(mal' uh ki) Personal name or common noun meaning, “my messenger,” or “my angel” and name of the last book in the English Old Testament. Some people in ancient Israel believed that an angel wrote this book because of the name. We know nothing about Malachi other than what we are told in this book. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old or New Testaments. The Hebrew word for “Malachi” occurs only in
Malachi 1:1 and
Date We can only estimate the date of Malachi's ministry. The dates of most Old Testament prophets are indicated in the superscription of their book by the names of the kings reigning at that time. No kings' names are listed in the superscription of Malachi. The book contains no reference to any historical incident such as an important battle, earthquake, or captivity which might give a historical context to the book. However, we do know the time was postexilic (after 536 B.C.) because of the use of the Persian word for “govenor” (Malachi 1:8). The Temple had been rebuilt (Malachi 1:10;
Malachi 3:1,Malachi 3:10). The Edomites had suffered a crushing blow from an outside invader, perhaps the Nabateans (1 Maccabees 5:25). The Nabateans were an Arab tribe who came out of the desert and drove the Edomites out of their homeland in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C. Evidently, Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah. Their books show kinship. The same social and religious conditions prevail in both, and Nehemiah's reforms were probably intended to correct some of the social and religious abuses outlined by Malachi (Malachi 3:5;
Nehemiah 5:1-13). Tithing is stressed in both (Malachi 3:7-10;
Nehemiah 10:37-39). Divorce and mixed marriages were problems in both (Malachi 2:10-16;
Nehemiah 13:23-28). Nehemiah first returned to Jerusalem from Persia in 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 1:1;
Nehemiah 2:1); therefore, Malachi should be dated after 450 B.C.
The people of Israel who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and Persia in 536 B.C. came with high hopes. In
Isaiah 40-55 the prophet painted a future for those repatriated people in such glowing terms that they expected the messianic age to come immediately. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah added to these hopes by assuring the people that unprecedented blessings would come when the Temple was complete. They finished the Temple in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:14-15) and waited and waited, but no blessings came. Instead of blessings they faced drought, famine, poverty, oppression, and unfaithfulness to spouses and to God. Moral and spiritual laxity, pride, indifference, permissiveness, and skepticism were rife. Malachi tried to rekindle the fires of faith in the hearts of his discouraged people.
Book The purpose of Malachi was to assure his people that God still loved them, but He demanded honor, respect, and faithfulness from them. Malachi pointed out religious and social abuses and warned that judgment would come to purge the people of sin unless they repented. The style of the Book of Malachi is that of disputations. This style is not unique to Malachi. Micah and Jeremiah had disputes with false prophets (Micah 2:6-11;
Jeremiah 27-28). Jeremiah also disputed with God (Jeremiah 12:1-6). Job disputed with his friends. The Book of Malachi is made up of six disputation passages and two appendices. The disputes follow a regular form: (1) the prophet stated a premise; (2) the hearers challenged the statement; and (3) God and the prophet presented the supporting evidence.
I. A dispute about God's love (Malachi 1:1-5)
II. A dispute about God's honor and fear (Malachi 1:6-2:9)
III. A dispute about faithfulness (Malachi 2:10-16)
IV. A dispute about God's justice (Malachi 2:17-3:5)
V. A dispute about repentance (Malachi 3:6-12)
VI. A dispute about speaking against God (Malachi 3:13-4:3)
VII Two appendices (Malachi 4:4-6)
A. An admonition to remember the law of Moses (Malachi 4:4)
B. An announcement of the sending of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6)
Ralph L. Smith