In 430 B.C., Pericles rules in Athens, which is a major presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Plague ravages the city and kills 30,000, including Pericles’ two sons. The philosopher Socrates is active. Herodotus is writing The History of the Persian Wars. Rome is fighting the Etruscans for control of central Italy.
And in Jerusalem, the last of the Old Testament prophets, a man named Malachi (which means “My Messenger”), begins to speak an oracle – a message from God. Israel is once again losing its way as the people keep expecting an earthly messiah but the Persians remain in control. Disappointment with God is growing and manifesting itself in lousy sacrifices and shameful treatment of wives. Malachi has been called to speak out, and his will be the last message for more than four centuries, until John the Baptist begins his ministry.
Until I read The Oracle of Malachi: The Danger of Being Disappointed with God by Jerry Marshall, I was not very familiar with the message of this particular prophet. I read the Old Testament book as I read Marshall’s meditations on it and discussion about it. It’s one of the shorter books in the Bible – a total of four chapters – but those four chapters are packed a powerful message about Israel’s need for renewal and revival, and a promise if they happen.
Marshall has not written an official commentary. Instead, it is an extended discussion of the book overall and the key sections and passages, written for people exactly like me – the non-academic, non-expert layperson.
Three things about the work stand out.
First, The Oracle of Malachi is approachable. It’s highly readable, with simple and straightforward language.
Second, it synthesizes scripture, using passages from other books in the Old Testament and the New Testament as commentary on Malachi. Marshall connects the message of Malachi to that of Genesis and John the Baptist and Jesus. The reader comes to understand that this book of the bible isn’t just the last book that comes chronologically in the Old Testament but is itself a bridge between the testaments.
Third, the book focuses on the practical. It is written in the present tense, and that gives the message of Malachi and immediacy and currency not usually found in more formal commentaries.
Here’s one example of all three characteristics of Marshall’s book, contained within an application that Marshall gleans from chapter 1 of Malachi: “And on Sunday mornings, we must remember there is only one legitimate seeker in the church. It is God who seeks those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth as seen in John 4_23-24.” The readable language, the synthesis of scripture and the focus on the practical (“only one legitimate seeker”) are all demonstrated there.
The Oracle of Malachi is an excellent companion for a study of the Old Testament book.