1902 Encyclopedia > Malachi


MALACHI. According to the title (Mai. i. 1) the last book of the minor prophets contains the word of Jehovah to Israel by the hand of Malachi. The word may either be an adjective, ' angelic," or may signify " the angel (messenger) of Jehovah." In either case it seems a strange (though hardly an impossible) name for a man to bear, ana from the time ot the Septuagint, which translates " by the haad of His messenger," it has often been doubted whether Malachi is the real name of the author, or only an epithet assumed by himself, or attached by the collector to a work which he found anonymous (so Ewald), with reference to iii. 1.* A Hebrew tradition given in the Targum of Jonathan, and approved by Jerome, identifies Malachi with Ezra the priest and scribe; but, though this opinion is ingeniously supported by reference to ii. 7, where the priest and custodian of the law is called the messenger of Jehovah of hosts, it is unlikely that Ezra's name would have been lost had he been the real author.2

The tradition., however, may at least be taken as imply-ing the perception of a real affinity between the prophet and the great restorer of the law. The religious spirit of Malachi's prophecy is that of the prayers of Ezra and Nehemiah. A strong sense of the unique privileges of the children of Jacob, the objects of electing love (i. 2), the children of the Divine Father (ii. 10), is combined with an equally strong assurance of Jehovah's righteousness amidst the many miseries that pressed on the unhappy inhabitants of Judaea. At an earlier date the prophet Haggai had taught that the people could not expect Jehovah's blessing while the temple lay in ruins. In Malachi's time the temple was built (i. 10) and the priests waited in their office, but still a curse seemed to rest on the nation's labours (iii. 9). To Malachi the reason of this is plain. The "law of Moses" was forgotten (iv. 4 [iii. 22]); let the people return to Jehovah, and He will return to them. It was vain to complain, saying, " Every one that doeth evil is good in the eyes of Jehovah," or ''Where is the God of judgment?"-—vain to ask "Wherein shall we return V Obedience to the law is the sure path to bless-ing (ii 17-iii. 12).

' Stade (Z, f. ATliehe Wiss., 1882, p. 308 ; comp. 1881, p. 14) thinks that the title in Mai. i. 1 is by the same hand as that in Zech. xii. 1, and that both are copied from Zeeh. ix. 1, under the misconception that NK'D was to be construed with the following words.

2 The LXX. rendering of i. 1 gave rise to strange fancies. Jerome and Cyril mention that some supposed the prophet to have been an angel in bodilyform; and the Vitse Prophetarum of Pseudo-Epiphanius have a "word-myth" to the effect that his prophecies were regularly confirmed by an angelie apparition. The same book willTiave it that Malachi was of the tribe of Zebulon, born in a town Sopha or Sophera, had his name from his great beauty and died young.

It is not easy to say whether the law to which Malachi recalls the people is that which was established by the covenant taken under Ezra, or whether the prophet wrote before that event. It is at least the Deuteronomic law that is most familiar to him, as appears from his use of the name Horeb for the mountain of the law, and the Deutero-nomic phrase " statutes and judgments 'n (iv. 4), from his language as to tithes and offerings (iii. 8, 10, comp. Deut. xii. 11, xxvi. 12), and especially from hi3 conception of the priesthood as resting on a covenant with Levi (ii. 4 sq.). The abuses of which he particularly complains are such as were found rampant by Ezra and Nehemiah,—marriage with foreign women (ii. 11, comp. Ezra ix., Neh. xiii. 23 sq., Deut. vii. 3) and failure in payment of sacred dues (iii. 8 sq., comp. Neh. x. 34 sq., xiii. 10 sq., Deut. xxvi. 12 sq.). Add to this that the position of the priests had fallen into contempt (ii. 9), and that the oral law is still one of their chief trusts (ii. 6 sq.), and we shall be disposed to conclude that, if Malachi's work did not precede the reformation of Ezra, it must have fallen very little later, and before the new order was thoroughly established. The prophecy of Toel shows the new theocracy in much fuller development.

1 Malachi had the law of Deuteronomy in its present historical frame-work (the opening chapters), according to which all '' the laws and statutes" apart from the Decalogue'were given to Moses for Israel upon Horeb. This description would not hold good of the priestly legislation, which accordingly is hardly contemplated in Mai. iv. 4.

The object of Ezra and Nehemiah was to establish the law by means of the organs of government under warrant from the Great King. Malachi looks for reformation in another direction. He calls the people to repentance, and he enforces the call by proclaiming the approach of Jehovah in judgment against the sorcerers, the adulterers, the false swearers, the oppressors of the poor, the orphan, and the stranger. Then it shall be seen that He is indeed a God of righteous judgment, distinguishing between those that serve Him and those that serve Him not. The Sun of Righteousness shall shine forth on those that fear Jehovah's name; they shall go forthwith joy, and tread the wicked under foot. The conception of the day of final decision, when Jehovah shall come suddenly to His temple (iii. 1) and confound those who think the presumptuous godless happy (iii. 15), is taken from earlier prophets, but it receives a special character from an application of a thought based on Isa. xl. 3. The day of Jehovah would be a curse not a blessing if it found the nation in its present state, the priests listlessly performing a fraudulent service (i. 7—ii. 9), the people bound by marriage to heathen women, while the tears of the daughters of Israel, thrust aside to make way for strangers, cover the altar (ii. 11-16), all faith in divine justice gone (ii. 17, iii. 14 sq.), sorcery, uncleanness, falsehood, and oppression rampant (iii. 5), the house of God deprived of its dues (iii. 8), and the true fearers of God a little flock gathered together in private exercises of religion (perhaps the germ of the later synagogue) in the midst of a godless nation (iii. 16). That the day of Jehovah is delayed in such a state of things is but a new proof of His unchanging love (iii. 6), which refuses to con-sume the sons of Jacob. Meantime He is about to send His messenger to prepare His way before Him. The prophet Elijah must reappear to bring back the hearts of fathers and children before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come. Elijah was the advocate of national decision in the great concerns of Israel's religion; and it is such decision, a clear recognition of what the service of Jehovah means, a purging of His professed worshippers from hypocritical and half-hearted service (iii. 3) that Malachi with his intense religious earnestness sees to bo the only salvation of the nation. In thus looking to the return of an ancient prophet to do the work for which later prophecy is too weak, Malachi unconsciously signalizes the decay of the order of which he was one of the last representatives; and the somewhat mechanical measure which he applies to the people's sins, as for example when he teaches that if the sacred dues were rightly paid pro-sperous seasons would at once return (iii. 10), heralds the advent of that system of formal legalism which thought that all religious duty could be reduced to a system of set rules. It was left to a greater Teacher to show that hypocrisy and vain religion might coexist with Pharisaic exactness in the observance of the whole letter of the law. Yet Malachi himself is no mere formalist. To him, as to the Deuteronomic legislation, the forms of legal observ-ance are of value only as the fitting expression of Israel's peculiar sonship and service, and he shows himself a true prophet when he contrasts the worthless ministry of unwilling priests with the pure offering of prayer and praise that rises from all corners of the Hebrew dispersion (i. 11), or when he asserts the brotherhood of all Israelites under their one Father (ii. 10), not merely as a ground of separa-tion from the heathen, but as inconsistent with the selfish and cruel freedom of divorce current in his time. It is characteristic of later Judaism that an arbitrary exegesis transformed this anticipation of the doctrine of marriage laid down in the gospel into an express sanction of the right of the husband to put away his wife at will.

The style of Malachi, like his argument, corresponds in its generally prosaic character to that transformation or decay of prophecy which began with Ezekiel; and Ewald has rightly called attention to the fact that the conduct of the argument already shows traces of the dialectic manner of the schools. Yet there is a simple dignity in the manner not unworthy of a prophet, and rising from time to time to poetical rhythm.

The exegetical helps to the study of Malachi are mainly thesameas have been already cited in the article HAGGAI. Reference may alsobe made to the lengthy commentary of Reinke (Roman Catholic), 1856; to M. Sanger, Maleachi, eine exegetische Studie, 1867 ; and among older commentaries to that of Pococke (2d ed., 1692). ("W. E. S.)


Malachi indeed assumes that the "whole tithe"—the Deutero-nomic phrase for the tithe in which the Levites shared—is not stored in each township, but brought into the treasury at the temple. But this was a modification of the Deuteronomic law naturally called for under the circumstances of the return frovn Babylon, and Neh, x. and
xiii. produce the impression that it was not introduced for the first time by Ezra and Nehemiah, though the collection of the tithe was enforced by them.
As the " governor " in i. 8 is hardly Nehemiah, Kdhler and other recent writers think of the period between Nehemiah's first and second visit to Jerusalem, when the evils complained of by the prophet broke
out afresh.

In ii. 16 the Targum renders " If thou hatest her put her away," and this translation seems to be intended by the Massoretie punctuation. We should probably point SOt? in the sense of Arabic makruh, used of actions not illegal but offensive to right feeling. . j

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