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Book of Malachi

Malachi (or Malachias, מַלְאָכִי, Malʾaḫi, Mál'akhî) is a book of the Bible Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh, written by the prophet Malachi. Possibly this is not the name of the author, since Malachi means 'my messenger' or 'my angel' in Hebrew.

The author

The last of the twelve minor prophets (canonically), the final book of the Hebrew Bible in Christian, but not Jewish tradition is commonly attributed to a prophet by the name of Malachi. Although the appellation Malachi has frequently been understood as a proper name, its Hebrew meaning is simply "My [i.e., God's] messenger" (or 'His messenger' in the Septuagint). This sobriquet occurs in the superscription at 1:1 and in 3:1, although it is highly unlikely that the word refers to the same character in both of these references. Thus, there is substantial debate regarding the identity of the author of the biblical book of Malachi. The Jewish Targum identifies Ezra (or Esdras) as the author of Malachi. St. Jerome suggests this may be because Ezra is seen as an intermediary between the prophets and the 'great synagogue'. There is, however, no historical evidence to support this claim. Some scholars note affinities between Zechariah 9-14 and the book of Malachi. Zechariah 9, Zechariah 12, and Malachi 1 are all introduced as "Oracle, the word of Yahweh." Many scholars argue that this collection originally consisted of three independent and anonymous prophecies. Two were subsequently appended to the book of Zechariah (as what scholars refer to as Deutero-Zechariah) and the third became the book of Malachi. As a result, most scholars consider the book of Malachi to be the work of a single author who may or may not have been identified by the title Malachi. The present division of the oracles results in a total of twelve books of minor prophets – a number parallelling the sons of Jacob who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Catholic Encyclopedia asserts that "We are no doubt in presence of an abbreviation of the name Mál'akhîyah, that is 'Messenger of Yah'".

Nothing is known of the biography of the author of the book of Malachi although it has been suggested that he may have been Levitical (which is curious, considering that Ezra was a priest.) The books of Zechariah and Haggai were written during the lifetime of Ezra (see 5:1), perhaps this may explain the similarities in style. Although the Ezra theory is disputed, no other authorship theories are dominant.

According to the editors of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary, the name "Malachi" is not a proper noun and is assumed to be an abbreviation of ("messenger of Yhwh").

The Septuagint superscription is ὲν χειρὶ ἀγγήλου αὐτοῦ, (by the hand of his messenger/angel). The interpretation of the Septuagint found an echo among the ancient Fathers of the Church and ecclesiastical writers, and even gave rise, especially among the disciples of Origen of Alexandria, to the "strangest fancies".

Period

There are very few historical details in the book of Malachi. The greatest clue as to its dating may lie in the fact that the Persian-era term for governor (pehâ) is used in 1:8. This points to a post-exilic date of composition both because of the use of the Persian period term and because Judah had a king before the exile. Since, in the same verse, the temple has been rebuilt, the book must also be later than 515 BCE. Malachi was apparently known to the author of Ecclesiasticus early in the Second Century BCE. Because of the development of themes in the book of Malachi, most scholars assign it to a position between Haggai and Zechariah, slightly before Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 445 BCE.

Location

The book of Malachi deals directly with abuses in the restored Temple system -- apparently from first hand experience. Thus, the book was almost certainly written in Jerusalem.

Aim

The book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behavior of the Israelites – particularly the priests – in post-exilic Jerusalem. Although the prophets urged the people of Judah and Israel to see their exile as punishment for failing to uphold their covenant with Yahweh, it was not long after they had been restored to the land and to Temple worship that the people’s commitment to their God began, once again, to wane. It was in this context that the prophet commonly referred to as Malachi delivered his prophecy.

