Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
The prophecy of Malachi, the last voice of the Old Testament, has special significance for those who live at the end of the New Testament era. As a book that describes end times and looks forward to better things, it retains its importance for those who live at the end of all ages and who are waiting for the better things of the everlasting and heavenly kingdom of Christ.
The book tells of covenant unfaithfulness—the unfaithfulness of God’s church and of His people in the last days of the Old Testament. The Jews had been cured of the sin of idolatry by the long years of the captivity in Babylon, but they had fallen into other sins and become unfaithful. This unfaithfulness was seen especially in “a spirit of proud, bigoted self-righteousness that claimed the favor of God with insolent haughtiness, at the very moment that this favor was forfeited by unbelief and neglect of duty.”* Their neglect of duty involved especially the mere external performance of religious duties, the despising of God’s ordinances in worship, and unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant.
Not only does that unfaithfulness match exactly the unfaithfulness of the church in these last days, but, as in Israel, the unfaithfulness of the church is not recognized and all attempts to point it out are met with scorn and disbelief. Indeed, the Jews of Malachi’s day, like the church today, charged God with unfaithfulness, instead of turning from their own wickedness, when they did not receive the blessings He had promised. What Malachi describes, therefore, is so very much like the unfaithfulness of the church today that the book can only have been inspired by the Spirit of God.
The unfaithfulness of the church as described by Malachi is the dark background against which God reveals His unchangeable faithfulness and grace. He revealed His faithfulness then in continuing to preserve His church and in promising the coming of Christ as the one who would purge the church of its sins and bring it blessing and glory. Christ’s coming was seen by Malachi as the only cure for sin, and the promise of His coming as the Purifier of the church was the central message of the book for Judah. That promise of Christ’s coming and of cleansing, given through Malachi, looked forward not only to the first coming of Christ but also to the second, so that the book of Malachi retains its significance and relevance and is a revelation of God’s faithfulness today and of hope for the church’s final purification and salvation.
Because of its relevance, the book of Malachi is quoted or alluded to seven times in the New Testament. It is quoted in Romans 9:13; Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2, 3; and Luke 7:27 and alluded to in Matthew 3:3 and Luke 1:17, 76. In these references the New Testament echoes some of the main themes of Malachi, the coming of Jehovah’s messenger and the eternal purpose of God that lies behind all His dealings with His church.
The prophecies of Malachi, then, are words from God that the church very much needs to hear and heed. As much as Israel needed to hear them then, so much more does the church need to hear and heed them now. May it be so, through the work of the Lord as He comes to His temple.
Malachi is one of the three prophets of the restoration, that is, of the years following the return of Judah from captivity in Babylon, the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, and the reestablishment of the Jews in their own land. Malachi, however, is later than the other two prophets, as we shall see.
We know next to nothing about him except his name, if indeed Malachi was his name. As in the case of Haggai, no information about his family or history is given. This shows us that the message he brings is not really his but God’s and that he is only God’s instrument or messenger in bringing God’s Word to God’s people. Who the man was did not matter then, and really does not matter now. We, like the Jews, must hear his prophecies as the inspired and infallible Word of God.
As suggested, there is some dispute about the name “Malachi.” Some believe that “Malachi” is the personal name of the author. Others believe that “Malachi” is not a personal name, but a title or description of the author’s place in the kingdom of God and of the work that God had given him to do. They believe that Malachi is not a proper name because it means literally “my messenger,” is similar to the description of Haggai in Haggai 1:13, and is the same word used in Malachi 3:1 and translated there “my messenger.”
Those who believe that the name Malachi is only a description of the office of the book’s author have made numerous guesses about his actual identity. Some, because Haggai is called the LORD’s messenger in Haggai 1:13 (literally malach), believe that Haggai is the author of this book also. Calvin believed that the book’s author was Ezra. But such attempts to name the author, if Malachi was not his name, are pure speculation. We believe that Malachi is the name of the book’s author, especially because all the other Old Testament prophecies that begin with a superscription of this sort actually record the name of the author, i.e., Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Haggai and Zechariah.
Even if Malachi is his proper name, the meaning of his name, “my messenger,” is important. As a messenger of Jehovah, he prophesies of another messenger, John the Baptist, who would do the same work as himself but at the very beginning of the New Testament era. More importantly, he prophesies and pictures the great Messenger of Jehovah, the Messenger of the covenant who purifies the sons of Levi.
It should be noted, in connection with his name, that “messenger” and “angel” are the same word in Hebrew, the word malach. This is of special significance in Malachi 3:1, which speaks of the messenger or angel of the covenant and of His coming. Not only does Malachi 3:1 show us that the messenger is Christ, but because messenger and angel are the same word in Hebrew we know that this messenger is also the angel of the covenant or the angel of Jehovah who appears throughout the Old Testament. This messenger or angel of the covenant is the main character in Malachi’s prophecy.
There can be little doubt that the book of Malachi, as its position in the Old Testament suggests, is the last of all the books of the Old Testament. The book itself indicates in 1:6 and 3:1 that the temple had been rebuilt, making it later than Haggai’s and Zechariah’s prophecies, and there are other indications that date it to the time of Nehemiah, though no date is given in the book.
The primary evidence for Malachi’s being a contemporary of Nehemiah is found in a comparison of the two books, which shows that Nehemiah and Malachi were dealing with the same sins, the sins of mixed marriages, formalism in worship, and neglect of tithes (compare Mal. 1:6-2:9 with Neh. 13:4-9, 29-30;Mal. 2:11-12 with Neh. 13:1-3, 23-27; and Mal. 3:8-12 with Neh. 10:3-39 and Neh. 13:10-13). Both Malachi and Nehemiah also mention the covenant with Levi (Mal. 2:4and Neh. 13:29).
We should remember that Nehemiah spent two terms in Judah as governor, the two terms separated by ten to twelve years. He had first come during the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes, identified in history as Artaxerxes Longimanus, to help the Jews rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This was in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (approximately 444 BC; Neh. 1:1). He remained in Jerusalem about 12 years (Neh. 4:14). At that time he had already opposed and corrected some of the evils into which Judah had fallen. He then returned to Babylon for a time (Neh. 13:6).
When he returned the second time to Jerusalem around 424 BC, near the end of the reign of Artaxerxes, he found many new evils in Judah, and it was during this time especially that he was forced to deal with the same sins against which Malachi prophesies. Malachi is almost certainly, therefore, a contemporary of Nehemiah and so also of Ezra (Ezra had come to Jerusalem with a second group of returned captives about 13 years before Nehemiah came, Ezra 7:8, and was still living when Nehemiah arrived; Neh. 8:9). Malachi must have prophesied, therefore, about ninety years after Haggai and Zechariah, a little over four hundred years before Christ.
In that context his prophecy shows the need for Christ’s coming and looks forward to His coming as the next great event in the history of redemption.
The book of Malachi is divided into six disputations, introduced by a superscription (Mal. 1:1) and ending with a brief summary (Mal. 4:4-6). In the first disputation (Mal. 1:2-5) Malachi speaks in general terms of the unfaithfulness of the people and rebukes them for refusing to love and honor God. In the second (Mal. 1:6-2:9) he begins to point out specific sins of the people, speaking especially of the sins of the priests. In the third disputation he deals with the sins of mixed marriages and of divorce (Mal. 2:10-16). In the fourth he prophesies the coming of Christ and of His forerunner (Mal. 2:17-3:6), and in the fifth returns again to the sins of the people, this time rebuking them for their neglect of tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:7-12). The sixth and last section (Mal. 3:13-4:3) brings more general reproofs and warnings, as well as the promise of better things to come. The book then concludes with an exhortation to remember the law of Moses, enforced by a reference to the coming day of the Lord (Mal. 4:4-6).
The English chapter divisions, therefore, do not follow the actual divisions of the book and are at times misleading. Malachi 2:1, for example, divides God’s word to the priests into two parts and might leave the impression that there are two different messages for them. Also, the fact that Malachi 3 begins as it does, leads to our overlooking the fact that the promise of the coming of the messenger of the covenant is an answer to the question of unfaithful Judah, “Where is the God of judgment?” in Malachi 2:17. It would probably be better, therefore, to read the book following its actual divisions, than by following the English chapter divisions.
* T.V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai and Malachi, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974, p. 104.