The Shape of Malachi

The final book of the Old Testament and last of “The Twelve” minor prophets is more intelligible, brilliant and beautiful once its internal logic is recognized.

Each of the seven sections in Malachi follows the heptamerous pattern internally at two levels, thus there are seven sections, each of seven stanzas, with each stanza of seven lines. To keep things relatively simple, we will deal mainly with the “outer” level of this book. Except for the final section, we will not parse them here but only highlight some internal features which help to explain the overall theme.

Concerning the structure, Douglas Wilson writes:

The book is not a simple prophetic denunciation, and neither is it a law court scenario. Rather it is more like a series of disputations, taking the rhetorical form called a diatribe. There are six of them found here, end to end. The form the disputations take is this: 1. a declaration is made, 2. a response comes back asking, “How so?” and 3. the declaration is then defended and explained.1Douglas Wilson, Surveying the Text/Malachi

As the final book of the Old Covenant texts, this disputational form most likely relates to Israel’s prophetic maturity. The entire nation was now considered mature, like Abraham, and David in his later years, called to dispute and bargain with God. We also see this feature in the prophet Habakkuk.2For more discussion, see “Man Sues God” in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.

Wilson helpfully lists the six disputations, however, the particular order in which they are presented, and the allusions contained in the language employed in each – looking both backwards and forwards in Covenant history – only make sense once the Covenant-literary pattern is identified. The images which the prophet calls upon are not arbitrary in any way, but governed by a literary-historical pattern which has been repeated throughout Scripture since Genesis 1: the Bible Matrix.

The passage is divided into the five points of the biblical Covenant (T.H.E.O.S.), with the Ethics “opened” into the Triune Office, then the key beneath each title represents five expressions of the matrix pattern:

Bible Matrix icon: Dominion / Feast / Sacrifice / Tabernacle

For more information on these, please refer to Bible Matrix: An Introduction to the DNA of the Scriptures and Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.

