Criswell Theological Review 2.1 (1987) 19-37

[Copyright 1987 by Criswell College, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Criswell Colleges and elsewhere]






Criswell College, Dallas, TX 75201



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.

2 J. A. Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament (revised; Philadelphia: West-

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.; Leiden:

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

Ecclesiastical Literature (reprinted; 10 vols.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981) 5.673.

7 J. Calvin, The Twelve Minor Prophets (reprinted; 5 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1849) 5.459,



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


8 D. W. Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,

1897) 390.

9 B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia:

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 Introduction (New York: Harper & Row,

1965) 441.

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.).



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

of Zechariah.18

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

views Zechariah.

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

in mind.


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;

Chicago: Moody, 1974) 433-38; and Harrison, Introduction, 950-57.



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 4:19) and

hyrvx (Uriyah, 1 Chron 11:41). 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.

25 See J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-

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.



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; 2:13; 3:10), 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 13:10-14)

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 Israel 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

This view fails to recognize the rapidity with which Israel could

relapse into sin as well as overestimating the effect of the Ezra-

Nehemiah reforms.


28 W, C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God's Unchanging Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker,

1984) 16.

29 Archer, Survey, 440.

30 E. Sellin and G. Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville: Abing-

don, 1968) 470.



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 (10:10, 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

falling within the two great periods of Nehemiah's activity in Israel

(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

of Columbia, 1963) 175-77.

32 Ibid., 191.

33 R. Dentan, "Malachi," Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.; New York: Abingdon, 1956)


34 W. Neil, "Malachi," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; Nashville:

Abingdon, 1962) 3.229.

35 H. Wolf, Haggai and Malachi (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 58.



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

Edom. While the downfall of Edom was a widely-known fact, the

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

Israel's religious development in contradistinction to the Wellhausian

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 7:14, 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.

42 R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row,

1941) 614.

43 Kaiser, Malachi, 15.



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 Jerusalem on his

second arrival there, and strove most energetically to exterminate,

Malachi must have prophesied at that time; but whether immediately

before Nehemiah's second arrival in Jerusalem, or during his presence

there. . . cannot be decided with certainty.44


Thus, the date of ca. 435 B.C., immediately before or at the onset of

Nehemiah's second work in Israel is the preferred date.


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.

45 D. E. Sellin, Vas Zwolfprophetenbuch (Zweite Halfte; Leipzig: A. Deichertsche

Ver. D. Werner Scholl, 1930) 587. Note the somewhat larger and more surgical list

(1:11-13, 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.



literary-critical perspective, but does wish to transpose 3:6-12 and

2:10-16 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 3:13-

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

Malachi uses to communicate with Israel. "Sermons" have been prof-

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

against Israel are legal in nature having a courtroom setting, with

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 (Philadelphia: Fortress,

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

an addition.

53 A. van Selms, "The Inner Cohesion of the Book of Malachi," OTWSA 13-14

(1970-71) 38.

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

(1977) 299.

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.



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:

1:1 (superscription)


1:6- 2:9




3:13-4:6 (= MT 3:24)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-

tic perspective.64

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

abandoned, however.

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

(1972) 316.

63 E. R. Clendenen, "The Structure of Malachi: A Textlinguistic Study," CTR

2 (1987).

64 This chiastic arrangement of the three movements in Malachi argues for the

original inclusion of 4:4-6 (= MT 3:22-24) since the chiasm would be destroyed


65 Sellin, Zwolfprophetenbuch, 2.587.

66 W. Kaiser, Malachi, 18.

67 J. M. P. Smith, Malachi, 5.



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


Israel's circumstances in Malachi's day had changed. For the first

time in centuries the land saw a degree of political autonomy from

the Persians plus a new but developing money economy.71 Spiritually,

though, the outlook was utterly bleak. Israel's contact with the world

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

been so active in Israel's history long ago, was seen as transcendent

and uninvolved in the lives of men (2:17; 3:13ff). The effect of such

notions was clearly seen in the public worship at the Temple. 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,

1949) 12-13.

72 Torrey, "Malachi," 11-12.



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?' (3:14). 'Where is

the God of justice?' (2:11). '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 (2:13). Many became cynical about God and

life (1:2; 2:11; 3:14ff). Others pursued a life of sorcery, adultery,

perjury and oppression (3:5). Worship was viewed with contempt

(1:14; 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

ritual. If faith in God and justice in Israel's dealing with her fellow

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 3:20).


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.

77 See G. van Rad, Old Testament Theology (2 vols.; New York: Harper & Row,

1965) 2.279.



relationship between sin and retribution on the one hand and faith-

fulness and blessing on the other.78 These concepts were forcefully

employed to explain why Israel's circumstances were no more favor-

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 (2:10-17). On the other hand, the prophet is

concerned with the problem of religious skepticism (2:13-17; 3:13-15).

