Along with the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah, Malachi’s message belongs to the last period of Old Testament history – a phase of Hebrew history which we often call “the Restoration Period.” From Malachi’s writing to the coming of Jesus in the flesh, there perhaps were around four hundred years.
Historical setting: In some areas, the message of Malachi strongly resembles conditions which existed among the Jews in the days of Nehemiah. For instance, there were corrupt priests (Malachi 2:7,8 vs. Nehemiah 13:29), Jews were marrying foreign wives (Malachi 2:10,11 vs. Nehemiah 13:23-27), and they were failing to pay tithes to the Lord (Malachi 3:8 vs. Nehemiah 13:10). Because of those situations, Nehemiah carried out substantial reforms in B.C. 432. Malachi’s writing seems to have been about that time.
Some key thoughts:
(1) One of Malachi’s major appeals is for the Jews to show reverence for Jehovah. If it is proper for a son to honor his father and a servant to honor his master, then the Israelites ought to honor and revere the Almighty (Malachi 1:6). When the Lord has to ask His people, “Where is My reverence,” then something is terribly amiss (1:7).
(2) Malachi has a unique style of writing, as in a number of places he reports a conversation between God and the Jews. First, God would charge the Jews with wrongdoing. Then, the Jews would respond that they were innocent. Finally, God would refute the Jews’ plea and show wherein they were wrong. For example: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings” (3:8). God said, “Guilty.” The Jews pleaded, “Not guilty.” God’s comeback: “Guilty, and here is the proof” (cf. 1:6,7,13; 2:17; 3:13,14). And do you know what? God was right every time!
(3) The people’s worship-related activities were in a mess. They offered defiled food on God’s altar (1:7). They said the Lord’s table/worship was contemptible (1:7,12). They offered blind, lame, and sick animals for sacrifices (1:8,13). They counted the worship of Jehovah as a weariness (1:13). They failed to offer their best animals to God (1:14). The priests were leaders of the disrespectful approach to the Lord. The priests did not take God’s word to heart (2:2), departed from the way (2:8), caused many to stumble (2:8), and corrupted the covenant of Levi (2:8). Yes, the Jews were God’s chosen people, but their ungodly approach to worship caused God to tell them, “I have no pleasure in you . . . Nor will I accept an offering from your hands” (1:10). Obviously, not all worship which humans offer up to God is acceptable to Him.
(4) In this last writing of the Old Testament, we get a huge dose of “Thus says the Lord.” We read that expression at least twenty-five times in the fifty- five verses which comprise this book. It is God’s plain reminder that what He says matters above all else.
(5) There were a number of areas in which the Jews of Malachi’s day needed to “clean up their act.” Their problems areas included attitude (1:6,13), speech (1:7,12), conduct (1:8), causing others to sin (2:8), and failing to do what they knew they should do (2:4-6). Do those not sound familiar to us?
Other memorable lessons and reminders:
Malachi’s writing contains special prophecies. Two of them are related to John the Baptizer. He would come as the Lord’s messenger to prepare the way (3:1; Mark 1:1-3). He is called “Elijah,” who would come to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (4:5,6; Matthew 11:7,10,14; Luke 1:17).
Two other prophecies are about the Messiah. He would come to His temple as “the Messenger of the covenant” (3:1; Hebrews 9:15; Matthew 16:18,19). He also would be “the Sun of Righteousness” (4:2; John 8:12; 1 Corinthians 1:30). The Jews would wait for four hundred years for these prophecies about John and the Christ to be fulfilled
Jehovah is “a great King” (1:14). He is worthy of glory and honor (2:2) and is far above any governor or other civil officials (1:8).
In addition to helping their brethren come before the Lord in worship, God’s priests were supposed to be knowledgeable of His law and teach it. “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (2:7). Would the same not be true for Christians, who are God’s priests under the new covenant? (1 Peter 2:5,9).
God’s attitude toward divorce is clear: “For the LORD God of Israel says that he hates divorce . . .” (2:16). It was a breach of a couple’s companionship and covenant (2:14). We should not be ashamed or hesitant to share these truths with people living today.
While God’s instructions and arrangements have changed from the old covenant to the new one (Hebrews 7:12), He Himself is immutable, as it is written: “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (3:6).
What an intriguing book this is! From its opening message about love (1:2) to its closing foretelling of the Christ and His forerunner (4:2,5,6), its riveting message will enthrall and bless those who study it.
— Roger D. Campbell