Malachi is one of those prophets of the Old Testament of which we know nothing more than what is recorded in his book. We are introduced to the Holy writer in the opening verse, “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1). This is the only time that the name Malachi occurs in the Bible. The word Malach in the Hebrew can mean, ”messenger” or “angel.” For this reason many have thought that Malachi was not actually the writers name, but simply a title used by an unknown writer. But tradition has always held that Malachi was the name of the holy writer, and this is supported by the fact that no other prophetic book in the Old Testament was written anonymously.
At the command of Cyrus, the first group of exiles had returned to the land of Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and with the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, completed the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1-6). Later, King Artaxerxes sent another group of exiles to their homeland under the leadership of Ezra the priest, who carried out several religious reforms (Ezra 7-10). Thirteen years later Artaxerxes also sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city (Nehemiah 1-7). As governor, Nehemiah also worked to bring about religious reforms of the people. After twelve years, Nehemiah needed to return to King Artaxerxes, and during his absence the people fell into sin again. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to find that the people were not supporting the priests with their offerings, that the Sabbath was broken, that the people had intermarried with their heathen neighbors, and that the priests were corrupt (Nehemiah 13).
As we read through the book of Malachi, we see that many of the sins condemned by Nehemiah were also condemned by the prophet Malachi. Both Nehemiah and Malachi dealt with sins of mixed marriages with the heathen (Nehemiah 13:23-28 and Malachi 2:11-16); and the support of the priests (Nehemiah 13:10-13 and Malachi 3:8-11). This seems to indicate that Malachi was called by God to proclaim this message during the days of Nehemiah (or possibly in the absence of Nehemiah).
The style of Malachi is quite unique, presenting God’s message in a question and answer format. The LORD begins by making a statement of truth, which is then denied by the people. Then the LORD gives His people specific examples which support and prove the truth of His first statement, in order to lead them to see their sin and repent of it. One example of this question and answer format is found in Malachi 3:13-15: “'Your words have been harsh against Me,' Says the LORD, 'Yet you say, "What have we spoken against You?" You have said, "It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free."’” This style can be found throughout the book (cf 1:2-4; 1:6-14; 2:10-17; 3:7-11).
The book of Malachi is full of the LORD’s long-suffering and patience toward His people. It brings out a vivid contrast between God’s holiness, and man’s sinfulness. He admonishes them for what they are doing against His command, but yet shows them what they have to look forward to in their repentance. The theme of the book is found in chapter 3:7, “‘Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts.” The LORD here gives His people another chance to turn from their ways. In spite of their sinfulness, the LORD demonstrates His unmerited, free grace.
The Jewish exiles who had returned from captivity were becoming discouraged. They had worked hard to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem, but they were awaiting the glorious future that had been proclaimed by God’s many prophets. At the very beginning of this message to His people, God states His love for them by comparing His love for Jacob and Esau: “'I have loved you,' says the LORD. 'Yet you say, "In what way have You loved us?" Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?' Says the LORD. 'Yet Jacob I have loved'" (Malachi 1:2).
After confirming His love for His people, the LORD goes on to rebuke the unfaithfulness of both the priests and the people. “'A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?' Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, "In what way have we despised Your name?"’” (Malachi 1:6).
God demands respect from His people. But He wasn't getting it. They were acting as if God couldn't see what they were doing. Verses seven and eight tell us what they were doing - presenting defiled food, blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices. The LORD says that He will not accept such offerings from them: “'I have no pleasure in you,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'Nor will I accept an offering from your hands'” (Malachi 1:10). The LORD had given the people the command to sacrifice, and told them what they were to sacrifice, he says; “You shall say to them, ‘This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect as a continual burnt offering every day’” (Numbers 28:3). The offerings sacrificed to the LORD were to be pure and without defect as a picture of the coming Messiah. Yet they were keeping the good ones for themselves and offering the worst ones, not at all fit to be sacrifices to the Almighty God of Israel.
Chapter two continues God's discourse to the priests. God renews His covenant with Levi, and then tells them what they should be doing and how they have failed to do their duty, saying, “‘But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ Says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8).
In verses 10-17 the LORD deals with the subject of marriage. It seems that the people were not only marrying unbelievers, but there was much divorce going on. It may have been that the people were divorcing their Jewish wives and then marrying heathen wives. Here the LORD uses very powerful language to show His people that He is serious about both divorce and marrying unbelieving spouses. To the one who marries an unbeliever the LORD says, “May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob The man who does this” (Malachi 2:12). And again He says, “Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce” (Malachi 2:15-16).
In chapter three the Lord follows with a discourse on how the people are robbing Him in tithes and offerings. The LORD challenges the people of Israel saying, “'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it'” (Malachi 3:10).
Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament and he bridges the 400 year gap between himself and Christ with prophecies of the Messiah and the Messiah’s forerunner - John the Baptist. The LORD says: “‘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, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” John the Baptist is also called Elijah by Malachi in the last verses of His book saying, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Finally, Christ’s second return is also promised, being called “The Sun of Righteousness” who “shall arise With healing in His wings” to those who fear the LORD (Malachi 4:1-3).
I. God’s Love Confirmed. (1:1-5)
II. Unfaithfulness Rebuked. (1:6-3:15)
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church,
Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew