OT Survey 113 Seminar 23 Malachi
Andrew Hodge 17th November 2006
Old Testament Survey OTE 113
Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp 467-472; Malachi; Libronix
Explain the background and circumstances under which Malachi wrote:
151 years before Malachi puts pen to papyrus God finally removes the remainder of His Nation from His Land because of His Nation’s gross sinful rebellion against Him, allowing the land a nominal 70 years to recover from its defilement.
100 years before writing (536 BC), selected members of the whole Nation under the leadership of Zerubbabel return to the land to resettle and to rebuild the essential item necessary to continue to worship their God as He required - a Temple in Jerusalem. For Jehovah, nothing less would do.
God allows the returnees to struggle with their resources and their faith because in their backslidden state they failed to focus on Him (see Seminar 22 Haggai). They eventually get their act together and the Temple (accepted by God but poor in quality compared with Solomon’s built on the same spot about 450 years before) is finished in 516 BC under the continuing leadership of Zerubbabel and the prodding of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
Ezra and the second wave of returnees come to Jerusalem in 458 BC, and the third wave under Nehemiah in 445 BC. Under these two leaders the walls of Jerusalem are repaired and the city and its Temple are secure again. Nehemiah goes back to Babylon between 433 and 420 BC presumably because of his promise to Artaxerxes I that he would (Nehemiah 2:6), and during his absence, in spite of the presence of Ezra and Malachi, the Chosen Nation backslides again.
Malachi writes during a period where Israel is still under the domination of Persia - Malachi 1:8 uses the Persian term pechah for ‘governor’. This may be somewhat confusing as Zerubbabel the Jew (by now long deceased) was also termed the pechah of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 14, 2:21) as was Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:14). There is nothing to refute that a Jew could not be a Persian pechah appointed by the ruling Persian monarch of the time, but they would have been responsible for governing a limited region, in this case probably only the city and immediate environs of Jerusalem, under the greater authority of another governor eg Tatnai of Ezra 6:6 who in his day was responsible for all territories “beyond the river” ie west of the Euphrates.
The identity of the governor of Malachi 1:8 is not specified but as Malachi and Nehemiah were contemporary at that time, it might be assumed to be the latter. It is perhaps surprising that Nehemiah is not mentioned by name, although the context does not require it.
God uses Malachi to communicate His love to the returnees, to point out the sins of the priests and the people, the judgment they deserved, and the blessing that would come if they returned to Him in righteousness. This is the same fundamental message that is contained in the Gospel and in all other appeals God makes to rebellious mankind.
Malachi is a fitting end to the history of Israel in the OT (Abraham ~2165 BC to Malachi ~ 400 BC) and is an important connecting link to the NT because the Dispensation of Law does not finish until the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), spanning the ‘silent years’ between the Testaments.
Relate the prevailing spiritual conditions in Ezra and Nehemiah as they relate to Malachi:
Ezra returns to Jerusalem in 458 BC, Nehemiah in 445 and 420 BC, Malachi writes from 435 BC; it is therefore certain that Malachi and Nehemiah were contemporary, and probably both were contemporary with Ezra.
Jensen notes (p468) that “The sins denounced by Malachi were the same sins that Nehemiah dealt with during his second term” indicating that the original revival inspired by God through Nehemiah at his first visit (which had resulted in the rebuilding of the city walls) had died down by the time Malachi’s ministry started (just 10 years - 445 to 435 BC Chart 57 pp 220-221). Therefore “In the words of G. Campbell Morgan, “The failures of the people that angered Nehemiah, inspired the message of Malachi””.1
The early returnees had high hopes. Isaiah’s writings around the time of the Assyrian captivity in the North (Isaiah 40-55) “painted the future of those repatriated people in such glowing terms, that they expected the messianic age to dawn immediately.”a God’s timing was not so rapid.
The book of Ezra shows how the Lord fulfilled His promises, given through His prophets, to restore Israel to their own land. This was necessary, as God had promised the Land to His Nation “forever” (Genesis 13:15), true worship could not be restored nor could Israel demonstrate to the heathen what worship of Jehovah was really like without the Temple in Jerusalem, and the coming Messiah was to originate from the land of promise - Bethlehem, not Babylon (Jensen p 217).
There is a gap in the historical account of Ezra of about 60 years - from the end of the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel to the second wave of returnees under Ezra himself. It is clear from both the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that in these 60 years the nation substantially backslid.
