My Understanding of Malachi

The Book of Malachi is the twelfth of the Twelve Minor prophets.  In the Hebrew Bible.  This Book of Malachi is the last book of prophecy.  In the Christian Greek Old Testament, the prophetic books are placed last, making the Book of Malachi the last protocanonical book before the New Testament.

Malachi’s name means messenger of Yahweh, but his name does not occur elsewhere in the Bible.  Thus, nothing is known of the biography of the author of the Book of Malachi, although it has been suggested that he may have been a Levitical priest.  There are very few historical details in this book.  A clue to its dating may be the fact that he used the Persian word of governor.  The Temple has already been rebuilt, so that it was later than 515 BCE.  The author of Ecclesiasticus in the 2nd century BCE knew of this book.  This author probably lived and labored during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.  The abuses that Malachi mentioned in his writings corresponded with the abuses that Nehemiah found on his 2nd visit to Jerusalem in 432 BCE.  So that around 420 BCE for the date of this work would not be out of the question.

This Book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behavior of the Israelites, particularly the priests, in post-exilic Jerusalem.  Apparently, they were weary after the great expectations of the return to Israel after the exile.  The people’s commitment to their God began to wane, so that in this context, Malachi delivered his prophecy.

The Book of Malachi is divided into three chapters in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Septuagint, with four chapters in the Latin Vulgate.  Actually, the fourth chapter in the Vulgate is really the rest of chapter three.  This book has six distinct oracles.

The first oracle was about how Yahweh loved Israel, especially in comparison to Edom.  Malachi appealed to the rivalry between Jacob and Esau.  Yahweh had preferred Jacob, so that God favored the descendants of Jacob as his chosen people, while the people of Edom suffered.  However, the people of Israel questioned God’s love for them.  Malachi accused them of failing to respect God as he deserved to be revered.

Next, Yahweh was against the Levitical priests, who had disrespected Yahweh with their polluted food.  Yahweh would not accept the substandard sacrifices that these Levite priests were offering.  They were profaning the name of Yahweh.  He gave a command to these priests.  They would be cursed, if they did not follow his covenant with Levi, the Levitical Code.  These priests should be condemned for offering their unacceptable sacrifices.  Malachi then gave a description of a good Levite priest.  However, they were now despised, because of their bad behavior.

Malachi and Yahweh were against mixed marriages and divorces.  They all had one father.  However, Judah had been unfaithful.  Thus, Yahweh would no longer accept their sacrifices.  He hated divorces.  Malachi saw divorce both as a social problem and a religious problem.  Malachi urged each one to remain steadfast to the wife of their youth.  Malachi was attacking the practice of divorcing Jewish wives in favor of foreign ones, as well as the practice of divorcing foreign wives in favor of Jewish wives, because Yahweh hated all divorces.

In many places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Book of Hosea, Israel was Yahweh’s wife or bride.  Malachi seemed to use the same metaphor.  They were not to break faith with Yahweh, the God of Israel, by adopting new gods or idols.

Malachi also criticized his audience for questioning Yahweh’s justice.  He reminded them that Yahweh was just, exhorting them to be faithful, as they should await that justice.  Malachi quickly went on to point out that the people have not been faithful.  In fact, the people are not giving God all that he deserved.  Just as the priests had been offering unacceptable sacrifices, so the people have been neglecting to offer their full tithes to Yahweh.

The great day of Yahweh was coming.  He was weary of evil doers and mere words.  He was going to send a messenger to prepare the way for the difficult day of Yahweh.  He was going to purify the priests for the offerings and issue a judgment against the wicked.  Yahweh had never changed, but they had to return to Yahweh.  They had been robbing Yahweh by not giving their full tithes.  Yahweh was going to keep them safe from locust attacks, so that Israel would be a delightful land.  They had used harsh words against Yahweh, as they maintained that their worship of God was useless.

Finally, there would be the triumph of the just righteous ones.  Yahweh took notice and write their names in a book.  The righteous would be rewarded on the final fiery day.  Malachi exhorted his audience to remember the teaching of Moses, his statutes and ordinances.  Malachi assured them that the differences between those who served God faithfully and those who did not would become clear.  This book concluded by Yahweh promising to send another Elijah to prepare the way among his people for the final day of Yahweh that would be a happy one for the righteous.

Primarily because of its messianic promise, the Book of Malachi was frequently referred to in the Christian New Testament.  Many Christians believed that the messianic prophecies in the Book of Malachi had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.  Thus, there were references to Malachi in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Paul also mentioned this work in Romans and 1 Corinthians.  There also was an allusion to Malachi in letters to the Hebrews, and James.