Summary: This is an overview of the Book of Malachi, who is the last of the Minor Prophets. It prophesies the coming of both John the Baptist and Jesus.
Coming Suddenly into His Temple: An Exposition of the Book of Malachi
In many Protestant traditions, the Book of Malachi is the last Book of the Old Testament. The next book is the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It is thought that Malachi was the last prophet and writer of the Old Testament. Whereas it is theologically useful to go from Malachi to Matthew, is Malachi the last book of the Old Testament? If that connection is useful, it would even be more useful to put the Gospel of Mark first in the New Testament, seeing that Mark quotes Malachi at the very beginning of the Gospel, showing that John the Baptist was the return of Elijah prophesied by Malachi. Was he even the last of the prophets? Let us see.
As far as the first question is concerned, the book of Malachi is at the end of the division of the Old Testament known as the “Prophets.” But the last book in the Hebrew Old Testament is 2 Chronicles which is the last book of the third division called the “Writings.” The situation becomes even more difficult as the Greek translation has several books not included in the Hebrew Canon which we know today as the Apocrypha. The Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and even some Protestant traditions contain these books in their Bibles. Even the 1611 King James Version contained the Apocrypha. So one would not turn the page from Malachi to Matthew in most of Christendom.
The second question concerns the order of the prophets themselves. The prophets are divided into to groups, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. The “Major Prophets” are Isaiah. Jeremiah/Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel and are arranged chronologically. The “Minor Prophets” range from Hosea, who was considered to be the earliest, to Malachi, who was considered to be the last. The chronological order of these prophets have been challenged by many. However, we really know little personal information about them other than clues within the text itself. Book like Obadiah and Joel give very few clues about the situation it was written to. Malachi gives only a little more evidence. We cannot even be sure whether the prophets actual name was Malachi, which means “My Messenger.” It may have been a pseudonym. But the use of the word “governor” in Malachi 1:8 gives us one clue. As it was a term usually applied to the Persian from of government, this makes it likely it was composed during the time of Persian rule. But this covers the period from 539 BC to about 330 BC which is a period of two hundred years. The Temple was rebuilt around 516 BC and seems to be standing in Malachi, so this narrows it down a little bit. This would put it after the times of Haggai and Zachariah which precede it in the canon. So it is likely that Malachi is indeed the last of the prophets. But we cannot tell whether he is earlier or later than Esther, Ezra, or Nehemiah who also lived during the Persian period.
Jacob I Loved, but Esau I hated (Malachi 1:1-5)
Malachi calls his prophecy a “burden of the word of the LORD. This is similar to the beginnings of Nahum and Habakkuk, who also use the word. As these two prophets prophesied in the time just before the Babylonian exile (650-600 BC), it makes one wonder if Malachi could actually date to that time as well. When we look at the introduction of the books of Minor Prophets, one would notice that the two contemporary prophets Haggai and Zachariah use a similar introduction to each other. When one looks at the earlier prophets, their introductions are also similar to each other. Were it not for the word “governor,” the conditions described in Malachi could easily refer to the time just before the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC. Malachi deals with a corrupt priesthood. Except for a short period under the reign of Josiah, corruption in the priesthood was a perpetual problem. Unfortunately, this is a serious problem even to this day. So, regardless of when and to whom Malachi was written, the LORD speaks through him to us as well.
The chief cause of the corruption was that the priests had lost confidence in God and felt that He no loner loved them. The LORD confronts this and says that He has proved His love for them. He tells them “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” This statement has caused much controversy among theologians as to why God would love one group of people and hate another. Does not God love everyone? A survey of the book does not leave us time to deal with this issue, but let it be said that strife between the descendants of Jacob and Esau was of long standing. We see this in the book of Obadiah, Isaiah, and other places as well. It seems that both Israel and Esau in the time of Malachi had suffered great devastation. Esau was trying to rebuild whereas Israel remained in ruins. The LORD tells Israel that even though Edom (Esau) was trying to rebuild, it would fail. This message is similar to that given by Obadiah. That nation would disappear. But the LORD would preserve and rebuild Israel, despite its many sins.