If you were eager, you’ve probably read through the book of Malachi now. If you didn’t find time, you should have a read now before going further. It is 4 chapters long and takes about 10 minutes. Don’t stress about trying to store up all the details in your mind yet; just try to get a sense of the book’s overall message.
Once you’ve read through it, come with me to have a look at some of the background surrounding the book . . .
It is important to start with the people in the book and when it was written so that we can correctly interpret passages based on their historical context. Culture can change dramatically within one generation, let alone thousands of years! If we don’t start with the people the book was originally written by and to, then we can end up with some wacky beliefs.
Firstly, who wrote the book and where do you see it in the text?
His name means “my messenger” or “messenger of the Lord”. That is about all we know of him. On a side note, the title: “messenger” is used 4 different times in this book, the first being Malachi’s name. I’ll point the others out as we go along.
Now, the dating and very first audience.
Again, we go to the text for clues. There are a few things that we can see in the text that will help us:
- Edom has been laid to waste (1:2-4). This happened between 550 and 400 BC.
- The people of Israel are ruled by a governor (1:8). The word “governor” is a Persian word so the book must be post-exilic, under Persian rule (between 539/6 and 331 BC).
- The Temple has been rebuilt (1:10, 2:13). So the book was written after the reconstruction and dedication of the second temple in 516 BC.
- There are similarities in social and religious situation of the nation to those described in Nehemiah. His first visit to Israel from the Persian court was in 445 BC, and his second was in 432 BC.
- Priests (Mal1:6-2:9; Neh 13:4-8, 28-31)
- Divorce and mixed marriages (Mal 2:10-16; Neh 10:30 and13:23-29).
- Tithing, which affects the priests and poor (Mal3:4-10; Neh 10:36-39, 13:4-14)
- The people are neglecting their poor brothers (Mal3:5; Neh 5:1-13).
There is debate whether it was written before Nehemiah’s first visit, between his two visits, or after his second one. Malachi would not have spoken during Nehemiah’s time in Judah because he did not take the due of the governor, which is suggested by Malachi 1:8. You can decide for yourself at where you think it falls.
From all this, we know that the book was written to the returned exiles, after the completion of the new temple.
Wow! That’s a lot of information. We’ll have a look at these returning exiles next time in part c.