DISHONORING GOD Malachi 1–2
” ’If I am a father, where is the honor due Me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty” (Mal. 1:6).How can we honor God in our worship and in our daily lives? The pointed questions that Malachi asked his generation help us evaluate our own relationship with the Lord, and point to ways that we as His people can honor Him.
Some 50,000 Jews traveled from Babylon to Judea in 538B.C The Persian Cyrus had supplanted Babylonian rulers, and he decreed that captive peoples could return to their homelands. So a little group of Jewish pioneers, motivated by religious enthusiasm, set out for Judea. They were intent on rebuilding the temple of God and on building a faith-community in the land promised to Abraham’s offspring. The story, as told in Ezra and Nehemiah, and as reflected in the postexilic Prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, is one of mixed triumph and tragedy. After the temple foundations were laid, the difficulties of reestablishing farms and homes on what was then a desolate frontier seemed overwhelming. Commitment to rebuild the temple waned as the exiles concentrated on meeting their own needs. Some 18 years later the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah rekindled the spiritual fires, and the temple was finished in 515B.C But again revival fires cooled. About 80 years after the first group returned home, the scribe Ezra led another small contingent back to the Holy Land. God later supplied another godly leader in Nehemiah, who served as governor and rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls. Each of these leaders, however, found a people less committed to God, with a lax lifestyle that revealed a marked lack of respect for the Lord. Most commentators believe that Malachi, whose words condemned the same spiritual maladies, ministered sometime after the governorship of Nehemiah. If so, we can’t help being amazed—and warned—by how quickly the Old Testament community drifted again from its commitment to the Lord. Perhaps this is the major contribution of Malachi to our own lives. We see how vulnerable all of us are to spiritual drift. We’re shown ways to find out if we ourselves are off course. And we are encouraged by the promise that as we remain true in our commitment to honor God always, we will be among those who make up God’s most treasured possession.
God had loved His people (1:1–5). Yet His priests treated Him with contempt (v. 6–2:9), and His people wearied God with their unfaithfulness (vv. 10–17).
Understanding the Text
” ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord” Mal. 1:1–5.
The foundation of our relationship with the Lord is not our faith, but the fact of God’s love. It is the unshakable conviction that God loves us and has shown His love for us in Christ, that creates faith, and keeps our love for the Lord growing. How significant then that the people of Judah responded to God’s affirmation of love with a cynical question: “Love? Oh yeah? How have You loved us?” This is just the first of a series of seven such questions asked by the priests or people of Judah which revealed their spiritual lethargy. All talk of God, all occasions for worship, had become dreadfully boring to God’s own. In modern terminology, worship had become a drag! Unless you and I keep a clear focus on God’s love, and return that love, our faith too will soon become meaningless. We will lose our sense of joy, and those things we have done to please God will seem like meaningless chores. Keeping the “personal” in our personal relationship with God is our first and most important priority. “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” Mal. 1:1–5. Here “Jacob” and “Esau” refer primarily to the peoples descended from the two brothers. God had demonstrated His love for the Jewish people (“Jacob”) by restoring them to their homeland. But the Edomites (“Esau”) had been displaced from their lands by the Nabateans, and the territory had become a “wasteland” inherited by “desert jackals.” This was a divine judgment on a people who had from early times been hostile to God’s chosen people, and merited punishment (cf. Ex. 17:8–16; Jdg. 3:12–13; 1 Sam. 27:8; Obad.). “I have loved” and “I have hated” is a way of expressing acceptance and rejection, and has two references. The saying describes God’s rejection of any claim Esau might have had to inherit God’s covenant promise to Abraham (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:13). And the saying contrasts what has happened to the Jewish people and the Edomites. Both the original choice of Jacob, and the subsequent experience of the Jewish people, display the love of God for His chosen race. Today if anyone were foolish enough to challenge God, saying, “How have You loved us?” we would point to the Cross. And we would testify how Jesus has changed our lives. God’s decision to sacrifice His Son, and the subsequent experience by Christians of the great salvation Jesus won for us, prove God’s love beyond any shadow of doubt. There may be times when you and I ask “why?” But we never need wonder whether God loves us. Grasping the extent of that love, we will say with the godly of Malachi’s day, “Great is the Lord.” “How have we despised Your name?” Mal. 1:6–14 When God through Malachi confronted the priests of Judea for failing to honor Him, they responded blandly with another cynical question. The response was the same as a denial: “Despise Your name? Not us!” Malachi went on to identify three ways these religious leaders showed contempt for the Lord. First, they demonstrated disrespect by placing “defiled food on My altar” (vv. 6–7). Old Testament Law described in detail how sacrifices were to be offered (cf. Lev. 1–6). This was not mere ritual: careful observance of the rules governing sacrifices was a way to show respect for the Lord. The priests, however, disregarded the Law’s regulations and so defiled the sacrifices (rendered them ritually unclean). It was as if our parents came over for dinner, and we served them a can of dog food. Second, they demonstrated disrespect by offering disqualified sacrifices (Mal. 1:8–9, 13–14). Old Testament Law required that sacrificial animals be unblemished. These priests accepted diseased or crippled animals for sacrifice. Malachi said pointedly, “Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” Yet they dared to offer such beasts to God, who is no mere governor but the universe’s great King! Third, they disdained the privilege of leading in worship, finding it “a burden” and sniffing “at it contemptuously” (vv. 10–14). They had totally lost any sense of God’s presence, and were merely going through the motions of worship. What clear and simple—and yet overwhelming—tools for us to use in evaluating the quality of our own personal relationship with God. Are we careful to show respect for God in the way we worship, or are we careless in our church attendance and practice? Do we give Him our best, or does the Lord receive only our leftovers? Do we look foward to worshiping the Lord privately and with others, or has worship become boring and meaningless? If we have fallen into the ways of the priests of Malachi’s day, then we need to confess now. We need to focus again on God’s love for us in Jesus, and ask the Lord to fan our love for the Lord into flames. Then we need to return to worship filled with a vital sense of Christ’s living presence as we bow down to Him. “If you do not set your heart to honor My name . . . I will send a curse” Mal. 2:1–9. The failure of the priesthood was critical, for “a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction” (v. 7). Any flaw in the priesthood was bound to affect the people they were called to serve. Malachi charged the priests of his day, “You have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble” (v. 8). A priesthood that failed in its mission of serving God and instructing the people would surely be punished. The warning is directly applicable to us. New Testament believers are called a “holy priesthood,” serving under Jesus our High Priest (1 Peter 2:9). We too are charged with worshiping God and instructing others in His ways. Because our lives have such an impact on others, we must guard our commitment carefully. The higher the calling, the greater the responsibility. And ours is the highest calling of all! “You have wearied the Lord with your words” Mal. 2:17. Most of us remember how small children pick up a phrase or saying, and repeat it again and again and again. After a time it seems as if you can’t stand hearing it even one more time. I have that problem with popular music. Right now a group called “New Kids on the Block” has captivated our nine-year-old. All I hear is snatches of their songs hummed or sung over and over again, or “Joe likes pizza,” Joe this, and Joe that. I’m pretty sure I can’t stand it much longer. But at least I’ve learned what it means to be “wearied with words.” Malachi portrays God as fed up too. He heard His people talking, and they were saying the same things over and over again. But God was not just annoyed by what they said. God was slandered! His own people claimed He was pleased with this or that person who complained, “Where is the God of justice?” In other words, “God’s not being fair!” Somehow the perspective of the people of Judea had become distorted, and neither the Lord nor His ways were understood. How dangerous it is to suppose that we can judge what God does. How dangerous to suppose that we can relegislate morality, and pronounce “good” those who do what God says is wrong. There’s just this spirit loose in our land today, as moral issues are clouded by rhetoric and demands for the “right” to do wrong. As believers, we ourselves are bound by God’s Word. We must stand with God in His identification of what is right and of what is wrong.
Always Be True(Mal. 2)
A children’s song captures the meaning of the seventh commandment. “Always be true,” it says. “Always be true to one you’re married to.” Malachi too captured this meaning. “Judah has broken faith,” the prophet proclaimed. Men had married pagan wives. Men had discarded older wives to marry younger, more sexually attractive girls. In many ways, but particularly in these, the people of Malachi’s day showed that they totally misunderstood the concept of loyalty which lies at the root of every human relationship, and at the root of relationship with God Himself. You see, God had long ago made a commitment to Abraham and his offspring. Those offspring had often proven rebellious and disobedient. Yet through the long centuries God remained faithful to His covenant commitment. God would love, endlessly, even if His people did not love Him in return. That’s what covenant means. Commitment. Loyalty. Always being true. Marriage was intended by God to be a covenant relationship. It was to be a pact of loyalty, by which two of His people committed themselves to one another. Oh, there might be the unusual situation in which the hardness of one person ultimately made marriage impossible and divorce a necessity. But there could be no excuse for what was then going on in Judah. Men were obviously marrying to satisfy their passion, with no sense of the deeper meaning of marriage. They took foreign wives, who surely would not attract them by their character or faith! And they cast off older wives in a heated rush to find a younger bride, who would be no more to them than a sex object. Where was the commitment so essential to covenant relationship? Where was loyalty? Gone! And, Malachi said, God is a witness on the side of the wife who is treated so shabbily. Malachi said God no longer pays attention to the offerings of such a husband, nor accepts them. Such divorce God hates, for it is an act of violence, tearing at and destroying the very heart of the abandoned wife. Reading this passage I can’t help thinking of one couple I know. He began an affair with a fellow worker, and then decided to leave his wife and two teenagers to marry her. He did leave. And I’ve counseled with both the wife and the teens, and seen the terrible damage his choice has done. Seeing their hurt, I understand why God hates such a divorce. That husband has never faced the appalling nature of his betrayal, or acknowledged to any of the three he’s harmed that his abandonment was a sin. The husband and his new wife go to church regularly. They sing in the choir. But I wonder if he ever senses the terrible fact that the Lord “no longer pays attention to [his] offerings or accepts them with pleasure from [his] hands”?
We are to model our relationships with others on God’s covenant relationship with us.