This short book may have been written before Nehemiah’s first return to Jerusalem in 445 B.C.; it is also possible that it was written while Nehemiah was there, or even later. What seems to be the author’s name, mal’ākî, is found in 1:1 (“the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi”), but many believe that this is a pseudonym based on mal’ākî, “my messenger,” in 3:1 and that the author’s real name is unknown. In any case, he shows us attitudes and behaviors characteristic of the Jewish community a few generations after the end of the Babylonian exile, and describes God’s response.
God loves Israel (1:2–5), but the people return that love poorly. Taking advantage of the negligent attitude of the priests, they withhold tithes and sacrificial contributions (3:6–11) and cheat God by providing defective goods for sacrifice (1:6–14). People divorce their spouses and marry worshipers of other gods (2:10–16). Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound (3:5). Priests, who could strengthen discipline by their instruction, connive with the people, telling them what they want to hear (2:1–9). Underlying all this is a weary attitude, a cynical notion that nothing is to be gained by doing what God wants and that wrongdoers prosper (2:17; 3:14–15). God condemns the wrongdoing and the underlying attitude, issuing a challenge to immediate reform (3:10–12), but also announcing a general reckoning at a future moment (3:16–21).
The Book of Malachi may be divided as follows:
I. Israel Preferred to Edom (1:2–5)
II. Offense in Sacrifice and Priestly Duty (1:6–2:9)
III. Marriage and Divorce (2:10–16)
IV. Purification and Just Judgment (2:17)
V. The Messenger of the Covenant (3:1–5)
VI. Gifts for God, Blessings for the People (3:6–12)
VII. The Need To Serve God (3:13–21)
VIII. Moses and Elijah (3:22–24)