Introduction to Malachi
Malachi is the last prophetic message from God before the close of the Old Testament period (although non-prophetic books such as Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles may have been written later). This small book captures the essential message of the Old Testament and shows the reader the nature of God and our relationship and responsibility to him and to others in the covenant community.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
AUTHOR: Nothing is known about the author except his name. The book emphasizes the message rather than the messenger; God is the speaker in about forty-seven of the fifty-five verses. The one prophesied in 3:1 to “clear the way” for God to come to his temple is identified as (Hb) malakiy, “my messenger,” a word identical to the name of the book’s author.
BACKGROUND: Although the book is not dated by a reference to a ruler or a specific event, internal evidence, as well as its position in the canon, favors a postexilic date. Reference to a governor in 1:8 favors the Persian period when Judah was a province or sub-province of the Persian satrapy Abar Nahara, which included Palestine, Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and, until 485 BC, Babylon. The temple had been rebuilt (515 BC) and worship reestablished there (1:6-11; 2:1-3; 3:1,10). But the excitement and enthusiasm for which the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were the catalysts had waned. The social and religious problems that Malachi addressed reflect the situation portrayed in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 5; 13, suggesting dates not long before Ezra’s return to Judah (ca 460 BC) or Nehemiah’s second term as governor of Judah (Neh 13:6-7; ca 435 BC). Linguistic data favors the earlier date.
MESSAGE AND PURPOSE
INDICTMENT: Malachi presented Judah’s sins largely by quoting their own words, repeating their own thoughts, and describing their own attitudes (1:2,6-7,12-13; 2:14,17; 3:7-8,13-15). Malachi was faced with the failure of the priests to fear God and to serve the people conscientiously during difficult times. This had contributed to Judah’s indifference toward God. Blaming their economic and social troubles on God’s supposed unfaithfulness, the people were treating one another faithlessly (especially their wives) and were profaning the temple by marrying pagan women. They were also withholding their tithes.
INSTRUCTION: God commanded sincere worship with genuine faith and humility. This included honoring him with pure offerings, being faithful to human covenants, especially marriage covenants, and renewing the tithe of all they acquired to signify their recognition of the Lord as their God and King.
JUDGMENT: If the priests would not change their behavior, God would curse them and remove them from service. Malachi also announced a coming day when the “God of justice” would come to judge the wicked and refine his people (Mt 3:12; 13:24-30).
HOPE: As other incentives to obedience, Malachi pointed to: (1) God’s demonstrations of love for Israel (1:2), (2) their spiritual and covenant unity with God and with one another (2:10), and (3) a coming day of salvation and blessing for those who fear him (3:1-6; 3:16-4:3).
CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE
As a community devoted to God, his people enjoy his protection and provision. But failure to live right before God and one another will bring God’s judgment. Thus, God’s people could not expect the joy of his blessings if they continued to fail in their duties to him and to one another. Before God would hold Judah in the balance of judgment, he would grant one last call for repentance. A forerunner would precede the fearsome day of the Lord and herald the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
I.Priests Exhorted to Honor the Lord (1:1-2:9)
A.Positive motivation: the Lord’s love (1:2-5)
B.Situation: failure to honor the Lord (1:6-9)
C.Command: stop the vain offerings (1:10)
D.Situation: priests profane the Lord’s name (1:11-14)
E.Negative motivation: results of disobedience (2:1-9)
II.Judah Exhorted to Faithfulness (2:10-3:6)
A.Positive motivation: spiritual kinship among Israel (2:10a)
B.Situation: faithlessness against a covenant member (2:10b-15a)
C.Command: stop acting faithlessly (2:15b-16)
D.Situation: complaints of the Lord’s injustice (2:17)
E.Negative motivation: coming messenger of judgment (3:1-6)
III.Judah Exhorted to Return to the Lord (3:7-4:6)
A.Command: return to the Lord with tithes (3:7-10a)
B.Positive motivation: future blessing (3:10b-12)
C.Situation: complacency in serving the Lord (3:13-15)
D.Motivation: the coming day of the Lord (3:16-4:3)
E.Command: remember the law (4:4-6)
The Assyrian Empire comes to an end when the Babylonians and Medes destroy Nineveh. 612
The Babylonians level Jerusalem and the temple. 586
Cyrus, founding ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire, captures Babylon with little resistance. 539
Cyrus’s decree allows return of Jews from exile; 42,360 return initially. 538
Second temple construction begins under Zerubbabel’s and Joshua’s leadership. 536
Cambyses, son of Cyrus, rules Persian Empire. 530-522
Discouragement reinforced by opposition from transplanted people brings work on the temple to a halt. 526
Darius I (Darius the Great) succeeds Cambyses. 521-486
Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people to resume construction of the temple. 520-518
Temple completed March 12, 515
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) ascends the throne of Persia upon the death of his father, Darius I. 486
Greek victories over Persians in Battles of Salamis (480) and Plain of Plataea (479), thwart Persian expansion into Europe and are keys to Greek hegemony in the Mediterranean Basin and Europe.
Esther becomes queen of Persia. 479
Esther intercedes with Xerxes for her people. 474
First celebration of Purim 473
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus), husband of Esther, assassinated 465
Artaxerxes I succeeds his father. 465-423
Malachi’s prophecy 460
Ezra leads second group of Jewish exiles to Jerusalem. 458
Events in Nehemiah 445-430
Jerusalem’s walls rebuilt under Nehemiah’s leadership 445
Nehemiah returns to Persia. 432
The second Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and other Greek city-states 431-404
Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem. 425