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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!

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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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