Overview of the Book of Malachi

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Overview of the Book of Malachi

Answer

Overview of the Book of Malachi

Author: The prophet Malachi.

Purpose:

To call the discouraged community living in the Promised Land after the exile to renewed faith by announcing the coming judgment of the Messiah.

Date: 458-433 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • The people of Israel were corrupted by sin during the last years of the Old Testament period.
  • God offered his people forgiveness of their sins.
  • God promised that the Messiah would come to purify the nation.
  • The wicked will be judged and the righteous rewarded in the future judgment.

Author:

The authorship of Malachi is a subject of some debate. Scholars are divided as to whether the term "Malachi" is a personal name or a title. Both the Aramaic Targum and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) suggest something other than a personal name. The former identifies Malachi with Ezra. The latter translates the phrase "by Malachi," as "by the hand of his angel [or messenger']." The main arguments against viewing "Malachi" as the personal name of the prophet are the absence of specific data concerning his father and the lack of any mention of his place of birth. These are not compelling reasons for rejecting "Malachi" as a personal name, however. In every other prophetic book a personal name is involved, and this should cause us to expect the same regarding this book. As with almost all the prophets, we know little about the prophet's personal circumstances. "Malachi" means "my messenger," and the message he brought was from God (Amos 3:7).

Time and Place of Writing:

Malachi is to be dated around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Malachi's emphasis on the law (Mal. 4:4) presupposes Ezra's ministry of restoring the prominence and authority of the law (Ezra 7:14, 25-26; Neh. 8:18). The reference to the governor (Mal. 1:8) locates the book in the Persian period. Based on this evidence some date the book between the coming of Ezra (458 B.C.) and that of Nehemiah (445 B.C.). Others place Malachi in the period between Nehemiah's two visits to Jerusalem, around 433 B.C. Although some interpreters place the prophecies of Joel after this time, it is more likely that Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament.

Although we cannot be more certain of the exact time of Malachi's ministry, the conditions and problems that Ezra and Nehemiah confronted also appear in Malachi. All three spoke out against marriage to foreign women (e.g., Mal. 2:11-15; Neh. 13:23-27), condemned the neglect of the Old Testament tithe (e.g., Mal. 3:8-10), castigated the evils of a degenerate priesthood (e.g., Mal. 1:6-2:9; Neh. 13:7-8) and criticized the people for their social sins (e.g., Mal. 3:5; Neh. 5:1-13). Ezra and Nehemiah approached these issues primarily with programs of reform, whereas Malachi's strategy was to confront them with oracles from the Lord, perhaps in support of the programs of his contemporaries.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Covenant is one of the prominent themes in Malachi. There are four explicit references to covenant: the covenant of Levi (Mal. 2:4-9), the covenant of the fathers (Mal. 2:10), the marriage covenant (Mal. 2:14) and the messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1). In addition to these direct references the book begins with God's covenant love (Mal. 1:2-5). The seriousness of priestly incompetence and unfaithfulness is seen in the erosion of the faithfulness of the common people who "profane[d] the covenant" (Mal. 2:10) by breaking faith with one another in their marriages (Mal. 2:11, 14) and in their social and economic relationships (Mal. 3:5). Unless they repented (Mal. 3:7) they would fall under God's covenant curse (Mal. 3:9; Lev. 26:14-46; Deut. 28:15-68).

Malachi spoke to a disillusioned, discouraged and doubting people whose experience was incompatible with their understanding of the Messianic age after the exile. Instead of victory in war and abundance in nature, they experienced poverty, drought and economic adversity. Malachi's word met a people skeptical of God's promises and therefore apathetic in their commitment to live in the light of those promises and to worship and serve the Lord with all their hearts. The book may serve as a catechism for times of doubt and disappointment, during which people in the visible Church are tempted to disengage from their covenant God. The prophet's ministry was to light the lamp of faith in a disheartened people by reminding them of God's electing love (Mal. 1:2) and to set forth the continuing obligations of the covenant to those who truly knew God (Mal. 3:16-18).

Christ in Malachi:

The book of Malachi points to Christ in two ways. In general terms Malachi called the returnees to repentance so that they could receive the blessings God had offered his people following exile. In much the same way Christ called for repentance so that a righteous remnant could receive these same blessings (Mark 2:15). For this reason James applied Malachi's call for repentance to the ongoing lives of believers (Jas. 4:8; cf. Mal. 3:7). Moreover, Malachi predicted that the worship of God would spread to all nations (Mal. 1:11), and Christ and his apostles opened the door of salvation to the Gentile nations as never before (Acts 10:9-48; Eph. 2:11-13).

A more specific Messianic focus also appears in Malachi. The prophet predicted that the renewal of God's people would take place through the work of "the messenger of the covenant" (Mal. 3:1), who would be preceded by "the prophet Elijah" (Mal. 4:5; Mal. cf. 3:1-2). The New Testament specifically identifies Jesus as this messenger and John the Baptist as the one who preceded him and who ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah (Matt. 11:14; 17:10-12; Luke 1:17). Thus Jesus cleansed the Temple (John 2:14-17) as the prophet had predicted (Mal. 3:1, 3) and will utterly purify the people of God and their worship when he returns in glory (Rev. 21:22-27).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Prophetic Books

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.