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Monday, January 30, 2012

“Profaning the Covenant” - (01/29/12)

Malachi 2:10-16 (Message #4 in Malachi Series)
January 29, 2012

            The English word “profane” comes to us directly from the Latin word “profanus” made up of the preposition “pro” (before, prior to), and “fanum” (temple).  Thus the literal meaning of the word is, “prior to the temple,” indicating the state of something before it is offered up as a sacrifice.  The dictionary definition of the English word “profane” is… “Not sacred, common; not connected with religion or religious matters; secular; not hallowed or consecrated.”
            We also often hear a form of the word used to indicate cussing or using the Lord’s name in vain.  We call that “profanity,” meaning “unholy speech.”  It is the opposite of holy, God-honoring speech.
            The idea in both of these words is that once something is brought to the temple and offered to God it becomes sacred, it becomes a holy thing.  Ordinary things are made holy as they come into contact with the Living, Holy God.              

            Some things by their very nature are sacred because they are forever sacred to God.  Some things are inherently holy because they are a reflection of God’s holy nature.  These things include solemn covenants, because God is a covenant-keeping God and He expects His subjects to keep their covenants as well—covenants with Him and covenants with one another.  One such solemn covenant was entered into by the people of Israel, in which they promised that they would obey God and not marry foreign idol-worshippers.  God made it clear to His chosen people from the beginning that this would not be tolerated, and they agreed in solemn assembly to abide by the covenant.
Another thing that God holds as sacred is the holy covenant of marriage where the husband and wife swear to one another before God and before witnesses that they will “take one another to be their wedded spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”  The Bible is clear that holy matrimony is a picture of the relationship between God and His people.  In the OT Israel is referred to as “the Wife of Jehovah.”  In the NT the Church is called “the Bride of Christ.”  Clearly, God intends for covenant marriage to be a reflection of His love for us and that’s why He takes marriage and divorce so seriously.
In the verses leading up to today’s text we hear God’s indictment against the priests of Israel who, in God’s words, had “corrupted, or profaned the covenant” of Levi and had caused many people to stumble because of their bad teachings and their bad example (verse8).  Now God expands His indictment to include all the people of Israel for their widespread evil practices that constitute various forms of “profaning the covenant.” 

Verse 10: Do we not all have one father?  Has not one God created us?  Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 
  • You’ll notice that in this section, Malachi does almost all the talking.  Up until now he has sometimes been more like a megaphone for God.  However, in these verses Malachi, the prophet, sounds more like God’s lawyer, explaining and clarifying God’s position and point-of-view.
  • Starting out here in verse 10 Malachi seeks to establish the unity of the children of Israel.  “Do we not all have one father?”  God was their “Father” in the sense that He had chosen them in love to become His children.  He had adopted them.  He was also their “Father” by right of creation.  And, of course, if God is their Father then His children are brothers and sisters and they have a family obligation to do good to one another, and not to “deal treacherously” [1st of 5].  Moreover, Malachi points out that all the Israelites trace their lineage back to one earthly “father”—their forefather, Jacob (aka Israel).  So on the basis of their familial unity he implores his fellow countrymen who have become covenant-breakers to stop and rethink their attitudes and actions.
  • He says that by profaning and breaking the covenant that their fathers made with God (Exod. 19:5-6; 24:8), they are really committing an act of treachery [i.e. treason] against their brothers, because their actions will bring the judgment of God down upon everyone’s heads.

