THE BOOK OF MALACHI

This short book may have been written before Nehemiah’s first return to Jerusalem in 445 B.C.; it is also possible that it was written while Nehemiah was there, or even later. What seems to be the author’s name, mal’ākî, is found in 1:1 (“the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi”), but many believe that this is a pseudonym based on mal’ākî, “my messenger,” in 3:1 and that the author’s real name is unknown. In any case, he shows us attitudes and behaviors characteristic of the Jewish community a few generations after the end of the Babylonian exile, and describes God’s response.

God loves Israel (1:25), but the people return that love poorly. Taking advantage of the negligent attitude of the priests, they withhold tithes and sacrificial contributions (3:611) and cheat God by providing defective goods for sacrifice (1:614). People divorce their spouses and marry worshipers of other gods (2:1016). Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound (3:5). Priests, who could strengthen discipline by their instruction, connive with the people, telling them what they want to hear (2:19). Underlying all this is a weary attitude, a cynical notion that nothing is to be gained by doing what God wants and that wrongdoers prosper (2:17; 3:1415). God condemns the wrongdoing and the underlying attitude, issuing a challenge to immediate reform (3:1012), but also announcing a general reckoning at a future moment (3:1621).

The Book of Malachi may be divided as follows:

  1. Israel Preferred to Edom (1:25)
  2. Offense in Sacrifice and Priestly Duty (1:62:9)
  3. Marriage and Divorce (2:1016)
  4. Purification and Just Judgment (2:17)
  5. The Messenger of the Covenant (3:15)
  6. Gifts for God, Blessings for the People (3:612)
  7. The Need To Serve God (3:1321)
  8. Moses and Elijah (3:2224)

CHAPTER 1

1* An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.

Israel Preferred to Edom

2a I love you, says the LORD;

but you say, “How do you love us?”

3* b Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?—oracle of the LORD.

I loved Jacob, but rejected Esau;

I made his mountains a waste,

his heritage a desert for jackals.

4c If Edom says, “We have been crushed,

but we will rebuild the ruins,”

Thus says the LORD of hosts:

They indeed may build, but I will tear down,

And they shall be called “territory of wickedness,”

the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.

5d Your own eyes will see it, and you will say,

“Great is the LORD, even beyond the territory of Israel.”

Offense in Sacrifice and Priestly Duty

6e A son honors his father,

and a servant fears his master;

If, then, I am a father,

where is the honor due to me?

And if I am a master,

where is the fear due to me?

So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests,

who disdain my name.

But you ask, “How have we disdained your name?”

7By offering defiled food on my altar!

You ask, “How have we defiled it?”

By saying that the table of the LORD may be disdained!

8* f When you offer a blind animal for sacrifice,

is there no wrong in that?

When you offer a lame or sick animal,

is there no wrong in that?

Present it to your governor!

Will he be pleased with you—or show you favor?

says the LORD of hosts.

9So now implore God’s favor, that he may have mercy on us!

You are the ones who have done this;

Will he show favor to any of you?

says the LORD of hosts.

10* Oh, that one of you would just shut the temple gates

to keep you from kindling fire on my altar in vain!

I take no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts;

and I will not accept any offering from your hands!

11g From the rising of the sun to its setting,

my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the LORD of hosts.

12But you profane it by saying

that the LORD’s table is defiled,

and its food may be disdained.

13You say, “See what a burden this is!”

and you exasperate me, says the LORD of hosts;

You bring in what is mutilated, or lame, or sick;

you bring it as an offering!

Will I accept it from your hands?

says the LORD.

14Cursed is the cheat who has in his flock an intact male,

and vows it, but sacrifices to the LORD a defective one instead;

For a great king am I, says the LORD of hosts,

and my name is feared among the nations.

* [1:1] See note on Zec 9:1.

* [1:35] The thought passes from the person Esau to his descendants, Edom, and from the person Jacob to his descendants, Israel; cf. Gn 25:2123. In the New Testament, Paul uses this passage as an example of God’s freedom of choice in calling the Gentiles to faith (Rom 9:13).

* [1:8] The sacrificial offering of a lame, sick, or blind animal was forbidden in the law (Lv 22:1725; Dt 17:1).

* [1:1011] The imperfect sacrifices offered by the people of Judah are displeasing to the Lord. Kindling fire on my altar: kindle the altar fire for sacrifice. In contrast, the Lord is pleased with the sacrifices offered by other peoples in other places (the rising of the sun: the far east; its setting: the far west). Since the people of other nations could not be expected to know the Lord’s name as did the people of Judah, the rhetorical purpose of this statement is to shame the latter. Incense offerings: in the ancient world, the hallmark of an offering made to a god was the smoke it produced on an altar. In the Old Testament, this was true not only of animals (Lv 8:2021) but also of incense (Ex 30:7), suet (Lv 3:11), and grain offerings (Lv 6:8). In a Christian interpretation of Mal 1:1011, the “pure offering” of Mal 1:11 is seen as a reference to sacrifice in the Messianic Age. The Council of Trent endorsed this interpretation (DS 1724).

a. [1:2] Dt 7:8; Ez 16; Hos 11:1; Am 1:11.

b. [1:3] Gn 25:23; Rom 9:13.

c. [1:4] Is 34:215; 63:16; Jer 49:722; Ob 21.

d. [1:5] Is 60.

e. [1:6] Prv 1:7; Is 29:13.

f. [1:8] Lv 22:1725; Dt 15:21; 17:1.

g. [1:11] Ps 113:3; Is 59:19.

CHAPTER 2

1And now, priests, this commandment is for you:

If you do not listen,

2a And if you do not take to heart

giving honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts,

I will send a curse upon you

and your blessing I will curse.

In fact, I have already cursed it,

because you do not take it to heart.

3I will rebuke your offspring;

I will spread dung on your faces,

Dung from your feasts,

and will carry you to it.

4You should know that I sent you this commandment

so that my covenant with Levi might endure,

says the LORD of hosts.

5b My covenant with him was the life and peace which I gave him,

and the fear he had for me,

standing in awe of my name.

6c Reliable instruction was in his mouth,

no perversity was found upon his lips;

He walked with me in integrity and uprightness,

and turned many away from evil.

7d For a priest’s lips preserve knowledge,

and instruction is to be sought from his mouth,

because he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.

8But you have turned aside from the way,

and have caused many to stumble by your instruction;

You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,*

says the LORD of hosts.

9I, therefore, have made you contemptible

and base before all the people,

For you do not keep my ways,

but show partiality in your instruction.

Marriage and Divorce

10* e Have we not all one father?

Has not one God created us?

Why, then, do we break faith with each other,

profaning the covenant of our ancestors?

11f Judah has broken faith; an abominable thing

has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem.

Judah has profaned the LORD’s holy place, which he loves,

and has married a daughter of a foreign god.*

12May the LORD cut off from the man who does this

both witness and advocate from the tents of Jacob,

and anyone to bring an offering to the LORD of hosts!

13This also you do: the altar of the LORD you cover

with tears, weeping, and groaning,

Because the Lord no longer takes note of your offering

or accepts it favorably from your hand.

14g And you say, “Why?”—

Because the LORD is witness

between you and the wife of your youth

With whom you have broken faith,

though she is your companion, your covenanted wife.*

15h Did he not make them one, with flesh and spirit?

And what does the One require? Godly offspring!

You should be on guard, then, for your life,

and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16For I hate divorce,

says the LORD, the God of Israel,

And the one who covers his garment with violence,

says the LORD of hosts.

You should be on guard, then, for your life,

and you must not break faith.

Purification and Just Judgment

17You have wearied the LORD with your words,

yet you say, “How have we wearied him?”

By saying, “All evildoers

are good in the sight of the LORD,

And he is pleased with them,”

or “Where is the just God?”

* [2:8] The covenant of Levi: not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The covenant with Phinehas the grandson of Aaron (Nm 25:1113) and the Blessing of Levi (Dt 33:811) may lie in the background.

* [2:1016] Intermarriage of Israelites with foreigners was forbidden according to Dt 7:14. After the exile, attempts were made to enforce this law (Ezr 910). Foreign marriages are here portrayed as a covenantal violation (v. 10). They were all the more reprehensible when they were accompanied by the divorce of Israelite wives (vv. 1416), and God finds their sacrifices unacceptable (vv. 1314). In Mk 10:212, Jesus forbids divorce; in Mt 19:312, this ideal is maintained with the provision that unlawful marriage may be grounds for divorce (see 1 Cor 7:1016). You should be on guard, then, for your life: a warning of punishment for failure to obey God (cf. Dt 4:9; Jos 23:11; Jer 17:21).

* [2:11] Daughter of a foreign god: this unusual phrase connotes a woman who does not share the same father/creator (v. 10), since she does not share the same covenant.

* [2:14] Companion…covenanted wife: the Hebrew word haberet signifies an equal, a partner. This woman, in contrast to the daughter of a foreign god, shares with her husband the same covenant with the Lord.

a. [2:2] Lv 26:1445; Dt 28:15.

b. [2:5] Ez 37:26.

c. [2:6] Dt 33:811.

d. [2:7] Lv 10:1011; Dt 17:910; Hg 2:1113.

e. [2:10] Dt 32:6; Jb 31:15; Mt 23:9; Eph 4:6.

f. [2:11] Ezr 9:2; Neh 13:25.

g. [2:14] Gn 31:4950; Prv 5:1819.

h. [2:15] Gn 2:7, 2224.

CHAPTER 3

The Messenger of the Covenant

1a Now I am sending my messenger—

he will prepare the way before me;*

And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple;

The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—

see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts.

2But who can endure the day of his coming?

Who can stand firm when he appears?

