Author: It may seem obvious that the author of Malachi would be a prophet who bore that name. Yet, because the Hebrew name “Malachi” means “my messenger,” some theologians contend that the writer of Malachi is anonymous. However, others believe that Malachi was the author’s given name. Lending support to this view, John MacArthur writes, “Since all other prophetic books have historically identified their author in the introductory heading, this suggests that Malachi was indeed the name of the last Old Testament writing prophet in Israel” (MacArthur, 1328). Furthermore, if the author was not anonymous it is possible that Malachi was relatively unknown to later writers, considering his name is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Additionally, it is important to consider the play on words as Malachi writes, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (3:1, emphasis added). The phrase “my messenger” is the exact word “Malachi” and suggests that Malachi’s own ministry was intended to foreshadow that of a future prophetic messenger, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This messenger is identified in the New Testament as John the Baptist (Luke 1:17; Matt. 11:13-14).
The view that the author is unknown (anonymous) is also held by some scholars. If the phrase “Malachi” (my messenger or my angel) designates a functionary, then the book is likely anonymous. This view is primarily based on the fact that no information is given about the personal life of the prophet (NAC: Haggai, Malachi, p. 204-205). Conversely, the Jewish writers of the intertestamental period (between the Old & New Testaments) suggested that Ezra was the author and “messenger” of Yahweh who both proclaimed the oracle and penned the book (Talmud, Meg. 15a). This position was acknowledged by Jerome, who made the connection between Ezra’s role as a priest and Malachi’s condemnation of the priestly abuses and apathy.
Although there is no consensus on the identity of the prophet (or priest) who wrote the book of Malachi, it is widely accepted that whoever wrote it wanted the emphasis to be on the message and not the messenger. Therefore, our focus must be on the words given to this unknown messenger to an undeserving people about the unfailing love of God.
Audience: The introduction of Malachi makes it clear that the book is a word from the LORD to Israel (1:1). Throughout the book, however, the reader discovers more information about the audience: they are a people that God loves and has chosen (1:2); a people that despised the name of the LORD (1:6); a people that corrupted the covenant of Levi (2:8); a people who had their worship refused by the LORD (2:13); a people spared by God (3:17); and a believing remnant who will persevere to the end (4:2-3).
Message: The message of Malachi is a declaration of God’s unfailing love for an undeserving people. This message is presented in a Socratic style, which uses questions as a means of teaching. In order to demonstrate the faithfulness of God, Malachi declares that God has shown his covenantal love through His loyalty, election, and preservation of His chosen people. Even the objections, raised by both the people and the priests, are meant to teach God’s faithfulness and unfailing love for the elect. Each objection is met with conclusive evidence that God’s love for His people has been and will continue to be consistently and universally demonstrated.
Malachi’s message demonstrates that God is serious about worship. The people and priests of the post-exilic period demonstrated an apathy that is still present in the 21st-century church. Rebellious people will worship God, but only on their terms. Malachi’s audience included people who approached God with rebellious and skeptical attitudes and then lashed out in anger to God for not accepting their polluted worship. God’s rejection of their selfish worship and skeptical theology is announced with a call to repentance, which is an act of grace on the part of God, who would have been justified in silent rejection of their worship. God’s pursuit of true worshippers never begins with a people who are selfless and sacrificial in their worship because all of humanity, apart from Christ, is spiritually dead and willfully suppresses the truth (cf. Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:1). God’s pursuit of worshipers, therefore, always begins with a call to repentance, directed to those (people just like us) who attempt to approach God on their terms. The grace that flows throughout this letter is the same grace that comes to rebellious sinners: God announces their misguided worship (cf. Rom. 1:18-25) and, by His grace, calls sinners to repent and worship Him for salvation (cf. Rom. 10:9-13).
Malachi’s message makes it clear that God takes sin seriously. This truth is evident in the way God judges His people through temporary discipline, as well as His wrath that is poured out on the wicked. God’s judgment is in response to the rebellion and rejection of the covenant (3:5-6). Malachi announces that “The day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (4:1). Even in judgement, however, God shows mercy and love to His covenant people. Initially, the reader may be tempted to believe that there is no hope for the people, given the numerous charges God brings against them. Statements such as “I have no pleasure in you,…I will not accept an offering from your hand” (1:10), and “I will rebuke your offspring and spread dung on your faces” (2:3) can easily give the impression that the people are beyond the reach of grace. However, by the end of the letter, God invites the people to repent and trust His promise of redemption (3:16-4:6). Through both judgment and mercy, God will be glorified, and His name will be made known among the nations. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts” (1:11).
The mercy of God in the midst of judgment is an aspect of Malachi’s message that must not be overlooked. This theme is a foundational part of his preaching and is announced in the opening: “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD” (1:2). This love had been proven through the deliverance from bondage under Pharaoh in Egypt, the manna in the wilderness, and the ability to safely return and rebuild the temple (to name a few). Again, in chapter 3, God reminds His people “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (3:6). This is an emphatic statement of the covenantal love of God that persists in spite of continued sin and rebellion. The hope of God’s unfailing love is vividly announced in the statement, “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him,” (3:17) and “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (4:2). Therefore, a careful examination of Malachi’s message by the believing community should lead to a joyous and hopeful expectation of God’s mercy and love, in spite of continued failures and sin.
The book ends with the hope of God sending his “messenger” who will prepare the way for the “messenger of the covenant” who will not only judge sin but also bring cleansing to God’s people as a “refiner’s fire” and “fuller’s soap” (3:1-3). The “messenger” who prepares the way is, according to the New Testament (Luke 1:17; Matt. 11:13-14), a reference to John the Baptist, but the “messenger of the covenant” is likely a prophetic reference to Jesus Christ, who is the consummation of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament.