Lesson 4 of 5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Malachi

“Book of remembrance” 

The names of those who revere the Lord will be noted and entered into “a book of remembrance.” Such a book is also mentioned in Exodus 32:3233; Psalm 69:28; perhaps Isaiah 4:3; 65:6; Daniel 7:10; 12:1; and most notably in Revelation 20:12 and 21:27, where it contains the names of those destined for eternity.

“I have hated Esau” (1:3)

Why does Malachi use such harsh language against Edom and Edom’s ancestor Esau? In covenant or election language Malachi is simply saying, “I chose Jacob and not Esau.” In general, however, Edom is singled out for harsher judgment than other nations (Psalm 60:8-9; 137:7; Isaiah 21:11-12; 34:5-17; 63:1-6; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Joel 3:19-21; Amos 1:11-12; Obadiah 1-16). This may be because the first division in the covenant family is between Jacob and Esau, who sold his birthright, and Edom represents all non-covenant peoples. Or it may be because, as some scholars believe, the Edomites collaborated with Nebuchadnezzar in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587 B.C.E.

The “LORD of hosts” 

The term Yahweh tsebaoth occurs often in Isaiah 1-39, Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, but seldom in other books. The meaning of tsebaoth is “armies,” such as the armies of Israel (Psalm 44:9; 60:10), the armies of heaven (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2), or the armies of Yahweh (Joshua 5:14; 1 Samuel 17:45). When connected with heaven or Yahweh it means the array of heavenly beings, as in Micaiah’s vision of “all the host of heaven” (1 Kings 22:19) or Elisha’s vision of the horses and chariots (2 Kings 6:17). The term “LORD of hosts” means that Yahweh is not a solitary being, but that there are other celestial beings (though not divine beings) in the eternal realm of God.

Malaki ” (my messenger) and Elijah

How is the relationship to be interpreted between Malachi (“my messenger”), the name of the book in 1:1, and “my messenger to prepare the way before me” in 3:1? How do those two “messengers” relate to the sending of the prophet Elijah in 4:5-6, who will “turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents”? In 3:1, the voice of Yahweh announces that “my messenger [will] prepare the way before me,” namely, that Yahweh himself will come (3:2). In the Synoptic Gospels, the messenger of 3:1 and the return of Elijah in 4:5 both find their fulfillment in John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10, 14; Mark 1:3; 6:15; Luke 1:17; 7:27). However, since Malachi’s concluding verses (4:5-6) are probably an addendum to the book by a different author, and since the role of the messenger in 3:1 (“to prepare the way before me”) and Elijah in 4:5-6 (to “turn the hearts of parents”) are different, there is no reason within the book itself to assume the messenger and Elijah are the same.

The “messenger” 

Malachi, “my messenger,” is more likely a descriptive title rather than a proper name for the author. Since the word occurs in the first verse, it became the title of the book. A righteous priest is also “a messenger of Yahweh” (2:7), as is a prophet (Haggai 1:13). “My messenger” is also mentioned in 3:1 as one who will prepare the way before the Lord.

Moses and Elijah

The mention of Moses and Elijah in the concluding verses of the book may be a later addendum intended to summarize and define covenant fidelity as adherence to both the law and the prophets. The term “the law and the prophets,” commonly used to describe the content of the Old Testament, is personified as Moses and Elijah. Moses is commonly cited as the source or personification of the Torah, or “teachings,” even by Jesus (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44; 7:10; Luke 5:14; 24:27; John 5:45-47; 7:19-23). Elijah is an early prototype of the prophets to come later. The mention of the two together here is reminiscent of their appearance at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30).

“An oracle” 

Zechariah 9:1; 12:1; and Malachi 1:1 all begin with massah dabar Yahweh: “An oracle. The word of the LORD,” a phrase occurring in the Old Testament only in these three verses. Because of this, many scholars believe that Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi may be by the same author (the last five chapters of Zechariah are distinct from Zechariah 1-8). The root meaning of massah is “burden,” the word used in the King James Version (and by Martin Luther in his German translation: die Last). Contemporary versions use “oracle” (New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version) or “message” (New Jerusalem Bible, New Living Translation). An oracle is a revelation of divine intent or divine action to a human situation, delivered from God by a messenger or prophet. Here Malachi is “burdened” to deliver his message, and since the content of his message is a revelation from God, the word “oracle” seems fitting. Although Malachi directs his massah, “heavy message,” to Israel (also Ezekiel 12:10), such oracles are most often directed at other nations, as, for example, in the first verses of Isaiah 13; 15; 17; 19; 21; 22; and 23; Nahum 1:1; and Habakkuk 1:1.

The Torah of Moses, my servant

The usual phrase in the Old Testament is “the law (torah) of Yahweh” (Exodus 13:9; Psalm 19:7 [v. 8 in Hebrew], Isaiah 30:9; Amos 2:4, for example) or “the law of God” (Joshua 24:26; Nehemiah 8:18: 10:29; see 2 Kings 10:31). The phrase here, in 4:4, “the teaching [law] of Moses my servant,” is similar to Daniel 9:11, “the law of Moses, the servant of God”; and Daniel 9:13 reads simply, “in the law of Moses.” The original meaning of torah is an oral instruction or teaching. With the giving of the ten “words” to Moses (Exodus 20:1, Deuteronomy 5:22), torah took on the meaning of “commandment” or “law,” and in time the “five books of Moses,” or the Pentateuch, was called the Torah, as distinct from the Writings and the Prophets. The fact that Malachi adds “statutes and judgments” to the “law of Moses” indicates that he has in mind all the instructions and laws of the Pentateuch, not just the Ten Commandments given on Mount Horeb/Sinai.