Modern commentators favour it being a name- but clearly the implication is that he is God’s messenger.
This of course makes it difficult to date the book. There are very few identifiable markers.
Unquestionably though it comes from the post exilic period. Its style, its use of language and method of argument have much in common with books such as Haggai and Zechariah. So essentially we are looking at the Persian period in Judah.
I think the background of general religious decline, which it seeks to tackle makes one think of the situation faced by both Ezra and Nehemiah. Dates suggested by commentators range from 500BC, which I think is too early to 333BC.
I feel that the situation so described is very similar to the one found by Nehemiah somewhere around 445BC.
Structure of the book
Here we are on much sounder footing.
The book is generally regarded as a unity. It is structured in a dialogue form, six of them – between God and members of the community. These are referred to as dialogues or disputations.
The form is not unique to Malachi, but only Malachi is structured entirely around it.
1:1-5 God’s love for Israel one
1:6 – 2:9 Bringing offerings and keeping covenant two
2:10 – 16 Covenant and marriage three
2:17 – 3:5 A refining judgement on Judah four
3:6-12 Bringing the full tithe five
3:13 – 4:3 The “sun of righteousness shall arise” six
4:4-6 Moses and Elijah
In the first God reminds the people of God’s act of love in the choosing of Israel in Genesis 12 with Abraham. This first section Edom (sons of Esau) is cited as an example of how the power and greatness of God can overcome even his enemies
There is a similar reminder in the second oracle which is directed against the priests and the bringing of blemished animals for sacrifice. This is seen as dishonouring God.
This contempt shown by priests and people is contrasted with the honour shown to God by non-Jews. From the amount of space allocated to this topic it seems that the matter was a growing attitude among enlightened Jew. It covers the way in which non-Jews and possibly proselytes were being regarded. It looks forward to a Messianic age when all divisions between Jew and Gentile and between “holy land” and he wide world will be broken down.
All of this is tied up in what is meant by covenant and a number of different interpretations about the meaning of covenant are explored including covenant and marriage.
Under this heading two issues are raised
- Marriage to foreign women who worship foreign gods (an issue tackled by Ezra)
- The oracle speaks out against divorce.
There are warnings against the faithless and those who claim God is unjust
Warnings against those who fail to present the necessary tithes. The calculation that holds back the full gift reckons without the fact that God is the giver of all prosperity.
The final disputation involves people who reject obedience to God out of hand because it is of no use!
God’s response is that he will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. This is Malachi’s version of the doctrine of the remnant which is seen in Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah. Their names will be written in a book and unfailingly remembered. This feature was one which we see developed in apocalyptic literature and acts as an indicator for the late date of the book as a whole.
The book ends with two very unusual sayings – one about Moses and the other about Elijah.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses.” Mal 4:4
This saying rounds off the prophetic canon as much as it does the book of Malachi. It insists that the Mosaic laws are still operative even in the post-exilic time.
The book ends with a surprising word about Elijah, who is apparently in the role of messenger. According to the account of his life, he did not die but was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 1) therefore he is equipped to return as the herald of the day of judgement.
Elijah’s purpose will be to bring the people to repentance in order to avoid a terrible fate (herem…the ban…certain death)