The coming of Ezra was especially important for the Jews (Ezra 7:10) “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra’s task according to Artaxerxes who sent him was to restore Temple worship with the money he had entrusted to him (Ezra 7:11-26), and this was accomplished (Ezra 8). His task according to God (who actually sent him) was to expose the sinfulness of the people - idolatry using the images of the eight surrounding nations (Ezra 9:1) and intermarriage with their children (9:2) - causing moral, physical, social and political weakness, poor crops and little inheritance to pass on to their descendants (Ezra 9 especially v 12). The putting away of the ‘strange’ wives was also accomplished (Ezra 10) as Ezra turned the hearts of the Jews toward Jehovah and they realised the depth of their sin. This was no small deal.
Nehemiah’s commission from Artaxerxes was to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:8); God’s commission was to correct the spiritual problems that Nehemiah had heard about from one of his brothers, Hanani, who had returned to Babylon after a visit to Jerusalem. Hanani reported that the ‘remnant’ “are in great affliction and reproach” (Nehemiah 1:3). This implies that not only were they in significant physical straits but that they were also so far away from considering Jehovah as their God - who they claimed to have sent them back from Babylon for such an important task - that the surrounding idol-worshipping nations held them, and therefore Jehovah, in contempt. This is amplified in Nehemiah 1:7 “We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.”
After coming to Jerusalem, Nehemiah rapidly picks up additional sins - the nobles and rulers were exacting usury from their Jewish brethren contrary to the Law, levying excess taxes, grabbing others’ lands and forcing their children into slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-5) possibly brought into the open by the preaching of Malachi (Malachi 3:5). Tithing is addressed in both books (Malachi 3:7–10 cf Nehemiah 10:37–39). The nobles were also in league with Nehemiah’s adversaries that were attempting to prevent wall rebuilding (6:17-19) because of high-society intermarriage.
Nehemiah’s religious revival succeeds and the people return to Jehovah-worship, right their wrongs and determine to be once again true servants of God (Nehemiah 9). The walls get built. In particular, Nehemiah restores the purity of the priesthood so that worship could again be righteous (Nehemiah 11-13).
There is substantial similarity in the sins described by Malachi to those in Ezra and Nehemiah, but Malachi does it in his own unique way. “Malachi’s message applied the Mosaic Covenant to the problems of postexilic Israel—problems of neglect, expediency, and outright disobedience. Underlying these problems was a lack of proper perspective on God’s covenant faithfulness, and the loss of the hope that the kingdom would be established. This led to widespread unfaithfulness, affecting the people’s worship in the temple and marital relations in their homes. Malachi pointed to God’s past, present, and future dealings with Israel in order to renew their perspective, reestablish their hope, and motivate them to proper covenant faithfulness.”
Malachi takes a ‘pastoral’ view of the sinning Jerusalemites. The very first thing he draws to their attention was the fact that God still loved them in spite of who they were and what they were doing (Malachi 1:2-5). He reminds them that they owed Jehovah their honour, reverence and respect (1:6). He then pointed out their sins as they themselves had rebelliously expressed them with the phrase “and ye say”:
1. A dispute about God’s love (1:2–5)
2. A dispute about God’s honor and fear (1:6–2:9)
3. A dispute about faithlessness (2:10–16)
4. A dispute about God’s justice (2:17–3:5)
5. A dispute about repentance (3:6–12)
6. A dispute about speaking against God (3:13–21, Eng. 3:13–4:3)
If they recognised their sinfulness (Malachi 2:17) and repented (3:7), God would pour out on them an unprecedented blessing (3:1-6, 4:2-3), although again, this would be subject to God’s timing and he refers in 3:1-6 to events that would not occur in Israel for another 400 years (?4:2-3 refers to the Millennium). 3:1-6 includes specific redress for the sins current in Malachi’s day (v 5).
Malachi does not leave his contemporaries in the lurch however. In 3:10-12 if they bring their “tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be not room enough to receive it” (3:10). God also promises to revitalise their harvests (3:11) and cause Israel to be respected internationally (3:12 - with near and far fulfilments).
Analyse Malachi’s use of marriage and divorce. Apply this to Israel’s moral and spiritual state:
Malachi (and Nehemiah) describe the actual public problem of mixed marriages and the fact that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:10–16 cf Nehemiah 10:30; 13:23–29). God uses both prophets to go a long way to reverse this moral sin so that society is returned toward a more Godly state which the Lord can bless.
However the use of the metaphor of marriage in Malachi is to define for the reader the fundamental issue of faithfulness to God. The passage involved is also 2:10-16 with scattered additional verses eg 1:2, 3:5. Marriage in human terms is the closest analogy that could be made for the relationship between God and His people.
