Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE REV. W. H. LOWE, M.A.
INTRODUCTION TO MALACHI. I. The Prophet and his Name.
I. The Prophet and his Name.—Absolutely nothing is known historically of the life of the prophet Malachi. Josephus, though he speaks of Haggai and Zechariah, does not mention Malachi. By some the word Malachi, which might be taken to mean “my messenger,” has been regarded as the prophet’s official title, not as his personal name. Thus, the Chaldee paraphrase (the Targum) takes the word as a mere appellative, and identifies the prophet with Ezra the Scribe; but, as Kimchi well remarks, Ezra is nowhere called a “prophet,” but “the scribe.” Again, Talmudic testimony is uncertain on the question. Thus, in Talmud Babli, Megillah, 15a: after other suggestions an old tradition is adduced to the effect that “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha (first and second century after Christ) says, Malachi is the same as Ezra; but the (other) sages say, Malachi was his name.” Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are also mentioned in the Talmud together (without any doubt being expressed as to Malachi being a personal name) as the last of the prophets (e.g., Talmud Babli, Synhedrin, 11a), and as members of the Great Synagogue—i.e., the School of Sages, which existed from the time of Ezra to that of Simon the Just. The testimony of the LXX. is equally uncertain, for while in Malachi 1:1 the word is translated “his angel” (either by way of paraphrase or reading Malacho, not Malachi), we find, on the other hand, the prophet in the title of the book called Μαλαχίας, just as Zachary (Zechariah) is called Ζαχαρίας. The passage in the Apocrypha (2 Esdras 1:39-40), “Unto whom I will give for leaders Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Oscas, Amos, and Micheas, Joel, Abdias, and Jonas, Nahum and Abacoe, Soponias, Aggeus, Zachary, and Malachy, which is called also an angel of the Lord,” is also equivocal. Several of the fathers speak of his name as merely official, an opinion upheld by Vitringa and many modern critics, while Pseudo- Dorotheas, Epiphanius, and others (Köhler Mal. pp. 10, 11), state that he was a Levite of Zebulun, and born at Sophá, or Sofirá. Thus tradition helps us but little, and we are, accordingly, reduced to a priori arguments to decide whether Malachi was a personal name or no.
 I have shown (Fragment of Psachim, p. 66, Note Hh. 1) that the Targumin of the prophets were in existence in substantially the same form in which we now have them in the time of Rab-Yoseph (270-333 A.D.).
(1) Jerome’s argument is worthy of notice: he says most reasonably that “if names are to be interpreted, and history framed from them. . . . then Hosea, who is called Saviour, and Joel, whose name means ‘Lord God,’ and other prophets, will not be men, but rather angels, or the Lord and Saviour, according to the meaning of their name.” (2) While it is true that Malachi might be a mere official title, meaning angelic, or my messenger, it is equally true that personal names in i (for iyyah, yahu, yah, or î’êl, meaning “of Yah” and “of God”) are of by no means unfrequent occurrence in the Bible. Thus in 2Kings 18:2 we find Abi for Abiyyah (2Chronicles 29:1), Palti (1Samuel 25:44) for Paltiel (2Samuel 3:15), Zabdi (Joshua 7:1) compared with Zebadyah (Ezra 8:8), Zabadyahu (1Chronicles 26:2), and Zabdiel (Nehemiah 11:14), besides Gamri, Zichri, and many other. (3) The use of the word Malachi in the sense of “my messenger” (Malachi 3:1) is no argument against Malachi being the prophet’s personal name; on the contrary, his application there of the word Malach (“angel”) to the Messiah’s forerunner, and in Malachi 2:8 to the priesthood—a word which elsewhere, except in Haggai 1:13, Isaiah 42:19, is never used of any but a supernatural being—may be taken as showing that the prophet was fond of making use of a word which carried with it a covert reference to his own name. (4) That no one else in the Old Testament is called Malachi is no valid objection, for neither is there more than one person called Amos (Amos in Isaiah 1:1 is quite a different name), Jonah, Habakkuk, &c. (5) Nor is there any force in the argument that the name stands alone in Zechariah 14:1 without any further personal definition, for that is also the case with Obadiah. (6) If Malachi be a mere official title, the case is an unique one, for in every other instance the prophets have given their real names (if any) in the heading of their books. (7) The case of the names Agar (Proverbs 30:1) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1) is not parallel, for even if it were proved that these latter are not historical names, no conclusion bearing upon a prophetic writing could be drawn from a collection of proverbs. “A collection of proverbs is a poetical work, whose ethical or religious truth is not dependent upon the person of the poet. The prophet, on the contrary, has to guarantee (to his contemporaries) the divinity of his mission, and the truth of his prophecy by his own name or his own personality.”—(Keil.) We conclude, therefore, in default of any positive evidence to the contrary, that it is only reasonable to suppose that Malachi is the personal name of the prophet, and that it is an apocopated form of Malachiyyah, Malachyahu, Malachyah, or of Malachi’el, meaning “Messenger of Yah,” or “of God.”
