Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: February 1, 2006, p. 206.


The Second Disputation: Chapter 1:6-2:9 (continued)

1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is my honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised they name?

1:7 Ye offer polluted bread upon my altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.

1:8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

1:9 And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by ytour means; will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.

We must understand that the worship and service that went on in the temple is a picture and foreshadowing of the worship we bring to God. Many Scripture passages speak of our worship as an offering (Rom. 12:1, 2I Cor. 5:8Heb. 13:15). That offering must be brought according to the Word of God and in real gratitude and faith. When it is not, it is blind and lame and sick, like the offerings of these Jews.

How often is not the offering that is brought to God in worship poor and lame and sick! Sometimes it is that because the act of worship itself is not what He has commanded—when all sorts of things are done in the worship of God that have no place there. Sometimes the offering that is brought is poor and lame and sick, but because the act itself is wrong, but because the heart of the worshipper is not right with God. He comes in unbelief, superstitiously and as a mere formality.

Even more often, polluted offering are allowed by those who like the priests of old are God’s ministers and representative in the church! And most often it is the case that they allow the people to bring such offering, thought they themselves know better, in order that they may profit—that they may have large congregations, expensive buildings, vestments, larger collections, houses and lands of their own. Few will suffer loss and impoverishment for the sake of maintaining purity in doctrine or in the worship of God. Every reformer whom God has raised up in His church has heard pious words of encouragement from those who appeared to be his supporters but who left him standing alone when their own livelihood and physical well-being were threatened. Every minister of the gospel, every elder and leader in the church, who puts himself and his own things before the worship and service of God is as guilty as these wicked priests, and is being addressed as well as them.

Such leaders today allow the truths of God’s Word to be compromised and the worship of God to be corrupted. They allow manmade songs to be substituted for the Psalms contrary to God’s command, entertainment to take the place of the preaching of the gospel, and frivolity to take the place of reverence and serving God. They themselves, like these priests, bring such offerings to God as though they will be acceptable to Him. What Malachi says is as much for today as for his own times, though most today will say, like the priests, “Wherein have we despised thy name?” “Wherein have we polluted thee?” Such actions, verse 8 reminds us, are evil, acts of rebellion against God, not only because they violate His command, but because they show no regard whatever for His holiness and glory.

In order to impress upon the priests the seriousness of their sin, God suggests that they bring to their governor, probably Nehemiah himself (cf. Neh. 5:14), the kind of offerings they brought to God. God’s question, “Will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?” is a rhetorical question, the answer to which could not possibly be in doubt. Nehemiah took nothing from the people during his years among them (Neh. 5:15), but that does not change the fact that the kind of offerings they were bringing were unfit and unlawful even for such uses, and that he, as governor, would have been insulted by such offerings.

Verse 9 is irony. Malachi is telling the priests that if the governor would not accept the kind of offerings they were bringing, then certainly God would not either. The idea is: “Go with your offerings to God and make intercession on the basis of the offerings, praying that God will be gracious to us. Do you really think He will accept your ragged offerings and hear your prayers?” The phrase “this hath been by your means” is part of the irony and is saying: “You are the only ones who can do these things, the ones who have been called to do them. Do you think God will be pleased with you and accept you?” 

1:10. Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? Neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hands.

Verse 10 goes even further in showing God’s disgust and displeasure with the priests. The verse is usually taken to be a further exposure of the mercenary attitude of the priests: “You will not even shut the doors of my house without pay.” But more in line with the second part of the verse is the interpretation that sees this as God’s rejection of them and their work. He is telling the priests to shut the doors of His house and to cease offering sacrifices, since that would be better than their continuing to bring the useless, polluted offerings they did bring. “Is there no one,” God is saying, “with sufficient zeal for Me and for My worship to put an end to this hypocrisy and wickedness?” And lest they would continue deliberately to misunderstand and to stand amazed and disbelieving that God should be so upset with them over nothing, God tells them plainly that He has no pleasure in them and will accept no offering from them.

