Initially, things went well for the Judeans who returned from the Babylonian exile and built the Second Temple. But after a few generations, the restoration was losing steam. The grand promises of the previous generation’s prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were unfulfilled. The Bible’s final prophet, Malachi, once again directed the people, especially its priests and Levites, on God’s path. His book is framed as a debate between God and His people. Its general pattern is [A] a complaint is lodged; [B] a reply, often sarcastic, is offered; [C] one side elaborates its point; [D] and the prophet concludes with a rebuke or promise. The Haftarah conveys his, and God’s, final prophetic messages.
In the Haftarah, Malachi urges the people to desist from a variety of sins against one another and God. To encourage them, God even challenges them to test His ability to reward them so that He can bless them. More profoundly, seeing this blessing of His will answer the complaint of even those who fear Him: why do they suffer while evildoers prosper? God will further reply to that question on a “great and fearsome day” which the return of Elijah the prophet will portend. God will obliterate the wicked and the righteous will triumph over them, similar to the Exodus, commemorated on the upcoming Passover holiday. Elijah will inspire intergenerational bonds that will prevent God from destroying the Land. In the meantime, God’s people must continue to follow Moses’s law.
Verse 3:4: After harshly punishing and purifying its wayward priests, God will again accept Judah’s offerings.
[D] Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of yore and in the years of old.
וְעָֽרְבָה֙ לַֽה' מִנְחַ֥ת יְהוּדָ֖ה וִירֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם כִּימֵ֣י עוֹלָ֔ם וּכְשָׁנִ֖ים קַדְמֹנִיּֽוֹת׃
Verses 3:5-7: God hurries to punish Judah for generations of sin. Just as He is unchanging, His people have not changed and continue to sin against Him. God nonetheless awaits their return to Him.
[A] “I will come near to you in judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, the adulterers, and those who swear falsely; against those who oppress [by withholding] a worker’s wage, the widow, and the orphan; and [against] those who turn aside the stranger and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.
וְקָרַבְתִּ֣י אֲלֵיכֶם֮ לַמִּשְׁפָּט֒ וְהָיִ֣יתִי ׀ עֵ֣ד מְמַהֵ֗ר בַּֽמְכַשְּׁפִים֙ וּבַמְנָ֣אֲפִ֔ים וּבַנִּשְׁבָּעִ֖ים לַשָּׁ֑קֶר וּבְעֹשְׁקֵ֣י שְׂכַר־שָׂ֠כִיר אַלְמָנָ֨ה וְיָת֤וֹם וּמַטֵּי־גֵר֙ וְלֹ֣א יְרֵא֔וּנִי אָמַ֖ר ה' צְבָאֽוֹת׃
Verses 3:8-9: Despite the Levites’ and Priests’s sins, the rest of the people have sinned by not giving them tithes.
[A] Ought man to defraud God? Yet you defraud Me. [B] You ask, “How have we defrauded You?” [C] [By not giving] tithe and terumah.
הֲיִקְבַּ֨ע אָדָ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים כִּ֤י אַתֶּם֙ קֹבְעִ֣ים אֹתִ֔י וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֖ם בַּמֶּ֣ה קְבַעֲנ֑וּךָ הַֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֖ר וְהַתְּרוּמָֽה׃
Verses 3:10-12: God tells the people to test whether He will compensate them for giving tithes. If they do, God will protect and grant their bountiful crops such that other nations will praise them and their Land.
[D] “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me with that!”, says the Lord of Hosts, “[to see] if I will not open heaven’s windows for you, and pour out for you immeasurable blessing.”
הָבִ֨יאוּ אֶת־כָּל־הַֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֜ר אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הָאוֹצָ֗ר וִיהִ֥י טֶ֙רֶף֙ בְּבֵיתִ֔י וּבְחָנ֤וּנִי נָא֙ בָּזֹ֔את אָמַ֖ר ה' צְבָקוֹת אִם־לֹ֧א אֶפְתַּ֣ח לָכֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת אֲרֻבּ֣וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַהֲרִיקֹתִ֥י לָכֶ֛ם בְּרָכָ֖ה עַד־בְּלִי־דָֽי׃
Verses 3 13-14: God records the complaint of those who fear Him- Serving God offers no gain since evildoers flourish and the righteous suffer?- and promises to reward them, compassionately, in the future.
[C] You have said, “It is vain to serve God! What profit is [there] for our having kept His charge, and for having walked mournfully [translation uncertain] before the Lord of Hosts?”
אֲמַרְתֶּ֕ם שָׁ֖וְא עֲבֹ֣ד אֱלֹקים וּמַה־בֶּ֗צַע כִּ֤י שָׁמַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִשְׁמַרְתּ֔וֹ וְכִ֤י הָלַ֙כְנוּ֙ קְדֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית מִפְּנֵ֖י יְה' צְבָקוֹת׃
Verses 3:15-21: During that furious judgment, God will utterly eradicate evildoers. The righteous will rejoice and be healed from their suffering, while trampling the wicked underfoot.
[D] “You shall trod upon the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts.
וְעַסּוֹתֶ֣ם רְשָׁעִ֔ים כִּֽי־יִהְי֣וּ אֵ֔פֶר תַּ֖חַת כַּפּ֣וֹת רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם בַּיּוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲנִ֣י עֹשֶׂ֔ה אָמַ֖ר ה' צְבָקוֹת׃ (פ)
Verses 3:22-24: God’s final message: Remember the Torah while awaiting Elijah. His arrival will herald this mighty Day of God by joining the hearts of parents and their children, thereby preventing God from destroying the Land.
Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
הִנֵּ֤ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם ה' הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא׃
The future role of Elijah, whose mysterious return concludes the Haftarah, is debated in the Mishnah.
Mishnah Eduyot 8:7
R. Joshua said: “I have [heard] from R. Yohanan b. Zakkai, who heard from his teacher, and his teacher from his teacher, as a law [given] to Moses at Sinai, that Elijah will come neither to [declare] impure or to [declare] pure, nor to distance or to bring near- but to distance those brought near by force and to bring near those put away by force.” [...] R. Judah says, “To bring near, but not to distance.” R. Shimon says, “to conciliate disputes.” The Sages say, “neither to put away nor to bring near, but to make peace in the world, as (Malachi 3:23-4) says, “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet…and he shall turn the fathers’ hearts to the children, and the childrens’ heart to their fathers.”
אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, מְקֻבָּל אֲנִי מֵרַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי, שֶׁשָּׁמַע מֵרַבּוֹ וְרַבּוֹ מֵרַבּוֹ, הֲלָכָה לְמשֶׁה מִסִּינַי, שֶׁאֵין אֵלִיָּהוּ בָא לְטַמֵּא וּלְטַהֵר, לְרַחֵק וּלְקָרֵב, אֶלָּא לְרַחֵק הַמְקֹרָבִין בִּזְרוֹעַ וּלְקָרֵב הַמְרֻחָקִין בִּזְרוֹעַ.[...] רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, לְקָרֵב, אֲבָל לֹא לְרַחֵק. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, לְהַשְׁווֹת הַמַּחֲלֹקֶת. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים, לֹא לְרַחֵק וְלֹא לְקָרֵב, אֶלָּא לַעֲשׂוֹת שָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ג) הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא וְגוֹ' וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם: