I. Introduction (1:1)
The opening verse of Malachi serves as a superscription or introduction to the entire book. It states three important facts: (1) what follows is the word of God, (2) it is addressed to the people called Israel, and (3) it is communicated through human agency.
Most modern versions translate the first word, massa; as “oracle” in preference to “burden” (KJV). It is from the word nasa’ (“lift up” or “bear”) and is found in the literal sense of a heavy weight (e.g., 2 Kings 5:17; Jer. 17:21). It is used by other prophets to introduce their messages (Isa. 13:1; Nah. 1:11; Hab. 1:1; Zech. 9:1; 12:1). The word suggests the awesome responsibility and compulsion of the prophet to proclaim God’s message. The claim is made at the outset that what follows is the “word of the Lord,” not a man’s opinion or a message concocted in his own mind (cf. Ezek. 13:17). A distinctive feature of the OT prophets was their claim that their messages came from God; a characteristic introduction to their messages was “Thus says the Lord” or “The Word of the Lord came to me.”
The immediate audience was Israel, the name given to Jacob by God (Gen. 32:28). During the divided monarchy (922-722 B.C.) “Israel” designated the Northern Kingdom as distinct from Judah. It was also used frequently throughout Hebrew history, as here, to designate the covenant people of God without regard to tribal distinctions.Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pp. 5-6.
The message was communicated through (lit., “by the hand of”) an otherwise unknown prophet called Malachi. Nothing is known about him. Many scholars believe that even his name is unknown and that “Malachi” should be translated as “my messenger.” In support, the LXX translates the phrase “by the hand of his messenger.” The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel translates it “by the hand of my angel”and adds “whose name is called Ezra the scribe.” In spite of all arguments to the contrary, there is no compelling evidence for rejecting the proper name. If not a proper name, this would be the only OT prophetical book where the prophet’s name is not given in the opening verses.
II. Reaffirmation of God’s love for Israel (1:2-5)
The six messages that form the major content of the book (Mal. 1:2-4:3) follow a distinctive format: (1) God speaks a stated or implied accusation against the people; (2) the people respond with a question that suggests the accusation is unfounded; (3) God responds by expanding his original accusation. This form of prophetic proclamation is variously called the Socratic, dialecical, cathechetical, question and answer, disputation, or discussion method.
God’s first words are “I have loved you.” The verb expresses completed action in the past that extends into the present. The word ‘ahab. is one of several words in the OT for “love.” Its etymology is uncertain though “skin” (related to the emotion produced by touching), “to breathe heavily,” and “kindle/set on fire” have their advocates. The statement summarizes the entire history of God’s covenant relationship with Israel – it has been one of enduring, steadfast love on God’s part.
The people’s response is shocking, as their question denies that God has loved them. How could they for get their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, the covenant made at Sinai, the gift of the promised land, and the return from exile? This is the first of twenty-six questions found in Malachi, thirteen by the people and thirteen by God. It may be stated categorically that where there is sin, God’s love will be questioned. In order to understand God’s answer that he has loved Jacob and hated Esau, it should be noted that he is referring to the nations of Israel and Edom (Gen. 36:1). It speaks of election love; God had a covenant relationship with Jacob but not with Esau. The choice of Jacob over Esau was an act of God’s sovereign grace and not because of Jacob’s merit (Rom. 9:11-13). Jacob was not more lovable than Esau!
The statement, “but Esau I have hated,” is trouble some. Some commentators try to soften its impact by insisting that a comparison is being made between election and nonelection, i.e., in comparison to God’s love for Jacob in choosing him, it is as though he hated Esau (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26). Others insist the statement should not be watered down, i.e., with the same intensity that God loves good, he hates evil; for Edom is frequently condemned in the Scriptures because of her hostility toward Israel (Num. 24:18; Ps. 60:8; Isa. 11:14; 34:5-15; Jer. 49:17; Ezek. 25:13; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11; Obad. 1-14).
The historical occasion for the statement, “and I made her hill country into a wasteland,” is uncertain. It may refer to something that had already happened, or it may be a prophetic perfect -a statement of something that is going to happen, stated as though it had already taken place (e.g., Num. 17:12; Isa. 5:13; Amos 5:2). In the fourth century B.C., the Nabateans emerged from northwest Arabia and drove the Edomites out of their homeland. They resettled in the southern part of Judah in an area later called Idumean. Ironically, Herod the Great, an Idumean, became king of the Jews (37-4 B.C.).
God’s love for Jacob and his hatred for Esau are explained in terms of his judgment on Edom. The Edomites confidently predicted that even if destroyed (Mal. 1:4), they would rebuild. But “the Lord of Hosts” (“Lord Almighty,” LXX, NIV; “Yahweh Sabboath,” JB; a name for God used twenty-four times in Malachi; it speaks of God’s universal and sovereign rule over the armies of men, the celestial bodies, and angelic hosts of heaven) reaffirmed that even if they rebuilt, he would destroy, and they would be known as “the wicked land” (in contrast to “the holy land,” Ps. 78:54). One day, having seen Edom’s destruction, Israel would acknowledge that even beyond the territorial boundaries of Israel “the Lord is great” (a phrase also found is Pss. 35:27; 40:16).
III. God’s denunciation of the priests (1:6-2:9) Malachi’s second message is the longest of the six (eighteen of fifty-five verses) and is addressed to the priests. Though every individual is responsible for his own sins (Jer. 31:29-30; Ezek. 18; 2 Cor. 5:10), this message reminds us that there is an extra measure of accountability placed on those who enjoy positions of privilege and leadership.
A. Denunciation for accepting blemished animals (1:6-12)
The accusation that initiates Malachi’s second message can be summarized as “You have not honored me.” He begins with a statement which all would agree (a similar technique found in Isa. 1:3; Amos 3:3-8): “A son honors his father and a servant his master.” The verb here is imperfect, suggesting a continuing attitude. The law required that a son honor his father (Exod. 20:12) and imposed penalties if he did not (Exod. 21:15, 17; Deut. 21:18-21). Servants, of course, respected their masters, who held the power of life and death over them. “Honor” is from a root kabed. that originally meant “to be heavy.” “Glory” is from the same root (Exod. 33:18). It has been suggested that in ancient times only the wealthy would enjoy such abundance of food that they could be heavy. They were honored and held in awe by the poor of the land.
God used the relationship of son to father and servant to master to ask two rhetorical questions (Mal. 1:6). Since they called him both father and lord (i.e., master), why didn’t they show him the same honor they would to human fathers and masters? The word- for “master” (Mal. 1:6) is a plural form in the Hebrew.It probably should be understood as a plural of majesty.For explanation of this term see E. Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), pp. 398-99; for similar plural forms see Gen. 42:30; Ps. 45:11. There was a wide gulf between their words and their actual practices.
