Criswell Theological Review 2.1 (1987) 19-37
[Copyright © 1987 by
digitally prepared for use at
AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI
GEORGE L. KLEIN
I. The Authorship of Malachi
Relatively few scholars today believe that the book of Malachi was
written by a prophet bearing the same name. The name Malachi,
according to this view, is not a proper name, but a title ("My
messenger").1 Reasons for defending the anonymity of the book are
numerous. First, there is no mention of the author's ancestry (e.g.,
Isaiah son of Amoz, 1:1) or place or birth (e.g., Amos from Tekoa,
1:1) either in the book itself or elsewhere in the OT as was usually the
case with the prophets.2 Second, the same expression, hvhy-rbd xWm
("The burden of the word of Yahweh"), occurs in Zech 9:1; 12:1 and
Mal 1:1. The critical approach treats this expression as the introduction
to three distinct and anonymous works, the first two of which were
appended to the prophecies of Zechariah son of Iddo and the last of
which was given independent status as the present book of Malachi in
order to round out the number of Minor Prophets to twelve.3 Third,
Jewish tradition as witnessed by the LXX, Targum Jonathan4 and
Rashi, plus Christian interpreters such as Jerome,5 Pseudo-Epiphanius6
and Calvin,7 viewed "Malachi" as a title.
1 See C. Torrey, "The Prophecy of 'Malachi;'" JBL 17 (1898) 1-2.
A. Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament
minster, 1976) 343.
3 A. Lads, Histoire de la Litterature Hebraique et Juive (Paris: Pay at, 1950) 523.
4 A. Sperber, ed., The Bible in
Aramaic, The Latter Prophets (3 vols.;
Brill, 1962) 3.500.
5 Cited by J. M. P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of
Malachi (ICC; Edinburgh: T, & T. Clark, 1912) 19,
6 Cited by J. McClintock and J. Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and
7 J. Calvin, The Twelve Minor Prophets (reprinted; 5 vols.;
20 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
What then was the origin of the title for those who believe that
the book was anonymous? Nowack is representative of the standard
reply which maintains that the title was taken from the mention of
ykxlm ("My messenger") in 3:1.8 In other words, the mention of ykxlm
in 3: 1 was misunderstood as a reference to the name of the prophet
who penned the book. However, Childs wisely observes, "Such an
identification wreaks havoc with the entire message of the book."9
The ykxlm of 1:1 and 3:1 cannot be the same person, for 1:1 must
refer to the prophet through whom the oracle came whereas 3:1
speaks of the one in whom rested the responsibility of paving the
way for the future prophetic hope, the Messiah.10 As Childs notes,
one cannot argue that an editor misunderstood the prophetic hope of
a Messiah which is conveyed clearly in 3:1 as well as elsewhere.11
The first objection to identifying the author of Malachi with the
prophet bearing the same name is relatively minor. Granted, the
lineage of the prophet and his birthplace are regularly given in the
canonical prophets, but exceptions are known. For instance, Obadiah's
lineage and Habakkuk's place of birth are unknown, with both of
these books mentioning the name of the prophet only in the super-
scription. The next two points, however, are the main points upon
which the theory of anonymity rests.
The anonymity of Malachi, while not a problem of liberalism as
such,12 is tied integrally to the liberal view that Zech 9-11, 12-14, and
Malachi were originally three independent and anonymous works.13
The view is bolstered by the thrice-repeated phrase hvhy-rbd xWm
("the burden of the word of Yahweh," Zech 9:1; 12:1; and Mal 1:1)
which is generally interpreted to mean that these three oracles were
once part of the same collection and were placed later in their
present location in the canon arbitrarily. This widely-held conclusion
has been challenged by Childs using various lines of argumentation.
Childs first argues that the form of the word xWm ("burden,
oracle") is grammatically absolute (ie., syntactically independent)14
W. Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten (
S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (
Fortress, 1979) 493.
10 For similar expressions see Isa 40:3; 57:14; and 62:10.
11 Childs, Introduction, 493.
12 See W. S. LaSor, D. A. Hubbard and F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 501-2; and R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old
Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 958.
13 O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An
14 The word xWm is a technical term often used to introduce a prophet's message
(cf. Isa 13:1; Nah 1:1 et al.).
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 21
in Mal 1:1, thus decreasing the similarity between the three occur-
rences of the term.15 Unfortunately for Childs' thesis, the form of xWm
is absolute in all three of the passages under consideration.16
Childs continues by maintaining that Zech 9:1 is not a super-
scription while 12:1 is. He further believes that Mal 1:1 is also a
superscription sharing many points in common with other such super-
scriptions in the OT.17 Childs concludes by noting that Zech 9:1 and
12:1 are verbal constructions whereas Mal 1:1 is not, a minor point
actually, but calculated to distance Malachi from the latter portions
In conclusion, Childs writes, "the problem of authorship of
the book of Malachi is an independent question which cannot be
decided from an alleged similarity to anonymous [sic] passages in
Zechariah."19 While I agree with Childs' observation, his arguments
are less than convincing. Ultimately, the decision rests upon how one
Critical scholars have divided Zechariah into two or three parts
with one division occurring at 9:1 and the other, if advocated, at
12:1.20 Reasons for postulating a multiple authorship of Zechariah
center upon mention of events centuries later than the 6th century B.C.
