Malachi addresses his prophetic burden to Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC and was never reassembled, so, to Malachi, Israel means the entire covenant people of God—former, current, and likely future.
Timeline of the Prophets
Jonah – 820-804 BC – spoke to the Assyrians
Amos – 810-785 BC – spoke to the northern kingdom
Joel – 800 BC – spoke to the southern kingdom
Hosea – 785-725 BC – spoke to the northern kingdom
Micah – 749-722 BC – spoke to the northern kingdom
Isaiah – 740-681 BC – spoke to the southern kingdom
722 BC – Northern Kingdom of Israel destroyed by the Assyrians
Nahum – 661-612 BC – spoke to the Assyrians
Zephaniah – 630 BC – spoke to the southern kingdom
Habakkuk – 610-599 BC – spoke to the southern kingdom
Jeremiah – 625-582 BC – spoke to the southern kingdom
605, 597, 586 BC – Jerusalem is attacked in three waves and ultimately destroyed by the Babylonians
Daniel – 605-534 BC – spoke to captives in Babylon
Ezekiel – 592-570 BC – spoke to captives in Israel
Obadiah – 585 BC – spoke to the Edomites
539 BC – Babylon is conquered by Cyrus, Jews allowed to return to Jerusalem
Haggai – 520 BC – spoke to the returned exiles of Babylon
Zechariah – 518 BC – spoke to the returned exiles of Babylon
Malachi – 430-400 BC – spoke to the returned exiles of Babylon
The Prophet Malachi
Malachi means messenger, and he was likely a prophet who lived under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah in mid-fifth century B.C. He is placed at this date due to the Persian title for governor he uses, and he is readdressing the same faults Ezra and Nehemiah were dealing with during their leadership. The faults were the corruption of the priesthood, marriage, the abuse of the disadvantaged, and the failure to give tithes.
Purpose of the Book
The nation kept sliding into dead orthodoxy of religious practice and were constantly corrupting the genuine heart of worship.
Historically, Malachi prophesied about 100 years after the Jews returned to the land and some eighty years after Haggai and Zechariah. The anticipated prophesies assuring blessing, expansion, and peace at the return of God's glorious presence lingered and were not materializing. The patience of the nation was a continual challenge; they had no heart for enduring faithfulness apart from tangible prosperity.
The promises of Yahweh, through Haggai and Zechariah, of national prosperity seemed like a cruel mockery, even though both prophets encouraged patience regarding fulfillment. Israel, at Malachi's time, found it impossible to find the good and blessing Yahweh was doing, only being able to see the negative.
The entire Jewish nation 100 years after their return was situated in a territory of twenty by thirty miles and only 150,000 Jews were living in that space. The Jewish people felt insignificant, the ridicule of surrounding nations, the brunt of Persian oppression all digging into their desire to marginalize the ways of Yahweh.
In the middle of their difficulty, and their resistance to be fully true to Yahweh, comes Malachi with His message to remain true to Yahweh's covenant and persist in faithfulness as Yahweh would be true to His Word.
The book of Malachi is divided into six arguments, each argument or prophetic debate follows a basic pattern:
a) an assertion by Yahweh or the prophet
b) the anticipated challenge by the Jewish people usually began with the words "but you say"
c) each challenge answered more fully by Yahweh
First Prophetic Debate (1:2-5): God's Elective Love Contrasted With Edom
Second Prophetic Debate (1:6-2:9): Israel's Half-Hearted Offerings Condemned
Third Prophetic Debate (2:10-16): Intermarriage and Divorce Condemned While the Marriage Covenant Endorsed
Fourth Prophetic Debate (2:17-3:6): Adultery and Other Moral Sins Condemned
Fifth Prophetic Debate (3:7-12): Israel's Reluctance to Give Offerings Condemned
Sixth Prophetic Debate (3:13-4:3): Cynics Destroyed, the Reverent Rewarded