Verse 11: Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god.    
  • Here Malachi mentions Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.  “Judah” was the southern area of the country and generally included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  “Israel” refers to northern ten tribes.  “Jerusalem” was the holy city, the nation’s capitol, which included “Mount Zion” on which the Temple of the Lord was built.  In other words, these three words take in the whole of the nation.  Malachi was saying that the whole country had “dealt treacherously” [#2] and had committed an “abomination” against God.
  • “Abomination.”  That’s a pretty harsh word!  What does it mean?  It indicates something that causes the stomach to revolt, that makes a person nauseated.  So God is telling the people that what they are doing makes Him so sick at His stomach that He feels like vomiting.  He does this in order to shock them into realizing that the anathema curse He’s pronouncing on the sins mentioned here are every bit as bad in His sight as the gross sins of idolatry, witchcraft, and homosexuality, which fall under the same condemnation: they too are “abominations.”
  • So what had they done, specifically?  It’s there in the last part of the verse: “…you have profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves and have married the daughter of a foreign god.”  So why is that such a big deal?  By “the daughter of a foreign god” He means a pagan woman, dedicated to the worship of a heathen god.  Such mixed marriages were strictly forbidden because God knew that this would inevitably lead to apostasy and idolatry (cf. Exodus 34:15-16; Deut. 7:3-4; I Kings 11:1-6; Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:23-29).  Multiple times God forbade the Jews from intermarrying with the pagan people of Canaan.  Moreover, every Jew knew that it was forbidden, but they had been doing it anyway, in essence, thumbing their noses at God.

Verse 12: As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts. 
  • In the OT the term “cut off” sometimes refers to banishment or even death.  It is also often used to mean that God will deprive the sinner of posterity, of descendants.  Malachi says here that those who have committed this abomination of taking pagan brides will be “cut off” from the people or Israel.  On top of this, the text indicates that God will also inflict the same punishment on anyone who speaks up in defense of such a sinner, or who might be moved to offer a sin offering on behalf of such a sinner in order to try and atone for their sin.  God views such misguided help as “aiding and abetting” an unrepentant rebel.

Verse 13: This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 
  • “This is another thing you do…”  The first thing is the one Malachi identifies in verses 11-12; namely, intermarrying with idolatrous heathens.  Now he brings up a second issue, one that is related to the first but somewhat different.  In verses 13-16 he deals with the sin of unjustified divorce.  The sin that was occurring was actually two-sided, however.  People were divorcing their Jewish wives without any moral justification (explained in vs. 14-16), and they were marrying pagan women who were leading them into worshipping false gods (explained in vs. 11-12).  God says that both of these things are wrong, in fact, an abomination, and constituted a profaning of their covenant with Him.
  • However, the people did not think that they were sinning!  In fact, they thought that God was just being mean and unreasonable in His demands.  They were grieved and unhappy that God was not accepting their sacrifices and was not blessing them.  They cried and wailed and groaned because God was, “…no longer regarding their offering or accepting it with favor from their hand.”  You see their tears were what we call, “crocodile tears.”  They were hypocritical tears coming from insincere repentance.  The people were unhappy, to be sure, but they were not truly repentant.  They were sad that God was unhappy but they were clueless about WHY He was unhappy with them.  It’s the difference between a lawbreaker being sad that he got caught, versus having genuine sorrow for his guilt and for the harm he has caused.  The Israelites were sad, but they weren’t sorry.

Verse 14: Yet you say, “For what reason?”  Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 
  • Yet you say, “For what reason?”  They sound shocked that God would be unhappy with them.  After all, they were doing so many things right.  Why was Jehovah being so rigid and unreasonable?  They didn’t get it!
  • So here in verse 14 God, through His prophet, Malachi, brings His second indictment against Israel.  They have been divorcing their wives without grounds, thus ignoring the covenant they made with “the wives of their youth.”  God calls this “dealing treacherously” [#3] with their wives.
  • “The LORD has been a witness…”  Covenant marriage, the way God intended is always between two believers, with no exceptions.  For you see, holy matrimony is a covenant between three, not just two.  In Christian marriage God is the third partner in the relationship.  And when the husband and wife exchange their vows God is listening.  He is the Witness to every word they say: “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”  These men had not only married heathen wives but they had callously divorced their first wives to make room for these new ones that they liked better.  “Out with the old; in with the new,” was their motto.

Verse 15: But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit.  And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?  Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 
  • This is an interesting verse.  God seems to be saying through Malachi that these bums wouldn’t do such a heinous thing if they had even a scintilla of the Holy Spirit at work in them, because the Holy Spirit convicts of sin.  However, these guys seemed to have no feelings of remorse whatsoever.
  • The last sentence in this verse is an obvious warning, a threat, if you will.  And once again, for the fourth time in these seven verses we hear God warning against “dealing treacherously” [#4] with our wives.

