Beneath its prophetic rebuke to Israel, the book of Malachi delivers an exciting message – that the good news of God’s Kingdom is for everyone –
“My name is feared among the nations.” Mal. 1:14
It is for all who fear God’s name, whether Jews by birth or by spirit –
At that time those who feared the LORD spoke with one another, and the LORD listened and heard them. So a scroll of remembrance was written before Him regarding those who feared the LORD and honoured His name. Mal. 3:16
The warning to natural Jews was that God had accepted Gentiles and not to build walls to keep them out, as they were doing –
“They may build, but I will demolish… ‘The LORD is great—even beyond the borders of Israel.’ ” Mal. 1:4-5
The book of Malachi is the final prophecy of the Old Testament. It gives insight into Jewish behaviour before Jesus came as light to a world in darkness. However, it’s a puzzle to Bible scholars – the author is unknown; Malachi is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “my messenger.” The prophecies are directed at Israel –
“The burden of the word of the Lord TO ISRAEL by Malachi.” Mal. 1:1
Scholars are uncertain when Malachi was written. The use of a Persian word for ‘governor’ in chapter 1 v 8 narrows it to Judah under Persian rule.
However, there are further clues about the context of Malachi – from both New Testament commentary, and the Greek Septuagint version which is sometimes critically different to the Hebrew text.
(It is interesting to note that the oldest complete Greek Old Testament dates to the 3rd Century. And the oldest Hebrew one dates to 1008 CE. Portions of both were found in the Dead Sea scrolls but nothing older than approx. 300BC. So it can’t be said that the Hebrew text is older and therefore more accurate, because in general the Greek texts are older than the surviving Hebrew ones.)
WHY MALACHI MATTERS
Jesus warned against following the fathers of the Scribes and Pharisees. He said they had always persecuted the prophets and even killed them, and their teachings were wrong.
You testify against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your fathers. You snakes! You brood of vipers! Matt. 23:31
Its helpful to place the writings of the last of the Old Testament prophets in their correct context – to find out who they were directed against, who were the ‘fathers’ of the Pharisees.
Malachi also contains a promise about the coming of Elijah before the Day of the Lord –
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome Day of the LORD. Mal. 4:5
Jesus applied this prophecy to John the Baptist at His first coming, yet there is good reason to believe it also applies to Jesus’ second coming, making this prophecy extremely relevant as we prepare for the return of Christ. All the more reason to understand what Malachi is talking about.
The Greek text of Malachi allows us to line up the prophecy as a judgement on the actions of the Jews such as Ezra and Nehemiah. We can learn from them what not to do.
As we will see later, Jesus also tied the actions of Ezra and Nehemiah to the wrong actions of the Pharisees.
CONTEXT OF EDOM
The Edomites joined Babylon in destroying Jerusalem and came under God’s wrath. After Israel went into captivity in Babylon, the Nabateans attacked the Edomites and expelled them from Edom. The remnant lived in Idumea next to Judah – see map –>
Thus Idumea became connected with Edom. In 552 BC King Nabonidus of Babylon removed the Edomite monarchy (refer Nabonidus Chronicle).
Jerusalem also came under God’s wrath. The temple was destroyed in 586BC by Nebuchadnezzar.
In 538 BC Zerubbabel led the first return to rebuild the temple. In 457 BC Ezra went back to Jerusalem. By 445BC Nehemiah was also trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
The Masoretic text of Mal. 1: 4 says that Edom say they will re-build but God will curse them – the Greek text is critically different.
The Greek (Septuagint) says
“IF one should say that Idumea/Edom is overthrown BUT let US (Jews) return and rebuild”.
This refers to the Jews not the Edomites rebuilding the waste places. Mal. 1:4
This understanding gives the remainder of the verse new meaning – the Jews felt free to rebuild now that their enemies the Edomites were down and out. It is the Jews who say that Edom was overthrown and desolate, and they are going to re-build the desolate places. The anger of God is not directed at Edom in this context, but at Israel who are the subject of God’s wrath throughout Malachi –
|Masoretic Text||Greek Text|
|Whereas Edom says, We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places; thus says the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down: and men shall call them the border of wickedness, and the people against whom the LORD has indignation for ever. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD–even beyond the borders of Israel!’||Because one will say, Idumea has been overthrown, but let us return and rebuild the desolate places; thus says the Lord Almighty, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall be called The borders of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord has set himself for ever. And your eyes shall see, and you shall say, The Lord has been magnified beyond the borders of Israel.|
MALACHI CONTEMPORARY WITH EZRA/NEMEMIAH
This then places Malachi’s prophecy at the time the Jews are trying to build up Jerusalem and the waste places. This occurred under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, in other words, Malachi was contemporary with Ezra/Nehemiah.
