Bible Study: Malachi

The Author

Malachi or “the Messenger.” The concept of “Messenger” is found several times in the book. The message is always greater than the man except in the case of Him who is the Word itself.

The Audience

A restored remnant back in the land. This probably is subsequent to the days of Nehemiah and the remnant returning, but how long afterwards is difficult to ascertain. Neglect of the sacrifices, the sanctity of marriage, the service of the Lord … these are some of the issues addressed. They were also what the people had covenanted to do back in Nehemiah. This is the second, or possibly the third, generation of Israelites who had returned from Babylon.

The Approach

His style is one of rhetorical questioning; yet the questions lay bare the sin of the nation and the complaint against them by the Lord. Note the use of “wherein” seven times – the challenge of an arrogant people. It shares with Habakkuk the distinction of being primarily a dialogue with God. But while in Habakkuk it is a dialogue between God and the prophet, here it is a dialogue between God and the nation through the prophet.

The Attitude of the Nation

Malachi referred to no datable persons or events in his prophecy, so we must draw our conclusions from implications in the text and traditional understandings of it. Malachi’s place at the end of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and modern translations argues for a late date. The Talmud grouped Malachi with Haggai and Zechariah as post-exilic prophets.

Malachi refers to “your governor” (1:8). This suggests that he wrote after 538 B.C. when Cyrus the Persian allowed the Jews to return to their land, then under Persian control. The word translated “governor” is pehah, a Persian title (Dan 3:2-3; 6:7); Zerubbabel and Nehemiah both bore this title (Hag 1:1; Neh 5:14). Since the temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. and Malachi refers to the temple, we have to date his prophecy after that point in time (1:6-14; 2:7-9,13; 3:7-10).

“Since Malachi addressed many of the same matters that Nehemiah tried to reform, it is tempting to date Malachi during Nehemiah’s governorship. Both Malachi and Nehemiah dealt with priestly laxity, neglect of tithes, and intermarriage between Israelites and foreigners. Some have conjectured that Malachi ministered while Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem. In the twelfth year of his governorship, Nehemiah returned to Persia for an unknown period of time. Malachi probably wrote during the years that Nehemiah served (445-420 B.C.), and perhaps between 432 and 431 B.C., the years when Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem” (Thomas Constable).

The Analogies Employed

  • A Father to His Children
  • A Master to His Servants

The Application of Its Lessons

There are links between Malachi and the seven churches. We begin with a people who had left their first love (1:1,2). Then we are reminded of a time when there will be fragrance arising to the Lord on the earth (Smyrna). Then we have failure of the tribe of Levi in their teaching which caused many to stumble, similar to Pergamos. Do we see Thyatira with its idolatry and immorality in chapter 2:10-17?

The Analysis of the Structure

  1. Nation – Failure to Appreciate the Heart of God – Insensitive (1:1-5)
  2. Priests – Failure to Render Honor to God – Inconsistent in Worship (1:6-2:9)
  3. Judah and Jerusalem – Futility in Respect to Holiness of God – Ignorance (2:10-17)
  4. People – Fearfulness of Recompense at the Hand of God – Indifference (3:1-15)
  5. Remnant – Fear of God and Reception of Healing – Imperatives (3:16-4:6)