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KD Old Testament Lesson 48: Malachi

Posted by Karl D. on December 20, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Malachi (#48)
Reading: Zechariah 10-14, Malachi

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Introduction

2.1 The Prophet Malachi

Little is known about the prophet Malachi. Even his name has been seriously debated by scholars.

2.2 Date and Setting

We don’t know very much about date. Certainly it is post-exilic and belongs to the second temple period (515 BCE or later) since it assumes a completed temple. Many scholars believe it fits best in the 5th century around the same period as Ezra and Nehemiah. One reason scholars cite for seeing Malachi as roughly contemporary with Ezra-Nehemiah is that these books seem to share similar concerns (for example, tithing and exogamy):1

2.3 Literary Style and Structure

Is it poetry or prose? Scholars debate about this as well. The NRSV and the NIV both translate it as prose. However, there is, I think, a clear use of parallelism at least occasionally.

The book of Malachi is structured around a series of disputations. Paul D. Hanson, in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary, explains the structure of the book and these disputations as follows:2

It is held together by a common literary form, a narrative report of a dispute. Time and again, Yahweh makes an assertion, and the priests or the people respond with a query, usually implying objection to the divine pronouncement. This leads to a clarification of the divine assertion; the intention of the divine word is elaborated and strengthened in the direction of indictment and judgment of the doubting people or of admonition.

I don’t think these disputations are isolated arguments. I think they are connected and form an important rhetorical arc. Hill, in the Anchor Bible Commentary on Malachi, sees the rhetorical arc as a chiastic structure and outlines it as follows:3

A. Disputation: Yahweh's covenant love for Israel (1:2-5)
   B. Disputation indicting faithless priests (1:6-2:9)
      C. Disputation indicting faithless people (2:10-16)
         D. Disputation about Yahweh's judgment and purification of 
            Israel (2:17-3:5)
      C' Disputation indicting faithless people (3:6-12)
   B' Disputation indicting the faithless and acquitting the faithful 
     (3:13-4:3)
A' Concluding exhortations (4:4-6)   
  • What does this outline reveal about the book of Malachi? Does the chiastic structure reveal important themes or the central message of the book?
  • Do you agree with the implication of the chiastic structure that the central theme or focus of the book is the Lord’s promised judgment and purification of Israel? Or do you see element A as the most important or key disputation?
  • How are the other elements in the chiasmus related to the center point of the chiasmus?

3 A Dispute about God’s Love

Read Malachi 1:2-5

2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. 4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. 5 And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.

  • Note, that verse 4 mentions dragons of the wilderness but modern translations use Jackals (see, for example, the NRSV) as does a footnote in the LDS edition of the King James Bible.
  • Notice how the dispute conforms to the expected pattern. For example, the Lord tells Israel “I have loved you” and Israel answers with “How have you loved us?”
  • Why might Israel have felt unloved? Are you sympathetic? Is it easy to be like Israel when you are placed in similar situations?

3.1 Jacob and Esau

The Lord responds to the question of “how have you loved us” by referring to Jacob and Esau and saying he loved Jacob and hated Esau. What do you think of this argument? Does it surprise you? Shock you? Make you uncomfortable? Something else?

  • My initial reaction to the argument is that it is very stark and seems a little bit unmerciful. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • On the other hand, maybe we should think about why God and Malachi would respond with this argument and use this comparison. Would the story of Jacob and Esau be meaningful or timely to the original audience? Do these verses give us a hint about why this might have been a timely comparison?
  • These verses seem to reference a disaster that Edom (the descendants of Esau) experienced. What happened to Edom (can you tell from the text) and how will the differences between the Lord’s relationships with the two nations manifest itself?
  • Well, Edom was eventually invaded by the Nabataean Arabs, and evidence on Aramaic inscribed vessels suggests a date in the 6th or 5th century BCE. Also, by 312 BCE Edom migrated to the Negeb because of the Nabataeans. In some sense the fates of Jacob and Esau were similar. The difference between the two groups, according to Malachi, is that Jacob will return and rebuild (or is returning and rebuilding) and the Lord will not allow Esau to return and rebuild.4

3.2 Love and Hate

Why does the Lord say he hated Esau? What do you make of it? Does the Lord mean love and hate as we usually understand it?

