corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.13
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Malachi 1

 

 

Verse 1

Heading.

Malachi 1:1

‘The burden of the word of YHWH to Israel by Malachi.’

The heading tells us what the contents of the book are. It contains ‘the burden of the word of YHWH to Israel by Malachi’. The word ‘burden’ can mean something heavy to bear. It was never easy to be a prophet. They had to speak of distressing things to come, and they had to say unpopular things about both the present. Especially unpopular were their criticisms, for people like to hear nice things about themselves, and do not like to be told that they are in the wrong. Nor do they like responsibilities being laid on them. Thus the prophets never had an easy time.

However, the word translated ‘burden’ can also mean ‘oracle’, a ‘lifting up of the voice’. But if it simply meant that here it would tend to make the noun ‘word’ redundant. This suggests that the idea of burden has to be retained, indicating that it is ‘the burden of the word of YHWH’, something which is not easy to bear. So the book contains the word of YHWH spoken to Israel which was a heavy burden on the prophet’s heart.

But who are we intended to see as indicated by the term Israel? Israel had originally been the name for the whole of the twelve tribes, but when the kingdom was divided it was used of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. However, the prophets continued to use the term Israel to denote the whole of Israel within Palestine made up of whichever of the tribes were present, for they did not acknowledge the division. And once the various exiles had taken place it was very much used to indicate ‘all Israel’. Thus that is its major significance here. However, we may also see it as having a wider application in general to Israelites in exile who still looked to Jerusalem, wherever they were.

The word came ‘by Malachi’. As it stands the word in Hebrew malachi can mean ‘my messenger’, but a yod (translated ‘my’) could equally be added to a noun to make a proper name, so that this could simply be a proper name signifying ‘messenger’. The Septuagint translates it as ‘your messenger’. If this was an actual translation it would assume Malacho. But that may simply have arisen from the idiosyncrasy of the translators who read Malachi, but then read a significance into the name. Later tradition in the Talmud spoke of Malachi as a person,

But what was this word of YHWH to Israel? Malachi commences by declaring that it was a word of love.


Verses 2-5

The Love Of YHWH For Jacob, And His Hatred For Esau (Malachi 1:2-5).

YHWH now makes a positive affirmation of love for His people Israel (Jacob). This love had often been affirmed by previous prophets. ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt’ (Hosea 11:1). ‘YHWH did not love you nor choose you because you were more in number than any people, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because YHWH loves you, and because He would keep the oath that He swore to your fathers, has He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). ‘YHWH appeared of old to us saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with covenant love have I drawn you’ (Jeremiah 31:2).

It was a love that arose out of God’s sovereignty, it was guaranteed because of His promises to their forefathers, it was a love that drew them into His covenant, and it was also a love that required obedience. ‘And it will come about that because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, YHWH your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers , and He will love you and bless you ---’ (Deuteronomy 7:12-13). It was also a love that would write His Instruction in their inner hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Thus it was a love for those who truly responded to Him, although also reaching out to them even when they were holding back (as they were now).

Malachi 1:2-3

“I have loved you,” says YHWH.

“Yet you say, ‘In what have you loved us?’

Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says YHWH.

“Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated,

And made his mountains a desolation,

And gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.’

Here then YHWH affirms His love for His people. But the question lying deep in His people’s hearts, and brought to the surface by Malachi, was ‘how have you loved us?’ And they could have added, ‘here we are living under hard conditions with our capital city in ruins, and with the future not at all rosy. Where is the coming King you promised us? Where is the prosperity? Where is the subservience of the Gentile nations? Why are we still ruled by Persia?’ What evidence is there of your love?’

God answers the suggested question by a negative example. ‘Consider Esau,’ He says. ‘I did not have the same love for him. And when, as with you, I made his land a desolation, and his heritage was handed over to the wild beasts of the wilderness, I did not restore him like I have restored you. For I hated Edom (Esau) because of how they had treated you.’

It is probable that they were intended to see this declaration of YHWH as an invitation and a warning, as well as a declaration of love. He is saying that His love was stretched out towards them, but that it was not unconditional. It was theirs if they would respond to it. Thus in Malachi 3:16-17 He will later describe those on whom His love is finally set.

It should be noted that Edom is not cited here because it was a Gentile nation (contrast Malachi 1:12), because that was not how it was seen. It is precisely because it was a brother nation that the situation arose. It is a warning that those who see themselves as among the chosen must not presume.

Malachi 1:4-5

“Whereas Edom says,

‘We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places,’

Thus says YHWH of hosts,

‘They will build, but I will throw down,

And men will call them The border of wickedness,

And The people against whom YHWH has indignation for ever.’

And your eyes will see, and you will say,

‘YHWH be magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ ”

‘Indeed,’ says YHWH. ‘Edom do plan to return and build up their land again like you are doing, but the fact is that I will not allow it. I will throw it down, so that men will call them ‘The border of wickedness’, (the place in which wickedness abounds once you cross their border) and ‘the people against whom YHWH has indignation for ever’ (compare Isaiah 34).

This judgment on them was partly because of the way that Edom had regularly behaved when Judah was invaded, taking advantage of it for their own benefit and adding to Judah’s tribulations, and partly because of their general attitude towards Israel, which had even been patent in the time of Moses (Numbers 20:14-21). That was why centuries before Isaiah had spoken of the coming destruction of Edom (Isaiah 34:5-17; compare Jeremiah 24:7-10; Amos 1:11-12; 2 Chronicles 28:17; Psalms 137:7; Obadiah 1:11-14). There may, of course, also have been other factors of which we are not aware.

But however that may be, destruction was certainly to be the experience of the remnants of Esau/Edom. For the Nabataeans swept into Edom and the Edomite refugees were gradually driven into southern Judah, settling in Idumaea in the Negev, where they were eventually forced by John Hyrcanus, a Jewish leader in 1st century BC, to be circumcised and become Jews. (So even in this judgment they indirectly experienced the possibility of mercy. For if they did truly respond to the God of Israel they would now find mercy).

‘And your eyes will see, and you will say, ‘YHWH be magnified beyond the border of Israel.’ And one of the results of what will happen to Edom will be that the eyes of His people will see what happens and recognise that God is not just effective in Israel, but is revealed as powerful even outside the borders of Israel. Thus it will make them comment to one another that YHWH is magnified even outside Israel.

So YHWH was emphasising to His people that His love was truly being shown to them in the fact that He was preserving them in the land to which He had returned them, in spite of their undeserving, while acting externally against their enemies. But He will then go on to demonstrate why in spite of that, the remainder of the promises have not been fulfilled. It is because they have not been faithful to the covenant. Thus they need to take Edom as a salutary warning lest they lose His love and it happen to them.

This charge to consider their ways is demonstrated first in relation to the failures of the priesthood, then in relation to the people stumbling at His Instruction because of the priesthood (Malachi 2:8; Malachi 3:5; Malachi 3:15; Malachi 4:1), and then in relation to their behaviour with regard to divorce (Malachi 2:14-16) and foreign wives (Malachi 2:11), followed by a charge that they were failing to give their tithes to His House (Malachi 3:8-9) and were openly speaking against Him (Malachi 3:13). And all these failures indicated an underlying hardness of heart.

Note On ‘Jacob Have I Loved And Esau Have I Hated’.

The word translated ‘hate’ has a wide variety of meaning. For example it is used in Genesis of Jacob as ‘loving Leah less’ than Rachel (Genesis 29:30-31). Furthermore the words here in Malachi clearly refer initially to God’s relationship with Jacob and Esau. But a glance at Genesis reveals that God did not hate Esau in any sense in which we mean hate. He simply arranged for him to have a lesser inheritance, and one that did in fact suit his nature better. He certainly made the greater promises through Jacob (and we should note that He did so from birth). So the point is that Esau was simply not taken up into His promises as Jacob was. There is no doubt that this was partly because of the weakness in his character, but as Paul stresses the decision was made before either of them had done good or bad. Thus Paul saw it as evidence of God’s activity in ‘election’. On the other hand God did always insist that Israel treat Edom as brothers (Deuteronomy 23:7). However, that very fact in itself was partly what drew God’s and Israel’s ‘hatred’ on Edom because of its later treatment of its ‘brother’ Judah when things were going hard for Judah, for they took advantage of it, invading their land and greatly adding to Judah’s troubles. This was why they now came under His judgment (compare Amos 1:11-12; 2 Chronicles 28:17; Psalms 137:7; Obadiah 1:11-14).

End of note.


Verses 6-9

The Failures Of The Priesthood Which Are Reflected In The People (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9).

Having declared His love for Israel God now brings out why that love might not have produced what His people expected. And the first reason that is given is the failure of the priesthood in the fulfilment of its responsibilities, especially in regard to the condition of the offerings and sacrifices that they offered. Instead of offering the best of what they produced they were offering the worst.

