1. Author and Time of Writing
Malachi, the name of the last book of the OT, means “my messenger”. It might be an abbreviation of “ Malachjah” which has the meaning of “messenger of Jehovah”. Some do not hold “Malachi” as a first name but a designation. The same Hebrew word mal’achi is translated “Malachi” in chap. 1:1 and “my messenger” in chap. 3:1. We are not told any personal details of Malachi.
Malachi is the last of the three post-exile prophets. He does not give any detail about time and duration of his ministry. One can take from the book however that the temple in Jerusalem has been rebuilt and that the priests are offering sacrifices (Mal. 1:6-14). A governor (of the king of Persia) is reigning in the land (Mal. 1:8). The sad condition of the people is very much like the description of Nehemiah 13.
Out of these facts one concludes that Malachi lived around Nehemiah’s time. While some scientists put Malachi’s time of service before Nehemiah’s time others think that he prophesied while Nehemiah had returned from Jerusalem to the Persian court ( Neh. 13:6-7) or that he even ministered after Nehemiah’s time. In any case we are speaking about the second half of the 5 th century BC (probably 450 – 425 BC).
Upon the last message of the Old Testament by Malachi follow the 400 silent years during which God did not speak to His people until John the Baptist arose to prepare the way of the Lord (compare Mal. 3:1 and Mark 1:2).
2. Purpose of Writing
God’s last message to His earthly people Israel is directed to the remnant that returned from the Babylonian captivity. This remnant had totally failed during the decades after the return in their testimony for God. It is true that the Jews did no longer serve the idols as they did before the exile but their moral condition was marked by indifference, despising of God and unbelief.
Into this situation Jehovah manifests His unchanging love for the people and severely points out their sins and their departure from His commandments (Mal. 1 – 2). But God also announces to the Jews that severe judgments will come upon them before the day of Jehovah will arise with full blessing for the repent ones (Mal. 3 – 4). – It is as if God wanted to underline His last message and we find 25 times “thus says Jehovah” in the whole book.
a.) The Eight Questions of the People
The evil condition of the people of Israel is clearly expressed in their eight questions, which Malachi mentions and upon which he gives God’s answer. The questions are:
Each of these questions starts with “you say”. These words appear four more times in chapter 1:7.12.13; 3:14. All these utterances show the entire malice and impudence of the people towards their God.
b) Jehovah’s Messenger
Jehovah announces His messenger in chap. 3:1 who shall prepare the way before him. Matt. 11:10 and Mark 1:2 relate this announcement to John the Baptist who was the forerunner of the Messiah. He announces the first coming of Christ in grace.
But in chapter 4:5 God says that Elijah also will be sent before the coming of Christ. The Lord Himself relates this prophecy to John the Baptist too (Matt. 11:14; compare Luke 1:17) while John says that he is not Elijah (John 1:21). This seeming contradiction is solved by the fact that His second appearing in glory for judgment will follow Christ’s rejection. So before this “great and dreadful day of Jehovah” will come Elijah will appear and announce the second coming of Christ for judgment (Rev. 11:3-6).
4. Overview of Contents
I. Malachi 1:1 – 5: Introduction: Jehovah’s Love for Israel
II. Malachi 1:6 – 2:16: Jehovah’s Blame
III. Malachi 2:17 – 4:3: Jehovah’s Admonition
IV.Malachi 4:4 - 6: End: Moses and Elijah