THE PRIESTHOOD: God’s Ekg of Israel Malachi 2:1-9
What child has not heard the stern voice of his father, “Son, you must be disciplined for what you did!” The word discipline struck fear in the son’s heart as big tears poured from his eyes, for he knew the punishment that awaited.
The same is true spiritually. God, like a father, must discipline those who are disobedient to His Word, especially spiritual leaders who blatantly defame and demean their call. Such was the case in Judah, for her priesthood had polluted everything they touched.
THE PRIESTS CURSED (vv. 1-3)
Malachi pronounced a severe indictment against the priests because they had dishonored God’s name (1:6-14). The indictment came in the form of a commandment (admonishment) [v. 1] to turn from evil. If they took the warning to heart (v. 2), God would withhold judgment. But if they continued in the path of disobedience, He would send the prophesied curses uttered to Israel as they entered into Canaan (Dt. 27:9-26; 28:15-68).
GOD’S CURSE ON THE PRIESTS WOULD COME IN THE FORM OF THESE JUDGMENTS
FIRST – He would “corrupt [their] seed”
SECOND – God would “spread dung [excrement]” upon their “faces” and “solemn feasts”
THIRD – the priesthood would suffer the same fate as the dung: “and one shall take you away with it”
A number of judgments would come upon the priests as a result of God’s curse. First, He would “corrupt [their] seed” (v. 3). What did it mean to have corrupt seed? Some believe God would curse their fields, making them unproductive. This interpretation is doubtful since the priests received most of their physical provisions from the people. Others teach that the word for “seed” (zera) should be translated arm (zeroa). The text would then read, “I will rebuke your arm” (v. 3), using the word arm as a metaphor in reference to the priests’ strength or ability in performing their priestly duties (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Malachi, p. 1579). Still others believe it has reference to the priests’ offspring being removed from their official duties. This interpretation seems to best fit the context.
Second, God would “spread dung [excrement]” upon their “faces” and “solemn feasts” (v. 3). The Law demanded that the animal’s unclean organs and dung be burned outside of the city (Ex. 29:14). Here, God will mix together the unclean parts of the sacrifice and rub the filth upon the priests’ faces. He used the most degrading terminology possible to describe what He thinks of the priests and their service. Notice, they are called “your solemn feasts” (v. 3). God will have no part in them.
Third, the priesthood would suffer the same fate as the dung: “and one shall take you away with it” (v. 3). They would be removed from their priestly duties.
Judah’s priests should have taken this warning to heart, for they knew well what had happened to King Jeroboam and King Jehoiakim. Jeroboam and his sons were taken away as refuse (1 Ki. 14:10) because he had done more evil than all who lived before him (1 Ki. 14:9). He and his dynasty were not buried after their deaths but remained on the ground (outside the city) to be devoured by wild beasts and birds. Jehoiakim suffered a similar fate after his death. He had the “burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer. 22:19). When an animal died in Jerusalem, its body was thrown over the city wall and left to decay or to be devoured by beasts of prey. The unfaithful priests were to suffer a similar fate.
God did not want mere lip service from the priests but total life commitment. To remain in their apathetic condition meant that the Lord would curse their blessings (v. 2) one by one. In fact, He had “cursed them already” (v. 2), for God knew the priests would not repent of their sin.
The Lord desires more than lip service from believers today. He wants a life submitted unto Him. The believer who only hears God’s Word, but does not put its precepts into practice, lives a life of self-deception (Jas. 1:22-25).
THE PRIESTS’ COVENANT (vv. 4-7)
The priests would experience the reality of God’s discipline for two reasons: first, so they would know (v. 4) God’s commandments were not just empty threats; and second, so that His “covenant might be with Levi” (v. 4), meaning that the tribe of Levi might remain the official ministering body within the Temple. If God did not bring the priests to a place of repentance, He would, of necessity, have to destroy them for their sin.
Malachi reminded the priesthood of their loftly covenant relationship with God. First, God desired that the covenant made with the Levitical priesthood would provide “life and peace” (v. 5). They were to experience a life of spiritual peace and physical prosperity.
