October 7, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi

John F. FinkNext week, the 28th week in Ordinary Time, the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are included in the Office of Readings. These are the last three books in the Christian Old Testament.

Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries. They were in Jerusalem after the first group of Jewish exiles returned from Babylon in 538 B.C. The exiles started to rebuild the Temple, but were distracted because they had to devote their energies to basic survival because of drought and crop failure.

Haggai and Zechariah, in 520 B.C., encouraged them to concentrate on reconstructing the Temple. Haggai chastised the returnees for not putting the Temple first. That’s why “the heavens withheld from you their dew, and the Earth her crops” (Hg 1:10). Zechariah told them that the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the priesthood were essential to reversing their misfortunes.

Haggai has been called a pragmatist and Zechariah a visionary. Only some of Zechariah’s visions about the meaning of events are included in the Office of Readings, all from the first eight chapters. Chapters were added later and they will be read in the Office of Readings in five weeks.

These prophets, especially Haggai, were the most successful of all the prophets in terms of getting immediate results because the rebuilding of the Temple was resumed in 520 B.C., and it was rededicated in 515 B.C.

The New Testament quotes Haggai only once (Heb 12:26), applying to the end time Haggai’s image of God shaking the heavens and the Earth (Hg 2:6). Zechariah, however, is quoted frequently in the Book of Revelation. The John who wrote Revelation used some of Zechariah’s symbols when expressing his vision of God’s activity among the seven Churches to which he wrote.

As an example, Zechariah has a vision of a gold lampstand as the main item in the Temple because the Ark of the Covenant disappeared when the Babylonians razed Solomon’s Temple. In Revelation, seven gold lampstands stand for the seven Churches.

Malachi, which in Hebrew means “my messenger,” arrived well after the Temple was reconstructed, probably around 460 B.C.

The three chapters in this book make these pronouncements—God loves Israel; the priests have been lax regarding standards surrounding sacrifices; God opposes divorce and marriage with

non-Israelites; God will come to purify his Temple and the Levites; the people must return to tithing, which will bring prosperity; and those who fear the Lord will receive salvation on the day of judgment.

In the New Testament, the evangelists see Malachi as a foreshadowing of John the Baptist. John was the “messenger” who came to prepare the way for the Lord.

Malachi says, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek” (Mal 3:1).

Also, Malachi’s teaching on marriage provided an introduction to Jesus’ instruction on the subject. Malachi based his teaching on Genesis rather than on the Mosaic Law’s allowance for divorce (Mal 2:15-16), and so did Jesus (Mt 19:3-9). †

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