Malachi 1:6

‘A son honours his father,

And a servant his master.

If then I am a father, where is mine honour?

And if I am a master, where is my fear?’

Says YHWH of hosts to you,

O priests, who despise my name.

And you say,

In what have we despised your name?

With the idea of His Fatherly love in mind God compares the way that a dutiful son honours his father, and a servant honours his master, to the way that the priests treat Him. Is He not their Father? Is He not their Master? Why then do they not honour and fear Him?

Indeed, He says, rather than honouring Him they demonstrate that they despise His Name, that is, they despise what He is as Father and Master and Lord. They are simply unaware of the greatness and glory of the One with whom they have to do. There is no doubt that this is also a very modern problem. It is so easy for even believers to treat God lightly. This then immediately raises the question in the priest’s mind. ‘In what have we despised your Name?’

This idea of God as the Father of Israel as a whole is a regular one in the Old Testament. See Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 4:19. Jesus took this a step further by describing Him as the Father of each one who truly believes. But we must beware of assuming that because of this we can treat Him lightly. As God reminds us here. As our Father He expects to be treated with ‘Honour’, not as though He was a soft option.

Malachi 1:7

‘You offer polluted food upon my altar.’

And you say, ‘In what have we polluted you?’

In that you say,

‘The table of YHWH is contemptible.’

God’s answer is that the fact that they despise His Name is revealed by how the priests are treating Him. This comes out firstly in that they continually offer ‘polluted food’ on His altar. This will later be defined in terms of the inadequate and defective condition of animals brought as offerings and sacrifices. But prior to this explanation the priests ask, ‘In what have we polluted You?’ Note the emphasis on ‘You’. They clearly recognise that if they have been offering defective sacrifices they are actually polluting YHWH Himself.

The answer is that by their actions they are saying that the Table of YHWH is only worthy of contempt. For by them they are demonstrating that they have nothing but contempt for the Table of YHWH. This may refer to the tables made available for the cutting up of the offerings prior to sacrifice, or it may refer to the brazen altar itself. It must be remembered that in most cases the priests partook of part of the sacrifice. Thus the sacrifices were food for the priests. Or the idea may be that symbolically the offering was seen as food available to God, something of which He ‘partook’ as a pleasing odour’ (Leviticus 3:16) when the offering was burned on the altar (see Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16).

Malachi 1:8

‘And when you offer the blind for sacrifice,

It is no evil!

And when you offer the lame and sick,

It is no evil!

Present it now unto your governor,

Will he be pleased with you?

Or will he accept your person?

Says YHWH of hosts.’

He then explains precisely what He means. Instead of choosing out an unblemished offering they offer up one that is blind. And then they say, ‘It is no evil’. Or they offer up one that is lame or sick. And again they say, ‘It is no evil.’ It is difficult to believe that they did not realise what they were doing, for the Torah was quite clear about the need for sacrifices to be unblemished (Leviticus 22:20). But it may be that the priests were receiving only blind, lame and sick animals from the people in general (which would thus involve the people as a whole in the charge). Or it may be that somehow they had convinced themselves that it did not really matter, or they may even have used distorted measures of adequacy. Either way God was being insulted.

Indeed this is brought out by the argument that if they offered similar animals to the Governor he would certainly not be very pleased. Nor would it be acceptable to him. He would reject anyone who brought such a gift to him and refuse him audience, or even worse. How then could they expect God to be pleased, or find their offerings acceptable?

The word for ‘governor’ is an Akkadian loan word, and indicates that this was an official in the Persian empire.

Malachi 1:9

‘And now, I pray you,

Entreat the favour of God (El),

That he may be gracious to us,

This has been by your means,

Will he accept any of your persons?

Says YHWH of hosts.’

Malachi now interjects (revealed by the ‘us’) and says sarcastically, ‘And now (in view of your attitude and of what you are) entreat the favour of God (El - the use of the singular is in order to bring out His mightiness), that He may be gracious to us.’ It was one of the main duties of the priests to be intercessors for the people at the daily prayers and at special feasts. But of what use, Malachi is saying, is the intercession of those who are rejected by God? How can we expect any response when using such intercessors? For in view of the offering of these unacceptable sacrifices (‘this has been by your means’) do they really think that the Almighty God will accept any of their persons, asks YHWH of hosts?

Malachi 1:10

‘Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors,

That you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!

I have no pleasure in you, says YHWH of hosts,

Nor will I accept an offering at your hand.

Indeed YHWH is so utterly displeased with their offerings and their behaviour, that He expresses a wish that someone would shut the door that leads into the outer court so that it might become impossible for them to offer sacrifices at all. For He wants them to know that when they kindle the fires of the altar they are wasting their time. He has no pleasure in them (they are totally unacceptable to Him) and under no circumstances will He accept an offering from their hands. In other words, He want the Sanctuary shut down.

The picture is a sad one. Here were the people of Israel, gathered and filled with admiration and awe as these ‘respected’ priests offered the offerings and sacrifices, and all the time it would be a sham, and would be totally unacceptable to God. It was not only a total waste of time, it was blasphemy. And it might well be that the people who had brought unacceptable offerings were equally responsible. The whole thing was a charade.

It is a warning to us that in our case also God will not accept from us anything that comes short of our best. We cannot offer Him more than we have, but woe betide us if we do not offer Him the best that we have. If we do He will simply disregard us. No wonder that we complain that God does not answer our prayers.

Malachi 1:11-12

‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,

My name is/will be great among the Gentiles,

And in every place incense is/will be offered to my name,

And a pure offering,

For my name is/will be great among the Gentiles,

Says YHWH of hosts.

‘But you profane it, in that you say,

The table of YHWH is polluted,

And its fruit, even its food, is contemptible.’

YHWH then looks ahead to the future. They are wondering why YHWH has not brought the Gentiles flocking to worship at their Temple as Haggai had suggested (Haggai 2:6-7), are they? Well let them now know this. In the future from one end of the world to the other YHWH’s Name will be exalted as great among the Gentiles (His true greatness will be recognised), and everywhere incense will be offered to His Name, and a pure offering acceptable to Him will be offered by them, because His Name is recognised as so great among the Gentiles (the greatness of YHWH is a feature of this chapter, see Malachi 1:5; Malachi 1:14). While in contrast they, His supposed priests, are profaning His Name because of the attitude that they have towards His Table, and His offerings and sacrifices. For they instead of indicating that His Name is great, are profaning it, and indicating that His Table is a polluted thing and that its product is to be looked on as contemptible.

The verbs ‘is/will be’ are not in the Hebrew text so that the prophet may have in mind both the present and the future, the present in the fact that around the world synagogue worship was probably already causing Gentiles to worship YHWH in prayer and in obedience to the Law and by the offering of themselves and their gifts to Him, and the future in terms of the constant prophecies of blessing among the Gentiles that would both grow from such activities, and especially the blessing and worship that would result from the activities of the Messiah/Servant (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; etc).

However, the phrase ‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,’ points to an eschatalogical and therefore Messianic interpretation. Compare Psalms 50:1; Psalms 113:3; Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 59:19 which all have in mind great events. And thus the great stress is on what God will finally achieve through His Servant.

We may thus find here a remarkable prophecy of the way in which:

1). The majority of the priesthood will be rejected after the death and resurrection of Jesus, (but with some repenting), just as they are being here.

2). Large numbers of Gentiles will respond and acknowledge the greatness of YHWH and His Name by accepting the once for all offering of Jesus Christ, and then, through Him, offering true prayer to God as the equivalent of incense (compare Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8).

3). The resulting continual sacrifice of themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) on the basis of that offering of Jesus Christ made once for all (Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14).

4) And all quite apart from the Temple.

YHWH’s point is that He does not really need the Israelite sacrifices in view of the certainty of what is happening even now ‘worldwide’, and of what is to come in even greater measure. Thus their choice as to whether they heed His words or not, while it will certainly affect their own future position, will have no effect at all either on the future worldwide worship of God or on the fulfilment of His intentions. Thus they are not to see themselves as necessary to the fulfilment of His purposes. Whether therefore they respond or not is up to them. If they want to be included in His purposes they will respond. Meanwhile He will be recording in His book of remembrance all the names of those who fear YHWH and think on His Name (Malachi 3:16)

It is also a reminder that being a priest was of no advantage to a man unless his behaviour towards God was genuine. They may have been anointed as belonging to YHWH but they should recognise that it makes not the slightest difference unless their response is true. Man may look at the outward appearance, and even be in awe of it, but God looks at the heart.