date of Zechariah son of Iddo (cf. 9:1ff) and alleged differences of
vocabulary and literary style. Since stylistic arguments are notoriously
subjective, the consensus is that the "prophecies" and how they are
understood determine the outcome of the authorship and unity ques-
tions for Zechariah. At the risk of sounding simplistic, the presup-
positions the interpreter has regarding predictive prophecy will largely
determine the conclusion one reaches.21 If one ascribes all 14 chapters
of Zechariah to the son of Iddo then any affinity to Malachi is tenuous
We have discussed thus far the first half of the superscription,
but the second half "through Malachi" must now be examined. The
English title "Malachi" is a transliteration of the Hebrew word ykixAl;ma.
The basic word j`xAl;ma can refer either to a human emissary (Gen 32:3)
or to an angel (Gen 28:12). In Malachi a human messenger is clearly
15 Childs, Introduction, 491.
16 KJV, RSV, NASB and NIV all fail to render this phrase consistently as "An
oracle: the word of the LORD. . . .“
17 Childs, Introduction, 491-92.
18 Ibid., 492.
19 Ibid., 492.
20 Eissfeldt, Introduction, 434-40.
21 See G. L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (revised;
22 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The suffix (-i) has engendered a fair amount of discussion. Keil's
view is that the suffix is an old genitive ending called a hireq com-
paginis,22 but this conclusion is utterly untenable.23 Another view is
that the suffix is a hypocoristicon (or abbreviation) for the divine
name Yah, the shortened form of Yahweh, which would be translated
"Messenger of Yah." While some like Soggin maintain that a theo-
phoric element in the name is "extremely dubious,"24 there is good
biblical precedent. For instance, one finds ybx (Abi, 2 Kgs 18:2) and
hybx (Abiyyah, 2 Chron 29:1) as well as yrx (Uri, 1 Kgs ) and
hyrvx (Uriyah, 1 Chron ). The hypocoristic meaning of the name
Malachi, while not the simplest understanding, is a distinct possibility.
The consensus of opinion, however, is that the suffix is the simple first
person singular pronominal suffix "my."25
This brings us to the final and perhaps most important reason for
treating Malachi as an anonymous work, namely the early Jewish and
Christian tradition to that effect, of which the LXX is the most
notable. The LXX renders Mal 1:1 with e]n xeiri> a]gge<lou au]tou? ("by
the hand of His messenger"). Immediately two questions are raised.
First, why did the LXX use the third person masculine singular
pronoun when the MT attests a first person ("my") reading? Second,
was the Septuagintal understanding of the word as an appellative
correct? The first problem can be easily explained by hypothesizing
that the final yod of Malachi representing "my" was misread as a '
waw signifying "his."26 The second question is harder to explain, but:
apparently the confusion was due to the general lack of biographical:
information on Malachi. To be sure, the LXX does understand ykxlm
as an appellative in v 1, but Pusey does note that the LXX did ap-
pend the name MALAXIAS ("Malachi") as a title, seemingly witness-
ing to a completely different understanding, that of a proper noun.27
In other words, the testimony of the LXX is not as decisive in favor
of anonymity as some think. Targum Jonathan's attempt to identify
the author of Malachi as Ezra the scribe as well as the numerous
22 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets (2 vols.; 1868, reprinted; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1949) 2.425.
23 For a general discussion, see GKC §90k-n.
24 Soggin, Introduction, 343.
J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (
Varsity, 1972) 211.
26 This is a common textual corruption in which the "short tail" of the yod is
misread for the "longer tailed (but otherwise identical)" waw. For example, see Isa
27 E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets: A Commentary (reprinted; 2 vols.; Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1950) 2.461.
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 23
other identifications by other sources all seemingly stem from the
dearth of knowledge about the prophet. Furthermore, as has been
noted earlier in this study, the belief that Malachi was a proper name
could not have originated from a misunderstanding of the referent in
3:1. Finally, then, since the canonical prophets were otherwise not
anonymous and the arguments for anonymity can be answered, it is
preferable to treat the book as the only known work of the prophet
II. The Date of Malachi
Malachi contains no precise information regarding the time of
the book's writing. Thus one is forced to look to internal evidence in
the text itself. Because Malachi mentions current abuses at the temple
(1:7ff; ; ), the terminus a quo of the prophecy must be 516/515
B.C., the year the second temple was completed. Since temple worship
has been restored, Malachi must follow both Haggai and Zechariah.
More precise dating can be accomplished by noting the similarity of
themes in Malachi to those in Nehemiah, the silence in Nehemiah
regarding Malachi, the interpretation of the term hHp ("governor ,"
1:8) and the occasion of the conquest of the Edomites.
