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by Daniel Whedon
The Author of the Prophecy.
IN the case of all the other books in the collection of the Minor Prophets the confession had to be made that little or nothing was known of the authors. Here the uncertainty extends even to the name, for it may be questioned whether Malachi is a proper name at all. If a noun, the word means my messenger or my angel, which is not quite suitable for a child’s name. Some take it to be an adjective, like Haggai, meaning angelic; others consider it an abbreviated form of a name meaning messenger of Jehovah. This etymology is more or less doubtful, because names formed after the same pattern would suggest the translation my messenger is Jehovah, which again is unsuitable.
Analogy with the other books would seem to favor the view that the name prefixed to a book is the name of its author, but over against this one argument there have been adduced several which are thought to favor the view that the prophecy is anonymous and that Malachi was introduced at a later time from Malachi 3:1, where the same Hebrew word is translated “my messenger” or “my angel”; and from this passage it has even been conjectured that the author of the book was an incarnate angel. (1) The similarity of Malachi 1:1, with Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1, the titles of two anonymous utterances, favors the view that the former also was added not by the author of the book but by the collector to whom all three utterances came without headings. He, understanding “my messenger” in Malachi 3:1, as being in some way a designation of the author or a term descriptive of his office and so capable of being applied to him symbolically, embodied that expression in the title of the book. (2) The name occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. (3) LXX. and Targum, the two oldest translations, did not understand it as a proper name; the former reads “by the hand of his messenger”; the latter, “by the hand of my messenger, whose name is called Ezra the Scribe”; and for a long time Jewish tradition identified the author of this book with Ezra. (4) The absence of the father’s name, which is found in the case of most other prophets (but compare Obadiah 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1).
These arguments are not absolutely conclusive, and the question cannot be settled finally. Whatever the original significance, by the second century A.D. Malachi had come to be generally accepted as a proper name. The identification of the author with Ezra is improbable; the tradition undoubtedly arose from the fact that Ezra and the author of the prophecy pursued similar ends. The Life of the Prophets (see p. 429) calls him a Levite from Sopha in the tribe of Zebulun, but this tradition is late and without value. From his familiarity with the priests and their conduct it has been conjectured that he himself was a priest, but this view also is without adequate support.
But whoever he was, or whatever his name, the author of the Book of Malachi is worthy to be called a “messenger of Jehovah.” He was a man of deep convictions, born of a personal religious experience and constant communion with God; a man with deep insight into the needs and shortcomings of his contemporaries as well as into the mysteries of the divine love and purpose, which, he declared, would find its culmination in the establishment of the kingdom of God subsequent to the awful catastrophe of the day of Jehovah. Following in the footsteps of his great predecessors, this prophet declared, with no uncertain sound, the will of Jehovah to a priesthood and a people that had forgotten the covenant of old; he, like the earlier prophets, announced the certain and awful doom of the faithless and the exaltation and glorification of the faithful.
The Time of the Prophet.
1 . Date. It is universally admitted that the internal evidence points to the postexilic period, when the Jews were under a governor (Malachi 1:8), and the Edomites had been driven from their old home (Malachi 1:2 ff.; see there), as the time in which the prophecies contained in the Book of Malachi were delivered. All are agreed also in fixing the date of Malachi later than the days of Haggai and Zechariah. The temple was completed, and the sacrificial service was in full force; there had been enough time to allow the enthusiasm aroused by the two prophets to die down and the temple worship to become corrupted (Malachi 1:6 ff; Malachi 2:1 ff; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 3:10). The moral and religious offenses condemned by our prophet are different from those condemned by the two prophets who urged the rebuilding of the temple. On the other hand, a comparison with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah shows that the sins condemned by Malachi and the reforms attempted by him are very largely the sins condemned and the reforms urged by them. This fact has led all scholars to bring the preaching of Malachi into close connection with the efforts of these two great reformers. “The last chapter of canonical Jewish history is the key to the last chapter of its prophecy.”
At this point arises a difference of opinion. Some place the activity of Malachi before the coming of Ezra in 458, or at least before the first visit of Nehemiah, about 445; others place it near the second visit of Nehemiah, about 432, either before or soon after. However, it is chiefly around two periods, before 458 or near 432, that the attempts to determine the date of Malachi center.