Verse 16: “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” 
  • Surprisingly in the Bible there are only a few things that God actually says He hates.  My point is that here in Malachi 2:16 God comes right out and says, “I HATE DIVORCE!”  Moreover, He says that He hates those who do it in an unjustified way, without grounds, just to trade one wife in for a newer model.  “…and him who covers his garment with wrong.”  In other words, God looks at this guy in his $3,000 silk Armani suit and all He sees is a guy in an orange prison jumpsuit.  The guy is guilty whether or not he admits it.
  • The verse ends with yet another dire warning: “Take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously [against the wife of your youth].”  There’s that phrase again: “deal treacherously” [#5].  This is the fifth time it has appeared in our text.  You see in God’s eyes an attitude of indifference and disrespect toward our marriage vows and obligations are the actions of a traitor. 

            So far this morning I have just been telling you what the text actually says.  Now in conclusion I want to help put this into perspective in terms we can wrap our minds around.  There are two big issues here: (1) believers marrying unbelievers; and, (2) believers divorcing without grounds.  Let’s look at these separately.
            First, the question of believers marrying unbelievers.  The OT is just as much the Word of God to us as the NT.  In the OT God absolutely forbade His people from marrying unbelievers because He knew that it would result in His people wandering away from Him into sin and idolatry.  And that’s exactly what happened, every time.  Now in the NT this principle is repeated.  We read in II Cor. 6:14-18 the following: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial [Satan], or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; 
and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 
Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the LORD, 
“and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.  “And I will be a Father to you, 
and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” 
says the LORD Almighty.” 
            You see God has not changed His mind about this.  It is never OK for a Christian to marry a non-Christian.  It has always been a grievous sin and it still is.  It is an act of treason against God.  Therefore, I have to also conclude that it is wrong for a Christian to date a non-Christian because dating is part of the courtship process leading to marriage.  There is no such thing as “evangelistic dating” in the hopes of leading the person to Christ.
            Let me say it one more time just in case you didn’t hear it before: there is never a case where God will give His permission for a Christian to marry an unbeliever.  Never!  Don’t even bother to ask Him.  The answer is “NO!”
            The second issue that I need to address briefly is this question of divorce.  The Scriptures only clearly lay out two justifications for divorce:  (1) “immorality” [Gr. porneia = adultery, sexual impurity, child molestation, pornography addiction, etc.]; and (2) abandonment = the unbelieving spouse wants to bail out of the marriage and will not be dissuaded, leaving the Christian spouse no option but to let them go.  [Note: I believe this category also includes both physical and mental abuse, and attempted murder.  These are alternate forms of abandonment and are covenant breakers in my opinion].  Outside of these two categories the door is tightly closed and locked for Christians wanting to divorce their mate and marry someone else.
            We live in an age when the divorce rate among so-called “Christians” in America is actually slightly higher than the national average.  Christians are getting divorced every time we turn around.  But here’s the take away: most of those divorces are not for Biblical reasons.  Most are the result of looking for the easy-out rather than digging in and with God’s help fighting to save the marriage.  Statistically, the vast majority of divorces are granted on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”  I’m sorry, but that is not biblical grounds for a Christian abandoning his or her marriage to go off and find somebody else.
            God told the Israelites that to throw away the wife of their youth was an abomination.  It made Him sick at His stomach.  So do you think that it’s going to be OK for you or for me to do it, just because we live a few hundred years further down the line of history?
            So here it is in a nutshell: If it was wrong back then to divorce your spouse and marry an unbeliever, it’s still a terrible sin today, and one that God promises that He will judge.  If back then God considered these sins that the Israelites were committing to be a gross breaking of their covenant with Him, then He’s not going to change the rules for us today just because we are more modern and more enlightened about these things.
            May God grant us the courage to take a hard look at our attitudes and actions in the light of His Word.  And may we rely on Him for the strength to do the hard thing rather than the easy thing—to take the narrow road of obedience that leads to everlasting joy, rather than the wide road of convenience and expediency that leads to judgment and death.