We should note here the contrast between Edom and the Gentiles. For Edom their brother tribe there is no future outside Israel (and indeed they would be absorbed into Israel). But as for the Gentiles, the word of God will reach out to them worldwide, and at that time all the world will hear of the Great God of Israel and will respond to Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Malachi 1:13

‘You say also, Behold, what a weariness is it!

And you have snuffed (sniffed, breathed out) at it, says YHWH of hosts;

And you have brought that which was taken by violence,

And the lame, and the sick,

Thus you bring the offering.

Should I accept this at your hand? says YHWH.’

But in total contrast to the coming wholehearted attitude and response of the Gentiles is the attitude of these priests of Israel. It is one of weariness. Indeed they sniff at each offering, and that at an offering made to YHWH of hosts! Such an indolent and contemptuous attitude towards worship and service often arises from long familiarity with it (compare Isaiah 1:11-15; Micah 6:6-8; 1 Samuel 2:12-17) so that even the most sacred things can become a joke. And in this case the offerings they brought were either those seized from others, or slain by wild beasts (which were thus not seen as suitable for sacrifice - Exodus 22:31), or lame and sick ones. Do they really expect Him to accept these from their hand?

Malachi 1:14

‘But cursed be the cheat, who has in his flock a male,

And vows, and sacrifices to the Lord a blemished thing,

For I am a great King, says YHWH of hosts,

And my name is terrible among the Gentiles.

And it is not only the priests who are guilty. The people too are cheats. For regularly, although they have a stout male in their flock, they make their vow and then sacrifice to their sovereign Lord one that is inferior and blemished. So almost the whole of Israel is caught up in the scam. It is clear that, to them, anything is good enough for God, while they keep the best for themselves. Note the change from YHWH of hosts to sovereign Lord (adonai) to emphasise the greatness of the crime. And this is even further emphasised by the perpetrator of the fraud being ‘cursed’. In these extreme phrases YHWH incorporates all the people in with His casting off of the priests.

Their crime is then emphasised even more by pointing out that while He may not count for much intheireyes, He is in fact a Great King (a title usually used by conquerors of themselves, compare Isaiah 36:4) with a huge reputation among the Gentiles. This may refer to His renown from past doings, the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 1-15, see Exodus 15:14-16); the conquest of Canaan (Joshua); the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35-36); the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30-37) or it may have in mind the great Name that is to be His when the Gentiles in every place offer incense to His Name (Malachi 1:11). It is a reminder that Malachi has his sights set high. It is in the end YHWH’s worldwide rule and worship that he has in mind (compare Malachi 1:12; Psalms 2).

The idea of the kingship of YHWH occurs regularly throughout the Old Testament. Compare Numbers 23:21; Numbers 24:7; Exodus 15:18; Deuteronomy 33:5; 1 Samuel 8:7; and regularly in the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 22:28; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 48:2; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 103:19; and often). For ‘YHWH has established His throne in the Heavens and His Kingship rules over all’ (Psalms 103:19).

What a warning we should read for ourselves from these words. How easily our worship become perfunctory, how quickly we forget the greatness of the One We worship, how carelessly we can treat our responsibilities on His service, how all too easily we can justify to ourselves the giving to him of second best. We need to wake up and recognise how in doing this we are profaning Him.

Malachi 2:1

‘And now, O you priests,

This commandment is for you.

If you will not hear,

And if you will not lay it to heart,

To give glory to my name,

Says YHWH of hosts,

Then will I send the curse upon you,

And I will curse your blessings,

Yes, I have cursed them already,

Because you do not lay it to heart.

Having rebuked them YHWH now calls on them to consider their ways. He has spoken and given His ‘divine command’ (mitswah) and it is up to them to hear and respond. But if they will not do so. If they will not begin to bring glory to His Name by carrying out the correct sacrificial procedures with the finest of their animals, and in a right frame of mind, then He will send the curses on them outlined in Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 28:15-20. He will curse their blessings. This may signify that the normal priestly blessing would become a curse both to the pronouncer and on those on whom it was pronounced (Numbers 6:23-27), or that He would turn the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 into the cursings of Deuteronomy 28.

‘I have cursed them already’ may refer to the fact that they were not having good harvests as warned in Deuteronomy 28:15-19, or to the present condition of Jerusalem with its gates burned with fire after they had rebuilt them. Or indeed to both. And either way it was because they had not laid to heart God’s warnings.

Malachi 2:3-4

‘Behold, I will rebuke your seed (or ‘arm’),

And will spread dung on your faces,

Even the dung of your feasts,

And you will be taken away to it.

