The last of "the twelve" or so-called Minor Prophets, and last also in the section "The Prophets" in the Hebrew Bible. Malachi makes no reference to his personal life nor does he date his ministry as most of the other prophets do, nor is there any reference to him elsewhere in the OT. See Malachi. His reference to the governor as being evidently the highest official in the country (ch 1:8) points to the Persian period as the time of his activities. It was only at that time that Judea was ruled as a province by a governor appointed by the Persian king. Furthermore the fact that the prophecy of Malachi appears at the close of the prophetic canon implies that Malachi was the last of the OT prophets. From the chronological data given by Haggai (Hag 1:1) and Zechariah (Zec. 1:1), which immediately precede Malachi, it is evident that they wrote after the Babylonian captivity, and it is reasonable to suppose that Malachi bore his message even later than they.
In view of the fact that the abuses Malachi condemns are similar to those that arose during the time of Nehemiah's absence after his first term as governor, it is quite possible that the book of Malachi may be dated to the time preceding Nehemiah's return for his 2nd term, about 425 b.c.. This would be about a century after the return of the Jews from Babylon under Zerubbabel. The decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes (see Ezr 6:14) had encouraged many Jews to return to their homeland, where they were re-established as a subject people. The Temple had been rebuilt and the sacrificial services again set in operation, but a sorry state of affairs prevailed, with the people frustrated and discouraged in their attempts to re-establish the nation on a secure basis, and lacking in spiritual life and vigour as well. When Nehemiah, an officer in the Persian court (Neh 2:1 6), learned of the state of affairs in Jerusalem, he requested and was granted leave by King Artaxerxes to serve his brethren there (chs 1:1 to 2:6). Appointed as governor of Judea, Nehemiah served for 12 years (ch 5:14), during which time he completed the rebuilding of the wall, reorganised the state, and introduced much-needed religious reforms (chs 8 10). At the close of this period he returned to Babylon, but later served a 2nd term as governor of Judea, instituting further reforms. It was probably during Nehemiah's absence after his 1st governorship that Malachi bore his prophetic message. In striking contrast with Zechariah's inspiring prophetic outline of the glorious possibilities that lay before the Jews upon their return from Exile, Malachi's prophecy a century later reflects a dismal scene of progressive spiritual declension. He addresses his message to the priests in particular, in their capacity as the spiritual leaders of Israel (Mal. 1:6). His stern denunciation of the careless indifference of the priests to the conduct of their sacred duties reflects the sad moral and spiritual state of God's people. Things had come to such a pass that even the priests despised the worship and service of God, and were weary of religion (vs. 6, 13), and God, on His part, was weary of their faithlessness and found the Temple services altogether unacceptable (chs 1:10, 13; 2:13, 17). Although for practical purposes the covenant between God and Israel had lapsed by default on their part, God mercifully sent them this further message to inspire them to return to Him and be faithful until the coming of "the messenger of the covenant" (Mal. 3:1), the Messiah, and eventually "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (ch 4:5) could be fulfilled. Malachi reminded the Jews of their special relationship to God and called upon them to return to Him and once more take up the duties of the covenant relationship.
In 8 addresses the Lord graciously and patiently calls attention to one aspect after another of apostasy, and 8 times the people petulantly deny any fault (see Mal. 1:2, 6, 7; 2:13, 14, 17; 3:7, 8, 13, and 14). God's patient endeavour to get the people to recognise and remedy their mistakes, and their progressively vehement denial of any mistakes, constitutes the theme of the book. It may be divided into 2 parts:
(1) The dialogue between God and His people, in which God reveals the nature and extent of their backsliding and apostasy (Mal. 1:1 to 3:15). In the first of these 8 encounters between God and His people the Lord protests His everlasting love for His chosen people, but they deny knowledge of any evidence that He loves them (ch 1:2 5). In the 2nd encounter (v 6), God declares that instead of the honour a servant owes his master or a son his father, they, particularly the priests, actually despise Him. In injured innocence, the priests reply: "Wherein have we despised thy name?" In the 3rd encounter (chs 1:7 to 2:2) God answers their question by accusing them of treating their sacred duties as a common occupation not essentially different from other means of livelihood. The priests callously reply, "Wherein have we polluted thee?" God replies that they have looked upon His service with contempt, as evidenced by the blemished sacrifices they offered Him. "Should I accept this of your hand?" He asks, and then reviews the purpose of His covenant with them (ch 2:5 7) and indicts them for departing from the way themselves and causing many others to stumble (v 8). In the 4th encounter (vs. 14 16) God explains that this is the reason why He has made them appear contemptible in the sight of nations around them (v 9) and why He refuses to accept their offerings (v 13). The people think God unfair not to accept their heartless offerings, but God points to the covenant relationship, which they have violated. In the 5th encounter (chs 2:17 to 3:6) God protests that He is weary of their hypocritical profession of loyalty. Petulantly the people reply by asking wherein they have wearied Him, and God points to their blurred sense of right and wrong. God then announces the coming of the Messenger of the covenant and challenges them as to which of them thinks he can survive the day of His coming (Mal. 3:1, 2). In the 6th encounter (v 7) God takes note of their apostasy and appeals to the people to return to Him, but like spoiled children they again ask, "Wherein shall we return?" This introduces the 7th encounter (vs. 8 12), in which God replies to their previous question by accusing them of robbing Him of the tithes and offerings that are rightfully His. Once more the people deny any guilt, saying, "Wherein have we robbed thee?" Even at this late hour God assures Israel that if they will return to Him He will still open the windows of heaven and bless them. The 8th and last encounter opens with God's protest, "Your words have been stout against me," to which the people reply, "What have we spoken so much against thee?" God answers that they have come to look upon their religious duties as a grievous burden that yields no corresponding "profit" in return. The people thus prove that their spiritual vision is altogether out of focus. Little wonder that with Malachi the voices of the prophets ceased--the people refused to listen, and God left them without the prophetic message.
(2) An epilogue expressing appreciation to the faithful few, and warning that "the proud" and "all that do wickedly" will suffer a just retribution for their sins (Mal. 3:16 to 4:6). This section envisions the day of judgement, when God will reward each man according to his works, and, in view of it, admonishes the people to "remember the law of Moses" (ch 4:4). The message closes with the promise that God will send another messenger, the prophet Elijah, "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (v 5).
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.