Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Back in the Land

These three prophets are principally concerned with the status of the Temple, the new religious hierarchy, and the religious obligations of the post-exilic community.

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But the controversy has not been fully resolved, and there is a renewed tendency to see the two parts of the book as having a closer relation than was previously assumed.

Malachi: The Last Prophet Urges Revival and Reconciliation

Malachi stands at the end of the prophetic books in the Tanakh, and tradition held that after him prophecy ceased in Israel. He thus represents a watershed in the development of Judaism: until then, God would speak to selected individuals and charge them with a mission to exhort and predict. But from then on, humans and not God would identify the truth. They would be called soferim (scribes) at first, because they belonged to those who guarded the literary tradition of the people, and later were known as rabbanim (rabbis), whose primary function was to teach and elucidate God's law.

We do not know Malachi's identity; the name simply means "My (that is, God's) Messenger," although some ancient sources identified him as Ezra and others as Mordecai. The whole spirit of the book suggests that the Temple had been rebuilt (516-515 B.C.E.). Yet it also suggests the disappearance of the enthusiasm shown during the building. Malachi describes a priesthood that is forgetful of its duties, a Temple that is underfunded because the people have lost interest in it, and a society in which Jewish men divorce their Jewish wives to marry out of the faith. The Prophet lived probably sometime after the year 500, perhaps as late as 450 (B.C.E.). It was an era of spiritual disillusionment, for the glorious age that earlier prophets had foreseen had not materialized.

Malachi urges his contemporaries to engage in a religious revival. Remember God and Torah, he tells them; make the Temple once again a center of your affection and attention; and purify your family life. The very last lines of his book speak of the "great day" that will bring reconciliation between the generations--and with this old-and-modern challenge he leaves us:

Malachi 3:23-24

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet,

before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Eternal,

To turn the hearts of parents to their children,

and the hearts of children to their parents--

lest I come, and smite the land with destruction.

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Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

W. Gunther Plaut (1912-2012) was a leading figure in modern Reform Judaism. He was rabbi emeritus and senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada. Rabbi Plaut is the author of numerous books including The Torah: A Modern Commentary and The Haftarah Commentary.