As a husband God is loving and faithful (1:2) and He expects His wife to be the same. As in earthly marriages, either spouse can become unfaithful. In this metaphor, Israel as the wife decides to be unfaithful and commit adultery by forsaking Jehovah and worshipping the idols of surrounding nations. By herself, she is quite incapable of returning to her husband and He has to buy her back (eg Hosea).
In Malachi 2:11 the writer accuses Judah of dealing treacherously and marrying the daughter of a strange god. The penalty for this is (spiritual - and actual?) death (2:12). The meaning of the Hebrew word translated as ‘cut off’ may be either divorce or death. Either way, the personal relationship between God and the individual ceases.
The priests use the Temple altar for idolatrous rituals (2:13) because they have also ‘dealt treacherously with the wife of their youth’ (2:14) even though she is “thy companion and the wife of thy covenant” (2:14). Malachi is reminding Israel of the very same thing Paul reminded the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 15:2-4 cf v 34), and John the Churches at Ephesus (Revelation 2:4) and Thyatira (Rev 2:20-22); God warns, and then acts in disapproval if they leave their first love and are spiritually fornicating with idols.
God had intended that Israel and He be one for the purpose of producing Godly seed (Malachi 2:15). God hates divorce (2:16) “therefore take heed to your spirit that ye deal not treacherously”; and God deals harshly with adulterers (3:5).
Scripture frequently uses ‘wife’ as a metaphor for Israel; note that in Deuteronomy 32:19, they are called God’s ‘sons and daughters’. There is the whole theological difficulty of Israel being Jehovah’s wife and the Church being the Bride of Christ.
Evaluate the spiritual condition of Israel to their previous history:
It is not difficult to understand that Israel’s historical situation reflects their spiritual state - they are in physical difficulties because of the poor spiritual decisions they made in the past. We are no different for “there but for the grace of God go I”. The rebelliousness expressed in sin is common to all and unless God had expressed His grace we would remain in rebellion forever.
It is interesting that the future of Israel expresses God’s grace even in Malachi. He promises to send the ‘messengers’ (John the Baptist 3:1) and the Messiah (also 3:1). Malachi’s name itself means ‘messenger’ and as 1:1 is the only verse in Scripture that mentions him, his existence has been questioned, the verse being translated “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by the messenger”. Of course, the writer and subject of the book was a messenger, but was his name Malachi?
Israel’s worship is also prophesied to improve, for after the Messiah comes He will purge and purify Levi so that they may offer an offering in righteousness (3:3), and “Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years” (3:4). If this is a prophecy for the Millennium, where the worship of Christ and God will reach a peak, whenever was it that good in the past? The dedication of Solomon’s Temple comes to mind but is this right? The offerings of some of the OT heroes in thanksgiving and praise for a deliverance? The offering of Isaac? For most of Israel’s Levitical history, offerings were an abomination to God.
Describe the historical circumstances of Israel to the writing of Malachi:
After Malachi wrote, God chose not to reveal anything more for 400 years, although Israel’s turbulent history continued eg the Maccabees. God did not need to reveal anything further until the due time (Mark 1:17; Acts 17:26; Romans 5:6; etc), for the promises of the OT, and specifically that of John the Baptist and Jesus in Malachi, were next on the list for fulfilment. The NT opens as a part of the Dispensation of Law (Exodus 19:1~Acts 2:1), fundamentally a continuation of Malachi.
Paraphrase Malachi’s response to wayward Israel:
Repent (and be saved) and God will bless you.
Relate Israel’s plight in Malachi to the previous lessons:
Much of the OT is the history - especially the spiritual history - of Israel and in Malachi we see that they have reached a new low. The book and the OT end with a magnificent promise regarding the future of mankind and Israel (4:2-3, 6), of judgment to come (4:1, 5) and lastly the imposition of a curse on those who fail to respond to the powerful preaching of the Word (4:6).
God has every right to wipe His Nation off the face of the earth without regret, on account of their gross offences against His infinite holiness, righteousness and benevolence. If He did, He would probably suffer much from remorse on account of His infinite love, longsuffering and mercy. In the end, His grace wins through and Israel survives, eventually to complete God’s unconditional covenants in every respect.
1 Footnote 15 Jensen p 468: G. Campbell Morgan Voices of Twelve Hebrew Prophets p 151. Another writer has commented, “The book of Malachi fits the situation amid which Nehemiah worked as snugly as a bone fits its socket” (J. M. P. Smith, quoted in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3:1970)
aRalph L. Smith, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary, 299 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).
Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985.
Ralph L. Smith, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary, 299 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).
Ralph L. Smith, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary, 298 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).