Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Contra Edom

This is the traditional haftarah for Toledot, and it fits in very well with the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27. This features the episode where Rebecca instigates the deception of Isaac by Jacob, her favourite son, to obtain the birthright which would have gone to Esau.  Jacob and Esau will later take the names Israel and Edom and Genesis 27 is the prototype for many struggles which ensue between their descendants.
 The dates of most  Hebrew prophets are indicated in the superscription of their book by the names of the kings reigning at that time. No kings’ names are listed in the superscription of Malachi. The language and the situation are post-exilic (after 536 BCE) and later than the initial return to Jerusalem  because the the Temple which has been rebuilt, is up and running.
In our reading, Malachi talks about the Edomites who have a long adversarial history with the Israelites, and who, in the fifth or sixth century BCE,  were driven out of their homeland by the Nabateans, a tribe of Arabs advancing from the desert.  He goes on to criticise Temple practices whichs seems to imply that some time has passed since the second Temple’s completion around 515 BCE. Malachi’s interests and views coincide with those of Ezra and Nehemiah, being against divorce and  intermarriage, and emphasizing the paying of tithes and the proper use of the sacrificial system.
The chronology of rulers during the period of the Persian Achaemenid empire is  like this: Cyrus ruled from 559-530 and authorised the return of the captives to Jerusalem in 536 or 537. Cambyses succeeded, followed by Darius I (c.522-486), and Xerxes I; then Artaxerxes ruled from 465 to 424.  Ezra and Nehemiah  returned to Jerusalem in 458 and 450  respectively. There is a question of Artaxerxes I being the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, but there are also opinions that Xerxes I or Artaxerxes II is a likely Ahasuerus.
The book of Ezra makes it clear that Artaxerxes, like Cyrus, was supportive of the continuing return of exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.[1]

In  the book of Ezra, the king is called  אַרְתַּחְשַׁסְתְּא הַמֶּלֶךְ.

After 424, the Achaemenid kings were Xerxes II, Sogdianus, Darius II, Artaxerxes II (423-359), Artaxerxes III, Arses, Darius III  and after that, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire in 330.

Jerusalem was  in the Persian province of Trans-Euphrates (west of the river), called   בַּעֲבַר נַהֲרָא , ‘Beyond the river,’ in Ezra and Nehemiah. The prophets who were active at this time, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi,  were concerned with the restoration of the the Temple and its cult, according to the law of Moses. There is not a consensus of academic opinion as to whether Malachi is earlier, later or contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah.In  the book of Ezra, the king is called  אַרְתַּחְשַׁסְתְּא הַמֶּלֶךְ.

Although the Temple had been rebuilt, it was not a panacea for the problems caused by  bad harvests and heavy taxes imposed by the  Persians.

The subjects addressed in the three chapters which make up the book of Malachi are: God’s love for Judah and His hatred of Edom; Malachi’s accusations against the priests for neglecting the sacrificial cult, his  rejection of divorce and of mixed marriages and his condemnation of the people for  their lack of social justice and inadequate payment of tithes. He is concerned for the upkeep of the Temple, because the Temple practices represent the relationship of the people to God.  In Malachi 2, 11, the prophet denounces husbands who divorce their wives to marry ‘the daughter[s] of a strange god.’

Chapter 1, verse1

The identity and the name

As for Malachi’s identity, there is a question of whether Malachi is a proper name or simply ‘My messenger. In Malachi 3:1, the usage seems to imply that Malachi is not a proper name:

הִנְנִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָכִי וּפִנָּה דֶרֶךְ לְפָנָי

Behold I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before me.

If Malachi means ‘My Messenger,’ the prophet’s  anonymity encourages the midrashic interpretation that he is the same person as Ezra.[2] Targum Jonathan to Malachi says, for verse 1, ‘By the hand of my messenger, whose name is Ezra the scribe.’ Jerome, in his preface to the commentary on Malachi, mentions that in his day the belief was current that Malachi was identical with Ezra (“Malachi Hebræi Esdram Existimant”). The LXX translates his messenger, rather than my messenger, referring to Malachi as  αγγελου,  ‘his angel,’ which has the same angel/messenger ambiguity as the word מַלְאךְ. The Hebrew noun is derived from the root ל א ך which means to be sent, or to minister.[3]