II. Date of the Prophecy.—All are agreed that Malachi prophesied after the captivity, and there is not much difficulty in determining from internal evidence the probable period of his labours. We find that he makes no reference to the re-building of the Temple or of Jerusalem. The Temple seems to have been for some time completed, and its services so long restored, that the zeal of both priests and people had cooled down, and given place to the most profane slovenliness in the Temple service, and a mere formal observance (Malachi 3:14), or rather a deceitful evasion of the Law (Malachi 1:14). The priests admitted to the Temple sacrifices what they should have rejected (Malachi 1:7-12), and demonstrated by their whole conduct that they looked on their duties as a wearisome burden (Malachi 1:13). They had ceased to give the people true instruction in the Law (Malachi 2:8), and showed partiality in their administration of justice (Malachi 2:9). The people had intermarried freely with the heathen, and heartlessly divorced their Israelitish wives, so that the altar of the Lord was covered with tears and weeping and crying out (Malachi 2:11-16). They neglected to pay the tithes and other dues, and as a punishment were visited with dearth and famine (Malachi 3:8-12). They had begun to cherish the most sceptical views, and openly to scoff at the notion of God’s exercising a beneficent providence over them (Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:15), though there was still a remnant among them of those who feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name (Malachi 3:16).
Now, the state of the country soon after Ezra came up from Babylon (458-457 B.C.) seems to agree in some respects with the description of it which we have drawn from the materials contained in the prophecies of Malachi. Thus we read that when Nehemiah came up a few years later the people were put to such straits through famine that they came to him with the complaint, “We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn because of the dearth” (Ezra 5:3). Moreover, Ezra on his arrival found that both the people and the priests had “not separated themselves from the people of the lands, for they had taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons” (Ezra 9:1-2). In the space of less than three months he compelled every one of those who had contracted such marriages to divorce his heathen wife, and send her back to her own people, and so “they made an end of all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month” (Ezra 10:17). On the other hand, of his having to reform any abuses in connection with the Temple service we hear nothing. It should also be mentioned that in Ezra’s time, or, at all events, immediately after his arrival, as well as in the time of Darius (Ezra 6:9-10), all things that were necessary for the Temple services were provided out of the royal revenues (Ezra 7), so that the rebukes of the prophet with regard to the niggardly manner in which the people presented the offerings would be out of place, if the prophecy had reference to this period. Nor would the vivid picture which the prophet draws of the state of the “desolate places” of Edom (Malachi 1:3-5), have been of much comfort to Israel, if at the time of his speaking their own “city, the place of their fathers’ sepulchres, was still lying waste, and the gates thereof consumed with fire,” as was the case at this time (Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:3). We must, accordingly, look for some later events as the occasion of the prophet’s ministry.
