1:1 A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
So here we are beginning the final book of the Old Testament in our “Uncharted” series. The name “Malachi” means “my messenger,” and he was indeed God’s messenger to Israel. He gave them the same basic message as all of the other Old Testament prophets: Covenant blessing requires covenant faithfulness … or in other words, if you want God to keep His end of His covenant promises, you’d better keep your side of the agreement. That’s easy, right? Actually, as sinners, that is difficult.
This writing is now somewhere about 65-85 years after the time of Haggai and Zechariah – or about 450-430 BC. The Temple (of Zerubbabel) had been rebuilt with a brief time of revival following it; but now after a period of decline, life was hard, harvests were poor, the Persians dominated, the hearts of the people were cold, the priests were corrupt, and skepticism was rampant.
Israel Doubts God’s Love
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’
The love/hate comparison here should be understood as a chosen/not chosen contrast. Though Esau was the older brother, it was Jacob/Israel that God had chosen to be His blessed people. And even as Esau gave up his birthright willingly for the immediate satisfaction of a bowl of stew, so his descendents demonstrated a total lack of heart for God. Esau’s descendents were the Edomites – the people we began talking about in this series through the prophecy of Obediah – a nation judged by God with destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.
Israel also was conquered by the Babylonians. But unlike Edom, God preserved a remnant to bring them back to their land as an expression of His covenant love; and now here they are again in a position of not honoring God.
The tone of this prophecy is one of disputation, as in a courtroom scene. God proves His faithfulness, and proves also how Israel has not honored the terms of the covenant made together.
Breaking Covenant Through Blemished Sacrifices
6 “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. 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.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
7 “By offering defiled food on my altar.
“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.
9 “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.
10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.
“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”
The message is directed to the priests, who were guilty for knowing proper sacrificial regulations, yet not enforcing them with the people. The spiritual hearts of them all were on display when they brought sick and otherwise blemished animals for sacrifice. They disregarded the law’s regulations to bring the best, but rather held onto the best males in the flocks and herds.
Why would they do this? Well, in agriculture, a full one-half of a herd of flock can be seen in that one, young, best, prized ram or bull – possessing genetics that will be passed down for generations. Why risk your visible future, your entire measurement of wealth, by sacrificing that one best animal? Why not take the cheap route and send to the altar a sick or crippled beast that is not going to live long anyhow?
So, you see what God is really doing in asking for the best? He is asking for the worshipper to place his future prosperity and sustenance into God’s hands. That is difficult to do. But, is it not more true that obeying God will secure the future? That should be easy to do to obey God … right?
Let’s put it into modern terms. You have a mortgage and other bills, and you have an income that struggles to meet those bills in a one-to-one fashion, most times. And then you read that God would like you to be generous in giving toward Him. It even sounds like maybe something in the area of 10 or 20 percent of income would be appropriate. But how can you do that? How does the math work that 90% next month will cover what 100% this month barely accomplished? So, you throw a few bucks at God and hope He is not angry, right?
Hey, I can’t explain how 90% with God is more than 100% without Him … all I can say is that I’ve never seen anyone who is rich toward God find total failure, poverty, and foreclosure and debt counseling to be any part of their lives. It is really so simple … or is it so hard?