The Jewish people had returned to their land; the Second Temple had been built; life under the Persian authorities took on a new form of “normal.” Some bad habits had crept back into the life of Israel; YHWH sent His messenger, Malachi, to dispute with them.
Malachi is the thirty-ninth book in most English Bibles and the last book in the Old Testament; in the Hebrew Bible it is part of the Nevi’im, the Prophets; in the Greek Septuagint Malachi is the last of the Duodecim (Latinized; Dodeka in Greek), “the Twelve.” None of Malachi’s (“my messenger”) prophecies are dated; condemnation of Edom, the presence of the Temple, and mention of governors suggests a date during the Persian period after the rebuilding of the Temple (ca. 516-332 BCE; Malachi 1:2-10, 3:1, 18); most consider Malachi as a late contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah and prophesied ca. 420 BCE. Malachi would thus be the last prophetic voice for Israel until the days of the Christ. Malachi prophesies against the abuses of priest and people during the early Second Temple Period and looks forward to the Day of YHWH.
The book of Malachi is set forth in terms of six disputations and a conclusion. The first dispute centers on YHWH’s love for Israel: Israel may have doubted God’s steadfast love for Israel, but He compared His love for Israel with His hostility toward Edom, who might presume to rebuild but will remain shattered (Malachi 1:1-5). YHWH then spoke regarding the honor due Him like a father or master would be honored, for He has been despised by the priests; they wondered how they despised YHWH’s name; they had been offering lame or sick animals in sacrifice, animals which would have been rejected by their governors (Malachi 1:6-9). YHWH wished for the doors of the Temple to be shut, for His name will be magnified among the nations, but Israel does not give the honor due him; the priests profaned it by considering His table polluted and the food on it despised; YHWH cursed those who cheat Him (Malachi 1:10-14). YHWH had made a covenant with Levi: his descendants should instruct the people, but they have turned aside and have caused many to stumble; they will be made to be despised by the people (Malachi 2:1-9).
YHWH’s third disputation involved Judah’s faithlessness. YHWH accused the Jewish people of marrying idolaters; such ones should be cut off from among the people (Malachi 2:10-12). The Jewish people lamented that YHWH did not accept their offerings; He spurned them because they had proven faithless to the wives of their youth, their companions by covenant; God wanted them to have offspring, and hates divorce and those who participate in violence (Malachi 2:13-16).
Israel had wearied YHWH with their words: they presumed that YHWH delighted in those who did evil, and wondered where the God of justice had gone (Malachi 2:17). YHWH would send His messenger to prepare His way, and judgment will take place; Levi will endure refinement and purification as silver or fuller’s soap, and their offerings will be brought in righteousness; God will judge those who have acted oppressively and sinfully in Israel (Malachi 3:1-5).
YHWH has not changed, and thus Jacob has not been consumed, even though his descendants have proven faithless; they must return to Him (Malachi 3:6-7). YHWH’s fifth disputation against Israel featured their robbery from Him: they have not brought proper tithes and contributions, and are cursed because of it (Malachi 3:8-9). YHWH challenged Israel to put Him to the test: bring proper contributions and see whether He would open the storehouse of the heavens and provide sufficient blessings, and all would consider Israel blessed (Malachi 3:10-12).
YHWH’s final disputation against Israel again focused on their words against Him, believing it vain to serve God, for evildoers prosper (Malachi 3:13-15). YHWH promised them that they would see the day in which the distinction between the righteous and the wicked would be evident, the righteous would be memorialized in a book of remembrance, and the evildoers will be burned up on the Day of YHWH (Malachi 3:16-4:3). The words of Malachi conclude with an exhortation for Israel to remember the law given to Moses and the promise to send Elijah before the great Day of YHWH, turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:4-6).
The completion of the revelation of the oracle of YHWH to Malachi also brought an end to the Old Testament. For four hundred years no prophet was in the land of Israel; the Jewish people hung on the final words of promise given by Malachi and eagerly awaited their fulfillment. It is appropriate, therefore, that when the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, ending the period of silence, he promised the fulfillment of the final words spoken by Malachi: Zechariah’s son John would walk in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, to prepare for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, YHWH in the flesh (Luke 1:11-17; cf. Malachi 4:5-6). The revelation contained in the Old Testament ended with Malachi, but its message extended the hope whose fulfillment is documented in the New Testament. May we take comfort and encouragement from God’s revelations to Israel and serve Him in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry