Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah
before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes.
He will reconcile parents to their children
and children to their parents,
to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction.
In the Book of Malachi, we find a deep concern with the priestly office, the Temple, and the covenant. In the prophet’s eyes, things are bad on all fronts. The priests have become slip-shod in their observance of temple rituals and lukewarm in their application of the law. Meantime, it seems Judah has become the ancient equivalent of Las Vegas— everyone marrying and divorcing with abandon, cheating God by not paying their tithes. At the same time, they’re “covering the altar of the Lord with tears” because things are not going their way.
Malachi uses a question-and-answer style of preaching to point out the myriad ways the Israelites are failing God and thus bringing misfortune upon themselves. God’s not the one out of line here, he says. Your disrespect for the covenant is. And if you don’t get your act together, you’re going to be “set ablaze” on the coming Day of the Lord. Only those who fear God’s name will see “the Sun of justice .. . rise with healing in his rays.” [3:20] Malachi, like other prophets, is envisioning the dawn of a new age and the coming of a Messiah.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, and thus occupies an important position: For Christians, it sets the stage for events in the New Testament. This placement, however, does not mean the book was the last in the OT to be written. Malachi, which was written after the exile in Babylon, sometime between 516 B.C. and 330 B.C., was given its place in the Bible by later Greek translators, who liked its nifty ending that points to God’s future action in the world.