Monday, January 23, 2012

“How to Spot a Phony” - (01/22/12)

Malachi 2:1-9 (Message #3 in Malachi Series)
January 21, 2012

            When you go shopping you have to be careful these days to do your homework, read the labels, and make sure that you are really getting what you think you are buying.  That’s because there are so many phony products, made to look like the real thing and using names that sound like the real thing.  For example, for the past two years there’s been a huge ongoing scandal about fake Apple Stores selling fake Apple products.  These counterfeits look like the real thing but they are made in Singapore or China by Apple wannabes.
            So how are you supposed to tell the real iPad or iPod or iPhone from the fake one?  The only way to do that is by careful comparison of the two.  Someone who knows what he is looking for has to take them both apart and compare their innards.  The suspected phony’s component parts are compared to the original.  This is the same process that currency experts use to determine genuine US bills from counterfeit bills.  They know the original money so well that they know what to look for.  Spotting the phony then becomes relatively easy because you know the real thing so thoroughly.  

            This same technique applies to evaluating people, to sort out the genuine from the phonies.  In our text for today we encounter “priests” who at first glance might have seemed like the real deal, godly men doing the work of God in all the right ways and for all the right reasons, but when we look closer, and compare them to the people that God holds up as the “gold standard” of priests we can see that these guys are phonies.  They are unworthy to be called “priests” because they fall so far short of God’s basic requirements.

Verses 1-2: “And now this commandment is for you, O priests.  2 If you do not listen, and if you do 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; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.” 
  • We can see that this address in 2:1 to the priests is a continuation from chapter 1.
  • The LORD uses the word “commandment” in verse 1 in the sense of a threat of punishment, just as in Nahum 1:14, where we read, “The LORD has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. 
I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. 
I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.”
  • Here in Malachi 2:1-2 we have an ultimatum from God.  He is basically saying, “If you do not comply… then I will do the following…”  God does not leave anything to their imagination.  He does not beat around the bush and speak in metaphors.  He lays it out in plain language.
  • Let’s take it apart piece by piece.  “If you do not LISTEN.”  By listen He means to hear and take heed.  We all know the difference between hearing and listening.  Hearing is involuntary.  Anyone with ears in working order hears whether he wants to or not.  Our ears are sense organs that are constantly taking in information.  However, most of that information does not register—we perceive it almost like “white noise.”  To listen, on the other hand, requires effort and concentration.  It involves focus and the exercise of our will.  When we listen we hear selectively.  God is telling the priests that they need to shut out other voices and listen to His, and then take the next step of obeying Him.
  • “If you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name…”  That is the big issue here—giving honor to whom it is due; namely GOD.  Verse two of chapter two is really the key verse to this whole book.  All of the issues that God brings up in Malachi are the result of people caring more about themselves than the glory, reputation, and honor of God.  The problems of divorce, tithing, sinful priests, inadequate sacrifices, etc. all arose because the people were more concerned about themselves than they were about God.
  • So how about the “THEN” part of this ultimatum?  God says, “If you don’t listen and begin to truly honor My name…“THEN I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings.”  Notice that He uses the definite article here: “THE curse.”  What curse is God referring to, specifically?  To understand this you have to go back to Deuteronomy chapters 27-28 and read about the instructions given by Moses to the people of Israel before they crossed over into the Promised Land.  God, through His servant, Moses, laid out both the blessings and the cursings—i.e. what God would do for them if they obeyed and followed His commandments, and, what God would do to them if they disobeyed and ignored His commandments.  So here in Malachi, when God speaks of “THE CURSE” every Jew knew what He was talking about.
  • Moreover, God tells the priests that He will “curse their blessings.”  Part of the priests’ job was to pronounce God’s blessings on the people, as we see in the familiar Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:23-27: Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them: 24 “‘“The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.”’  27 “So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”  Now however, God is saying that He will come along behind them and lay down a curse everywhere they lay down a blessing.  He will undo everything they do because they are rotten and not worthy to speak for Him.
Verse 3: “Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring [lit. seed], and I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it.” 
  • Not only will God rebuke the priests’ blessings, He will also rebuke and curse their descendants, the priests who follow in their fathers’ footsteps doing the same vile things.
  • This next part presents a disgusting picture.  The word here translated in the NASV as “refuse” and in the NIV as “offal” is just the word for dung, or manure.  Before sacrifices could be placed on the altar the dead animals had to be cleaned out.  The gut, or entrails, which contained the waste products was removed, along with the hide, hair and certain other parts, and these were taken outside the camp and burned, because they were considered “unclean.”  Now God is saying that he will smear the manure from these unworthy sacrificial animals all over the priests’ faces so that they, along with the manure, will be taken away and shown to be corrupt and vile.