The similarity between concerns of Malachi and those of Nehe-
miah have long been noticed. W. Kaiser summarizes well the basic
1. Marriage of heathen wives (Mal 2:11-15 and Neh 13:23-27)
2. Neglect in paying the tithes (Mal 3:8-10 and Neh -14)
3. Disregard of the Sabbath (Mal 2:8-9; 4:4 and Neh 13:15-22)
4. Corruption of the priesthood (Mal1:6-2:9-and Neh 13:7-9)
5. Existence of social wrongs (Mal 3:5 and Neh 5:1-13)28
Since it was
during Nehemiah's second period of ministry in
which he addressed these issues, many scholars would date Malachi
to this period also.29 E. Sellin and G. Fohrer would, however, date the
prophecy before both Ezra and Nehemiah, around 465 B.C. since
Ezra and Nehemiah put a stop to the practices outlined in Malachi.30
fails to recognize the rapidity with which
relapse into sin as well as overestimating the effect of the Ezra-
C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God's Unchanging
29 Archer, Survey, 440.
30 E. Sellin and G. Fohrer, Introduction
to the Old Testament (
don, 1968) 470.
24 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
A surprisingly early dating of the book is found in the work of
B. Dahlberg who properly notes dissimilarities between Nehemiah
and Malachi such as: the absence of divorce from the books of Ezra-
Nehemiah; the failure to find Nehemiah's concern for Sabbath abuses
addressed to the same degree in Malachi; the far more elaborate
treatment of tithes and offerings in Nehemiah as well as the distinction
which appears to be made between priests and Levites (, 13, 30)
which he argues is not found in Malachi.31 Dahlberg argues further
that the vocabulary, style and perspective of Malachi is so close to
that of Deuteronomy, which he dates to the days of the Josianic
Reform (621 B.C.), that "Malachi's date is at the latest exilic."32
Dahlberg's observations concerning differences between Nehemiah
and Malachi are valid, yet one need not date Malachi in such an
extreme fashion. Indeed, no perceived difference is so great that one
should reinterpret the date. Furthermore, the likeness which Malachi
bears to Deuteronomy is also correct, but one should not date
Deuteronomy to the Josianic era for reasons which surpass the scope
of this paper.
Next, since Nehemiah does not mention Malachi by name and
since the closeness of the two is great as we have just seen, two
primary views have appeared. One approach is to date Malachi after
Ezra and before Nehemiah around 460 B.C. Others see the silence in
Nehemiah concerning Malachi as indicative of Malachi's ministry
within the two great periods of Nehemiah's activity in
(444 and ca. 435 B.C.). R. Dentan, however, argues in the opposite
direction, feeling that Malachi would have had great sympathy for
Nehemiah and would surely have mentioned him by name. Dentan
wishes to date the book around 450 B.C.33
The third point is the use of the word hHp for governor in 1:8.
This word may well be of Persian origin leading some to render the
term "satrap." W. Neil is representative of the position that hHP in 1:8
clearly points to a Persian governor and not to Nehemiah.34 Dog-
matism is unwarranted as H. Wolf notes. Even though xtwrt (tirsata',
Neh 10:1) was the expression usually applied to Nehemiah, he does
call himself a hHp in 5:14.35 If Nehemiah was the governor of 1:8,
31 B. T. Dahlberg, Studies in the Book of Malachi (Ph.D. dissertation, University
32 Ibid., 191.
33 R. Dentan, "Malachi," Interpreter's Bible (12
Neil, "Malachi," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.;
Abingdon, 1962) 3.229.
35 H. Wolf, Haggai and Malachi (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 58.
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 25
Kaiser suggests that Malachi would likely have mentioned him as
Haggai named Zerubbabel. If one does grant Kaiser's argument from
silence, one could only say that Malachi was either before Nehemiah's
first reform, before his second reform or after his second reform.36
Fourthly, 1:2ff mentions a recent calamity which has befallen
precise dating of this event has never been determined satisfactorily.
Thus, the event is useless for fixing the date of Malachi.37
A further line of evidence followed by non-conservatives is to
posit that Malachi agrees with Deuteronomy against the Priestly Code
in making no distinction between priests and Levites (2:4ff). Malachi
is understood to follow Deuteronomy which is dated in the 7th
century B.C. Malachi is in this regard different from the Priestly Code
which does make this distinction and follows Malachi chronologi-
cally.38 The date of Malachi would then be 460-450 B.C. Rowley, on
the other hand, argues that similarities in tithing laws might well
indicate that Malachi was later than the P source.39 Torrey argues
even more extremely that Malachi is to be dated in the first half of
the 4th century B.C.!40 If one accepts the biblical presentation of
reconstruction, then the material pertaining to priests and Levites in
Malachi has no bearing upon the date of the prophecy.
In the final analysis, a precise date for the prophecy cannot be
fixed. One must, it seems, place the date in the time of Nehemiah; as
J. M. P. Smith observes, "the Book of Malachi fits the situation amid
which Nehemiah worked as snugly as a bone fits its socket."41 The
early date of 460-450 B.C. is plausible, but R. Pfeiffer's conviction that
it is "positive" is certainly overstated.42
On the other hand, several convincing arguments can be pre-
sented to favor the 435-433 B.C. date. For one, Ezra reestablished the
knowledge and authority of God's law (Ezra , 25ff).43 More
importantly, if the abuses outlined in Malachi had occurred at the
36 Kaiser, Malachi, 16-17.
37 Dentan, "Malachi," 1118.
38 Neil, "Malachi," 229; K. Elliger, Vas Buch der zwolf Kleinen Propheten (Got-
tingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1951) 178.
39 H. H. Rowley, The Growth of the Old Testament (London: Hutchinson, 1950)
40 Torrey, "Malachi," 14.
41 J. M. P. Smith, Malachi, 7.
H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (
43 Kaiser, Malachi, 15.
26 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
time of Ezra's or Nehemiah's first reform, they would have been
mentioned in the respective texts. Since hHp could have referred to
Nehemiah himself, Keil writes:
If, therefore, Malachi condemns and threatens with the punishment of
God the very same abuses which Nehemiah found in
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
there. . . cannot be decided with certainty.44
Thus, the date of ca. 435 B.C., immediately before or at the onset of
second work in
III. The Unity of Malachi
Malachi does not present the interpreter with questions of unity
as grave as elsewhere in the OT, but some questions have been
raised. D. Sellin is representative of those who believe that the book
has editorial additions, mentioning 2:11ff and 4:5ff (= MT 3:23ff).45
Torrey adds that 4:4ff (= MT 3:22ff) is an appendix to the book
having "no natural connection with the preceding,"46 as the con-
servative writer J. Baldwin allows also.47 Rowley believes that these
verses serve as an editorial conclusion to the entire Book of the
A different analysis of the book has been produced by Y. Radday
and M. Pollatschek who apply computerized statistical analyses of
the vocabulary of Malachi as well as the other post-Exilic works. This
study concludes that all of chap. 3 was from the pen of a different,
writer from chaps. 1-2!49 This endeavor has utilized a highly dubious
methodology to produce a conclusion of little or no value.
For a defense of the unity of the book one need not turn to
theological conservatives, for many non-conservatives ably accom-
plish the task. O. Kaiser has no problems with the book from his
44 Keil, Malachi, 427.
E. Sellin, Vas Zwolfprophetenbuch
Ver. D. Werner Scholl, 1930) 587. Note the somewhat larger and more surgical list
(-13, 14; 2:2, 7, 11b-13a, 15ab, 16b; 3:1b, 3ff; 4:4ff [= MT 3:22ff]) of K, Elliger,
Kleinen Propheten, 178. Elliger's views have not been adopted, and at present only
4:4ff (= MT 3:22ff) is discussed as a possible addition.
46 Torrey, "Malachi," 7; see Lods, Histoire, 525.
47 Baldwin, Malachi, 214.
48 Rowley, Growth, 124; see Dentan, "Malachi," 1117.
49 Y. T. Radday and M. A. Pollatschek, "Vocabulary Richness in Post-Exilic
Prophetic Books," ZAW 92 (1980) 345.
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 27
literary-critical perspective, but does wish to transpose 3:6-12 and
-16 to after 1:2-5.50 Soggin states outright that "the text does not
present any difficulties,"51 while R. Rendtorff pleads that 4:4ff (= MT
3:22ff) must be treated as an integral part of the last disputation -
4:3 (= MT 3:6-21).52 A significant work by A. van Selms not only
attempts to validate the unity of the entire work, but maintains that
4:5ff (= MT 3:23ff) is "an integral part, if not the key-verse of the
whole book."53 Moreover, a recent study has endeavored to demon-
strate not only the unity of Malachi, but further that Haggai, Zecha-
riah and Malachi should be understood as a literary and thematic
IV. The Style of Malachi
Discussion has focused on how best to describe the method
to communicate with
fered,55 while "catechisms" were suggested to capture the question-
ing approach used in Malachi, a technique found also in Haggai.56
The most common term is that of "disputation."57 Despite Boecker's
preference for the term "discussion,"58 "disputation" best captures
the confrontational tone of the book.59 The disputes Malachi brings
covenantal law serving as the basis for the charges against the
people.60 This confrontational style underscores the people's deep
hostility toward both Yahweh and the prophet whom He had ap-
pointed. The people were argumentative, challenging the prophet's
50 O. Kaiser, Introduction to the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975) 284.
51 Soggin, Introduction, 346.
52 R. Rendtorff, The Old
Testament: An Introduction (
1986) 242; Eissfeldt, Introduction, 442 accepts the relationship between 4:4ff (= MT
3:22ff) and the disputation within which it falls, but still argues that the last verses are
53 A. van Selms, "The Inner Cohesion of the Book of Malachi," OTWSA 13-14
54 R. W. Pierce, "Literary Connectors and a Haggai/Zechariah/ Malachi Corpus,"
JETS 27 (1984) 277-89; "A Thematic Development of the Haggai/Zechariah/Malachi
Corpus," JETS 27 (1984) 401-11.
