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Malachi: The Most Mysterious of the Hebrew Prophets

Malachi, Zachariah, and Amos, by Abraham van Linge (Fr. Lawrence Lew)

Malachi, Zachariah, and Amos, by Abraham van Linge (Fr. Lawrence Lew)

Malachi (מַלְאָכִי –Mal’akhiy) meaning my messenger or my angel is one of the most mysterious Bible prophets.  Though a revered spokesperson of God, there are few details about him outside of Scripture.

He is the last of the Minor Prophets in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), placed in that position because Judaism traditionally believes that prophecy ceased with him and will only be renewed in the Messianic age.

However, he is also considered by many to be the last prophet before the arrival of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) and Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

Malachi prophesied in the early fifth century, almost 100 years after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and during the days of Nehemiah (see Malachi 2:8 and Nehemiah 13:15; Malachi 2:10–16 and Nehemiah 13:23).

Nehemiah, Jerusalem, Temple

Nehemiah Repairs the Walls of Jerusalem (Bible Primer, 1919)

At that time, the Jewish people had returned from their captivity in Babylon, the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple were being reconstructed, and along with a new Sanctuary, Temple worship was reinstituted.

Some scholars believe that Malachi was a priest among the prophets, scribes, and other priests who were led out of exile and back to Judah by Ezra and Nehemiah.

Others believe that he may have been just a common man speaking the Word of God to the Jewish community who returned home to rebuild the Holy Temple.

A minority of opinion in the Talmud says Malachi was actually Ezra the scribe or perhaps Mordechai of the Book of Esther.  Some scholars have concluded that the four chapters of Malachi were actually extracted from the Book of Zechariah.

Orthodox circles contend that Malachi was a member of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that was founded by Ezra in about 520 BC.  Others in this assembly of Torah sages were Mordechai, Haggai, and Zechariah.  (Chabad; Orthodox Union)

How Have You Loved Us?

Malachi, by Francesco Roselli

Malachi, by Francesco Roselli

Despite having returned from exile, the people of Malachi’s day were disappointed, disillusioned, and apathetic.

Their apathy can be seen in their half-hearted following of the Torah, and so it only follows that they were experiencing drought and crop failure, and enemies continued to oppose them.

The people cried out to God who apparently is not accepting their offerings, explaining that men are divorcing the wives of their youth to marry women from other nations.

“‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the LORD Almighty.  So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.”  (2:16)

Such intermarriage with idol worshipers had become rampant and threatened the future of Israel:

“You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant,” Malachi says, adding,  “Has not the one God made you? You belong to Him in body and spirit.  And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.”  (2:14–15)

A Jewish Wedding, by Jozef Israels

A Jewish Wedding, by Jozef Israels

While godly unions result in godly offspring who seek and serve the Lord, ungodly partnerships result in ungodly children who defile God’s holy name:

“Judah has been unfaithful.  A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god.”  (2:11)

It seems only natural that a people who have a problem loving and being faithful to their mates would question God’s love for them.  Indeed, Malachi begins his rebukes by recording their doubt:

“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.  ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?”’”  (1:2)

The Lord reminds them of how He chose them, protected them, and blessed them as descendants of Abraham through Jacob.

It seems they forgot this supernatural history of their people.  So the Lord sent Malachi to warn them that their forgetfulness and unfaithfulness is even now causing their ruin.

Artwork in Tzfat (Safed), Israel

Artwork in Tzfat (Safed), Israel

How Have We Shown Contempt for Your Name?

In Malachi’s day, unfaithfulness extended to the priesthood.  Instead of protecting the holiness of the ceremonial laws that God had charged the priests to keep, they offered injured, lame, and diseased animals to the Lord as sacrifices and offerings.  (Malachi 1:6–2:9)

This amounted to contempt for God.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.  But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ‘By offering defiled food on my altar.’”  (1:6–7)

God answers, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.”

The priests were to provide correct teaching regarding the ways of God and be living examples of holiness.  In their corruption, the priests were causing “many to stumble at the law.”  (2:8)

Because the priests compromised in their offerings, so did the people; Malachi 3:8–12 reveals that they became lax in tithing:

“Will a mere mortal rob God?  Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ ‘In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse — your whole nation — because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  (Malachi 3:8–10)

This prophecy is still relevant for us today.  Faithfulness in tithing will lead to abundant blessing.

Malachi 3:8–12

Malachi 3:10 emphasizes the principle that no one can out give the Lord and that He will pour out blessings when you give to Him.

As partakers of a New Covenant, the priests in the ministry of the Good News are still charged with presenting God’s truth and setting a holy example for the people (Romans 15:16).

Those priests are of a spiritual bloodline—they are every Believer in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah):  

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

Hanukkah menorah, Hanukkiah

“For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)”  (Photo by Scott)

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Malachi highlights the sins that are resulting in oppression from outsiders, drought, famine, and poverty, leading to the stripping away of prosperity and of influence in the region.  This, the prophet warned, called for an outpouring of national repentance, and for the people to humble themselves in prayer.  (1:9)

Through Malachi, God reveals that He will hold back His wrath and restore His blessings if the people will return to Him.  If not, destruction awaits.

But Malachi is not all reproof and judgment.  He also offers hope to the nation of Israel, indeed all humanity, by prophesying a coming reign of the Messiah and His millennial kingdom.

In Malachi 3:1, the prophet says that a messenger would prepare the way for the Messiah:

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before Me.”

Yeshua identified this messenger as Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) when He quoted this verse in Malachi:

“‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.  Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written:  “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”’”  (Luke 7:24–27)

John the Baptist Sees Jesus from Afar, by James Tissot

Yochanan the Immerser Sees Yeshua from Afar, by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

In the final chapter of Malachi, the prophet returns to the theme of the messenger.  In this chapter, we understand that Elijah would be the Messiah’s forerunner.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  (Malachi 4:5)

Yeshua told His talmidim that Yochanan the Immerser had come in the spirit of Elijah.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until Yochanan.  And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”  (Matthew 11:13–14)

Here are a few of the ways that Yochanan came like Elijah:

  • He dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).
  • He spent long periods of his ministry in the wilderness (1 Kings 17:3; 19:3–4; John 1:23).
  • He challenged the king and rebuked him for his wicked wife (1 Kings 18:17; Matthew 14:3).
  • He lived under threat of execution because of the king’s wife (1 Kings 19:2; Matthew 14:3)
  • He led people to repentance of sins (1 Kings 21:27; Matthew 3:2)
  • He prepared the way for the Lord (Malachi 4:5; Mark 1:3; Luke 1:17)
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, by Andrea Solario

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, by Andrea Solario

Certainly, Yochanan did preach a message of repentance and reconciliation, just like Elijah.  He led the people from disobedience into a state prepared for Messiah, just as the angel prophesied to Yochanan’s father, Zechariah:

“He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  (Luke 1:16–17)

While Yochanan prepared the way for Yeshua’s first coming, we can understand that he has also prepared us for the coming return of the Messiah, who will “suddenly” reappear and enter into a rebuilt Temple.

“‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.”  (3:1)

In describing His return as suddenly, Malachi is warning us to be prepared for the Messiah’s coming and to not be caught off guard.

However, it seems that Yeshua will not return until a Temple is prepared for Him, perhaps the Temple that the prophet Ezekiel describes at the end of his prophetic book.

The Third Temple, by Pieter de Witte

The Third Temple, by Pieter de Witte

Return to Me and I Will Return to You

Malachi tells us that when our Messiah comes, He will be like “a refiner’s fire,” purifying the servants of God like one purifies silver and gold, so that offerings will once again be made in purity and holiness.  (3:2)

But for others, He will come in judgment:  

“‘I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien — because they do not fear Me,’ says the Lord of hosts.”  (Malachi 3:5)

Nevertheless, Malachi shares the same hope for every person as all of God’s prophets have shared with us:  “Return to Me, and I will return to you.”  (3:7)

We can take hold of this promise every day of our lives.  As in the time of Malachi, “the LORD listened and heard” the hearts of those who feared the Lord.  He saw their sincere repentance and turning from sin.

As a result, “a scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored His name.”  (3:16)

Let us desire with all of our heart to fear the Lord by honoring His name in our thoughts and deeds, according to His will not our own, without compromise or corruption.

Let us strive to walk in holiness, becoming true sons and daughters, even priests of the Most High God.

For those who choose the path of repentance and holiness, He makes a covenantal promise:

“On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares His son who serves Him.’”  (3:17)

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