OT SURVEY – Prophecy
Even when people receive a clear and direct word from God, they will tend to stray. To say so is not to be negative, but simply to note man’s tendency to sin. And in such a situation, we will need someone to call us back into a proper relationship with God. It was this function that Israel’s prophets had. God had provided a system of sacrifices as a means of worship and to provide for occasional lapses into sin. But there were times that Israel allowed its worship of God to degenerate into empty ritual, where those sacrifices became substitutes for godly character and obedient living. At that point the prophets could even deny that God was behind those sacrifices at all (Isaiah 1:11-16; Jeremiah 7:21-26; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:25; Micah 6:6-8). Their point was that God did not want rituals, but obedience and godliness.
There are three words translated as “prophet.” The first indicates someone who has been called by God and authorized to speak for Him. Prophecy is not an invitation to work with God, but a responsibility to speak for God (2 Peter 1:21). The other two terms can be translated as “seer,” indicating that God’s call enables a man to “see” things, spiritually, that he otherwise could not. The call to serve could come in different ways. For Isaiah, it was through a vision in the Temple (6:1-13). Some, like Jeremiah and Jonah, were very reluctant to accept God’s call. For Hosea, the call to serve came with a call to marry—a marriage that became a tragic picture of the relationship between God and Israel. The prophets might say that “the word of the Lord came” to them, but just how it came must remain a mystery. The fact that that word is consistent with the Law of Moses and that the prophetic messages are consistent with one another provides adequate evidence that they were truly from God.
Often people consider “prophecy” and “prediction” to mean the same thing. It is not so. Rather, the prophet was a man who lived in such close communion with God that he could explain the past and expose the problems of the present, but he also understood where events were going, under the lordship of a loving, righteous, and all-powerful God. And when the prophet spoke of the future, it was not to satisfy idle curiosity, but to call people to repentance and renewal. For example, John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, called on people to “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). God’s coming judgment against evil and reward for the good must always motivate us to obedience.
Certain themes appear consistently in the prophets. They held up God as the ruler of all of history, even to the point of picturing the mighty empires of their time as “tools” in God’s hands (Isaiah 10:5-15). Because of His lordship, man’s primary need is for a right relationship with God. And such a relationship is the necessary foundation for any healthy, strong society. The prophets offered a blend of judgment and hope, ultimately pointing ahead to the Messianic kingdom. Jesus Himself said that their words ultimately point to Himself (Luke 24:27; John 5:39) and to the preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:44-48).
The name Isaiah means “Salvation of Jehovah,” which is the theme of the book. Isaiah was not the first prophet, but he was surely the greatest, so it is appropriate that his book is placed first in order among the prophetic books. He began his ministry in the year that King Uzziah died (6:1), about 740 B.C. He served for over 40 years, through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—perhaps even into the reign of Manasseh. Though he knew his words would often fall on deaf ears, he prophesied faithfully, never forgetting his experience of God’s call. He is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament prophet, to the point that this book has been called “The Fifth Gospel.”
1) Judah’s corruption (1:1-5:30): Isaiah describes the sinfulness of the nation to whom God has sent him. Jesus used the “Song of the Vineyard” (5:1-7) as the basis for a parable condemning the failures of Israel’s spiritual leaders (Matthew 21:33-41). Yet God offers forgiveness and pleads with His people to work things out (1:18).
2) Isaiah’s call (6:1-13): He would never forget this vision of God in His holiness, contrasted with his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of God’s people. He experienced God’s cleansing, volunteered for God’s service, and faithfully spoke to God’s people—despite their unwillingness to listen.
3) The prince of peace (9:1-7): The tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali in the north, Galilee, were the first ones to be conquered by the invading Assyrians. But they would also be the first to “see the light” in that Jesus would grow up there, living in Nazareth and beginning His ministry in Cana.
4) The perfect king – the perfect kingdom (11:1-12:6): Here is a picture of Christ, who would be a descendant from David (11:1) and the eternal kingdom He will eventually establish.
5) God warns the nations of judgment (13:1-23:18): God chose to develop a special relationship with Israel, but He holds all nations accountable for their behavior.
