The Messengers of Malachi, Part 1
Issue No. 329
Malachi is the last prophet of the Old Testament. He lived after Judah’s exile and is one of the post-exilic prophets, along with Haggai and Zechariah.
Malachi’s prophecy shows us the conditions in the nation of Judea leading up to the coming of Christ. In that sense, this prophecy told the people of his day what issues were going to be a problem in the next few centuries. God wanted the people to know what to pray about, so that they would have understanding during the 400 so-called “silent years,” when no prophets arose to give them direction.
Malachi’s prophecy pre-supposes the rebuilding of the temple, the resumption of sacrifices, the knowledge of the law given by Ezra, and time sufficient for the people to become careless or indifferent in regard to temple worship.
The book is generally dated in the latter half of the fifth century B.C. If written about 432 B.C., it would mean that this final OT prophecy was given 430 years before the birth of Christ in 2 B.C. Recall that in an earlier time, it was 430 years between the Abrahamic (New) Covenant and the Mosaic (Old) Covenant (Gal. 3:17). Perhaps a second 430-year period ensued between the last Old Covenant prophet and the birth of the Mediator of the New Covenant.
43 is the biblical number for “contention” and is specifically associated with the contention between Hagar and Sarah, representing the two covenants.
As for the prophet himself, nothing conclusive is known about Malachi. In the fifth century, Jerome thought that he was identical to Ezra. No doubt he got his view from the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, who had studied under Hillel the Elder (110-10 B.C.). This places Jonathan around the time of Christ or just before His birth. Jonathan believed that Malachi, “My Messenger,” was just his title, while Ezra was his personal name. Nothing can be proved.
Malachi, is a shortened form of Malachiah, “Messenger of Yahweh.” There are four “messengers” found in the book. Each has a different message and calling. The first one is Malachi himself (verse 1), who used his name (or title) as evidence of his call to give this final OT message to the nation of Judea as a whole.
The second messenger (2:7) is a priest carrying a list of reforms that should be instituted in temple practice.
The third messenger (3:1a) was the one called to prepare the way for the Messiah. This was fulfilled in John the Baptist, according to Mark 1:2, Matt. 11:10, and Luke 1:76.
The fourth messenger (3:1b) is the “messenger of the covenant,” who was to “suddenly come to his temple.” This was fulfilled in Jesus Himself, who was the Mediator of the New Covenant. In John 7:10, after sending His disciples ahead to Jerusalem, He arrived at the temple unexpectedly in the midst of the feast of Tabernacles.
The Hebrew word translated “suddenly” is pithom, which means “suddenly, surprisingly, unexpectedly.” His arrival at the temple was not to elicit fear but surprise. By coming in the middle of Tabernacles, he surprised his disciples and everyone else. These are the four messengers in the book of Malachi.
The first messenger presents God first as a Father and then as a great King. He has treated “Jacob” as a beloved son, but the people have not respected or honored their Father (1:6). The criticism is primarily in terms of sacrifice, which is compared to a gift that a man takes with him when he has an audience with a king. Their faulty gifts show lack of respect for the “great King” (1:14).
In the course of this message, God shows how He preferred Jacob over Esau. This was a sovereign choice that God made before either of the twins were born (Rom. 9:11). It was evidence of His love for Jacob, but other legal issues arise immediately in the course of God’s appeal for honor.
The Message of Jacob and Esau
Malachi 1:1-3 reads,
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How hast Thou loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”
God’s love for Jacob-Israel was manifested in the fact that He chose Jacob before he had opportunity to do either good or evil. The sovereignty of God is the first issue, and this is discussed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9. There we learn that a sovereign God (Creator) has the right to do as He chooses with His creation. He owns what He creates and therefore enjoys the legal rights of ownership.
On the other hand, the law also protects an unloved first-born son. Deut. 21:15-17 says,
15 If a man has two wives, the one loved and other unloved [“hated”], and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the first-born son belongs to the unloved, 16 then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the first-born before the son of the unloved, who is the first-born. 17 But he shall acknowledge the first-born, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the first-born.
Jacob and Esau came from the same mother, of course, but the law shows that the first-born son has legal rights and cannot be disinherited at the will of the father. Hence, when God claims to be a Father, He is under legal restrictions.
This is a classic case of the apparent conflict between God’s will (thelema) and God’s plan (boulema). In the sovereignty of God, exercising His right as an impersonal Creator, He has the right to choose Jacob and to reject Esau. But as a Father, He is restricted by law and cannot pass over the first-born in favor of the second son without due cause.
The prophecy that God gave before the children were born is found in Gen. 25:23, saying, “the older shall serve the younger.” This was the divine plan (boulema). God’s will (thelema) is found in the law of the first-born son, which seemed to stand in the way of the divine plan. This enigma had to be resolved in a way that did not conflict with the law, because God’s plan and His will come from the same God. God is not conflicted. God does not do anything that violates His own code of honor (i.e., the law). In the end the divine plan will make its way around the obstacles of sin and justice until it emerges from the maze of history with the law in full agreement.
In fact, the story of Jacob and Esau was designed to show us how Jacob tried to fulfill the prophecy in an unlawful way—by lying to his father and by pretending to be Esau. Even this deception was prophesied in his name, Jacob, which means a deceiver or supplanter. His name was not changed to Israel until he had learned to stop trying to fulfill prophecy by the power of the flesh.
Edom’s Zionist Dream
Esau was nicknamed Edom (Gen. 36:8). Edom means “red.” He too lived by the power of the flesh. But whereas Jacob tried to fulfill prophecy by the flesh, Esau tried to fight prophecy by the flesh. Jacob eventually learned his lesson and became an overcomer named Israel. Esau did not learn this lesson but remained dependent upon the power of flesh.
Esau’s desire was to inherit the birthright. His descendants desired to inherit the Promised Land and rejoiced when Israel and Judah were sent into captivity. Ezekiel 35:10, 11 God speaks to Edom (Mount Seir), saying,
10 “Because you have said, ‘These two nations [Israel and Judah] and these two lands will be mine, and we will possess them,’ although the Lord was there, 11 therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will deal with you according to your anger and according to your envy which you showed because of your hatred against them…”
Again, God says in Ezekiel 36:5,
5 Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Surely in the fire of My jealousy I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who appropriated My land for themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and with scorn of soul, to drive it out for a prey.”
There are two conflicts in this situation. First, it is a question of who is the real inheritor of God’s promises. Second, it is a question of whether the inheritance may be obtained by fleshly means or by divine action and/or intervention.
Isaiah 34:8 (KJV) refers to this conflict with Edom as “the controversy of Zion.” It is clear from earlier verses that God intends to destroy Edom and to consume their land with fire, such as what happened with Sodom and Gomorrah. That “fire” appears to be nuclear, because verse 10 says,
10 it shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall go up forever [olam, “indefinitely”]; from generation to generation it shall be desolate; none shall pass through it forever and ever [netsach, “altogether, completely”].
Isaiah had no concept of nuclear fallout or radiation, which can burn indefinitely. The real question is if this will hit the Negev, which is where Edom resided in Mount Seir, or Edom-occupied Palestine and Jerusalem.
During the Babylonian captivity of Judah, the Edomites apparently occupied Judea and Israel, at least to some extent, as Ezekiel’s prophecy indicates. However, Malachi, who lived after the captivity, wrote of a time when Edom would again occupy the land. Mal. 1:4 says,
4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.”
There is no historical record that the Edomites ever occupied the land of Judea, at least not after Malachi’s prophecy. Did Edom’s Zionist dream end when Judah returned from its Babylonian captivity? Did it end even before Malachi prophesied that they would indeed “return and build up the ruins”? How could God tear something down that was never built?
The Incorporation of Edom into Jewry
History tells us that Edom was conquered by Judea in 125 or 126 B.C. All of the Edomites were given a choice of becoming Jews or going into exile. They decided to become Jews, and so the land of Edom (south of Palestine) was incorporated into the nation of Judea.
This is recorded by all historians who write about that portion of history. The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote in 95 A.D.,
“Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea [Greek form of Edom], and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would be circumcised, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision and the rest of the Jews’ ways of living; and which time therefore, this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.” [Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1]
The Jewish Encyclopedia (1903 ed.) affirms this, saying,
“They were again subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 B.C.) by whom they were forced to observe Jewish rites and laws (ib. 9, par. 1; xiv. 4, par. 4). They were then incorporated with the Jewish nation… From this time the Idumeans ceased to be a separate people…”
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (1970) says also,
“The Edomites were conquered by John Hyrcanus who forcibly converted them to Judaism, and from then on they constituted a part of the Jewish people.”
Such forcible conversion, of course, may have made them good Jews as far as the religious standards of Judaism were concerned, but it did not give them a spiritual relationship with God. They were converted to a religion, not to God. Nonetheless, after they were converted to Judaism, they “ceased to be a separate people.”
The question then arises: How could Malachi’s prophecy be fulfilled? In fact, how could Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled, whereby Edom’s territory was to be consumed by fire and brimstone perpetually?
There are some who try hard to turn the present Palestinian population into Edomites, but the Jewish historians themselves tell us that they have been known as Jews since before the time of Christ. If today’s Edomites have “appropriated My land for themselves,” as Ezekiel 36:5 tells us, it is because the Jews have occupied that territory, within which is Edom, now fully integrated in Jewry.
Malachi’s prophecy of Edom is the first message of the first messenger. This suggests that the conflict with Edom was soon to become an important issue, not only during the time before Christ, but also for today. The incorporation of Edom into Jewry means that all end-time prophecies of Edom can only be fulfilled in Jewry.
In fact, it means that Jewry has two sets of prophecies to fulfill: those of Edom and those of Judah.
Two Baskets of Figs
In Jeremiah 24 God differentiated between good and evil men of Judah. These were pictured as two baskets of figs, because the fig tree was the symbol of Judah. But not all fig trees are created equal. Some have good fruit; others have evil fruit. So it was with the people of Judah.
The good figs in Jeremiah’s time were those who submitted to the judgment of God and went into captivity to Babylon without trying to fight the Babylonian army (Jer. 24:5-7). They agreed with God and complied with His judgment.
The evil figs, on the other hand, were those who disagreed with the divine judgment, believing that God would never bring such judgment upon them. They were the “patriots” of their day, seeing the Babylonian army as God’s enemy instead of God’s enforcer of the divine verdict (Jer. 24:8-10). The verdict was given earlier in Jer. 7:1-15.
Despising a verdict of the divine court brings the death penalty (Deut. 17:9-12). Hence, those “evil figs” who despised the verdict of God found themselves under a death sentence, even though they perceived themselves to be righteous.
The same situation occurred in the first century. Jesus was a “good fig” in that He submitted to the rule of Rome, which was the fourth empire that God had raised up to judge Judah. Many of his contemporaries, however, chafed under Rome’s rule, causing Rome to increase its oppression in order to maintain control. Being carnal, the evil figs in those days were attempting to fulfill their understanding of prophecy by the power of the flesh.
Open hostilities broke out in 66 A.D., when the Jews rose up and destroyed Rome’s 12th Legion at Beth-horon at the feast of Tabernacles. Rome responded with a larger army and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This fulfilled Jesus’ words in Matt. 22:7,
7 But the king [i.e., God] was enraged and sent his armies [Rome], and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
The Cursed Fig Tree
In Matt. 21:19 Jesus cursed a fig tree as He was walking to Jerusalem.
19 And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
Again, the fig tree represented the nation of Judea, as most Bible teachers know. The problem comes when those same Bible teachers refuse to believe what Jesus said. They think that the Jewish nation will bear fruit at the time of Christ’s second coming. They are calling Jesus a false prophet.
Jesus later prophesied in Matt. 24:32, 33,
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree; when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Most Bible teachers agree that this was fulfilled in 1948, when the Jewish state came into existence. In those days it was believed that Christ would come within seven years, and that the Jews would come to believe in Jesus Christ. When nothing of the kind happened by 1955, most of this euphoria was abandoned, but yet they continued to teach that the Jewish state was the beginning of the Kingdom of God and that it would bear fruit by recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. But Jesus spoke only of leaves, not fruit. Leaves were the reason for Jesus’ curse in Matt. 21:19. In fact, fig leaves have been the problem since Adam and Eve. Fig leaves are a false covering for sin. Fig leaves are put on by those who justify themselves when they ought to cover themselves with the blood of Jesus.
The Nation of Edom
The Jewish state is misnamed “Israel” in order to deceive Christians into believing that the Jews represent all 12 tribes of Israel. When the state was ready to be formed, Jewish leaders gathered to decide what to name their new state. Some suggested Judea or the Kingdom of Judea. They chose the name “Israel,” however, in order to deceive Christians into thinking that this fulfilled the prophecies of Israel (the so-called “lost tribes”).
In the Law of Tribulation in Lev. 26:40-42, we see that God would not “remember” His Covenant with Israel (or Judah) until they confessed their “hostility” against God—that is, against Jesus Christ, who is the Yahweh of the OT. The Jewish state (as a nation) has never made this confession. Hence, the Jews could not establish a true state of Israel or even Judah.
But because Jewry had absorbed Edom long ago, the law allowed them to fulfill the prophecy that Isaac gave to Esau-Edom in Gen. 27:40, “when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his [Jacob’s] yoke from off thy neck.” Because Jacob had obtained the birthright and blessing in an unlawful manner, Isaac determined that Jacob would have to give it back at some point in order to allow the prophecy to be fulfilled in God’s own way and timing.
And so, even as Jacob pretended to be Esau to obtain the birthright, so also did Esau pretend to be Jacob-Israel in 1948. The birthright, along with the name Israel, was given to the only descendants of Esau left in the world.
As long as the Jewish state exists as Israel, the birthright will remain in the hands of Esau-Edom. God has given Esau time to prove himself unworthy, time that Jacob did not allow while trying to fulfill prophecy by the power of flesh.
The Jews have thus fulfilled a dual set of prophecies. The Jewish state represents Edom, who has indeed made good on his dream to “return and build up the ruins” (Mal. 4:4). At the same time, the cursed fig tree of Judah has brought forth more leaves (Matt. 24:32), as Jesus prophesied. But God will have the final word: “I will tear down” (Mal. 4:4).