Malachi - Introduction
The final book in the Minor Prophets is Malachi, whose placement following Haggai and Zechariah is probably based on a chronological principle, since the frequent allusions to Temple activity in the book presume the success of those prophets (e.g., Hag 1.7; Zech 6.15 ) in promoting the restoration of the Temple. The superscription to Malachi (“an oracle,” 1.1 ) further binds the book to its predecessor (see Zech 9.1; 12.1 ).
Nothing is known about the person of Malachi. Even his name, which means “my messenger,” is probably only an epithet or title, based on 3.1 (see also 2.7 ), as may also be the case with Obadiah. Though the book neither alludes to historical events nor includes date formulas, it seems to reflect the period of the fifth century BCE, since it presumes a functioning Temple, whose reconstruction had occurred in 515, and also shares many concerns with Ezra and Nehemiah, normally dated to the second half of the fifth century, including tithing ( 3.8–12; Neh 10.37–39; 13.10–14 ) and mixed marriages ( 2.10–12; Ezra 9–10; Neh 11.23–27 ).
This prophetic voice was devoted to the Temple and held a high view of the priesthood and its responsibilities. He speaks frequently of the covenant ( 2.4,5,8,10,14; 3.1 ) and shows great respect for the priestly “instruction” (torah, 2.6–9 ). Instead of adopting the poetic style used by earlier prophets, Malachi speaks in a more prosaic voice and adopts a question‐and‐answer method of stating his argument. Nevertheless, his emphases upon sin, judgment, and repentance, and upon an imminent day of reckoning ( 3.1–5,7; 4.1–3,6 ) mark him as a prophet, and he may be best understood as a “cultic prophet,” exercising his mission in ritual contexts, like Joel.
The extravagant hopes of the restoration prophets had not materialized (Hag 2.6–9; Zech 8.1–5,20–23 ). The Temple had been rebuilt but the ideal age had not begun. Malachi probably spoke to a disheartened audience which questioned both the love ( 1.2 ) and justice ( 2.17 ) of God. Malachi reversed the discussion: God, he avers, has been faithful to the covenant ( 1.2; 2.5–7; and esp. 3.6 , “For I the LORD do not change”); it is Judah that has been faithless ( 1.6; 2.8,14; 3.8 ). Furthermore, the prophet asserts, any lingering doubts about divine justice will be addressed and overcome soon enough when the LORD comes in judgment ( 2.17–3.5; 3.16–4.6 ).
Following the superscription ( 1.1 ), the book contains six units that follow a similar pattern. That pattern is argumentative and disputational. The prophet makes a statement (e.g., “I have loved you, says the LORD,” 1.2a ), followed by a question voiced by the prophet but attributed to the audience (e.g., “But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ” 1.2b ), followed by the prophet's response. The six units are 1.2–5; 1.6–2.9; 2.10–16; 2.17–3.5; 3.6–12; 3.13–4.3 . Two appendixes ( 4.4; 4.5–6 ), probably added later, complete the book.
Overall, the book can be read as a single argument. Against a background of ennui (see the “weariness” of the people in 1.13 ; of God in 3.17 ), the prophet emphasizes God's reliability ( 1.2–5 ) and countercharges that it is the priests ( 1.6–2.9 ) and the larger society ( 2.10–16 ) who have been unfaithful. Nevertheless, divine judgment is imminent ( 2.17–3.5 ), so the people should return to God ( 3.6–12 ). In the end, the faithful remnant in the community will be vindicated ( 3.13–4.3 ).
In Jewish Bibles, Malachi ends the Book of the Twelve and the entire prophetic collection (see 4.4–6n. ). In Christian Bibles it ends the Old Testament; its final words about Elijah as messenger are interpreted in the Gospels and subsequently in Christian tradition to foreshadow Jesus as the Christ.