According to the content of this book, it was the last prophetic material that was written by the Old Testament prophets of God. Since the offering of sacrifices at the temple had carried on for some time before the book was written, including the fact that the returnees were still under the control of a Medo-Persian governor (Ml 1:8), the book was probably written sometime in the fifth century B.C., possibly during the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The name Malachi may have been a Hebrew noun, and thus, what was emphasized by the use of the word was the message of the book and not so much a specific prophet. The name is a shortened version of the name Malachiyah which means “the messenger of the Lord.”
Within the contents of the book, reference is made to three different messengers of the Lord: (1) If the name refers to an individual, then reference was first to the prophet, who was the messenger of the Lord in reference to the message of the book. (2) There is also the messenger of John the Baptist who would go before the Lord as one crying in the wilderness. (3) There was also the messenger of the Lord who would be the Messiah, the one who would bring both salvation and judgment.
A. Historical/social background:
Led by Zerubbabel, the first returnees settled in Palestine in 536 B.C. This initial group of returnees was joined by a second group under the leadership of Ezra who returned in 457 B.C. Another group returned in 444 B.C. during the ministry of Nehemiah.
The initial returnees completed the reconstruction of the temple. At the time of Malachi’s ministry, the sacrifices at the temple were being conducted (Ml 1:7-10; 3:8). Unfortunately, it was a time when their offerings were unacceptable to God because they offered them contrary to the law (Ml 1:8-10). They were offered by a people who performed the legalities of the offerings, but their heart was not right with God. Even the priests were neglecting their duties by not requiring that the people offer sacrifices according to the law (Ml 2:7,8). Add to this the fact that the people failed in their responsibilities to give tithes and offerings (Ml 3:8-10).
One practice in which they had involved themselves worked contrary to the very purpose for which God brought them back to the land as a remnant. They were putting away the wives of their youth and marrying foreign women (Ml 2:10-12). This may help us better understand the commitment of those who returned with Ezra. As an example of what God wanted, these returnees put away their foreign wives in the land of their captivity before returning to Palestine where their fellow Jews were involved in marriage with foreign women (See Ez 9). Since it was the mission of Ezra to restore allegiance to the law of God, we can only imagine the message that this small group of returnees preached to previous returnees who had married Gentile women. Ezra and his group sought to restore the identity of Israel in order that the promises to the fathers be known to have been fulfilled when the final Messenger of God came. But the locals were in the process of marrying into obscurity the identity of Israel.
[Final lesson from the prophets tomorrow.]