Malachi: A Prophet for His Time

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The Book of Malachi is small but important. This prophet spoke at a time when the people were unhappy with their condition, and ministered to a community that was spiritually disappointed and had practically lost faith in God (1:2). The people of Israel had returned to their land with high expectations and hopes of a glorious future, but the return from exile in Babylon had not restored the glories of the past and had not ushered in the messianic age as promised by the prophets.

Soon the returnees had to face the realities of a hostile land and the problems of restoring a nation devastated by the blight of war. A severe drought had destroyed their crops and increased their unhappiness. The economic condition of the nation at the time of Malachi was so difficult that some of the poor had to mortgage their fields and sell their own children to pay their taxes (Neh. 5:1–5).

The situation was so out of focus with those promises of restoration proclaimed by the pre-exilic prophets that the people became despondent and negligent about the religious demands of the Lord (3:14). To many, the Lord seemed unjust toward Israel: the nation continued to be under the subjugation of a foreign power, the drought was devastating the community, and the evil-doers prospered. Some of the people began to doubt the justice of God and to believe that He was unable to deal with the wicked.

Also, they began to question the necessity of maintaining the Temple of the Lord and its service. The community developed a spirit of indifference. The priests became lax in their duties and moral laxity prevailed among the population in general. The problems of divorce, mixed marriages, empty worship, perfunctory services, and the disregard for the word of the Lord threatened to destroy Israel’s distinct characteristic as the people of God.

Malachi appeared proclaiming the word of the Lord at a time of great despondency in the life of Israel. He refused to accept the popular view that the Lord was unjust to Israel. He proclaimed that the Lord blesses faithfulness (3:10–12) 20) and punishes unfaithfulness (2:2-3; 3:19). He said that God had a special relationship with Israel in the past. When Israel sinned against the Lord, He did not punish Israel as he had punished Edom (1:3). Instead, He had forgiven them. The Lord had acted with Israel as a loving father acts toward his son.

According to Malachi, the Lord desired to bless the nation if the people were willing to change their ways and return to Him. The prophet exhorted the people to live a life of religious commitment and moral responsibility. His book is a call to Israel to rekindle the fires of faith. Because the nation had a special relationship with the Lord, Israel should maintain the purity of its worship and its distinctiveness as the elected people of God. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the prophet and the historical situation that serves as the context for his ministry.

This post is an introduction to my article, Claude F. Mariottini, “Malachi: A Prophet for His Time,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 26 (1998): 149–157.

Download the article (PDF) by clicking here.

NOTE: For other studies on the Book of Malachi, read my article Studies on the Book of Malachi.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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