Be a good witness

MALACHI -Seventh in a series

Malachi 1:9-12 And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts. (vs 9)
Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand. (vs10)
For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. (vs 11)
But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible. (vs 12)

In the previous posts we noted that the priests under Malachi's scrutiny offered impure sacrifices and oblations. The animals were blind, sick and lame and the meal offerings were substandard.

Why would men offer blemished creatures to atone for their sins? Why the disrespectful bread? In today's verses we gain more insight, namely, the priests were disappointing leaders.

Malachi points out to the priests that God will not hear their prayers on behalf of the people because he would not "regard your persons." (vs 9) These were leaders who would not even shut the door of the house of God unless they were paid to do so. (vs 10) Much less would they kindle a fire on God's altar without payment. They only did their assigned duties for a paycheck, not because it was in their hearts to serve God. Then, when they performed their priestly functions, it was with unacceptable offerings.

The people must have known what their priests were as men, so they did not honor them by bringing good animals, which were to atone for their sins as well as to provide food for the priests. One perfunctory deed deserves another—a vicious cycle.

The larger context casts some light on this situation. While the Jews were in captivity there was no temple worship. During that time,

the Jews consolidated around their sacred writings, and the Torah took the place of the temple as a sacred center… One of the Talmuds, a compendium of Jewish legal thought, was written in Babylon in the fifth century. (ref)
Elders supervised the Jewish communities… This was possibly also the period when synagogues were first established, for the Jews observed the Sabbath and religious holidays, practiced circumcision, and substituted prayers for former ritual sacrifices in the Temple. (ref)

But having returned to their land and rebuilt the temple, they were to worship in the old ways which may have seemed less interesting, more expensive, and a lot more trouble.

In either case, whether the priests and people had not adjusted to the old ways or whether they were simply sinners in their treatment of each other and their Temple worship, the result was that God's name was profaned.

Only pure offerings could please him in his Temple for my name shall be great among the heathen (vs 11) You may wonder, how could the Gentiles have known whether or not the Jews were fulfilling God's worship requirements? At this time, they were in control of Jerusalem, so they could see the Jews as they went to worship.

Though Cyrus, King of Persia, had promoted their return to their homeland and the reconstruction of their Temple (2Ch 36:23; Ezra 1:1-8; Isa 44:28), he did not go so far as to cede the land back to them. Thus, God wanted his own to be good witnesses to their overlords, and perhaps this did not occur to the Jews. Malachi forces their attention to these unbelievers to whom they are called to be faithful witnesses.

The bloody sacrifice

Why would healthy domestic animals brought as offerings to God's House be a good witness to the heathen? (vs 11)

These pointed to the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and would cause the Gentiles to stop and wonder.

Once inside the temple, the ‘meat’ oblations (see fifth post) testified of the bread of life (Jhn 6:35, 48), for living bread would come down from heaven to bring salvation to his own.

In the 21st century AD, our practices are different yet we like the Jews of the fifth century BC must be wholehearted in worship, knowing and proclaiming that the blood atones for our sins— for us, the blood of Jesus. The celebration of communion that cannot be shared with outsiders will cause them to wonder about our God.

God IS here

MALACHI -Sixth in a series

Malachi 1:8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

In the previous post we asked whether the meal offerings (Mal 1:7) were unacceptable to God because the people could have prepared them more carefully or used better ingredients.

Their meal offerings betrayed a lackadaisical attitude toward the priest who was their mediator with the Lord. And when the priest shared a handful of the bread as a burnt offering on the altar, it was not a sweet savor to the Lord. It stunk.

In verse 8 we see a similar dilemma. The animals brought by the people for sacrifices, to substitute for their sinful acts, whether of omission or commission, whether done in ignorance or wittingly, did not meet God's standards. This was much worse than lackadaisical or passionless; it was an affront to God and an abuse of the priest's office.

As with the meal offerings, the sin or trespass offering was according to the person's circumstances. If he had a herd, a bull would be offered; if a flock, then a sheep (or other— (Lev 5:6)); if neither, then turtledoves or pigeons according to the type of offering. Yet they were to bring an animal without a blemish. (Num 29:13; Deut 15:21) These duties were performed by the Jews for centuries to preserve a faithful witness so that we could become members of God's family, and for their service, we should always show respect and gratefulness to them (except to those of whom Christ says, "which say they are Jews, and are not" (Rev 2:9; 3:9)).

"In each instance the animal was a domestic, a creature that was tame and fed on vegetation… Only the docile creature could represent the pure and holy One who gave his life a ransom for many. The animals had to be free from blemish as they prefigured the One who was free from sin." (ibid, p. 17--see previous post)

The blemished animal "spoiled the type," a phrase we often hear regarding Old Testament objects that represented Christ, such as the rock in the wilderness that gushed water when Moses struck it, but in the manner he did so, the type was spoiled, and Moses then was not permitted to enter the promised land (Num 20:11-12). It was a serious matter to spoil the type.

The offering of blind, lame and sick animals was somewhat on the level of a bribe, where a person seeks to gain pardon through a payoff far less than the crime merits, betraying an attitude of privilege and involving the mediator in the underhanded transaction. However, Malachi 1:14 makes clear that the people who brought these to sacrifice, did so to deceive the priests: But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.

The priests, whether truly deceived or only glossing over the deception, were as much at fault as the perfidious people. They should have rejected these offerings. Anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, sins. (James 4:17) Offering them made them complicit in the sin. They were leading the people astray from God's law in their acceptance of the blemished animals.

The visibility factor

Malachi argued that these priests would not offer sick animals to their governor (Mal 1:8), who would not take them off their hands anyway.

Governors are people we can see; people who might harm us. God is invisible. Perhaps we do not perceive any threat.

Though we see God in nature and we see his works in many ways, we cannot see him. We must have faith that he really is there-- here-- and that he reveals his character, plans, law and path to salvation in his Word.

Did the priests and people have faith? Do we?

God IS here… be not faithless, but believing (Jhn 20:27).

Give of your best to the One who intercedes for you

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)

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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