Introduction to Malachi

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.

“See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me . . . But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness”.

“See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me . . . But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” (3:1-4).

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

Like Nahum (Nah 1:1) and Habakkuk (Hab 1:1), this book is called a “pronouncement” (Mal 1:1). This Hebrew word massa is found twenty times in the OT (e.g., 2Kg 9:25; Is 13:1; Zch 9:1; 12:1). Once thought to mean “burden,” it is now understood to refer to a divine pronouncement through God’s prophet.

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

Malachi was the last prophetic message from God before the close of the Old Testament period. This book is a fitting conclusion to the Old Testament and a transition for understanding the kingdom proclamation in the NT. Malachi spoke to the hearts of a troubled people whose circumstances of financial insecurity, religious skepticism, and personal disappointments were similar to those often experienced by God’s people today. The book contains a message that must not be overlooked by those who wish to encounter God and his kingdom and to lead others to a similar encounter. We have a great, loving, and holy God, who has unchanging and glorious purposes for his people. Our God calls us to genuine worship, fidelity to himself and to one another, and to expectant faith in what he is doing and says he will do in this world and for his people.

God’s love is paramount. It is expressed in Malachi in terms of Yahweh’s election and protection of Israel above all the nations of the world. Since God had served the interests of Judah out of his unchanging love, he required Judah to live up to its obligations by obedience, loyalty, and sincere worship. This love relationship between God and Judah is the model for how people were expected to treat other members of the redeemed community. They were required to be faithful in all their dealings with one another.

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.

STRUCTURE

Malachi’s message is communicated in three interrelated addresses. Each address contains five sections arranged in a mirror-like repetitive structure surrounding a central section (a-b-c-b-a). The first two addresses begin with positive motivation or hope (1:2-5; 2:10a) and end with negative motivation or judgment (2:1-9; 3:1-6). In between is God’s indictment (1:6-9,11-14; 2:10b-15a, 17) surrounding his commands (1:10; 2:15b-16). The final climactic address begins and ends with commands to repent (3:7-10a; 4:4-6). In between are sections of motivation (3:10b-12; 3:16-4:3) surrounding the indictment (3:13-15).

OUTLINE

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)

625-525 BC

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

525-480 BC

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

480-460 BC

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

460-425 BC

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

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