And you will know that I have sent this commandment to you,

That my covenant may be with Levi, says YHWH of hosts.

As a result of the failure of both the priests with their careless attitude and the people with their blemished offerings YHWH will ‘rebuke their seed’. This may mean that they will not produce a satisfactory harvest (seed in the sense of grain), something which will affect both the farmers who brought the blemished sacrifices, because their output is diminished, and the priests who offered them, because their share in the firstfruits and other portions will be reduced.

Or the reference may be to their descendants. Their disobedience will not just affect them it will result in YHWH’s rebuke and curse on their descendants (Deuteronomy 18:18). This would tie in with their being replaced by the ‘covenant with Levi’.

Alternately we may repoint (change the vowels which were not a part of the original text) to signify ‘rebuke your arm’. In this case it signifies that He will affect their activities so that they cannot carry them out properly. This affecting of their arm movements may account for why the dung (the contents of the stomach and intestines) will be spread on their faces.

The spreading of dung (which should be burned in a clean place) on their faces is signifying very unpleasant treatment. Possibly the idea is that it will be caused by jerky arm actions (‘rebuke your arm’) or by the wind blowing it in their faces, or it may simply be intended to be metaphorical indicating that they will be treated like those who have had dung flung on them, or will be treated as dung, to such an extent that they are then carried off to the place of dung. In other words they may think themselves ‘holy’ but they will become in His eyes as ‘holy animal dung’, fit only to be taken out with other holy remnants and burned (e.g. Leviticus 4:11-12; Leviticus 16:27), rather than being offered up to YHWH. That is the only ‘holiness’ that He will see these ‘holy priests’ as having.

Whatever the exact meaning the contempt and diminution that it expresses towards them is clear, and it probably also includes the idea that the dung spread on them will make them patently unfit for duty.

Then, once they have been humiliated, they will know that the command that they had received and disobeyed, and which has resulted in their rejection to the dung heap, was the command of YHWH, and that as a result they will be replaced so that His covenant might be with a new Levi.

The meaning of this latter comes out in what follows. The ministry of the priests having been disgraced, and the sacrificing priests who have so misused the sacrifices having been cast out on the dung heap, the covenant made with Levi in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 will be renewed with other, worthier, ‘sons of Levi’. In other words from the moment that the priesthood is rejected if they fail to respond to YHWH’s warning, a new teaching ministry of ‘Levites’, of those uniquely set apart to the service of God, will come into prominence, replacing the old priesthood. And this because the old priesthood have debased the ministry (Malachi 2:8-9).

(We can call to mind here the words of John the Baptist to those who boasted about being sons of Abraham, ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9). In the same way here God is saying that He can easily raise up other ‘sons of Levi’).

Note on ‘the Covenant of Levi’ (Malachi 1:8, compare Malachi 1:4) And The Sons of Levi.

It is significant what Malachi draws out when he refers to ‘the covenant of Levi’ (Malachi 1:8). We saw in Malachi 1:12 that there was to be pure worship among the Gentiles ‘in every place’ and thus a worship not connected with Jerusalem. Here now there is to be a ministry of the Levites not connected with the old priesthood, a ministry the emphasis of which is not on sacrifice, but on loyalty to YHWH and the proclamation of righteousness and the law of truth (Malachi 1:6). Malachi foresees the old unrepentant priesthood as in some way being replaced so as to introduce a more spiritual ministry.

A ‘covenant with the Levites, the priests, my ministers’ is mentioned in Jeremiah 33:20-21, (compare also Nehemiah 13:29), but that is unlikely to directly indicate the one mentioned here because here the priests have been ‘thrown on the dung heap’. It could have been had they repented. And they may have done for a time. But as we know from the Gospels if they did it was not one that lasted. However, the wider covenant of YHWH with Levi is described in the ‘blessing of Levi’ in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 which reads as follows:

“And of Levi he said,

Your Thummim and your Urim are with your godly one,

Whom you proved at Massah,

With whom you strove at the waters of Meribah,

Who said of his father, and of his mother,

‘I have not seen him,’

Neither did he acknowledge his brethren,

Nor did he know he his own children.

For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant.

They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law.

They will put incense before you,

And whole burnt-offering on your altar.

Bless, Oh YHWH, his substance,

And accept the work of his hands.

Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him,

And of those who hate him, that they rise not again.”