Midrash also describes him, with Haggai and Zechariah, as the last of the prophets and a companion of Ezra.[4] A Talmudic tradition identifies him with Mordecai, punning on the name Malachi and the ‘kingliness’ of Mordecai in Esther:

כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ  [5]

This is the passage from the Bavli:

R Nahman said: Malachi is the same as Mordecai. Why was he called Malachi? Because he was next to the king. The following was cited in objection to this: Baruch the son of Neriah[6] and Serayah the son of Mahseyah[7] and Daniel and Mordecai, Bilshan, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi all prophesied in the second year of Darius.[8]

The names in this passage are associated with the return to Judah in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah but the rabbis also interpreted Bilshan as Mordecai’s surname.[9]

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah.[10]

These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town),  in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah.[11]

I am not sure why the chronology which makes Malachi and Mordecai active in the second year of Darius refute identification of Malachi with Mordecai. Rashi’s note suggests that this is a later Darius, האחרון

Why might the rabbis  have wanted to identify Malachi with Mordecai?  Both are from the period of the Persian Empire, but there is another connection, which is anti-Amalek, anti-Edom and anti-Esau. Amalek was one of Esau’s descendants.[12]

The identification with Ezra[13] is based on the similarity of their views on intermarriage:

R Joshua ben Korha says: Malachi is the same as Ezra, and the Sages say that Malachi was his proper name. R Nahman said: There is good ground for accepting that Malachi was the same as Ezra. For it is written in the prophecy of Malachi, Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.[14] And who was it that put away the foreign women? Ezra, as it is written, And Shecani’ah the son of Jehi’el, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land.[15]

מַֹשָֹּא is translated as oracle, message, ‘burden’ in some translations. It’s derived from the verb נ שֹ א, ‘to lift up,’ and is used in Zechariah, used in the same way.[16]

Verse 2

Against the Edomites

The people of Israel respond with a sceptical question: How/wherein have You loved us? This question and answer format is the didactic-dialectic style characteristic of Malachi, but found also in Isaiah, Micah and Haggai.[17]

For rhetorical effect, he makes a statement and follows it with the objection he expects from his audience.

Verse 3

The sibling relationship with Esau is mentioned up front here.

Esau’s descendants are called Edomites and they lived in the region south of the Dead Sea called Mount Seir, a name which puns on Esau’s hairiness:

וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל רִבְקָה אִמּוֹ הֵן עֵשָׂו אָחִי אִישׁ שָׂעִר וְאָנֹכִי אִישׁ חָלָק[18]

Edom of course means red, Esau being אַדְמֹונִי at birthEsau himself traveled from Canaan, in the west, to possess his land, with the territory of Ammon and Moab  on the borders. He is identified with Edom in  Genesis 36:1:

וְאֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת עֵשָׂו הוּא אֱדוֹם

Esau made multiple marriages and his descendants include many of the neighbouring peoples, Amalekites included.

The context of the animus against Edom in this Malachi text is that Edomites occupied the fertile grazing land of Judah following the exile of 586. The Nabataeans who were Arabian nomads then occupied the former Edomite territory, including Petra, the gulf of Aqaba and Elat.  Their Aramaic  inscriptions begin to appear in the fourth century BCE, according to archaeological findings.

Although there is some expression of fraternal friendliness to Edom in the Torah – You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother,[19] Obadiah makes the perfidious Edomites and their comeuppance his  entire subject.

The grudge against the Edomites for their complicity with the Babylonians  in the destruction of Jerusalem and their opportunism in benefiting from it is expressed famously in Psalm 137:

Remember O Lord the Edomites in the day of Jerusalem, who said Rase it, rase it, even to its foundations… [20]

Obadiah, the shortest of the prophetic books, is believed to have written in the 5th century BCE, after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. He denounces the Edomites for assisting the Babylonians, ravaging and looting Jerusalem after the Jews were exiled. He draws attention to the kinship between Israel and Edom, which makes Edom particularly treacherous.

Malachi’s statement of God’s hatred is sometimes explained as ‘I chose Jacob, but not Esau,’ or ‘I loved Esau less.’ It is also explained by treating Edom as a symbol of wickedness, as it is used  in midrashic literature, especially during Roman times where Rome is called Edom. In later midrash, Edom may represent the church.

