Allah and the Messenger of Allah in the Book of Malachi
Christian Arabs in the Middle East hear the Islamic call to prayer five times a day. The Loud speakers make it clear that Allah is great (Çááå ÃßÈÑ) and then invite the worshipers to prayer. Allah (Çááå) is the Arabic word for God. Just like the first century Christians used the Greek word theos (θεος) to refer to the God of Christianity, Arab Christians use the word Allah to refer to the triune God. Put differently, both Christians and Muslims use the label Allah to denote the Supreme Being who declared His will through His messengers. Interestingly, the last Old Testament book, Malachi, is sympathetic to asserting the greatness of Allah!
Allah in the Book of Malachi
The Book of Malachi talks about Allah and it is important to understand how it describes Him. First, the pertinent Old Testament book asserts that Allah is Great (Mal 1: 5, 11 (2x), 14). It clarifies that there is one God, i.e. there is no God but Allah (Mal 2: 10). However, the great Allah is not only a creator but is also a father (Mal 2: 10). His greatness is not a barrier to approaching Him or to worshipping Him but an invitation to give Him the appropriate honor. Malachi reminds the worshipers that God must be honored as a father (Mal 1: 6). His fatherhood reflects his greatness.
The Old Testament understanding of the metaphor of fatherhood is so rich. It is not confined to genealogical definitions. When the Old Testament describes the fatherhood of God it does not understand it within the framework of physical marriage or sexual activities. But is uses this metaphor to communicate divine truth. Socially, the father of a tribe is the most honored one and the most valued person. Legally, the father of the extended family is the one who can discipline the children; he is like a judge. Religiously, the father is the one who is responsible for the spiritual life of the family.
Malachi focuses on the Father’s electing love. Allah the Father elected His people not because they are good but because He is loving and merciful. His electing love includes protecting his beloved ones even though they dishonored Him more than once. This protection demonstrates not only his unflinching commitment to loving His people but also his power before all the oppressive nations. No wonder He is known as the Great one (גדול), great in his love as well as in his power.
Such greatness requires perfect worship. In other words, Arab Christians may fully agree with the continual Islamic call to prayer “Allahu Akbar” or God is Great. Indeed, He is great but what kind of greatness? This is an important question for true worship is rooted in a true and illumined understanding of the identity of God.
The Messenger of Allah
You might agree that Allah is great but is it possible to misconstrue the identity and words of Allah or even the concept of His greatness? What happens when we misunderstand God? The Old Testament demonstrates that when people misread the will of Allah, He sends a messenger to help them.
The word messenger in Malachi is repeated four times (Mal 1: 1; 2: 7; and twice in 3: 1). We can see three major characteristics of the messenger of Allah in the book of Malachi. First, the messenger is a prophet who communicates the word of Allah (Mal 1: 1). He is the one who is burdened with a divine message.
Second, the messenger is a priest (Mal 2: 7). He represents God before the people and the people before God. He is the ideal priest whose mouth is full of truth and whose lips have never known iniquity; he is the priest who causes many to repent and come back to Allah (Mal 2: 6). He is a man of peace and integrity (Mal 2: 6).
Third, the coming of the messenger is associated with the coming of God to his temple as well as with a covenant of justice (Mal 3: 1 – 6). His coming is God’s response to those who ask where is justice (Mal 2: 17). The justice of God appears when God appears to cleanse his people, protect the marginalized (widow, orphan, and stranger), and judge the evil doers. It appears even though people break the covenant of the fathers and betray the covenantal love of their wives (Mal 2: 10 – 16). The appearance of this messenger is like the appearance of the sun of righteousness and the healing that lead the ones who fear Allah to the good pasture (Mal 3: 20 in Hebrew; Mal 4: 2 in English).
These characteristics of the messenger of Allah can be fully found only in Jesus Christ who is not only a prophet who shares the words of Allah but is also the Word of God. He is not only a priest but the high priest who offered himself. He is not only the messenger of the covenant of peace, life, and justice but also the sacrifice of the only covenant that makes our worship and offerings pleasing to our Great Allah. The Greatness of Allah is seen in the greatness of the messenger of Allah who lived a sinless life and yet died like a criminal! The greatness of Allah as a loving Father is seen in loving us so much to the extent of leading his best and perfect messenger to the cross in order to save us from sin. The messenger of Allah died on the cross to disclose the extent of the Father’s love (John 3: 16). The messenger of Allah was also raised from the dead to reveal the power of Allah. In conclusion, Arab Christians can testify that Allah is great in both his love and his power.
This essay has been slightly modified from an earlier publication. For further details see: Katanacho, Yohanna. “Allah and the Messenger of Allah in the Book of Malachi.” MennoLetter 6 (June 2007): 5-6.
The Hebrew Bible employs the word El (אל) which was used to denote both pagan gods as well as YHWH.
The Hebrew Bible uses the verb yigdal (יגדל) in Mal 1: 5 and the adjective gadol (גדול) in Mal 1: 11, 14. It is possible to see the Islamic expression Allahu Akbar (ٲßÈÑ Çááå) as the equivalent of yigdal. Further, the illocutionary force of the discourse meaning of gadol communicates the transcendence and greatness of God.
See Christopher Wright, “אב,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol 1; edited by Willem Vangemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 219-223.
Admittedly, the first occurrence of the pertinent lexeme might denote a name (cf. Mal 1: 1), i.e. the prophet Malachi. However, it is also possible to translate it as the messenger of YHWH. In fact, the Septuagint prefers this option translating the text as ̉αγγελου α ̉υτου, i.e. his messenger. See Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979), 561; see Boulous Faghali, Aqwal Allah fi sha‘beh Au Alanbyaa Alethna ‘ashar; The Words of God to His People or the Twelve Prophets (Beirut: Manshurat Almaktabah Alboulysiah, 1993), 323-324.
The book of Malachi starts with the expression משא which might be translated as oracle or burden. For further details see BDB that lists these possibilities. Francis Brown et al., The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979), 672b-673a.