The godly one who was proved at Massah and is specifically said to have been striven with by the people at Meribah was Moses himself (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:3), who was of course of the tribe of Levi. In Numbers 20 it was along with Aaron. The Urim and the Thummim was the means by which the Priest (High Priest) determined the will of YHWH in disputed or difficult cases. Thus Moses and Aaron seem to be jointly in mind here, as ‘sons of Levi’. The description of the one who ‘said of his father, and of his mother, “I have not seen him,” neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children’ has in mind the Priest when he was involved in his sacred duties. As YHWH’s holy ‘Priest’ (initially Aaron) he was forbidden to enjoy the usual family relationships when on his sacred duties. He was in some ways separated off from his family. If any of his family died, whether father, mother, brother, sister, son, or whoever, he was not to touch their dead bodies nor even to leave the tabernacle while serving there, in the event that they were to die suddenly (Leviticus 21:11). As God’s supreme representative on behalf of Israel he had to be impervious to all family loyalty. This was proof of the Priest’s dedication and his especially holy position. The picture may also have been intended to include Moses whose position and calling had meant that he had to keep himself separate from family loyalties to such an extent that they are lost sight of. In both cases it stresses an attitude of total dedication and obedience. We can compare with this how Jesus Himself, in a similar way, set Himself off against family claims in Matthew 12:46-50, and His words to His disciples about ‘loving less than God’ their father and mother, son and daughter (Matthew 10:37).

‘They observed your word and kept your covenant’ has in mind the way that Levi stood firm with Moses at Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:26), and their ministry that followed. The result was that they were appointed as teachers of the Torah, the priests acting more centrally, with the Levites acting to a lesser and more local extent in the rest of Israel, as they went around collecting the tithes. They would guide on religious matters, including such things as tithes, firstfruits, suitable sacrifices, etc., would call men to the exaltation of the Lord YHWH, and were no doubt also called on to pass judgments. And it was the Levitical priests who were to offer the incense on the altar of incense and the burnt offerings on the brazen altar. In return they were put under the special protection of YHWH, Who would ‘smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again.’

There are important parallels between this ‘covenant’ in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 and that described by Malachi here in Malachi 2:5-6. Thus we can compare them as follows:

· ‘Who said of his father, and of his mother, ‘I have not seen him,’ neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children’ with ‘And he feared me, and stood in awe of My Name’’.

· ‘For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant’, with ‘And unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with me in peace and uprightness.’

· ‘They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law, with‘the law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips --- and he turned many away from iniquity’.

· ‘Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again’, with‘my covenant with him was of life and peace’.

But it will be noted that in Malachi it is the teaching ministry that is being stressed. The more priestly elements have dropped away. The priests who have failed are, unless they respond to YHWH’s warning, to be replaced by new ‘sons of Levi’, whi will be teachers of righteousness rather than offerers of sacrifices, and this especially in view of the future worldwide worship among the Gentiles.

End of note.

Malachi 2:5-6

My covenant was with him of life and peace,

And I gave them to him that he might fear,

And he feared me,

And stood in awe of my name.

The law of truth was in his mouth,

And unrighteousness was not found in his lips,

He walked with me in peace and uprightness,

And turned many away from iniquity.

Here is a picture of the ‘ideal’ Levi, and the emphasis in Malachi’s words is on the fact that unless they respond to YHWH’s warning the old priests will be replaced by a new Levi who will do all God’s will, and will teach righteousness and truth. The references to sacrifice and incense, and to the Urim and the Thummim (see note above), are dropped out from the old promises, and He concentrates on those to whom He will give life and peace, those who will walk before Him in reverent awe, in whose mouths will be the law of truth, whose lips will be free from unrighteousness, and who will walk in peace and uprightness and turn many away from iniquity.

The thought is thus of an inner core of Israel who will walk righteously and truly, and he may well have had in mind the faithful Servant of Isaiah described in Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 49:1-7; Isaiah 50:3-8; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 Who summed up the true Israel in Himself. He would take YHWH’s Law to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:4)

‘My covenant was with him of life and peace.’ The covenant of ‘life’ was made with all in Israel who walked rightly before YHWH (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), and it was the way that ‘Levi’, first in Moses and Aaron, and then as a whole (Deuteronomy 33:26) chose. The result was that YHWH Himself became their inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9; Joshua 13:33), and they were scattered throughout Israel as His servants to minister in His Name. The covenant of ‘peace’ is mentioned in Numbers 25:12; Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26. In Numbers 25:12 it refers to a special covenant given to one of the tribe of Levi who acted in zealous faith towards YHWH. In Isaiah 54:10 it refers to YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him by which He will continually do them good. In Ezekiel 34:25 it refers to His covenant with the coming ‘Davidic king’ guaranteeing peace and security. And in Ezekiel 37:26 it refers to His everlasting covenant as a result of which they will prosper and enjoy His presence with them for ever more in a new and more holy sanctuary. Thus it is YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him, and connected with the activity of the coming Davidic King.

‘And I gave them to him that he might fear, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name .’ The idea behind the covenant of life and peace was that of granting of fullness of life and wellbeing and security by YHWH in response to a full-hearted loyalty revealed by those who look to Him, and the purpose of His giving this was that ‘Levi’ might ‘fear YHWH, which they did, so that they stood in awe of His Name.’ We can see already the contrast with these faithless priests with their haphazard and careless ways.

‘The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity.’ And this ‘Levi’ with whom YHWH made His covenant was wholly true to the Law, and no word of unrighteousness ever passed his lips. He walked before YHWH in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity.’ That there had been such Levites, even though we have not been told of them, must have been so for a righteous remnant continually to survive in Israel, especially in the early days before the prophets. And it would be true again once the prophets had ceased operating. They were the unknown, unsung, faithful servants of YHWH who stood true when others were going astray. And YHWH’s point here is that, unless the priests repent, they will be replaced by those who are in this way truer to the ways of the ideal ‘Levi’ those whose lives reveal that they are true ‘sons of Levi’

That this ideal was fulfilled in Jesus Christ need hardly be stressed. The law of truth was in His mouth (compare Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 50:4; John 14:6) and He was indeed the only One of Whom it could be said that ‘no unrighteousness passed through His lips’ (compare Isaiah 53:9), but it was, of course, also true to a large extent in His Apostles once they had been anointed by the Holy Spirit. They received the covenant of life and peace, feared the Lord and stood in awe of His Name, had in their mouths the law of truth, abjured unrighteousness, walked before God in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity. Thus did they finally become the replacements of the old priesthood, the true ‘sons of Levi’ (those who were like the ideal’ Levi).

Malachi 2:7-8

‘For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge,

And they should seek the law at his mouth,

For he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts.

But you are turned aside out of the way,

You have caused many to stumble in the law,

You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,

Says YHWH of hosts.’

YHWH now applies this ideal to the priests. He begins by outlining what they should be. Their lips should be keeping knowledge, and they should be constantly seeking YHWH’s Instruction from His very lips, because they are the appointed messengers of YHWH. What a privilege was theirs. And so their whole thought and aspiration should be on knowing His truth so that they can pass it on.

We have practical examples of how they did this in 2 Chronicles 17:7-9 when Jehoshaphat sent out teachers, which included Levites, to teach the book of the Law of YHWH to the people. Compare also Nehemiah 8:8-9.

But what was the truth of the matter concerning these priests to whom he is speaking? It was that instead of ‘keeping knowledge’ and passing it on, they themselves have turned aside out of the way. It was that instead of seeking His Instruction at His mouth they had caused many to stumble in that Instruction. And they had done it because instead of being true messengers of YHWH they had corrupted the covenant of Levi. That is His indictment.

Malachi 2:9

‘Therefore have I also made you contemptible,

And base before all the people,

According as you have not kept my ways,

But have had respect of persons in the law.

And that is why He has (prophetically speaking of something in the future) made then contemptible, flinging dung in their faces, and that is why He will make them base before all people. It is because they have not kept His ways, and walked in them and taught them, and it is because they have had respect of persons in the Law.

This last charge is a new one, capping off all the remainder of their iniquities. Instead of being fair and just and open minded, and treating all God’s people alike, they have shown respect of persons in their interpretation of God’s Instruction. They have been faithless messengers.

And now his words to the priests are over, and they are left to ponder them. But they have had their warning, and unless they take heed they will be replaced. That they did not finally take heed we know, and the Chief Priests were among the most vehement opponents of Jesus and His Apostles. And thus their ministry was brought to an abrupt end, and they were replaced by the ‘new Levi’ in the persons of the righteous preachers of the early church, something which has continued to this day. But this warning equally applies to modern preachers. If they too prove unfaithful, they too will suffer the same fate.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Malachi 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/malachi-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology