400 years of silence. The book of Malachi is the last of the written word in the Old Testament before we get to the letters and Gospels of the New Testament. That’s 400 years.
Now, we know that God spoke to people during those centuries. That’s what He does. He speaks. For the purposes of the Gospel Story. He’s telling from Genesis to Revelation, and the written revelation that chronicles it, we get a 400-year break.
We talk about the importance of a person’s last words as if what they had to say last must have been of utmost importance. These are the last words of the Old Testament. Malachi sums up the themes of the Old Testament, brings correction and challenge, and God gives His people hope for reconciliation, restoration, and a future.
The book of Malachi is the end of the Old Testament. But God makes it clear that it is not the end of the Story He is telling. The best is yet to come.
Who Was Malachi and What Was He Known For?
The first verse of Malachi is the only time the prophet’s name is mentioned in the Old Testament. Otherwise, nothing definitive is known about him.
Malachi is placed among the “minor” prophets, but these are only designated as “minor” because of the length of the book. The Old Testament (and to some degree the New) is organized based on genre (history, poetry, prophecy) and then prophets by length, not necessarily chronologically. The “major” prophets are simply longer books. Interestingly enough, however, Malachi was one of the latter ones written, if not the last.
The book of Malachi was written around 100 years after the Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile. Malachi uses the same word for governor that Nehemiah and Haggai use (pechah). Malachi deals with sacrifices in the Temple, so the 2nd Temple had been built and was in use. Nehemiah faced similar corruption with the Jews that Malachi highlights—corrupt priests (Nehemiah 1, Nehemiah 13), neglect of tithes and offerings (Nehemiah 3, Nehemiah 13), and intermarriage with foreign women (Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah 13).
All of these clues and contexts confirm that Malachi was written contemporary with Nehemiah and the latter prophets.
What Is the Book of Malachi About?
Malachi is a beautifully written book using a question-and-answer method to bring God’s message to the people. This places God’s word within a conversation instead of a strict sermon or lecture-type format.
Judah and Jerusalem had been ultimately conquered by Babylon, then Babylon by Persia, all as a result of their sin and dismissal of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. During the time of Persia, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and the Temple, detailed in Nehemiah and Ezra. Through sacrifice and struggle, the Jews accomplished both.
We might expect the Jews to never take God for granted again, right? Well, even though they had the priests and worship established in the Temple, the Jews became corrupt and selfish in a prophetic cycle. Injustice and poverty became the norm.
Through this question-and-answer method, God deals with six different themes and issues where He and the Jews are in conflict and disagreement. God exposes and confronts their corruption, and God gets the last word. He calls them to remember His love, to return to Him, all so that they can endure the refining fire that is yet to come.
What Are Some Major Lessons from the Book of Malachi?
The first conversation between God and His people (Malachi 1:2-5) is initiated by God. He tells them He loves them despite their failures. They question His love. He reminds them that He chose Jacob in their history. They are a people because of Him.
Secondly, God points out how the people are abusing the new Temple (Malachi 1:6-2:9). They wonder, how are we abusing it? The Jews weren’t bringing the best of what they had as an offering in the Temple. The lambs and animals they brought were disabled and blind.
God tells them to give those trash, blemished offerings to the Persian governor. Would the governor accept them? Of course not, but they give those things to the Most High God.
Third, God calls His people traitors against Him (Malachi 2:10-16). The people deny this. How are they traitors? God answers that when the men of Judah marry foreign women and worship their idols, they are traitors. Men are also divorcing their Jewish wives, and God sees this as a sign of breaking covenants, both with Him and one another.
The people are tired of being accused. Now they accuse God (Malachi 2:17-3:5). The Jews say that since God allows injustice, then He is unjust. God’s response is that He will send a messenger, a person that will remove all injustice. In other words, a person that will do what the corrupt priests should have done.
Fifth, God calls the people back to Him. They wonder, how can we come back to You? God specifically deals with the tithe, the 10 percent of income and harvests required in the Law. The tithe was meant to support the Temple and the priests. Do this, God says, and you won’t be able to contain the blessings He pours out.
Lastly, the Jews declare that there is no value in serving God (Malachi 3:13-3:18). The wicked prosper. The righteous suffer.