6) Hezekiah faces threats (36:1-39:8): After conquering the northern kingdom, Israel, Assyria threatened to do the same to Judah, where Hezekiah was king, but God delivered Judah. Hezekiah was also told he would die, but God delivered him again, with a promise of fifteen more years. And when Babylon sent envoys to visit Jerusalem, God delivered Hezekiah again, though Isaiah warned that the time would come when Babylon would conquer Jerusalem and carry people off as captives.
7) Future redemption (40:1-11): At this point the whole tone of the book shifts. Up to here Isaiah has mainly focused on the threat from Assyria. Judah will be saved from Assyria, but will be conquered by Babylon. Yet there will be recovery and return to the land, and for that reason Isaiah can offer comfort and encouragement to God’s people. But God’s redemption of Judah suggests the larger redemption He will accomplish through the Messiah and Redeemer to come.
8) Attack on pagan religions (44:9-17): Isaiah mocks those who put their hope in lifeless idols.
9) Four “Songs of the Shepherd” (42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12): God had intended to use Israel to reach all the nations, but Israel didn’t even keep their own commitments to God. So the “Shepherd” who would be the hope of the world would not be Israel, but the Christ. These four poems develop a picture of Him and His ministry.
10) The Servant’s manifesto (61:1-4): When Christ announced His plan and purpose at the synagogue in Nazareth, early in His ministry, He read this passage and claimed that He would fulfill it.
Jeremiah appeared about 100 years after Isaiah. God called him to do a very difficult and discouraging task. In light of Judah’s ongoing unfaithfulness to God, Jeremiah got the job of announcing his own nation’s coming judgment. He was denounced as a traitor for counseling the king to surrender to Babylon (34:1-22; 38:17-23). But he predicted that the captivity would come to an end after seventy years (25:9-12). God would not totally destroy Judah.
Jeremiah reveals more of his own personal story in his prophecy than does any other prophet. God chose him before he was born (1:5) and he began his work while young (1:6). God forbid him to marry, due to the troubled times (16:1-4). He was hated, beaten, put in stocks, and imprisoned (20:1-3; 37:11-16). He was not as bold as Elijah, nor as eloquent as Isaiah. Rather, his broken heart reflected God’s own heartbreak over Judah’s faithlessness.
1) Jeremiah’s call (1:1-19): He would have a difficult and thankless job, but it had to be done.
2) The ruined waistband (13:1-27): Sometimes the prophets would act out a parable, hoping that their actions would effectively communicate God’s message to His people. Jeremiah found no joy in delivering his message of Judah’s coming destruction (13:17).
3) Forbidden to marry (16:1-4): By refusing to marry in a culture where singleness was almost non-existent, Jeremiah shows how serious the threat to Judah is. It will soon be no place to raise a family.
4) The Potter and the clay (18:1-10): God has the unquestionable right to do as He will with His people, just as a potter with his clay. We cannot assume things will always go on as they have (18:7-10).
5) Zedekiah’s inquiry (21:1-14): Weak king Zedekiah hopes for an encouraging word from Jeremiah, but is told that God Himself is at war against him and he will be defeated.
6) Letter to the exiles (29:1-32): To counter the rumor of only a brief stay in Babylon, Jeremiah counsels the exiles to settle down and make themselves at home. The exile would last seventy years, long enough for God to make His point. Yet He still had great plans for His people (29:11-13).
7) The new covenant (31:31-34): God would eventually establish a new covenant with His people and deal with them very differently. Hebrews 8 and 10 says this promise is fulfilled in Christ’s ministry.
8) The king burns Jeremiah’s scroll (36:1-32): God has Jeremiah write down His call to Judah to repent. When the message is read to the king, the king burns it up, and God has Jeremiah write it down again.
9) Judah falls (39:1-44:30): Jeremiah’s predictions come true as Jerusalem falls, Zedekiah is captured and punished, rebels assassinate the governor, and Jeremiah is taken to Egypt.
This series of poems mourns the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 are alphabetical acrostics, with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet beginning a verse, in order. Chapter 3 gives each letter three verses in a row. The reason for Jerusalem’s fall is given in 1:8, “Jerusalem sinned greatly / Therefore she has become an unclean thing…” The writer celebrates God’s faithfulness in 3:22, 23 in perhaps the best known passage in the book. And the final verses (5:19-22) plea for God’s forgiveness and restoration.
