Malachi is the last old testament prophet who wrote down the message God gave him. He was evidently a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. During their time Judah had slipped back into a cool, spiritually careless and uncommitted attitude toward God. They considered their responsibilities toward Him to be a burden, and the main focus of Malachi’s message is his people’s need for repentance. The first three chapters of Malachi describe a series of challenges and responses between God and His people that show how the nation had failed to acknowledge and properly respond to His blessings. The fourth chapter is a brief, blunt warning of impending judgement. The Jews of Malachi’s day would have understood his reference to the rising of the “sun of righteousness with healing in its wings” (vs. 2) along with his plea for them to return to observing Moses’ law (vs. 4) as references to a day of national judgement and “healing.” The anticipatory reference to John the Baptist (vs. 5) seems to indicate, however, that the judgement here may look past national Judah to the final judgement of humanity at the last day.
Seven times in chapters 1-3, Malachi declares the love, righteousness, and goodness of God toward His people –and seven times they deny that God has been so, because He expects them to behave uprightly and follow His law! Notice how much their complaints and accusations sound like twenty-first century humanity’s “indictments” of God!
“You don’t love us” (1:2)
“WE haven’t despised you!” (2:7)
You don’t accept our offerings” (2:13-14)
“What have we done to ‘try’ Your patience?” (2:17)
“Why should we turn back to You?” (3:7)
“How have we ‘robbed’ You?” (3:8)
“How have we spoken against You?” (3:13-14)
In each of these challenges God’s people deny their sins even though He gives plain examples that show exactly where their guilt lies. In each case, they imply that HE is wrong for withholding blessings, but ignore their own responsibility to walk in His way in order to have those blessings!
Note the clear statement in 2:16 about the Lord’s attitude toward divorce: He hates it (literally, He “opposes, despises, detests” it). By connecting the practice of divorce with “covering one’s garment” with violence God emphasizes that dissolving vows in which HE has played a part is not to be undertaken lightly! The challenge at the end of the verse – “therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously” –shows that the very concept of divorce involves a betrayal of faith on some level.
In the final paragraph of chapter three, Malachi points to some “exceptions to the rule” where these lukewarm and faithless people were concerned; there were still some who feared the Lord, and the prophet says plainly that He saw their faithfulness (verses 16-17). Verse 18 parallels Psalm 1 in pointing out that the differences between the righteous and the wicked will always be bright and visible to all who are willing to see them.