] There are two remarkable instances of coincidence of expression between Ezra and Malachi: viz., Ezra 9:4, Malachi 3:16; and Ezra 9:14-15, Malachi 3:6.

In 445-4 B.C. Nehemiah obtained leave from Artaxerxes Longimanus to go up to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:6), and in 433-2 he returned to the Persian Court. During this period of twelve years he acted as governor in the land of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14). In the almost incredibly short space of fifty-two days he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, in spite of the opposition of the neighbouring peoples (Nehemiah 6:15). He worked most important reforms, condemning usury and slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-14); proclaimed a fast, and made the people confess their sins, and enter into a covenant to keep the ordinances of the Law, and abstain from heathen marriages; to observe the Sabbath, and keep the Sabbatical year; to contribute every man the third of a shekel for the services of the Temple, and to pay the legal tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 10:29-39). But when he went back to Persia all the abuses which he had abolished, quickly crept in again, so that on his return, which was before the death of Artaxerxes (424 B.C.), he had to go over the old ground again. The Jews had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab, and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jew’s language (Nehemiah 13:23-24; comp. Malachi 3:10-16). The portions of the Levites had not been given them (Nehemiah 13:10; comp. Malachi 3:6-10).

Now, we can hardly suppose that Malachi prophesied during Nehemiah’s temporary absence, and that his words had so little effect that when Nehemiah returned he found things as bad as ever. Nor could he have prophesied prior to or during Nehemiah’s first reform, or he would not in all probability have been utterly silent with regard to the re-building of Jerusalem and its walls. It only remains, therefore, that we should regard him as Nehemiah’s coadjutor in his second reformation. He was, in fact, to Nehemiah what Haggai and Zechariah were to Zerubbabel, Jeremiah to Josiah, and Isaiah to Hezekiah—the prophet of God, co-operating with the civil authority in bringing about the moral reformation of the people. He prophesied, therefore, in all probability some time between 430 and 425 B.C.,[31] namely, during the first part of the first Peloponnesian War, and was a contemporary of the great Greek tragic poets Sophocles (496-405) and Euripides (480-406), and of the historians Herodotus (484-424), and Thucydides (471-396).

[31] Two objections might be made to this conclusion—(1) There is no mention of any dearth at this time, such as is implied in Malachi 3:10-11. To this we answer that since the whole history of this period is contained in twenty-five verses (Nehemiah 13:7-31), written in the prolix style of Nehemiah, which does not admit of the compression of many facts into a small space, we cannot be surprised at the omission of any mention of such scarcity. (2) It is said that Malachi and Nehemiah could not be contemporaries, because whereas Malachi upbraids the people with offering to God such poor things as they would not dare to offer to their governor (chap. 1:8), Nehemiah, when governor, “required not the portion of the governor” (Nehemiah 5:18),—i.e., the allowance granted him by the Persian Government. as an impost on the people. To this it may be replied (a), Malachi speaks of free-will offerings, not imposts; (6) Nehemiah says he did not require (demand), not that he would not accept under any circumstances; (c) there is no evidence that he was. governor on his return.

III. Contents.—The prophecy is one of continual rebuke from beginning to end. In the form in which we have it, it is certainly to be looked on as one single address. Probably it is but a systematically arranged epitome of the various oral addresses of the prophet.

It may be divided into six sections, all more or less intimately connected with one another.

Malachi 1:1-5. God’s love for Israel. Israel’s ingratitude.

Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9. Rebuke of the priests. Prophecy of the spiritual worship of God among the heathen Decree against the priests.

Malachi 2:10-16. Rebuke of the people for marrying heathen women, and divorcing their Israelitish wives.

Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:5. Rebuke of sceptics, and prophecy of the sudden coming of the Lord to His Temple.

Malachi 3:6-12. Rebuke of the people for withholding tithes and offerings.

Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:6. Rebuke of formalists and sceptics. The different destiny of the righteous and of the wicked. The rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Exhortation to remember the Law of Moses. The coming of Elijah.

IV. Style of Diction.—Malachi writes in the purest style of the Renaissance. From the very nature of his utterances high-flown poetic imagery is, for the most part, excluded; but when for the moment he removes his gaze from the dark present to look back on the glorious past, or to foretel the events of the still more glorious future, he rises to a high standard of poetic diction. (See Malachi 2:5-6; Malachi 3:1-5; Malachi 4:1-6.) His method of administering the most scathing rebuke by means of preferring an accusation (in which he shows the deepest insight into the inmost thoughts of the nation), then supposing an objection on their part (which exhibits in the most telling manner the moral degradation of the people, and their indifference to their spiritual condition), and lastly, by confuting their objection in trenchant terms, is artistic, and at the same time forcible to a degree. (See Malachi 1:2-5; Malachi 2:14-17 [Malachi 2:15-17 ?], Malachi 3:7-13.) We cannot, with Lowth, perceive here any decadence in the power of the spirit of prophecy. Prophecy did not cease because its power was exhausted, but because its mission was now fulfilled until the time of its fulfilment should draw near. We will conclude with the words of Nägelsbach, which others before us have thought worthy of citation: “Malachi is like a late evening which closes a long day, but he is at the same time the morning twilight, which bears in its womb a glorious day.”