Admonition for the Priests

1"And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name," says the Lord Almighty, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.

3"Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. 4And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the Lord Almighty. 5"My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

7"For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty. 8But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi," says the Lord Almighty. 9"So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law."

The Lord, through Malachi, continues to rebuke to priests of the time: "‘And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me’" (vss. 1-2). "Malachi’s message is clearly addressed to the priests. Naturally, more is expected from those who have the responsibility of leading and teaching the people" [Kaiser, 455]. "The priests in particular are reproved, as their part was to have led the people aright, and reproved sin, whereas they encouraged and led them into sin. Ministers cannot sin or suffer alone. They drag down others with them if they fall" [JFB, 716].

The Lord points out to the priests that they failed in their chief and basic duty, that is, to "set their heart to honor [the Lord’s] name." Note that their duty is not only to honor the Lord’s name, but to "set their heart" to honor the Lord’s name. They were not only to honor Him with their actions, but they were to have a pure heart as they did so. They were not only to honor Him with their actions, but with their whole life—inside and out.

As it was, the priests were not behaving in a way suitable for those who are servants of God, and so, God’s name was being shamed. "God’s name had been disgraced and made to appear shabby and despised by the way the priests had professed their faith, offered their gifts, entered into their service of God, and thought about the time they had invested for Him" [Kaiser, 456]. When the people of God stumble, it is God’s name that suffers.

For their failure, God warns them of punishment: "‘Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vss. 3-4). It was quite appropriate that the punishment for not offering to God a fragrant sacrifice was that God would "spread on their faces the offal from their festival sacrifices." Their sacrifices should have been fragrant ones, pleasing to God. And if they but sincerely followed His ordinances concerning offering sacrifices, the sacrifices would have been fragrant. Yet, the priests chose to serve the desires of man rather obey the commandments of God.

God’s purpose in warning the priests of this punishment was not meant to be malicious, but constructive. God was hoping that the admonition would change their behavior and bring them back within the constraints of the Levitical covenant, in order that He may again bestow blessings upon them: "‘And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord Almighty" (vs. 4). "All the warnings of the Bible are similarly positive in their aim" [Baldwin, 233]. The Lord tells us: "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" (Ezek. 18:32).

The Lord contrasts the behavior of the priests of Malachi’s time with the original Levitical priests: "My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty" (vss. 5-6). The priests were the representatives of God to the people, and so, by delineating the proper behavior of priests, the Lord is telling how representatives of God should behave. Nowadays, pastors, preachers and ministers are the representatives of God before the people, and so we could properly apply the teachings concerning the proper behavior of priests to them.

The first and basic attribute of a minister of God is reverence for God and His name: "This called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name" (vs. 5). Yes, God is loving and kind, and we can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but we must also remember that God is mighty and awesome, and indeed is the Lord of the Universe. We must revere Him and "stand in awe of His name."

Such reverence for God will lead to the next attribute of the minister of God: "True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips" (vs. 6). Reverence for God will lead to reverence for His Word. Reverence for His Word will lead to diligent study of it, and persistence in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to gain a proper understanding of it. This will result in the giving of "true instruction."

Such a knowledge and respect for God and His Word will naturally have an effect on the life of the minister, as well as a transforming effect on his hearers: "He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin" (vs. 6). "The goal of all faithful proclamation of the Word is to lead sinners to repentance—to turn ‘many from sin’. Faithful proclamation of God’s Word will ‘turn many to righteousness’ (Dan. 12:3)" [Kaiser, 458].

The minister of God should not preach confusion and disinformation, rather, "the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty" (vs. 7). Woe to him who is looked on as a "messenger of God", and yet leads people astray. As the Lord tells the unfaithful priests: "‘But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law’" (vss. 8-9). It is one thing to stumble; it is quite the worse to cause others to stumble. Jesus Himself seriously warned of this: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" (Matt. 18:6-7).

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