INTRODUCTION TO Malachi
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Before analyzing the test of any book of the Bible, it is well to learn the historical background.
Also, it is best to make a "skyscraper" view of its general contents. Accordingly, this introduction is divided into two parts: background and survey.
- The author is Malachi though nothing is known of him.
- Malachi means "my messenger" and so some claim that his name was not Malachi. The only support for Malachi being the author's title rather than his name can only be found in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation.
- Date and Place of Writing
- Malachi and Nehemiah's messages are very similar, thus Malachi's ministry is believed to have taken place sometime after 433 B.C. 433 was the year Nehemiah returned to the Persian capital. Nehemiah was governor before this. When he returned to Judah a second time he was restored as governor of Judah.
- The governor mentioned in 1:8 is not Nehemiah, thus many believe Malachi preaching started after Nehemiah left. Malachi would then be the last Old Testament prophet. (A few scholars have placed Joel later than Malachi.)
- Malachi addresses the group of returned exiles.
- Malachi rebuked the returnees for ignoring the priest's duties, not tithing, intermarriage with foreigners, and breaking the Sabbath.
- The Jews who lived in the small backwater Persian territory called Judah had begun losing hope. The glory of the Lord and the messages of the coming Messiah had not been realized. Some give up and slide into blatant violations of God's laws. They lost faith, hope and love. The Lord sent them Malachi to remind them of God's love, have hope, and return God's love by obeying his commands.
- Many today have lost faith, hope and love. Therefore, Malachi's message is also for our generation.
- Occasion and Purpose
- The Lord had moved world events to allow some of his people to return to Jerusalem and Judah. When the Persians defeated Babylon, King Cyprus made and edict to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and build the temple. The temple was rebuilt under governor Zerubbel's leadership (516 B.C. finished). Then, with Ezra and Nehemiah's encouragement the wall around Jerusalem was rebuilt (stated in 444 B.C.).
- The Lord sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah during the time that the second temple was being built. They rebuked and encourage the Jews concerning the temple project. Nehemiah rebuked God's people for ignoring the priest's duties, not tithing, intermarriage with foreigners, and breaking the Sabbath.
- Malachi was the last prophet (in writing) to be sent to God's people until John the Baptist began his ministry over four hundred years later. After Malachi no evidence has ever been revealed that the Lord sent another prophet to his people. Malachi rebuked the people for some of the same things Nehemiah did.
- Form and Style
The book of Malachi was written as some modern messages are written; simple, direct, and easy to understand.
Malachi often asks and then answers questions in his book. The reader can image that the conversations in the book were ones that Malachi must have had with the Jews again and again.
- Place Among the Old Testament Books
- Malachi is a medium length book among the minor prophets with four short chapters. Scholars have placed it with the other eleven minor prophets.
- Just because scholars have classified twelve of the prophetic books as minor does not mean that their message is any less important than the four major prophets. In fact the New Testiment quotes the minor prophets more than the major prophets.
After the Jews had been allowed to return from exile and rebuild the temple and Jerusalem's wall, several discouraging factors brought about a general religious malaize:
- Judah remained but a small province in the backwaters of the Persian empire.
- Many Jews did not return to the promised land. Almost none of the northern tribes returned. Thus, there could be no reuniting of the twelve tribes.
- The glorious future for God's people announced by the prophets had not been realized. No one was King of Israel and the Messiah had not yet come.
- Their God had not come to his temple with majesty and power to exalt his kingdom in the sight of the nations. The former temple was filled with smoke (a sign of the Lord's presence) when it was finished. Nothing like that happened when their temple was finished.
As a result many of the Jews lost hope and began ignoring the laws of the covenant. Malachi rebukes their doubt of God's love, the faithlessness of the priests, and the people. The Lord will indeed come to his people, but not as they presume, a God full of vengeance. Rather, the Lord will be a refiner's fire (3:1-4) and start the judgment of the nations with the judgement of his people (3:5). Those who honor the Lord will be spared judgement when he comes.
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