God then accused the priests of being ”despisers of my name.” The root of the Hebrew word for “despise” may have been “to lift the head loftily and disdainfully,” although more recently it has been related to a word meaning “to treat wickedly” or “make undue demands” or “loathe.”Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 102, for the first meaning; M. Gorg, “bazah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 2, eds. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), pp. 60-61, for the second meaning. It suggests the idea of contempt. To despise the name of God was equivalent to despising God himself. To have a name implies existence and personality. In Hebrew thought the name represented the essence of a person’s being, his character, his attributes, his very reputation. The priests had no respect for God, not even the respect of a son or a servant; no wonder God was angry with them. With a kind of mock innocence, the priests denied the charge by asking, “How have we despised your name?” The following verses through 2:9 contain God’s answer to their question.
The first evidence, given in Mal. 1:7, is that they were offering “defiled food on my altar.” Mal 1:8 describes the food (lit., “bread,” but not the bread of the Presence; “shewbread,” KJV) that was defiled (a word that occurs eleven times with the meaning “polluted,” but elsewhere in the OT it means “to redeem”). This “food” was placed on the altar where the animal sacrifices were presented (also called “the Lord’s table” in v. 7, an expression used in the OT only by Malachi).
They were bringing blind, crippled, and diseased animals contrary to the law that required only the best, unblemished animals (Exod. 12:5, 29:1; Lev. 22:18-25; Num. 6:14; 19:2; Deut. 15:21; 17:1; cf. Ezek. 45:23). It would be like setting a plate of spoiled food-; before an honored guest! Why did the priests accept ‘ such sacrifices when they knew they were violating the law? Perhaps their motive was to gain the favor of the people or perhaps it was indifference. Or was it an act of desperation? Their source of food was taken from the people’s sacrifices and offerings. The people refused to bring their best animals so perhaps the priests’ attitude was “better any animal than none at all.” Is the minister today faced with the same problem of incurring his congregation’s disfavor if he criticizes their sins or lack of church support?
Whatever their reason, God said, “Is that not evil?” He challenged them to present such offerings to their governor, (a foreign word that came to be used of Jewish governors; 1Kings 10:15; Ezra 5:14; Neh. 5:14; Esther 3:12; Hag. 1:1).
The prophet asked two questions that required no answer: “Would he be pleased with you?” (lit., “accept you”). “Would he show you favor?” (lit., “lift up your face”). The latter expression reminds one of Esther before Ahasuerus (Esther 5:1-2). If the king accepted her unannounced entrance, he would extend his scepter, indicating she could lift her bowed head. The first part of Mal. 1:9 appears to be a personal appeal by Malachi. His plea was to “entreat the favor of God” (lit., “smooth the face,” which suggests making a person amenable to one’s requests). The verse concludes with a question by God that implies a negative answer -God will not show favor when they bring such offensive offerings.
In Mal. 1:10 God’s rejection of the sacrifices is announced forcefully: “Oh, that one of you would shut the doors!” The word “doors” is a dual form, indicating not the outer temple door, but the pair of doors leading into the inner court, where the altar of burnt offering was located. The priests believed their sacrifices were indispensable to God, even though unacceptable by the law. It must have shocked them for God to express a desire that they close the temple and discontinue the sacrifices. No sacrifice at all was preferable to their offerings. The priests were wasting their time (“in vain,” from a word “be gracious,” hence, “for nothing,” “without cause”; not the word found in Exod. 20:7 or Mal. 3:14) kindling fire on the altar to consume the blemished animals, as God rejected such sacrifices. A contemporary paraphrase of Mal. 1:10 would be: “Shut the church doors and go home rather than offer cold, formal worship on Sunday as you are doing!”
The word for “offering” in Mal. 1:10 usually describes vegetable offerings (Lev. 2:1-16), though here it has the more general meaning of any kind of offering. Malachi was not the only prophet who said the sacrifices were sometimes unacceptable to God (1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11-14; Hos. 6:6; 8:13; Amos 5:21-22; Mic. 6:6-8).
Mal. 1:11 is one of the most enigmatic verses in Malachi. “From the rising of the sun to its setting” means “from east to west” or “everywhere,” but what does “my name . . . great among the nations” mean? Its proper understanding hinges on the verb that is supplied, as there is none in the Masoretic text. If translated in the present- tense (“my name is great,” RSV, JB, NAB, NEB, NJV), it could mean: (1) in contrast to the polluted sacrifices being offered in Jerusalem, Jews dispersed in other lands were honoring God by their loyal devotion; (2) by comparison, since the Gentiles’ worship was sincere, it was more acceptable to God; (3) all true worship is actually directed to God though pagans offer their sacrifices to gods of other names (cf. Rom. 2:14-15); if the third interpretation is correct, it is an “astonishing universalism”Klaus Koch, The Prophets, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 179. that says pagan worship even in ignorance is acceptable to God; what matters is the intent of the heart. If, however, translated in the future tense (“my name will be great,” KJV, NASB, NIV), two interpretations have been proposed: (1) an early belief by the Roman Catholic church that it is a prediction of the Mass; (2) it applies to the coming Messianic age, a view held from the time of the Church Fathers, when the blemished offerings of the Israelites would be nullified by the sacrifice of the Cross (see John 4:21-24).
Mal. 1:12 may imply concern that the conscious transgression of the Lord’s commandments would cause other nations to lose respect for the God the Israelite people claimed to worship. They were “profaning” God’s name (from a word that means “to loosen/unite,” thus ”be free”; the participle used here conveys the idea of characteristic action). The “food” (lit., “fruit,” nib, found only one other time in the OT, Isa. 57:19, as “fruit of the lips,” i.e., words) that was despicable to the priests was the grain and meat offerings.
B. Denunciation of their complaining spirit (1:13-14)
Mal. 1:13 describes the priests’ attitude toward their duties: “What a weariness!” One interpretation of their complaint is that they were trying to deceive God by claiming exhaustion from carrying the large and healthy animals to the altar! A more likely mean ing is that their priestly responsibilities had become .., an irksome and tiresome chore. They had lost the sense of sacredness and privilege of their calling. There is always the danger that doing God’s work can become dull and routine (cf. Mic. 6:3).
Their attitude is further expressed by the statement, “and you sniff at it” (lit., “blow,” a word ordinarily used of blowing or kindling a fire into flames, Ezek. 22:20). Originally the text read “sniff at me,” but the scribes changed “me” to “it” to avoid a statement that seems to border on blasphemy.Such emendations are called Tiqqune Sopherim (“scribal corrections”); there are eighteen of them in the OT. See Ernst Wiirthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 18-19, for a discussion of the Tiqqune Sopherim and a complete list of them. It is possible that Christians may be guilty of the same attitude if they find themselves bored with church activity and serving God?
The priests’ careless attitude about their responsibilities is revealed in the kind of animals they were accepting for sacrifice -those mutilated by wild beasts, diseased, and otherwise unfit for human consumption, let alone for God (Exod. 22:31; Lev. 17:15i see previous discussion on Mal. 1:8). Their attitude was that since animals could not be sold for a good price or eaten, they could be given to God! They reasoned that it was foolish to throw valuable animals into the fire (cf. Matt. 26:6-9; John 12:5). They assumed God would not know the difference! They also ignored the scriptural emphasis that the best should always be brought to God, not the leavings or the unwanted (cf. 2 Sam. 24:24).
In Mal. 1:14 the prophet turned his attention to another sin of the Israelites – their failure to keep their vows. He pronounced a curse on the “cheat” (from a word that means “to act deceitfully/cunningly”) who had a male animal in his flock, vowed to give it, but then changed his mind and substituted a blemished animal. The law specifically required that a male animal be sacrificed (Lev. 22:19). The Scriptures are clear that God takes vows seriously because they are not required but assumed voluntarily (Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-22; Eccles. 5:5). The attitude of the people here was like that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11; cf. Deut. 27:26; Ps. 76:11).
The reason for God’s anger is given in the statement, “I am a great king” (Mal. 1:14). This title was used by Assyrian rulers (sharru rabu) and others in the ancient Near East (cf. 2 Kings 18:19; Isa. 36:13; Hos. 5:13; 10:6). It is a restatement of what was said in Mal. 1:11. God is called “king” frequently in the OT but only three other times “great king” (Pss. 47:2; 48:2; 95:3). In ancient times it would have been an insult to bring inferior gifts to a great ruler (cf. Mal. 1:8); swift punishment would have been meted out to the offender.
C. Description of a true priest (2:1-7)
The anger of God toward the priests finds its most acrimonious expression in Mal. 2:1-4. It is followed by a classic description of a true priest, not matched anywhere else in the Scriptures. It serves as a challenging picture of what a true minister of God should be today. It begins With a command for the priests (Mal. 2:1). However, in the immediate context that follows no specific command is found. The “command” could refer to what God will say to the priests in vv. 2-3, but it is probably a way of referring to the covenant Israel had with God (Ps. 105:8) or of saying, “Keep the law of Moses.”
God then warned the priests of the consequences of their actions: “I will curse your blessings.” “Your blessings” could refer to the blessings the priests pronounced on the people (Lev. 9:22; Num. 6:24-26), or it could mean the offerings brought by the people that benefited the priests (cf. Num. 18:21).
The curse is followed by an enigmatic statement: “I will rebuke your seed” (Mal. 2:3). It could mean seed they planted in the fields, which is unlikely as the priests and Levites did not share in the division of the land Josh. 13:14; 18:7). It could mean their off spring (“seed” frequently has this meaning in the OT); this interpretation is followed by the RSV, NASB, and NIV. With slight emendation some modern translations (NAB, NEB, JB) and commentators prefer “I will cut off your arm,” meaning that the priestly arm stretched out in blessing on the people will lose its power and the desired blessing. The LXX supports this meaning: “I will separate the shoulder from you.” The harshest words spoken by any prophet against the priests then follow: “I will spread offal on your faces.” It speaks figuratively of public humiliation by rubbing their faces in the discarded entrails of sacrificial animals (not their excrement) that were normally carried outside the camp and burned (Exod. 29:14; Lev. 4:11-12; 8:17; 16:27; Num. 19:5; cf. Nah. 3:6). The priests were required to be ceremonially clean in order to participate in their temple duties (Lev. 21:1-9; Zech. 3:1-5). Those addressed by Malachi were unfit to serve because of the charges God had already leveled against them (Mal. 1:6-13). Therefore, they would be removed from his presence (this is probably the meaning of the difficult Hebrew, “and he will bear you to it,” which NIV, NASB, NAB, NJV, and JB trans late essentially as “You will be taken away with it”). Through their punishment the priests would know that God’s “covenant with Levi” could not be taken lightly (Mal. 2:4). The word “covenant” appears six times in Malachi. Its etymology is uncertain (“bind,” “between,” “choose,” “eat,” “separate” have been proposed), but a covenant always assumed an obligation. The priesthood in Israel was established with the tribe of Levi (Num. 1:49-50; 3:45-48; 18:21-24; 25:11-13; Deut. 18:1-8; 33:8-11) through Aaron (Exod. 28:1-3; 29:1; 1 Chron. 6:1-3). “Levi” refers to the tribe, not the individual, and here is a personification of the priestly order. Num. 25:12 mentions a covenant of peace with Phinehas, but there is nothing in the Mosaic law about a covenant with Levi. The reference here is probably to the blessing of Levi by Moses (Deut. 33:8-11).
Mal. 2:5-7 contains a picture of the ideal priest in contrast to the priests of Malachi’s days. His characteristics include: (1) he fears the Lord (Mal. 2:5); fear in the OT can mean terror, but it is frequently used, as here, in the sense of obedience, submission, or reverence; (2) his instruction of the people in the law is true and correct (Mal. 2:6); (3) he walks with God in peace and uprightness (Mal. 2:6); “walking with God” is used of only two others in the OT, Enoch (Gen. 5:22, 24) and Noah (Gen. 6:9); it suggests going in the same direction as God, i.e., agreeing with him and enjoying true fellowship and worship; (4) by his instruction and his example he will influence many to turn away from iniquity (Mal. 2 :6); Dan. 12:3 promises great reward to that kind of person; (5) he will store up knowledge (Mal. 2:7; not book knowledge, but the knowledge of God, the equivalent of wisdom in the OT), passing it uncorrupted to the next generation; people will seek out that kind of person to learn how to please God.
The ideal priest is “the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” “Messenger” here is from the same root as “Malachi.” This is the only place in the OT where a priest is called the messenger of the Lord; only one time is a prophet called “the messenger of the Lord” (Hag. 1:13). As it is a term of highest honor to be called a servant of the Lord, so it is an honor to be his messenger.