3.2.1 Context for love

In the Old Testament, what is typically the context for discussions of the Lord’s love?

  • I think the context here is the covenant relation between the Lord and Israel. Love is a covenant word. It describes the relationship between Husband/Wife and Father/Son. Both of these are very important metaphors for the Lord’s relationship with Israel.
  • On some level the love/hate language emphasizes the covenant relationship with Israel by providing contrast with Esau. I think this nicely evokes images related to the story of Esau and Jacob itself (which is also a very complex story).

3.2.2 Back to “why does the Lord say he hated Esau?”

Well, I think there are a number of possibilities. I think it is important to recognize the literary structure in these verses. Malachi uses antithetical parallelism: Jacob and Esau and Love and Hate. Given, that I think there are a number of possible ways to understanding how the Lord loved Jacob and hated Esau that all soften the love/hate contrast (it may or may not be a good idea to soften the contrast):

  1. Since the context is the covenant, love really means “chosen” and hate means “rejected or not chosen.”5 What do you think of this potential explanation? Is it plausible? Are there any problems with it?
  2. Jacob/Israel are contrasted with Esau. One possibility is that this is not a literal contrast; In much the same way that Jerusalem and Babylon are often contrasted metaphorically. Edom represents those who hate the Lord and reject the covenant (this is certainly a possible reading of the Esau story). What do you think of this potential explanation? Are there any problems with it?

    Why doesn’t Malachi use the Jerusalem/Babylon contrast? Does Malachi in general use Jerusalem as an image or does he prefer Israel/Jacob imagery? If he does prefer Israel/Jacob imagery to Jerusalem imagery, does it make sense that the contrasting image would be Edom?

  3. The designations are being used ironically to describe Israel and what Israel is in danger of becoming: Edom/Esau. Esau rejected the covenant and Israel is now in danger of becoming like Esau (i.e., what the Lord hates and if they do they will be destroyed like Edom and will not be able to rebuild). What do you think of this potential explanation? Are there any problems with it?

3.3 Beyond the Borders

NRSV of verse 5:

Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the borders of Israel.”

  • Why is the declaration important? What purpose does it serve?
  • It really provides balance to the very narrow previous verses. Here we are reminded of the universal nature of the Lord and by implication that he cares for more than just Israel.

4 A Dispute about Faithfulness

Read Malachi 2:10-16 (the third dispute):

10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. 12 The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts. 13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. 14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

  • Commentators suggest that these verses are difficult to translate. Verses 15 and 16 are considered very difficult. This has led to considerable debate about what this dispute is actually about.
  • What is going on here? What is this dispute about? Is there more than one possibility?
  • I think there are at least two possibilities: (1) exogamy and divorce (literal reading) and idolatry (a figurative reading).
  • Let’s back up a little. The word “one” is used 5 times in this pericope (verses 10, 15, and 16). How is the word used in verse 10 and how is it used in verses 15 and 16? What connects the use of the word across these verses? Are the differing usages providing a sort of parallelism? Do any other scriptures come to mind?
  • In verse 10 the word “one” refers to the Lord: one God and one creator. In verses 15 and 16 it refers to a lack of unity and also a lack of marriage oneness. The people have one Lord and one creator so they should be one because of the covenant with him. But they are the opposite of one in the most stunning ways.
  • Treacherously is used 5 times in the pericope? Smith, in the Word Bible Commentary, explains that the underlying Hebrew word could also be translated as faithless.6 Should we make a connection between faithlessness and treachery in these verses? In this context, do you see treachery and faithlessness as related?
  • Does the use of these two key words (one and treachery) help us decide between the two interpretive possibilities (in terms of original intent or what you prefer personally)?
  • I don’t know. Both of those words seem like they could be aptly applied to either possibility (at least in an ancient context). Of course, maybe this suggests that Malachi meant for this to be about both exogamy/divorce and idolatry. Maybe he would not have seen an important distinction between the two? Is this implied by the frequent use of the marriage metaphor to describe the Lord’s relationship with Israel throughout the Old Testament?
  • What does it mean that Israel has married the daughter of a foreign god? Might there have been some practical reasons why Israelite men were marrying foreign woman? How could it apply to idolatry? Have we encountered the daughter of a foreign god previously in the Old Testament?
  • What element seems inconsistent with an idolatry interpretation? What role would Israel have in one of the metaphors that would be highly unusual?
  • Israel is the husband in some of the verses. This reverses the metaphor of the Lord as husband and Israel as wife, and we don’t see a metaphor like that anywhere else in the OT.
  • What elements in the pericope point to viewing this pericope as figuratively as about idolatry?
  • What is the consequence of Israel’s treachery (however you understand it)?
  • Notice how it gets linked to the temple and hence the covenant. The image is wonderful: tears on the altar of the temple.
  • Is there anything cool or interesting about verse 14 from an LDS perspective?

5 Malachi’s Structure and the Hearts of the Children

Read Malachi 4:4-6. As you read Malachi 4:4-6 keep in mind the chiastic structure that I outlined earlier:

A. Disputation: Yahweh's covenant love for Israel (1:2-5)
   B. Disputation indicting faithless priests (1:6-2:9)
      C. Disputation indicting faithless people (2:10-16)
         D. Disputation about Yahweh's judgment and purification of 
            Israel (2:17-3:5)
      C' Disputation indicting faithless people (3:6-12)
   B' Disputation indicting the faithless and acquitting the faithful 
     (3:13-4:3)
A' Concluding exhortations (4:4-6)   

(4) Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.

(5) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: (6) And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

I want to tilt Malachi on its A’ and ask how the rest of Malachi relates to Malachi 4:4-6 and what the rest of Malachi tells us about these verses given its structure.

5.1 A and A’

Given that 4:4-6 is A’ what can we learn about it from looking at element A? How does A’ parallel A? (Remember, the first section of the notes is a discussion of A.)

  • Well at the very least it is reminder that the context here is covenantal love. It is very stark but Israel is reminded of its favored status by being compared to Edom/Esau. Given Israel’s covenantal advantage they will have a chance to rebuild or restore Israel. Edom will not. Edom at this point was basically no longer a nation (Edom was eventually invaded by the Nabataean Arabs, and evidence on Aramaic inscribed vessels suggests a date in the 6th or 5th century BCE.). Consequently, I would argue that Edom imagery is used to remind Israel of the covenantal favor and also implicitly warn them that they are in danger of becoming Edom.
  • Does this covenantal backdrop extend over into 4:4-6? In what ways? Does it speak to covenantal love and favor? Does it help answer the question of how Israel will rebuild? Does it make concrete why Israel’s rebuilding can be successful but not Edom’s?
  • Do you see a link between verse 1:5 and 4:4-6 (particularly in an LDS context)?
  • Is there anything problematic about viewing A’ as a true parallel to element A?
  • Well, the one worrisome thing is that 4:4-6 breaks from the disputation format. It is of a very different form than the rest of the elements. This may suggest that we shouldn’t read 4:4-6 as tightly connected with the structural arc in Malachi.

5.2 D and A’

Read Malachi 2:17-3:5:

Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?

(1) Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

(2) But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: (3) And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (4) Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.

(5) And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.

  • What about the center point of the chiasmus? How are verses 4:4-6 related to it?
  • Should one see 4:4-6 as a way to avoid what is described in these verses? A way out? Something else?

5.3 Other Thoughts

Malachi 4:4-6 again:

(4) Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.

(5) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: (6) And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

  • What about verse 4? It appears to be a separate paragraph but the structure suggests that they are connected. How is it related to verses 5-6 and the rest of Malachi?
  • Is it fair to say that these verses are connected in the sense that verse 4 looks back to when Israel was faithful to the covenant and verses 5-6 looks forward to the time when Israel will once again be faithful to the covenant? Do these verses suggest that it may be important for us to look to the past and the future at the same time? If so, how? What does this allow us to do?
  • How are Moses and Elijah linked? How are they different? What might they represent?

Footnotes:

1 Roerson, J., 2001, “Malachi” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 615.

2 Hanson, Paul D., 2000, “Malachi” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 683.

3 Hill, Andrew E., 1998, Malachi, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday), xxxvii.

4 Smith, Ralph L., 1984, Micah-Malachi, Word Books, 298.

5 Smith, Ralph L., 1984, Micah-Malachi, Word Books, 298.

6 Smith, Ralph L., 1984, Micah-Malachi, Word Books, 321.

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