Glossary of Terms

Malachi and the Book of Malachi


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Malachi. A prophet in the time following the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon, probably the fifth century B.C. and, possibly around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nothing is known about the prophet.

Malachi, The Book of. O.T. book containing teaching of the prophet Malachi about the carelessness of people in the prophet's time in matters of faith and worship.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Malachi, the Book of, the last book of the prophetic corpus and of the Christian ot, and one of the twelve Minor Prophets. The name of the book (Heb. ‘my messenger’) derives from 3:1 where an eschatological precursor is announced: ‘Behold, I am about to send my messenger’ (cf. 1:1; 2:7). The Septuagint (lxx) as well as other versions do not take the title as a personal name and most scholars regard the author as anonymous. The brevity of the book and its subtitle ‘oracle’ provide an analogy with the similarly subtitled collections at the end of the book of Zechariah (9:1; 12:1), which are roughly of the same length.


The Book of Malachi

Traditionally, the book has been divided into eight sections, the first a superscription and the last a concluding coda.

The content of the book places its date in the early Persian period between the reestablishment of the Temple in 515 b.c. and the mission of Nehemiah in 445, possibly in the reign of Xerxes (486-464). The Persian governor is mentioned in 1:8 and the Temple sacrificial system that had fallen into disrepute when sick and useless animals were offered in violation of normal practice is presupposed (1:7-10; 3:8). The author’s preoccupation with worship practices and his disappointment at the community’s loss of religious devotion demonstrate a great change merely two generations after the rededication of the Second Temple.

Most significant of the new conditions was the lax attitude of the Judeans toward intermarriage (2:10-16), a major concern of the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah. The persistence of so much wrongdoing evokes in Malachi the question regarding the reality of God’s justice (2:17). The prophet responds by announcing the imminence of the coming of a ‘messenger of the covenant’ (3:1) who would prepare the community for a final judgment, which is the subject of the last verses of the book (4:4-6, Hebrew 3:22-24).

These concluding verses serve as capstones not only to the prophetic corpus but possibly also the Pentateuch and Prophets together. The Deuteronomic character of the conclusion (cf. Deut. 18:15-18), modeled after Exod. 23:20, as well as the book as a whole, now identifies the eschatological precursor as Elijah, who is to return from heaven to reunite all Israel before the end time. These verses and ideas have left an indelible imprint on later Jewish and Christian messianic views (e.g., Matt. 17:10-13).

Malachi provides an important glimpse of life in Jerusalem in the first half of the fifth century b.c. The rebuilding of the Temple had not occasioned the kind of good life Haggai had predicted. As individuals lapsed in their performance of religious obligations the prophet exhorts people back to their moral stance by asking for true ritual obedience and abstinence from mixed marriages. The hopeful ending enables all to anticipate better times. Jewish tradition numbers Malachi the last of the Prophets and a member of the Great Synagogue.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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