Last week we looked at the book of Malachi and were introduced to the Israelites as they were around 430 BC. The Israelites had returned to the Promised Land after the Babylonian captivity. While there were 50,000 that left with Zerubabbel to return to Jerusalem, this was in fact a small percentage of the Israelites who were in Babylon.
The small number of people interested in returning to the land of their heritage and the area that was absolutely central to their worship reflects the overall attitude of the people. Since that time, a century had passed. Ezra and Nehemiah had lead smaller groups back to the Promised Land and the walls around the city had been rebuilt as well as the temple in Jerusalem.
The time period that Malachi lived in should have been one of Israelite renaissance. The people were back in the land God had given to their ancestors. The temple had been rebuilt and worship had been resumed. The people were no longer being held in captivity in the idolatrous land of Babylon.
Nevertheless, the people struggled in their faith. The people saw that they were surrounded by enemies and they had become discouraged. The people saw that they were small in number and they did not possess nearly the amount of land that God had promised them. And worst of all, the people were awaiting their Messiah to come and rescue them from their enemies and it wasn’t happening.
This frustration quickly became reflected in their worship. The people were half hearted in their worship and they presented worthless sacrifices to God. This didn’t go unnoticed and God told them that it would be better for them to close the doors of the temple and stop offering sacrifices altogether than to offer worthless ones. Worthless sacrifices simply made God angry.
Chapter two of Malachi lays out two more problems that the Israelites of this day. One problem was with their leaders. The other problem was with the rest of the people.
1 “Listen, you priests; this command is for you! 2 Listen to me and take it to heart. Honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning seriously. 3 I will rebuke your descendants and splatter your faces with the dung of your festival sacrifices, and I will add you to the dung heap.
Not only had the people failed to honor the name of God, the priests had likewise failed to honor God in their worship. As a nation’s leaders go, so go the people. We can understand why the people are offering worthless sacrifices. Their leadership is not showing them any better of an example.
In my senior year of college, somehow I ended up involved in student government as the class chaplain. Don’t be impressed because it had nothing to do with having the respect of my peers and more with having to show up for chapel at the end of the semester because I had already skipped too many times. Fortunately, the position was largely just ceremonial.
Nevertheless, I declared myself to be the spiritual advisor for my dorm. As the spiritual advisor, I handled such difficult questions as, “Mike, should I go to class today?”
“You should stay back at the dorm and play video games with me in the lounge,” was typically the response. Also as the spiritual advisor it was my duty to stay up late at night and let everyone one else hang out in my room because their roommates actually went to bed before 1 AM.
Fortunately my position held no actual significance. The position of priest was obviously a much more important position and the priests were setting a very bad example. And God had declared that he would curse them because they had already been warned and had not taken the warning seriously.
Not only would the priests be cursed, they would be made unclean in the eyes of God. God declares that he will splatter their faces with what many translations translate as offal. This was part of the intestinal tract of the sacrifice. It was a part that was taken outside of the camp and disposed of because it was unclean. It contained feces. God declared that because the priests had failed to honor him, he would splatter this on their faces and take them outside of the camp and place them in the heap with the rest of it.
This sounds disgusting and it absolutely is. Even worse was that for an Israelite, this would have obviously made them unclean. As a priest, this was even worse.
4 Then at last you will know it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites may continue,” says the LORD Almighty. 5 “The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them. This called for reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people all the truth they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. 7 The priests’ lips should guard knowledge, and people should go to them for instruction, for the priests are the messengers of the LORD Almighty. 8 But not you! You have left God’s paths. Your ‘guidance’ has caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the LORD Almighty. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown partiality in your interpretation of the law.”
The priests of Malachi’s day were not only poor leaders in the example that they set, they gave bad advise as well. The priests were descended from Levi and were among the Levites. God had made a special covenant with them at the debacle of the golden calf because they did not fall into sin and instead stood with Moses. The Levites of Moses day revered God’s name. They taught the people the truth that God had revealed to them. They turned people away from sin.
Instead the priests of this day had given bad advice to the Israelites. As the dorm’s spiritual advisor, I am probably responsible for some grade point averages being slightly lower than they might have been. The priests are guilty of causing the Israelites to fall into sin.
The priests most likely saw the sacrifices that the Israelites were offering and turned a blind eye to what was going on. Worse yet, they may have even encouraged it saying, “It matters more that you present a sacrifice if you can’t present an unblemished one. It’s better to give something rather than nothing.”
Now here’s where the correlation starts with everyone listening. As Christians, we are called to be a kingdom of priests. We are called to be witnesses to God. Everything that theses priests were responsible for doing, we need to be doing as well.
Likewise, my position as pastor is a lot more serious than that of the dorm’s spiritual advisor. I should not turn a blind eye if the people come to present worthless sacrifices to the Lord. This has been going on far too much in churches across America today.
In many churches, the people have been offering worthless worship for week after week, year after year, and the pastor does nothing and says nothing. Either the pastor is too busy with the day to day operations of the church or doesn’t care or is blind to the spiritual condition of the church. As a leader it is the pastor’s responsibility to stop the people from offering worthless sacrifices.