James Kugel, commenting on the changing portrayal of Esau in Midrash, writes:

Part of the motive for this change is to be found in the later history of Israel, as reflected in the bible itself. After all, Esau was the ancestor of the Edomites, Israel’s close neighbour and sometimes fierce enemy. Later biblical texts frequently heaped scorn on the Edomites, and sometimes this scorn was couched in terms that reflected back on the founder of that nation.[21]

The enmity of the Amalekites contributed to the bad press received by Esau and by the Edomites as a people. This adds dramatic impetus to the identification of Malachi, scourge of the Edomites with Mordecai, scourge of the Amalekites.

Esau was a hunter, living by the sword,[22] and was a natural symbol for the martial power of Rome:

[Isaac’s words] The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau[23] [really refer to the people of Israel and Rome] for Jacob rules only through his voice, but Esau rules only through his hands.[24]

Verses, 3- 4.

These verses speak of retribution  towards Edom.

According to Malachi, the desolation of Edom is an accomplished fact rather than a threat to be fulfilled in the  future, probably referring to the devastation of Edom caused by  the migration of  Nabateans. The word tanot, translated in my bible as jackals, is translated elsewhere as dragons, presumably because it resembles the tanim, dragons or sea monsters of Genesis 1, 21. Sea monsters of the desert would not be suitable. The ‘jackals of the wilderness’ are the marauding Nabateans.  The Edomites were forced south, to the Negev,  in Roman times was called Idumea. The fact that Idumea provided the Herodian dynasty, clients of the Roman regime, also contributes to the identification of Edom with Rome.

Verse 5

God’s greatness reaches beyond Israel and His retribution is suffered by other peoples, especially those who attack Israel, so he regarded as  universal but not fatherly.

Rashi comments:

He will show His greatness over our border, to make known that we are His people. And Jonathan[25] rendered: May the glory of the Lord be magnified, and He has widened the border of Israel.

This verse completes Malachi’s section on Edom, and in the next verse, he attacks a home grown target.

Verses 6

Corrupt priests and unkosher sacrifices

Malachi turns to the subject of corruption among the priests who misuse the sacrificial system. Theseare reminiscent of charges from the author of Samuel  against the sons of Eli[26] and the sons of Samuel.[27]

The relationship between God and the cohanim is affirmed as that of a father to His children or a master to His servants, but the priests have failed in their duties as children and servants.

The designation here for God is Lord of Hosts; the LXX has παντοκρατωρ.

Verse 7

‘Polluted bread’ is less likely to refer to bread than to the unsuitable animals offered at the altar.The word for offering – מַגִּיֹשִים – is derived from נ ג ֹש, which means to approach, and in this form means to bring near. The word for pollute, ג א ל, is composed of the same letters as a more familiar word which means ‘redeem.’  BDB[28] draws our attention to a similar word ג ע ל, meaning ‘to abhor.’[29] All the occurences of  ג א ל as pollute belong to books (with the exception of Zephaniah, seventh century BCE[30]) which have a strong Persian connection: Daniel,[31] Ezra[32] and Nehemiah;[33] it appears twice in Isaiah,[34] but in the later chapters, where the prophet’s acquaintance with the rule of Cyrus.[35] The word for defilement in the Torah is usually ח נ ף or ט מ א, unclean.

As Rev Dr Cohen points out in his commentary to the Soncino edition, ֹשֻלְחַן, table, stands for the altar, and he cites a similar use in Ezekiel, when the angel, who provides  Ezekiel with a vision of the future Temple, shows him the altar, saying:

This is the table which is before the Lord. [36]

זֶה הַשֻּׁלְחָן אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה

Verse 8

The sacrificial cult insisted that only animals without blemish were fit for sacrifice,[37] and the priests had to cleanse themselves so as not to offer sacrifices in a state of ritual impurity. Blindness and lameness counted as blemishes which precluded the animal from being offered as a sacrifice.

Malachi uses the Persian word for governor, פֶחָה ,which is found, as one would expect, in the books of the bible which are concerned with Persian domination: Haggai, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah and second Chronicles. Pekhah is used also in non-Persian contexts, in Kings,[38] Isaiah,[39] Jeremiah[40] and Ezekiel,[41]  usually in speaking of international dealings with the Assyrians and the Babylonians, or, in the case of King Solomon, the Arabians:

וְכָל מַלְכֵי הָעֶרֶב וּפַחוֹת הָאָרֶץ[42]

The Greek word is ηγουμων, hegemon.

