In the opening part of Malachi God starts with love, he establishes that the most loving thing he has done for his people is make them his people. He is their adoptive father, who chose them and in choosing them made them a great nation. I think it’s important to dig into what God means by great because often we think of God’s blessing or the term great on more of a prosperity level. In this text also this seems to be the reason the Israelites are not taking their faith seriously. Their nation has lost its grandeur and power, they have rebuilt the walls and temple but are still suffering. Bottom line, they don’t feel great. They are measuring God’s love in a tangible worldly perspective.
In Jeremiah 9:23-24 God defines greatness not through the worldview of man but in knowing and understanding who God is.
23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jer 9:23-24 ESV
Combine how God defines greatness with his establishment in Malachi 1:2 that he has shown his love by making them his people and we get a new perspective on blessing and what it means to be God’s people. Being his does not mean life will be easy or we will find success in the way the world defines it. We are not even given potential for greatness when chosen by God, but the mere fact that God reveals himself to us and allows us to know him is what makes us great. In making us great we are able to live out our faith in a way that brings glory to who God is, and he continues to reveal himself to others through us. That is an amazing opportunity! To be chosen for a purpose to bless the world with the knowledge of who God is.
Yet as we will see in this passage these people do not appreciate their position as his chosen people. They were taking him for granted and merely going through the motions of fulfilling their duties, rather than living out their faith in love for their father.
“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you” Malachi 1:6a NASB
He has told them he is their father, and in a father child relationship especially at this time a father would receive honor. This society was patriarchal, the father was the head of the family, and was revered. He both cared for and led the family. Here God is saying I am your father, why do you not treat me as such?
He then goes on to explain the offense, how they are dishonoring and disrespecting him. They were taking the sacrificial system lightly. In fact they were completely making a mockery of it. They were offering unworthy animals as atonement for their sins.
“O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. ” Malachi 1:6b-8 NASB
God created this system out of grace to provide atonement for their sins. When he gave them the law, the ten commandments, he gave it to point out their sin, so they would understand their separation from God. Then he gave them this system so that by his grace they could act in faith in performing these sacrifices to pay the debt for their sin by the blood of a worthy sacrifice. To profane this system was to spit in the very face of God.
For us today as Christians this looks like saying your a Christian, saying that you’re sins are covered but not applying that truth to your life. They still called themselves the chosen people of God, but didn’t live it out. We do the same thing today. We are glad to accept the idea we are going to heaven but we don’t study his word, serve the needy, or spread his redemptive message. Even worse we take our faith for granted and live lives that resemble our culture more than our family. A sign of a true relationship with God is a life that proclaims God’s redemptive love in both word and deed.
Then God drives the point home. They take the worship of God lightly, but then when they need him they expect grace and favor. We do this too right? We don’t take our faith seriously, we aren’t really living it then we ask of God, or pray to him when we need him. All of a sudden when we need something we call out father father and expect him to serve us.
“But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.” Malachi 1:9-12 NASB
Here God is basically saying when you serve me halfheartedly you profane my name, and it would be better you didn’t serve me at all. A person that calls them self a Christian but doesn’t live it just makes God look bad. It would be better they didn’t label themselves as such so people wouldn’t attribute their actions with his holy name. This is brutally tough but true. As God’s children we represent him in the world. Now this is not saying you have to be perfect, because we can’t be, that was why he gave them the sacrificial system, and at our present point in redemptive history he gave us the person of Jesus. Our lives don’t have to be perfect to reflect God, we just need to be genuine in our faith. We need to mourn our sin, and continue to struggle with our flesh. This heart attitude flows out of a love for our father.
The statement God is making here in the text resembles Gods word in Revelation 3:
“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Rev3:15-16 NASB
Again God’s instruction is “don’t be a faker!” Be or don’t be, do or don’t do, but you can’t sit in the middle, you can’t have it both ways. You’re either all in or all out. Again this is not a matter of works but a matter of the heart.
He then closes chapter one with a warning against lying to God in the giving of offerings.
“You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD. But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:13-14 NASB
Here the people were complaining about how hard the sacrificial system is to follow, and are annoyed at having to go through this process. Again their heart is not in the right place, and their offerings mean nothing to God. He then goes further to bring about a curse. It’s bad enough to offer junk to God and for their heart to be in the wrong place, but he addresses those who would pass themselves off as righteous, try to make it look like they are doing right but deceitfully and purposefully hide their sinful acts. These people were making a vow that they were observing the system in the right way, then when the time came to give the offering they gave a lesser animal and kept what they promised to God for themselves.
This brought to mind the story of Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5. In the end of chapter 4 the people were selling their property and giving the proceeds to the disciples to distribute to those in need. Then Ananias sold his property and kept some money back before offering a lesser amount to the disciples. The fact he gave less than all he had was not the problem as Peter states the property was his before he sold it, and the money was his before giving it. The problem was he lied and stated that the amount he gave was the full sum. His intention was to look good in the eyes of man, not to give an offering to the Lord. Just as God cursed the swindler in Malachi, he struck Ananias dead on the spot when caught in this lie.
Over and over in this text God is addressing the heart. If we love him as our father we will honor him. That love will overflow into all areas of our lives, and our worship will be real. A loving relationship with our heavenly father results in an attitude of desiring to serve him. For me this is a very convicting text. Often I give God the leftovers rather than the first fruits. This is true of my time, money, and heart. My application is to evaluate my actions and how I live out my faith. I desire to live in a way that brings God glory, not just for the eyes of man, but from the heart.