Messenger or angel, the last of the minor prophets, and the writer of the last book of the Old Testament canon (Malachi 4:4,5,6). Nothing is known of him beyond what is contained in his book of prophecies. Some have supposed that the name is simply a title descriptive of his character as a messenger of Jehovah, and not a proper name. There is reason, however, to conclude that Malachi was the ordinary name of the prophet.
He was contemporary with Nehemiah (Compare Malachi 2:8 with Nehemiah 13:15; Malachi 2:10-16 with Nehemiah 13:23). No allusion is made to him by Ezra, and he does not mention the restoration of the temple, and hence it is inferred that he prophesied after Haggai and Zechariah, and when the temple services were still in existence (Malachi 1:10; 3:1,10). It is probable that he delivered his prophecies about B.C. 420, after the second return of Nehemiah from Persia (Nehemiah 13:6), or possibly before his return.
The last book of the Old Testament. Nothing is known of the person of Malachi. Because his name does not occur elsewhere, some scholars indeed doubt whether "Malachi" is intended to be the personal name of the prophet. But none of the other prophetic books of the Old Testament is anonymous. The form mal'akhi, signifies "my messenger"; it occurs again in 3:1; compare 2:7. But this form of itself would hardly be appropriate as a proper name without some additional syllable such as Yah, whence mal'akhiah, i.e. "messenger of Yahweh." Haggai, in fact, is expressly designated "messenger of Yahweh" (Haggai 1:13). Besides, the superscriptions prefixed to the book, in both the Septuagint and the Vulgate, warrant the supposition that Malachi's full name ended with the syllable -yah. At the same time the Septuagint translates the last clause of Malachi 1:1, "by the hand of his messenger," and the Targum reads, "by the hand of my angel, whose name is called Ezra the scribe." Jerome likewise testifies that the Jews of his day ascribed this last book of prophecy to Ezra (V. Praef. in duodecim Prophetas). But if Ezra's name was originally associated with the book, it would hardly have been dropped by the collectors of the prophetic Canon who, lived only a century or two subsequent to Ezra's time. Certain traditions ascribe the book to Zerubbabel and Nehemiah; others, still, to Malachi, whom they designate as a Levite and a member of the "Great Synagogue." Certain modern scholars, however, on the basis of the similarity of the title (Malachi 1:1) to Zechariah 9:1; 12:1, declare it to be anonymous; but this is a rash conclusion without any substantial proof other than supposition. The best explanation is that of Professor G.G. Cameron, who suggests that the termination of the word "Malachi" is adjectival, and equivalent to the Latin angelicus, signifying "one charged with a message or mission" (a missionary). The term would thus be an official title; and the thought would not be unsuitable to one whose message closed the prophetical Canon of the Old Testament, and whose mission in behalf of the church was so sacred in character (1-vol HDB).
2. The Prophet's Times:
Opinions vary as to the prophet's exact date, but nearly all scholars are agreed that Malachi prophesied during the Persian period, and after the reconstruction and dedication of the second temple in 516 BC (compare Malachi 1:10; 3:1,10). The prophet speaks of the people's governor" (Hebrew pechah, Malachi 1:8), as do Haggai and Nehemiah (Haggai 1:1; Nehemiah 5:14; 12:26). The social conditions portrayed are unquestionably those also of the period of the Restoration. More specifically, Malachi probably lived and labored during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. Serious abuses had crept into Jewish life; the priests had become lax and degenerate, defective and inferior sacrifices were allowed to be offered upon the temple altar, the people were neglecting their tithes, divorce was common and God's covenant was forgotten and ignored; just such abuses as we know from the Book of Neh were common in his day (compare Nehemiah 3:5; 5:1-13). Yet, it is doubtful whether Malachi preached during Nehemiah's active governorship; for in Malachi 1:8 it is implied that gifts might be offered to the "governor," whereas Nehemiah tells us that he declined all such (Nehemiah 5:15,18). On the other hand, the abuses which Malachi attacked correspond so exactly with those which Nehemiah found on his 2nd visit to Jerusalem in 432 BC (Nehemiah 13:7 ff) that it seems reasonably certain that he prophesied shortly before that date, i.e. between 445 and 432 BC. As Dr. J.M.P. Smith says, The Book of Mal fits the situation amid which Nehemiah worked as snugly as a bone fits its socket" (ICC, 7). That the prophet should exhort the people to remember the law of Moses, which was publicly read by Ezra in the year 444 BC, is in perfect agreement with this conclusion, despite the fact that Stade, Cornill and Kautzsch argue for a date prior to the time of Ezra. On the other hand, Nagelsbach, Kohler, Orelli, Reuss and Volck rightly place the book in the period between the two visits of Nehemiah (445-432 BC).
The book, in the main, is composed of two extended polemics against the priests (Malachi 1:6 through Malachi 2:9) and the people (Malachi 2:10 through Malachi 4:3), opening with a clear, sharp statement of the prophet's chief thesis that Yahweh still loves Israel (Malachi 1:2-5), and closing with an exhortation to remember the Law of Moses (Malachi 4:4-6). After the title or superscription (Malachi 1:1) the prophecy falls naturally into seven divisions:
(1) Malachi 1:2-5, in which Malachi shows that Yahweh still loves Israel because their lot stands in such marked contrast to Edom's. They were temporarily disciplined; Edom was forever punished.
(2) Malachi 1:6 through Malachi 2:9, a denunciation of the priests, the Levites, who have become neglectful of their sacerdotal office, indifferent to the Law, and unmindful of their covenant relationship to Yahweh.
(3) Malachi 2:10-16, against idolatry and divorce. Some interpret this section metaphorically of Judah as having abandoned the religion of his youth (Malachi 2:11). But idolatry and divorce were closely related. The people are obviously rebuked for literally putting away their own Jewish wives in order to contract marriage with foreigners (Malachi 2:15). Such marriages, the prophet declares, are not only a form of idolatry (Malachi 2:11), but a violation of Yahweh's intention to preserve to Himself a "godly seed" (Malachi 2:15).
(4) Malachi 2:17 through Malachi 3:6, an announcement of coming judgment. Men are beginning to doubt whether there is longer a God of justice (Malachi 2:17). Malachi replies that the Lord whom the people seek will suddenly come, both to purify the sons of Levi and to purge the land of sinners in general. The nation, however, will not be utterly consumed (Malachi 3:6).
(5) Malachi 3:7-12, in which the prophet pauses to give another concrete example of the people's sins: they have failed to pay their tithes and other dues. Accordingly, drought, locusts, and famine have ensued. Let these be paid and the nation will again prosper, and their land will become "a delightsome land."
(6) Malachi 3:13 through 4:3, a second section addressed to the doubters of the prophet's age. In 2:17, they had said, "Where is the God of justice?" They now murmur: "It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his charge?" The wicked and the good alike prosper (3:14,15). But, the prophet replies, Yahweh knows them that are His, and a book of remembrance is being kept; for a day of judgment is coming when the good and the evil will be distinguished; those who work iniquity will be exterminated, while those who do righteously will triumph.
(7) Malachi 4:4-6, a concluding exhortation to obey the Mosaic Law; with a promise that Elijah the prophet will first come to avert, if possible, the threatened judgment by reconciling the hearts of the nation to one another, i.e. to reconcile the ideals of the old to those of the young, and vice versa.
Malachi was content to write prose. His Hebrew is clear and forceful and direct; sometimes almost rhythmical. His figures are as numerous as should be expected in the brief remnants of his sermons which have come down to us, and in every case they are chaste and beautiful (1:6; 3:2,3,17; 4:1-3). His statements are bold and correspondingly effective. The most original feature in his style is the lecture-like method which characterizes his book throughout; more particularly that of question and answer. His style is that of the scribes. It is known as the didactic-dialectic method, consisting first of an assertion or charge, then a fancied objection raised by his hearers, and finally the prophet's refutation of their objection. Eight distinct examples of this peculiarity are to be found in his book, each one containing the same clause in Hebrew, "Yet ye say" (1:2,6,7; 2:14,17; 3:7,8,13). This debating style is especially characteristic of Malachi. Ewald called it "the dialogistic" method. Malachi shows the influence of the schools (compare his use of "also" and "again" in 1:13; 2:13, which is equivalent to our "firstly," "secondly," etc.).
Malachi's message has a permanent value for us as well as an immediate value for his own time. He was an intense patriot, and accordingly his message was clean-cut and severe. His primary aim was to encourage a disheartened people who were still looking for Haggai's and Zechariah's optimistic predictions to be fulfilled. Among the lessons of abiding value are the following: (1) That ritual is an important element in religion, but not as an end in itself. Tithes and offerings are necessary, but only as the expression of sincere moral and deeply spiritual life (Malachi 1:11). (2) That a cheap religion avails nothing, and that sacrifices given grudgingly are displeasing to God. Better a temple closed than filled with such worshippers (Malachi 1:8-10). (3) That divorce and intermarriage with heathen idolaters thwarts the purpose of God in securing to Himself a peculiar people, whose family life is sacred because it is the nursery of a "godly seed" (Malachi 2:15). (4) That there is eternal discipline in the Law. Malachi places the greatest emphasis upon the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law. The priests, he says, are the custodians and expounders of the Law. At their mouth the people should seek knowledge. "To undervalue the Law is easy; to appraise it is a much harder task" (Welch). With Malachi, no less than with Christ Himself, not one jot or tittle should ever pass away or become obsolete.
Driver, "Minor Prophets," II, NewCentury Bible (1906); G. A. Smith, "The Book of the Twelve Prophets," Expositor's Bible (1898); Dods, Post-Exilian Prophets: "Hag," "Zec," "Mal"; "Handbooks for Bible Classes"; J. M. P. Smith, ICC (1912). Among the numerous other commentaries on Mal may be mentioned: Eiselen (1907), Marti (1903), Nowack (1903), Orelli (1908), Wellhausen (1898), Van Hoonacker (1908) and Isopeocul (1908). The various Introductions to the Old Testament should also be consulted, notably those by Driver (1910), Strack (1906), Wildeboer (1903), Gautier (1906), Cornill (1907), Konig (1893); and the articles entitled "Malachi" in the various Dicts. and Bible Encs: e.g. in Encyclopedia Biblica (1902), by C. 0. Torrey; in HDB (1901), by A. O. Welch; in 1-vol HDB (1909), by G. G. Cameron; and RE (1905), by Volck.