Ezekiel was a priest, but never served as one since he was taken captive and removed to Babylon during the captivity. At the time, he was in his 20’s. But when he turned 30, the age when he probably would have become a priest, he was called into God’s service (1:1). He was a contemporary with Jeremiah and Daniel. Jeremiah spoke to those who remained in the land of Judah and Daniel ministered in the court of the king of Babylon. But Ezekiel spoke to the captives who had been taken to Babylon. His ministry took place in a very difficult time among people who resisted God’s message. In order to gain their attention, Ezekiel’s message is very colorful at times and uses imagery that is later found in the book of Revelation. As with Jeremiah, he sometimes acted out parables. He stresses individual responsibility before God and saw himself as a lookout, whose job was to warn the people and call them back into proper relationship with God.
1) Ezekiel’s call (2:1-3:27): Ezekiel is to preach to the people in spite of their resistance to the message. He is responsible for delivering the message, not for whether people accept it and obey.
2) Acting out Jerusalem’s destruction (4:1-5:17): Attacking a brick, baking bread, and shaving are all used to picture the fall of Jerusalem.
3) Allegory of the unfaithful wife (16:1-63): Ezekiel pictures God’s people as a wife who owes her husband everything, yet who rejected him and prostituted herself. So she faces proper punishment.
4) Individual responsibility (18:1-32): God will not punish anyone for someone else’s sins, but only for his own sins. Moreover, repentance will save the sinner’s life and provide reconciliation with God.
5) Oholah and Oholibah (23:1-49): This parable pictures Samaria and Jerusalem, capital cities of Israel and Judah, as two immoral and unfaithful sisters, who will suffer punishment for their immorality.
6) Prophecies against foreign nations (25:1-32:32): Again, God holds all nations accountable for their behavior and not just Israel, with whom He made a covenant.
7) The watchman’s duty (33:1-20): Ezekiel repeats his message of personal responsibility. Just as a city’s watchman was responsible to deliver his warnings, so is God’s messenger responsible.
8) The failure of Israel’s shepherds (34:1-31): Those whom God had called to be His people’s spiritual shepherds had failed. But God would raise up “David” (23, 24) as a new shepherd. Jesus, a descendant of David, used this parable as the background for His claim, in John 10, to be the “Good Shepherd.”
9) Valley of dry bones (37:1-28): Ten years into the exile, God’s people had lost hope and the nation was as good as dead. But just as God could use Ezekiel’s preaching to give life to dead bones, so He would use preaching to give new life to the nation. Their return would be only a foretaste of the eternal life He would offer through Christ—“My servant David” (24).
10) Gog and Magog (38:1-39:29): Ezekiel pictures an invasion from the north, attacking God’s people. God would take on these armies, destroying them once and for all. Ezekiel places this picture just before his vision of a new temple, in which God dwells among His people. The closing chapters of Revelation are a parallel, where John has Gog and Magog gathering for war against the forces of God and then struck down, just before the judgment and the new heavens and the new earth appear.
11) Vision of the Temple (40:1-48:35): In this climax of his message, Ezekiel pictures God returning for a relationship with His people, one that will never end. The vision is further developed in Revelation, which also ends with the city of God, which also has a life-giving river flowing through it.
Strictly speaking, Daniel was a statesman rather than a prophet. His ministry was among the leaders of Babylon rather than among God’s people. He was young, smart, and capable when he was taken to Babylon among the captives of Judah. The first half of the book is a series of stories about his life and work at the center of the Babylonian Empire. The second half is a series of prophetic visions, much of which would be fulfilled over the next few centuries.
1) Choosing God’s standards over the king’s (1:1-21): The king seeks to train Daniel and other young exiles from Jerusalem and plans to feed them his own food. But such food would violate their faith, so Daniel initiates a successful experiment that saves their integrity while achieving the king’s goal.
2) Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:1-49): When the king has a troubling dream, he asks the wise men to interpret it, but either will not or cannot tell what the dream was. But Daniel interprets it, revealing it to be a prophecy of kingdoms to come after Babylon.
3) Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (3:1-30): The king builds a monument to himself and demands that everyone worship it. When Daniel’s three friends refuse, they are thrown into a furnace, but survive without harm. In response, the king acknowledges the reality of their God.
4) Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson in pride (4:1-37): The king’s pride in all he has achieved is punished when he is forced to live like an animal for some time until he repents.
5) Belshazzar’s feast (5:1-31): Years later, the next king’s pride and disrespect for God lead to judgment. After a warning during a royal feast one evening, Babylon falls to an enemy army.
6) Daniel in the lion’s den (6:1-28): The jealousy of Daniel’s rivals leads them to scheme against him. But God protects him in his faithfulness and his enemies are destroyed.
7) Visions of the future (7:1-12:13): These passages are pictorial representations of coming history, largely fulfilled over the following few centuries. The passage on the “Seventy Weeks” (9:24-27) points ahead to the ministry of Christ. However, scholars differ over its exact interpretation.
While Isaiah through Daniel are considered “major prophets,” Hosea through Malachi are considered “minor prophets,” simply because these final twelve books are much shorter than those that go before. Hosea prophesied during the time that Isaiah did, but did so in Israel, the northern kingdom, up to its defeat by Assyria. Israel had fallen into paganism and political confusion. After Jereboam II Israel had six kings over the next twenty years, and four of them took the office by assassinating their predecessor, so it was a difficult time. Yet despite their idolatry and unfaithfulness, God still loved Israel and sought reconciliation. That very message was lived out in Hosea’s life through his experience with an unfaithful wife, Gomer. The first three chapters tell how God directed Hosea to marry Gomer, who was unfaithful to him. His heart is broken, but he redeems her from slavery and gives her another chance. The rest of the book applies those lessons to Israel in its unbelief and rebellion against God. Because of the people’s immorality, the land itself suffers (4:3). God struggles with Israel (6:4), but they will be suffer for their sin (9:7). God’s love for Israel as a father for his child is pictured beautifully in 11:1-4. And, at the end, there is hope for renewal and future blessing (14:1-7).
The author tells nothing of himself except his father’s name (1:1). He is often considered to be the earliest of the writing prophets, living about the same time as Elijah and Elisha, in the 8th century before Christ. He describes a plague of locusts, using it as a picture of God’s judgment. Locusts were worse than an invading army, for they left nothing green behind, nothing that could be offered to God (1:9, 11). In response to the threat, Joel calls the nation to prayer (1:14). Yet there is hope, for God promises restoration (3:1). The nations that have brought suffering on God’s people would be punished (3:2-8). Joel uses the term “the day of the Lord” to suggest God’s final judgment, rewarding the faithful and punishing the rebellious. And when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted Joel 2:28-32 as a prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit, a prophecy fulfilled on that very significant day.
Amos was not a lifelong prophet as were, for example, Isaiah and Jeremiah. He was a shepherd and a grower of sycamore figs (1:1; 7:14). His hometown was about 12 miles south of Jerusalem, but God sent him to Israel, the northern kingdom, during the reign of Jereboam II. He ministered at the same time as Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Israel ignored Amos’s warnings and Amaziah the priest told him to go back to Judah (7:10-13). Thirty years later, Assyria conquered Israel and Israel ceased to exist.
There are three divisions in the prophecy of Amos. In 1:1-2:3 Amos speaks to the surrounding nations, condemning the things they do that are an offense to God. Then he turns to Judah and Israel (2:4-6:14), condemning their immorality and disregard for God’s directions. Amos especially notes their self-indulgent wealth and careless disregard for the poor (4:1; 6:4-7). Finally, chapters 7-9 offer a vision of the future, picturing God’s unavoidable judgment, but then looking ahead to the restoration of Israel and a time of healing, reconciliation, and rebuilding.
This shortest book in the Old Testament prophesies against Edom, the descendants of Esau. Edom was located southeast of the Dead Sea, near Judah. Though they were related to the Israelites, they had no respect for their relatives. The final outrage and, apparently, the occasion for Obadiah’s prophecy, was Edom’s invasion of Judah while the army of Babylon was looting it in 587 B.C. The capital of Edom was Sela, now called Petra. It was on a plateau above a sheer rock cliff, approached by a narrow gorge. As a result, the people thought it was impregnable and they were totally safe. And that sense of safety led to arrogance and pride (3). Years later, in the 5th century before Christ, Arabs conquered Edom, and in the 3rd century the Nabataeans took over the area. Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus, was an Edomite. But after 70 A.D. Edom ceased to exist. In contrast, Obadiah foretells the return of Israel to possess the land again, even including land that had formerly been Edomite territory.
