Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Worship to use before reading.
God our helper, by your Holy Spirit, open our minds, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into your truth and taught your will, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Malachi is a Hebrew word meaning “My messenger” and may not be the proper name of a prophet. The book of Malachi may originally have been part of Zechariah, or been part of a collection of works that included Zechariah 9-11 and Zechariah 12-14. All three begin with the words, “Oracle, word of Yahweh”.
The book probably comes from the first part of the fifth century BCE, after the exile and after the rededication of the Temple. Malachi is from roughly the same time as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Malakai is arranged as a series of six disputations. God and some other group engage in a stylized dialogue. Several topics are discussed in the disputations, God’s care for Israel, the need to worship only God, the importance of justice and of tithing, and hope for people who fear the Lord. The author considers the Temple and the priesthood important and is concerned with proper worship and priestly conduct.. Notice how often the covenant is mentioned.
In the Hebrew Bible, Malakai ends the Book of the Twelve (prophets) and the entire section of the prophets. In Christian Bibles, Malakai is the last book of the Old Testment.
Outline and Discussion of Malakai
1.1 Superscription: See also Zechariah 9.1 and 12.1. Malakai means “My messenger”.
1.2-5 God loves Israel: Notice the disputation style. In verse 2 God says “I have loved you.” and immediately the response, “How have you loved us?” comes. In biblical “talk” love and hate are not emotions but are a way of describing preference. Edom and Israel had a mixed relationship, sometimes peaceful, sometimes not. But Edom used the Babylonian destruction of Judah and Jerusalem as an opportunity to plunder the land. Notice that verse 5 ends with a statement about the range of God’s greatness.
1.6-2.9 Concerning Priests and Levites. In verse 6 God begins with a proverb and asks where is the honor and respect due to God. The priests respond by asking, “How have we despised your name?” Then God gives a lengthy account of how God has been despised. Notice again the statement by God and the responding question in verse 7 also. Notice the themes of proper worship and priestly conduct and the covenant. Also see in verse 11 again the statement about the range of God’s greatness among the nations.
2:10-16 Fidelity: This section begins by talking about fidelity between God and Israel and Judah. While 15b-16 seem to be clearly talking about human marriage, the verses before that could be about the relationship between God and Israel ( recall that other parts of scripture use marriage imagery to describe that relationship).
2:17-3.5 God will send a messenger: Again questions are asked of God in verse 2.17. Phrases of these verses will be familiar to those familiar with Handel’s Messiah. God will send a messenger before God himself appears. Verse 5 states, as have the other prophets, what God requires as far a just behavior.
3.6-12 Tithes, curses, and blessings: God is faithful and if the people return to God their relationship will be restored. Again notice the questions. Recall that the Temple storehouse functioned as the place where food was redistributed. Verse 12 again describes how all the nations will witness God’s actions.
3.13-4.3 Fear and reverence: God says the people have spoken harsh words. The people ask why the arrogant and evildoers seem to prosper and escape punishment.God does not directly respond to the question raised. A new group”those who revered the Lord” talk among themselves and God “Took note and listened”. In the future there will be a difference between the wicked and the righteous.
4.4-6 an epilogue: Remember the teaching of Moses. Elijah will return before the day of the Lord. See Matt 17:10-13, Mk 6:14-16, Luke 1:16-17 on Elijah and John the Baptizer.
Why do you think the Old Testament ends with Malachi rather than Chronicles as the Hebrew Bible does?
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Malachi.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Hanson, Paul D. “Malachi” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Petersen, David L. “Malachi” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Shuller, Eileen M. “Malachi” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 7, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.