Malachi 2:1 – “And now, O priests, this command is for you.
In chapter 2 of Malachi, God is calling his priests to spiritual reformation. The attitudes and actions they had displayed in the past were no longer acceptable. It was imperative that they change their ways immediately, before they brought further judgment upon themselves and led others deeper into sin.
What do we know about spiritual reformation? Normally, it is not an instantaneous event. It is a process that may take some time.
As you can imagine, the first step is to see/recognize the problem. The person must come face to face with their wrong doing and they must acknowledge it as sin. Often, this can be the most difficult part. For whatever reason, people are often blind to their own sin (but really great at identifying it in others).
Perhaps it is because we tend to justify our actions, or perhaps it is because we get comfortable with our sin and accept it as normal. Either way, people hate to admit when they are wrong. It may take some time for a person to fully acknowledge and admit their wrong doing, and then repent.
Once a person has admitted their sin and repented, they need instruction in righteousness. They need to examine the word of God to see where they went wrong and to understand the path of truth and righteousness that God wants them to follow.
Psalms 119:105 – Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Third, they must renew their minds, and allow change to happen in their hearts. When you change the way you think and believe by meditating on the word of God, your mind will cause a change in your heart. So renewing your mind in the ways of God is a critical step in the process of spiritual reformation.
Paul reminds us of this in the book of Romans:
Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Lastly, we would expect to see change manifest itself in the person’s outward actions. As the mind renews and conforms itself to the laws of God, it will cause change in the heart. When the heart is changed, the person’s actions and attitudes will also change, becoming pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God.
This change brings glory to God. It reflects to the world the justice and holiness of God, but also his mercy and grace. It shows the world that God is the true and faithful Father, who loves his children and desires to bless them.
Now, in the case of the priests in Malachi’s day, they were pretty much at step one. As we noted earlier, they were unhappy with their current situation and they were blaming God for their trouble.
When God drew attention to their sins, they flatly denied any wrongdoing. They were offended at the mere suggestion that they had sinned, and that their situation was of their own making. Although it is easy for us to recognize their sin, they were blind to it! In the rest of this chapter, we are going to see God reasoning with them over and over, until he can get them to understand that they were wrong!
Spiritual reform was critical to the priests of Malachi’s day, and it is still critical for the church today.
Let’s face it – none of us are perfect! All of us have different areas in our lives that the Holy Spirit wants to change in us. In order for that change to begin to take place, we must first recognize and acknowledge the problem. Holy Spirit may call attention to an area of your life as you are praying, or reading the word. He may even cause a brother or sister in Christ to speak to you about it. When that happens, do you immediately retreat into denial or anger? Or, can we commit to humbling ourselves and trying to objectively consider the evidence?
Malachi 2:2 – If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.
A life of righteousness always brings about the goodness and blessing of God. God greatly desired to bring blessing to the Jews, but he could not reward bad behavior and sin.
In this case, the level of their sin had reached a point where God had begun to curse them.
Now, that may seem harsh to you and I, but it was not. The Jews of Malachi’s day were living under the terms of the Old Covenant. In that covenant, God clearly set down the circumstances in which he would bless them, and the circumstances in which he would curse them. You can read it yourself in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28. It is a long chapter, so we cannot reference the entire thing, but we are going to look at one particular verse.
Deuteronomy 28:20 – The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.
As strange as it may seem, by placing a curse upon the Jews, God is actually being faithful to the covenant he made with his people. But here is where people misjudge God. They think that God delights in cursing his people, when the opposite is true. God delights in blessing his children and giving them the desires of their hearts (Psalms 37:4). But again, God is not going to reward sin. The wages of sin is death, and God does not want his people to die.
By placing judgment upon them, God is giving them a nudge in the right direction. He is correcting or disciplining them, like a loving Father would. His desire is that they will change their ways (repent) and return to righteousness, so that He can once again bestow blessing and life upon them.
However, while God will correct and encourage and motivate them to do what is in their best interest, ultimately he will allow them to choose their own path.
God has also given free will to those of us under the New Covenant. How will we use that privilege? Will we choose life or death, blessing or cursing?
We notice in this verse that God has already sent the curse of lack and poverty upon the Jews; they are already experiencing it. This is probably the situation described by the prophet Haggai, in Haggai 1:6-11.
They were planting, but the harvests were extremely small. There was enough food to keep them alive, but just barely. They had clothing, but were never warm. They worked, but they never got ahead in life. No matter how much their wages were, it was just enough for them to survive.
It was a miserable existence, clearly void of the blessings of their God.
The situation was especially hard for the priests. In God’s economy, the common people farmed and shepherded and brought a tithe of their increase to the temple. The purpose of the tithe was to meet the needs of the temple and the priests. So if the people experienced lack, the tithes would be even smaller (or in some cases non-existent); consequently the priest’s portion would get smaller and smaller.
This means that the priests were ultimately hurting themselves when they did not correctly teach and instruct the Jews in the law. When they showed contempt and disrespect for God’s sacrifices, it came back upon their own heads. The best thing they could do for everyone was to listen to the word of the Lord through Malachi, immediately repent, and change their ways.
Malachi 2:3 – Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.
This verse is quite interesting. Our translation says that God will ‘rebuke your offspring’. Your translation may say that God will ‘corrupt your seed’. These may seem like strange, unrelated translations, but they are actually similar.
The prior verse spoke about God removing his blessing from the seed of the ground, or their food sources. That was certainly one aspect of God’s blessing that he was withholding from his people at that time.
But as you know, seed also refers to descendents or offspring. There is no doubt that the Jews were the chosen people of God. Being descendents/seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a source of pride and joy for them (emphasis on the pride). Their role as the chosen people of God was a big part of their national identity.
They began to believe that God would always love and favor the Jews over Gentiles, no matter what. In other words, they no longer believed that they had to keep up their end of the covenant in order to remain the people of God. They believed God would wink, or turn a blind eye to their sin, because they were his chosen people, destined to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.
But God shatters that foolish confidence.
The priests have scorned and despised God and his holy name. God now threatens to do the same to them. He will cause them and their offspring/descendants to be treated with the same shame and contempt they gave him. The priests had offered illegal, unclean, polluted sacrifices to God. Now, they will be treated as if they had the poop of those very sacrifices smeared all over their faces! How disgusting!
God declares that he will also make sure they are ‘carried away with it’. According to the law, the dung of the atonement sacrifice was never burnt upon the altar to God. It was always taken outside the camp and burned with fire. So the Jews are in danger of being removed from God’s presence, rather than being in his service.
Leviticus 8:17 – But the bull and its skin and its flesh and its dung he burned up with fire outside the camp, as the Lord commanded Moses.
In other words, if they persisted in their evil ways, God would remove them from his presence, just like the foul waste of the atonement sacrifice. Their nation will ‘stink’ and other people/nations will hate them, and shun their fellowship. This is a very serious warning.
Let us now consider that God has not changed! He hated the sin of the priests back in the day of Malachi, and he hates the sin of his royal priesthood today.
What sins might we be harboring in our own lives? Are we trying to serve God while holding on to unforgiveness? Envy? Lust or greed? Are we guilty of being hypocrites, or of judging others?
We would do well to stop and judge ourselves, taking advice from King David:
Psalms 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (wicked) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
If we will take the time to openly and honestly seek Holy Spirit and ask for his guidance, he will not only reveal any areas in which we need to make changes, he will assist us in making the change. Then we do not need to worry about being ashamed before God or our fellow man.
Here is something else to consider: The nation of Israel was made up of individual people who were influenced by the priests. As the people went, so went the nation.
The nation of America is made up of individual people who can be influenced to seek God and turn to righteousness, or reject God and stay in sin. You may not be a famous leader in this country, but you can still influence this nation for God by being active in righteousness.
Your church may be a small one, but it can (and should) influence your community to seek the Lord. So get involved!
Malachi 2:4 – So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.
‘So shall you know’, or in other words, God says the judgments that have come upon Israel are both a sign and an example to them.
The sign was for the generation of priests in the day of Malachi. God’s judgment was a call to the priests to repent of their past wicked practices, and change their ways. Beginning at that very moment, they were to walk righteously and holy, making sure they did not dishonor God or treat his house with contempt ever again.
The example is for the offspring/future generations of Levi. When they see the consequences of profaning God’s ways, they will be encouraged to stay on the path of righteousness, where they can enjoy a covenant relationship with God, and all of his blessings.
Malachi 2:5 – My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name.
By definition, a covenant is a formal agreement between two parties, where the duties of each party are plainly set forth. It is a lot like a contract.
God made a covenant or contract with the Levites. They were to be his priests. They were to fear and respect God, teach his ways to the people, and be an example of holiness to the nation. They were the ones who stood in the gap between man and God.
For his part, God gave the Levites the gift of serving in his presence forever. He also promised them life and peace.
And for a time, the priests kept up their end of the bargain. They stood in awe of God, treating His name with respect and obeying his commands. In return, they were given the precious gifts of life and peace. What a wonderful heritage! How could the current group of priests have strayed so far from the ways of their ancestors?
Malachi 2:6-7 – True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
These verses make reference to the vast numbers of priests that served before this generation, who had faithfully served God according to the agreement. What were they like?
The law of truth was in their mouths – They studied the scriptures and knew the law. When they spoke, taught or offered council, truth was on their lips. Because his speech was based on the precepts of God, the priest spoke with wisdom, authority and integrity. People recognized and respected his words as coming from God.