Unlike any of the other books of the Minor Prophets, this one tells the story of its prophet, not so much the content of his message. It shows God’s concern for other nations than Israel, not just holding them accountable for their sins, but loving them. Jesus cites the story as a parallel to His resurrection (Matthew 12:40; Luke 11:32).
The story begins with God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the strongest, most feared and hated nation of its time. Jonah instead boards a ship to go the other direction. When a storm arises, Jonah realizes the only hope for those on the ship is to throw him into the sea. When they do, Jonah is swallowed by a big fish that God has prepared. And while in the fish, Jonah repents. When the fish spits Jonah out, he goes to Nineveh and begins to proclaim God’s coming judgment. In response, the whole city repents, from the king on down. Rather than rejoice in Assyria’s change of heart, Jonah becomes angry with God. Perhaps he is embarrassed that the destruction he predicted will not now happen or is even disappointed that a nation he hated has escaped destruction. God responds by using a gourd and a worm to teach Jonah that He has a right to care for the people of Nineveh.
The name Micah means “who is like God” and suggests the key verse, 7:18: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love.” The prophet lived at the same time as Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. He denounces the same sins that Amos does—dishonesty in business, greed, abuse of the poor, and empty religion. His ministry was focused on both Samaria and Jerusalem, capitals of Israel and Judah. His message warns of God’s judgment and rejoices in His grace. What God wants from people isn’t sacrifices and religious ritual, but personal holiness and relationship with Him (6:6-8). There will be judgment for Israel and Judah, he says, yet ultimately Jerusalem will become the religious center of the world and Bethlehem will see the birth of a descendant of David who will rule over all the world (5:2-5, a passage often read at Christmas). Man’s sin results in God’s judgment, but God is gracious and will always seek reconciliation and offer forgiveness.
Some years earlier God had sent Jonah to warn Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and the city had repented. But repentance did not last, and now God sent Nahum to predict the city’s downfall. Nahum begins, not with Nineveh, but with God—His anger, power, goodness, and patience. He uses colorful images to picture Nineveh’s coming destruction. God had used Nineveh earlier to punish His own people, Israel. But now He would use other nations to punish and destroy Assyria. In chapter 3, Nahum compares Nineveh to a prostitute who has enticed other nations, but would receive the punishment of a prostitute (3:5, 6). Nineveh fell in 612 B.C. when it was attacked by a coalition of Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians. The Tigris River, which flowed through Nineveh, flooded and destroyed the city’s defenses, which made it possible for the attacking armies to enter and fulfilled the picture suggested in 1:8 and 2:6. The story of God’s judgment against Nineveh provides comfort for any people who live in fear of a powerful and godless nation, for God will, in time, destroy all who do not honor Him.
How can God allow His own people to suffer while a far more wicked nation prospers? Can a truly good God allow such a situation? These are the questions that bother Habakkuk. He prophesied during the time of Jeremiah and not long before Judah fell to the Babylonian invaders. Even though Judah had not kept their word to God, it still bothered Habakkuk that God would use the pagan Babylonians to punish them. God gives the answer, though, in chapter 2. In His own time He would deal with all who dishonor and disobey Him. Meanwhile, the righteous are to live by faith (2:4)—faith that God will deal with evil in the world in His own time and in His own way, and faith that He would appropriately bless and care for His own. This key verse, 2:4, would be quoted three times in the New Testament, Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38 to clarify the basis for the Christian’s salvation. Chapter 3 is a psalm. It pictures God as an invading army. The message is that, even though He should take away every enjoyable thing in life, He is still to be worshiped because He is still God (3:18, 19).
Zephaniah tells more about his family background than any of the other Minor Prophets. He traces his ancestry to King Hezekiah and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah in Judah. The two previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, had a very destructive influence on Judah’s relationship with God. But during the reign of Josiah the book of the Law of Moses was rediscovered in the Temple and, as a result, Josiah led the nation in revival. Doubtless Zephaniah helped encourage this revival. He speaks of the Day of the Lord, a term previously used by Joel and Habakkuk, to warn of coming judgment, besides blessings to those who have been faithful. Anyone who thought God’s blessings were guaranteed might have thought that talk of His judgment was for someone else, but God often surprises people who have put their trust in being religious instead of being godly and obedient. Jerusalem, often over-confident, would be judged (3:1-7). But God would leave a remnant and, in due time, He would restore His people.
