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Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary Keil & Delitzsch
by Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch
Person of the Prophet. - The circumstances of Malachi's life are so entirely unknown, that it is a disputed point whether מכלאכי in the heading (Malachi 1:1) is the name of a person, or merely an ideal name given to the prophet who foretels the sending of the messenger of Jehovah ( מלאכי , Malachi 3:1), and whose real name has not been handed down. The lxx rendered the בּיד מלאכי of the heading by ἐν χειρὶ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ , and therefore either had or conjectured as their reading מלאכו : and the Targumist Jonathan, who adds to בּיד מלאכי cujus nomen appellatur Esra scriba , has also taken מלאכי in an ideal sense, and given the statement that Ezra the scribe is the prophetic author of our book, as a conjecture founded upon the spirit and contents of the prophecy. The notion that Malachi is only an official name is therefore met with in many of the fathers, and has been vigorously defended in the most recent times by Hengstenberg, who follows the lead of Vitringa, whilst Ewald lays it down as an established truth. But the arguments adduced in support of this, especially by Hengstenberg in his Christology, are not conclusive. The circumstance “that the heading does not contain any further personal description, whether the name of his father or the place of his birth,” is not more striking in our book than in the writings of Obadiah and Habakkuk, which also contain only the name of the prophet in the heading, without any further personal descriptions. It is a striking fact, no doubt, that the lxx and the Targumist have taken the name as an appellative; at the same time, it by no means follows from this “that nothing was known in tradition of any historical person of the name of Malachi,” but simply that nothing certain had been handed down concerning the circumstances of the prophet's life. The recollection, however, of the circumstances connected with the personal history of the prophet might easily have become extinct during the period of at least 150 or 200 years which intervened between the lifetime of the prophet and the Alexandrian version of the Old Testament, if his life was not distinguished by any other facts than the prophecies contained in his book. And Jonathan lived, at the earliest, 400 years after Malachi. That all recollection of the person of Malachi was not lost, however, is evident both from the notice in the Talmud to the effect that Malachi was one of the men of the great synagogue, as Haggai and Zechariah had been, and also from the statements made by Ps. Doroth., Epiph., and other fathers, to the effect that he was a Levite of the tribe of Zebulun, and was born in Supha , or Σοφά , or Σοφιρά (see the passages in Koehler, Mal. pp. 10, 11), although all these statements show that nothing certain was known as to the circumstances of his life.
But the principal reason for taking the name not as a nomen proprium, but simply as a name adopted by the prophet for this particular prophecy, is to be found, according to Hengstenberg, in the character of the name itself, viz., in the fact that it is not formed from מלאך and יהּ = יהוה , and cannot be explained by angelicus. But neither the one nor the other can be regarded as established. The formation of proper names by adding the termination ־י to appellative nouns is by no means unusual, as the long list of examples of words formed in this manner, given by Olshausen ( Heb. Gramm. 218, b), clearly shows; and the remark that “this formation only serves to denote descent or occupation” (Hengstenberg) is beside the mark, since it does not apply to such names as גּרמי , זכרי , and others. The interpretation of the name as a contraction of מלאכיּה , messenger of Jehovah, is quite as possible as this derivation. We have an unquestionably example of a contraction of this kind in אבי in 2 Kings 18:2, as compared with אביּה in 2 Chronicles 29:1. And just as the יהּ is there omitted altogether in אבי , so is the other name of God, אל , omitted in פלטי in 1 Samuel 25:44, which is written פּלטיאל in 2 Samuel 3:15. This omission of the name of God is by no means rare. “The Hebrews very often drop the names of God at the end of proper names” (Simonis, p. 11). The formation of such a name as מלאכי would be perfectly analogous to these cases; and no objection whatever can be brought against such a name, since the ־י need not be taken as a suffix of the first person ( my messenger is Jehovah), but is rather to be taken as Yod compaginis, like יחזקיּה formed from יחזקי (for יחזק ) and יה , “messenger of Jehovah.” This name might very well have been given by parents to a son whom God had given them, or sent to them in fulfilment of their wishes. Which of these two derivations deserves the preference, cannot be determined with certainty; at the same time, there is more probability in the latter than in the former, partly because of the obvious play upon His name in the words הנני שׁלח מלאכי (Malachi 3:1), and partly because of the Greek form of the name Μαλαχίας in the heading of the book. Since, then, there is no valid argument that can be brought against the formation of such a name, there is all the more reason for regarding the name in the heading (Malachi 1:1) as the real name of the prophet, from the fact that the idea explanation would be without any distinct analogy. “All