This is confirmed by Jean-Pierre Isbouts –
OPPOSING VIEWS OF PROPHET & PRIEST
This period would align the weeping of tears on the altar and God’s displeasure of divorce in Malachi, with the weeping at the house of the Lord and the ‘Great Divorce’ that Ezra was part of. The prophet and the priest had opposing views. Malachi said the lips of the priest were teaching wrongly.
“The lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth…“But you have departed from the way, and your instruction has caused many to stumble at the Law.” Mal. 2:7-8
The Jewish attempts to rebuild only succeeded on a physical level, not a spiritual one. This is reinforced by Malachi saying God is not pleased with Israel and He wanted them to include the Gentiles – (present tense not just for the future)
“The Lord is magnified beyond the borders of Israel” Mal. 1:5
“My name is feared among the nations.” Mal. 1:14
“For My name is great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place, incense and pure offerings are presented in My name, because My name is great among the nations,” says the LORD of Hosts. “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘its fruit, its food are contemptible.’ Mal. 1:12
Surely here the ‘fruit’ and ‘food’ of the Lord’s table refers to the gentiles who the Jews found contemptible.
This gives context to the Malachi message of Elijah. He is to come and show Israel where they went wrong in following the Law – “You have turned aside from the way, and caused many to fail in following the law”. Mal 2:8
WHERE JUDAH WENT WRONG
The table below lines up the commentary of Malachi with the events in Ezra/Nehemiah
CHAPTER 2 – GOD’S ANGER AT THE GREAT DIVORCE OF GENTILES
Malachi’s message exposes the wrong interpretation of the Law by Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah who all rejected foreigners.
It ends with the promise of the coming of Elijah to turn the heart of a father back to their son – not to send them away because their mother is a Gentile.
He is also to turn the heart of a man to his neighbour – not just a fellow Jew.
John the Baptist came as a type of Elijah – he warned the Jews about worshipping Jewish lineage “we alone are pure”.
The history books of the Old Testament require us to read between the lines to discern whether the actions recorded were right or wrong – to do what Jesus did and consider what is “also written” by the prophets.
When Nehemiah said
“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.” Neh. 6:14
this is the opinion of Nehemiah. We need to see the other side and consider why Noadiah and the ‘rest of the prophets’ were opposed to Nehemiah! Jesus said “which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute”. Nehemiah is in the group of ‘Jewish fathers’ who opposed the prophets, he prayed for God to remember their actions against him. Yet Jesus said it was the fathers of the Pharisees who persecuted the prophets.
Noadiah and the rest of the prophets were right to challenge Nehemiah over his oppression of Gentiles. Perhaps Malachi “The Messenger” was even Noadiah the prophetess who gets a special mention.
Zechariah had also condemned the Jews during the building of the temple under Zerubbabel. But what became of the prophet Zechariah Son of Berekiah ?
JESUS CONNECTS THE FATHERS OF PHARISEES TO TIME OF PROPHET ZECHARIAH
Jesus tells us –
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!… On you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” Matt 23:35
What did Zechariah say to anger the Jews so much they would kill him?
Perhaps it was his last prophecy-
“On that day ‘Holy to the Lord’ will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them.” Zech 14:21
“Holy to the Lord” was previously reserved for the gold band worn on the high priests turban (Ex.28:36-38) but Zechariah was saying that every pot in Jerusalem and Judah would be “holy to the Lord” and FOREIGNERS would come and do their own sacrifices and cook in the pots themselves – Everyone and everything on God’s Holy Hill will be Holy.
The distinction between Jews and the Gentiles who wished to worship God should never have existed. Jews were supposed to fully include Godly Gentiles – we are all children of Abraham by faith. It is through Jesus’ sacrifice we are accepted – the sacrifice that the Passover lamb pointed to – the only way for Jews and Gentiles to come to God –
Gal. 3:26-29 “ So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The Elijah message is a warning to those who say “The table of the Lord is defiled”, who think they alone are pure and have the right to control who eats at the Lord’s table. It is the last word of the Old Testament prophets to Israel. It is the message to change hearts to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
Israel is to be a land without borders, not one for natural Jews only, where walls are built to keep people out. It is to be a kingdom that will expand to fill the whole earth, where people give glory to God from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Jesus is coming to topple the kingdoms of men. He is the stone of Daniel 2:35
The stone that had struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.