Devotional: Malachi 2
Background: In chapter 1, Malachi began a courtroom scene in which God brought charges against the people of Israel as a whole, and began by the end of the chapter to address the priests more pointedly. Here in chapter 2, Malachi continues to address the priests. Who were they? They were descendants of Aaron (from the tribe of Levi), Moses’ brother (Exodus 4:14). Exodus 28 describes not only the garments that they wore, but also the purpose of the priesthood. Essentially, they were to intercede for the people, bringing offerings that would temporarily cleanse the people from their sin. The cleansing was temporary because only the blood of the Son of God would be sufficient to totally wipe out the stain of sin (Hebrews 10:1-18). Technically, I believe that this priesthood ceased to have any meaning or purpose once Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross and rose again, proving that God had accepted His sacrifice once for all time. Later, in 70 AD, the Temple itself was destroyed, so the Levitical priests were pretty much out of a job.
At the time of Malachi’s prophecy, though, the Israelites had managed to build a second Temple following their return from exile in Babylon, so sacrifices were being offered, but (as we saw in chapter 1) the priests were not taking service to God very seriously. They were allowing the people to bring worthless offerings, without calling them to true repentance and worship. Here in chapter 2, Malachi’s message continues to find fault with the attitudes and actions of the priests themselves, and addresses the consequences of their actions.
Verses 1-9: Remember, this message was given to Malachi around the same time that Nehemiah was leading the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem and Ezra was exhorting the Israelites who had returned to the Land of Israel from Babylonian captivity to give up their pagan ways and return to God. You can read about this in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 7-13. The first thing that I see in chapter 2 is that God has finished with this portion of the prosecution’s presentation, and is moving on to the sentencing portion of this court scene. If the priests don’t repent and begin to revere the Name (character) of the great King, the LORD of Hosts, and honor Him among the people, then they will suffer the consequences—they will fall under curses instead of blessings, and the “blessings” that they proclaimed over the people will also turn to curses. It is important to remember that God is not sending curses on them as we might think of curses. He is not acting evilly towards them, but the “curses” are the result of His lifting His protecting hand from them. Without His protection, they would feel the full weight of living in this fallen world.
We Christ-trusters have been called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19-21), but what about “priests”. Can we really apply this charge to ourselves? I think so. Look at Romans 12:1-2. Paul calls on trusters in Christ to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. Not only that, he says that this sacrifice is our mindful (rational) service. Remember, this is not a sacrifice to gain something from God, but a thanks offering BECAUSE of what He has done. So, while we are not bringing offerings and sacrifices for other people’s sins to be covered, we are bringing ourselves before God in thanksgiving. In that sense I think we are priests. Therefore, we can apply what is directed to the priesthood to ourselves.
So, what can we learn from verses 1-9 here in chapter 2? First, if we do not heed what God tells us in His Word, if we fail to honor Him with our lives, if we fail to present ourselves as living thank offerings, if we use our giftings to bring ourselves glory instead of bringing glory to God, then we can expect unfavorable consequences. Discipline! Perceived distance from God. Just the same way that God made a covenant with the tribe of Levi, to be their provider and sustainer (Numbers 18, 35, Deuteronomy 12:17-19), to give them life and peace in exchange for their reverence and obedience, He has covenanted with us through the blood of Christ. He expects us to revere His Name; to teach Biblical Truth (2 Timothy 4:1-3); to live our lives in a manner that glorifies God, thereby calling sinners to repentance; to be His ambassadors, His messengers in this needy world. If we fail to do our part, the consequence is that we will lose our witness, we will fail to be in a position to lead people to Christ. As a church, we will lose any standing in our community.
Verses 10-12 shift back to addressing the Israelites at large. Ezra 9:1-2 gives a glimpse into what Malachi is talking about in this section. Not only have the people been bringing worthless offerings, but they are mixing the worship of the One True God with pagan gods from the nations that surround them. The LORD of Hosts says here in verse 12 that the punishment for doing this is going to be being cut off from God Himself (cut off from approaching God with any sacrifices or gifts). Do we mix human tradition into our worship of God? Do we mix living for God with living for the things that this world system can offer? Are we in danger of drifting to the point of being cut off from God because we have defiled the covenant relationship that we have with Christ?
Verses 13-16: Here we see the people have been crying and sorrowful because God has no longer been accepting their offerings; they are no longer experiencing His care and protection. Yet, it is not God’s fault! Instead, He bears witness here to the next sin brought before this court proceeding that the people are guilty of–divorce. Marriage before God was not taken lightly. It was a binding pledge—with dire consequences if broken–between not just the man and woman, but also between them and God. We know from Ephesians 5:1-32, that marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. How many churches today are just spiritual shells now because they have turned away from the Truth of the Bible, rejected Christ as the only way to God, and embraced sin in the name of “tolerance”?
We can also apply this section of Malachi in a more individual way. Remember what Pastor Shaun said last week, “Salvation is not something we do. No one can earn their salvation. Rather, it is someone we become. In urging us to live a life worthy of our calling, Paul is pointing us to our purpose—to use our gifts in the Body of Christ for His will (not our own). Paul instructs us to be humble and gentle, to receive rebuke and correction, to be patient and endure life’s hardships, and to be eager to promote unity and peace with each other. To deliberately separate over disagreements as an easy way out is being disobedient to God.” How many people just bounce from one congregation to another, seeking to find teaching that appeals to them or escaping “difficult” teachings.
Verse 17 actually leads into the next section, which will build and conclude in chapter 3. The prosecutor states that the LORD has become wearied by their words. What are they saying that is tiring Him? “Everyone doing evil is good in the sight of ADONAI, and He delights in them.” Or, “Where is the God of justice?” We see this in our world today. Preaching that God is a god of love and that in the end, all people will go to heaven because of His love. Claiming that the Bible is outdated or untrustworthy and that sin is no longer sinful. Claiming that tolerance is really a loving act, and that those who cling to Biblical standards of living and preach Christ as the sole way to heaven are the ones deserving of punishment. Rejecting God’s governing authority and then crying that there is no justice in the world.
Putting this all together, I think that this chapter shows us some of the pitfalls that we can fall into if we are not actively living FOR Christ. This involves not just living in a manner worthy of His calling, but also using the gifts He has given us. I think that is what being a “living sacrifice” is all about. Using the gifts He has given to us involves giving up our time for His purposes, essentially offering (or sacrificing) our “free” time to Him. This also fits in with what we have been learning about unity, because the gifts He has given us are to build up all the members of the Body of Christ so we are all on the same page as it were—all moving in the same direction, with the same goal in mind (which is the Biblical definition of unity) If we are not guarding our unity (by using our gifts to build one another up into maturity), we are allowing things and ideas to come in and start to create cracks that will lead to loss of that unity. Loss of unity if unchecked can lead to “divorce”.
Devotional reading to be shared on June 24th: Malachi 3