In favor of the later date the following facts are urged: 1. First and foremost, the close agreement between Malachi and Nehemiah. The abuses which the latter sought to remove were (1) the irreverent behavior of the high priest; (2) the neglect of the temple service; (3) the nonpayment of tithes; (4) the desecration of the Sabbath; (5) marriage alliances with heathen women. A comparison of Nehemiah 13:23 ff. (compare also Ezra 9:1 ff; Ezra 10:1 ff.), with Malachi 2:10-16; Nehemiah 3:10-12; Nehemiah 3:31, with Malachi 1:7 ff; Malachi 3:8-10; Nehemiah 13:29, with Malachi 2:8, shows that Malachi aimed to abolish similar forms of wrongdoing. Nehemiah does not mention divorce and Malachi does not mention Sabbath desecration; in all other respects the resemblance is very close. 2. The appeal for a closer observance of the law of Moses (Malachi 4:4) presupposes the efforts of Ezra to restore the authority of the law (Nehemiah 8-10). 3. The condemnation of the sacrifices (Malachi 1:7 ff.) and the unfaithfulness in the bringing of tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:6 ff.) presupposes that the people were expected to provide for the sanctuary and the priests, but in the days of Ezra, or at any rate immediately after his arrival, the government met the expense of the temple service (Ezra 7:15-24), and similar provision was made by Darius (Ezra 6:9-10). On the other hand, Nehemiah 10:33 ff., indicates that in Nehemiah’s day provision was made for the support of the temple service by the people; but the condemnation by Malachi points to a neglect of these voluntary contributions, which makes it quite probable that some time had elapsed since the obligations were assumed. 4. While Malachi 1:8, does not exclude the possibility of Nehemiah being governor, the reference becomes more natural on the assumption that a foreign governor, who was not unwilling to accept gifts from the people (compare Nehemiah 5:14 ff.), was ruling over the Jews at the time. Since some of these facts exclude a date preceding Ezra, and some a date immediately after the coming of Ezra, a date during the absence of Nehemiah, between his first and second visit to Jerusalem, is most probable. 5. To the same period points the attitude of the prophet toward heathen marriages. If Ezra’s reform was as sweeping as is indicated in Ezra 10:16-17, some time must have elapsed before the same abuses broke out afresh. No attempt was made by Nehemiah to abolish these marriages until his second visit, which makes it probable that the abuse arose again during his brief absence. In opposition to this new outbreak Malachi uttered his denunciations, either while Nehemiah was still away or after his return. 6. The fact that Nehemiah found the abuses condemned by Malachi in full swing makes it improbable that the latter had already delivered his messages, for it is difficult to assume that his earnest exhortations were all in vain.
These are the more important grounds on which many scholars assign the prophetic activity of Malachi to about 432, either during the absence of Nehemiah or after his return in connection with the reforms mentioned in Nehemiah 13:6 ff. “The work of Malachi,” says Keil, “bore the same relation to the work of Nehemiah as the work of Haggai and Zechariah to that of Zerubbabel and Joshua; and the reformatory labors of Nehemiah, which were chiefly of an outward character, were accompanied by the more inward labors of Malachi, as was very frequently the case in the history of Israel; for example, in the case of Isaiah and Hezekiah, or of Jeremiah and Josiah.”