the prophets whose writings have come down to us in the canon, have given their own names in the headings to their books, that is to say, the names which they received at their birth; and the names of the rest of the prophets of the Old Testament are also their real names” (Caspari, Micha, p. 28). Even in the case of the names Agur (Proverbs 30:1) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1), which Hengstenberg cites as analogies, it is still doubtful whether the first, Agur the son of Jakeh, is not a historical name; and even if the ideal use of the two were established beyond all doubt, no conclusion could be drawn from a collection of proverbs bearing upon a prophetic writing. A collection of proverbs is a poetical work, whose ethical or religious truth is not dependent upon the person of the poet. The prophet, on the contrary, has to guarantee the divinity of his mission and the truth of his prophecy by his own name or his own personality.
The period of Malachi is also a disputed point, although all are agreed that he lived and prophesied after the captivity. We may gather from his prophecy, not only that he commenced his prophetic labours after Haggai and Zechariah, since, according to Malachi 1:6. and Malachi 3:10, the temple had been rebuilt and the temple-worship had been restored for a considerable time, but also, as Vitringa has shown in his Observ. ss. ii. lib. 6, that he did not prophesy till after the first arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem, i.e., after the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes Longimanus. The chief reason for this is to be found in the agreement between Malachi and Nehemiah (ch. 13), in the reproof administered for the abuses current among the people, and even in the priesthood, - namely, the marriage of heathen wives (compare Malachi 2:11. with Nehemiah 13:23.), and the negligent payment of the tithes (compare Malachi 3:8-10 with Nehemiah 13:10-14). The first of these abuses - namely, that many even of the priests and Levites had taken heathen wives - found its way among the people even on Ezra's first arrival in Jerusalem; and he succeeded in abolishing it by vigorous measures, so that all Israel put away the heathen wives within three months (Ezra 9:1-15 and 10). But it is evidently impossible to refer the condemnation of the same abuse in Malachi to this particular case, because on the one hand the exhortation to be mindful of the law of Moses (Malachi 3:22), as well as the whole of the contents of our book which are founded upon the authority of the law, apply rather to the time when Ezra had already put forth his efforts to restore the authority of the law (Ezra 7:14, Ezra 7:25-26), than to the previous time; whilst, on the other hand, the offering of unsuitable animals in sacrifice (Malachi 1:7.), and unfaithfulness in the payment of the tithes and heave-offerings (Malachi 3:8), can evidently be only explained on the supposition that Israel had to provide for the necessities of the temple and the support of the persons engaged in the worship; whereas in Ezra's time, or at any rate immediately after his arrival, as well as in the time of Darius (Ezra 6:9-10), the costs of worship were defrayed out of the royal revenues (Ezra 7:15-17, Ezra 7:20-24). But after the abolition of the heathen marriages by Ezra, and after his reformatory labours as a whole, such breaches of the law could not have spread once more among the people in the short interval between the time of Ezra and the first arrival of Nehemiah, even if Ezra had not continued his labours up to that time, as is evident from Nehemiah 8-10. Moreover, Nehemiah would no doubt have attacked these abuses at that time, as he did at a later period, if he had detected them. Consequently the falling back into the old sin that had been abolished by Ezra cannot have taken place before the period of Nehemiah's return to the king's court, in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 13:6). If, therefore, Malachi condemns and threatens with the punishment of God the very same abuses which Nehemiah found in Jerusalem on his second arrival there, and strove most energetically to exterminate, Malachi must have prophesied at that time; but whether immediately before Nehemiah's second arrival in Jerusalem, or during his presence there, so as to support the reformatory labours of Nehemiah by his prophetic testimony, cannot be decided with certainty. What Malachi says in Malachi 1:8 concerning the attitude of the people towards the Persian governor does not necessarily presuppose a non-Israelitish vicegerent, but might also apply to Nehemiah, since the prophet's words may be understood as relating to free-will gifts or presents, whereas Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:14-15) simply says that he has not required from the people the governor's supplies, and has not burdened them with taxes. The circumstance, however, that Nehemiah finds the abuses still existing in undiminished force, renders the assumption that Malachi had already prophesied improbable, and favours rather the contemporaneous labours of the two; in which case the work of Malachi bore the same relation to that of Nehemiah as the work of Haggai and Zechariah to that of Zerubbabel and Joshua; and the reformatory labours of Nehemiah, which were chiefly of an outward character, were accompanied by the more inward labours 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 (see Hengstenberg, Christology, iv. p. 157).