In Malachi’s day the priest must have reasoned that it was better to offer any sacrifice even if it wasn’t what God had asked for. Today, pastors make the mistake of believing that it is more important for the people to be in the pew, even if they aren’t worshipping God the way he has asked.
Pastors should not be looking for pew fillers and look upon this as worship. The “something is better than nothing” approach can’t be tolerated. God didn’t tolerate this approach and pastors should not be accepting of it either. When the church assembles to worship God, that is what the people need to be doing. If the people assemble to do anything other than worship, they need to get out. The pastor should not allow the people to bring worthless worship before God.
The second half of Malachi chapter two is an unpopular portion of scripture. It addresses marriage and divorce and obviously this affects fully one half of the people in the United States directly and even more indirectly because odds are good that someone in your family is divorced.
10 Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why are we faithless to each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? 11 In Judah, in Israel, and in Jerusalem there is treachery, for the men of Judah have defiled the LORD’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. 12 May the LORD cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the LORD Almighty. 13 Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings, and he doesn’t accept them with pleasure. 14 You cry out, “Why has the LORD abandoned us?” I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day when you were young. But you have been disloyal to her, though she remained your faithful companion, the wife of your marriage vows. 15 Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. 16 “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “It is as cruel as putting on a victim’s bloodstained coat,” says the LORD Almighty. “So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife.”
Malachi first addresses the situation of men and women who were unequally yoked. The men had married women who worshipped other gods. This is a very common problem in the history of Israel. If not the root of the problem, certainly the best known example of this is none other than King Solomon.
Solomon had a multitude of foreign wives but polygamy wasn’t the main issue. It was the fact that Solomon was lead astray by his wives that lead to the problem. Despite building the magnificent temple to the Lord, Solomon was also persuaded by some of his wives to build temples to their gods as well.
While I don’t believe that anything of this magnitude was happening here, the men were nevertheless being led astray. Perhaps it was their idolatrous wives that questioned why they sacrificed a perfectly good lamb while there was a crippled one that was likely to die that they could sacrifice.
These things always start off simply enough, often even with good intentions. The situation I constantly run across with teenagers is the well intentioned girl who begins dating in hopes of leading him to the Lord. Good intentions, but it rarely works. One in a thousand times does this actually happen. An illustration often used is a Christian standing on a chair and a non-Christian standing on the floor. While the Christian is trying to pull the non-Christian up, it is far easier for them to be pulled off of the chair.
Whatever the reasoning, the Israelites had fallen for it. The people had taken foreign spouses and they were making foolish compromises.
The worst part about this situation isn’t even the idolatrous spouses though. It is the fact that the Israelites had left their godly spouses to chase after the ungodly ones. The people were flooding the Lord’s altar with tears, wanting to know why God would not accept their sacrifices. They wanted to know why God didn’t answer their prayers. It was because they had broken a covenant they had made with their spouse.
Today, most wedding vows end with something to the effect of, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.” Marriage is recognized as a union by God. God declared early on in Genesis that the two would become one flesh. They would be united.
The Israelites had taken a similar oath with God as a witness and they had turned away from it. They had broken their oath. This obviously did not make God happy.
Now, I’ll back off here for a moment. Obviously there are a lot of people who have broken their marriage vows. God isn’t thrilled about this. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. There are usually mitigating circumstances surrounding a divorce. On several occasions I’ve been asked what to do if a woman is in an abusive marriage. I’ve been asked about deadbeat husbands on drugs. I’ve been asked about unfaithful spouses. Usually someone doesn’t wake up one day and decide they are tired of being married and get divorced.
I am not passing judgment on anyone because it’s not my job. Where there is sin, God will judge it accordingly. Divorce is not something that God favors, but the Israelites had compounded their problem greatly because of their remarriage.
It is one thing to be a part of a divorce where you are the one who is left. It is another thing to be the instigator of the divorce as it appears the Israelite men were. They had grown tired of their wives’ nuances, or their inability to cook, or maybe they were just growing old, or didn’t look as good as they did ten years before. So they went after someone who could cook, someone who was younger, someone who was prettier, whatever the case was.
This makes God’s blood boil. You want to make God mad, this is the way. God hates the divorce, He knows that nothing good is going to come out of it. He’s mad because the couple made a vow before Him that they would love one another and that nothing would separate them. But what really made God angry at the Israelites of Malachi’s day was that the people had left their wives for simple foolish pleasures.
The King James Version says in vs 16 that God hates, “one (that) covereth violence with his garment”. The New International version translates it in much the same way. This didn’t make much sense to me until I read the New Living Translation. It says, “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “It is as cruel as putting on a victim’s bloodstained coat.”
The picture I get is that it is not just the divorce that God hates, but is the remarriage that is really detestable. It is horrible to kill someone but it is despicable to then take the person’s blood stained coat as well.
A lot more can be said about divorce and remarriage. I’ve dwelt on it long enough. If you haven’t before, I suggest reading Paul’s take on divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians. The best advice on marriage is quite possibly the simplest that God gives at the end of verse 16. “Always be loyal to your spouse!”