Against this view and in favor of the earlier date the following facts may be pointed out: 1. Objections 4, 5, 6 hold good only against the view that Malachi prophesied subsequently to the coming of Ezra; they have no force against the claim that he prophesied before 458, for then a foreign governor ruled over the Jews, foreign women had been married when Ezra arrived, and his preaching at the earlier date would allow ample time for a revival of the abuses rectified by Nehemiah in 432. 2. The third argument is disposed of by the fact that there is no indication that between 516 and 458 the expense of the temple service was borne by the government. 3. The second argument also is by no means conclusive. That the Jews possessed some laws even before the public reading of it in 445 or 444 cannot be doubted. Why might not a religious zealot like Malachi urge the observance of the law even before Ezra and Nehemiah? The argument falls down completely if it can be shown that the closing verses are not original (see comments). 4. This leaves only the first argument, the similarity between Malachi and Nehemiah 13:6 ff. That mixed marriages existed in 458 or even earlier cannot be doubted, for Ezra found them in considerable numbers on his return. Divorce is not mentioned by Nehemiah, hence it cannot have been a serious evil in his day. On the other hand, it should be noted that Malachi connects the divorce evil very closely with the marrying of foreign women; now, such a connection would be quite explicable at a time when these mixed marriages were still novel; many would be tempted to put away their own wives in order to be in fashion. The other abuses have to do with the temple service. That they existed in the days of Nehemiah we know; whether or not they existed before 458 we do not know, simply because we are without information concerning religious conditions in Jerusalem between 516 and 458. That Ezra discovered faithlessness on the part of the priests in some things is seen from Ezra 10:18 ff.; that the other abuses might have crept in is quite possible. If in less than twenty years the returned exiles could grow as indifferent as Haggai and Zechariah picture their contemporaries, surely it is not hard to believe that during the fifty years or more following the building of the temple the people should again have come to disregard their religious obligations. May not the emphasis placed upon tithes and offerings in Nehemiah 10:32 ff., imply that there existed a tendency to neglect these?
All that has been said thus far is not affected very seriously by the questions raised by Pentateuchal criticism, or by the question of the date of Ezra’s return. On the whole, Malachi shows a more intimate acquaintance with the Book of Deuteronomy than with the so-called Priestly Code. If the traditional date of these portions of the Pentateuch is correct, that is, if Moses was the author, Malachi might have prophesied either before or after 458. If the dates claimed for these codes by modern scholars are correct, again either date is possible. Deuteronomy was certainly known before 458, and the one passage which is generally considered a clear reference to the Priestly Code (Malachi 3:10; compare Numbers 18:21 ff.) might be explained as marking a transition from the requirements of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 14:22 ff.) to those of the Priestly Code, a transition which, as Welch says, was made easier by the fact that, when the community was in the city, all the Levites were attached to the temple. If Malachi prophesied in 432 a reference to the Priestly Code, which was published certainly not later than 444, becomes quite natural, while the frequent allusions to Deuteronomy do not appear altogether strange, for to a prophet a prophetic presentation of the law would appeal more than the formal presentation of the Priestly Code.
Within recent times the return of Ezra has been dated after the first visit of Nehemiah in 445, by some very much later (see on Haggai, p. 550), and by some Ezra is considered not an historical person at all, but an “impersonation.” But even if the truth of these claims could be established, which seems impossible with any sort of fair treatment of the biblical records, the date of Malachi would not be affected very seriously. Those who favor the later date would still assign his activity to 432; the others would say, instead of before 458, before 445, that is, about 450. A different date would have to be found if the contentions of Torrey and H.P. Smith could be established, that Nehemiah became governor in the fourth century under Artaxerxes II; but this view is improbable, as also the view of Winckler, to which reference is made in the introductory remarks to Malachi 2:10-16.
The choice seems to lie between 432 and “before” 458. The present writer believes it impossible to settle the question finally. Malachi, like Ezra and Nehemiah, saw the need of the hour, and he, like them, sought to do his part toward bringing about a religious and moral reformation. Whether he was a few years earlier than they or their contemporary, is a question of secondary importance; that they co-operated openly may be doubted in view of the silence of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah concerning such co-operation.
2 . Conditions of the Time. In 516 the temple was completed and dedicated, and in 458 Ezra came to Jerusalem. Concerning events connected with the rebuilding of the temple we receive information from the Books of Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah; concerning the return of Ezra, from the book bearing his name, a book whose substantial accuracy may still be maintained. Little is said anywhere in the Old Testament concerning the events between the two dates. From Ezra 4:6 ff., it would seem that during the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes the Jews were accused of disloyalty, and that the second accusation resulted in the issuing of a decree forbidding the building of the city walls. However, a comparison between conditions in the days of Haggai and Zechariah and those in the days of Ezra may enable us to get a fairly clear idea of conditions in Judah during the intervening period. In addition, a little light is thrown upon these conditions by profane history.