The covenant of life and peace was first bestowed upon Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13) for his stand against evil. Before Israel had gone into Canaan, Balaam had tried to curse the nation, but he was unsuccessful. Since the curse did not work, he tried to corrupt the nation by getting them to worship Baal-peor and to practice sexual immorality with Moabite women, a fertility practice associated with the worship of Baal (Num. 25:1-4). While Moses gave the pronouncement to have all those practicing these abominations destroyed (v. 5), Zirnri (v.14) brought a Midianite prostitute by the name of Cozbi (v. 15) into his tent and committed fornication with her (v. 6). Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, outraged by such a bold act, grabbed his javelin, entered Zimri’s tent and killed him along with Cozbi (vv. 7-8). Because of his deed, God confirmed a “covenant of peace” (v. 12) upon Phinehas and his descendants. It was Phinehas’ deed which turned away God’s wrath from the people (v. 11).
In mentioning the covenant of peace made with Phinehas, Malachi is making a number of comparisons to the priests in his day with those of the past. Phinehas showed that he held God’s name in reverential awe, but the priests of Malachi’s day despised God by not revering His name (1:6). Phineas took action to stay the wrath of God; the priests in Malachi’s day brought about God’s wrath by their attitudes and actions (1:7-8, 12-14). Phinehas experienced peace and life during a very disruptive time, but these priests, although living in peace, would have peace and life taken away from them (vv. 2-3).
Today, life and peace are obtained through Jesus the Messiah. He secured them for all who put faith in Him by means of His death on the cross (Isa. 53:5; Rom. 5:1). Those who truly walk in Christ’s commandments will experience peace in a troubled world (Jn. 14:27; 16:33).
Second, the Levitical priesthood was led by principles: “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips” (v. 6). The law has reference to the Mosaic Law which the priests taught to the people (Dt. 33:8-11; Neh. 8:7-8), who in turn taught it to their children (Dt. 6:6-9). But the priests in Malachi’s day were led by their own pernicious ways and not by the principles of God.
The believer who hides God’s Word in his heart (Ps. 119:9, 11, 105) and meditates upon its principles continually will find the secret to spiritual prosperity (Josh. 1:8).
Third, the Levitical priesthood was prudent, “and iniquity was not found in his lips” (v. 6). The word “iniquity” means unfair decision (The Pulpit Commentary, Malachi, Vol. XIV, p. 20). The priest not only taught the Law, but functioned as a judge who had to make fair judicial decisions between people (Dt. 17:8-9; 19:17-18). It would stand to reason, if the priests in Malachi’s day were corrupt and deceptive in their religious practices, they would not make right judicial decisions (v. 9) . During the Kingdom Age the Messiah will rule justly (Isa. 11:3-5).
Fourth, the Levitical priesthood practiced what it preached. “. . . he walked with me in peace and equity” (v. 6), said God. Because the priest governed his conduct by God’s law, he lived a righteous life resulting in personal peace. The priests of Malachi’s day were derelict in their duty and could find no solace from God in times of chastening. True peace and righteousness come not just in knowing God’s Word, but by practicing its precepts, as already shown.
Fifth, the word and walk of the Levitical priesthood prevented sin by turning “many away from iniquity” (v. 6). Spiritual leaders have a tremendous impact upon people for good or evil. They can turn people to or away from God by their talk and walk The priests of Malachi’s day turned people to iniquity, not away from it.
Sixth, the Levitical priesthood preserved the law: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge,and they should seek the law at his mouth” (v. 7). The word “keep” means to guard or to preserve the Law from perversion. It was the priest’s duty to study the Law and then to teach it to others. In Malachi’s day the priests perverted the Law by their lips and teachings.
Today, the believer should be eager in showing that he is an approved workman for the Lord by giving diligent study to God’s Word, rightly dividing it (2 Tim. 2:15). Only then will he be prepared to preserve the Word of God from error and properly teach others.
Seventh, the Levitical priesthood proclaimed the law: “for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (v. 7). The priest not only explained but exhorted or declared God’s message to the people. This is the only place in Scripture where the priest is called the messenger of God. The priests in Malachi’s day had no message because sin had sealed their lips.
