538 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia, issues a decree allowing Israel to return to the land. (II Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1)
538 B.C. First return to Israel takes place under Zerubbabel. (Ezra 1-6)
536 B.C. Restoration of the temple begins, but stalls.
520 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah are sent by God to encourage Israel to finish building the temple. (Ezra 5:1-2)
515 B.C. The temple is finished.
460 B.C. God sends Malachi to prepare the people for the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
458 B.C. Ezra returns to the land. (Ezra 7-10)
445 B.C. Nehemiah returns to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
The general dating of Malachi is pretty clear. He prophesied during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. This can be seen from the following facts. First, he prophesied during a time when the temple and priesthood were established and things had become routine. Thus he had to prophesy following the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, Haggai, and Zechariah. Second, he uses the term “governor” in 1:8. This is a Persian term, again indicating a period when Israel was under Persian rule. Persia ruled from 550 B.C. until around 360 B.C. Finally, Malachi addresses many of the same issues found in Ezra and Nehemiah. For example, the issue of marriage to foreign wives is addressed in Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah 13:23-27 and Malachi 2:11-16. Also both Nehemiah and Malachi address the misuse of the tithe. (Nehemiah 13:10-13 and Malachi 3:8-10) All of this is to say that Malachi probably prophesied during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
However, dating Malachi more specifically is difficult. Did he prophesy just before the reforms of Ezra 7-10 and Nehemiah? Did he prophesy during the reforms? Or did he prophesy following the reforms? The time period that makes the most sense is that Malachi prophesied just prior to Ezra and Nehemiah. The lack of specific mention of either Ezra or Nehemiah and the reforms they instituted would indicate that God used Malachi to soften the people of Israel up in preparation for the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The people during Malachi’s time were downtrodden. The temple had been rebuilt, but not as glorious as before. They had heard or read the great promises given to Haggai and Zechariah about the coming kingdom. However, the picture painted for them in passages like Haggai 2:6-9 and Zechariah 14 was not unfolding before their eyes. Instead they were just a band of rag tag Jews, who were still in subjection to the Persian Empire. No great king had appeared to deliver them. Joyce Baldwin notes that Malachi is a great book for God’s people when they are just waiting. He says, “Malachi’s prophecy is particularly relevant to the many waiting periods in human history and in the lives of individuals. He [Malachi] enables us to see the strains and temptations of such times, the imperceptible abrasion of faith that ends in cynicism because it has lost touch with the living God.”
Malachi is structured around six disputations or debates between God and his people. Here they are:
1. First Disputation: 1:1-5
2. Second Disputation: 1:6-2:9
3. Third Disputation: 2:10-16
4. Fourth Disputation: 2:17-3:5
5. Fifth Disputation: 3:6-12
6. Sixth Disputation: 3:13-4:3
7. Closing Exhortation: 4:4-6
The primary theme of Malachi is the covenant. Malachi begins with God’s mercy in calling Israel into the covenant. Then he moves on to showing the various ways Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant. Throughout the book God promises to be faithful to his covenant even if Israel is unfaithful.
Malachi 1:1-5 How Do You Love Us?
Malachi begins by quoting a question from Israel, “In what way have you loved us?” (vs. 2) Here is the first sign of Israel’s spiritual state during the time of Malachi. She does not believe that God loves her anymore. We are not told the reason for Israel’s doubt. Maybe she expected the promises of Haggai and Zechariah to have been fulfilled by now. Maybe she expected to get her nation back and no longer be under Persian rule. Whatever the reason, she was no longer sure of God’s love.
Malachi gives two specific ways Israel can know that God loves her. First, God elected her to be his covenant people. Malachi says that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, his brother. (vss. 2-3)The point here is not that Jacob was more lovely than Esau. The stories in Genesis show that Jacob was far from perfect. The point is one of election. God elected Jacob and he did not elect Esau. Paul draws this exact point from this passage in Romans 9:13. So Malachi tells Israel God has elected them thus can be assured of his love.
Second, Malachi tells Israel that her enemies will surely be cast down. Edom was a descendant of Esau. Sometime prior to Malachi the Edomites had been driven out of their territory by invaders. The beginning of verse 4 shows that the Edomites had been “impoverished” but hoped to return to the land. God assures Israel that this will not happen. The point here is that Israel has been the recipient of God’s electing love, unlike the descendants of Esau who have and will continue to receive his wrath.
How can Israel know that God loves her? He has shown his covenant love in electing Israel and he has not judged her as he judges the other nations.
• The election of God’s people is to be a source of comfort and reassurance, not doubt. Many well-meaning Calvinists make election a reason for doubting God’s love. Malachi does not use God’s election this way. Instead, he tells a very disobedient Israel that God loves them because he has chosen them.
• The judgment of God against the enemies of the church is a visible symbol of his love for His people. Throughout history many enemies of the church of have risen. But none of them stand forever. Nations come and go, but the Church of Christ endures. God’s protection of the church and casting down of her oppressors is a sign of his covenant love.