Hey look, it’s the final book of the Old Testament! Malachi is only 4 chapters long, but boy does it give us one final thwack of cuckoo across the face to close things out. From God’s anger at his people divorcing their spouses and offering him unsavory animal sacrifices to God threatening to smear poo on his people’s faces, Malachi really ends the Old Testament with a bang and a smash (of poo in your face).
It seems that less is known about Malachi than any of the minor prophets thus far. According to Wikipedia: “Although the appellation Malachi has frequently been understood as a proper name, its Hebrew meaning is simply ‘My [i.e., God’s] messenger’ (or ‘His messenger’ in the Septuagint) and may not be the author’s name at all.” So, not only do we have no idea when this book was written or what the context is, we don’t even know who this book’s author was or whether Malachi was even his name. Super!
From what I’m seeing online, it seems like it’s thought that this book was written either in a similar timeframe as Haggai and Zechariah, or a bit later, around the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. Oh interesting, I just went to check my go-to timeline of prophets and realized that they put Malachi in the Nehemiah/Ezra timeframe too, which is starting in like 450BC-ish. So, around 515BC is when the temple rebuilding is completed (recall that it was still in its early phase in Haggai and Zechariah), Ezra shows up with a bunch more of the Jewish exiles not long after that so they can resettle, and then Nehemiah comes and rebuilds Jerusalem’s walls.
But, according to this summary that I found online: “In 433BC Nehemiah returned to the service of the Persian king [recall that the Persian king Artaxerxes had originally sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem], and during his absence the Jews fell into sin once more. Later … Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem to discover that the tithes were ignored, the Sabbath was broken, the people had intermarried with foreigners, and the priests had become corrupt (Ne 13:7-31).” If you check my reviews of Ezra and Nehemiah, the intermarrying with foreigners was a big focus in those ones. So based on some of the similarities in the sins that Ezra/Nehemiah were condemning and the sins Malachi is condemning, it is possible that Malachi might have prophesied in the latter part of this timeframe and maybe slightly beyond. That’s the best we can do on context. Now let’s get into the actual prophesies.
O.k. but wait. You know, as I’m looking at all these prophecies to prep for typing them up, I’ve gotta say: If Malachi is indeed the last prophet to come chronologically in the Old Testament, he sure as hell does end things on a bad note. I wasn’t expecting this after reading Ezra and Nehemiah. I was totally under the impression that the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple and the walls and everything after that big ol’ exile in Babylon etc. was supposed to be some sort of happily ever after type deal. Well o.k., not really, because if it really were Happily Ever After, then there would be no need for Jesus to show up in the New T. Still though, I wasn’t expecting the entire OT to end on such a turbulent note. The OT is a constant cycle of God setting up his people for success, his people screwing it all up by sinning, God getting angry and punishing his people, God fixing everything back to good times again after he punishes his people, his people sinning again, rinse and repeat and repeat and repeat. It seems that by the end of the OT, this cycle hasn’t ended or changed at all. it’s just more of the same with an implication that it will continue into eternity. Bummer.
As for the structure of Malachi, I hadn’t noticed this while reading it (usually these things are not the least bit obvious), but it seems that most scholars look at the book as being split up into 6 different oracles. And by “oracles” what they mean is: a series of beefs God has with his people. Most of them are actually disputes, because they involve a two-way argument between God and his people. Now that we’ve gotten through all this preface, let’s go through the 6 oracles:
Dispute #1: Israel Doubts God’s Love For Them
Malachi starts off straight out of the gate in chapter 1 with some extremely threatening declarations from God. The chapter kicks off with Israel doubting God’s love for them. God’s answer to this is, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Uhh, o.k.? That’s … comforting? “1:4 Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’ But this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. 1:5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, “Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!”’” So … o.k. I guess God is reminding his people that he chose them (Jacob’s descendants) over Jacob’s brother Esau’s descendants, and he is proving his love for his people by performing horrible acts on Esau’s peeps (Edom). Cool. Cool cool cool.
Dispute #2a: Cheap Assholes Giving God Blemished Sacrifices
Here’s where we get into the fun part: Blemished sacrifices. This dispute starts with God being angry that his people and the priests are offering “defiled food” on his altar. His people/priests shoot back at him, asking him – what’s so bad about that?? God says that by doing this, they are basically dissing him, big time, by treating his table as “contemptible”. “1:8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?”
1:10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “ and I will accept no offering from your hands.
1:14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty,“ and my name is to be feared among the nations.
God actually whines a couple times in this passage about how great and powerful he is, damn it, and how he doesn’t deserve this shit. He is good enough, he is smart enough, and doggonit, he has a lot going for him! He’s really good at starting plagues, he has a ton of experience with smiting, and he can demonstrate his work! No problem. You wanna see a famine in Edom? Boom, done. How ’bout a war in Nineveh? Just say the words. God is a real go-getter, a can-do kinda guy, and if you people can’t see that then you don’t deserve him.
Dispute #2b: Priests Slacking on the Job
Oh this passage is fun too. You see, God’s actually not done with his previous beef. After he finishes yelling at his peeps and priests for giving him blemished sacrifices, he then goes in on just the priests specifically.
2:1 “And now, you priests, this warning is for you. 2:2 If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me. 2:3 “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants ; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. 2:4 And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.
