The prophetic words of Malachi against the abuses propagated by the priests of his time can be better understood when seen against its historical background. The background is the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed and also the rehabilitation of the people who returned from exile in Babylon. When the Jews returned from the Exile, the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah supported them in rebuilding the Temple and the restoration of the levish community.
While the construction of the Temple had been completed at the prompting of Haggai and Zechariah, the apathy and the disillusionment within the restoration community which permitted the temple precinct to lie in ruins for nearly twenty years, continued to permeate the group. The material prosperity predicted by Haggai (2:6-9) never came to pass, and the streaming migration of former Jewish captives foreseen by Zechariah (8:1-8) never occurred. The completion of the Temple ushered in no messianic age. Zechariah’s call for a deeper spiritual life went unheeded.
It is against this background that Malachi prophesies in Jerusalem around 450 B.C. The prophet’s message focuses on the quality of religious and social life in the restoration community. The priesthood showed only contempt and indifference to ceremonial and moral purity and the general populace had followed the lead of the priests (2:8-9). In this case, the behaviour of the priests was far from exemplary and the people followed suit, thereby creating a situation that was not proper of the people of God. In order to correct the abuses, Malachi steps in with his prophecies.