Improper Worship

6"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

"But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

7"You place defiled food on my altar.

"But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

"By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 8When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the Lord Almighty.

9"Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"— says the Lord Almighty.

10"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the Lord Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the Lord Almighty.

12"But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ 13And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the Lord Almighty.

"When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the Lord. 14"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations."

The book of Malachi is largely a book of rebuke to the children of Israel for sliding back into their old ungodly ways. In this section, the Lord, through Malachi, addresses His words of rebuke to the religious leaders. Malachi showed a certain amount of boldness in taking on the priesthood. Granted, Malachi was given the words of the Lord to aid him. Yet, there are many who, though called into service by the Lord to speak the words of the Lord, reject this call through fear of men. Malachi did not bow to this fear.

Certainly, if there was need for the priests to be admonished, they should have been admonished. As the leaders in the worship of God, they naturally would set an example (good or bad) for the people. If their worship was improper, then the worship of the people would most likely be improper. So also, nowadays, the spiritual leaders of the people should be held to an exacting standard, for they provide an example for the people in the worship of the Lord. As James warns: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:l).

The Lord addresses the priests first with a logical argument: "‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name’" (vs. 6). God was the "father" of the children of Israel, not only by right as their Creator, but also by His adoption of them as His chosen people (see Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16; Jer. 31:9). God was their "master" as their "Lord Almighty". God here appeals to their common sense. As humans, would they not honor their "father"? As humans, would they not show respect for their "master"? By not showing respect for God, they were treating their fellow man better than they were treating their Lord and Creator. Their guilt was enhanced by the fact that, as priests, they were supposed to be the spiritual examples, the leaders in the worship of their Lord.

Throughout the book of Malachi (as we saw in Malachi 1:2), those who were being rebuked challenge the Lord’s statements: "‘But you ask, "How have we shown contempt for your name?"’" (vs. 6). God, of course, had a ready answer for them: "‘You place defiled food on my altar. But you ask, "How have we defiled you?" By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the Lord Almighty" (vss. 7-8). The "contempt" for God’s name was demonstrated in the way they worshiped Him. They were bringing blind, crippled and diseased animals for sacrifice. This was expressly forbidden by the law (see Lev. 22:20,25; Deut. 15:21). Such a show of contempt for the proper worship of the Lord was also a show of contempt for the Lord Himself.

Though we no longer must offer animals for sacrifice, we should examine our lives to see if the Lord’s rebuke applies to us, in the service and worship we offer the Lord. Do we offer the Lord the best we have, or do we offer Him the left-overs that we don’t want anyway? "Those who offer to God the dregs of their time, their strength, and their means, are virtually offering ‘polluted bread upon the altar of God,’ and treat ‘the table of the Lord’ as ‘contemptible’… He demands the ‘first-fruits’ of our all, or else He will accept neither us nor our offerings" [JFB, 715]. "Wicked hypocrites think anything good enough for God; and pious men think nothing good enough for Him. Blind and ignorant services, lame and halting services occur when there is action without affection; the lips without the heart; double-mindedness and hypocrisy, sick or faint, and languishing services are, that come coldly from us, without any life or vigor of the inner-man, and these are all vile and odious." [Westminster Divines].

The Lord makes a convincing argument to the priests about the contempt they were showing Him, by pointing out that they would not treat their fellow man with such contempt: "‘Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you’ says the Lord Almighty" (vs. 8). If the President called you up to ask you to do some service for your country, would you not do your best for him? Then why do you not serve the Lord of the Universe with the same diligence? Respect and honor for any man (even the President), over respect for the Lord, is improper.

The Lord, through Malachi, gives the priests the remedy for showing such contempt to Him: "Now implore God to be gracious to us" (vs. 9). The Lord is good to us, and extremely forgiving. Though we have shown contempt for Him, we can appeal to His grace for forgiveness.

The basis of the contempt that the priests were showing for God was that they were carrying out their service as if it were for men, not for God. They were going through the motions of worshipping God, but they were doing it in a way that would curry the favor of men. You see, they were allowing the people to bring the diseased animal sacrifices, rather than telling the people that such sacrifices were improper. This behavior is evocative of (so-called) ministers of God’s Word who avoid controversial subjects, and preach only what (they think) their hearers want to hear. They won’t speak of sin, of condemnation for the unsaved, of God’s judgment. Rather than serving God, they are serving men.

It would be better that no service be done, than service which is contemptible to the Lord: "‘Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands’" (vs. 10). The Lord is adamant: He does not want improper worship. To "shut the temple doors" would be better.

It could very well be that the priests thought that they were serving the Lord well enough. It could be that they did not think important the regulations concerning the sacrifice of blemished animals. What they did not know then was that the sacrifices that they offered as priests were models of the sacrifice ultimately to be offered by the unblemished Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. By offering blemished animal sacrifices, they were misrepresenting the whole plan of God’s system of atoning sacrifices. The forgiveness of sin comes through the sacrifice of the sinless, as represented by the unblemished animal sacrifice. The fulfillment of the rituals of atoning sacrifice was the sacrifice that Jesus made by dying for us. And His sacrifice was sufficient to take away our sins, only because He Himself was sinless (unblemished), for if He was not sinless, the shedding of His blood would have only been sufficient to take away His own sins. And so, by allowing unblemished animals to be sacrificed, the priests were making a mockery of the ultimate offer by God of His own Son to be sacrificed for our sins. Now we can understand the Lord’s anger at the priests, and His desire that the improper sacrifices cease, whatever the means: "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!" (vs. 10).

In response to this, some of the priests must have thought, "But if we shut the temple doors, then who will worship the Lord?" They think too much of themselves, though. God doesn’t need them. He says: "‘My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations’ says the Lord Almighty" (vs. 11). God will always have His faithful remnant. He doesn’t need any of us, such that we may dictate the conditions of our worship to Him. Despite what we individually do (or not do) for Him, His "name will be great among the nations." As you serve the Lord, never think, "Oh, my service sure is indispensable to Him." Rather, recognize what a privilege it is to be able to serve, in any small way, the Lord of the Universe.

The priests, rather than recognizing the privilege of serving the Lord, had come to despise the correct worship of the Lord: "‘But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, "It is defiled," and of its food, "It is contemptible"’" (vs. 12). They had also become bored of worshipping the Living God: "‘And you say, "What a burden!" and you sniff at it contemptuously,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vs. 13). If you become bored with the worship of God, this is a sure sign that you need prayer. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you appreciate the greatness and goodness of our God, so that you may worship Him with joy and fervency. Pray that your worship would be a "fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God" (Phil. 4:18).

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