(1) Political Conditions. During the interval which elapsed between the two events named the struggle between Persia and Greece and two revolts against Persian supremacy in Egypt took place. To what extent the Jews were affected by these movements we do not know. Herodotus declares that Syrians from Palestine, which might include Jews, served in the army of Xerxes; and it is not improbable that, especially in the wars with Egypt, they were called upon to furnish supplies for the Persian armies. On the whole, however, the attitude of the Persian court seems to have been friendly, and it is not unlikely that during the greater part of the period the Jews bore the yoke patiently. The two exceptions (Ezra 4:6-7 ff.) may be traced, perhaps, to a revival of their Messianic hopes. Xerxes came upon the throne in 485; only a short time before this date Egypt had revolted; these events the Jews may have connected with the Messianic utterances of Haggai and Zechariah, the revolt in Egypt with the shaking of the nations promised in Haggai 2:7. The second manifestation of unrest (Ezra 4:7 ff.) may have been connected with the second revolt in Egypt in 462, and may have been caused by similar expectations. In 458 Ezra the scribe came from the east with rich presents from the king and from his fellow countrymen still in exile, and with extraordinary powers and privileges. He was accompanied by other loyal Jews, and after four months’ journey they reached Jerusalem. After a brief period of activity Ezra disappears from view, and he is not heard of again until after Nehemiah had become civil governor in 445. After rebuilding the walls of the city Nehemiah undertook various social and religious reforms, in which he had the hearty support of Ezra, who reappeared as suddenly as some years previously he had disappeared. Some time later Nehemiah was recalled to the Persian court; when he returned to Jerusalem in 432 he found that the reforms of the past had been undone and that new evils were threatening the integrity of the community. Immediately he set about to rectify all these abuses, and with an account of the new reforms the narrative in the Book of Nehemiah closes.
2 . Moral and Religious Conditions. Haggai and Zechariah labored earnestly to counteract the religious indifference which had grown up in the community during the years immediately following the return from Babylon (for the causes of this indifference see p. 549). They succeeded in arousing sufficient enthusiasm in the people to complete the temple; but as the causes of the indifference were not removed it is not strange that very soon the enthusiasm died out and the former indifference with its accompanying evils reappeared. The glorious expectations of the pre-exilic prophets remained unrealized, and the new promises of Haggai and Zechariah were not fulfilled; the nations of the earth were not shaken (Haggai 2:6-7), and though the revolts in Egypt seemed to give promise of such shaking, in the end Persia remained supreme, while Judah remained governed by foreigners. The glory of Solomon’s temple was not equaled, much less surpassed (Haggai 2:9); taxes had to be paid and provision furnished for the Persian armies, which kept the people poor. Malachi 3:9 ff., implies that harvests had again failed as a result of drought and plagues of locusts, which was in direct contradiction to the promise of Haggai (Haggai 2:19).
In consequence of these various disappointments many in the nation began to ask, Where are the promises made to the fathers? What has become of the divine justice (Malachi 2:17)? What of the divine interest in us? But if Jehovah does not care, why should we continue to waste our offerings and sacrifices in his service (Malachi 3:7-12)? The disappointments were troublesome enough, but those in Judah who would retain faith in Jehovah were confronted by another perplexity. According to the popular conception, piety should be rewarded invariably with prosperity, impiety with adversity; but there grew up in Jerusalem during the first half of the fifth century a class of godless nobles, who, by the use of unscrupulous means, accumulated wealth and lived in luxury and splendor (Malachi 3:13 ff.), and again the question arose, Where is the God of justice? Thus the people might look within or without, and on comparing present conditions with the promises of their prophets they would meet on every hand grave perplexities and problems. Small wonder that many, who perhaps had never attained a strong living faith, gave way to a temper of moroseness, skepticism, or even positive hostility to Jehovah.
