Date: Between 450 B.C. and 425 B.C.
This book, like the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, was addressed to the restored community of Israel, but came considerably later. Another wave of refugees had come, and Ezra and Nehemiah were also on the scene.
All was not well in the nation of Israel. Pagan and other questionable practices were common in the land. There was religious unconcern, greed, corruption in governmental circles, and marriages to foreign women (which meant introducing foreign gods back into the land). The priesthood especially was a problem. Religious matters had become routine, lacking any real significance, either for the priests or for the people of the land. The lack of concern here was called nothing less than robbery of God.
The book consists of two sections. The first deals with the sins of Israel and the second with promised blessings and judgments. It is set up as a series of questions and answers, much like a courtroom scene, with Israel asking rhetorical (and often self-justifying) questions and God answering. The questions are as follows:
How have you loved us (1:2)?
How have we despised your name (1:6)?
How have we defiled you (1:7)?
Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another (2:10)?
How have we wearied him (God) (2:1)?
Theological Themes in the Book of Malachi
Malachi singled out the priests for judgment. They knew what God required. The sacrifices were unworthy, there was no sincerity in their service, their duties were performed in a lazy manner, and they had no real commitment to God. If the religious leaders go wrong, why should the people be any different?
Second, Malachi said, the people had not learned the lesson of the exile. They had gone into captivity because of their sins and had returned bent on following their old ways. Judgment would come again if the nation continued to reject God.
Third, a message of hope was proclaimed for the future. The judgment day of the Lord was coming, but on it the Lord would purify the priests and the temple, would redeem the righteous, and would usher in the reign of God. All this would be preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord. The New Testament understands this messenger to be John the Baptist.
Outline for the Book of Malachi
- The sins of Israel itemized Malachi 1:1-2:17
- Promised blessings and judgments Malachi 3:1-4:6