D. Denunciation of their instruction (2:8-9)
In staccato-like language (Mal. 2:8) God accused the priests of turning aside from the way instead of turning people into the way. He further charged them with causing many to stumble by their instruction. These words serve to remind us that the influence of a pastor is awesome. Only eternity will reveal the positive influence of some and the perverse influence of those who corrupt the relationship between God and his people. Matthew Henry commented on this verse: “Nothing contributes more to this [turning people away from Christ] than the vicious lives of those that make a profession of religion, by which men are tempted to say, ‘It is all a jest.”‘
Because the priests had despised God, he deter mined to make them contemptible in the people’s eyes (Mal. 2:9). By showing partiality in their instruction (lit., “lifting up the faces,” the same expression found in Mal. 1:8), the priests curried the favor of the well to-do; they were men pleasers rather than God pleasers. However, instead of winning favor they only succeeded in gaining the people’s contempt. Some religious leaders are still engaged in a frantic effort to conform to the changing fads, beliefs, and lifestyles of their congregations or denomination in order to maintain their popularity or positions of leadership.
IV. Condemnation of mixed marriages and divorce (2:10-16)
The third of Malachi’s disputations involved two closely related sins of Israelite men: (1) marriage with foreigners who worshiped other gods and (2) divorce from the wives they had married as young men.
A. Condemnation of mixed marriages (2:10-12)
God’s initial accusation is not stated in Mal. 2:10, but it can easily be reconstructed as “You are faithless (“deal treacherously,” KJV, NASB) to each other.” The word “faithless” comes from a root “to cover” (hence, “to hide,” “to deceive”); a noun derived from the same root means “garment/clothing.” Their response, “Have we not all one father?” has been variously interpreted as a reference to Abraham as their father (cf. Matt. 3:9; John 8:39), to Jacob, or even to Adam. In the context, “father” should be understood as God. For them God as their Creator was a sufficient basis for their unity.
Their question, “Why then are we faithless to one another?” reveals that they have forgotten the covenant made at Sinai that forbade intermarriage (Exod. 34:16; Deut. 7:3-4). God’s answer in Mal. 2:11 is that they were marrying women who worshiped other gods. Further, what they were doing was an abomination to God. The word “abomination” is found only here in Malachi, but 117 times in the OT; it means something abhorrent or loathsome. It included idolatry, uncleanness, human sacrifice, and violations of the law. Marriage with foreigners was placed in the same category, not because of national or racial differences, but because they worshiped other gods and would bring their gods into Israel (as Solomon had allowed his wives to do, 1 Kings 11:1-8). Idolatry is one of the chief sins condemned in the OT (see Jer. 10:1-18; Hab. 2:18-20; and frequent references to idolatry in Isa. 40-46).
These marriages were profaning “the sanctuary of the Lord” (Mal. 2:11). The “sanctuary” (from a word “to cut/separate”) could mean the holy place (i.e., the temple, 1 Chron. 9:29; Ps. 150:1), holiness (Exod.
15:11; 28:36), a holy thing (Lev. 5:15; Ezek. 22.8), or the Israelites (Exod. 22:31; Jer. 2:3). In the context it most likely means the temple. The problem of mixed marriages came especially into focus a few years later in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9-10; Neh. 13:23-27; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14). Apparently Malachi’s stern warnings did no good.
The seriousness of what they were doing is found in Mal. 2:12: “May the Lord cut off” those who were guilty of this sin. In the OT “cut off” can mean “put to death” (Prov. 2:22; Mic. 5:9; Nah. 3:15), but that meaning is not likely here. It probably is the equivalent of excommunication (translated as “banish,” NEB; cf. Gen. 17:14; Num. 9:13). The sin of intermarriage could not go unpunished; its participants were to be cut off from worship at the temple and from the covenant community, including family and friends.
Who was included in the ban? The Hebrew text says the one “awaking and answering.” A comparison of translations reveals the difficulty of understanding this expression. The KJV translates as “the master and the scholar,” based on the Vulgate; NEB has “nomads or settlers.”For other proposed interpretations of the phrase see John Merlin Powis Smith, ”A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the book of Malachi,” in The International Critical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Jonah, ed. S. R. Driver, Alfred Plummer, and C. A. Briggs (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912), pp. 50-51. It most likely should be understood as an idiom meaning “everyone,” i.e., everyone participating in the mixed marriages and continuing to worship the Lord at the same time; they should not be allowed to enjoy fellowship with the community. The verse has relevance for the question of church discipline today, rarely practiced but clearly authorized in the Old and New Testaments.
B. Condemnation of divorce (2:13-16)
The tears that “cover the Lord’s altar” (Mal. 2:13) were not the tears of divorced wives, as they would not have been allowed to approach the altar, nor were they tears shed for the Babylonian deity Tammuz (Ezek. 8:14), nor tears shed over their spiritual barrenness. The words are figurative exaggeration (like “a bucket of tears”) to describe the weeping of the people because somehow they knew that all their efforts to get God’s attention to bless them were in vain (cf. 1Kings 18:26-29; Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 24:21-23). It reflects a mentality that believes excessive emotionalism is necessary in order to get God’s attention (cf. 1 Kings 18:26-29). Even though they were bringing offerings in abundance, the Lord would not accept them. Do some still think they can “buy” the favor of God by tithes and offerings and ignore his moral demands (cf. Jer. 7:8-10)?
The people revealed their hardness of heart by asking “Why?” (Mal. 2:14). The question implies that they did not understand why God looked on them with disfavor. In response, he reminded them that he was a witness at the marriage ceremony when they committed themselves to each other in a lifelong relationship. In the Hammurabi law code marriage was considered nothing more than a legal contract, but in Israel it was a covenant between a man and a woman with God as the chief witness (Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8). Only in this verse in the OT is the wife called the man’s “companion”; elsewhere the word is used of male companionship. How blessed is the man who can say that his wife is his best friend.
Commentaries agree that Mal. 2:15 is the most difficult verse in the book of Malachi and one of the most obscure in the OT. A comparison of translations confirms that no two are alike. The Hebrew reads literally, “and not-one-he made.” The crux of the problem is that “one” can be the subject or object of the verb “made.” As subject it could read, “Has not one [God?] made?” (no object is expressed); as object, “Did he not make one?” (i.e., one flesh). Does the verse mean that God made Adam and Eve one flesh and ordained monogamous marriage in order to produce godly children? Does it mean no one divorces his wife who has a remnant of the spirit in him? In the context of condemnation of divorce, the most likely interpretation is that God has made two people one flesh in the marriage relationship (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:6), knowing that the best hope for producing godly children is in a stable, monogamous relationship of a man and woman who worship the same God.
