How to Read Malachi

The Book of Malachi

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

The book of Malachi is a series of disputes between God and Israel. This final book of the Old Testament tells the truth about the human condition, but also reveals God’s promise to one day send a messenger who will announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Malachi, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of Malachi in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Malachi. Read about The Lord’s love for Israel in Malachi 1:1–5. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Malachi 1:1–5.

Malachi 1:1-5 (ESV)

1The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.

The Lord’s Love for Israel

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’”5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The Lord has loved Jacob, but hated Esau.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Malachi 1:1–5? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) The Lord has loved Jacob, but hated Esau. (Interpretation) God has established and been faithful to His covenant with Jacob (Israel). He chose to bless all the nations of the earth through Jacob’s family, not through Esau’s family. This shows His love for Jacob and Israel.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Malachi 1:1–5? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Malachi? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: God promises Abraham that He will bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s family. God chooses Abraham’s descendent, Jacob, over his older brother and rightful heir, Esau, through whom to continue His promise and plan. Jacob’s twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel. God faithfully brings the Israelites into the Promised Land. Israel is exiled for their unfaithfulness to the Covenant. God brings a remnant of Israel out of exile and back to Jerusalem. God continues to work out His good plan, even though the people have remained unchanged, hardened, and suspicious of Him. God sends His Son Jesus, who becomes the Messianic King, ruling over the New Jerusalem. People from all nations—including Edom—are pulled into the family of God and into the new Kingdom. God is faithful to His promise to display His love and keep His promises to Jacob, to Israel. 

Contextualize: What themes does Malachi 1:1–5 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the story of Malachi? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: When life becomes disorienting, it is easy to miss seeing the hand of God at work, and to begin to accuse Him of neglect and apathy. When I find myself becoming suspicious of God’s goodness or His work in my life and in the world, I can recall His faithfulness, and remind myself of His love and His constant work toward accomplishing His plan of redemption. I can draw hope from the future Kingdom and healing justice that God will one day fully bring.

Apply: How does the truth from Malachi 1:1–5 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Malachi to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Malachi, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Malachi this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.