The moral and religious conditions reflected in the Book of Malachi and in the portions of Ezra and Nehemiah dealing with the same period were the outgrowth of this religious indifference and skepticism. 1. The first glimpse which the book gives us (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9) is of the neglect of the temple worship by both priest and people. The priests performed their offices perfunctorily, and they showed by their actions that their heart was not in the work. Anything, they thought, was good enough for Jehovah, and so they offered the lame and the blind upon the altar (Malachi 1:7-8). The maintenance of the temple service they considered too costly and irksome (Malachi 1:13). By their example and teaching they caused the people to stumble (Malachi 2:8), until all alike failed to render to Jehovah the reverence and honor due to his name (Malachi 1:6). A similar unwillingness to pay the proper religious dues is reflected in Malachi 3:7-10, where the prophet condemns the people for defrauding Jehovah by the withholding of tithes and offerings. 2. A second result of the spirit of indifference and skepticism was the dying down of the zeal for the maintenance of Israel’s distinct and separate character as the people of Jehovah. An evidence of this is seen in the wide prevalence of mixed marriages, that is, marriage alliances of Israelites with women of the surrounding heathen nations (Malachi 2:11-12; compare Ezra 9:1 ff; Ezra 10:1 ff.; Nehemiah 13:23 ff.). Such alliances would break down the barriers between the Jewish community and the heathen nations and would open the door for the introduction of heathen practices and beliefs, which in the end might affect very seriously the purity of the Jehovah religion. In some cases these alliances seem to have been preceded by the putting away of a Jewish wife. This would have been impossible had the Jews been fully conscious of the unique relation of their nation to Jehovah; but with faith in Jehovah waning they would forget the duties they owed to one another as members of the same covenant nation (Malachi 2:10), and lightly divorce their Jewish wives to make room for others. But even where divorce was not followed by an alliance with a foreign woman, the divorce itself implied a disregard of mutual obligations, and this in turn implied a waning faith in Jehovah. 3. The decline of religious fervor was followed by a moral decline. Sorcery, adultery, and false swearing were common; the laborer, the fatherless, and the widow were oppressed (Malachi 3:5; compare Nehemiah 5:0).
It must not be thought, however, that none escaped the skepticism and the corruption which followed. The very appearance of Malachi shows that there were in the community those who retained their hold on God and whose faith was made only stronger by the trials through which they passed (Malachi 3:16). They had the same experiences as those who became skeptics and evil doers, but “instead of laying the blame on Jehovah… they recognized in Israel itself the cause of the disappointment.
It was Israel’s faithlessness and indifference that now as of old hindered the accomplishment of the prophetic visions. The one hope of their fulfillment lay in a more strenuous and loyal observance on Israel’s part of the moral conditions of Jehovah’s covenant.” Out of this group of religious zealots arose Malachi, determined to arouse, if possible, a new enthusiasm and a new faith in those who were rapidly drifting away from Jehovah and his law.
The Book of Malachi.
1 . General Remarks. The literary form of the Book of Malachi differs from that of the other prophetic books. Malachi does not attempt the rhetorical development of ideas which is so common with the earlier prophets; he prefers a dialectical and didactic style. He states briefly the truth which he desires to enforce; over against the simple proposition he sets an objection which he assumes might be raised. To this he replies, and in doing so he reasserts and expands the original statement. The reason for this change must be sought, not in the decadence of prophecy, but in a change in the method of prophetic teaching. Says G.A. Smith, “Just as with Zephaniah we saw prophecy passing into apocalypse, and with Habakkuk into the speculation of the schools of wisdom, so now in Malachi we perceive its transformation into the scholasticism of the rabbis.” During the interval between Zechariah and Malachi, says the same author, “prophecy seems to have been driven from public life, from the sudden enforcement of truth in the face of the people to the more deliberate and ordered argument which marks the teacher who works in private.” In the Book of Malachi, therefore, we have the beginning of the method of exposition which at a later time became universal in the synagogues and the schools of the Jews (compare Malachi 1:2 ff., Malachi 1:6 ff.; Malachi 2:10; Malachi 2:14; Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:7-8; Malachi 3:13).
Because of the peculiar style of the book it has been questioned whether the oracles contained in it were ever delivered orally. If they were, as seems quite probable, we have in the book not a verbal reproduction but an epitome of the several addresses of the author, arranged so systematically that the book has the appearance of a single continuous discourse, whose tone is condemnatory almost throughout. The peculiar method of instruction referred to makes the style of Malachi appear more prosaic than that of the earlier prophets; only once or twice it rises to a higher level (Malachi 3:1 ff; Malachi 4:1-3). His diction, though on the whole pure, betrays some marks of his late date.