Mal. 2:16 contains the only, but unequivocal, statement in the OT of opposition by God to divorce. Though ordinarily translated, “I hate divorce,” the Hebrew says literally, “He hated to send away.” There is no word for divorce in Hebrew; words used to express the idea are “send away” (Deut. 21:14, 24:1), “drive out/cast out” (Lev. 21:7; Num. 30:9), “cut off” (Deut. 24:1; Isa. 50:1), “put away” (Ezek. 44:22). The statement implies that God takes marriage vows seriously (Matt. 19:6), for marriage is a covenant relationship established by God with him as witness at its inception. His intent from the beginning has been one man and one woman for life. Divorce should not be taken lightly by Christians, nor should it be considered as “unpardonable” sin. The LXX version is more permissive: “But if you hate (your wife) and put her away. . . .”
Mal. 2:16 continues with the words, “and he covers his garment with violence,” an expression found nowhere else in the OT. To cover a woman with a garment was a sign of protection and showed a willingness to marry her (cf. Ruth 3:9). Divorce, then, is an act of violence against the marriage relationship.
V. The coming of God in judgment (2:17-3:5)
A. A denial of God’s justice (2:17)
The fourth disputation follows the pattern of the others. God stated his accusation that he was weary of the people’s words, which, after their denial, he amplified. He was weary of their charges that he seemed to ignore evil and rewarded the wicked. It was a variation of an age-old question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” (Job 21:7-26; Ps. 73; Eccles. 7:15; Jer. 12:1; Hab. 1:4, 13). The modern version of the question is: “If God exists, why does he allow war, famine, starvation, disease, etc.?” Or, “Why did he let this happen to me?” God is patient with unjustified accusations against him, but his patience has limits (see Jer. 15:18-19).
The coming of God’s messenger (3:1-2)
God’s response to their charge that he ignored wickedness was that intervention was imminent (Mal. 3:1). The messenger he was sending has been identified by scholars as Malachi, Elijah, Nehemiah, the angel of the Lord, or as a figurative embodiment of all prophets. The NT interprets the messenger as John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). The statement rests on the prophecy of Isa. 40:3-5, which describes one who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. In ancient times the “forerunner” preceded a royal procession to make sure that ruts were leveled and rocks were removed from the path of the coming monarch. He could also be a scout who preceded troops on the way to battle.
The prophet then resorted to irony to emphasize God’s displeasure with the people when he spoke of “the Lord whom you are seeking” and “the messenger in whom you delight.” The word translated “Lord” here is ‘a46n,rather than the more frequent Yahweh. The people had asked, “Where is he?” The answer was not slow in coming: “He will come suddenly” (i.e., not immediately, but unannounced, unexpectedly), and judgment will begin first at the house of God (cf. 1 Pet. 4:17a). The word “messenger” in the title, “messenger of the covenant” (found only here in the OT) is the same Hebrew word for “angel” and is so translated by the LXX. Scholars do not agree whether the “messenger of the covenant” is the same as “my messenger” or is the Lord himself.
His coming would not be what they expected (Mal. 3:2). In Amos’s time the people were eagerly anticipating the Day of the Lord, but he warned them not to desire it. He described it as a day of darkness and gloom (Amos 5:18-20; cf. Joel 2:11; Zeph. 1:15). The question, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” suggests the imagery of the battlefield (2 Kings 10:4; Amos 2:15-16).
The prophet then resorted to two figures – the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap – to describe the purification and cleansing of the people that must take place. The figures do not suggest total destruction. “Refining” is used of straining wine (Isa. 25:6), but more frequently in the OT it describes the process of refining metals by submitting them to intense heat to remove the dross and leave the pure metal (Job 28:1; Ps. 12:6; Prov. 17:3; Isa. 48:10; Jer. 6:27-30; Ezek. 22:18-22; Zech. 13:8-9). The root of “fuller” is “to tread.” In ancient times clothes were washed with strong lye soap, beaten with sticks on the rocks to clean them, and then laid in the sun to dry (cf. Mark 9:3). Both figures suggest that the judgment which would result in a purified people will be harsh and painful Jer. 2:22; 4:14; cf. Matt. 3:11; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14).
C. Judgment of the Priests (3:3-4)
The figures of the preceding verse are now applied specifically to the “sons of Levi,” i.e., the priests (Mal. 3:3). God was determined to have a purified holy priesthood, fit to minister in his temple and to bring acceptable offerings to him. Reform in the church today must begin with the minister, a fact that ought to be just as unsettling to pastors as it must have been to the priests in Malachi’s day.
God promised that once the cleansing took place the offerings would be pleasing (“acceptable,” NIV) as in the “days of old.” The root meaning of “pleasing” is “sweet” and is so translated in Prov. 3:24; Jer. 6:20; 31:26. The “days of old” do not refer to any specific time in Israelite history, though they have been identified variously as the Mosaic period in the wilderness (cf. Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:14), the time of David or Solomon, or during the nearly 400 years that the first temple stood in Jerusalem (ca. 950-587 B.C.).
D. The basis of God’s judgment (3:5)
Judgment that was directed against the priests in Mal. 3:1-3 is broadened in Mal. 3:5 to include all the people. What follows is a list of six sins that were going to come under God’s judgment. They included sorcery (from a word that means “to cut oneself”). It is a general word that covers superstitious magical practices of all kinds. Sorcery was forbidden by Mosaic law on penalty of death (Lev. 20:27; cf. Exod. 22:18; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10-12; 1 Sam. 15:23). It was still being practiced in NT times (Acts 8:9; 13:6). The second sin named was adultery, which was also forbidden by law and subject to the death penalty (Exod. 20:14; cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Adulterers made a mockery of the marriage relationship and showed disdain for God’s command (Exod. 20:14). Adultery came to be used as a figure for religious unfaithfulness Jer. 3:9; 13:27; 23:10; Ezek. 23:37; Hos. 7:4).
Another sin that violated the Mosaic law was swearing to a lie (Exod. 20:16; Lev. 19:11-12). It is condemned frequently in the OT (Deut. 19:16-19; Prov. 19:5; Jer. 29:22-23; Zech. 5:4). As a God of truth, the Lord expects his people to be truthful.
Those who withheld wages or cheated the laborer out of his pay are also included. They had no regard for the suffering their action would create for the man and his family. The sin was specifically considered a violation of the law (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14-15; cf. Jer. 22:13; Amos 4:1).
Mistreatment of widows and orphans is frequently condemned in the OT Job 22:9; Pss. 94:6; 68:5; Isa. 1:23; Zech. 7:10) and is the fifth of the sins denounced by Malachi. It was condemned by law (Exod. 22:21-24). Widows were frequently subjected to harsh and cruel treatment because they had no power to protect themselves and were at the mercy of greedy, insensitive opportunists. The concern frequently expressed for them in the Scriptures reveals God’s interest in social justice and his identification with all mistreated and oppressed people.