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 3:19), 3 (= MT 3:21).



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 6:18; 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 1:11

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

the God not only of Israel but of all the earth."86 Malachi is not

saying that there are many ways to God.87 Indeed, the highly cov-

enantal context in which 1:11 is found argues that God is not univer-

salistic, and Israel stands in a relationship with God solely by virtue

of that covenant. Mal 1:11 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

Israel. The earlier observation that God was unchanging ensures that

His promises of a future for Israel belong also to the present genera-

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; 2:10; 3:17). We have then in Malachi a balanced

conception of God as both exalted and very near.


82 S. R. Driver, "Malachi," Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Scrib-

ners, 1900) 3.137-38.

83 W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (2 vols.; Philadelphia: West-

minster, 1961-67) 1.192; see LaSor, Survey, 504.

84 See R. Alden, "Malachi," Expositor's Bible Commentary (12 vols.; ed. F.

Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 7.705.

85 See the excellent study by J. G. Baldwin, "Malachi 1:11 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 1:11," 124.



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

long been observed.89 The love God has for Israel (1:2) is prominent

not only in the theology of Malachi, but also in Deuteronomy (4:37;

7:8; 23:5). Moreover, Israel is enjoined to love God (Deut 6:5). This

love from God plus the love toward God required of Israel is com-

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

fact that the expression connotes God's selection of Israel, His service

on her behalf as well as the covenantal stipulations which Israel was

obliged to keep. The stipulations obviously have both vertical and

horizontal dimensions.

To put it briefly, Israel was to respond to God as one graciously

selected by God would be expected to act, not like Esau and his kin

who were outside the covenantal community (1:2ff). Israel was to

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

sacrifice as being wholly dependent upon God's grace.91 Israel, how-

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 (1:13),

fraud (1:14), religious deception (2:7ff), treachery (2:10ff), divorce


88 S. L. McKenzie and H. N. Wallace, "Covenant Themes in Malachi," CBQ 45

(1983) 549-63.

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.



(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

nations outside of Israel's borders (1:5). God desires that non-Israelites

experience not only the blessings of a right relationship with Him, but

also in their own land and in their dealings with Israel (1:14; 3:12).

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 Israel, or the favour of Yahweh to be poured

out upon Israel, "the intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews must cease.

Israel, as the people of the holy God, must keep herself holy.93


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 (2:16)" 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 (2:17) 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

(1:14; 2:2; 3:9; 4:6 [= MT 3:24]), rebuke (2:3), make despised and

abased (2:9), cut off (2:12), 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

covenant between Israel and God in Hosea 1-3.



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

covenantal relationship with Israel. Plus, the book ends with an exhor-

tation to obey the law of Moses (4:4 [= MT 3:22]), law which is best

understood as the stipulations of covenant. Covenant determines

Israel's view of God, and of her fellow Israelites in addition to her

ultimate destiny.



Many Israelites believed that the Messianic age would be inaugu-

rated at the end of the exile for reasons that were discussed earlier in

this article. Israel had faced manifold indignities through the last two

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

Israel's fortunes immediately after the captivity. But this was not to

be. Israel's reaction was predictable. She asked, "Where is the God of

justice (2:17)?" 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

reminded Israel that it was inconceivable that she enjoy the blessings

of God without fulfilling her duties, namely obedience to Yahweh's

covenant. God was insulted by Israel's present conduct. God's judg-

ment must begin with the people of God (Amos 3:2; 1 Pet 4:17), and

therefore Israel would have to correct her ways in order to be blessed

by God. The multiple indictments in the book all point to the reasons

why God's blessings are so distant from Israel. This argument serves

to rebuke Israel's spiritual lethargy, but the final two points are

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.



Second, Malachi points to the recent downfall of Israel's old

spiritual foe, Edom, as indicative of God's concern for His people

and His present activity in history (1:2ff). The manifest implication is

that Yahweh could and would reverse lsrael's fortunes positively just

as quickly as He reversed Edom's negatively.

Third, the awesome Day of Yahweh is coming (3:16ff) when all

injustice would be obliterated and all meritorious service for Yahweh

rewarded according to the record books of God (3:16). Israel could

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 Israel. Their present

problems are due to their disobedience and disbelief. Israel must

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 3:23]).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 11:14; 11:12ff; Mark 1:2ff; 9:11ff; Luke 1:11;

John 1:21).100


VII. Conclusion


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 3:24) is read, earlier portions of the book

are reread so that the biblical reading would not conclude with a curse.



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

which were so prevalent in the earlier days of Israel's history. A more

sophisticated type of idolatry which consisted of a legalistic attitude

toward Israel's relationship with God took its place. Trust in the

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

clearly. Baldwin notes: "Malachi's remarkable ethical thrust has lost

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.




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