Verse 4: “Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,” says the LORD of hosts.
  • God’s purpose in all this in not to destroy Israel or to wipe out the priesthood.  He wants to wake them up to see how far their have drifted from their moorings.  He reminds them of His covenant with their father, Levi.  You can read about this in Exodus 32:25-29 and in Numbers 3:12-13.  Because of their faithfulness the sons of Levi were chosen by God to serve Him in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.
  • Many Christians are confused by this setup.  What you need to know is that every priest was also a Levite.  However, to be a priest, you not only had to be from the tribe of Levi, but you also had to be a direct descendant from Aaron (cf. Exodus 28:1; 29:9).  The priests were the primary religious leaders, who were assisted in all their duties by the Levites (Numbers 8:19).  So here in Malachi 2:4 God is addressing both the priests and the Levites.

Verse 5: “My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.”
  • By “him” God is referring to Levi, but not to Levi directly; rather, to his descendants.  This is a figure of speech called synecdoche [subset of metonymy] in which the part is used to refer to the whole.  God made a covenant with Levi and his sons in perpetuity, meaning that it would go on forever.  God has always upheld His end of the bargain, but the priests and Levites have fallen down on their end.
  • God says: “My covenant with him was one of life and peace.”  This refers to a story about Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, a priest and Levite about whom God said in Numbers 25:12-13, Therefore, tell him I am making My covenant of peace with him.  13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
  • God speaks here almost wistfully: “He [Levi] revered Me and stood in awe of My name.”  That’s a far cry from the attitude of the priests in Malachi’s day.

Verse 6: “True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity.” 
  • God continues in His eulogy of Levi. “True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips.”   This means that he both spoke the truth and taught the truth to the people.
  • Moreover, He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity.”  God says that Levi not only spoke the truth but he lived it as well.  His walk matched his talk!  And as a result of this kind of righteous integrity, people were influenced to turn away from evil and toward God.  This, of course, is in contrast to the priests of Malachi’s day who, because of their own bad example coupled with their corrupted teachings, were leading men astray, away from God rather than toward Him.
  • You must understand that the priests’ role was always twofold: First, to represent the people in holy worship before the Living God; and, second, to represent the Living God before the people by living a holy life and by teaching them the Word of God.  But in all of this they were to be holy men, not just in name but also in reality.

Verse 7: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” 
  • Here we have God’s expectation of His servants.  Is this an impossible standard?  Is God asking too much?  No, I don’t think so.  In fact, we have basically the same standards set forth for God’s servants today.  Here are a couple of NT examples showing what God expects of His “messengers”:
    • II Timothy 2:24-26 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
    • I Timothy 3:2-7 – “Now the overseer [pastor, elder] is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
  • The clear implication is that any man who does not seek to obey God’s commands and live according to His standards has no business calling himself a “priest” or a “pastor.”

Verse 8: “But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • Here’s the bottom line: “YOU have failed miserably by any standard, and have acted corruptly.  You should all be ashamed of yourselves!”  God says, “YOU have made a mockery of My covenant with Levi, that he would be My servant and that the priests who come from him would be holy men, who speak for Me and represent Me faithfully before the people.”  God has every reason to be angry here!
  • The Bible says that teachers of God’s Word will receive a “stricter judgment.”  This is because of the devastating ripple effect that occurs when a priest/pastor/religious leader “turns aside from the way.”  The results are terrible to behold and are stated right here: “you have caused many to stumble.”  This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” 

Verses 9: “So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction.” 
  • Basically, God goes on to say to the priests, “…so, I have returned your favor.  Just as you have made Me despised and abased before all the people by your sinful actions and attitudes, so also, I will make you despised and abased before all the people.” 
  • At the end of verse 9 God gives a specific case of where the priests were revealing the depths of their corruption.  In Israel, the priests often acted as judges or negotiators between individuals or factions (cf. Deut. 17:9-11; 19:17, etc).  In Malachi’s day they were allowing themselves to be bribed and bought off, and thus were showing partiality to the highest bidder, making their sin even worse in God’s sight because priests were supposed to be like God in not being “respecters of persons.”  In other words, they were to be impartial (cf. Deut. 10:17).

