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by Peter Pett
Commentary on Malachi.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons - London) DD
Malachi was the last of the great writing prophets and apparently exercised his ministry some time prior to the arrival of Nehemiah in 445/444 BC (he indicates that animals were still being presented to the governor (Malachi 1:8), a practise stopped by Nehemiah - Nehemiah 5:14-16) and possibly on into that period. There is no reliable external information about him, but Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) in around 180 BC mentions ‘the twelve prophets’, which suggests that at that date Malachi’s contribution was fully recognised. It matters little whether it was a pseudonym, a name he took on becoming a prophet or whether it was his actual given name, although there is no good reason linguistically for denying that it is a good Hebrew name.
Approximately a hundred years previously the first of the exiles in Babylonia had returned to Palestine under the decree of Cyrus in 539/8 BC, and had eventually, as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah, rebuilt the Temple, something which was completed in 515 BC.
But while the Temple was clearly now itself active, Jerusalem itself was still not fully restored, and indeed seems to have been in fairly poor condition. While an attempt had been made to rebuild its walls, this restoration had been forbidden by Artaxerxes before it had been completed (Ezra 4:7-24), and had seemingly been to some extent reversed by their enemies. A deterioration in its condition is suggested by the fact that Nehemiah received a report that stated that, ‘the remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach, the wall also of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are burned with fire’ (Nehemiah 1:3).
The community were beset with problems. Their determination to keep the worship of YHWH pure, which was in itself to be commended, had upset the people round about who had wanted a part in the new Temple so that they could introduce into it their own syncretistic Yahwism. The present state of Jerusalem was something which had partly caused the above problems. It would seem that the successors of the returned exiles were also disillusioned because there did not appear to be any sign of God’s fulfilment of His earlier promises made to Haggai and Zechariah. Nevertheless in spite of their discontent they were, unlike YHWH, clearly very satisfied with their own religious state.
But the truth was that the first zeal demonstrated by the original returnees had lapsed as the people had settled down, (as we would have expected), and Malachi has therefore to point out a number of ways in which the present people were displeasing to God. This included the fact that they were marrying wives outside the community, thus introducing the very syncretistic ideas that they had outwardly resisted, and were divorcing their ageing wives so that they could marry younger ones (Malachi 2:10-11; Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-3; Nehemiah 13:23). The priesthood were considered to be corrupt, and careless in their offerings (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9; Nehemiah 13:7-9), and the people were also failing to pay their tithes to the sanctuary (Malachi 3:8-10; Nehemiah 10:32-39; Nehemiah 13:10-14). Furthermore they were being careless in their attitude towards the poor (Malachi 3:5; Nehemiah 5:1-5). Overall things were not good.
Nevertheless Malachi opens with the assertion that God loves them (Malachi 1:2), a love which is emphasised by the fact that, in contrast to Edom, God has restored them to their land and has a good future in store for them if only they will truly respond to him. It is a response, however, that He only expects a certain number of them to make (Malachi 3:16-17; Malachi 4:3).
As we shall see Malachi constantly uses a question and answer method in order to bring out his points. While a similar method is occasionally found in other prophets it is not used as systematically by them as it is by Malachi. It is thus distinctive to his prophecy and distinguishes him from those who have gone before. We are not to see the answers given as literally being on the tongues of the people. Rather he puts the answers in their mouths so as to clarify the picture. He was not seeking to portray them as petulant, merely seeking to bring out how they were really behaving.
Heading (Malachi 1:1 ).
1). YHWH declares His love for His people. They ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ (Malachi 1:2-5).
2). YHWH declares that the priests have despised His Name. They ask, How have we despised Your Name? (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9).
3). The people assert their oneness because God is their Father. They ask ‘How then are they faithless to one another, and profaners of the covenant? (Malachi 2:10-12).
4). Malachi declares that the people weep because YHWH no longer accepts their offering. They ask, ‘Why does He not do so? (Malachi 2:13-16).
5). Malachi says that they have wearied YHWH with their words. They ask ‘How have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:6).
6). YHWH says that they have violently robbed Him. They ask, ‘How have we violently robbed You?’ (Malachi 3:7-12).
7). YHWH says that they have spoken against Him. They ask, ‘How have we spoken against you? (Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3).
Final Exhortation (Malachi 4:4-6 ).
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18