The Word Is Alive

The Book of Malachi

Malachi, the final book of the OT, received its name from its author (1:1). In Hebrew, the name comes from a word meaning ‘messenger’, which points to Malachi’s role as a prophet of the Lord, delivering God’s message to God’s people. Malachi offered no other identifying information about himself, leaving out markers typical of other prophets such as his father’s name or the current leader of Israel.

However, based on the content of the book, it becomes clear that Malachi delivered his message of judgement to a Judæan audience familiar with worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem (2:11). The people of Judah had turned away from the true worship of the Lord, leaving themselves under judgement and in need of salvation.

Malachi certainly wrote to the people of Judah (1:1 and 2:11), but the historical setting becomes clearer in Malachi 1:8. Here the prophet used the Persian word for governor, indicating a time period between 538–333BC, when the Persian Empire ruled the Promised Land. Malachi also wrote about the corruption of the temple sacrifices, meaning that he likely delivered his message many years after the Israelites rebuilt the temple in 515BC. The prophet’s concerns mirror those of Nehemiah’s, suggesting that Malachi prophesied to the people while Nehemiah left the city for several years, beginning in 432BC (Nehemiah 13:6).

Malachi’s unique position as the final book of the OT offers a glimpse into the hearts of Israelite men and women, members of a nation that had been specially chosen by God, descendants of Abraham, and inheritors of the rich tradition of the Jewish people. Their history told of glories like the exodus from Egypt and the faithfulness of God to King David. But they had also experienced the judgement of wandering in the desert and the shame of exile from the Promised Land.

At the time of Malachi, over fifteen hundred years after Abraham’s era, the Israelites had the advantage and weight of history on their side; they could see the shining rewards of faithfulness and the punishments associated with judgement, even to the point of being uprooted from their land. But even then, with all that perspective, the book of Malachi teaches that they still strayed from the Lord’s path. They needed God’s intervention as much as ever, so this book, as a final statement of judgement in the OT, anticipates God’s saving work through the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The people of Judah began to be exiled from the Promised Land in 605BC, returning from Babylon seventy years later. By the time of Malachi, they had been back in the land for more than a hundred years and were looking for the blessings they expected to receive when they returned. Although the temple had been rebuilt, the fervour of those early returning Israelites gave way to a thorough apathy for the things of God. This led to rampant corruption among the priesthood and a spiritual lethargy among the people.

Malachi came along at a time when the people were struggling to believe that God loved them (1:2). The people focused on their unfortunate circumstances and refused to account for their own sinful deeds. So God pointed the finger back at them, and through Malachi, God told the people where they had fallen short of their covenant with him. If they hoped to see changes, they needed to take responsibility for their own actions and serve God faithfully according to the promise their fathers had made to God on Mount Sinai all those years before.

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two
Chapter Three Chapter Four Summary

There is supplementary material and a mind map of the structure of the Book of Malachi that may prove useful for study.