That’s right, priests. Watch the eff out because if you don’t straighten up your act, God is gonna smear sheep caca on your faces. Do you want that, huh!? Does anybody want that?? That’s right. I didn’t think so.
God reminds the priests that his covenant was with Levi. Recall that the clan of Levi (the Levites) were assigned by God to be the priests and to take care of the tabernacle back in Numbers. God says here that Levi was a really good dude. “2:6 True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.” In order to serve as priests, the priests need to revere God and stand in awe of his name. But they ain’t doing that right now. They are violating God’s covenant with Levi. They’ve shown “partiality in matters of the law,” so God has caused them to be “despised and humiliated before all the people.”
Dispute #3: Divorce & Re-Marrying w/Foreigners
Here is the part where God specifically goes after his people for the same sins called out in Ezra and Nehemiah: Men divorcing their chosen wives and re-marrying foreign hussies who brainwash them into worshiping foreign gods.
You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 2:14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 2:15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. 2:16 “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.
I mean, the concept of a man actually being faithful to his wife is a nice thought, but God’s motives with this stuff always seem a bit selfish and twisted. He is mainly concerned about the new foreign wives leading the men away to worshiping other gods, and with his people giving him plenty of “Godly offspring.” God wants to Make Israel Great Again and his people are not helping his cause.
Dispute #4: Israel Asks “Where is the God of Justice?”
2:17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
This is a weird chapter. It starts off with the above dispute, and then goes into God saying that he is going to send a “messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” And then The Lord will “come to his temple” as the people desire. “3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 3:4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
Then God says that he will come and put his people on trial. He will testify against sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, people who defraud laborers of their wages, people who oppress widows and the fatherless, and people who deprive foreigners of justice. Most of those people do sound like they deserve a good swift kick in the nuts, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not entirely sure who this messenger is. It doesn’t sound like Jesus, right? This messenger sounds far more fire and brimstone than Jesus. I’m not sure who it’s supposed to be.
Dispute #5: Withholding Tithes
This part is boring. God tells his people, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” When his people ask how to do this, he says that they are robbing him in their tithes and offerings.
3:10 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. 3:11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 3:12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
Well o.k., fine. God himself can’t eat food or use money, but I suppose tithing at least makes sense in that it’s used for upkeep of the temple. Without the financial support, the temple will fall into disrepair. So the people need to donate to make sure God’s temple remains nice and pretty and structurally sound.
Dispute #6: Israel Speaks Arrogantly Against God
Finally we are at the last dispute. God accuses his people of speaking arrogantly against him, and they ask him, “What have we said against you?”
3:14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 3:15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’ ”
So basically the people are saying, what the hell is the point of serving you, when it seems like the good guys always lose and the bad guys always win? We see shitty people succeeding at life left and right. So why bother being good people when it gets us nowhere compared to all these jerk-offs who are just winning 24/7?
This time, the response is a quick story of “The Faithful Remnant”, the ones who never lose faith despite all this. The story starts with the Faithful Remnant talking and God listening. “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.” And then God responds to this by saying, “On the day when I act, they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 3:18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” So, point being, you gotta have faith, a faith, a faith, yoouu gotta have faith, a faith, a faith AH. And also be good. Do what God says.
And then we finally get to the last chapter of Malachi and the entire Old Testament, chapter 4. It’s short. In this chapter, God goes back to what he said in Dispute #4 about his “messenger” who’s gonna show up and put the smack down and punish everyone for sucking so hard.
4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.
But then the Faithful Remnant from Dispute #6 are included in the prophecy too:
4:2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 4:3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
So this big day of judgement is gonna suck ass for everyone who has been sinning throughout this entire book, but for the Faithful Remnant, it’s actually gonna be awesome AF. It’s gonna be like a huge party of frolicking all over the … ashes of dead wicked people … and, you know. Fun stuff like that.
The last few verses of Malachi then serve as a final sort of reminder and directive for the people, wrapping up not just the book of Malachi but of the entire Old Testament and the books of the prophets, really:
4:4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 4:5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 4:6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Lol. It wouldn’t be the Old Testament if it didn’t end on the most ominous note possible. “I will send Elijah out to turn your hearts good again, turn your hearts towards each other, towards The Lord … OR ELSE. GOT IT!? Total. fucking. destruction.”
That’s right, people. So keep your noses clean. Also, I’m not sure why it’s Elijah called out here as the person who’s gonna come save everyone. He’s been dead for a couple/few hundred years at this point. I think maybe he miraculously shows up again in the New Testament, according to Wikipedia, but we’ll see.
And that’s Malachi. And also that’s the Old Testament. Finally. I don’t even want to mention or think about how long it took me to get here, but you can figure it out by looking at the dates on my archives. In my defense, the Old Testament is 76% of the Bible. I know this because I’m reading it on my Kindle.
It’s, I mean, Malachi has a few things going for it: It’s short, it’s not insanely difficult to understand, it has God smearing poo in people’s faces, it gave me the opportunity to photoshop awful commentary into a pic of adorable sheep that I felt super guilty about, and there’s only a few flare-ups of violent threats. But there’s also not a whole lot of good stuff in here other than God briefly telling his people not to screw other people over. So yeah. That’s a wrap on the OT. New Testament, here I come!!