Malachi the prophet
Malachi’s name means "my messenger", possibly an abbreviation of "messenger of Yahweh". There is possibly a play on words in 2:7 & 3:1 about the messenger of the Lord. Otherwise, nothing is known about him. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets, after him came the four hundred silent years which was not broken until John the Baptist. Malachi ministered in the days of Nehemiah. His message was directed to the priests and people of Israel in the post-exilic period.
Malachi probably brought his message during the second half of fifth century BC, eighty years after the temple had been completed. Suggested dates range from 460 to 435 BC. The temple had already been built and the Mosaic sacrifices introduced (1:7,10, 3:1). A Persian governor was in authority (1:8), so Nehemiah was probably not present in Jerusalem. The sins denounced by Malachi are the same as those condemned by Nehemiah during his second term of office. These include: priestly laxity (1:6, Neh 13:4-9); neglect of tithes to the Levites (3:7-12, Neh 13:10-13); and intermarriage with foreign women (2:10-16, Neh 13:23-28).
The returned exiles had rebuilt the temple had high hope for their nation, but with the passing years had become disillusioned. Life was still hard, the promised prosperity had not materialised. Enemies still surrounded them, especially the Samaritans. and they suffered from drought, bad crops and famine. In consequence, they began to doubt the love of God and to question the justice of his law. If the evil and self-reliant prospered, what was the point in obeying God and seeking to walk in his ways. They were neglecting God, which was shown in lax meaningless worship, marriage of foreign women and neglecting the tithe.
Content of the book
Malachi answers their complaints, showing that their scepticism was hypocritical. The adversity they were experiencing was not in spite of their godliness, but because of their sinfulness. Religiously, they were guilty of profanity and sacrilege. Morally, they were guilty of sorcery, adultery, perjury, fraud and oppression. Socially, they were untrue to their family responsibilities, and materially, they were robbing God of his tithes. Malachi condemned these sins and called the priests and people to repentance. If they would purity their worship, obey God's laws and pay their tithes, then God's blessing would follow.
Malachi has a high view of God, who is the majestic lord of hosts, whose decrees and judgements are just and whose love is pure and unchanging. In the great and terrible day of the Lord, he will both vindicate the godly and destroy the wicked. The prophecy ends with a reference backward to Moses and a forward look to the coming of Elijah the prophet who will precede the Messiah, who Jesus identifies as John the Baptist.
Structure of book
There are six questions, each answered by Malachi.
1) God's love to Israel (1:1-5)
2) The priests have despised God's name (1:6 - 2:9)
3) Issues of marriage and divorce (2:10-16)
4) Where is the Lord of justice (2:17 - 3:5)
5) Robbing God by not paying tithes (3:6-12)
6) What is point in serving God if the wicked prosper? (3:13 - 4:3)