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Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Malachi Overview










(1) Jerome’s argument is worthy of notice: he says most reasonably that “if names are to be interpreted, and history framed from them. . . . then Hosea, who is called Saviour, and Joel, whose name means ‘Lord God,’ and other prophets, will not be men, but rather angels, or the Lord and Saviour, according to the meaning of their name.” (2) While it is true that Malachi might be a mere official title, meaning angelic, or my messenger, it is equally true that personal names in i (for iyyah, yahu, yah, or î’êl, meaning “of Yah” and “of God”) are of by no means unfrequent occurrence in the Bible. Thus in 2 Kings 18:2 we find Abi for Abiyyah (2 Chronicles 29:1), Palti (1 Samuel 25:44) for Paltiel (2 Samuel 3:15), Zabdi (Joshua 7:1) compared with Zebadyah (Ezra 8:8), Zabadyahu (1 Chronicles 26:2), and Zabdiel (Nehemiah 11:14), besides Gamri, Zichri, and many other. (3) The use of the word Malachi in the sense of “my messenger” (Malachi 3:1) is no argument against Malachi being the prophet’s personal name; on the contrary, his application there of the word Malach (“angel”) to the Messiah’s forerunner, and in Malachi 2:8 to the priesthood—a word which elsewhere, except in Haggai 1:13, Isaiah 42:19, is never used of any but a supernatural being—may be taken as showing that the prophet was fond of making use of a word which carried with it a covert reference to his own name. (4) That no one else in the Old Testament is called Malachi is no valid objection, for neither is there more than one person called Amos (Amos in Isaiah 1:1 is quite a different name), Jonah, Habakkuk, &c. (5) Nor is there any force in the argument that the name stands alone in Zechariah 14:1 without any further personal definition, for that is also the case with Obadiah. (6) If Malachi be a mere official title, the case is an unique one, for in every other instance the prophets have given their real names (if any) in the heading of their books. (7) The case of the names Agar (Proverbs 30:1) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1) is not parallel, for even if it were proved that these latter are not historical names, no conclusion bearing upon a prophetic writing could be drawn from a collection of proverbs. “A collection of proverbs is a poetical work, whose ethical or religious truth is not dependent upon the person of the poet. The prophet, on the contrary, has to guarantee (to his contemporaries) the divinity of his mission, and the truth of his prophecy by his own name or his own personality.”—(Keil.) We conclude, therefore, in default of any positive evidence to the contrary, that it is only reasonable to suppose that Malachi is the personal name of the prophet, and that it is an apocopated form of Malachiyyah, Malachyahu, Malachyah, or of Malachi’el, meaning “Messenger of Yah,” or “of God.”

II. Date of the Prophecy.—All are agreed that Malachi prophesied after the captivity, and there is not much difficulty in determining from internal evidence the probable period of his labours. We find that he makes no reference to the re-building of the Temple or of Jerusalem. The Temple seems to have been for some time completed, and its services so long restored, that the zeal of both priests and people had cooled down, and given place to the most profane slovenliness in the Temple service, and a mere formal observance (Malachi 3:14), or rather a deceitful evasion of the Law (Malachi 1:14). The priests admitted to the Temple sacrifices what they should have rejected (Malachi 1:7-12), and demonstrated by their whole conduct that they looked on their duties as a wearisome burden (Malachi 1:13). They had ceased to give the people true instruction in the Law (Malachi 2:8), and showed partiality in their administration of justice (Malachi 2:9). The people had intermarried freely with the heathen, and heartlessly divorced their Israelitish wives, so that the altar of the Lord was covered with tears and weeping and crying out (Malachi 2:11-16). They neglected to pay the tithes and other dues, and as a punishment were visited with dearth and famine (Malachi 3:8-12). They had begun to cherish the most sceptical views, and openly to scoff at the notion of God’s exercising a beneficent providence over them (Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:15), though there was still a remnant among them of those who feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name (Malachi 3:16).

In 445-4 B.C. Nehemiah obtained leave from Artaxerxes Longimanus to go up to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:6), and in 433-2 he returned to the Persian Court. During this period of twelve years he acted as governor in the land of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14). In the almost incredibly short space of fifty-two days he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, in spite of the opposition of the neighbouring peoples (Nehemiah 6:15). He worked most important reforms, condemning usury and slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-14); proclaimed a fast, and made the people confess their sins, and enter into a covenant to keep the ordinances of the Law, and abstain from heathen marriages; to observe the Sabbath, and keep the Sabbatical year; to contribute every man the third of a shekel for the services of the Temple, and to pay the legal tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 10:29-39). But when he went back to Persia all the abuses which he had abolished, quickly crept in again, so that on his return, which was before the death of Artaxerxes (424 B.C.), he had to go over the old ground again. The Jews had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab, and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jew’s language (Nehemiah 13:23-24; comp. Malachi 3:10-16). The portions of the Levites had not been given them (Nehemiah 13:10; comp. Malachi 3:6-10).

III. Contents.—The prophecy is one of continual rebuke from beginning to end. In the form in which we have it, it is certainly to be looked on as one single address. Probably it is but a systematically arranged epitome of the various oral addresses of the prophet.

It may be divided into six sections, all more or less intimately connected with one another.

Malachi 1:1-5. God’s love for Israel. Israel’s ingratitude.

Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9. Rebuke of the priests. Prophecy of the spiritual worship of God among the heathen Decree against the priests.

Malachi 2:10-16. Rebuke of the people for marrying heathen women, and divorcing their Israelitish wives.

Malachi 2:17 to Mal_3:5. Rebuke of sceptics, and prophecy of the sudden coming of the Lord to His Temple.

Malachi 3:6-12. Rebuke of the people for withholding tithes and offerings.

Malachi 3:13 to Mal_4:6. Rebuke of formalists and sceptics. The different destiny of the righteous and of the wicked. The rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Exhortation to remember the Law of Moses. The coming of Elijah.

IV. Style of Diction.—Malachi writes in the purest style of the Renaissance. From the very nature of his utterances high-flown poetic imagery is, for the most part, excluded; but when for the moment he removes his gaze from the dark present to look back on the glorious past, or to foretel the events of the still more glorious future, he rises to a high standard of poetic diction. (See Malachi 2:5-6; Malachi 3:1-5; Malachi 4:1-6.) His method of administering the most scathing rebuke by means of preferring an accusation (in which he shows the deepest insight into the inmost thoughts of the nation), then supposing an objection on their part (which exhibits in the most telling manner the moral degradation of the people, and their indifference to their spiritual condition), and lastly, by confuting their objection in trenchant terms, is artistic, and at the same time forcible to a degree. (See Malachi 1:2-5; Malachi 2:14-17 [Malachi 2:15-17 ?], Malachi 3:7-13.) We cannot, with Lowth, perceive here any decadence in the power of the spirit of prophecy. Prophecy did not cease because its power was exhausted, but because its mission was now fulfilled until the time of its fulfilment should draw near. We will conclude with the words of Nägelsbach, which others before us have thought worthy of citation: “Malachi is like a late evening which closes a long day, but he is at the same time the morning twilight, which bears in its womb a glorious day.”


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Malachi:4 Overview". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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