Bible Commentary: Malachi

You are here

Bible Commentary

Malachi

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

"My Messenger"

As the last of the 12 Minor Prophets, which together make up the final book of the Prophets division of the Hebrew Bible, the book of Malachi brings the Prophets to a close. The Jewish Talmud and scholarly consensus place the book during Judah’s post-Exilic period under Persian rule, following a religious lapse some time after the restoration of the temple worship system during the days of Haggai and Zechariah. However, the book’s exact placement within this period is uncertain.

Some scholars date the book to the first half of the fifth century B.C., around 490-460 B.C., prior to Ezra’s 457 B.C. arrival and reforms. Others see it set around 450, after a lapse in following Ezra’s spiritual revival and shortly before the arrival of Nehemiah in 444. It is worth noting that during his term as governor, Nehemiah dealt with several problems addressed in the book of Malachi: marriages to foreign women, failure to pay tithes, Sabbath breaking, priestly corruption, and injustice. However, as Ezra had earlier dealt with the problem of intermarriage, it seems likely that the other problems were around earlier as well. That the book of Malachi was not written during Ezra or Nehemiah’s governorship seems clear from the implication of Malachi 1:8 Malachi 1:8And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now to your governor; will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
—that the person serving as governor expected personal tribute. Recall Nehemiah’s statement in Nehemiah 5:14-15 Nehemiah 5:14-15 [14] Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even to the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brothers have not eaten the bread of the governor. [15] But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable to the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yes, even their servants bore rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.
American King James Version×
: “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah…twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions. But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.” Ezra had the same fear of God, and Nehemiah’s mention of former governors surely did not include him. The New Bible Commentary suggests: “In v. 8 the governor could be the governor in Samaria [who ruled over Judea prior to Nehemiah’s arrival], and the point is that the priests were bringing offerings to the altar which they would not dare present to the civil ruler” (note on verse 8).

Many have suggested that the book should be dated to the period of Nehemiah’s absence starting around 432 B.C.—when he returned for a time to the court of Persia and national corruption set in back home (see Nehemiah 13:6 Nehemiah 13:6But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I to the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king:
American King James Version×
). However, Nehemiah would likely have left his trusted brother Hanani as interim governor while he was away, which seems to argue against this period based on Malachi 1:8 Malachi 1:8And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now to your governor; will he be pleased with you, or accept your person? said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
. Other scholars would put the book after Nehemiah’s time, in the later 400s B.C. (which would mean that the problems Nehemiah dealt with resurfaced and that the scriptural account leaves them unresolved). Again, however, as mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Nehemiah 6:1 Nehemiah 6:1Now it came to pass when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had built the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors on the gates;)
American King James Version×
–7:3, it appears from archaeological evidence that after Nehemiah’s second term his brother succeeded him as governor.

This leaves the first two dates as more likely—sometime before Ezra’s arrival or shortly before Nehemiah’s arrival. Since the issue is uncertain, we are reading Malachi after Ezra and Nehemiah even though it may well fit earlier chronologically.

Even more unclear than the exact dating of the book is its author. Just who is the prophet Malachi? Malachi may not even have been his actual name, as it means “My Messenger”—so that verse 1 could properly be rendered, “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by My Messenger.” Indeed, the “messenger” of the Lord turns out to be a major theme of the book. A priest, it explains, is supposed to serve in this role (Malachi 2:7 Malachi 2:7For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
). Yet the priesthood is rebuked for failing in this responsibility. Malachi prophesies that God would send a particular messenger—“My Messenger” (malachi in Hebrew), God calls him—who would prepare the way for the “Messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1 Malachi 3:1Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
). The New Testament explains this as John the Baptist preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:10 Matthew 11:10For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
; Mark 1:2 Mark 1:2As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
; Luke 7:27 Luke 7:27This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
).

In its introductory note on authorship, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “The suggestion that ‘Malachi’ is not a proper name but a title has ancient support in the [Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament], which reads ‘his messenger.’ To complicate the matter, the Targum [or Aramaic paraphrase] of Jonathan added after ‘Malachi’ the words ‘whose name was Ezra the scribe.’ [The Latin translator] Jerome concurred with this. In the Talmud (Megillah 15a) Mordecai [of the book of Esther] is credited with writing the Book of Malachi. Some scholars deny that Malachi is a separate book but affirm that it is actually only the last of three sections of Zechariah, which were cut off in order to make the Minor Prophets amount to the sacred number twelve. Though [the first-century Jewish historian] Josephus mentioned all the major characters of this period, he failed to include Malachi among them. The total obscurity of the author of the book is underlined by the absence of the name Malachi in all the rest of the Bible. Even where he is quoted in the N[ew] T[estament], his name does not appear (Matthew 11:10 Matthew 11:10For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
; Mark 1:2 Mark 1:2As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
; Luke 7:27 Luke 7:27This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
American King James Version×
).

“On the positive side, each of the other writing prophets is named in the opening verses of his book. If a man named Malachi did not write the book bearing this name, he would be the only exception. Moreover, Malachi is neither an unlikely name nor an unsuitable one for the author of this last book of the prophets. After all, Malachi was the Lord’s messenger. His trumpet made no uncertain sound. Clearly and unmistakably he indicted his people and the priests for their sin and summoned them to righteousness.”

With the priesthood failing in its job, this man stood in the gap, proclaiming God’s Word and law as God’s faithful messenger. He exhorted the nation to faithful service and to heartfelt sincerity in that service. Whoever Malachi was, he served as a precursor to the messenger of Malachi 3:1 Malachi 3:1Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
who would prepare the way before the coming of the Lord. This figure is referred to in Malachi 4:5 Malachi 4:5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
American King James Version×
as “Elijah the prophet.” Again, the New Testament identifies this figure with John the Baptist, who came on the scene during a period of spiritual letdown among the religious leadership and the people as a whole, preparing people for the first coming of Jesus. Yet Jesus explained that there would be an Elijah still to come (Matthew 17:11 Matthew 17:11And Jesus answered and said to them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
American King James Version×
)—evidently to prepare the way before His second coming. The work of this later messenger would also occur during a period of national spiritual decline. The book of Malachi is therefore quite pertinent to the time of the end and to the message the people of God are to proclaim. Note that chapters 3 and 4 refer to the end-time Day of the Lord (see Malachi 3:2 Malachi 3:2But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
American King James Version×
; Malachi 4:1-6).

The book of Malachi is a message to “Israel” (Malachi 1:1 Malachi 1:1The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
American King James Version×
). On one level, this meant the book was addressed to the postexilic Jews of Judea. They are referred to in Scripture as Israel because they were the remnant of the covenant nation. (The later Jewish independent state under the Maccabees was actually named Israel.) Yet given the clear end-time focus in the book, Israel here may well also refer to the modern nations descended from ancient Israel, including the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the nations of Northwest Europe and the Jewish state of Israel. Furthermore, on another level, the prophecy is also directed to the people of spiritual Israel—the Church of God.