The believer is a messenger of Christ. As God’s ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20) he is not to represent himself but the Lord, who sends him throughout the world to proclaim the message of salvation to a lost humanity (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8; Rom. 10:14-17).
THE PRIESTS’ CORRUPTION (vv. 8·9)
Malachi pointed out to the priests of his day four ways in which they had broken their covenant relationship with God. They had “departed” (v. 8) from the prescribed obligations of their office. Their instruction was destructive. Instead of turning people from iniquity, they caused them to “stumble at the law” (v. 8) . They desecrated their covenant relationship with God by corrupting the “covenant of Levi” (v. 8). They were deceptive in their execution of justice. God told them, “ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law” (v. 9). Perverting justice, by showing respect of persons for selfish ends, was a gross violation of the Law (Lev. 19:15).
How ironic, the people were warned not to depart from the priests’ teachings, but the priests departed from their own teachings. It was as if they were saying, “Do as I say, not as I do!” Their own walk was not according to their word. Could God do any less than bring judgment upon them?
The Christian must remember that, as a believer-priest, his works will be judged too. One day each believer will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for his service in this life.
THREE TYPES OF CHRISTIAN WORKERS:
- THE MASTER BUILDER
- THE SHODDY BUILDER
- THE DESTRUCTIVE WORKER
In 1 Corinthians 3:9-17, Paul presents three types of Christian workers. There are those master builders who lay a solid foundation of good works (v. 10), the shoddy builders who are careless and inept at their service (v. 15), and those whose service is destructive rather than constructive (v. 17). After the solid foundation is laid, different materials can be used for the super structure. There are lasting materials like gold, silver and precious stones, which endure the test of time, and faulty materials such as wood, hay and stubble which do not last (v. 12). Every man’s service will be tested by fire to see what type of work it is (v. 13). The combustible materials (symbolic of worthless service) are consumed immediately leaving no trace of their substance. This type of builder shall “suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet as by fire” (v. 15). The loss suffered is only the believer’s reward, not his salvation. The one whose works stand the test of fire will “receive a reward” (v. 14). The reward is not clarified, although praise will be part of it (1 Cor. 4:5). The word “reward” (v. 14) comes from a Greek word which means wage. There is a payday coming to every believer. Itis possible for one to deceive other believers concerning his service, but God knows the true motive of every worker and work!
Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
Just because some ministries seem to be successful in the eyes of man does not mean that they have God’s approval and blessing. Only the day of judgment will reveal the true quality of a ministry. Each believer who serves must make sure his life is clean, his motives God-honoring and his service implemented in the power of God’s Spirit.
THE PRIESTS CONDEMNED (v. 9)
The priests were condemned for their corrupt practices. God allowed them to be viewed as “contemptible and base before all the people” (v. 9). Notice, they received the same judgment which they had sown. The priests held God’s table in contempt (1:7), and now the people held the priests in contempt! How true is God’s Word: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
No son ever likes to be disciplined by his father, but discipline is necessary to guide him toward maturity. The father who does not administer discipline does not truly love his son.
God loves the believer as a son, and for this reason He disciplines him toward Christian maturity: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6).
The word “chasten” has the idea of instructive discipline, as one would use to train a child. Discipline is not meted out as punishment but is meant to instruct the individual in the way he should walk. The word “son” is not referring to a child but to an adult son, one who can very quickly understand God’s instruction in his life and respond accordingly.
The believer can avoid chastening by repenting the moment he sins (1 Jn. 1:9). God has said, “. . . if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31). The believer is given a choice: Through self-examination he can re moye sill from his life, or he can wait until God does it through chastening. God disciplines the son back to a place of commitment so he will “not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32).
Those who continually ignore the chastening of God may become physically weak, sickly or even die (1 Cor. 11:30).
Naturally, chastening is grievous and never joyous, but after it is all over, the fruit yielded in one’s life will be the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12: 10-11).
I believe you would agree with Dr. V. Raymond Edman, “In an undisciplined age when liberty and license have replaced law and loyalty, there is greater need than ever before that we be disciplined to be His disciples.”1
- V. Raymond Edman, The Disciplines of Life, (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1948), p. 9.