Malachi 1:7 – By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised.
In the prior study, we saw that God was dealing with his people, but particularly with the priests. Why was that? It was because the priests were the leaders of the nation. If they honored, loved and served God, so would the rest of the people.
But they were far from being holy. In fact, they despised everything to do with God. God had a real case against these men, but in his great love and mercy, he sends a message to them through Malachi confronting them with their sin and calling them to repentance.
The first accusation God brings against them involves his altar, or your translation may say ‘table’. This refers to the brazen altar, where the burnt offerings and sacrifices were made to God. Offerings of any kind made upon this altar were often referred to as food, bread, or God’s bread:
Leviticus 21:6 – They [the priests] shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.
How exactly was the food/bread polluted?
As you recall, any animal (lamb, goat, bull, etc) offered to God in sacrifice had to be without blemish. No true priest would accept an offering that was blind or sick, or lame, or weak/injured, or even a runt. You were to give your best offering to God. Anything else was an insult to him.
Deuteronomy 15:21 – But if it (the animal) has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.
Think of it this way. What if you had a friend that owned an extensive collection of jewelry – watches, rings, necklaces, cuff links, earrings and any other piece of jewelry you could imagine – made of gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls etc.
Now if your friend said they wanted to give you a gift – a piece of jewelry from their collection – would you be excited? Of course! But what if you opened the box and it was a really thin, slightly bent, scratched and dirty looking gold-plated ring. Would you be impressed? Why not? Because that awful bent ring was worthless to them! It didn’t even cost them anything to give it to you. In fact, they were probably glad to get rid of it!
Giving it to you was actually an insult, because it shows how little they value their relationship with you.
The same is true with God. Remember when Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving offerings? The scripture says that many rich people came in and gave large sums of money. There was also a widow who gave two copper coins, which was the equivalent of a single penny. And then Jesus gives us this truth:
Mark 12:43-44 – Truly, truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she…put in everything that she had, all she had to live on.
In other words, her gift was extravagant and valuable to God because it was her best. It cost her something to give that offering; it was a true sacrifice.
So when the post exilic Jews brought lame or blind offerings to be placed on God’s altar, they were giving worthless offerings – animals that couldn’t or wouldn’t be used for anything else, because they were defective or blemished or half dead already. Just as getting the gold-plated ring was an insult, it was an insult to God when the Jews presented him with sick and damaged animal offerings.
Did you realize that there is a parallel between the altar of burnt offerings (God’s table in the Old Covenant), and the communion ceremony (God’s table in the New Covenant)?
What did the animals (also referred to as food/bread) that were sacrificed on the brazen altar represent? Depending on the circumstance, they were used as an atonement for sin, or a fellowship offering, or an offering of thanksgiving for the harvest, or a vow, etc. In other words, the sacrifices that were placed on the altar created a relationship or a fellowship between God and man. They were symbolic of the atoning work of Jesus.
As we know, in the New covenant, Jesus willingly laid down his life for our sin, to establish a love relationship between God and man. Thus, the bread (and blood) of the communion table represents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his highest and best sacrifice; a sacrifice that cost him dearly – the life of his only Son.
So when the post exilic priests offered polluted offerings on the altar, they were teaching people to mock or despise the offering that the Messiah would one day provide for them. Their polluted worthless sacrifices showed irreverence for the ceremonies and laws of the very God they claimed to serve. In fact, they were scorning God himself!
There is also another angle to consider here. Remember that the priests kept a portion of every sacrifice that was given in the temple (meat, bread, etc) for their own use. Some scholars have suggested that the priests accepted substandard sacrifices because they were afraid. If they refused to take anything but the best, perhaps the Jews would stop bringing sacrifices to the temple all together; then the priests would have nothing for themselves or their families. Perhaps they accepted the worst because they felt it was better than nothing at all.
If that is what they thought, they were wrong!
Malachi 1:8 – When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? Says the Lord of hosts.
God makes another appeal to their natural reasoning. On the one hand, the priests were saying, ‘presenting lame offerings to God okay, because of our present circumstances’. Yet, if they went to see the governor of the region, they would not take such a mangy offering!
Is it proper to offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords an offering that, under the very same circumstances, they would not offer to a mere man like themselves? They would never even consider giving that mangy, blind animal to a man of worldly renown, yet they offer it to God. How wicked! How ungrateful! How despicable! Sadly, they are blind to their own evil ways.