55 Ibid., 285.
56 R. Braun, "Malachi-A Catechism for Times of Disappointment," CurTM 4
57 Sellin, Zwolfprophetenbuch, 2.588.
58 H. J. Boecker, "Bemerkungen zur formgeschtlichen Terminologie des Buches
Maleachi," ZAW 78 (1966) 79.
59 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi (Waco: Word, 1984) 300. I
60 E. Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi (Atlanta: John Knox, 1986) 172.
28 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
mandate to speak for Yahweh.61 Whether Israel's replies in Malachi
were spoken by the people themselves or were a rhetorical device
used by the prophet is inconsequential; the retorts accurately re-
flected the people's attitudes.
The structure of Malachi is commonly organized in a six-part
fashion based upon Malachi's interrogations as follows:
-4:6 (= MT )62
For a critique of this method of organizing Malachi's message, see
the compelling work of my colleague E. R. Clendenen.63 Clendenen
sees the book in three chiastic movements, articulated from a linguis-
Another question regarding Malachi's style is whether or not the
book is poetry. The modern translations each arrange the text as
though it was prose, but the editors of both BHK and BHS place the
Hebrew text in a poetic configuration. The difference of opinion is
reflected also in the commentators. Sellin65 maintains that Malachi has
a poetic rhythm to it while W. Kaiser flatly states that the book is
prose.66 J. M. P. Smith goes as far as to say that, "If Malachi is to be
regarded as poetical, either in form or content, distinctions between
poetry and prose must be abandoned."67 Both extremes should be
The prose-poetry distinction should properly be viewed as a
continuum. One might find high style poetry in a passage, prosy
poetry or poetic prose, and so forth. This mediating position best
represents the situation in Malachi. Some passages appear prosaic
(1:10ff), whereas others seem quite poetic, complete with parallelism
61 Neil, "Malachi," 231; LaSor, Survey, 503.
62 J. A. Fischer, "Notes on the Literary Form and Message of Malachi," CBQ 34
63 E. R. Clendenen, "The Structure of Malachi: A Textlinguistic Study," CTR
64 This chiastic arrangement of the three movements in Malachi argues for the
original inclusion of 4:4-6 (= MT -24) since the chiasm would be destroyed
65 Sellin, Zwolfprophetenbuch, 2.587.
66 W. Kaiser, Malachi, 18.
67 J. M. P. Smith, Malachi, 5.
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 29
and meter (1:6ff). Other passages lie somewhere in between (2:6ff).
Whether one sees the book as "'lofty prose" as does Wolf68 or as
poetry which is "often prosaic" with Torrey69 is inconsequential as
long as one does recognize a substantial quantity of poetic character-
istics in the book.70
V. The Purpose of Malachi
time in centuries the land saw a degree of political autonomy from
the Persians plus a new but developing money economy.71 Spiritually,
outlook was utterly bleak.
around her had contributed to a new and secular outlook on life. The
old beliefs and practices had become passe, and were in need of
reinterpretation according to the majority. Yahweh, the God who had
and uninvolved in the lives of men (; 3:13ff). The effect of such
clearly seen in the public worship at the
perfunctory manner in which the priests conducted their duties was
the most obvious consequence of the new mentality (1:6-2:9). The
people evidenced an acceptance of pagan cults (2:10ff). The faithful
few withdrew from their culture in discouragement, producing little
influence upon their contemporaries (3:16ff).72
Another change, a change in the people's future expectations,
profoundly influenced the way people thought and acted in Malachi's
time. The eschatological prophecies in Isaiah 40-66 (and elsewhere)
led most Israelites to believe that the post-exilic period would mark
the beginning of the messianic age. The glories of the Davidic era
were soon to be recovered they thought (cf. Jer 23:5ff). They expected
the land to become fertile as never before (Isa 41:18ff). The Israelites
also believed that all nations would begin to serve them in the post-
exilic era (Isa 49:22ff). The realities which the former exiles faced
were brutal, anything but what they had anticipated. Only a small
group of the exiles returned, and those who did found life as hard, if
not harder than ever. The land reclaimed by the returnees was
proportionately quite small in comparison to what they had possessed
before the exile. Finally, the land was rocky and infertile, not at all
68 Wolf, Malachi, 59.
69 Torrey, "Malachi," 14.
70 See Nowack, Propheten, 392.
71 E. Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees (New Yark: Schocken,
72 Torrey, "Malachi," 11-12.
30 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
what Isa 41:18ff had foretold. As the years of these conditions
multiplied, the people became increasingly discouraged, cynical and
impious.73 Dentan summarizes the disconsolate questions the people
were asking: "'What is the good of our keeping his charge or of
walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?' (). 'Where is
the God of justice?' (). 'What evidence is there that God loves us?'
