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by John Dummelow
1. Author. Of the author of this book nothing is known apart from the book itself. Even the name ’Malachi’ is not in reality a proper name at all, but a common noun with the possessive pronoun of the first perssing, appended, signifying ’My Messenger.’ It has indeed been supposed that the word is a contraction of Malachijah (’Messenger of Jehovah’), but it is improbable that any man ever bore such a name. The oldest Jewish tradition, though without adequate reason, identifies the author of this book with ’Ezra the Scribe,’ understanding the word ’Malachi’ as an honourable title conferred by Jehovah upon His prophet: cp. Haggai 1:13; Malachi 2:7.
The headings of the various sections of the prophetical books generally bear evidence of being the work of later editors, and it is probable that Malachi 1:1 is from the same hand as Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1. Since the most striking prophecy in this book is that in Malachi 3:1 (cp. Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76), it is not improbable that the book, being anonymous, came to be known as ’The prophecy of “My Messenger” (Malachi),’ whence the idea arose that ’Malachi’ was a proper name.
2. Date. The date of this book may be partly inferred from the fact that the head of the Jewish state is termed ’governor’ (Malachi 1:8, cp. Haggai 1:1; Nehemiah 2:7, Nehemiah 2:9), the title ’King’. being used, of Jehovah (Malachi 1:14), as in the post-exilic Psalms. The only political event referred to is the devastation of Edom, the enemy of Israel (Malachi 1:3-4), which is adduced as a proof of Jehovah’s love for His people. There is reason to suppose that ’the day of Jerusalem’. (Psalms 137:7) is not the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, but the disaster referred to in Nehemiah 1:3, when, the jealousy of the neighbouring peoples having been aroused by an attempt to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, an attack had been made on the city (Ezra 4:23), in which the Edomites had particularly displayed their animosity. Malachi (as we may call the prophet) would thus be a contemporary of Nehemiah’s, an inference which is confirmed by the substance of his book, which is directed against the same evils that Nehemiah tried to reform.
It is probable that the law-book of Malachi comprised only Deuteronomy and the combined work of the Jehovist and Elohist, the Priestly Code having not yet been published in Palestine. From this it maybe inferred that Malachi prophesied before the second visit of Nehemiah in 433 b.c. In this case the general depression which he represents as due to the apparent failure of Jehovah to vindicate the right may be easily accounted for by the disappointment which the godly in Jerusalem experienced when the first reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra proved abortive.
3. Form and Style. Although the book of Malachi evidently had originally a literary form, it is, to Western ideas at least, faulty in arrangement, and it has not improbably suffered somewhat in transmission. The prophet seems to state ideas as they occur to him, paying little or no attention to their logical sequence. Thus we should have expected that the section Malachi 3:7-12 would follow Malachi 1:14, while Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:3 is parallel to 2:17-3:6. In its style the book is peculiar. It is more argumentative than any other book of the OT., the arguments being developed by a series of imaginary objections brought against the prophet’s assertion.
4. Readers. The people addressed throughout the book are professedly religious people, who, it would seem, are divided into two classes: (1) the sincerely religious, who have lost heart through the prevailing wickedness, and are beginning to question Jehovah’s goodness; (2) the worldly and covetous, who are religious only in name.
5. Contents. The argument of the book may be briefly stated as follows: Jehovah, in punishing the malicious enemy of Israel, has vindicated His claim to be the lover of Israel (Malachi 1:2-5); but He is not treated by Israel with the respect due either to a father or to a master (Malachi 1:6). In particular, the priests perform their ministrations with slovenly indifference; the victims offered are a disgrace to the altar; and it would be better to omit the sacrifices altogether (Malachi 1:6-10); Jehovah does not need the ministrations of Israel, for even among the Gentiles throughout the world He has those who serve Him (Malachi 1:11); let it be recognised that Jehovah is a great King, and will not accept a paltry offering (Malachi 1:12-14); the priests must repent, or punishment will overtake them (Malachi 2:1-8); Jehovah has made a covenant with Levi, and appointed him His messenger to the people (Malachi 2:4-7); but Levi has abused his privilege, and distorted Jehovah’s teaching, and lost the respect of the people (Malachi 2:8-9); the laity, too, have sinned in that they show lack of brotherly love (Malachi 2:10), and are contaminated by the heathen (Malachi 2:11), for which sin they will be punished (Malachi 2:12); their prayers are vain, for they come to the altar with the sin of divorce upon them (Malachi 2:13-16); Jehovah has, moreover, been wronged by the people’s lack of faith (Malachi 2:17); He has not forgotten, and will come as the prophets have said (Malachi 3:1); but the day of His coming will be a time of crisis, and will overwhelm the sinners (Malachi 3:2-6); let the people show their repentance by the payment of their tithes, and they will at once find a blessing (Malachi 3:7-12); Jehovah has been charged with faithlessness, but He has not forgotten, and His Day will make manifest the difference between those who obey Him and those who disregard Him (Malachi 3:13 to Malachi 4:2), when the former shall triumph over the latter (Malachi 4:3); let the Law of Moses be had in remembrance (Malachi 4:4), and let heed be given to the prophet who will come in this crisis as Elijah came of old (Malachi 4:5); thus will the divisions which now break up families be healed, otherwise a curse will come upon the land (Malachi 4:6).
6. Teaching. There is no Messianic prophecy in Malachi in the ordinary meaning of the word. Malachi does not look for a king upon the throne of David to deliver Israel, but for the restoration of that communion with Jehovah which existed when Jehovah led His people in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.
In his theology Malachi is one of the most advanced thinkers of the OT., albeit he does not entirely free himself from OT. limitations. He not only recognises Jehovah as universal God, but recognises that the worship which the heathen perform, so far as it is sincere, is the worship of Jehovah. He lays stress also upon personal religion, and represents Jehovah not only as Father of the nation (Malachi 2:10), but as showing in a special sense a fatherly care of the righteous (Malachi 3:17). He is convinced that ’God is His own. Interpreter, and He will make it plain.’ He develops the teaching of Deuteronomy in a striking way, dwelling upon the necessity alike of the written Scripture and the spoken word, taking Moses as typical of the one, and Elijah of the other.
It is characteristic of Malachi’s teaching as a whole, that it lays stress on the weightier matters of the law, judgment and mercy and faith, coupled with due reverence and devotion in the external expression of religion. It finds therefore its fulfilment, its completion, in the teaching of the greatest Prophet since the world began, who said, ’These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.’
the Second Week of Advent