2 . Contents. The Book of Malachi falls naturally into three sections of unequal length (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9; Malachi 2:10-16; Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 4:3), with a prologue (Malachi 1:2-5) and an epilogue (Malachi 4:4-6).
The prologue (Malachi 1:2-5) forms the basis of all subsequent utterances. The contemporaries of the prophet questioned the love of Jehovah, because the bright promises of the earlier prophets had remained unfulfilled. Malachi meets this criticism in his opening words, “I have loved you, saith Jehovah” (Malachi 1:2). All they need to do to convince themselves of the reality of the divine love is to compare their own history with that of Edom. Jacob and Esau were brothers, but what a contrast between the fortunes of the descendants of the two! Israel, re-established in its own home and destined for a more glorious future; Edom, driven from its home and doomed to live in exile forever (Malachi 1:3-5).
The first denunciation, Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9, is directed principally, though not exclusively, against the priests. As their loving father and kind master, Jehovah has a right to expect of them gratitude and reverence, but they fail to give him his dues (Malachi 1:6), as is clearly shown by the fact that they offer to Jehovah gifts which a human governor would reject with scorn (Malachi 1:7-8). Is it any wonder that Jehovah will not listen to their petitions (Malachi 1:9)? It would be much better to close the temple and extinguish the altar fires than to continue this sort of service (Malachi 1:10). The service rendered to him among the nations is preferable to that of the Jews, for it is pure and generous (11), while that of the latter is corrupt and heartless; the offerings are small, the sacrificial animals diseased and worthless, and the little they do give they give grudgingly (12, 13). Cursed be everyone who dares thus to insult Jehovah (Malachi 1:14).
If the priests fail to heed the warning and to render unto Jehovah the service acceptable to him, he will send upon them his curse, that they may understand his purpose to maintain the ancient covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:1-4). According to this covenant Jehovah promised to Levi life and peace; in return Levi promised to fear Jehovah. This covenant was kept by both parties; Levi served God faithfully, and by his faithfulness turned many from iniquity (Malachi 2:5-6). Similar conduct is expected of all his priests (Malachi 2:7), but how far short do they come of the ideal (Malachi 2:8)! Therefore disgrace and contempt will be their portion (Malachi 2:9).
In Malachi 2:10-16, the prophet condemns the people’s faithlessness to the ancient covenant with Jehovah. Jehovah is the father of all Israel, which implies that the individual Israelites are brothers and sisters, but they have disregarded the obligations placed upon them by these relations (Malachi 2:10). In proof of the accusation the prophet calls attention to two widespread abuses: (1) mixed marriages, that is, marriages between Jews and women belonging to the surrounding heathenish or half-heathenish nations (Malachi 2:11-12); (2) the heartless putting away of Jewish wives by their husbands (Malachi 2:13-15). Jehovah abominates such conduct, therefore they would better desist from it (Malachi 2:16).
In Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 4:3, the prophet denounces the spirit of indifference and skepticism which is the root of all the religious and moral corruption condemned in the rest of the book. The evil doers prosper while the pious suffer, hence the question is raised by many, Where is the God of justice (Malachi 2:17)? To this Jehovah replies that he will no longer delay judgment; preceded by a messenger he will suddenly appear for judgment (Malachi 3:1); his coming will prove terrible to all who have done evil, for he will come like a refiner’s fire, to burn up all dross (Malachi 3:2). The priests he will purify that they may offer again sacrifice “in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3-4), and from the nation at large he will sweep away all forms of vice and wickedness (Malachi 3:5).
Since the skeptics (Malachi 2:17) doubted the interest of Jehovah in the affairs of the nation, they saw no reason why they should continue to offer sacrifice to him; this neglect the prophet condemns in Malachi 3:6-12. First he asserts that the charge contained in Malachi 2:17, is groundless; Jehovah has not changed, but he cannot manifest himself as in days gone by because their attitude toward him has undergone a change (Malachi 2:6). They cry out for his return to them, but he can respond only if they return to him (Malachi 2:7). When they inquire wherein they are to return, he replies, in being honest in the payment of their tithes and offerings (Malachi 2:8). If they do this they will soon discover that Jehovah still lives and can bless them with abundant prosperity (Malachi 2:9-12).
