MALACHI -Fifth in a series
Malachi 1:7 Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.
This is not a cryptic verse, yet, from reading the comments of many theologians, it is a baffling one.
Several commentaries pointed out that the bread offering was set on a table and not an altar, and that the reference to an altar would suggest that the word bread here refers to the animal sacrifice. You can read for yourself the various comments of many expositors on StudyLight.org. Calvin states: "I have no doubt but that God means by bread here every kind of offering, and we know that the shew-bread was not offered on the altar; but there was a table by itself appointed for this purpose near the altar." Wesley says: "Bread - Either the meal offerings, or rather in a more large sense, all sacrifices and oblations…"
The Word of God is a rich feast, and those who delve into it enjoy many hours of banqueting. Then, too, it is a masterfully cut diamond with so many facets and inner lights that we become enamored of its complex beauty. Or, we may become overawed.
In regard to this verse, the more commentaries I read, the more confused I became. I finally looked in my ROL (regular old library) and found a paperback, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, first published in 1955 by Christian Literature Crusade. I have not been able to find much background information about the author, a British pastor, C.W. Slemming.
This is a study of the Offerings and Feasts of Israel that enables clarification regarding the bread offered upon the altar— which was polluted by the priests in the day of Malachi's prophecy.
The bread offering was called, in the King James Version, the meat offering. The reason for using the word meat was that, in the days when King James ruled England, a person would not be asked out to a meal. He would be invited to "meat." (Thus Shalt Thou Serve, p 27) Slemming terms it a "meal" offering to better define it.
The Hebrew word for meal offering denotes "the gift of an inferior to a superior." Thus, the gift must be worthy of the one to whom it is given. The preparation of a meal offering is described in Leviticus. (Lev 2:1-2). It was never to be prepared with leaven (Lev 2:4, 11) nor with honey (Lev 2:11) "The fermenting properties of leaven reduce the whole of the meal into a condition of corruption." (ibid, p. 31) (see 1 Cor 5:6-7; Mat 16:11-12) Honey, in excess, can sour the stomach, which could affect the priests' enjoyment of it. Both ingredients typify heart attitudes to avoid: pride and self indulgence.
The bread (meal offering) given by the people to the priests was seasoned with salt and further prepared (Lev 2:15) before a portion of it was burned on the altar (Lev 2:2, 8, 9,12) as a sweet savor unto the Lord.
How had it been polluted by the priests addressed by Malachi? Was it not prepared properly? Or, did it not reflect the best the offerer had to give?
The meal offering was a voluntary offering. Those who prepared it according to law gave it to the priest to show him appreciation and honor. As already noted, it was a gift from an inferior to a superior. It could be made from uncooked flour, unleavened cakes or from roasted grain; baked in a pan or cooked in a frying pan. Thus allowances were made for the person's circumstances. (ibid, p. 29) If the person had not respected the priest by using his best ingredients, then it ought to be rejected, for the priest was his mediator to God. And it was the job of the priest to uphold standards and respect for his office.
Verse 7 states that the Lord accuses the priests of polluting God himself. They had made the table where this bread was set "contemptible" to God. Yet they protested, "Wherein have we polluted thee?"
It was not immediately clear to the priests what they were doing wrong. Perhaps they would spend much time discussing this prophecy and praying to discern what their particular sin was. Something was amiss, or much worse: The God of their fathers, the Creator and Lord of all was offended by their service in His House. How could they remedy the crisis?
We today should question whether our worship practices are an offense to God. Do we pollute Him by anything we offer? Or, is it even important to worship inside a building? If it is, how should we dress? Does it matter?
These are not questions we can quickly answer or even understand. Our response will reveal our secret thoughts as well as our level of understanding of what God wants. As Slemming notes, "Ignorance is not easily established; much of the ignorance we seek to claim is willful. We could have found the facts but we did not bother." (ibid, p. 43)