Author and His Times
Malachi (name literally means messenger) prophecies in Jerusalem during the restoration post-exile period. The Temple was dedicated in 516 BC, yet little is known until the coming of Ezra (458 BC) and Nehemiah (445 BC). The conditions of spiritual decline he speaks to places the oracles around 460 BC, just prior to the reform by Ezra/Nehemiah.
Although idolatry has been purged from their midst, their spiritual condition is cynical, skeptical, and godless. Economic depression has set in due to poor crops. Priests have gone corrupt and immoral. People are complaining against God and are withholding tithes. Forbidden intermarriage is taking place, divorce is common, social injustice is high, and YHWH’s covenant is forgotten. Their mediocre national status is their chief reason for not being excited about YHWH.
On the world scene, Greece has asserted herself as world power when Greek leader Miltiades defeated the Persians on the plains of Maranthon in 490 BC. The final blow came to Persia in 480 BC when the Greeks made their stand at Thermopylae and destroyed the Persian fleet a Salamis.
I. (1.1-5) Dispute #1: On YHWH’s Love
II. (1.6-2.9) Dispute #2: On Offering Unacceptable Sacrifices
III. (2.10-16) Dispute #3: On Intermarriage and Divorce
IV. (2.17-3.5) Dispute #4: On Wearying YHWH with Words
V. (3.6-12) Dispute #5: On Returning to YHWH
VI. (3.13-4.3) Dispute #6: On Speaking Harshly about YHWH
VII. (4.4-6) Moses & Elijah
Malachi has six disputes with the priests – he does all the talking by putting words in their mouths.
How to Read It
The book is made up of six disputes in the general format of: 1) YHWH announces the issues, 2) people voice their complaint against YHWH, 3) YHWH voices his complaint against them. 3.1 is an appropriate prophetic wrap-up before 400 years of silence – the messenger “preparing the way” points to John the Baptist; 4.4-6 also points to the Transfiguration visit from Elijah/Moses as the next message to come.