July is a great for so many reasons. We celebrate America’s birthday, my birthday, and there is also Christmas in July. A friend of mine recently talked about how he went into a place that was already playing Christmas music! There is only 154 days left until Christmas actually gets here. Of course that does not mean you cannot start your Christmas shopping early. Still, no point in shopping for gifts, when you can simply re-gift the ones you got before and didn’t like. Not that I’ve done that! Now, don’t act like you have never done that before. You forgot that you had some kind of party to go to and didn’t have time to grab a last minute gift so you snagged the paper weight off your desk and wrapped it up, and gave it away pretending it took you a long time to find the “right” gift. My wife’s family decided to do a re-gift Christmas mixed in with a White Elephant Christmas and crossed with a minute to win it style of excitement. While I snagged an old pair of binoculars, I can’t say everyone else faired so well. This by far was the best way to do a White Elephant Christmas, but the gifts on the whole required no thought, no purpose, and ultimately no cost. And this it would seem was the condition of cultic practice of Israel in Malachi’s day, and if we were honest, not far removed from our own—no thought, no purpose, and no cost.
Last we heard God declared that He still loved Israel and that He was still committed to carrying out the covenant He made with Jacob so long ago, but Israel’s love and devotion to God is sorely lacking. As we will see today, the evidence of their dismal affections for God is seen in their cheap participation of worship. So if we must ask “How do we love God?” as we did last week, we must also ask...
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.” Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?” “By presenting defiled food on My altar.” You ask: “How have we defiled You?” When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.” “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts.
Here now God presents two cultural norms within the ancient Near East—sons respect their fathers, and slaves revere their masters. These attitudes were legally mandatory as seen in ancient law codes like that of Hammurabi and also the law of Moses. Children disrespecting their parents was a capital offense, and could end in stoning the rebellious offspring. Likewise, slaves, and here the term could be hire-hands or forced-hands, were required to revere their masters or suffer dire consequences for insubordination. Of course, these were cultural norms in the days of Malachi, but are not necessarily the norms we see today, for children lack respect for most authority, especially their parents, and employees many times lack respect or appreciation for the ones they work for. But the audience of Malachi would see both of these statements as right and true. However, what God would say afterwards, appears to catch them off guard as we will see in verse 6. God says to Israel, “If He is their father, where is the honor that is due to a father?’ This notion of God as the father of Israel is one of covenant importance. In , God describes Israel as His firstborn son. Similarly, in , God says that He called His son out of Egypt. The fatherhood of God is not foreign, but by this time in the 5th century B.C., Israel began to regard God as solely transcendent and not one who was near and close, like a father.
The word for master is one that is used on numerous accounts of God, and eventually came to be the vocalized substitute for the name of Yahweh, so that readers of the Hebrew Bible would not profane His name. Another shift towards the unreachable God. Here, the Lord says that if He is indeed Israel’s master, they do not fear Him and respect Him as such. Now those who you would expect to to show respect, the priests of Israel, appear to be perpetuating the problem. These claims come as a shock to the priests of Israel, for they ask, “How have we despised Your name?”
The word for despise appears four times in this passage, twice in verse 6. What it means is essentially is to regard something with contempt or to view it as unimportant. This is the very word that shows up in , where we find Esau despising his birthright. Hear the irony. Last week we heard that God loved Jacob, and entered into an eternal covenant with Israel, but hated Esau and rejected him from that covenant. This rejection followed the scene when Esau viewed his birthright as being unimportant and worth no more than bean soup. Now, the priests of Israel, along with the people of Israel are behaving more like Esau, than like Jacob. This is conveyed in the participial use of the word despise, meaning it is a habitual practice that is ongoing. They are routinely treating and valuing God’s name as unimportant just as Esau treated his birthright as on important.
God’s name is tied closely to the covenant He established with Israel. God revealed His name to Israel in relation to the covenant He established with them. Yahweh is a name that was to be valued, and not treated with contempt. Thus the third commandment in says do not misuse the name of the LORD. Here in this passage and into the opening of chapter two, the term name shows up eight times, signifying that this theme, the name of God, is of great importance.
Still, Israel wants to know how they have shown contempt for God’s name. In verse seven we find out how exactly they are despising God’s name—by despising God’s table. Here the altar is regarded as simply a table where food is set, and covenant transactions take place. This is seen when we look at verse eight and God says that they would not bring such food to the table of their governor. With the temple rebuilt, the cultic practices resumed, but we find that the manner in which God was worshipped was still greatly flawed. The people of Israel were content to bring God offerings that were defective and the priest perpetuated the problem by presenting these lame sacrifices to God. Notice the condition of these offerings—blind animals, lame, sick, and in verse twelve they were even stolen animals. The people valued the name of God and their covenant relationship so little that they were willing to offer up sacrifices that were of no cost to them. The law, which the priests would have certainly known, in demanded that Israel not offer up animals that were broken and defective, but only those that were without blemish. Such an act of worship meant to show honor and reverence to God, now reveals the true character of those who claim to be God’s people, and so it would seem the church would follow in similar footsteps.
How often have we gathered together as the church, just as Israel assembled at the temple, with offerings and gifts that were not our firstfruits, but our leftovers? Of all peoples in all places, the church should proclaim and demonstrate the great value of God and His name. We are a people who bear His name. He has given us a new name. Yet, if we would look at the heart of our worship, we would find an unsatisfying picture regarding the condition of our heart. We have made the worship of God a matter of convenience, affordability, and something that is automatic.
We gather with other believers when it is convenient and our schedule allows us to, instead making weekly worship a priority because of our deep devotion to God and His name, and the name by which we are called. We tithe when we can afford it, or we don’t tithe at all. We might serve and utilize our gifts or the cost of that might even be too much so we simply allow others to fulfill roles that extend beyond what God has called them to. And then when we are here, many time our worship is simply automatic without any real thought, or any real cost. We run through our routines, we talk with the same people, we go to the same class, we sit in our same spots, and go to lunch afterwards as we always do. And when our automatic schedule is thrown off, even a little, then all of sudden we have issues. Don’t mess with something that is automatic, because when it is not automatic, it comes at a greater price.
The examples for this reality are too numerous, and far too simple to list. The strawman for this would be how we have struggled with music in the church in recent years. We have a host of songs we have learned and enjoyed early on in life, but in recent years we find a host of songs that are written and are finding their way into our churches, but they are not always welcomed. Why, because there is a great cost in reading, learning, and singing songs that are not familiar and carry with them no sweet memories of our lives growing up when we learned these songs. Of course, this can be spun in reverse for the ones who only value new songs and shun the old hymns because they are unwilling to learn and appreciate songs that have long been treasured because of the cost of valuing tradition is too high due to their being conditioned to the latest and greatest lifestyle. We create worship environments that are meant to draw this kind of crowd and that kind of crowd, when worship is meant to draw the attention and approval of God. How quickly we find ourselves making worship about us. Thus we see that in the heart of our worship we discover the condition of our heart. In , King David refuses to accept from Araunah’s threshing floor in order to build the temple of God without paying him some kind of price. David said, “I will not offer to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” The worship that costs is the worship that counts.
“And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.
Upon the shameful revelation that Israel, and her priests are offering up lame sacrifices, can they still ask and expect God’s favor? Would God be pleased, accept, and show is gracious character in response to such an offering? The implied answer is a resounding “no,” but the actual response is far more convicting. Notice what the LORD of Hosts says they should do. He says that it would be better for them to close the temple doors and stop the cultic sacrifices, and put out the fires on the altar. He says that it would be better for them to not worship at all than to come and vainly worship. Their offerings were of no benefit for they would not be accepted by God. Here they thought that simply going through the motions of ritualistic worship would be enough to satisfy God. Further, they believed that God would be content with any sacrifice than no sacrifice at all. Basically, a get what you get and don’t throw a fit mentality. But God is not a child, and these offerings are not for Him to eat. Here we find Israel’s value of their sacrificial worship commensurate to their value of God and His name. But God will see that His name is magnified, even among the nations.
In verse 5, we read that Israel will declare that God is great, even beyond their borders. Here now, God is saying that while Israel will not value and esteem the worthy name of God, the nations will come to regard His name as great. The image from the rising to the setting of the sun is not an image that conveys time, but location. So from the point where the sun rises in the east to the point where it sets in the west, and every region in between, God’s name will be praised. In , the psalmist calls for praise from the start of the day to the end of the day, but in verse 4 he says that Yahweh’s name is exalted above all the nations and His glory above the heavens for their is no one like Yahweh, the one enthroned in heaven. He has stooped down, raised the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage pile in order to seat them with the nobles. The God who delivered Israel from slavery, established Israel as the most Holy community who bears His name. They were to be a light to the nations, leading them to praise Yahweh the one true God.
This image is another example of covenant blessing as God told Abraham that he and his descendants would be a blessing to the world. This happens as the nations come together to worship the one true God. But this was not seen in Malachi’s day. This is a reality that is not fulfilled even in our day, though it is a greater reality now than it has ever been. But one day, people from every tongue, every tribe, of every race will declare that the name of the LORD is to be praised. This is will be possible due to the atoning sacrifice of Christ. While Israel refused to bring God a sacrifice that was without blemish, God willingly sent us His Son. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish. He had no sin in His life for He had no sin in His heart. Further, we see that Jesus was obedient in every way to the will of the Father in order that His name might be the greatest of all names. That God alone might receive glory and honor due His name.
Today we have an unrealistic expectation that our country would fear God and worship His name, but how can we expect such a practice by a lost people when those who claim to love Him do not fear Him. Now it is not a bad thing to wish that our country would come together in order to worship God, and desire that our nation would come to salvation in Jesus. This desire is a noble one and one that I believe we could see in greater degree as the church comes together to worship God sacrificially and not selfishly. The church is to demonstrate to the rest of the world the immeasurable value of God in their joyful, sacrificial worship to God. The greatest attraction to worship is the act of true and sacrificial worship. The world will be drawn to praise God when the church truly gathers to praise God.