The Priestly Blessing

If  the governor would not find it acceptable – literally, ‘lift up your face’ – how much less should it be offered to God, and how much less will God lift up the face of a corrupt priest. The question makes ironic reference to the priestly blessing:

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהֹוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ:

 יָאֵר יְהֹוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ:

יִשָּׂא יְהֹוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם [43]

Verse 9

Again Malachi makes an ironical allusion to the priestly blessing:  יָאֵר יְהֹוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ To be gracious is ח נ ן.

The Mishnah describes how, in Temple times, the priests used to recite the Priestly Blessing, morning and evening at the daily offerings.[44] The priests made the blessing with uplifted hands,[45] to which  מִיֶּדְכֶםmay allude – this is from your hands.

Michael Fishbane comments:

Malachi’s vitriolic critique of cultic and priestly behaviour in the post-exilic period is, at once, a systematic utilization of the language of the Priestly Blessing and an exegetical transformation of it…In brief, the prophet has taken the contents of the Priestly Blessing, delivered by the priests, with its emphasis on blessing, the sanctity of the divine Name, and such benefactions gracious/favourable countenance, and peace – and negated them![46]

Verse 10

Closing the doors

It is preferable to close the Temple doors than to bring inappropriate sacrifices. Rashi’s comment on this verse is:

If only a good man would arise among you who would close the doors of My sanctuary so as not to allow this abominable sacrifice there.

Rashi also cites Sifra, a midrashic work on Leviticus, where the sages say:

If a person says to his friend, “Close this door for me,” he does not demand compensation for it; [or if he says,] “Light this candle for me,” he does not request compensation for it. But you – who is there among you who closed My doors, gratis? Neither did you kindle fire on My altar gratis. Surely, things that are customarily done for compensation you did not do gratis. Therefore, I have no desire in you.[47]

Malachi’s criticisms of the Temple priesthood  provided ammunition for the Church Fathers, in their attempts to Christianize the Hebrew prophets. Cyril of Alexandria, for example, writing in the fifth century CE, interprets the shutting of the doors as the shutting out of Jews from God’s favour, asserting that the Jewish priesthood had failed only to be replaced by the Christian church. This was part of the general thrust in Patristic writings to lay claim to Jewish patriarchs and prophets as harbingers of Christianity.

It must be difficult to reconcile this view with ‘I have loved you…I loved Jacob’ in verses 1 and 2.

Verse 11

Among the nations

This is an allusion to Psalm 113, the first psalm of the Hallel, and in this verse, the nations from east to west are encompassed in universal worship of  the one God. The prophet asserts that God is worshiped beyond Israel, by the goyim who bring acceptable sacrifices: מִנְחָה טְהֹורָה.  Psalm 113 also invokes the nations in a universalizing context from east to west:

מִמִּזְרַח שֶׁמֶשׁ עַד מְבוֹאוֹ מְהֻלָּל שֵׁם יְהֹוָה:

 רָם עַל כָּל גּוֹיִם יְהֹוָה עַל הַשָּׁמַיִם כְּבוֹדוֹ:

From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised!  The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens[48]

From the rising of the sun to its setting may also signify a sequence of time – from the beginning to the end – but in this context, the intended meaning seems to be ‘everywhere.’

Rashi interprets among the nations as referring to Jews in the diaspora:

Our Sages explained: These are the Torah scholars who are engaged in the laws of the Temple service everywhere, and likewise, every prayer of Israel that they pray anywhere is to Me as a pure oblation. And so did Jonathan paraphrase: And every time that you do My will, I accept your prayer, and My great Name is sanctified through you, and your prayer is like a pure offering before Me. This is the explanation of the verse: Now why do you profane My Name? Is it not great among the nations? As for Me, My love and My affection are upon you wherever you pray before Me

The verse does indeed say בַּגֹּויִם and not הַגֹּויִים – among the nations, rather than the nations.

In verse 11, Malachi twice bears  God’s message:  My name is great among the nations,  and again in verse 14:  My name is feared among the nations.

