Malachi (My messenger, a shortened form of Malā’k-îyyāh, messenger of Jehovah) has the distinction of being the last of the prophets and the bridge between the two Testaments, looking forward both to John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Himself.
Malachi has a special question and answer style that has caused some to call him “the Hebrew Socrates.” We know nothing definite about the prophet apart from his book. There is every reason to accept him as a bold, often severe writer, who with Haggai and Zechariah called the post-exilic Jews back to their covenantal relationship with God.
It is clear that Malachi wrote after 538 b.c., since he used an almost exclusively post-exilic word for governor. It is also obvious that he wrote later than the other two post-exilic “minor” prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, since in Malachi the temple is finished, the rituals have been re-instituted, and in fact, enough time had elapsed for spiritual decline to set in. Also, the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. Malachi probably should be dated between about 470 and 460 b.c.
The problems in Malachi are the same as those in Nehemiah—mixed marriages with pagans, unjust financial practices, withholding of tithes from God’s house, and general spiritual apathy. They are the identical problems mentioned in Nehemiah’s time. Because of the lackluster religious life of the post-exilic Jews, Malachi sought to stir them up by using his vivid method of dialogue with an unfaithful people.
It has been pointed out that Malachi is well named “My messenger” or “messenger of Jehovah,” because in these four short chapters, the prophet describes three messengers—the priest of the Lord (2:2); John the Baptist (3:1a); and our Lord Himself (3:16).
Malachi records Jehovah’s last pleading with His people in the OT period. After this, the prophetic voice will be silent for four centuries until the coming of John the Baptist.
It is worth noting that no matter how “late” some critics may date Malachi or other prophecies, these writings were definitely written long before the advents of John and the Lord Jesus. Thus they are true prophecies, and not “history written as prophecy,” as some destructive critics claim.
THE LORD’S CHARGES AGAINST ISRAEL, THEIR REPLIES, AND HIS THREATENED JUDGMENTS (1:1–3:15)
In the first chapter, we find the Lord making certain charges against the people, and the people replying with strong denials. First, the Lord pleads His love for them, and they ask Him to prove it: “In what way have You loved us?” He does so by reminding them of His love for Jacob (from whom they were descended), His rejection of Esau, and His judgments on Esau’s descendants, the Edomites. The eyes of the people of Israel would see the desolation of Edom, and they would acknowledge the greatness of God.
Sacrilege by the Priests (1:6–14)
Next the Lord charges the priests with despising His name and failing to honor and reverence Him. They ask for evidence of their profane behavior.
The Lord accuses them of bringing defiled offerings. They deny this, too, but He reminds them that they acted as if anything was good enough for the Lord. They brought blind and lame sacrifices, which they would not dare offer to their governor.
The prophet urges them to repent of their sins so that God’s wrath might be averted. The Lord of hosts wishes that someone would shut the doors of the temple so that the sacrifices might stop, because the sacrifices were utterly unacceptable to Him. But the Lord will vindicate His name among the Gentiles even though His own people will not honor Him.
The Jews despised the sacred things of the temple and were wearied of serving God. A curse would rest upon all who brought their blemished odds and ends to God for sacrifices. The reason is that the Lord of hosts is a great King, and His name is to be feared among the nations.
Condemnation of the Priests (2:1–9)
The priests are solemnly warned of dreadful judgment if they do not repent and change their ways. They are reminded that the priests of old were faithful to God’s covenant with Levi, but now the priests had become utterly corrupt, and so God had made them contemptible and base before all the people.
Divorce and Mixed Marriages (2:10–17)
Next the subject of divorce and marriage to idolatrous heathen wives is dealt with. The people of Judah had dealt treacherously by marrying foreigners, thus destroying their national solidarity. Those who entered mixed marriages would be cut off.
The people wept at the altar because the Lord no longer accepted their offerings with favor. And why not? Because the Lord had been a witness at their marriages, which they were now breaking so readily. He had intended them to be one pure people, producing godly offspring and separated from the corruptions of the heathen. God hates unscriptural divorce and its resulting violence. The link between divorce and violence is explained by Baldwin as follows: “He sees divorce to be like covering one’s garment with violence, a figurative expression for all kinds of gross injustice which, like the blood of a murdered victim, leave their mark for all to see.”
They had wearied the Lord by saying that He did not care about the behavior of everyone who did evil. Hypocritically, they challenged Him to intervene, saying, “Where is the God of justice?”
Parenthesis: Messiah’s Coming in Judgment (3:1–7)
God next answers the impious challenge of the previous verse. He will send His messenger, a promise that had an early and partial fulfillment in John the Baptist, but awaits a later and complete fulfillment when Elijah (4:5) will prepare the way of the Lord, the Messenger of the covenant whom they desired (irony). The irony here is that when He later arrived (His First Advent), the nation of Israel did not delight in Him but crucified Him instead.
The day of His coming will be the Second Advent. The Lord will come in judgment on sin, and who will be able to stand? This purifying ministry, pictured by Christ’s cleansing of the temple, awaits final fulfillment at His Second Coming. The sons of Levi (priests) will be purified so that they can make offerings of holiness and righteousness that are pleasant to the Lord, as in the days of old.
The Lord will also punish sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, oppressors of wage earners, widows, and orphans, as well as those who turn away an alien.
Only the fact that the Lord is the unchanging One accounts for the preservation of the sons of Jacob from destruction. The Lord invites the people to return to Him, but they deny having gone away, asking hypocritically, “In what way shall we return?”
Robbing God of Tithes and Offerings (3:8–12)
Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were required to give a tenth of all produce and livestock to the Lord (or they could redeem it with money and add a fifth part). The tithes were in addition to numerous offerings, and were an acknowledgment that everything belonged to God and that He was the Giver of all possessions.
The NT teaches believers to give systematically, liberally, cheerfully, and as the Lord has prospered them, that is, proportionately. But no mention is made of tithing. Rather, the suggestion is that if a Jew living under law gave a tenth, how much more should a Christian living under grace give!
The reward for faithful tithing in the OT was material wealth; the reward for faithful stewardship in the present age is spiritual riches.
So He reminds them of their failure to bring their tithes and offerings, thus robbing God and bringing a curse on themselves. If they will be faithful with their tithes, He will bless them with incredible plenty, so much so that there will not be room enough to receive it. He will deliver them from drought, plague, enemies, and locusts, and make them a blessing in the earth.
False Charges Against God (3:13–15)
Again the Lord charges that they have spoken harsh things against Him, saying that it does not pay to serve God or obey Him. They taught that the proud, the wicked, and those who tempt God not only prosper but get away with it scot-free.
THE BLESSING OF THE REMNANT AND THE JUDGMENT OF THE WICKED (3:16–4:6)
The Restoration of the Faithful Remnant (3:16–18)
But there was a remnant of people true to Jehovah. These shall be spared and blessed, and acknowledged as God’s own possession, being made into His jewels.
The Judgment of the Wicked (4:1)
The day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the proud and the wicked shall be destroyed, root and branch.
The Coming of the Messiah to the Remnant (4:2-3)
The faithful will welcome the Sun of Righteousness, who will arise with healing in His wings. Those who fear God’s name will triumph over their foes like ashes under their feet.
Closing Exhortation to Obedience, with Promise of the Coming of Elijah the Prophet (4:4–6)
The book closes with an exhortation to remember the Law of Moses and with a promise to send Elijah to Israel before the day of the Lord. He will bring about reform in the lives of the people, making them resemble their godly forefathers.
Otherwise God will have to visit the land (or earth) with a curse. In reading Malachi in the synagogue the Jews repeat verse 5 after verse 6 so that the book will not end with a curse. However, as Wolf observes, “This attempt to soften the message does not alter the grim reality.”