The sixth sin involved mistreatment of the resident alien (“stranger,” KJV, NAB, NJV; “sojourner,” RSV; “alien,” NASB, NIV, NEB; “foreigners,” TEV). One of the most remarkable aspects of the Mosaic law was its protection afforded to the foreigner who ordinarily was denied protection of the law given to citizens in other cultures (see Exod. 20:10; 23:12; Lev. 19:10, 33-34; 23:22; Deut. 14:29; 24:17; 26:11-12; 27:19; Jer. 7:6; 22:3; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10). It is another evidence of God’s concern for those whose rights and feelings are ignored by others.
The root of the sins enumerated in Mal. 3:5 is found in the same verse -the people had no fear of God. Though they were questioning his justice, they did not really believe they would be held accountable. The people of Israel often laughed at the prophets who warned of God’s coming judgment (Isa. 5:19; Jer. 17:15; Ezek. 12:22; Zeph. 1:12; cf. 2 Pet. 3:4).
IV. An explanation of God’s disfavor (3:6-12)
A. A faithless people of a faithful God (3:6-7)
Verses 6-7 contain the accusation by God that introduces the fifth message of Malachi. It could be summarized as “you have turned away from me.” God had made a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, which they broke repeatedly. However, he was still willing to keep his promises to them if they would live up to their part of the covenant. He was not capricious, unreliable, or changeable. The only reason the people had not already been destroyed (“consumed,” KJV, RSV; “cease to be,” NAB, NEB; from a word that means “finished”) was the patient faithfulness of God (cf. Deut. 33:27; Pss. 90:1-4; 102:26-27; Isa. 57:15; Jer. 30:11; Lam. 3:22-23).
The people of Israel had a history of chronic dis obedience, extending all the way back to their forefathers in Egypt (Mal. 3:7). There they experienced God’s mighty acts that resulted in their freedom, but they were all too ready a few days later to return to Egypt (Exod. 4:11-12). The prophets often accused them of unfaithfulness (Isa. 43:27; Jer. 7:25-26; 25:3-7; Ezek. 2:3; 20:5-26; Hos. 10:9; Zech. 1:4; cf. Ezra 9:7).
There is a poignancy in God’s appeal to his people, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” God is always ready to respond to the first faltering step in his direction Jer. 29:13; Luke 13:34; 15:20) if the return is sincere. However, the conditional nature of God’s appeal to return should not be overlooked – God would return to the people if they returned to him.
The people’s response to God’s appeal to return, “How shall we return?” should not be interpreted as a sincere desire to come back to God (cf. Hos. 6:1-4). The question implies, “Why should we return?” or “How can we return if we haven’t been away?” They were oblivious to any sense of wrongdoing. Repentance in the OT is often expressed by the word “return,” as here (see Jer. 3-4; Zech. 1:3). Repentance was necessary before Israel could be forgiven, but it was not forthcoming.
B. A people who rob God (3:8-12)
In response to the people’s denial that they had turned away from God, he singled out one specific example of their disobedience -violation of the law of the tithe. It was not the only law they were break ing, but the evidence of its violation was irrefutable. The question in Mal. 3:8 is blunt, “Will a man rob God?” Withholding the tithe was tantamount to stealing from God because the tithe belonged to him. The usual word for “rob” is not used here but a word that is found here and in Prov. 22:23. Some scholars have noted that by transposing its consonants, gb; they become the consonants of the root for Jacob, ‘gb, a word which means “to overreach,” “seize by the heel,” thus “deceive.” There may be a subtle play on the similarity of the two roots suggesting a translation, “Will a man ‘Jacob’ God?” (cf. Jer. 9:4b). Without waiting for a reply, the Lord insisted, “Yet you are robbing me.” The verbal form of “robbing” is a participle, suggesting continuous, characteristic action. The reader has come to expect the people’s denial of accusations against them and is not surprised by their response, “How are we robbing you?”
The answer was not slow in corning: “In tithes and offerings.” Its abruptness emphasizes the seriousness of the sin. Whatever property a person owns is really on loan from God, and the owner is only its steward. “Tithe” is from the word “ten” and establishes the portion that belongs to God -one tenth. There are a number of passages in the OT that relate to the tithe (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-32; Deut. 12:5-18; 14:22-29; 26:12-15). Tithing reveals an attitude toward God, toward property, and toward others. Littleness in giving and littleness of faith go together.
There were various offerings that a devout Hebrew worshiper could bring to God.For a study of the OT offerings, see Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Sacrifices and Offerings, OT,” by T. H. Gaster. The word used here, teruma, was a general term for various offerings and for those portions of the offerings designated especially for the officiating priest. It could be grain (Num. 15:20), animal (Exod. 29:27-28; Lev. 7:34), war booty (Num. 31:29, 41), or money (Exod. 30:13-15).
God’s previous response to their dishonesty in the matter of tithes and offerings had been to inflict the Deuteronomic curse on them (Mal. 3:9) – drought, crop failure, pestilence, and disease (Deut. 28), but they had not returned to him (cf. Amos 4:6-11). The form of the verb here (”you are cursed”) is a participle, indicating the continuous nature of the punishment. The indictment was not against just a few but against the whole nation. The word “nation” here, gay, is a term usually used of heathen nations (as in Mal. 1:11), but was used of Israel also, especially when God was angry with his people (e.g., Judg. 2:20; Isa. 1:4; Ezek. 2:3).
The remedy was to “bring all the tithe into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10). The emphasis on “all” suggests they were bringing part of the tithe. Their penuriousness revealed their rebellious spirit; they were not cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7). The “store house” (lit., “house of the storage/treasure”) was a chamber in the temple, like a warehouse, where the tithes and offerings of the people were stored for later distribution among the priests and Levites for sacrificial purposes and for their family needs (cf. Deut. 28:12; 1Kings 7:51; 2 Chron. 31:11-12; Neh. 10:38-39; 12:44; Dan. 1:2). Ironically, the priests were suffering because they had been lax in their own adherence to the law, an attitude that probably encouraged the people to be careless about their tithes and offerings. In spite of the priests’ sins, God was concerned that there be “food in my house” for them.