            So what are the lessons for us today?  One obvious thing is that we who call ourselves “Christians” should live in a way that brings honor rather than dishonor to the God whose name we bear.  We are “Christ’s ones” and we should live like it.
            Secondly, we who are in any position of leadership in God’s work are held to an even higher standard because with more honor and respect comes greater responsibility to represent the Lord Jesus Christ accurately, both in what we say and in how we live.
            Thirdly, we need to recognize that God has no patience with those who dishonor His name and soil His reputation.  He is quick to bless those who love, honor, and serve Him, but He is just as quick to curse those who deliberately turn away and cause others to do the same.  The priests in Malachi’s day underestimated God.  They lost sight of the fact that He is holy and just, and jealous for His own name.  He is Yahweh, LORD of hosts!

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Cheap Sacrifices on Tainted Altars” - (01/15/12)

Malachi 1:6-14 (Message #2 in Malachi Series) 

            When I was a boy, living in a little place called Imbler in Eastern Oregon, I got my first job delivering newspapers for the La Grande Evening Observer.  At that time, according to the signpost at the outskirts of town, Imbler had a population of 98.  I delivered about 45 papers every night after school to folks in town and to farms around the valley.  I started that job when I was 7-years-old.  In fact, somewhere in my archives I have a newspaper clipping about me being the youngest paperboy in Oregon at that time.
            During the 3+ years that I had that job I learned some things about money that have served me to this day.  I learned how to keep track of income and expenditures.  I had to keep records and turn in a monthly report to the newspaper office.  I learned how to bank money and keep a savings account.  I learned how to make decisions about spending or not spending.  I learned about tithing.  And I learned about the value of money and gifts.
            Lots of people are confused about these things.  For example, they don’t know the difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive.”  A gift can be inexpensive but precious at the same time; however, “cheap” will always be just that and nothing more.  In the OT God made provision for poor people who could not bring a bullock or a sheep to offer up two little turtledoves as a sacrifice.  Their sacrifice was inexpensive but when offered to God from a heart of love and gratitude it was a sacrifice precious in His sight.  On the other hand, an expensive prize-winning steer, if offered grudgingly or of necessity, was a meaningless sacrifice and an exercise in futility as far as winning God’s favor.  

            In the Book of Malachi we have a description of what was going on in Israel 100 years after the captives returned from Babylon.  The people were comfortably resettled back on their land.  Things were going well.  They were prosperous once again.  Their Temple had been rebuilt and the priests were busy doing their religious stuff.  Everything was pretty much back to normal, which was exactly the problem.  They dropped back into their spiritual apathy and complacency, doing the right things but forgetting the WHY of it all.  Their worship turned into ritual.  Their service turned into religious habits.  Their sacrifices turned into castoffs good for nothing else.  They lost sight of who God was and what He had done for them.  They forgot all the pain and misery their sin had led to in the past when they strayed away from the LORD and got sent into captivity.  But were they really so different from us?

Verse 6: “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, O priests who despise My name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’”
  • This is the second dialogue of the Book of Malachi.  The first began up in verse 2 with the LORD saying to Israel, “I have always loved you,” and the people responding, “How have you loved us?”  Responding to their question the LORD explains about how He sovereignly chose them above all other nations to become His own covenant people.
  • Now here in verse 6 once again we hear the LORD’S voice.  He says, “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?”   In the OT God referred to the nation of Israel as His son and while it’s true that individual Israelites did not consider God to be their Father in the personal sense, the people of Israel would regularly refer to God in their prayers as “Our Father,” and they would call Him, “Adonai,” which means lord, or master.  However, Yahweh is pointing out to them here that this is all just lip service if they don’t genuinely honor and respect Him in their hearts. (see Isaiah 1:2)
  • If I’m respectful to my boss when I think he’s watching or listening, but make fun of him and say horrible things about him behind his back, do I really respect him?  And if I call my dad “father” to his face but refer to him as “my stupid old man” when I’m with my friends, then do I really honor at all?

Verse 7: “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.’    
  • Here the LORD gets down to specific things that reveal the rottenness and hypocrisy of their attitudes.  As you’ll notice on the outline I gave you last week, this section deals primarily with the defilement of the priesthood, but it applies to the people as well.  The priests offered the sacrifices that the people brought to them.  In many cases they should have refused to offer the sacrifices but they were more concerned with pleasing men than God.
  • “…presenting defiled food…”  Some versions say “bread,” which is a literal translation of the Hebrew word but Malachi is using it in the broader sense of food offerings, and specifically meat offerings as we see in the next verse.
  • The people’s response is angry and immediate.  Once again they act like they have been insulted, so God goes on to explain: “In that you say, ‘the table of the LORD is to be despised.’”  The “Table of the Lord” refers to the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple.  But did they ever actually say that with their mouths?  Probably not, but like we learned a long time ago, “Actions speak louder than words,” and this is what their actions were screaming in God’s ear.

Verse 8: “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 [Persian] governor?  Would he be pleased with you?  Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • Long ago in Leviticus 22:17-22 God had instructed His people about what kinds of sacrifices were acceptable and those that were not: Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons and to all the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘Any man of the house of Israel or of the aliens in Israel who presents his offering, whether it is any of their votive or any of their freewill offerings, which they present to the LORD for a burnt offering— 19 for you to be accepted—it must be a male without defect from the cattle, the sheep, or the goats.  20 Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you.  21 When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it.  22 Those that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD, nor make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the LORD.” 
  • To offer cut-rate sacrifices and secondhand gifts to the Lord is an insult.  Again, this comes through clearly in Deuteronomy 15:21, “But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.”
  • Now I’m going to step on some toes.  Just like it was back in Malachi’s day, many Christians today think that they can bring their old castoffs to the Lord and that He will be thrilled with their “sacrifice.”  We’ll go through our cupboards and pull out all the old food that is near or past the pull date and we bring that for the church food closet, feeling good that we’re helping out the poor.  Or we’ll go through our closets and pull out our old raggedy clothes that we wouldn’t be caught dead in and we bundle them up and take them to Union Gospel Mission and get a tax write-off and feel very spiritual and generous.  We’ll buy a new 72 inch 3-D plasma TV for our living room and pack up our old ratty TV that barely works anymore and drop it off at the church, saying, “We want to invest this in the Lord’s work.”  We’ll spend thousands of dollars fixing up our own houses but whine and bemoan having to spend money on God’s House or even to show up for an all-church workday.
  • It seems to me that these are the same kinds of attitudes that the LORD was accusing the people of Israel of having.  Am I wrong?
  • I love the LORD’S suggestion to them: “Try doing this with your governor and see how he likes it.  Let’s just see how long it takes for him to throw you out of his office.”  Obviously, he would not be happy with their lousy junk and neither is God.

Verse 9: “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. 
  • People were bringing their old sick cows to offer to the LORD as sacrifices.  They were bringing their lame sheep and diseased goats that had no value in the market.  The LORD says, “Take your old sick cow and give it to your governor and see how happy it makes him.”
  • I’m sure that this observation from the LORD didn’t go over very well.  Those folks thought they were doing all the right things to keep God satisfied, and they thought that He should be happy with whatever they chose to give to Him.  They were having a hard time seeing their own hypocrisy and selfishness, but that’s a common ailment.  There are prominent wealthy Christians that are very willing to give away their money, as long as the new building gets named after them.  They will donate to a cause as long as it becomes the “So-n-so Memorial Fund.”  Do you really think that kind of thing makes God happy?  I don’t.

Verse 10: “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.” 
  • This is an interesting verse.  We can hear God’s broken heart here.  “Isn’t there anyone among you who can see what you are doing and would have the courage to bar and lock the Temple doors to keep people from profaning My altar with these scabby sacrifices?”  Sadly, there was apparently no one with the gumption to see the problem here.
  • From God’s viewpoint no sacrifices would be better than defiled sacrifices offered from impure motives. (cf. Isaiah 1:11-15)

Verse 11: “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. 
  • Even though His own people were negligent in honoring Him, the LORD Jehovah here declares that the day will come when even the Gentiles will come to honor and revere His name and will offer pure and holy sacrifices to Him.  Twice in this verse He says: “My name will be great among the nations.”  That is both a statement of fact and of intent.  God says it so it will be so.  You can count on it!