No wrong was found on his lips – The former priests did not give judgment or advice to please men or for their own benefit. They simply spoke the truth, whether it pleased or displeased the hearer. Unlike the current generation, he would never pronounce something clean that was unclean or accept something as clean when it was not.
He walked with God – The actions of the priest matched his words. He not only knew the word and laws of God, but he practiced them in his own life and enforced them in his own household. He lived a life of communion with God. He was honest, trustworthy and walked in love towards his fellow man. Thus, he walked with God and lived a life of peace and righteousness.
He turned many from iniquity – This is the result of a life lived for God. God crowned his efforts with success; he was able to influence those around him and save them from death and destruction. Because of his example, others were drawn into a true relationship with God.
When we look at this description of the faithful Old Testament priest of God, we cannot help but notice that these are the same things God has called us, the New Testament priests to do as well.
We too, must have God’s grace, mercy, love and laws on our lips. We must be people of integrity and godly wisdom. Our lives must match up to the testimony we proclaim. When this is the case, we have a true witness for Christ. When we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and begin to love our neighbor as ourselves, we walk with God and draw others to him as well.
And don’t forget – the message we have to share is so much greater and more wonderful than the Old Covenant that the priests lived under. Hebrews chapter 8 talks about Jesus being the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). What a pleasure it is to be one of the New Covenant priests for Jesus!
Malachi 2:8-9 – But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.
In the prior verses God proclaimed the goodness and faithfulness of the prior generations of Jewish priests. He is now going to contrast that with the behavior of the priests who served in the post exilic temple.
Based on Malachi chapter 1 and Nehemiah chapter 13, we can see many of the sinful and corrupt practices that crept into Jewish life during this time. These included mixed marriages (marriages with foreign women), admittance of strangers into the house of God, profaning the Sabbath day, polluted sacrifices, lack of teaching, and a general disregard for the covenant and distain for the Lord. All of these sins can be attributed to the carelessness and unfaithfulness of the priesthood. God justly charged them with ‘turning aside’ from the good and prosperous path that their ancestors trod.
They betrayed the trust that God placed in them by corrupting the covenant between God and the priesthood. They used their positions to enrich themselves; they cared nothing for the glory of God or the souls of their fellow Jews.
God accuses them of being partial in the law. This meant one of two things. Either they would pick and choose which parts of the law to teach and enforce, or they would misinterpret or misapply the law in favor of their friends or against their enemies; in essence they did not apply the law to each person equally and fairly. Obviously, this is completely against the ways of God, who is no respecter of persons. Thankfully, His throne rests on pillars of righteousness and justice (Psalms 89:14) and we can have confidence that God treats all of his children equally.
As New Covenant believers, we are to treat all people the same, without judging or showing favor to one over another.
1 Timothy 5:21 – In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
What an awful reputation rested upon these priests! What an awful existence for the people under their care!
The worst part is that their actions caused people to stumble in their walk with God! Instead of bringing their people closer to the Lord, their hypocrisy caused people to view God as unjust and unfair. Jesus said, ‘Woe to those by whom offences come!’ (Matthew 18:7). God will certainly and swiftly bring abasement and shame to these priests who have caused others to stumble.
Thus, by their actions the priests made the covenant void. They had no right to expect God to grant them the life and peace that were promised to those who walked with God.
As we examine this situation, we find that the priests of that generation were creating a legacy of sin and destruction. This is especially sad when we find that they inherited a righteous legacy from their forefathers.
What kind of a legacy are we creating right now? How do we want our children and grandchildren to view our time on earth? Do we want to be a Godly example to them?
More importantly, what kind of a world do we want to leave them? One in which the church is powerless and faithless, or one in which the power of God is present to move mountains?
Let me offer you some encouragement: If you are reading this, then there is still time and opportunity for you to make changes in your spiritual legacy. Why not do what King David did – take time out from your busy schedule to get alone with Holy Spirit and see if there are things in your life that need to change. See if there is a way that you can make a greater witness or impact on your immediate and extended family. Your testimony will stand forever.
Let me offer you some relief: Holy Spirit never stops working in our lives. As long as we are willing, he will keep making us over into the image of Jesus. Sometimes we have sin in our lives that has been present for a long time. We may have habits or thought patterns that we think we will never be able to overcome.
But that isn’t true… all things are possible with God! So don’t give up. Keep renewing your mind. Together, you and God can win the victory over sin!
Let me offer you some strength: Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy! If you are always looking at what is negative in your life, it can sap all of your strength. This week, why not focus on the good things God has done in you and through you? Soon you will realize that things aren’t as hopeless as they seem. God has used you in the past, and he wants to continue to use you to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to witness to the lost.