AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Authorship of the Book. | Date of the Book. | Contents of the Book. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


We are accustomed to regard the name of the writer of this book as Malachi; but "Malachi" is not a proper name, as can be seen by the Septuagint rendering of i.1:

"Oracle; the word of Yahweh unto Israel, by the hand of his messenger" (angelos autou).

The idea of Yahweh's messenger who is sent to prepare the people for His coming is taken from Isa.xl.3-8. "Malachi" is simply the Hebrew for "my messenger".

The writer of the various literary pieces of this book is anonymous like so many others whose writings have been preserved in the prophetical books. (See above, p.232.)

But if we do not know his name, we learn from his book something about the personality of the writer. He has the spirit of the true prophet in him in his denunciation of insincere worship. He believes in the necessity of the sacrificial system, but he insists upon the right spirit in offering, otherwise it is a dishonouring of God (i.6-8). Better no sacrifices at all than the kind of offerings that were being presented on the altar by priests who by doing so were despising the name of God (i.6). He says:

"O that there were one among you that would shut the doors, and that ye might not illuminate mine altar to no purpose" (i.10).

He wishes that there were even one priest who had sufficient strength of character to keep the Temple gates shut so that the mockery of the altar fire might cease.

But this prophet is equally zealous for the honour of the sanctuary in another direction. He finds that the people have been neglectful in paying tithe, which was so necessary for the upkeep of the Temple and its services. He speaks in very strong language to the people on this subject:

"Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob me (he speaks in the name of God). But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and heave offerings (cp. Deut..11). Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye rob me, ye, the whole nation!" (iii. 8, 9).

This is all in the spirit of the true prophet.

Another striking trait is his universalistic outlook. When speaking in the name of God, he says to the priests,

"neither will I accept an offering at your hand;"

and he goes on to say:

"For from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same my name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place a pure offering is burned to my name; for great is my name among the Gentiles, saith Yahweh Sebaoth." (i.11).

A word of explanation for this rendering is demanded.

The point is that the prophet wishes to set in contrast against the polluted sacrifices of the Jewish priesthood and the insincere worship of the people (or a section of them), the religion of the Gentiles. The prophet holds that the God who is inadequately worshipped in Jerusalem is the same who is acknowledged by the Gentiles, who did revere "the highest God".

For a monotheistic tendency was beginning to show itself in many quarters, as Wellhausen has shown. The "highest God" worshipped in the Gentile world is, the prophet maintains, Yahweh. It is extremely doubtful whether there is any reference to incense.

The word used for "incense" in the RV is not a noun formation, and never occurs as such; but the form is a past participle (Hophal), and means, as in, making the smoke of sacrifice. (The Oxford Heb. Lex. In one place calls it Hoph. Part., in another, a substantive.)

In any case, the passage exhibits an extraordinary universalistic attitude on the part of the prophet.

One other point must be mentioned as showing the type of man this prophet was. His ethical sense makes him regard divorce with abhorrence, and this not because the men who divorced their wives married daughters of "strange gods" (ii.11), but because divorce in itself is an evil thing.

His words are:

"Yahweh hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant." (ii.14).

The next verse, is difficult because the Hebrew text is obviously corrupt. Emended, we must read:

"Did not One (i.e. God) make us and preserve our spirit alive? And what does the One desire? A godly seed! Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal faithlessly with the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, saith Yahweh, the God of Israel. ... "

That is very fine, and shows an infinitely higher ethical ideal than Ezra.

Altogether this prophet, whose name we do not know, was an exceedingly admirable man. Some of his ideas, it is granted, were naive - he was a child of his time - but that makes his fine ideas all the more remarkable. Note especially that his teaching on the indissolubility of the marriage-tie is quite out of harmony with the Judaism current at the time. It has its only parallel in the teaching of the Gospels.


There are not many books in the Old Testament, which can be dated with more certainty than this one.

That it is post-exilic cannot admit of doubt. Thought, teaching, and diction make this self-evident; and the land is ruled over by a pekah or "governor".

It was written after 516BC, because the Temple has been rebuilt and the full sacrificial system is in vogue. Thus, in iii.1 it is said:

" ... and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple".

And in iii.10 "mine house" is spoken of. Besides, the offering of sacrifices in the Temple is assumed all through (i.7-14, and elsewhere); and the gates of the Temple are mentioned in i.10, as we have already seen. On the other hand, the condition of the priesthood and of a large section of the people is such that the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra cannot possibly have taken place yet. This necessitates a date before 444BC.

In passing it is worth noting: in Malachi no distinction is made between priests and Levites (ii.4-9, iii.3), all the sons of Levi are priests; but in the Priestly Code there is a great difference between them, the Levites being quite a subordinate order.

On the other hand what Malachi says about the temple-tithe (iii.7-10) agrees with Nehemiah and the Priestly Code (Deuteronomy knows nothing of a tithe for the Temple, but only for the Levites every third year). But this is no argument for the book having been written in the time of Nehemiah or of the Priestly Code, because the Priestly Code has preserved a number of ancient laws, much older than Deuteronomy, many of which do not appear in that book.

"Malachi" therefore belongs to the period between 516BC and 444BC, towards the end of it rather than at the beginning, so as to allow time for the development of the sacrificial system.


i.2-5. The prophet opens his book with asseverating that Yahweh loves His people. They had doubted this probably on account of some calamity that had fallen on the land (see iii.10, 11). So the prophet cites a concrete example to show the people that God loves them. Yahweh's love for Jacob, he says, is shown by his hatred of Esau. He has made their land a desolation, and even if the Edomites (the descendants of Esau) build the waste places, Yahweh will destroy them again. Then the people of Israel will recognize that Yahweh is great beyond the borders of Israel.

The argument cannot, of course, appeal to us; but we must remember the time and that "Malachi" was the child of his age. It makes it all the more remarkable that he exhibits such exalted traits, as already pointed out.

i.6-ii.9. The prophet rebukes the priests because the offerings they bring are dishonouring to God. They think that anything is good enough for the purpose of sacrifice. Herein they show themselves, however, inferior to the Gentiles, who offer pure offerings to the name of God. Since the priests are guilty in this respect it is small wonder that the people in general follow their example; they bring animals with blemishes instead of a male from the flock. A prophecy of punishment is then uttered. The prophet, further, contrasts the conscientious way in which, in the past, the offerings were made with what is now done by the priests.

ii.10-16. The prophet then condemns the marriages with "daughters of a strange god"; and this for two reasons: The practice involves disloyalty to Yahweh; And it has also meant that the lawful wife has been divorced. Such faithlessness is an abomination to Yahweh.

ii.17-iii.5. The prophet now addresses himself to those impatient ones who, illogically enough, conclude that because the day of Yahweh does not come, therefore God is not really zealous for what is right -

Where is the God of judgement? - Everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of Yahweh!

But Yahweh will send His angel before Him, who will prepare the way; and then He will Himself come to His Temple with the angel of the covenant. Then there will be a purging of the sons of Levi, i.e. of the priesthood; and offerings will be brought as of old. But punishment shall overtake all evildoers.

iii.6-12. The paragraph division in the RV is wrong. This section begins at verse 6 (not 7). Because of the troubles of the times (verses 10 11) the people say that Yahweh has changed, and is not as He used to be in His treatment of His people. This idea the prophet combats: "For I, Yahweh, change not"; it is the people who have changed; this they have shown by not bringing the tithes and offerings. If they will bring the whole tithe again with the proper offerings, the curse that is upon them will be taken away, and the people will be happy again.

iii.13-iv.4 (Hebr. iii.13-22). This section is in part parallel to ii.17-iii.5. The prophet denounces those who say it is useless to serve Yahweh, and who assert that the wicked are to be envied because they are prosperous. But, says the prophet, Yahweh has a book of remembrance wherein are inscribed the names of those who fear Him. These shall be His when His day comes; and He will be a Father to them. In that day the eyes of the wicked will be opened, and they will discern between the righteous and the wicked. Then there will be a burning, and those who have done evil will be burned up like stubble. The God-fearers, on the other hand, shall bask in the sun of righteousness, which shall bring -healing to them. Then shall they tread upon the wicked, "for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet" (iv.3, iii.21 in Hebr.). The prophet concludes with an admonition to remember the Law of Moses.

Some commentators regard this verse iv.4) as a later addition, joining it on to the last two verses, because, it is said, it is incongruous to call upon the righteous, who have just been mentioned, to keep the law, which is just what they have been doing. It seems, however, to be an appropriate final reminder; yet, it must be noted what is to be said presently.

In any case, the mention of Horeb points to its having been written before the Priestly Code, because - in this it is always Sinai, while in Deuteronomy it is always Horeb, which is the scene of the giving of the law.

iv.5, 6 (Hebr.iii.23, 24). With iv.4 the book would have had a fitting close, and doubtless this did originally conclude it; but some scribe added these two verses, which are evidently intended as an allusion to iii.1, "Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me".

Elijah was the most obvious man to choose because he was taken up in the fiery chariot, i.e. he never died, and therefore his return might be expected at some time; and what more appropriate time than the eve of the day of Yahweh?

Some modern commentators regard these last two verses (and also iv.4) as a later addition on account, mainly, of the difference of function of the messenger in iii.1 and here. But otherwise the integrity of the book is not seriously questioned.

The reference to the "law of Moses" - it occurs in no other prophetical book - and the conjunction of Moses and Elijah certainly point to a late date. (ii Kgs.xi.25, where the words "according to all the law of Moses" occur, belongs to a very late edition of the book.)

Both belong to developed Judaism; the expression "law of Moses" always refers to the whole of the Pentateuch, and therefore belongs to a time after the final redaction of the Priestly Code; and Elijah legends arose also in later days. Elijah would never have been given this precedence over all the great prophets had it not been for the traditional legend of his having gone up to heaven in a fiery chariot.


The Hebrew text has been well preserved. In only two passages are there corruptions that make emendation difficult (ii.3, 15); minor corruptions are more frequent (e.g. i.13, ii.12, 15, iii.6, 8), but they are not serious.

The Septuagint is often helpful, sometimes it supplies an additional word that seems to have fallen out of the Hebrew text (e.g. i.6, ii.2, 3, iii.5), and makes a better reading.

The only omission of any note is iv.3 (Hebr.iii.21), though not all MSS omit it.