Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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The word ‘Malachi’ may not be a proper name, but an indication of the anonymity of the source of the oracles contained in this scroll: the Greek phrase ‘by Malachi’ is just as well translated as ‘by [the hand of] my messenger’. The short scroll (or appendix to Zechariah) consists of six units (1: 2–5; 1: 6–2: 9; 2: 10–16; 2: 17–3: 5; 3: 6–12; 3: 13–4: 3). It begins by reaffirming YHWH's love for Jacob (Israel) and hatred of Esau (Edom): ‘Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness’ (1: 2–3). The striking verse ‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts’ (1: 11), which, in its context (1: 6–14), indicates the importance of the ritual purity of the temple, has in Christian interpretations of the text had considerable influence on liturgical practice. The conviction that YHWH hates divorce is used to address issues arising from communal conflict about divorce (2: 11–16). The final pieces in the prophetic collection also focus on temple purity and the sending of YHWH's messenger (3: 1), presumably the same as Elijah the prophet (4: 5) ‘before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (4: 5). From Isa. 2: 12 to Mal. 3: 5, that is, from the beginning to the end of the prophetic books, the day of YHWH is a constant theme. That expectation is seen in the context of the temple and coupled with the regulation of worship (a feature of the prophetic collection from Isa. 1: 10–16 to Mal. 3: 7–12). The closing lines of Malachi serve as a conclusion to the whole prophetic collection, summarizing the law and the prophets: ‘Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (4: 4–5). Elijah will restore familial loyalties, and so prevent YHWH's coming in wrath and cursing the earth. So familial loyalty in a temple context constitutes the proper state of the community: echoes of Isa. 1 may be caught in this closing sentence to the prophetic books (Isa. 1: 2–3, 10–16). Grandiose visions of a perfected earth, the triumph of Judah and Jerusalem, and the crushing of the nations, give way to exhortations about the family in a properly purified temple. However impossible may seem the grand visions, the practicalities of temple-orientated familial loyalty are well within the grasp of the community. Prophecy is not always other-worldly; its aims can be practical, local, and communal.

Chapter.  530 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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