Verses 12 to14 accuse those who offer ritually impure animals and show contempt for the sacrificial laws. In verse 14 Malachi says that the person is cursed who possesses healthy animals but  yields up for sacrifice a מָֹשְחַת, which has connotations of being spoiled or corrupt, reflecting back on the person who brings the blemished animal.

Why is there is emphasis here on בַּגֹּויִם, among the nations?  This expression sums up the topography of  Israelite diaspora in the tochechot of Leviticus[49] and Deuteronomy,[50]   in the prophecies of Jeremiah[51] and Ezekiel[52] and many times among the Trei-asar, when they speak of exile. In the Psalms, בַּגֹּויִם has another significance, where the Psalmist extols God among the nations, that is, to bear witness to the greatness of God, for the edification of non-Israelite nations.[53]

In Psalm 126, the point is that the nations should see what God has done for Israel:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’[54]

The Chronicler speaks o f the universal worship of God:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’[55]

A clue to Malachi’s meaning is the use of the expression מִמִּזְרַח שֶׁמֶשׁ עַד מְבוֹאוֹ from Psalm 113, which goes on to say that God is רָם עַל כָּל גּוֹיִם, above all nations, and it may be that Malachi is making the point that God is greater than the Persian Empire and its provincial governors.

Minchah in Malachi’s time

The ‘pure oblations’ contrast with the unacceptable sacrifices of unfit animals.

The NASB translates  מִנְחָה טְהֹורָה as a grain offering that is pure. Minchah, in biblical times, was usually a grain offering, and in Talmudic times, it became the afternoon prayer, which took the place of a sacrificial offering.[56] The meaning of the verb  מ נ ח, from which Minchah is derived, is to make a gift or a loan.[57]There are five kinds of sacrifices: Olah (The  burnt offering, Minchah (The flour offering),  Shelamim (The peace offering),  Chatat (The sin offering) and Asham (The trespass offering).

The first people in Tanakh to offer minchah are Cain and Abel.[58] In Leviticus we find instructions for the Temple practice:

 When someone brings a grain offering (מִנְחָה) to the Lord, his offering is to be of fine flour. He is to pour oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the fine flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the Lord by fire[59]

November 2008

1] Ezra 7:11-15

[2] Megillah 15a; Jerome’s commentary of Malachi


BDB p521

[4] Zevahim 62a

[5] Esther 10:3

[6] Jeremiah 32:12


Jeremiah 51:59


Megillah 15a see also Haggai 1:1  and Zechariah 1:1 re the second year of Darius.

[9] Menahot 64b

[10] Ezra 1:1-2

[11] Nehemiah 7:6-7

[12] Genesis 36:12

[13] Megillah 15a

[14] Malachi 2;11


 Ezra 10:2

[16] Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1

[17] See also Isaiah 40,12-17;  Micah 2, 6-11 and Haggai 1, 4-6

[18] Genesis 27:11

[19] Deuteronomy 23:8

[20] psalm 137:7

[21] The Bible As It Was, James Kugel, Harvard University Press1997 p202

[22] Genesis 27:40

[23] Genesis 27,22


Genesis Rabbah 65:19

[25] Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel

[26] 1 Samuel 2:12-17


1 Samuel 8:3

[28] BDB p146


loc cit p171.


Zephaniah, 3:1


Daniel 1:8


Ezra 2:62


Nehemiah 7:64


Isaiah 59:3; 63:3


Isaiah 45:1 and 13

[36] Ezekiel 41:22

[37] Leviticus 1:3

[38] 1 Kings 10:15,20:24; 2 Kings 18:24


Isaiah 36:9


Jeremiah 51:23, 28 and 57


Ezekiel 23:6, 12 and 23

[42] 1 Kings 10:15

[43] Numbers 6:24-27

[44] Mishnah, Tamid 5:1


Leviticus 9:22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.

[46] Form and Reformulation of the Biblical Priestly Blessing, Michael Fishbane,  American Oriental Society, 1983

[47] Torath Kohanim (Sifra) 7:154

[48] Psalm 113:3-4

[49] Leviticus 26:23ff


Deuteronomy 4:27; 30:1


Jeremiah 29:18


Ezekiel 4:13


2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49

[54] Psalm 126:2

[55] 1 Chronicles 16:31

[56] Berakhot 26b


BDB p585

[58] Genesis 4:3-5

[59] Leviticus 2:1-3

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