God then invited his people to prove the reliability of his word by testing him (cf. Exod. 4:1-9; Judg. 6:36-40; 1 Kings 18:22-39; Isa. 7:10-14). It was an invitation to “do your part and I will do mine.” Tithing alone would not insure the blessings promised here when there was disobedience and the moral laws of God were being broken (see Amos 4:4-5, that suggests they were bringing the tithes and offerings in abundance, but God was going to punish them because of their moral offenses described in, e.g., Amos 2:6-8). Like Israel, are some Christians guilty of “claiming the promises” without accepting the obligations of obedient discipleship?
God offered to respond to the test by pouring down an “overflowing blessing” on the people. This is a bold metaphor that says God would send the rain so essential for good harvests (cf. Gen, 7:11; 8:2; 2 Kings 7:2, 19; Isa. 24:18 for the figure of windows in heav en). Today people think of blessings in terms of homes, jobs, cars, boats, etc., but in the agricultural world of Malachi rain was essential to survival and a chief means of expressing God’s blessing (Deut. 28:12, 23-24; Joel 1:15-20; Zech. 10:1; 14:17). The blessings of God are inexhaustible for those who obey him (“overflowing blessing” is lit., “a failure of sufficiency” or “without sufficiency,” i.e., until the abundance of God could be exhausted -if that were possible; it is another way of saying “forever”).
The blessings promised for obedience in vv. 10-11 are of a material nature, but God’s blessings should not be limited to the material realm.
In an agricultural economy not only could failure of rain be disastrous, but the crops were subject to devastation by locusts, hail, blight, and mildew Joel 1:4-7; Amos 4:9; Hag. 2:17). Since the word for “devourer” in Mal. 3:11 is literally “the one eating,” it probably means the locust. God would prevent the locust from destroying the crops of the fields.
God’s blessings on his people served two purposes: (1) they met immediate needs, both physical and spiritual; and (2) they witnessed to others about what it meant to serve God. Verse 12 is a reversal of the curse pronounced in v. 9 (cf. Zech. 8:13). “Bless” is from a word that means “to go/to go straight”; the relationship with “bless” is not apparent unless it suggests that one who is moving forward is happy. What is promised in Mal. 3:12 is that all nations would call Israel happy. She would be the envy of other nations when they saw what a delightful land it was (cf. Isa. 62:4, where Israel is called Hephzibah, “my delight is in her,” from the same root as the word found in Mal. 3:12, “land of delight”).
VII. Problem of the prosperity of evildoers (3:13-4:3)
A. A disturbing question (3:13-15)
The sixth dialogue has many parallels to Mal. 2:17-3:5. Complaints and accusations against God by Israel were nothing new. They can be traced back to the wilderness days when the people frequently murmured against God (e.g., Exod. 16:2; Num. 14:27; Deut. 1:27). Their words were presumptuous and impudent (lit., “your words have been strong against me,” the same root word that is used to describe Pharaoh’s hardened heart, Exod. 7:13, 22; 8:9; 9:35). There is a solemn warning here that we are held accountable for our words (Matt. 12:36).
Their answer expresses the same mock innocence with which they responded to God’s previous accusations. They could not seem to recall any harsh words they had spoken against him so he refreshed their memory by reminding them they had said, “It is vain to serve God” (Mal. 3:14). The word “vain” is from the same root that is found in Exod. 20:7; it means “emptiness.” It suggests that the people thought it was useless, unprofitable, to serve God (cf. Mal. 2:17). Their attitude was: “What’s in it for me if I serve God?” It was the same insidious question raised by Satan concerning Job’s motivation for service (Job 1:9-11). Serving God should neither be motivated by hope for reward or fear of punishment but by “the love of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14).
They further concluded there was no benefit in walking as “mourners,” a word found only here in the OT from a root which means “to be dark/gloomy.” The people were probably referring to the practice of fasting (Zech. 7:5) or other outward signs of mourning (wailing, wearing sackcloth, tearing their garments, casting dust on the head). Perhaps the modern equivalent would be the sadfaced person whose attitude is: “Look what I gave up to serve Christ!”
Mal. 3:15 has been dubbed the beatitude of the wicked: “Blessed are the arrogant for they shall prosper.” The root of “arrogant” means “to boil up,” “to seethe” and is a vivid description of a proud per son. These are harsh words against God. They imply that God is unjust, even rewarding evildoers instead of punishing them, and that wickedness is the way to blessing. Perhaps there is an echo here of human nature first revealed in the Garden of Eden – to believe that disobedience, not obedience, is the way to become like God (Gen. 3:5).
B. A reassuring answer (3:16-18)
The people were implying that God did not keep careful records, or worse, that he was deliberately unjust so he responded by giving assurance that he was keeping accurate accounts. Those who feared him (see Mal. 2:5 for explanation of “fear”) were assured that their names were recorded in a “book of remembrance” (Mal. 3:16), mentioned only here in the OT; but the idea of God keeping records is found frequently in the Scriptures (Exod. 32:32; Neh. 13:14; Pss. 56:8; 69:28; 87:6; 139:16; Isa. 4:3; 49:16; Ezek. 13:9; Dan. 7:10; 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). It was a common practice of Oriental monarchs to record the names of public benefactors in a document to insure that they would not be forgotten and would be properly rewarded (Esther 6:1-3). Also, the names of citizens of a city were recorded in a register.
Mal. 3:17 describes those who are recorded in the book of remembrance as “a possession” of God. This word occurs only eight times in the OT, two as the treasure of a king (1 Chron. 29:3; Eccles. 2:8) and six as a description of the people of Israel (Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps. 135:4; Mal. 3:17). The equivalent is found in the NT in Eph. 1:14; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9. The KJV translates it as “jewels” in Mal. 3:17, but as “peculiar” in Exod. 19:5; Deut. 14:2; 26:18; Ps. 135:4; Eccles. 2:8; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9.
However, that is a misleading translation according to today’s English usage. In Elizabethan times “peculiar” meant unique, hence valuable. Modern versions translate the word in Mal. 3:17 as “special possession” (RSV); “own possession” (NASB, NEB); “treasured pos session” (NIV, NJV); “my very own” (TEV); “own special possession” (JB). Their value to God is like that of the son who faithfully serves his father (cf. Ps. 103:13).
The people had accused God of blurring the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, but in Mal. 3:18 he assured them that not only did he know the difference, but one day they also would discern the difference. That would be on the day of judgment described in Mal. 4:1-3. The term “righteous and wicked” is found only here in Malachi, but the sharp contrast between them occurs often elsewhere in the OT (e.g., Pss. 1, 37; Prov. 10). The best definition of a righteous person in the OT is found in Ezek. 18:5-9; he is one who lives up to the obligations established by the covenant. The wicked are those who refuse to live by the covenant. In the NT righteousness is imputed to those who by faith accept the New Covenant established by Christ.