In 1:2, Malachi has the people of Israel question God’s love for them. This introduction to the book illustrates the severity of the situation which Malachi addresses. The graveness of the situation is also indicated by the dialectical style with which Malachi confronts his audience. Malachi proceeds to accuse his audience of failing to respect God as God deserves. One way in which this disrespect is made manifest is through the substandard sacrifices which Malachi claims are being offered by the priests. While Yahweh demands animals that are “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3, NRSV), the priests, who were “to determine whether the animal was acceptable” (Mason 143), were offering blind, lame and sick animals for sacrifice because they thought nobody would notice.

In 2:10, Malachi addresses the issue of divorce. On this topic, Malachi deals with divorce both as a social problem (“Why then are we faithless to one another ... ?” 2:10) and as a religious problem (“Judah ... has married the daughter of a foreign god” 2:11). In contrast to the book of Ezra, Malachi urges the people to remain steadfast to the wives of their youth.

Malachi also criticizes his audience for questioning God’s justice. He reminds them that God is just, exhorting them to be faithful as they await that justice. Malachi quickly goes on to point out that the people have not been faithful. In fact, the people are not giving God all that God deserves. Just as the priests have been offering unacceptable sacrifices, so the people have been neglecting to offer their full tithe to the Lord. The result of these shortcomings is that the people come to believe that no good comes out of serving God.

Malachi assures the faithful among his audience that in the eschaton, the differences between those who served God faithfully and those who did not will become clear. The book concludes by calling upon the teachings of Moses and by promising that Elijah will return prior to the Day of the Lord.

Interpretations

The book of Malachi is divided into three chapters in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Septuagint and four chapters in the Latin Vulgate. The fourth chapter in the Vulgate consists of the remainder of the third chapter starting at verse 3:19.

In Christianity

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible supplies headings for the book as follows:

Verse/Chapter Headings in the NRSV
Verse Reference Heading
1:1 (Superscription)
1:2-2:9 Israel Preferred to Edom
2:10-17 The Covenant Profaned by Judah
3:1-7 The Coming Messenger
3:8-15 Do Not Rob God
4:1-5 The Great Day of the Lord
(3:19-24 in Hebrew)

It must be noted that the majority of scholars consider the book to be made up of six distinct oracles. According to this schema, the book of Malachi consists of a series of disputes between Yahweh and the various groups within the Israelite community. In the course of the book’s three or four chapters, Yahweh is vindicated while those who do not adhere to the law of Moses are condemned. Some scholars have suggested that the book, as a whole, is structured along the lines of a judicial trial, a suzerain treaty or a covenant – one of the major themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Implicit in the prophet’s condemnation of Israel’s religious practices is a call to keep Yahweh’s statutes.

The book of Malachi draws upon various themes found in other books of the Bible. Malachi appeals to the story of the rivalry between Jacob and Esau and of Yahweh’s preference for Jacob contained in Book of Genesis 25-28. Malachi reminds his audience that, as descendants of Jacob (Israel), they have been and continue to be favoured by God as God’s chosen people. In the second dispute, Malachi draws upon the Levitical Code (eg. Leviticus 1:3) in condemning the priest for offering unacceptable sacrifices.

In the third dispute (concerning divorce), the author of the book of Malachi likely intends his argument to be understood on two levels. Malachi appears to be attacking either the practice of divorcing Jewish wives in favour of foreign ones (a practice which Ezra vehemently condemns) or, alternatively, Malachi could be condemning the practice of divorcing foreign wives in favour of Jewish wives (a practice which Ezra promoted). Malachi appears adamant that nationality is not a valid reason to terminate a marriage, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord . . .” (2:16).

In many places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures – particularly the book of HoseaIsrael is figured as Yahweh’s wife or bride. Malachi’s discussion of divorce may also be understood to conform to this metaphor. Malachi could very well be urging his audience not to break faith with Yahweh (the God of Israel) by adopting new gods or idols. It is quite likely that, since the people of Judah were questioning Yahweh’s love and justice (1:2, 2:17), they might be tempted to adopt foreign gods. William LaSor suggests that, because the restoration to the land of Judah had not resulted in anything like the prophesied splendor of the messianic age which had been prophesied, the people were becoming quite disillusioned with their religion.

