The book of Malachi (Malachi 1)

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The author of this book is identified as Malachi, but the meaning of the name, “my messenger”, has raised questions. Some suggest that this is not a propper name at all but a common noun and that Malachi 1:1 should simply be translated as “An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through my messenger”. This would imply that the book is anonymous and that this opening verse (written in the form of a pronouncement of God) simply asserts that the unnamed prophet was God’s messenger. This is in fact the understanding of the Septuagint, which asserts the term in 1:1 as “his messenger”. “My messenger” would indeed be a peculiar name for a man, but it may be a shortened form of Malachiyahu, meaning “Yahweh’s messenger”. Is so, it can be considered to be the prophet’s proper name.

The date of this prophet’s ministry is nor given, but there are a number of clues: Sacrifices were being made at the temple (1:7-10); the Jews were under a governor (1:8), which suggests the Persian period; and Jewish men were marrying foreign wives (2:11), a problem that existed during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. This information suggests that the book was written at some point during the fifth century B.C.

Malachi was written to the Jews who had returned from Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem had by this time been rebuilt (516 B.C.(, but the people had fallen into a state of spiritual apathy. They were both disillusioned about their future and sceptical of God’s promises.

The book of Malachi exhorted the post-exilic Jews to worship God rightly and to live faithfully as they awaited the fulfilment of His promises. Problems addressed by Malachi include the offering of substandard animals as sacrifices (1:8), negligence of duty among the priests (2:7-8), intermarriage with pagans (2:11), general immorality (3:5), a failure to tithe (3:10) and a widespread cynicism about the individual’s duty to God (3:14). At the same time the book encouraged the people to maintain hope in the coming kingdom (3:1-4, 4:2-4). It is noteworthy that this prophecy has little to say about the old patterns od paganism of the pre-exilic Israelites, who had been enticed over and over again into the fertility cult of Baal. This generation was not guilty of the gross idolatry of its forefathers. Rather, these Israelites had embraced a kind of dead orthodoxy, in which they tried to get by with the minimum that their faith required.

As you read, look for the prophet’s effective use of repetition and for his vivid and memorable figures of speech. Pay attention to the series of questions asked by both God and the people. Notice how frequently the Lord’s statements are followed by sarcastic questions introduced by “(But) you ask” (e.g. 1:2, 6-7, 2:14, 17, 3:7-8, 13, cf. 1:13).

Did you know that marriages to foreign (pagan) women were strictly forbidden in the covenant law, not for ethnic or cultural reasons but because of the dager of their leading to apostasy (2:11)? Did you know that “launderer’s soap”, called “fuller’s soap” in some versions, was am alkali prepared from the ashes of certain plants and used for cleansing and “fulling” (shrinking or thickening) new woollen cloth (3:2)?


 

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