Verse 12: “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.’” 
  • By “it” the LORD is referring to His sacred name, Yahweh.
  • I took the name of this morning’s message from this verse: They were offering “cheap sacrifices on tainted altars.”  Not only were the sacrifices themselves worthless, the attitudes with which they were given defiled the very altar itself.

Verses 13: 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. 
  • The priests had come to consider their work in the Temple as distasteful, monotonous, and burdensome.  They sniff at it in contempt, the way Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, did in I Samuel 2:17, “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’S sight, for they were treating the LORD’S offering with contempt.”  That which should have been a high honor and a privilege had come to be commonplace and meaningless.  This is the danger in ministry, both for pastors and for lay people.  We can get so busy doing religious stuff that we forget why we are doing it and WHO we are doing it for.  The holy becomes homely.  The righteous becomes only rite.
  • “Should I receive that from your hand?”  This question by the Lord is obviously rhetorical.  The answer is “NO!”

Verse 14: “But cursed be the swindler who has a [perfect] male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished [literally, corrupt female] animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.” 
  • Here the LORD pronounces a curse on anyone who knowingly withholds the unblemished male animal for himself, and instead, gives the diseased or blemished female animal to be offered unto the LORD.  This attempted deception is a double affront to Yahweh-TzavaĆ³t, Lord Sabaoth, Yahweh Lord of the Armies of God. 
  • Again, the LORD declares Himself to be “a Great King.”  He is the LORD of the hosts of Heaven.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His great name is to be feared among all the nations.

            For the past 20 or so years there has been a great movement in America to liven up worship services and to make them more attractive to unbelievers.  This has been in response to surveys taken in which these kinds of questions are asked: “What is your general impression of church?” and, “What would it take to convince you to come to church?”  Many people respond to the first question with the one-word answer, “BORING!”  The second question evokes a variety of answers but they all ultimately fall into the “What can you do for me?” category.
            The problem is that many people, including many who identify themselves as Christians, believe that God exists to make us happy and to do nice things for us, and that worship is supposed to be fun and entertaining.  But that is the total opposite of the truth.  We exist by His choice, for His pleasure, at His service, owing Him everything.  And our worship is supposed to bring God pleasure.  It’s not about us.  Paul, in Romans 12:1 points out that to love, honor, obey, and serve Him is our “reasonable service of worship.”  He’s right.
            What’s more, God deserves our very best, not our old castoffs.  He, who gave everything for us, deserves our total allegiance.  And the very word “sacrifice” means that what we give to Him will be costly to us, just as the sacrificial gift of His Son was costly for Him.
            King David understood this concept.  In II Samuel 24 we read that at the prompting of the Lord’s prophet, King David made plans to build an altar to the LORD where they could offer burnt offerings.  Starting in verse 18 we read, “On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”  19 So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.  20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.  21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”  “To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”  22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up.  Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood.  23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.”  Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  24 But the king replied to Araunah, No, I insist on paying you for it.  I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.  25 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.  Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.”
            David understood that to offer to God cheap sacrifices on defiled altars would be to dishonor God, and to dishonor His name.  He understood that a sacrifice that costs us nothing is no sacrifice at all, but merely a religious ritual.
Yet how many of us have learned these lessons?  All too often we want to give to God our leftovers, our castoffs, our leavings.  We’ll give Him a little bit of time, if we have any left over.  We’ll give Him a little bit of our money, if we have any left after buying all the things we want for ourselves.  We’ll give Him a little of our service, if we aren’t too tired after going out and doing all the things we love to do.  We’ll witness for Him, as long as we don’t have to go out of our way to do it.  We’ll serve others, as long as they are really nice to us and smell good, and if we can do it at a convenient time.
And what is really amazing is that we can’t figure out why God wouldn’t be overjoyed with these wonderful sacrifices that we bring to Him.  Sometimes He seems so unreasonable and so ungrateful for all we do for Him, don’t you think?

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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