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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Malachi

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MALACHI

1. Author . The Book of Malachi raises a question of authorship which cannot he answered with certainty. Who was the author? Was his name Malachi? A priori , it might he supposed that the author of the last book of prophecy in the OT Canon would be sufficiently well known to have his name attached to his work. If the name appeared with the book (especially if the name was Ezra , as the Targum asserts), it could scarcely have been lost or forgotten before the ‘Minor Prophets’ were collected, and the Canon of the Prophets was closed.

It is, however, doubtful whether Malachi is the personal name of the prophet. The word, as it appears in the superscription, means ‘my messenger,’ and in this sense it is used in Malachi 3:1 . It is argued that the word ought to have the same signification in both places. But, while in Malachi 3:1 it can scarcely mean anything else than ‘my messenger,’ this meaning does not suit the superscription, which would run, ‘Oracle of the word of Jahweh through my messenger.’ The oblique case of Jahweh with the direct reference of the suffix in ‘my messenger,’ is more than awkward. The LXX [Note: Septuagint.] renders the superscription ‘by the hand of his messenger.’ The change of text is very slight. Whether there was MS authority for it cannot be determined.

The termination of the word Malachi may be adjectival . It would thus be equivalent to the Latin Angelicus , and would signify ‘one charged with a message or mission’ ( a missionary ). The term would thus be an official title, and the thought is not unsuitable to one whose message closed the Prophetical Canon of the OT, and whose mission in behalf of the Church was of so sacred a character. If this were the explanation, it is probable that greater definiteness would be attached to the words. It should be noted that, while the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] render the word Malachi by ‘his messenger’ in the superscription, they prefix, as the title of the book, Malachias , as if the Hebrew should read Malachiyah , i.e. ‘messenger of Jahweh.’ Some such form must be adopted if the Malachi of the superscription is taken as a proper noun. The form would thus correspond to Zacharias , and many other proper nouns (so Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] both in the title and in the superscription). This is a possible grammatical explanation, and the name ‘messenger of Jahweh’ is suitable to the condition of Judah at the time. The Jews had little experience of prophets when the message of this book was delivered. It is significant that Haggai, the earliest prophet of the post-exilic period, is expressly designated ‘messenger of Jahweh’ ( Haggai 1:13 ). He had already received the official title of prophet ( nâbï ’), ( Malachi 1:1 ). But there were prophets and prophets. False prophets had done much to bring about the Exile. If there were to be prophets after the Exile, it was important that the new community should be in no doubt as to their character. This was secured in the case of the first of the post-exilic prophets by the express statement that he was the messenger of Jahweh, and that what he spoke was the message of Jahweh. In the case of the last of the prophets of the OT Canon, an assurance of a similar character would be furnished symbolically by the name Malachiyah (‘messenger of Jahweh’). This, pro tanto , favours the form of the word as it appears in the title of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and the Vulgate.

But Malachi 3:1 remains. If Malachi is a proper noun the name of the author in Malachi 1:1 , should the word not have the same significance in Malachi 3:1 ? The answer is, that there is no insuperable objection to the twofold explanation. The form admits of the twofold reference. The question is one of probability. At this point, however, reference should be made to the Targum, according to which Ezra was the author of the Book of Malachi; and this opinion continued to prevail among the Jews. Jerome accepted it, and it was favourably regarded by Calvin and others. No doubt the Targum expressed the Jewish opinion of the time. But that does not settle the question. In the four or five centuries between the appearance of the Book of Malachi and the birth of Christ, the life of the OT Church centred in the Law of Moses. That law was given, mainly, by Ezra to the post-exilic Church. As years passed, and the traditions of the scribes began to gather about the Law, the figure of Ezra stood out as the prominent one in post-exilic times. Everything of importance connected with the Law was wont to be assigned to him. Take along with that the fact that Malachi occurs as a common noun in Malachi 3:1 , and the additional fact that the prophecy closes with a solemn warning to remember the Law of Moses, and it may appear not improbable that Ezra should have been claimed as the author of this closing passage, and of the prophecy in which it is found.

In these circumstances the authority of the Targum is not of very great weight. But in one respect the Targum is of importance. If the name of Ezra was the only one associated with the Book of Malachi when the Targum was prepared, it is probable that the book originally appeared anonymously at least, that it bore no name when the volume of the Minor Prophets was made up, and that the compiler either regarded the term Malachi in Malachi 3:1 as the name of the author, or attached it to the book in the superscription as an official title. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the name of the author is not required for the authentication of the message. The terms of the superscription are amply sufficient for the purpose of authentication. It is the ‘Oracle of the Word of Jahweh’ that the prophet delivers. This is equivalent to ‘The word of Jahweh came or was to … (so and so)’ in other books of prophecy, and implies the familiar ‘Thus saith Jahweh’ of prophetic address.

2. Date Opinion is greatly divided regarding the date of the book. That it belonged to the Persian period appears from the name ( pechah ) given to the governor (cf. Haggai 1:1 ; Haggai 1:14 etc., Nehemiah 5:14 etc.). Further, it is obvious that the statutory services of the Temple had been in operation for some time before the message of Malachi was delivered. Abuses had crept in which could not be associated with those who had returned from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple. The dedication of the Second Temple took place in b.c. 516, and the condition of religious life depicted in Malachi must have been a good many years later than that date. This is very generally admitted.

Two dates are most worthy of consideration the first shortly before Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem, and the second during Nehemiah’s second visit to the holy city. Certain expressions occurring in the book are held to favour the former (cf. Malachi 2:2 , Malachi 2:4 , Malachi 2:5 ; Malachi 3:5 , Malachi 3:10 , 22 [EV [Note: English Version.] Malachi 4:4 ]). These, breathing the spirit of Deut., are supposed to show that the author was under the influence of the Deuteronomic Code. If his activity was later than 445, the influence of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] would have been expected to show itself. But the expression ‘the law of Moses’ (Mal 3:22 [EV [Note: English Version.] Malachi 4:4 ]) finds a natural explanation in connexion with the whole Pentateuchal legislation read before the people in 445 ( Nehemiah 8:1-18 ff.). The covenant with Levi ( Malachi 2:4-5 ) seems to presuppose Numbers 25:10-13 (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ). And the reference to the tithes ( Malachi 3:10 ) appears to rest on Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21-32 (both belonging to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] 1 ). Deuteronomic expressions of an ethical character are suitable to any earnest prophet after Amos, and are not determinative of date as are the passages which presuppose P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , on the assumption that P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] was first promulgated in b.c. 445. The language, upon the whole, favours a date later than the appearance of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] . The contents of the book point in the same direction. Ezra’s reformation appears to have been limited to the banishing of the foreign wives, and the effort to effect a complete separation of the Chosen People from the idolatrous tribes round about. The author of Malachi brings three main charges against the Church of his day: (1) against the priests for the profanation of the services of the Temple; (2) against the community (priests included) for marrying heathen wives; (3) against the people generally for immorality, indifference, and infidelity. All this agrees very closely with the state of affairs with which Nehemiah had to deal on his second visit to Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:7 ff.). And upon the whole (the conclusion can only be a matter of comparative probability), the period of that visit may be accepted for the prophetic activity of the author of Malachi. The date would be somewhere about b.c. 430.

3. Contents The book may be divided into the following sections:

I. Mal 1:1 . The superscription.

II. Mal 1:2-5 . Jahweh’s love to Israel. This love proved by the history of His dealings with Israel from the days of their great ancestor Jacob, as contrasted with the history of Jacob’s brother Esau and of his descendants.

III. Mal 1:6 to Malachi 2:9 . Israel’s forgetfulness of Jahweh, neglect and contempt of His offerings, through illegal proceedings on the part of the priests.

IV. Malachi 2:10-15 . Denunciation of divorce and of foreign marriages.

V. Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:6 . Day of Jahweh ( i.e . His coming to judgment) against unbelievers, scoffers, etc., especially with the view of purifying the priests in order that acceptable offerings may be presented unto Him.

VI. Malachi 3:7-12 . Drought and locusts sent on those who neglected to bring the tithes for the service of the Temple and the support of the priests.

VII. Malachi 3:13-18 [EV [Note: English Version.] Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:6 ]. The punishment of the wicked, and the triumph of the righteous, on the day of Jahweh, with a concluding exhortation to obey the Law of Moses, and a promise of the coming of Elijah to lead the people to repentance.

4. Doctrine Malachi, in its doctrinal contents, is in entire harmony with the Prophetic books that preceded it, and adds its testimony to the fact that, while Divine revelation is progressive, and the circumstances of the time add a special character and colour to the different Prophetic books, the fundamental doctrines are the same in all. The keynote of Malachi’s message is found in the opening words of Malachi 1:2 . Israel’s position as the Chosen People is founded in the electing love of Jahweh. The divorcing of Jewish and the marrying of heathen wives is a crime against the love of Jahweh. Further, Jahweh as in all the prophets from Amos downwards is a God of righteousness. He rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. The day of Jahweh, on which the wicked are punished and the righteous rewarded, is the same as in Amos and his successors; and the closing words of the prophecy, dealing with this day of Jahweh, connect the OT with the NT, in which the day of the Lord occupies a position of equal importance with that assigned to it in the OT. The special circumstances of the time, which serve so far to determine the date, appear in the importance assigned to ritual, and the severity with which neglect or irregularity in this part of religious observance is treated.

5. Style As might be expected, the style and diction of a book belonging to the last half of the 5th cent. are inferior to those of the pre-exilic prophets. The language is mostly plain, homely prose. There are, however, poetic passages, some of considerable merit (cf. Malachi 1:11 , Malachi 3:1 ff., Malachi 3:10 ff., Malachi 3:16 ff., Mal 3:19ff. [EV [Note: English Version.] Malachi 4:1 ff.]). The most striking feature of the style is the discussion of an important subject by means of question and answer, a dialectic method which became common afterwards, and which about the same time was well known in Athens through the labours of Socrates.

G. G. Cameron.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Malachi'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/m/malachi.html. 1909.

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