The Book of Malachi

The Lord’s Love for Israel – Malachi 1:1-5
Creation: Genesis / Sabbath / Initiation / Ark of the Testimony
The first disputation uses the brother vs. brother theme of Genesis to demonstrate the favour shown to Israel by God. At Testing, the chiasm also alludes to the failure of Adam, who forfeited his inheritance to a dragon. (The word tanniyn does not mean jackals but dragons, as in Genesis 1:21, and neither does its root, tan, which means “to elongate” or “monster.”) Of course, the irony is that Jacob was an Adam who outcrafted his draconian brother, redeeming Covenant history from certain destruction.
Polluted Offerings – Malachi 1:6-14
Division: Exodus / Passover / Delegation / Veil
The “Exodus” disputation begins with references to sons and bondslaves. The Lord presents himself as a merciful ruler who accepts sacrifices rather than slaying sons. The center of this chiasm is the fire on the altar, and perhaps the best rendering of the sentence is “Who is there among you who will shut the doors and kindle fire on my altar for no charge?” This alludes to the sons of Aaron who kindled strange fire on the Lord’s altar (Leviticus 10:1-3), and the sons of Eli who abused their office for unrighteous gain (1 Samuel 2:12-17). The dual mention of lame or sick animals and the curse upon the cheat who promises and unblemished male from his flock but switches it at the altar appears here as part of a Passover theme.
ETHICS – Priesthood
Pagan Wives – Malachi 2:1-16
Ascension: Leviticus / Firstfruits / Presentation / Altar & Table
I differ with Wilson’s divisions here, since chapter 2 begins with a fresh command for the Levite priests. Besides the explicit mention of the covenant with Levi, the Ascension themes include uncleanness (dung), offspring and holy testimony. Instead of exaltation, there is stumbling and debasement.
So there are two parts to this section, reflecting the giving of law to Adam and the subsequent construction of his wife. Failure to keep covenant with God led to failure to protect his wife, so the prophet now condemns the taking of pagan wives and the breaking of marriage vows. The charge ends with divorce described as covering one’s garment with violence, perhaps referring to the skin tunics God made for our first parents, or the rending of a garment in mourning, picturing the tearing of flesh.
ETHICS – Kingdom
A Refining Fire – Malachi 2:17-3:5
Testing: Numbers / Pentecost / Purification / Lampstand
The “Numbers” disputation ties the lies of Satan (the angel who was the world’s first false prophet) in Eden to the words of faithless Israel. But God will send his own “messenger,” and of course the word here at the center of the book is not only the name of the prophet (malachi) but also means “angel.” The purification of Levi will be like the righteous vengeance of Phinehas against Israel’s adultery (Numbers 25:6-8).
ETHICS – Prophecy
Robbing God – Malachi 3:6-12
Maturity: Deuteronomy / Trumpets / Transformation / Incense
After the lie of the serpent, Adam robbed God. Obedience or disobedience at Testing results in plunder or plagues at Maturity. Abraham and Israel plundered their respective Pharaohs, David plundered Amalek, but plunder only comes after honoring God. For Adam, the fruit of the land and the womb was cursed. In Deuteronomy, Israel was given blessings and curses related to their possession of the Land, and of course, Achan stole from God (since Jericho was the “firstfruits” of the Land), and Israel failed to plunder Ai.
Within this disputation, the same pattern of course works at a smaller level. At Ascension/Firstfruits the Lord mentions Levitical tithes, and at Testing/Pentecost the Lord asks Israel to test Him, after which the Maturity/Trumpets stanza of the Maturity disputation speaks of untold blessing upon the Land. At Atonement, the Lord rebukes the devourer (Oath/Sanctions) and at Booths, all nations call Israel’s inheritance blessed.
False Testimony – Malachi 3:13-18
Conquest: Joshua / Atonement / Vindication / Laver
Once again, I differ with Wilson, since the harsh words spoken against the Lord and the response of those who feared him together constitute a single sequence. The themes here are the Day of Atonement, and the Oath/Sanctions of the Covenant. The pericope ends with a division between the righteous and the wicked, regardless of “Covenant identity,” which ties it to the coming of baptism (the ordination of the true High Priest through washing in the “Laver” of the Jordan).
The End of Days – Malachi 4:1-5
Glorification: Judges / Booths / Representation / Shekinah
The prophet does a good job of tying every theme of “Day 7” into the Covenant Succession section of his prophecy, which deals with the future. Basically, at the end of the Old Covenant (the “last days”), the division between the two goats in the previous section would be ratified forever. The wicked of Israel would be cut off and the righteous would be given the kingdom (Matthew 21:43).

When Bible passages become too familiar, we tend to stop questioning why they are the way they are. Identifying the Bible Matrix in this final section reveals the author’s mind, and some more wonderful, carefully-crafted allusions:

Creation: Behold! The light of day comes, burning like an oven.
Division: The wicked will be cut off, ”root and branch,” a subtle swipe at the Division between Jew and Gentile in circumcision, replaced by the grafting together of the faithful in baptism.
Ascension: The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings (referring firstly to Christ healing Israelites of conditions which rendered them unclean according to the Law). The calves from the stall are a subtle reference to Firstfruits and the Altar.
Testing: The wicked would be dust under their feet when the Lord acted as a king.
Maturity: Alluding to Deuteronomy, a call to remember the Law of Moses.
Conquest: The placement of the mention of Elijah is odd but it most likely ties the “Levitical Laver” ministry of John as a precursor to the fulfilment of the Day of Atonement in Christ. Moses and Elijah together are two legal witnesses, the Law and the Prophets (external laws on stone and internal law upon the heart), and the Father spoke from heaven in legal oaths at Jesus’ baptism and again at His transfiguration.
Glorification: A reference to union between fathers and sons (generations) at Succession, but then the warning of a final curse upon the Land, Israel’s failure to enter into God’s true rest, the Sabbath of the Old Testament saints in a heavenly country.

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. Douglas Wilson, Surveying the Text/Malachi
2. For more discussion, see “Man Sues God” in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.

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