THE PRIESTHOOD: Despising The Lord
What was the highest office in Israel? The king? Not so! The highest office was to serve as a priest, for the priest was a mediator between God and man, the highest calling in life.
It was the priest who offered the atoning sacrifice for sin. It was the priest who conveyed God’s love, mercy, and blessing upon the people. It was the priest who maintained the place of worship. It was the priest who had the grave responsibility of instructing the people in holiness, teaching the Law, and functioning in Israel’s high court as a judge.
The priest was consecrated to his office in an elaborate ceremony. His body was washed with water, blood atonement was offered on the altar for his sins, holy anointing oil was poured over him, and official garments draped his body for service.
Although the priests knew their awesome responsibility before the Lord, by the time Malachi wrote his prophecy, they had desecrated their office, defamed God’s name, and were held in disgrace by the people (2:9).
GOD’S SACREDNESS DEFAMED (V. 6)
The relationship which God had established with Israel was that of a father and son from its inception as·a nation (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1). The Law commanded that a son was to honor his father (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16), and a servant was to respect his master (v. 6). If Judah were both a “son” and a “servant,” God questioned, “…where is mine honor? And…where is my fear [respect]?” (v. 6).
The word honor comes from a Hebrew word, Kabod, which means glory. God was entitled to both “honor” and “glory,” but He received neither from Judah during this time. How ironic that the fathers of Judah demanded honor from their sons in keeping with the Law but deliberately transgressed the Law when it came to honoring God! But even more ironic was that they “despised” (held contempt for) God’s name (v. 6).
What an indictment of the priesthood! How true the words of Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass, his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know . . .” (Isa. 1:3).
If the priests, who taught the Law, led in worship, and were to be an example for the people to follow (Neh. 9:38-10:39; Ezra 6:16-22; 7:10), despised God’s name, how much more so would the people?
Blind to their spiritual condition, the priests had the audacity to ask an unthinkable question, “In what way have we despised thy name?” (v. 6). The spiritually blind are often self-deceived and unaware of their guilt.
Often this has been the case of Israel’s spiritual leaders throughout the centuries. Jesus, in seeing the blindness of Israel’s spiritual leaders, called them “blind leaders of the blind” (Mt. 15:14; cp. Mt. 23). During the Great Tribulation it will be even worse as multitudes are swept away by the deceptive lie of the Antichrist (2 Th. 2:9-11).
GOD’S SANCTUARY DESECRATED (V. 1)
How had Israel despised God’s name? First, they offered “polluted bread” (v. 7) upon the altar. This has no reference to the showbread displayed in the Holy Place, but refers to animal sacrifices which were considered to be bread unto the Lord (Lev. 21:6; Ezek. 44:7).
These sacrifices could have been polluted in two ways. First, offerings were defective, sick, or lame, which was strictly forbidden by the Law (Lev. 22:17-30). Israel had been warned that such sacrifices profaned God’s name (Lev. 22:2, 32). They committed the very sin God had prohibited, not out of ignorance, for they knew the Law, but out of indifference to it.
Second, the word polluted had reference to priestly contamination, for they offered sacrifice after sacrifice without washing their hands or changing clothes between offerings. This automatically disqualified them as unclean to perform their priestly function. Therefore, the priests not only despised God’s name but polluted everything their hands touched – the sacrifice, altar, and their service to God.
Once again the priests had the gall to question God’s indictment against them, “In what way have we polluted thee?” (v. 7). Notice, they did not claim ignorance of the Law, pretending to be surprised that God pronounced them guilty of defilement, but asked about the specific charge.
GOD’S SACRIFICE DEFECTIVE (vv..7·9)
Another way they despised God’s name was by saying, “The table of the Lord is contemptible” (v. 7). Again, this has no reference to the table of showbread, but to the brazen altar where sacrificed animals were offered to the Lord.
God specifically questioned the priests concerning their actions, inquiring whether they thought it wrong to offer “blind . . . lame and sick” (v. 8) animals on the altar. Their natural response should have been to condemn such offerings, but no such answer was given.