In 445-4 B.C. Nehemiah obtained leave from Artaxerxes Longimanus to go up to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:6), and in 433-2 he returned to the Persian Court. During this period of twelve years he acted as governor in the land of Judah (Nehemiah 5:14). In the almost incredibly short space of fifty-two days he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, in spite of the opposition of the neighbouring peoples (Nehemiah 6:15). He worked most important reforms, condemning usury and slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-14); proclaimed a fast, and made the people confess their sins, and enter into a covenant to keep the ordinances of the Law, and abstain from heathen marriages; to observe the Sabbath, and keep the Sabbatical year; to contribute every man the third of a shekel for the services of the Temple, and to pay the legal tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 10:29-39). But when he went back to Persia all the abuses which he had abolished, quickly crept in again, so that on his return, which was before the death of Artaxerxes (424 B.C.), he had to go over the old ground again. The Jews had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab, and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jew’s language (Nehemiah 13:23-24; comp. Malachi 3:10-16). The portions of the Levites had not been given them (Nehemiah 13:10; comp. Malachi 3:6-10).
Now, we can hardly suppose that Malachi prophesied during Nehemiah’s temporary absence, and that his words had so little effect that when Nehemiah returned he found things as bad as ever. Nor could he have prophesied prior to or during Nehemiah’s first reform, or he would not in all probability have been utterly silent with regard to the re-building of Jerusalem and its walls. It only remains, therefore, that we should regard him as Nehemiah’s coadjutor in his second reformation. He was, in fact, to Nehemiah what Haggai and Zechariah were to Zerubbabel, Jeremiah to Josiah, and Isaiah to Hezekiah—the prophet of God, co-operating with the civil authority in bringing about the moral reformation of the people. He prophesied, therefore, in all probability some time between 430 and 425 B.C., namely, during the first part of the first Peloponnesian War, and was a contemporary of the great Greek tragic poets Sophocles (496-405) and Euripides (480-406), and of the historians Herodotus (484-424), and Thucydides (471-396).
 Two objections might be made to this conclusion—(1) There is no mention of any dearth at this time, such as is implied in Malachi 3:10-11. To this we answer that since the whole history of this period is contained in twenty-five verses (Nehemiah 13:7-31), written in the prolix style of Nehemiah, which does not admit of the compression of many facts into a small space, we cannot be surprised at the omission of any mention of such scarcity. (2) It is said that Malachi and Nehemiah could not be contemporaries, because whereas Malachi upbraids the people with offering to God such poor things as they would not dare to offer to their governor (chap. 1:8), Nehemiah, when governor, “required not the portion of the governor” (Nehemiah 5:18),—i.e., the allowance granted him by the Persian Government. as an impost on the people. To this it may be replied (a), Malachi speaks of free-will offerings, not imposts; (6) Nehemiah says he did not require (demand), not that he would not accept under any circumstances; (c) there is no evidence that he was. governor on his return.
III. Contents.—The prophecy is one of continual rebuke from beginning to end. In the form in which we have it, it is certainly to be looked on as one single address. Probably it is but a systematically arranged epitome of the various oral addresses of the prophet.
It may be divided into six sections, all more or less intimately connected with one another.
Malachi 1:1-5. God’s love for Israel. Israel’s ingratitude.
Malachi 2:10-16. Rebuke of the people for marrying heathen women, and divorcing their Israelitish wives.
Mal 2:17 to Mal 3:5. Rebuke of sceptics, and prophecy of the sudden coming of the Lord to His Temple.
Malachi 3:6-12. Rebuke of the people for withholding tithes and offerings.
Mal 3:13 to Mal 4:6. Rebuke of formalists and sceptics. The different destiny of the righteous and of the wicked. The rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Exhortation to remember the Law of Moses. The coming of Elijah.
IV. Style of Diction.—Malachi writes in the purest style of the Renaissance. From the very nature of his utterances high-flown poetic imagery is, for the most part, excluded; but when for the moment he removes his gaze from the dark present to look back on the glorious past, or to foretel the events of the still more glorious future, he rises to a high standard of poetic diction. (See Malachi 2:5-6; Malachi 3:1-5; Malachi 4:1-6.) His method of administering the most scathing rebuke by means of preferring an accusation (in which he shows the deepest insight into the inmost thoughts of the nation), then supposing an objection on their part (which exhibits in the most telling manner the moral degradation of the people, and their indifference to their spiritual condition), and lastly, by confuting their objection in trenchant terms, is artistic, and at the same time forcible to a degree. (See Malachi 1:2-5; Malachi 2:14-17 [Malachi 2:15-17 ?], Malachi 3:7-13.) We cannot, with Lowth, perceive here any decadence in the power of the spirit of prophecy. Prophecy did not cease because its power was exhausted, but because its mission was now fulfilled until the time of its fulfilment should draw near. We will conclude with the words of Nägelsbach, which others before us have thought worthy of citation: “Malachi is like a late evening which closes a long day, but he is at the same time the morning twilight, which bears in its womb a glorious day.”
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.1-5. These verses are introductory to the whole prophecy. God had shown His love to Israel; Israel ought to have made a proper return, but, on the contrary, Israel had abused God’s loving-kindness.
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,(2) I have loved—i.e., shown abundant proof of my love. The prophet goes on to show how God has shown so great proofs of His love.
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?—And would not one suppose from that fact they would have similar privileges? But not so.
I loved Jacob, (3) and I hated Esau . . .—The ethical reason for God’s love of Jacob and hatred of Esau is not touched upon here, nor is it necessary to the argument. It is God’s love for Israel that the prophet wishes to dwell on, and he mentions the hatred towards Esau merely for the sake of a strong contrast. The nations, Israel and Edom, are here referred to, not the individuals, Jacob and Esau. This passage receives a graphic illustration from the words of Psalm 137:7, composed after the return from the captivity: “Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.” (On St. Paul’s application of the words of Malachi, see Notes on Romans 9:13.)
Laid his mountains . . . waste . . .—It is a somewhat disputed point to what historical fact this refers. But, on the whole, we may reasonably infer from Jeremiah 49:7; Jeremiah 49:17-21, compared with Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:21, that the subjugation of the Edomites by Nebuchadnezzar is here referred to.
Dragons.—Better, jackals. The LXX. and Gesenius render the word “habitations,” by comparison with a similarly sounding Arabic word.
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.(4) Whereas . . . saith.—Better, If Edom say.
We are impoverished.—Better, we are broken to pieces. Edom’s ineffectual attempts to restore itself will be looked on as proofs of God’s wrath against the nation on account of its wickedness, and will acquire for it the titles “border of wickedness,” “the people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.” “Border” means “confines,” “territory;” Latin, fines.
Keith, Evidence of Prophecy, pp. 309, 310, in reference to the literal fulfilment of this prophecy, writes as follows:—“In recording the invasion of Demetrius, about three hundred years before the Christian era, into the land of Edom, Diodorus describes the country as a desert, and the inhabitants as living without houses; nor does he mention any city in that region but Petra alone. Yet the names of some of the cities of Arabia Petræa, enumerated by Josephus, as existing at the time when the Romans invaded Palestine—the names of eighteen cities of Palestina Tertia, of which Petra was the capital, and the metropolitan see, in the times of the Lower Empire—and the towns laid down in D’Anville’s map, together with the subsisting ruins of towns in Edom, specified by Burckhardt, and also by Laborde, give proof that Edom, after having been impoverished, did return, and build the desolate places, even as ‘the ruined towns and places,’ still visible and named, show that though the desolate places were built again according to the prophecy, they have, as likewise foretold, been thrown down, and are ‘ruined places’ lying in utter desolation.”
And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.(5) And your eyes shall see.—Comp. such expressions as Psalm 37:34; Psalm 52:6; Psalm 91:8. As with the individual, so with a nation: to stand in safety and be a witness to the destruction of the enemy is looked on as a sign of God’s favour.
The Lord will be magnified . . . Israel.—Some render, let the Lord be magnified, as in Psalm 35:27; Psalm 40:16; others, the Lord is great: i.e., has exerted His greatness. The latter seems the more appropriate rendering here.
From the border.—Some say, beyond the border. This translation is not in accordance with the usage of the expression, which means simply “over” or “above.” (Comp. Jeremiah 4:6.) The meaning seems to be this: The Lord, whose protecting presence hovers specially over the border of Israel, is now great, in that He has restored Israel, but hath destroyed the nationality of the wicked descendants of the godless Esau. “Border of Israel” is purposely used in contrast to “border of wickedness.”
Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:9.—The priesthood rebuked. A close connection subsists between the different parts of this section; it ought therefore to be read as one continuous paragraph. The sub-divisions of it are Malachi 1:6-14; Malachi 2:1-9.
A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?(6-14) The prophet’s rebuke for the dishonouring of God’s name is addressed to the priests as the responsible persons, but applies to the whole nation.
A master.—Comp. Isaiah 1:3.
Mine honour—i.e., the respect due to me.
My fear—i.e., your dread of me. Fear is twofold: servile, whereby punishment, not fault, is dreaded; filial, whereby fault is feared. The fear and love required by God of his children, are that reverence which loveth to serve Him, and that love which dreadeth to offend Him.
Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.(7) Ye offer.—Literally, offering.
Bread.—This is not the shewbread, which was not offered upon the altar. The word rendered “bread” means in Arabic “flesh;” in Hebrew, “food generally.” This word is applied (Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16) to the fat portions of the peace offerings, which were burned, and is there translated “food.” (See references there.) In Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:8; Leviticus 21:17; Leviticus 21:21-22; Leviticus 22:25, it is used of the sacrifices generally, but is there inconsistently translated “bread.”
Polluted.—The Hebrew word does not occur in this sense in the Pentateuch, but we have it in Daniel 1:8 in the reflexive conjugation: “to allow himself to be defiled” with food, and in the active (“polluted thee”) in this verse. The context shows that the words “polluted bread” means “food unfit to be offered.” “Polluted me” is the same as “profaned [my name]” (Malachi 1:12); for in the Hebrew Scriptures “God” and “God’s name” are often equivalent expressions (Comp. Malachi 2:5). Keil takes the words, which he wrongly translates, “ye that offer polluted bread,” as parallel to the words “despisers of my name,” and to a certain degree explanatory of them; while he finds the actual answer to the questions, “Wherein have we despised?” “Wherein have we polluted?” is given in the words, “In that ye say,” &c. He renders the passage thus:—
Saith the Lord of hosts unto you,
“Ye priests, who despise my name!”
And yet say, “Wherein have we despised thy name?”
“Ye who offer on mine altar polluted food.”
And yet say, “Wherein have we polluted thee?”
(Ans.) [Ye have despised my name and polluted me], in that ye say, “The table of the Lord is contemptible.”
The error of this rendering consists in supposing that “offering polluted food,” which is anathrous, can be parallel to “Ye priests who despise my name,” which is defined by the definite article. In truth, the English Version is perfectly correct. We will repeat it with only the slightest possible verbal alterations. and with such parenthetical explanations as are required to make it quite intelligible:—Saith the Lord of hosts unto you, “O priests, that despise my name!”
[This is the commencement of a prophetic rebuke to the priests; but they, in accordance with the prophet’s graphic style of writing, are supposed to catch him up at the first clause of his utterance.]
“But” [despisers of God’s name!] say ye, “wherein have we despised thy name?”
(Ans.) “Offering [as ye do] polluted food upon mine altar.”
“ But,” say ye, “wherein have we polluted thee?”
(Ans.) “When, now, ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?” &c.
Say—i.e., show by your conduct that such is your feeling. “This was their inward thought . . . he puts these thoughts into abrupt, bold, hard words, which might startle them for their hideousness, as if he would say, this is what your acts mean. He exhibits the worm and the decay which lay under the whited exterior.”—Pusey.
Table—i.e., altar, as in Ezekiel 41:22 : “The altar . . . this is the table that is before the Lord.” (Comp. Ezek. 49:16.)]
And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.(8) If.—Better, when.
Blind . . . lame . . . sick.—This was contrary to Leviticus 22:22, &c. And now, to show them the heinous nature of their offence against the majesty of God, the prophet asks them whether they could offer such unsound animals to their civil ruler with any chance of acceptance.
Governor.—The word in the Hebrew is probably of foreign origin, but it occurs as early as to refer to the governors of Judah in the time of Solomon (1Kings 10:15). On the date of the book of Kings see Introduction to that book.
And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.(9) This verse is severely ironical. The word “God” is expressly used, rather than “the Lord,” as a contrast to the human “governor” mentioned above. The meaning is: “You know you dare not treat thus contemptuously your human governor, what hope then is there of such disrespectful conduct finding favour with God—the Judge of all the earth?”
That he will be gracious.—These words refer, perhaps, to the wording of the sacerdotal benediction (Numbers 6:24).
Unto us.—The prophet includes himself with the people, as Moses did (Exodus 34:9): “And pardon our iniquity and our sin;” and as, in fact, God Himself included Moses (Exodus 16:28): “And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments?”
This hath been by your means.—Better, by your means hath this been. “By your means” is emphatic by position. The meaning is: “By means of you (priests), who ought to have directed the people aright, has this disgraceful conduct been occasioned.” Or, perhaps, in view of Malachi 1:8, and the wording of Malachi 1:10, we should render the words thus: “From your hands is this [despicable offering] !” This being used contemptuously like Lat. istud. In either case the clause is parenthetical, so that “will he regard” must be taken in close connection with the preceding, “beseech God that he will be gracious unto us.”
Will he regard your persons?—Better, will he, on your account, show favour to ‘any one? That is, can ye be deemed worthy intercessors, when these are the actions ye perform? The question is, of course, a practical negation. (Comp. Zechariah 4:10.)
Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.(10) The prophet is now supposed by many commentators to say that the Temple might as well be closed, as far as concerns any pleasure the Lord takes in their offerings.
Who is there even among you . . . doors . . . altar for nought.—Those that take the above-mentioned view of the passage would render, O that there were one among even you who would shut the doors, that ye might not light mine altar to no purpose. “To no purpose,” like δωρεάν (Galatians 2:21). The rebuke contained in this verse is, according to this interpretation, very similar to that of Isaiah 1:11-15. But the word “even,” which can only refer to “you” (Keil thinks differently), seems to us almost fatal to this interpretation. For we could only explain its use in the forced sense of: “Would that some one, among even you (who ought to be the promoters of God’s service), would (since His service has now become a mockery) shut, &c.” We are therefore inclined to retain the simple rendering of our venerable English Version. In that case, “even among you” (perhaps better, among even you) would mean: “even among you whose duty it is, and chief pleasure it ought to be, to minister unto Me,” which, in that context, so far from being forced, would be most natural.
For nought.—Comp. the attitude of the priests in 1Samuel 2:13-16.
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.(11) This verse contains no verb, and, as far as the rules of grammar are concerned, its participles may be rendered either by presents or futures. If we take the words as referring to the present, we are met by the insurmountable difficulty that in no sense, at the time of Malachi, could the Lord’s Name be said to be great over all the earth, or pure sacrifices to be offered to Him in every place. Nor can we, with many commentators, suppose that heathen rites are here referred to as being offered ignorantly, through idols, to the one true God. (Comp. Pope’s universal prayer:—
“Father of all, in every age,
In every clime adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!”)
For there is no hint given of any such meaning being intended; and, moreover, such a sentiment would be quite foreign to the Old Testament, which always represents heathen rites as being an utter abomination, and always speaks of the adhesion of the Gentiles to the worship of the true God as a thing of the future. We are compelled, therefore, to take the words as a prophetic announcement of the future rejection of Israel and calling of the Gentiles.
Incense shall be offered . . .—This is a possible rendering of the words; but this Hebrew word is not elsewhere used for “incense,” and may more naturally be rendered shall be burnt, as the passive participle of the verb used in Leviticus 1:9. Dr. Pusey’s footnote on this passage is well worth reading, as, indeed, his footnotes usually are. We prefer, therefore, to take the words thus: “an oblation shall be burnt to my name, even a pure offering.” In any case, unless we are to expect some future establishment of a universal offering of material sacrifices, we must understand both expressions in a spiritual sense, which is, in truth, the only reasonable way of interpreting such passages. (See Notes on Zechariah 2:6-13; Zechariah 3:8-10; Zechariah 6:9-15, and especially 14:16-21.) If, therefore, any Christians would claim this verse as a support for their custom of offering incense in churches, they must conform also with Zechariah 14:16-21, and go up every year to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. The word “offering,” as in the preceding verse (comp. 1Samuel 2:17; Isaiah 1:13), denotes sacrificial gifts in general, not the flour offerings as distinguished from the flesh offerings. The word “pure” is emphatic, not as signifying the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass (Council of Trent), as distinguished from the bloody sacrifices, but as the converse of “polluted” (Malachi 1:7). The above remarks we have made in no controversial spirit, but simply in the interests of truth; and lest any should suppose us to imply that the above interpretation was originated by the Council of Trent, we refer the reader to Dr. Pusey’s Commentary, in which he shows, by quotations from SS. Justin, Irenæus, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, and Augustine, as also from Tertullian, Eusebius, and Theodoret, that it is quod semper, quod ab omnibus, quod ubique. Those, therefore, who prefer so-called authority to the results of calm criticism are bound to disagree with us.
But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible.(12) But ye have.—Better, but ye profane it—viz., “my name” (Malachi 1:11). The word “it” is said by Jewish tradition to be an euphemism for “me.” The present contemptuous conduct of God’s priests is contrasted with the prophesied reverence of heathen nations.
Fruit . . . meat, denote the same as “bread” of Malachi 1:7. They show that they think it contemptible by not taking the trouble to offer such things as are prescribed by the Law.
Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.(13) Said.—Better, say.
And ye have snuffed at it.—Better, and ye puff at it—that is, treat it with contempt, “pooh-pooh it,” as we say. The service of the Temple, which they ought to have regarded as their highest privilege and pleasure, they look on as burdensome and contemptible. For “brought,” read bring.
Torn.—The word Gâzûl elsewhere means “stolen” (Deuteronomy 28:31), or “robbed “—i.e., “spoiled” (Deuteronomy 28:29). It is perhaps not impossible that it may here be a later word for trêphâh, “torn” (comp. the cogn. Arabic ajzal, “galled on the back”), but it is not so used in post-Biblical Jewish writings. On the contrary, Rabbinic tradition uses our word when expressly mentioning that which is stolen as unfit to be offered as a burnt offering—e.g., the Sifrā, (Vayyikrā, Perek 6, Parashta 5, ed. Weis 7b), commenting on the words of Leviticus 1:10, says: “ ‘From the flock,’ and ‘from the sheep,’ and ‘from the goats:’ These words are limitations—viz., to exclude the sick (comp. also Malachi 1:8), and the aged, and that which has been dedicated in thought to an idol, and that which is defiled with its own filth; ‘its offering’ [English Version, his offering, comp. Note on Zechariah 4:2], to exclude that which is stolen.” (See also Talmud Babli, Baba Kamma 66b.) The English Version has the same in view in its rendering of Isaiah 61:8, where it has the authority of Talmud Babli, Sukkah 30a, and of Jerome and Luther. Perhaps the reason why people were inclined to offer a stolen animal may be, that it might very likely have a mark on it, which would render it impossible for the thief to offer it for sale, and so realise money on it, for fear of detection; so then he makes a virtue of a necessity, and brings as an offering to God that which he could not otherwise dispose of.
But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.(14) Some consider that two cases are mentioned in this verse. (1) One who acts deceitfully (by offering a female as a burnt offering, which is contrary to the Law, while there is in his flock a male); (2) and one who makes a vow (to offer a sacrifice of peace offerings, for which either a male or a female was allowable, provided it were without a blemish: Leviticus 22:23), and then offers an animal that has a blemish. But it is better to understand but one case to be mentioned—viz., that of a man who vows, and while he has a male in his flock offers a female with a blemish. A female without blemish would be admissible as a vow offering, but a male without blemish would be the most valuable, because it could be offered as a burnt offering, whereas a female could not; while a female with a blemish would be the very worst, and actually illegal. A man is not bound to make a vow, but if he make one his offering should be of the very best, just as he would not dare to offer to a king or to his ruler (Malachi 1:6) anything but the best. How cursed, then, must he be who, while he possesses the best, deliberately makes a vow to God, and then offers Him the very worst.