How the church today needs to hear this. In spite of all the excitement and enthusiasm, the large crowds and huge churches in which they gather, God receives nothing from them and has no pleasure in them. Better would it be if their doors were shut and silence reigned, than that they bring to God the polluted offerings they do: “Christian” rock music, holy laughter, silly miracles, jokes and stories, and all the rest are not acceptable to God in place of what He has commanded.

The priests, of course, never listened to this word of God, and the doors of the temple remained open and their foolish formal sacrificing continued until God Himself shut it all down permanently in AD 70 when temple and altar were destroyed by the Romans. What a warning to all those who offer strange fire and polluted sacrifices on God’s altar and who pay no attention when He tells them that He would rather have no worship at all from them!

Moore sums it all up thus:

Then, as now, men sought, as for a philosopher’s stone, a cheap religion—one that would insure heaven to them on the easiest terms. Hence they made a shuffling compromise with duty, compounding for the lowest possible percentage of self-denial and effort. God assures them that a cheap religion, like most cheap things, was always dear, since it would cost more than it was worth—for it was worth just nothing. God will not despise the widow’s mite, but he will despise the miser’s mite—especially when the blinded man is dreaming that by this beggarly shift he is securing the favor of God. As he drops his pittance into the treasury of the Lord, a voice comes forth from the throne, Who is there among you that will close the doors against this insulting mockery, and tell the starveling giver that he had better keep his miserable apology for a gift, for it was worse than thrown away when presented as an offering to God. O! that this voice of indignant scorn could be rung through the laggard Churches of Christendom, who are striving to solve the same impossible problem in the maxima and minima of spiritual calculus, with how little self-denial and active labor a man may reach heaven at last.¹

Let us not forget either, that it is always God’s name that is at stake in the worship of God. Though many do not realize it, His name does not include just the few words with which we address Him, but includes everything that is connected with His glory as God. The Westminster Larger Catechism includes in the name of God “his titles, attributes, ordinances, the word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known.” The misuse of any of these, therefore, dishonors and blasphemes His name. Thus it is that the priests were guilty of abusing His name by their offerings and attitude. Thus it is that we can be and often are guilty of the same sin.

All this, though not yet stated, required a priest who would love the glory and honor of God and who would cleanse the church of its impurity and wickedness and teach God’s people to “offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (3:3). The coming of such a priest, the Messenger of the covenant, is prophesied in chapter 3.

1:11. For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.

When we do not cherish spiritual things, God takes them away from us. That is the reason for the gift of the gospel to the Gentiles, and it is the reason why the gospel has moved from one Gentile nation to another in the course of New Testament history. Here, for their lack of regard for the priesthood and offerings, God promises that He will take both away from the Jews and give them to the Gentiles.²

Though the gathering of the Gentiles and the preaching of the gospel to them are not specifically mentioned in the verse, it is clear that the verse has that in view. The only way God can become great among the Gentiles is by grace, that is, that God graciously forgives the sins of the Gentiles, causes the gospel of grace to be preached to them, graciously gives them the gift of faith that they may believe the gospel, and, through the same gift of faith, gives them not only the gift of forgiveness, but the knowledge of forgiveness, so that they understand what God has done for them and thankfully glorify His name.

All this, however, depends on the coming of the Messenger of the covenant. He alone is able to purify the sons of Levi, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, that they may offer to God a sacrifice in righteousness. It is through the coming and work of Christ that God Himself makes sure that there are always those who do worship Him in spirit and in truth and do not trifle with His worship and service. He will glorify His name and see that it is glorified in every age; and the wickedness of men, even in the church, will not defeat that purpose.

1. Commentary, pp. 120, 121.

2. It should be noted that the words “Gentiles” and “heathen” in verse 11, though translated differently in the KJV, are really the same word in Hebrew.