God responds with a narrative about people that remain faithful. Those that get together and remember God, discuss Him and His Truth, God will write their names down in a “scroll of remembrance.” Those people will belong to God as sons belong to a Father. They will be spared from God’s judgment. God will make them jewels, people of great value.
Again, the faithful will endure. What will they need to endure? The conclusion of Malachi 4 begins with a description of a terrible day of judgment that is coming. However, this judgment will not be terrible for the faithful. The faithful will not be afraid. Rather, they will have joy at seeing God setting everything right.
How will people remain faithful? Remember the Law, read the scriptures, Malachi relays from God. A new Elijah and Moses will come and restore what was lost.
The last statement is an amazing promise of reconciliation. As a sign that the new Elijah/Moses will reconcile the people to God the Father, God’s messenger will also reconcile people. He will turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and the fathers to the children.
Reconciliation will beget reconciliation.
And then 400 years of silence.
Why Should We Know about This Minor Prophet?
We know the rest of the story. We know that God fulfilled His promise. He sent a messenger, a new Elijah, and a new Moses.
The Jews were very aware of this promise. Since before Christ, the Passover Seder now includes an empty seat and an extra glass of wine, signifying the wait for Elijah’s return, a Messianic promise directly tied to Malachi.
Jesus used several quotes from Deuteronomy and is the second Moses that Malachi prophesies about. Moses also spoke about another one like himself, another prophet that will bring a second covenant (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). In his Gospel, John says that the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus (John 1:17). There are other examples throughout the letters of the New Testament, but the early Christians wholeheartedly believed that Jesus was that second, better Moses, the bringer of the New Covenant.
Therefore, we first need to understand Malachi to get a fuller vision of what God has done through Christ and the Holy Spirit, the fulfillment of prophecy that tells us God will do what He says.
One passage from Malachi is fascinating to me, and it connects to most Christians today. Malachi prophesies how all nations will know Him. “From the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name will be great among the Gentiles. In every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11).
For those of us non-Jews who are born again in Christ, this reoccurring promise throughout the Old Testament, especially the latter prophets, helps us to see God’s heart for all people and why the call to the “Gentiles” was an important principle of the New Covenant to Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
Beyond understanding Malachi in its original context as explained above, and how the prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist, Christ, and the New Covenant (and non-Jews like me!), there are important lessons for us today.
Christians are God’s people, His children, but we struggle with the same questions and thoughts from Malachi. Is God good? Why do the wicked prosper? Not to mention our own lack of commitment and the selfishness that creeps into our lives.
We also live in a culture that accuses God of similar things. What value is there in following God? If God allows injustice, is he not therefore unjust? Malachi gives us a framework for how to approach these common issues both in our own lives and in our discussions with others.
For us today, these truths from Malachi are instructive and encouraging:
We can have a conversation with God. Ask God questions. He can handle it. Tough times will come, and we won’t always understand what is happening, but God is a loving Father who longs for relationship, which means He is open for conversation. God also initiates conversation with us by asking us questions. This challenges, corrects, and leads to greater intimacy.
Scripture is central to our understanding of how God loved us in the past and will reward us in the future. Read the Bible. Study it. The truths in Scripture will ground us when the world around is in chaos and it seems like the wicked prosper. Spoiler alert: in the end, they don’t. The Bible continually makes this clear. He is just and justice will win out. Let’s never forget the power of Scripture.
Our loving commitment to God includes giving our best. We are to seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness. We must give Him all of us, our best and our worst, our very lives as a continual sacrifice and offering. Subsequent to that is our extreme generosity to those in need.
God values those faithful to God, to His Word, and they are the only ones with a joyous future. There is an end to the Story. For those that follow Him and endure, for those that live a life worthy of the “high call” (Ephesians 4:1), that end will be glorious and full of joy. All things, good and bad, will be redeemed for good in the Kingdom.
After Revelation was written by John, we weren’t left with silence from God. He speaks through the Bible, through the Spirit within us, and through His children in community. He is always speaking. Let us humble ourselves and come to our Father for conversation. Let us give Him our best.
He is worthy of it all.
Photo credit: ©Pixabay/Free Photos
Britt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.