Author: Malachi

Date Written: 480-430 BC


Malachi's name means "my messenger" or "my angel."  He prophesied in Judah after the reconstruction of the Temple, but before or during the rule of Ezra and Nehemiah.  He is not mentioned in other books of the Old Testament, but he is quoted in the New Testament (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; Rom 9:13).


In Malachi's time, the people had returned to the land but were becoming lax and disobedient in the practice of their faith.  The prophet reproved them for offering polluted sacrifices, for intermarrying with other people and for withholding their tithes from the Lord.  These were the same problems that Nehemiah had to address during his rule of Judah.  Malachi's prophecy probably encouraged the efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah to bring reform.


The Lord emphasizes his love for Israel at the beginning of the Book of Malachi, but then he challenges the people with a series of questions about their relationship with him.  First, he charges the priests with offering illegal sacrifices at the newly rebuilt Temple.  The Mosaic law prescribes that only clean animals without blemish be offered as sacrifices and the priests were disobeying (Lev 22:21-22).  Second, the Lord rebukes the priests for turning aside from the way and corrupting the covenant of Levi (Mal 2:8).  Third, he upbraids the men of Judah for marrying non-Jewish women and blames some for divorcing their Jewish wives in order to marry foreigners (2:11, 14).  Intermarriage with other peoples, an act of disobedience to the Law (Deut 7:3), was an important issue in the time of the Restoration under Ezra's spiritual leadership (Ezra 9-10).  Malachi then announces the messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord, purify the priests and bring the Lord's judgment against social injustice (Mal 3:1-5).  The Gospels recognize John the Baptist as this messenger (see above references and 1:17, 1:76).  Next, the prophet addresses the people's holding back of their tithes (3:8).  The Law mandated an annual tithe of produce, but the people were disobediently withholding the Lord's portion (Deut 14:22).


The people respond to the prophet's words by pledging their loyalty to the Lord and writing their names in a book (3:16).  In the last section, Malachi announces the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment for evildoers, but a day of healing for those who fear the name of the Lord (Mal 4:1-2).  The last couple verses announce that Elijah will come before the day of the Lord (4:5-6).  The Gospels again understand John the Baptist to fill this role (Matt 11:14, 17:12; Mark 9:13).


Malachi's message is in harmony with the other prophets, but some of his points may be surprising to us.  Most of the sins which the prophet brings up are basically ceremonial: impure sacrifices, intermarriage and tithe avoidance.  Yet the Lord views these acts as serious offenses against his covenant relationship with his people.  What seems trivial is in fact definitive for Judah's relationship with the Lord, revealing the heart of his people.


Malachi is the last of the prophets before the arrival of John the Baptist.  This book concludes the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets and the entire Old Testament canon.  It reminds us of God's love for us.  It reveals the importance of worshiping him correctly and it causes us to look forward to the "sun of righteousness" who will come with healing in his wings (4:2).  While Malachi reproves the people for their sins, his anticipation of the joy of redemption sounds a note of hope at the close of the Old Testament.


By Mark Giszczak

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April 24, 2014

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

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Lk 24:35-48


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