Here is something that makes the situation even worse. These are not Gentiles. These are not people who have no idea who God is, or what he is about. These are not people who are new in their dealings with the Lord. These are people who profess and believe that they are God’s children.
The law required a perfect sacrifice because God should be honored with our best. God has a right to everything we have, and his rights are supreme over everyone else.
Nevertheless, God has given us authority over our best. Because it is under our own control, dedicating our best to God becomes a test of faith and love. God asks for our best, but he gives us the option to give our best to anyone or anything we please. It’s our choice.
People who offered a polluted sacrifice failed the test. They showed that God did not have first place in their lives. By giving their best to others, they showed that they were trusting in others (or themselves) more than God. They were going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from their heavenly Father.
Can the same thing be said of worshippers today? Are there people who make a pretense of worship, but their hearts are far from God?
For instance, do we just randomly throw $10 dollars in the offering plate because that is the acceptable thing to do? Or have we purposely determined in our hearts what we will give God as an offering?
Do we go to church and sing the songs because they are upbeat and enjoyable, or did we come there with the intent to worship God during that time?
Do we ever mechanically pray for people with an empty heart, or do we really stop and join with them and intentionally intercede for them with heaven?
In short, are we going through the motions of our Christian lives without really giving God our best and highest? Are we polluting the relationship we have with him? To just go through the motions is to live a faithless Christian walk. If this is the way we choose to operate, we should not be surprised if God is not pleased; for the bible reveals that it is impossible to please God without faith.
Hebrews 11:6 – But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Let me give you a gentle reminder that this text deals with sacrifice. God expects us to sacrifice different areas of our life as an offering to him. What are you giving God? Is it your highest and best?
Malachi 1:9 – And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? Says the Lord of hosts.
So the post exilic priests were despising God with their polluted offerings and service. Since that was the case, who could they cry out to when problems came? Did they have any basis to expect answers and favor from God? Of course not! Why should God be gracious to those who rejected a relationship with him and treated him with contempt?
It seems obvious, but we sometimes act the same way. Consider this and see if you believe it is true:
Man is not so much the victim of his circumstances, as he is the creator of them.
While that is not the case 100% of the time (case in point, Job), it is certainly true much of the time.
We waste our money and spend beyond our means, then cry out to God when the debt collectors come. We eat too much and fail to otherwise take care of our bodies, then we cry to God when we have health problems. We marry unbelievers, then whine about our marital situation.
And that is not the worst of it. When we don’t have good stewardship over our finances, that means when God is looking for someone to use in that realm of life, we have eliminated ourselves from his service.
If God is looking for someone to perform a job for him, but we can’t do it because of our poor health, we have just missed a chance to be in his service.
Were the post exilic Jews victims of their circumstances, or the creators of them? What about us?
Based on our relationship with God, can we expect his favor and blessing?
Malachi 1:10 – Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
The priests had control over the temple area, but there were Levites who were door keepers. It was their job to remain at their stations and examine all sacrifices that were brought to the door of the temple. They were to determine if the items that were presented were acceptable according to the law. If so, the Levites presented them to the priests. If not, they were to reject them so that no unfit or polluted sacrifice might enter the temple.
Since they were letting anything into the temple, God justly wishes that one of them would have enough of a conscience to just shut the doors and stop the sin! How sad is that?
Because the offerings themselves were polluted and because the hearts of the priests and people were far from God, the sacrifices were considered void; they served no purpose. There was no benefit in even offering them to God, because they were unacceptable to Him.
As always, God desires obedience rather than worthless sacrifice. As always, He desires relationship over empty action.
Let’s face it – God could have permanently shut the door of the temple anytime he wanted to. He had done it when he allowed the destruction of Solomon’s temple just before the exile. He would do it again when he allowed the temple to be destroyed in AD 71. And certainly, God would be justified in destroying it in the present case. But despite their sin, He once again demonstrates his mercy.
He does not shut the doors himself; he leaves them open so that repentance can take place. In fact, this is not the first time he has shown such mercy (see Isaiah 1:11-15). God has plans that span the entirety of time and eternity, and He will be faithful to His promises, even when man is not!