For he will be like a refiner’s fire,

like fullers’ lye.

3b He will sit refining and purifying silver,

and he will purify the Levites,

Refining them like gold or silver,

that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem

will please the LORD,

as in ancient days, as in years gone by.

5I will draw near to you for judgment,

and I will be swift to bear witness

Against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers,

those who deprive a laborer of wages,

Oppress a widow or an orphan,

or turn aside a resident alien,

without fearing me, says the LORD of hosts.

Gifts for God, Blessings for the People

6For I, the LORD, do not change,*

and you, sons of Jacob, do not cease to be.

7c Since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside

from my statutes and have not kept them.

Return to me, that I may return to you,

says the LORD of hosts.

But you say, “Why should we return?”

8d Can anyone rob God? But you are robbing me!

And you say, “How have we robbed you?”

Of tithes and contributions!

9You are indeed accursed,

for you, the whole nation, rob me.

10e Bring the whole tithe

into the storehouse,*

That there may be food in my house.

Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts,

And see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you,

and pour down upon you blessing without measure!

11I will rebuke the locust for you

so that it will not destroy your crops,

And the vine in the field will not be barren,

says the LORD of hosts.

12f All the nations will call you blessed,

for you will be a delightful land,

says the LORD of hosts.

The Need To Serve God

13Your words are too much for me, says the LORD.

You ask, “What have we spoken against you?”

14g You have said, “It is useless to serve God;

what do we gain by observing God’s requirements,

And by going about as mourners*

before the LORD of hosts?

15But we call the arrogant blessed;

for evildoers not only prosper

but even test God and escape.”

16h Then those who fear the LORD spoke with one another,

and the LORD listened attentively;

A record book* was written before him

of those who fear the LORD and esteem his name.

17i They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts,

my own special possession, on the day when I take action.

And I will have compassion on them,

as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.

18Then you will again distinguish

between the just and the wicked,

Between the person who serves God,

and the one who does not.

19j For the day is coming, blazing like an oven,

when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble,

And the day that is coming will set them on fire,

leaving them neither root nor branch,

says the LORD of hosts.

20k But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice

will arise with healing in its wings;*

And you will go out leaping like calves from the stall

21and tread down the wicked;

They will become dust under the soles of your feet,

on the day when I take action, says the LORD of hosts.

Moses and Elijah

22l Remember the law of Moses my servant,

whom I charged at Horeb

With statutes and ordinances

for all Israel.

23m Now I am sending to you

Elijah* the prophet,

Before the day of the LORD comes,

the great and terrible day;

24He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons,

and the heart of sons to their fathers,

Lest I come and strike

the land with utter destruction.

* [3:1] My messenger…before me: Mt 11:10 applies these words to John the Baptist; Mt 11:14 further identifies John as Elijah (see Mal 3:23). Some take God’s messenger in v. 1a to be a person distinct from “the lord” and “the messenger of the covenant” in v. 1b; others hold that they are one and the same person. Some consider “the lord” and “the messenger of the covenant” to be divine, while others hold that in the text’s literal sense he is a messianic earthly ruler.

* [3:67] Not change: God remains faithful to the covenant even when the human partners break it.

* [3:10] Storehouse: the temple treasury.

* [3:14] As mourners: the adverb translated “as mourners” means something like “with a long face.”

* [3:16] Record book: see note on Ex 32:32.

* [3:20] Wings: a common symbol of the manifestation of a god in the ancient Near East is the winged sun disk found, for example, on premonarchic jar handles. Cf. Nm 6:25; Ps 4:7; 31:17; 34:6; 84:12.

* [3:23] Elijah: taken up in a whirlwind, according to 2 Kgs 2:11. Here his return seems to be foretold. A Jewish tradition interpreted this literally; the gospels saw Elijah in the person of John the Baptist (Mt 11:1314; 17:1013; Mk 9:913).

a. [3:1] Ex 23:2022; Is 40:3; Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 1:17; 7:27.

b. [3:3] Is 1:25; Zec 13:9.

c. [3:7] Zec 1:34; Acts 7:51.

d. [3:8] Neh 13:1014.

e. [3:10] Dt 28:2, 12; 2 Chr 31:1011; Neh 10:38; 13:12; Prv 3:910.

f. [3:12] Dt 28:10; Is 61:9.

g. [3:14] Jb 21:1415; 22:17; Ps 73:1112; Is 58:3; Zec 7:27.

h. [3:16] Rev 20:12.

i. [3:17] Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6; Ps 103:13; 135:4.

j. [3:19] Is 13:9; 34:8; Jl 3:3; Zep 1:18; 2 Pt 3:7.

k. [3:20] Lk 1:7879.

l. [3:22] Ex 20; Lv 26; Dt 4:1, 56.

m. [3:23] 2 Kgs 2:1012; Sir 48:10; Mt 11:1314; 17:1013; Mk 9:913; Lk 1:17.