(1:2 paraphrase)."74 One can see that the responses of the people
to their circumstances covered a wide spectrum. People were dis-
couraged and weeping (). Many became cynical about God and
life (1:2; ; 3:14ff). Others pursued a life of sorcery, adultery,
perjury and oppression (3:5). Worship was viewed with contempt
(; 3:1ff), and anything was good enough for an offering to Yahweh
The purpose of the book, then, was largely negative, being
essentially an indictment designed to move the people to repentance.
Repentance of their unbelief in God and their immoral treatment of
their fellow Israelites was the first step, not a simple change in the
faith in God and justice in
Israelites was not present, then the people could expect to see the
wrath of God. In issuing these warnings Malachi sought to reignite
faith in Yahweh, giving hope to the faithful in passages like 3:10ff,
16ff; 4:2 (= MT ).
VI. The Theology of Malachi
It is customary to preface a discussion of Malachi's message with
an unfavorable comparison to the prophets of an earlier era.76 Malachi
should not be heard as the death rattle of a dying prophetic move-
ment. While Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets of immense stature,
it is wrong to measure Malachi by the standard of any other prophet
for Malachi was a different man, at a different historical setting
confronting somewhat different sorts of problems.77 Malachi is a
prophet whose perspective is not wholly like any other's. The book is
post-exilic, yet without the apocalyptic emphases of Zechariah. Nor
does one find the polemic tone of Hosea. One also discovers a causal
73 Dentan, "Malachi," 1118.
74 Ibid., 1118.
75 LaSor, Survey, 502.
76 See Dentan, "Malachi," 1120.
G. van Rad, Old Testament Theology (2 vols.;
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 31
relationship between sin and retribution on the one hand and faith-
fulness and blessing on the other.78 These concepts were forcefully
able than they were. P. Ackroyd expands these themes when he
The prophet directs his concern to two attitudes which run contrary to
the recognition of this elective love. On the one hand, there is the whole
condition of unacceptability which makes the appropriation of divine
action impossible. The failure of the priesthood stands central to this. . . .
Side by side with this are indications of the repudiation of Yahweh and
of the community which is his, by irreligious and idolatrous practice,
and by alien intermarriage (-17). On the other hand, the prophet is
concerned with the problem of religious skepticism (-17; -15).
Into this is woven again the stress upon a right response in which alone
the divine will can be appropriated. But above all, this is the context for
the reaffirmation of divine action, in the great act of deliverance which
brings judgment upon the unrighteous and hope for the God-fearers.
The continuing state of distress is seen as evidence for the continuing
failure of the people. The rightness of divine judgment and withdrawal
is stressed. The reality of divine action and intervention is made plain.79
Any discussion of covenant between God and man must begin
with a rehearsal of a proper conception of what God is like and what
He has done for those with whom He has bound Himself in cove-
nant.80 Malachi's reliance upon covenant is properly rooted in a lofty
view of God. Central to Malachi's perspective of God is the "name
theology" of the book where God's name is to be great, feared and
honored (1:5, 11, 14; 2:2). It is the people's disrespect for the great
name of Yahweh which compels the prophet to confront the people
(1:6). Even the usual title for God in Malachi is the exalted tvxbc hvhy
("Yahweh of Hosts").81
The meaning of Yahweh of Hosts is disputed, the question center-
ing upon the identity of the hosts. A common view is that the hosts
refer to armies since this is the normal meaning of the Hebrew word
78 Fischer, "Notes," 319.
79 P. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) 2.30-31.
80 Note that a recapitulation of what the suzerain had done for his vassals was an
integral part of both ancient Near-Eastern treaties as well as biblical covenants. See
D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963) 2-3,
81 1:4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14; 2:2, 4, 7, 8, 12, 16; 3:1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17; 4:1
(= MT ), 3 (= MT ).
32 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
xbc. S. R. Driver proposes that the expression refers to heavenly
hosts, stars and/or angels.82 W. Eichrodt maintains that the term
speaks of all which is, both in heaven and earth.83 The connotation in
post-exilic Malachi is probably not the earlier holy war meaning, but
that of the exalted status of the sovereign God over all. The LXX
catches this nuance well when it translated Yahweh of Hosts with
pantokra<twr ("The Almighty," cf. 2 Cor ; Rev 1:8 et al). More-
over, God is portrayed as unchangeable (3:6)84 and as Master and
King (1:5, 6, 11, 14; 2:2).
One must not neglect to mention the great prophecy of
which presents as high a conception of God as found anywhere in the
OT. The recognition of the greatness of Yahweh's name by the
nations is a moving notion, one that can only be fulfilled in the es-
chatological age.85 Dentan is quite wrong when he says of this pas-
sage " . . . that all true worship, even that of the heathen, who think
they are worshiping other gods, is really offered to Yahweh, who is
not only of
saying that there are many ways to God.87 Indeed, the highly cov-
enantal context in which is found argues that God is not univer-
of that covenant. Mal underscores not only the transcendental
view of God, but also portrays a God who is present and knowable, a
topic we will now discuss.
