Survey of Malachi
Book Type: Prophecy; 39th book of the Old Testament.
Author: Malachi, literally Mal'akiy, meaning "My Messenger." Malachi 1:1 is the only place in all of Scripture where this name appears. Therefore, this might be a title, rather than the name of a specific person.
Audience: The nation of Israel. Unlike most other Old Testament prophets, Malachi does not include any particular warning to nations other than Israel.
Date: Somewhere between 500 and 400 BC. Most likely just before the return of Ezra (460 BC), or possibly around the beginning of Nehemiah's second term as governor (435 BC).
Overview: Malachi is the last word of prophecy delivered to Israel prior to 400 years of silence. The next prophet of God will not come until John the Baptist begins proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah.
At this point in history, Israel is at the bottom of a long, slow spiritual decline. Earlier books of prophecy, such as Hosea, depict Israel as an unfaithful, but repentant wife. Later, in Ezekiel, Israel's sins have become blatant, and they show no signs of repentance. By the time of Malachi, God's chosen people are spiritually numb. Not only are they faithless and disobedient, they are bitter towards God for their difficult circumstances.
Malachi was written while Israel was still under the control of Babylon. They had been allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. And yet, they were still dominated by a pagan nation. This was also a hard time economically. Rather than seeking God's promises, as given in the Law, Israel is disobedient, bitter, and faithless. And yet, they blame God for their troubles, rather than their own mistakes.
Malachi uses a nuanced structure, formed like a series of waves. Modern chapter and verse divisions do not show this arrangement. There are three primary messages, each directed at a particular group. The first is aimed at the priesthood. The second is directed to the men of Israel. The third is for the nation as a whole. Each of these messages is composed of two "oracles," for a total of six. Each pair of oracles is a mirror image of the other, so that themes flow to a major point, then reverse back through those same themes.
Each of Malachi's oracles is accompanied by specific accusations. In a unique, conversational style, God charges Israel with some error. Israel, in almost every case, responds with disbelief and doubt. Major allegations include improper sacrifices, rampant divorce, pagan intermarriage, and spiritual irreverence.
Malachi's three-fold message focuses on God's faithfulness to Israel, despite their failures. The people cannot disobey God, then rationally blame Him for the consequences of their sins. Regardless of human failure, God promises to send messengers preparing the way for Messiah. The priesthood will be purified, all nations will glorify God, and the wicked will be forever defeated.
Key Verses (ESV):
Malachi 1:2–3: "'I have loved you,' says the LORD. But you say, 'How have you loved us?' 'Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?' declares the LORD. 'Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.'”
Malachi 1:8: "When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts."
Malachi 1:10–11: "Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts."
Malachi 1:13: "But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD."
Malachi 2:11: "Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god."
Malachi 2:16: "For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless."
Malachi 3:1: "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts."
Malachi 3:6: "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Malachi 4:1: "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch."
Malachi 4:5–6: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."