In a sarcastic tone, Malachi questioned, “Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?” (v. 8). The prophet was urging the priests to take such blind, crippled, and diseased animals to the governor and see if he would favorably accept them and their gift. No priest in his right mind would dare offer such worthless sacrifices unto the governor! In fact, the governor would most likely bring swift judgment against such an insult. If this were the case, how absurd it would be to offer worthless gifts to God who is the great Judge of the universe.
How different was King David’s attitude in acquiring Araunah’ s threshing floor in order to build an altar before the Lord. Araunah offered the floor to David free. But David, showing real character, said, “Nay, but I will surely buy it of thee at a price; neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). Any service performed by a true servant of God costs something in time, money, and physical strength.
One might be quick to criticize the actions of these priests, but how many Christians offer God that which costs them nothing. Many lavish money upon themselves but give little to God or His work. Many dress in the latest style but give their castoffs to the missionary. Many enjoy expensive vacations but would never provide ticket money for a missionary to return to his field of service.
Malachi continued to urge the priests, “beseech God [soften Him up, or appease the face of God] that he will be gracious” (v. 9). The prophet is saying, Since this has been your conduct, and this is , the way you are bent on continuing, do not stop now! But do you really think God will show favor on and acceptance of such attitudes and actions? Never! A holy God cannot accept unholy or hypocritical service!
This is true today for many in God’s service. Their ministry has more show than substance, more getting for self than giving to others, and more glorifying of self than God. In times of reflection, their service seems empty as they wonder why God is not blessing their work.
GOD’S SERVANTS DEMEANING (vv. 10·12)
The Temple worship had become so degenerate and despicable that it would have been better to shut it down rather than continue its contemptible service. Malachi asked, “Who is there even among you that would shut the doors . . . ?” (v. 10). He was hoping that a conscientious priest, with spiritual character and conviction, would step forward and close the Temple down until the sinful practices were terminated, for it was useless to “kindle fire” (v. 10) on the altar when the Lord had no pleasure in their sacrifices and service (v. 10).
So corrupt were the priests that no one would step forward to “shut the doors for nothing,” nor “kindle fire” (v. 10) for nothing. They would not serve in the Temple without receiving pay up front for the most trivial service. Some were even remiss in doing their duty after receiving remuneration.
God was willing to see the Temple shut down rather than continue such hypocritical worship. In the past He had become fed up with corrupt worship and refused to accept their sacrifice (Isa. 1:11-15). Finally, God allowed their Temple to be destroyed (586 B.C.). Jesus had to cleanse the Temple in His day and stated, “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13). God again shut the Temple in A.D. 70, and it has remained closed until this day.
Many churches, like the Temple, should be closed. On the surface this might seem like a very harsh statement, but upon reflection it is valid, for the people, many Christian in name only, go through a ritualistic litany and liturgy which has little reality in their lives. The church at Laodicea was of this sort and God said, “I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). God not only closed the church of Laodicea, but eventually all seven churches mentioned in Revelation (Rev. 2-3).
God did not need Judah’s worship, for He said, “from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the nations” (v. 11).
Scholars have disagreed on whether this verse should be interpreted in the present or future tense. Those interpreting the statement in the present tense show that the words, “shall be” (v. 11), have been added by the translator. Thus the verse would read, “my name is great among the nations.” In that day God’s name was great among the nations, for many not only heard of but saw His mighty acts on behalf of Judah (v. 14; Dan. 6:25-27). But there is a problem if the verse is interpreted in the present, for how are the words, “in every place incense shall be offered unto my name” (v. 11), to be taken? Do they have reference to Jews offering incense throughout the world? This would be impossible, since Jerusalem was the only place where offerings could be made. Neither would it have reference to Jews from other nations bringing offerings to be presented in Jerusalem, for the diaspora had not taken place as yet. Nor could the verse have reference to pagan Gentiles offering in their respective countries or Jerusalem. This verse must have reference to the future Kingdom Age when God’s name will be honored by “a pure offering” (v. 11) among the nations. At that time the nations will come to Jerusalem and worship the true God of Israel (Zech. 14:16).
The authorized translation (KJV) seems to indicate that Gentiles will make offerings “in every place” (v. 11). But the preposition, in, can be translated from; thus the verse would read, “from every place” Gentiles would bring their offerings to be presented on the altar in Jerusalem.