The last three Old Testament prophets ministered during the years following the Babylonian captivity. When the first group of exiles returned under Zerubbabel, grandson of King Jehoiachin, they made a good start on rebuilding the Temple, which the Babylonians had destroyed in 587 B.C. But soon apathy and opposition began to take their toll and the work came to a stop. For years nothing was done, until Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people to renewed effort. Finally, in 516 B.C., the Temple was completed. The theme of Haggai’s prophecy, though, is not the Temple. Rather, he writes about priorities, which is always a relevant issue for God’s people. They had built comfortable houses for themselves, yet God’s house lay desolate (1:4). The people had their priorities wrong, so Haggai prodded them to action. The book is a series of five brief messages, each one dated in the year 520 B.C. 1:2-15 notes the problem of misplaced priorities and calls for rebuilding the Temple. 2:1-9 notes that the new Temple lacks the glory of Solomon’s Temple, yet the future would bring a glory unknown before and people from all nations would come. 2:10-19 notes that it is filth, not cleanliness, that is contagious. Judah’s neglect of God had brought them uncleanness, but God would bless their obedience with cleanness and renewal. 2:20-23 is a note to Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of David and an ancestor of Christ. God had chosen him and would use him for His purposes.
There are more prophecies of the Messiah—the Christ—in Zechariah than in any of the other Minor Prophets. Ancient tradition suggests that Zechariah was both priest and prophet, and that he was killed at the Temple (Matthew 23:35). The book is apocalyptic in style, so it is much like Revelation, with many colorful pictures. The first eight chapters are a series of visions, which chapters 9-14 are a series of spoken messages. Chapter one pictures four horsemen patrolling the earth, just as Persian mounted police would have done. The message is one of comfort. The four horns (1:18-21) picture the end of the hostile powers which had held God’s people down. Chapter two has a man with a measuring line, preparing to rebuild Jerusalem. Chapter three pictures God cleansing Joshua the high priest for office. Chapter four encourages the rebuilding of the Temple, noting that Zerubbabel had not only begun the work, but he would complete it, too. Chapter five, with its flying scroll, pictures the removal of the curse of wickedness from the land. The chariots of 6:1-10 recall the horsemen patrolling the earth in chapter 1, while the crowning of Joshua suggests the dual roles of the Messiah—the Christ—as prophet and priest. Chapter 7 challenges the people as to their motives for fasting. Were they truly doing it to honor God, or was it just empty ritual? The same question is always appropriate for God’s people. Chapter 8 looks ahead to a glorious future for Jerusalem, a time of peace and prosperity. Chapters 9-11 deal with Israel and its neighboring nations. The Messiah would come, riding on a donkey instead of a horse (9:9), as a sign of peace. Because God’s people rejected His help, He would allow the nation to be divided. Chapters 12-14 look to the future. God would remove the false prophets and refine His people. Chapter 14 looks to the last battle and the age to come, when the whole earth becomes God’s kingdom.
The name Malachi means “my messenger,” an appropriate name for a prophet of God. He spoke about 400 years before Christ, during a time when God’s people had become careless and disillusioned about their relationship with Him. Haggai and Zechariah had spurred the people to rebuild the Temple, but now times were hard and the promised prosperity had not come, so the people were seeing God as a disappointment. As a result, they had become casual in their worship and in their observation of the standards God had set for them. Malachi responds with a series of sarcastic questions designed to shock the people into reevaluating their relationship with God. The people doubted God’s love for them, but Malachi points to Israel’s cousins, the Edomites, who were also conquered by Babylon, but not restored, as was Israel (1:2-5). The people were disrespectful of God in not offering their best (1:6-14), so God will punish the priests (2:1-9). Indifference toward God was also reflected in a growing divorce rate (2:10-16). As a result of these sins, God promises to send His messenger (3:1), who would refine His people. The people had also become careless about paying their tithes, which robbed God of what was properly due Him and robbed the people themselves of God’s blessing (3:8-12). Chapter 4 points to the time when God will even things out, punishing all who disrespect Him and rewarding those who faithfully honor Him. The closing verses point ahead to John the Baptist, whose coming would prepare the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan through His Son, Jesus Christ.