Indeed, the fourth dispute asserts that judgment is coming in the form of a messenger who “is like refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap . . .” (3:2). Following this, the prophet provides another example of wrongdoing in the fifth dispute – that is, failing to offer full tithes. In this discussion, Malachi has Yahweh request the people to “Bring the full tithe . . . [and] see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing” (3:10). This request offers the opportunity for the people to amend their ways. It also stresses that keeping the Lord’s statutes will not only allow the people to avoid God’s wrath, but will also lead to God’s blessing. In the sixth dispute, the people of Israel illustrate the extent of their disillusionment. Malachi has them say “’It is vain to serve God . . . Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape’” (3:14-15). Once again, Malachi has Yahweh assure the people that the wicked will be punished and the faithful will be rewarded.

In the light of what Malachi understands to be an imminent judgment, he exhorts his audience to “Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, that statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel” (4:4; 3:22, MT). Before the Day of the Lord, Malachi declares that Elijah (who “ascended in a whirlwind into heaven . . . [,]” 2 Kings 2:11) will return to earth in order that people might follow in God’s ways.

Primarily because of its messianic promise, the book of Malachi is frequently referred to in the Christian New Testament. What follows is a brief comparison between the book of Malachi and the New Testament texts which refer to it (as suggested in Hill 84-88).

Use of the book of Malachi in the New Testament (NRSV)
Malachi New Testament
"Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau" (1:2-3) "'I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.'" (Romans 9:13)
"And if I am a master, where is the respect due me?" (1:6) "Why do you call me "Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)
"the Lord's table" (1:7, 12) "the table of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 10:21)
"For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations," (1:11) "so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you" (2 Thessalonians 1:12)
"Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name?" (Revelation 15:4)
"For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts," (2:7-8) "therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach" (Matthew 23:3)
"Have we not all one father?" (2:10) "yet for us there is one God, the Father," (1 Corinthians 8:6)
"See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me," (3:1) "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;" (Mark 1:2)
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you" (Matthew 11:10†, Luke 7:27)
"But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" (3:2) "for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17)
"and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver," (3:3) "so that the genuineness of your faith . . . being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire . . ." (1 Peter 1:7)
"against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages," (3:5) "Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud," (James 5:4)
"For I the LORD do not change;" (3:6) "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
"Return to me, and I will return to you," (3:7) "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8)
"But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise," (3:20, 4:2) "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us," (Luke 1:78)
"Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." (3:23, 4:5) "he is Elijah who is to come." (Matthew 11:14)
"Elijah has already come," (Matthew 17:12)
"Elijah has come," (Mark 9:13)
"Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents," (3:23-24, 4:5-6) "With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous," (Luke 1:17)

Although many Christians believe that the messianic prophecies of the book of Malachi have been fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, most Jews continue to await the coming of the prophet Elijah who will prepare the way for the Lord. The Latter-day Saints differ significantly in this regard as noted below.

Mormon Beliefs about Malachi and Elijah

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836 (Passover) and restored important "keys" (Priesthood authority) related to temple work and family history/genealogical record-keeping. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 110) This is in direct fulfillment of Malachi's prophesy at the end of chapter 4. As recorded in Joseph Smith's history, Moroni appeared to Joseph in the year 1823 and told him that parts of Malachi chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 had not yet been fulfilled but soon would be. Malachi's teachings on the blessings of tithing are also considered very important in LDS doctrine, and were repeated by the resurrected Savior in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 24,25).

References

  • The original version of this article was prepared in 2005 for the course BIBL5023 at Acadia Divinity College
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
  • Hill, Andrew E. Malachi: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible Volume 25D. Toronto: Doubleday, 1998.
  • LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
  • Mason, Rex. The Books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
  • Singer, Isidore & Adolf Guttmacher. "Book of Malachi." JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2002.
  • Van Hoonacker, A. "Malachias (Malachi)." Catholic Encyclopedia. Transcribed by Thomas J. Bress. 2003.

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