Today God’s name is great among the nations, for He has called out a remnant who are proclaiming His praise throughout the world (1 Pet. 2:9). During the Kingdom Age, the witness will be even greater.
Malachi not only dealt with the priests’ actions, but with their attitude concerning the polluted sacrifices, “But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit of it, even its food, is contemptible” (v. 12). The priests showed no respect for either the Lord’s table (altar) or its fruit (the meat offering). It is inevitable that those who despise the Lord’s altar will defile it.
GODLESS SERVICE DENOUNCED (vv. 13·14)
Malachi enumerates a number of charges God had against the priests. First, they approached their ministry halfheartedly, “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it!” (v. 13). Instead of viewing their ministry as a high and holy privilege, the priests saw it as boring and burdensome. How true. Those who perform their ministry in the flesh will find it to be arduous, meaningless, and a drudgery.
Paul was a superb example of one with a servant’s attitude. He suffered every possible discouragement and weariness, both physically and mentally (2 Cor. 4:7-12; 11:23-28; 12:1-10), known to the ministry. Yet he was able to say, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16-17). Paul’s secret for enduring the struggles in God’s service was to simply walk in the Holy Spirit’s power with his eyes fixed on the Lord, not on himself or his circumstances.
- L. Moody said it so succinctly, “I become weary in well doing, but not weary of well doing.” How true of Paul and all servants who minister in God’s power.
Second, they “sniffed at” (v. 13) their service before the Lord. They turned up their noses in belittlement at serving in God’s Temple, as one who would turn away from obnoxious food. They considered their priestly duties to be a burden, a dull, ritualistic routine performed in a mechanical manner with no care. Such service would become wearisome.
Third, the priests allowed people to bring sacrifices which were “torn . . . lame . . . sick” (v. 13), an act condemned by the Law. For the priests to offer such sacrifices was the epitome of spiritual debauchery.
Again the Lord asked, “Should I accept this of your hand?” (v. 13). Naturally not, for they were against God’s revealed will and holy nature!
Many would be quick to condemn the action of both priests and people, yet they offer spiritual service which costs them nothing. They rob God by giving half hearted worship, offering up tired minds and bodies for service, and spending little time preparing for the ministry they are called to implement.
Fourth, God pronounced a curse upon those who made deceptive vows (v. 14). They were tricksters who played games with God. They vowed to sacrifice an unblemished male animal upon the altar, but actually substituted a blemished male or female animal (less valuable) in its place (v. 14). This was strictly forbidden by the Law. Did the priests and people really think they could trick an omniscient God? If God’s name were terrible (held in fear and dread) among unbelieving nations (v. 14), how much more should Judah, who knew God’s judgments, reverence Him?
Many Christians vow to serve the Lord during times of commitment, but fail to pay, or present less than the vow demands. Solomon wrote, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools. Pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:4-5).
This was illustrated very dramatically at the inception of the Church. Ananias and Sapphira vowed to sell their land and give the money to the church. But they defrauded God by failing to give the total amount made from the sale of their land. Swift judgment fell upon both when confronted with their deception: they died immediately (Acts 5:1-11).
Peter’s words say it all, “Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4). How many have promised to tithe, but cheat God every week? How many promise to pray for specific requests, but never do? How many make commitments to pastors, missionaries, friends, church boards, and never fulfill their vows?
Jesus asks the believer-priest today a very important question, “. . . why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46).
There is a charge to keep when one claims Christ as Lord. Charles Wesley caught this vision while reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on Leviticus 8:35. Henry wrote, “We shall everyone of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve.”
Inspired by Henry’s words, Wesley wrote a hymn and titled it, “Keep the Charge of the Lord, That Ye Die Not.” Later the hymn was retitled, “A Charge to Keep I Have.”1 The first two stanzas go like this: “A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify, A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky. To serve this present age, My calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage, To do my Master’s will!” Christian friend, are you honoring or dishonoring God’s name? Remember, He is either Lord of all, or not Lord at all!
- Kenneth W. Osbeck, “101 More Hymn Stories ” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 1985, p. 14.