In Malachi 3:13, the prophet returns to the apparent inequalities of life. The complaint is made that the wicked prosper while they that fear God are oppressed (Malachi 3:13-15). The complaint is unwarranted, says the prophet, for Jehovah’s watchful eye is over all, and though at present the lot of the pious may seem hard, Jehovah keeps a record of them all (Malachi 3:16), and when he appears in his temple he will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (Malachi 3:16-18). The wicked will be destroyed root and branch (Malachi 4:1), but the righteous will be exalted forever (Malachi 4:2-3).
The book closes with an exhortation and a promise. The hearers and readers are urged to lay to heart the law of Moses, for only thus can they escape the terrors of the day of Jehovah (Malachi 4:4). The promise of Malachi 3:1, is repeated, that a messenger, here called Elijah, will come to prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah himself (Malachi 4:5). The last verse (Malachi 4:6) explains wherein the preparation consists: the messenger will attempt to convert the nation, so that the terror of the day of Jehovah may be averted. If he fails, nothing can save the sinners from destruction.
3 . Outline.
TITLE THE AUTHOR AND THE SUBJECT OF THE PROPHECY Malachi 1:1 I.
THE PROLOGUE JEHOVAH’S LOVE FOR ISRAEL Malachi 1:2-5
1. The divine love asserted Malachi 1:2
2. The divine love proved Malachi 1:3-5
II. CONDEMNATION OF ISRAEL’S NEGLECT OF THE SERVICE OF JEHOVAH Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9
1. Rebuke of the faithless priests and people Malachi 1:6-14
(1) Worthlessness of the sacrifices offered to Jehovah Malachi 1:6-8
(2) Jehovah’s displeasure with the present service Malachi 1:9-10
(3) Contrast between the service rendered to Jehovah among the nations and that rendered by the Jews Malachi 1:11-13
(4) The curse of Jehovah Malachi 1:14
2. A curse pronounced upon the faithless priests Malachi 2:1-9
(1) Immediate reformation the only way of escape, Malachi 2:1-4; Malachi 2:1-4
(2) The covenant with Levi and the ideal priest, Malachi 2:5-7
(3) The apostate priests and their humiliation Malachi 2:8-9
III. CONDEMNATION OF MIXED MARRIAGES AND OF DIVORCE Malachi 2:10-16
1. Disregard of the covenant obligationsMalachi 2:10; Malachi 2:10
2. The illegitimate marriage alliances Malachi 2:11-12
3. The heartless divorces Malachi 2:13-15
4. Exhortation to desist from the evil practices Malachi 2:16
IV. CONDEMNATION OF RELIGIOUS INDIFFERENCE AND SKEPTICISM Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 4:3
1. Jehovah’s approach in judgment Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:5
(1) Where is the God of justice? Malachi 2:17
(2) Jehovah’s appearance like a refining fire Malachi 3:1-2
(3) Purification of priests and people Malachi 3:3-5
2. The wrongful withholding of tithes and offerings, Malachi 3:6-12
(1) Jehovah’s immutability The people’s fickleness Malachi 3:6
(2) Exhortation to honesty in the payment of tithes and offerings Malachi 3:7-8
(3) Reward of honesty in the payment of religious duesMalachi 3:9-12; Malachi 3:9-12
3. A new defense of Jehovah’s justice Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3
(1) The complaint The wicked prosper, the pious suffer Malachi 3:13-15
(2) Separation of the pious from the wicked on the day of reckoningMalachi 3:16-18; Malachi 3:16-18
(3) Utter destruction of the wicked Malachi 4:1
(4) Exaltation and glorification of the righteous, Malachi 4:2-3; Malachi 4:2-3
V. CLOSING ADMONITIONS Malachi 4:4-6
1. Exhortation to faithful observance of the law Malachi 4:4
2. Elijah the messenger and his work of preparation, Malachi 4:5-6
4. Teaching. The Book of Malachi has been aptly described as “Prophecy within the Law.” On the one hand, it reaffirms the truths taught by the great pre-exilic prophets, such as the fatherly love and care of Jehovah for Israel, the holiness and righteousness of Jehovah, the terrible judgment upon the wicked, and the exaltation of the righteous. On the other hand, unlike the earlier prophetic books, it places great stress upon the law as a disciplinary rule of life; its lax performance receives severe condemnation, and the final exhortation of the book is, “Remember ye the law of Moses, my servant.”
In fairness to Malachi this second characteristic must not be overemphasized to the obscuring of the former. True, he shared with the other religious leaders of the postexilic period a high opinion of the law, but this is due not so much to lower religious conceptions as to the fact, which every careful student of Hebrew history in the days of Malachi must have noticed, that after all prophecy had failed to produce the permanent results for which the prophets had toiled so persistently. Generation after generation they had sought to create a pure and holy nation, but after the lapse of centuries the people appeared to be no nearer the ideal than at the beginning. Consequently the question must have arisen in many minds, whether the method of the prophets was the one best adapted to the needs of the time, whether the people could be trusted to apply the principles of the prophetic religion to the daily life, or whether it would not be better to lay down definite rules and urge the people to observe these, and thus avoid the lapses of the past? The last question was answered in the affirmative, and the legalism of the postexilic period was born. However, in the beginning it was permeated by a spirit of intense moral earnestness; the exaggeration of the letter is a later development. Malachi was a prophet just as truly as were Isaiah and Jeremiah, but unlike these he emphasized the embodiment of the prophetic spirit and the prophetic principles in external law.
Though the principal points in Malachi’s teaching have already been alluded to, a few of them deserve special mention: 1. The fatherhood of Jehovah. Jehovah has manifested a fatherly interest in Israel throughout the entire history of the nation (Malachi 1:2-5). This fact the prophet makes the basis of all his appeals. Because he is the loving father of the Jews, he has a right to claim their reverence and affection (Malachi 1:6); because he loves all alike, they should show brotherly love toward one another (Malachi 2:10). But his love can manifest itself only toward the good and pious; the unrighteous, even of his own children, must perish (Malachi 2:16; Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:3).
2. Malachi emphasizes the justice and righteousness of Jehovah as strongly as did the stern Amos. And a righteous God demands a pure and righteous service of his worshipers. External forms of worship are an abomination to him, unless they are prompted by true devotion and accompanied by a holy and consistent life (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9). He would rather do without sacrifice and offerings than be compelled to receive them from those who neglect the weightier matters (Malachi 1:10). He desires the payment of tithes, but only as the practical expression of a loving faith in him (Malachi 3:7-8). Apparent inequalities in life do not militate against the divine righteousness, for in due time Jehovah will prove himself a righteous judge by rewarding all according to their deeds (Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:3).
3. The brotherhood of man is taught in the book of Malachi not in the broad New Testament sense, but only as applying to relations within the Jewish community. The individual Jews are related to one another as brothers and sisters, and this relation should determine their treatment of one another.
4. Mixed marriages and divorce receive the severest condemnation, because (1) they threatened to corrupt the religion of Jehovah; (2) they were sins against the principle of brotherhood.
5. The significance of Malachi 1:11, has been overestimated. It would, indeed, be remarkable to find an Old Testament prophet broad-minded enough to teach that the worship of heathen nations offered to different deities was in reality worship of Jehovah under various forms; but that is not the thought of the passage (see on Malachi 1:11). And yet the recognition by a Jew that any worship rendered to Jehovah among the nations was acceptable to him was a long step forward toward the teaching of Jesus in John 4:21 ff.
6. The Messianic teaching of Malachi is very simple. The establishment of the kingdom of God will be preceded by the day of Jehovah, a day of sifting on which Jehovah will appear to separate the righteous from the wicked, and a day of terror on which he will execute judgment upon the wicked (Malachi 3:1-5; Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:3). After the crisis the pious will enter upon a life of permanent prosperity and felicity. The Messianic king is not mentioned; Jehovah himself will interfere on behalf of his people. Malachi introduces the person of a messenger, Elijah the prophet, who will be sent to prepare the way for the coming of the judge (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6).
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29