Malachi 1:11-12 – For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.
Obviously, God is making reference to a future time. The sacrifices of Israel could never fully bridge the gap between God and man, and the people of the world could not all travel to the temple to offer sacrifices to God.
Through the prophet Malachi, God is revealing his glorious future plans. Through Jesus the Messiah, God will put in place a new covenant, where Gentiles are brought into the kingdom of God. During that age, people can worship anywhere, as long as they worship in spirit and in truth.
John 4:23 – But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.
It is true that the Jews despised and polluted the symbol of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah, but that would not stop God from bringing about his glorious purposes. In a day that was future to the days of Malachi, God’s name would be praised, glorified and revered by people of every nation!
This would have been a shocking idea to the Jews. They never considered a scenario in which God placed them on the same level as Gentiles! The Gentiles were dogs who had no covenant with God! They despised God! How could God accept worship from them? It was unheard of! Salvation for the Gentiles was an incomprehensible idea to the Jews.
This startling news served to amplify the magnitude of their own sins. Remember at the beginning of this study, when we mentioned Israel was in dire need of medicine but did not even realize she was sick? This is an example of one of the ways that God used to show her that she was sick. God was using this revelation to shock them into recognizing their own sin, so they could repent.
God does not desire to cast the Jews aside. He wants them to repent, and be his loving children, so he can continue to be their loving Father.
What a privilege to be a part of the fulfillment of this prophesy! Doesn’t it make you want to worship him right now? Let’s take care to make sure that we ourselves cherish and honor this gift. Let’s be sure to worship God in spirit and in truth, making proper sacrifices to him!
As a side note, just to be clear, the priests are probably not saying these exact words aloud. However, their actions are speaking louder than any words ever could. By their deeds they shout aloud that they despise God’s promises and presence. However, this charge cannot be laid solely at the feet of the priests, for the common people were just as guilty. The rebuke of God via Malachi applies to all the people of that generation – and this one too!
Malachi 1:13 – But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? Says the Lord.
God required the performance of the external rites of the temple because they were a picture of what was to come – the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. By taking these rites seriously and treating them with holiness, the Jews would have honored God. They would have been an example to all generations of the goodness of their heavenly Father/Master. The temple rituals were a chance to exercise repentance and faith in God. They were a way of connecting with God and experiencing a relationship with Him.
But when the priests and the people fell into gross, blatant contempt of the temple services, it was an insult to God. It was an abomination. And through their actions, they brought judgment upon themselves.
Malachi 1:14 – Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
Suppose you were running a business over the internet. If you advertised and promised a really great, top quality product, but then delivered something of inferior quality, that would be deception, fraud and theft. You could actually face legal charges.
In the same way, those who claimed they were bringing God their best, but in reality were substituting animals that were injured or maimed, were also committing deception, fraud and theft – against the Holy One of Israel!
What have we vowed or promised to God? Have we consecrated our lives to Him and His kingdom? Have we vowed to put Him first in our lives? Did we ever promise to use our time and talents for His glory?
In keeping those promises, we offer ourselves upon God’s altar of sacrifice, where we become a sweet smelling savor to him. In breaking those promises, we steal from God, and bring dishonor to his Holy Name.
Consideration and meditation of the greatness of God will not only build our faith, it will prevent us from offering frivolous service to him. The greatness of the mercy and love of God should humble us to a point where we worship him in spirit and in truth, not in vain repetition or half-hearted fervor. This is the only service that that is worthy of him.
I believe it is worth noting that after the prophet Malachi, God embarks upon a period of 400 years of silence with his people. Surely, God’s final words to his people were not only important for them, but for us as well.
Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:
We know that in this life, we will never achieve perfection in our walk with Christ. Try as we might, sin will always interfere. But we are still required to have perfection as our aim; Jesus is the benchmark of our Christianity.
So don’t become careless in your devotion to Christ. Don’t give up on your commitment to personal holiness. I encourage you to honestly examine yourself and see if any sin has crept into your relationship with Him.
Do you still revere and honor him? Or have you entered into a state of ‘sloppy grace’, where you imagine that anything goes because God forgives? Don’t fall into that trap; you will disqualify yourself for his service.
Now is not the time to let up your guard. God is at work in the world, and you are going to want to be a part of that!
So be sure that you are loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!