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.
This introduction to Malachi is an excerpt from my article, “Malachi: A Prophet for His Time,” published in the Jewish Bible Quarterly 26 (1998): 149-157.
You can read the article online or download the article in a PDF format by clicking here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary