This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.
WHO IS MALACHI?
“Malachi” means “my messenger” or “my angel” and is thought to be a pseudonym. Nothing is known about the author, although some believe the text suggests he was a priest. Different Jewish traditions credit the book to Ezra (who was a priest) or Mordecai, but there is no evidence for this.
Zechariah chapter 9, Zechariah chapter 12 and the book of Malachi all start with the phrase “Oracle, the word of the Lord” – so there is a theory that they were three independent and anonymous prophecies added to the end of Zechariah, with the last split off to make an even 12 books (the number of the tribes of Israel). This would make Malachi the work of a single author. Malachi was one of the last prophets, if not the last, to minister widely in Israel before the time of Jesus.
WHEN WAS MALACHI WRITTEN?
Malachi was likely written sometime in the 35 years from 459 – 424 BC. An approximate date is 450 BC. Although the book is not dated, there are a few clues in the text. Malachi 1:8 uses the word “peha” for “governor “. This is a Persian-era term, which makes it post-exilic (after the Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon). The fact that kings are not mentioned also supports this (there were governors rather than kings after the exile). Secondly, the temple has been rebuilt, so it can’t be before 516 BC.
A date after the temple has been rebuilt is fairly widely accepted, but after that there is debate. Some think it was written before the second group of exiles returned in 457 BC, others think it was shortly before the third group returns with Nehemiah in 445 BC. Some think it was even later, between the various visits Nehemiah made to Jerusalem (between 432 and 424 BC).
- 586 BC – Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives. Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).
- 536 BC – 1st group of 50,000 Jews return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest (Ezra 2); work is begun on the temple – altar for sacrifices rebuilt (Ezra 3:1-2) and the foundation for the temple laid (Ezra 3:8-13)
- 520 BC – Haggai gives God’s message; work starts on the temple 3 weeks later on September 7th (Haggai 1:14-15)
- 516 BC – Temple is finished on February 25th (Ezra 6:15)
- 457 BC – 2nd group of 2,058 Jews return to Judah with Ezra (Ezra 7:8-10); reforms are initiated (Ezra 8-10)
- 445 BC – 3rd group returns with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:17-18), walls are rebuilt (Nehemiah 6:15-16)
Several decades have passed since Haggai preached God’s message to the people. The temple has been rebuilt. Life goes on. Passion fades. People question God’s presence, his involvement in their lives. Faith gives way to cynicism and complacency. These internal attitudes lead to outward actions of mechanical and technical observances, practicing empty rituals. Temple worship becomes religious obligation instead of faith. People are going through the motions with a disconnected heart.
WHAT IS MALACHI ABOUT?
Materialism and externalism (which were to become strong characteristics of the Pharisees and Saduccees) are prevalent. People focus on external appearances of piety so as to be right in the eyes of men, missing the heart of law.
Malachi addresses six areas in which God’s people are consistently missing the heart of God. It is a message from God, defending his character to those who would doubt him, and exposing blind spots in those who claim to serve him.
The book is structured as a series of six “disputes”. This was a new style of writing that became known as the Didactic-Dialetic method (Disputation method). Each dispute is made up of three parts: the assertion, the objection, and the rebuttal. In the assertion, God says something that is true. In the objection, a question is asked – a challenge from the perspective of the audience. In the rebuttal, God explains why the assertion is true despite the question posed in the objection.
Using this method is like having a debate with the audience without having audience participation – answering the questions they’re thinking without waiting for them to be asked. This became the popular/normal method for Jewish rabbis/scribes to use; Jesus himself used this form. Using this method, the book of Malachi is a running debate between God (through the prophet) and those who question his (God’s) power/goodness.
The Six Disputes
- 1:2-5 – Does God really love us?
- 1:6-2:9 – Sub-standard offerings
- 2:10-16 – Relationships
- 2:17-3:5 – God’s justice: the long-term plan
- 3:6-12 – Tithing
- 3:13-4:6 – Disillusionment with God
KEY VERSE: “’I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” (verse 2)
“God, do you really love me? I know you say you do, but I don’t really see it.”
Have you ever thought or prayed something like that? I think most Christians have at least once. The first dispute in Malachi addresses the question in the hearts of the people – “How do we know that God loves us?”
God’s answer isn’t what I would expect (I love that I’ll never have him figured out). His answer attempts to turn their eyes outward. Rather than list things he’s done in their lives, he tells them to look at the Edomites. (If you did the Obadiah study, you’ll remember the long history there). To me, this is a case of “What would your lives look like if I hadn’t shown you such great love and mercy?”
What would my life look like without God? Without his mercy? Without his blessing?
If God left me to my own devices, with no guidance, no correction, where would I end up?
In Psalm 124 really encourages me when I consider this. I know what I am like at heart. I know I am full of pride and rebellion and impatience all sorts of unlovely things. I shudder to imagine who I would be without Jesus in my life, without the Holy Spirit within me.
- What would your life look like without Christ?
- What decisions might you have made? Where might those decisions have lead you?