2. The Book of Malachi contains one single prophecy, the character of which is condemnatory throughout. Starting with the love which the Lord has shown to His people (Malachi 1:2-5), the prophet proves that not only do the priests profane the name of the Lord by an unholy performance of the service at the altar (Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:9), but the people also repudiate their divine calling both by heathen marriages and frivolous divorces (Malachi 2:10-16), and by their murmuring at the delay of the judgment; whereas the Lord will soon reveal Himself as a just judge, and before His coming will send His messenger, the prophet Elijah, to warn the ungodly and lead them to repentance, and then suddenly come to His temple as the expected angel of the covenant, to refine the sons of Levi, punish the sinners who have broken the covenant, and by exterminating the wicked, as well as by blessing the godly with salvation and righteousness, make the children of Israel the people of His possession (2:17-4:6). The contents of the book, therefore, arrange themselves in three sections: Malachi 1:6-2:9, Malachi 2:10-16; 2:17-4:6. These three sections probably contain only the leading thoughts of the oral addresses of the prophet, which are so combined as to form one single prophetic address. Throughout the whole book we meet with the spirit which developed itself among the Jews after the captivity, and assumed the concrete forms of Phariseeism and Saduceeism. The outward or grosser kind of idolatry had been rendered thoroughly distasteful to the people by the sufferings of exile; and its place was taken by the more refined idolatry of dead-work righteousness, and trust in the outward fulfilment of the letter of the divine commands, without any deeper confession of sin, or penitential humiliation under the word and will of God. Because the fulness of salvation, which the earlier prophets had set before the people when restored to favour and redeemed from captivity, had not immediately come to pass, they began to murmur against God, to cherish doubts as to the righteousness of the divine administration, and to long for the judgment to fall upon the Gentiles, without reflecting that the judgment would begin at the house of God (Amos 3:2; 1 Peter 4:17). Malachi fights against this spirit, and the influence of the time in which he lived is apparent in the manner in which he attacks it. This style is distinguished from the oratorical mode of address adopted by the earlier prophets, and not unfrequently rises into a lyrico-dramatical diction, by the predominance of the conversational form of instruction, in which the thought to be discussed is laid down in the form of a generally acknowledged truth, and developed by the alternation of address and reply. In this mode of developing the thought, we can hardly fail to perceive the influence of the scholastic discourses concerning the law which were introduced by Ezra; only we must not look upon this conversational mode of instruction as a sign of the defunct spirit of prophecy, since it corresponded exactly to the practical wants of the time, and prophecy did not die of spiritual exhaustion, but was extinguished in accordance with the will and counsel of God, as soon as its mission had been fulfilled. Malachi's language, considering the later period in which he lived and laboured, is still vigorous, pure, and beautiful. “Malachi,” as Nägelsbach says in Herzog's Cyclopaedia, “is like a late evening, which brings a long day to a close; but he is also the morning dawn, which bears a glorious day in its womb.”
For the exegetical literature, see my Lehrbuch der Einleitung, p. 318; also Aug. Koehler's Wiessagungen Maleachi's erklärt, Erl. 1865.