No point underscores the nearness of God to His people more
than the personal mode of speech in the book. Out of a total of 55
verses in the book, 47 contain the first person address of Yahweh to
of a future for
tion (3:6). The imminency of God to His people is also stressed in the
repeated comparison of God's relationship with His people to that of
a Father and son (1:6; ; ). We have then in Malachi a balanced
conception of God as both exalted and very near.
R. Driver, "Malachi,"
ners, 1900) 3.137-38.
83 W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (2 vols.;
minster, 1961-67) 1.192; see LaSor, Survey, 504.
84 See R. Alden, "Malachi," Expositor's Bible Commentary (12 vols.; ed. F.
85 See the excellent study by J. G. Baldwin, "Malachi and the Worship of the
Nations in the Old Testament," TynBul 23 (1972) 117-24.
86 Dentan, "Malachi," 1120.
87 See Torrey, "Malachi," 13; Baldwin, "Malachi ," 124.
Klein: AN INTRODUTION TO MALACHI 33
Having established a proper view of God, Malachi reminds the
people of their responsibilities to their Covenant-Maker.88 In achieving
this end Malachi reveals a great reliance upon Deuteronomy as has
observed.89 The love God has for
not only in the theology of Malachi, but also in Deuteronomy (;
God plus the love toward God required of
monly misunderstood as an emotional response. While I do not wish
to deny categorically the association of emotions with the love of
God (viewed as both subjective and objective genitive), Moran has
conclusively shown that the love of God is a covenantal term speaking
of loyalty, service and on the human level, obedience.90 The treaty
background of the love of God in Deuteronomy points clearly to the
the expression connotes God's selection of
behalf as well as the covenantal stipulations which
obliged to keep. The stipulations obviously have both vertical and
To put it briefly,
selected by God would be expected to act, not like Esau and his kin
outside the covenantal community (1:2ff).
honor Yahweh's name (1:6), to present acceptable offerings to Him
(1:7ff, 12ff; 2:8ff), to seek God earnestly (1:9ff) and to value her status
as a participant in a covenant with God (2:10ff; 3:13ff). The faith
Malachi sought to inculcate stressed the individual (1:6ff; 2:10ff, 17ff),
made the inner motive for worship preeminent, understood the
essential aspect of repentance for forgiveness and viewed acceptable
being wholly dependent upon God's grace.91
ever, failed to love (or covenantally speaking, obey) God, so she also
failed to love (serve, honor) her fellow Israelites. The broken relation-
ship with God led to broken relationships with their peers.
The people responded to God's love with disloyalty, disobedi-
ence and disservice, not just toward God, but also toward their
fellowman.92 Malachi alludes to such diverse crimes as robbery (),
fraud (), religious deception (2:7ff), treachery (2:10ff), divorce
88 S. L. McKenzie and H. N. Wallace, "Covenant Themes in Malachi," CBQ 45
89 See A. von Hoonacker, "Le Rapprochement entre Ie Deuteronome et Mala-
chie," ETL 59 (1983) 86-00.
90 W. L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in
Deuteronomy," CBQ 2.5 (1963) 77-87. I
91 Eichrodt, Theology 2.391, 461, 473.
92 Eichrodt, Theology, 1.414.
34 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
(2:14ff), sorcery (3:5), adultery (3:5), perjury (3:5) and oppression of
the downtrodden (3:5). Each of these transgressions shows a flagrant
disregard of Yahweh and His covenant which dictates proper con-
duct. It should be added that Yahweh was concerned also with the
experience not only the blessings of a right relationship with Him, but
their own land and in their dealings with
The most serious breach of covenant among humans in Malachi's
estimation is divorce. In 2:10ff Malachi rebukes the people for making
marriage covenants with those who worship idols. The problem is
squarely the non-believing status of the spouse, not nationality. This
practice is treachery against their fellow Israelites, and it is treachery
against Yahweh. J. M. P. Smith writes of intermarriage:
It brings into the heart of the Jewish family those who have no interest
in or care for the things of Yahweh. It involves the birth of half-breed
children, who will be under the dominating influence of mothers who
serve not Yahweh. It means the contamination of Jewish religious life at
its source, by the introduction of heathen rites and beliefs. If the worship
of Yahweh is to continue in
Apparently, intermarriage was made possible by the misuse of Mosaic
divorce legislation (Deut 24:1ff) in the dissolution of marriage cov-
enants among Israelite couples (2:14ff). God expressed His indignation
over this practice because divorce required the breaking of a covenant
which was by definition, sin (2:8, 10).94 A further reason God em-
phatically declared "I hate divorce ()" is that divorce was at once
cruel to the woman who faced a most precarious social and economic
future, and destablilizing to the society as a whole.
The God of justice () must always mete out judgment when
His covenant (and His holiness which the covenant represents) is
transgressed. The expression of God's wrath in Malachi is fully in
accord with the promised curses of covenantal disobedience found in
Deuteronomy 28. Moreover, God promises to curse the offenders
(; 2:2; 3:9; 4:6 [= MT ]), rebuke (2:3), make despised and
abased (2:9), cut off (), refine through the work of His messenger
(3:1ff), draw near in judgment (3:5) and usher in the Day of Yahweh
as an ultimate pronouncement of judgment (4:1ff [= MT 3:19ff]).
