St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“THE BOOK OF TWELVE (The Minor Prophets: Malachi)”
Group Leader / Handouts: Mike Kreutzer, Rector
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The Book of the Twelve — Adult Forum Notes
The book probably comes from the period from 500-450, shortly before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The name means “my messenger” (3:1), and so it might not be a name at all, but simply a title. We know nothing about him. (Elizabeth Achtemeier, p. 172, suggests that the title “my messenger” actually refers to the role of the priest in 2:7 and that the author takes the place of the priest in a series of legal decisions.) Since the book begins the same way as Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1 (“An oracle. The word of the LORD…”), some scholars have suggested that it once circulated along with II and II Zechariah.
He may be considered to be a cultic prophet (like Haggai, Zechariah and Joel) and shows a great respect for the temple and for priestly teaching (torah). Yet he may reflect more accurately the Deuteronomic law rather than the Priestly code that was brought back to Palestine by Ezra. The book emphasizes the fulfillment of Israel’s covenant obligations.
Instead of oracles, he uses a question-and-answer style. His emphasis on sin, judgment, repentance, and the coming of the Day of the Lord place him within the prophetic tradition. The concluding verses, chapter 4:4-6 may be a later addition.
1:1-5 God affirms his love for Israel, but Israel challenges that assertion. Contrary to the glorious visions of Haggai and Zechariah, life in Judah hasn’t really improved very much, even though the temple had been rebuilt 50 years ago. What had happened to God’s promises? Judah was tired of waiting for them to be fulfilled. Nothing great was happening, just plain, ordinary, boring, everyday life. God was thought to have favored Edom (Esau), who cooperated with the Babylonians and lived, while Judah had been destroyed. The prophet, however, points out that their fortunes had now been reversed: the Jews were back home, while Edom was under attack and suffering. God had taken care of his chosen people.
1:6 – 2:9 The court case in which God has been put on trial is now reversed: God is putting the priests on trial. They had come to “despise”, i.e. “treat as unimportant”, the offerings that they and the people were making. They gave God whatever was left over after they had taken the best for themselves or allowed the people to keep the best for themselves. Therefore, God was calling them to judgment.
2:10-16 The prophet, speaking on behalf of God, makes two charges against the people of Judah. First (10-12), they have married women who worship other gods and have participated with them in that worship. Second (13-16), they have divorced their wives of many years, possibly in order to marry these foreign women. God refuses to accept the people’s offerings because this violation of the marriage covenant is not just something between the husband and wife; it involves God directly because God is part of the marriage covenant.
2:17 – 3:6 3:1-4 are the most-used verses of Malachi in Christian worship. In addition to the 2nd Sunday of Advent in Year C, they are used on the Feast of the Presentation.
The people claim that God is rewarding those who do evil, but that they, who are doing good, are being neglected. “Where is the God of justice?” God denies their claim that they are doing his will, that they are “the good people.” Not only is God not absent, God is coming – and that ought to be a real concern for them! This is a vision of the coming Day of the Lord.
This is the only place in the OT where God is called “the messenger of the covenant.” (3:1)
Verse 6: The people have been alleging that the God who was faithful in the past has changed and is no longer faithful to them. God declares that he is still the same and that it is only because of his faithfulness to them that he has not destroyed them despite the fact that they have been unfaithful.
3:7-12 God calls Israel to return to him, promising that he will return to them. They seems completely oblivious to the fact that they have not been faithful to him. God charges them with robbing him. The people deny the charge, so God must continue the court case, being more specific. They have not brought the full tithe that they were required to bring. (Nehemiah 13:10-13 indicates that this was still a problem in his time.)
In verse 10, God challenges the people: “You say that I won’t take care of you. Just try me! Bring the full tithe and put me to the test. If you do, this is what I will do for you…”
3:13-15 In the final part of the court proceedings, the people, who have been professing their faithfulness, convict themselves. They say that they have tried obeying the Lord but that those who have defied God have fared better. They have now made their decision: “we count the arrogant happy”; so, they imply, we are following their example. God rests his case.
3:16 – 4:3 The Day of the Lord is coming, and on that day people will see a clear distinction between the faithful and the faithless. (cf. Third Isaiah, Is. 65:13-16) Among the faithless people of Judah, God has a righteous remnant whom he will protect and shelter. They will be rewarded and glorified on that day.
4:4-6 The priest-prophet brings the book to a close with a call to Israel to obey all the Law given to them by Moses at Horeb. It carries a note of salvific intent: “to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.” To accomplish this, God will send to them Elijah, who once turned Israel from idolatry (cf. Lk 1:17 – “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children…”). (cf. also Mt 11:14 – “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
Neither the Septuagint (LXX) nor the Masoretes (MT) wanted to end the Book of the Twelve, and the entire Hebrew Bible, with a curse. LXX puts verse 4 after verse 6. MT repeats verse 5 after verse 6.
Uses of Malachi in the Sunday readings of The Revised Common Lectionary
3:1-4 Year C, 2nd Sunday of Advent