C. A day of judgment (4:1-3)
There is no fourth chapter in the Hebrew text of Malachi; the verses of our fourth chapter are included as a continuation of the third chapter. Thus, Mal. 4:1 of the English text is Mal. 3:19 in the Hebrew; Mal. 4:2 is Mal. 3:20, etc. English versions follow the LXX and Vulgate by beginning a new chapter here. The chapter begins by announcing a day that is coming, generally understood as the “Day of the Lord,” one of the most important teachings of the prophets. The phrase is found twenty-nine times in the OT, though only once in Malachi (Mal. 4:5)..However, it is ex pressed a number of ways in the OT, e.g., “in that day,” “in the last day,” “a day of trouble,” and, as here, “the day is coming.” It is that point in history when God will vindicate himself along with those who have trusted him. It will be a day of judgment (Isa. 13:6; Amos 5:18-20) that is imminent (Isa. 13:6); no one will escape it (Isa. 2:12; Amos 9:1-4; Zeph. 1:2-6, 18). It will be accompanied by cosmic phenomena (Joel 2:28-32), the regathering of the people (Isa. 11:11-12), and the exaltation of Zion (Zech. 14:16) under a Davidic ruler (Isa. 11:10; Jer. 23:5-6). From it a better world will emerge with nature transformed (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13) and relationships transformed (Isa. 11:6-8; Mic. 4:3).
Fire will be the agent of judgment as was water in Noah’s time (Gen. 6-8; cf. Hos. 7:4-6). Fire as a symbol of judgment is a frequent figure in the Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 21:9; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 20:9-10). The wicked will · be destroyed like the highly combustible stubble of the field, leaving no trace of them. The figure of “root and branch” suggests total annihilation (cf. Amos 2:9).
The contrast between the fate of the wicked in Mal. 4:1 and that of the righteous in Mal. 4:2 is striking. From the searing heat of v. 1, the figure changes to the gentle, healing rays of the morning sun in v. 2. “Sun” is capitalized in the KJV, giving it a Messianic interpretation; this was also the view of the early Church Fathers. However, it is not capitalized in Hebrew, and the figure is found nowhere else in the OT or NT. It may have its origin in Isa. 60:1-3. The winged sun disc as a symbol of deity appears on many ancient Near Eastern monuments from Egypt to Mesopotamia. God is described as the sun in the OT (Ps. 84:11; Isa. 60:19) and Jesus as light in the NT (Matt. 17:2; John 8:12; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6; Rev. 21:23; 22:5). The figure should probably be understood as a metaphor for the healing, protective presence of God with those who worship him.
Mal. 4:2 compares the joy of the righteous to the delight of a young calf that has been released from the stall into the outdoors.
The vindication of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked is further affirmed in Mal. 4:3. The verse should not be interpreted as exulting over the fate of the wicked, but it does lay to rest the charge in Mal. 3:15 that the wicked escape punishment. The figure may have been taken from that of treading grapes in a winepress, although victorious kings some times actually trod on the necks of their defeated enemies (Ps. 44:5; Isa. 10:6; 14:5; 63:3, 6; Jer. 39:5-7; Rev. 19:15) or humiliated them publicly in victory celebrations (Judg. 16:25).
VIII. A final appeal and warning (4:4-6)
A. An appeal to remember the law (4:4)
Most of the first part of Malachi is devoted to admonishing the priests and people to remember the law of Moses so it is appropriate to close the book with a similar appeal.
B. A warning of Elijah’s coming (4:5-6)
Mal. 4:5 should probably be understood as a clarification of Mal. 3:1. As Moses represents the institution of the Law, so Elijah represents the institution of prophecy in Israel. In this verse Elijah is announced as the forerunner of the great and terrible (”great and glorious,” LXX) day of the Lord (cf. Joel 2:31). Many Jewish people still await a literal return of Elijah. At the time of Passover some set an extra plate before an empty chair at the table as an expression of their hope that perhaps Elijah will return that year. Based on the interpretation given by Jesus, Christians accept John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Matt. 11:14; 17:12; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:17). There are many similarities between Elijah and John that make the comparison appropriate. Their appearance, clothing, and way of life were similar. Both prophesied in a time of faithlessness, both were bold in their rebuke of sin, and both sought to bring the people back to the faith of their forefathers.
The meaning of the closing verse (Mal. 4:6) is uncertain. If “fathers” means forefathers, then the verse anticipates the return of the wayward people to the faith of their forefathers. If, however, it refers to the immediate family relationship, it anticipates a reconciliation within families. Perhaps the generation gap was due to the influence of Hellenistic ideas and practices. In the total context of the book, Mal. 4:6 should probably be interpreted as anticipation of a time when there will be complete unity among the people in their commitment to God.
If the people did not return to the law of Moses, they could expect the Deuteronomic curses to fall on them (Deut. 11, 28). Two alternatives are found throughout the OT: (1) obey God and be blessed, or disobey and suffer the consequences. The word for “curse” found in Mal. 4:6 (herem) refers to the practice of devoting persons or things to the Lord, usually by total destruction like a whole burnt offering (Num. 21:2; Deut. 2:34; 13:17; 1 Sam. 15:3; 1 Kings 20:42; Ezek. 44:29).
Because the book of Malachi ends with the pronouncement of a curse, it is a Jewish practice to reread Mal. 4:5 after Mal. 4:6 in order to close on a more positive note. The same custom is followed with the closing of Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Lamentations. The LXX places Mal. 4:4 after Mal. 4:5 instead of reading it after Mal. 4:3. It has been observed that the OT ends with a curse and the NT ends with a blessing (Rev. 22:21).
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pp. 5-6.|
|2.||↑||For explanation of this term see E. Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), pp. 398-99; for similar plural forms see Gen. 42:30; Ps. 45:11.|
|3.||↑||Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 102, for the first meaning; M. Gorg, “bazah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 2, eds. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), pp. 60-61, for the second meaning.|
|4.||↑||Klaus Koch, The Prophets, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 179.|
|5.||↑||Such emendations are called Tiqqune Sopherim (“scribal corrections”); there are eighteen of them in the OT. See Ernst Wiirthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 18-19, for a discussion of the Tiqqune Sopherim and a complete list of them.|
|6.||↑||For other proposed interpretations of the phrase see John Merlin Powis Smith, ”A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the book of Malachi,” in The International Critical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Jonah, ed. S. R. Driver, Alfred Plummer, and C. A. Briggs (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912), pp. 50-51.|
|7.||↑||For a study of the OT offerings, see Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Sacrifices and Offerings, OT,” by T. H. Gaster.|