93 J. M. P. Smith, Malachi, 13.
94 One should note the parallel drawn between the marriage covenant and the
Klein: AN INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI 35
Malachi portrays God as not only the covenant-keeping God, but also
as the God who will visit judgment upon every sinner. Yet God's
wrath is tempered by His grace as T. Perowne observes, "They are
not 'consumed,' though their sins deserve it, or His promise would
fail: they must be purified and to that end chastened, or His holiness
would cease."95 Thus, the book of Malachi (and the OT) ends with a
curse upon the land because of sin.
In conclusion, covenant pervades the entire book of Malachi. As
we have seen already, the opening statement (1:2ff) introduces God's
tation to obey the law of Moses (4:4 [= MT ]), law which is best
understood as the stipulations of covenant. Covenant determines
Many Israelites believed that the Messianic age would be inaugu-
rated at the end of the exile for reasons that were discussed earlier in
centuries. The ultimate indignity was the captivity itself. So when
prophets as diverse as Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah, to name a few,
predicted a future glorious age, it is not surprising that the popular
interpretation understood the Messianic age as God's restoration of
justice ()?" She wondered what evidence could be presented to
verify the claim that she was in covenant with Yahweh and that he
did love her (1:2).
Malachi sought to defend God's justice and to reestablish con-
fidence in Yahweh in the following three ways.97 First, Malachi
of God without fulfilling her duties, namely obedience to Yahweh's
was insulted by
ment must begin with the people of God (Amos 3:2; 1 Pet ), and
by God. The multiple indictments in the book all point to the reasons
God's blessings are so distant from
intended to stir up faith in Yahweh once more.
95 T. T. Perowne, Malachi (Cambridge: University Press, 1896) 12.
96 LaSor, Survey, 504.
97 Dentan, "Malachi," 1119-20.
36 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Second, Malachi points to the recent downfall of
and His present activity in history (1:2ff). The manifest implication is
that Yahweh could and would reverse lsrael's fortunes positively just
quickly as He reversed
Third, the awesome Day of Yahweh is coming (3:16ff) when all
injustice would be obliterated and all meritorious service for Yahweh
according to the record books of God ().
then look forward to a future day when present inequities would be
gone. The prophets' predictions of a new age would be understood as
commencing at this same time.
Malachi requires a total change of heart for
due to their disobedience and disbelief.
obey and trust Yahweh, for Malachi gives no signs indicating the
onset of the coming era.
The notion that Yahweh would send an envoy before the great
Day of Yahweh (3:1) is an OT idea found only in Malachi. Malachi
also refers to this individual as "Elijah the Prophet (4:5 (= MT ]).98
The forerunner is to prepare the way for the ministry of the
Messiah (Isa 40:3). The expectation of a forerunner grew in the inter-
testamental period along with the growing anticipation of the Messiah
Himself.99 This hope culminated in the NT association of Elijah with
John the Baptist (Matt ; 11:12ff; Mark 1:2ff; 9:11ff; Luke ;
With Malachi the prophetic era and the OT come to a close. The
curse at the end of the book,101 rampant sin and injustice, the futuristic
Day of Yahweh and the expected advent of the forerunner and
Messiah all point to the unfinished feeling left with the reader. LaSor
The Exile was not the end, and the return was not the beginning of the
new age. Malachi leaves an expectation--a fear of judgment and a hope
98 See Alden, Malachi, 705; von Rad, Theology, 2.289.
99 In the Jewish Passover Seder, "Elijah's cup" is left untouched.
100 See C. L. Blomberg, "Elijah, Election, and the Use of Malachi in the New
Testament," CTR 2 (1987).
101 In Jewish liturgy, after 4:6 (= MT ) is read, earlier portions of the book
are reread so that the biblical reading would not conclude with a curse.
Klein: AN INTRODUTION TO MALACHI 37
of healing. Christians believe that fulfillment of this hope comes in at
least two stages: the First Advent of Christ, providing salvation for all
who believe God's revelation; and the Second Advent, the final judgment
and ult imate salvation.102
The Exile purged with finality the flagrant examples of idolatry
so prevalent in the earlier days of
sophisticated type of idolatry which consisted of a legalistic attitude
superficial performance of divine commands replaced the weightier
issues of confession and repentance of sin and faith in God.103 It is
here that the relevance of the book for today shines through the most
none of its cutting edge through the passing of time. His teaching,
both negative and positive, strikes at the heart of nominal, easy-going
Christianity as it did that of Judaism."104 Finally, Malachi is written to
encourage Israelites who were losing heart, asking if God still loved
and cared for them. To the one asking those questions presently, the
book reminds that God does indeed love and care for each of us.105
102 LaSor, Survey, 506.
103 Keil, Malachi, 428.
104 Baldwin, Malachi, 218.
105 Braun, "Catechism," 301.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
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