by Al Maxey


The word Malachi is generally translated "my messenger." "It may reasonably be regarded as an abbreviation of Malakhiyah which means 'messenger of Jehovah'" (George L. Robinson). "There has been considerable scholarly debate" over the centuries "as to whether or not 'Malachi' is a genuine proper name or a common noun" (Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia). If it is the latter, this book is by an anonymous writer referred to as "My messenger" or the "Messenger of Jehovah."

The LXX (Septuagint) regards the word as a noun rather than a proper name. The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel (an Aramaic paraphrase of the prophetic books dating from the 4th or 5th century AD, but containing many earlier traditions) has: "My messenger who is Ezra the scribe." Jerome (340-420 AD) and John Calvin (1509-1564 AD) both agreed with this view that the actual name of the author was Ezra. The Talmud (Megillah 15a) credits Mordecai with writing this book. Others feel it may originally have been a part of the book of Zechariah, which was cut off and made into another book "to make the Minor Prophets amount to the sacred number 12" (Eissfeldt). Matthew Henry points out that some in his day "conjecture that this prophet was indeed an angel from heaven and not a man."

NOTE --- "Though Josephus mentioned all the major characters of this period, he failed to include a man named Malachi among them ..... the name is absent in all the rest of the Bible ..... and even where he is quoted in the NT, his name does not appear --- Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary). "The whole matter is ultimately uncertain, and perhaps unimportant; but it is possible that this otherwise unknown name, Malachi, was in fact the prophet's actual name" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary).

Jewish tradition says he was a member of the "Great Synagogue," that he was of the tribe of Zebulun, and that he died young. Nothing further is known of this man of God.


It is impossible to date this work precisely, however by an examination of the material within the book itself one can determine the general time of this prophecy. The Persian term for governor ("pehah") is used in Malachi 1:8 (see: Neh. 5:14; Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:21), thus indicating this was written during the Persian domination of Israel (539-333 BC).

One can narrow it down more by examining the internal conditions existing in Palestine at this time. The Temple has been rebuilt and sacrifices are being offered in it. The priests are corrupt. The tithes and offerings are neglected. There is intermarriage with pagans and divorce is rampant. There is a spirit of skepticism. Financial abuses abound. Judah is under a governor, and Edom has been destroyed. It is agreed by most scholars that these are the same problems as those faced by Nehemiah. "It is therefore likely that the prophet and Nehemiah were active at about the same time and it would be well to study Nehemiah as a background for Malachi" (Jack P. Lewis). "A fair estimate as to date would be about 435 BC" (Gleason Archer).


In 536 BC the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews officially ended when Cyrus allowed the people of Israel to return to their homeland. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel some 50,000 Jews returned. Encouraged by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, the people rebuilt the Temple between 520-516 BC.

In 458 BC Ezra returned with a second group of exiles. The Persian King during this time was Artaxerxes I (465-425 BC). It was he who permitted Nehemiah to return in 445 BC to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah's first term as Governor was 445-433 BC. He then returned to Persia for a time, after which he served a second term as Governor from 430-425 BC.

It was during this time that "Malachi took the helm of spiritual affairs in Jerusalem" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary). "For a full picture of the conditions in Judea during this period one should read Ezra 7-10 and the complete book of Nehemiah. The conditions of the people as revealed in Nehemiah and the bold and courageous attack of Malachi against the problems which the latter sets forth in his book point clearly to the contemporary dates of the two" (Homer Hailey).


About 100 years had passed since the people of Israel had returned to their homeland from the Babylonian captivity. The Temple had been rebuilt; the walls were rebuilt; the sacrificial system had been reinstituted. Most of their goals, which had been set for them upon their return, had been achieved. They were safe from the nations around them. And they were bored!! Their initial enthusiasm, due to the challenges they faced, had worn off. Their worship had become mechanical, ritualistic, and unspiritual. They went through the motions, but their heart was not involved. Their relationships were falling apart --- both with God and with one another. Yet, they can't seem to fathom why God is dissatisfied with them!

It is into this arena of deteriorating relationships, enthusiasm, and spirituality that Malachi is thrust, as the last "messenger of the Lord" before a 400 year period of prophetic silence! "His aim was to restore the Jews to a fresh relationship with God by indicating the precise causes of contemporary spiritual declension and setting out the steps by which the life of the community could be renewed. Like Haggai before him, his dominant concern was for the recognition of spiritual priorities on the part of the restored community" (Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia). "Judah's sins against both God and man were overt and numerous" (Expositor's Bible Commentary). Some of the sins which occasioned Malachi's angry indictment were:

"The people of Israel have become disillusioned and doubtful. They begin to question God's providence as their faith imperceptibly degenerates into cynicism. Internally, they wonder whether it is worth serving God after all. Externally, these attitudes surface in mechanical observances, empty ritual, cheating on tithes and offerings, and crass indifference to God's moral and ceremonial law. Their priests are corrupt and their practices wicked, but they are so spiritually insensitive that they wonder why they are not being blessed by God. As their perception of God grows dim, the resulting materialism and externalism become settled characteristics that later grip the religious parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (The Expanded Open Bible).


"The book of Malachi is written in a style unique in the prophets" (Jack P. Lewis). It is a new style of address known as the Didactic -- Dialectic method of speaking (also known as the Disputation method). Later this use of "assertion -- objection -- rebuttal" became quite popular, and was the usual format for the rabbis and scribes. This method of making a point is found throughout the Gospels and Epistles of the NT canon.

"In this type of teaching an assertion or charge is made, a fancied objection is raised by the hearers, and a refutation to the objection is presented by the speaker. In the style of Malachi we have the beginning of a method of teaching that later became universal in the Jewish schools and in the synagogue" (Homer Hailey). Malachi 1:2 is a good example of the format which is typical of this author's style.

Malachi is written much like a running debate with those who call into question the Lord's goodness and justice. "The style of Malachi, then, is that of the spoken word. The book is very much like the letter of James in the NT, and resembles a collection of loosely connected oracles rather than a carefully organized literary work" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary).

Several important themes are seen in the book of Malachi. Among these are the following: