Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: March 1, 2006, p. 255.
The Second Disputation: Chapter 1:6-2:9 (continued)
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.
Whatever of spiritual things we do not cherish God takes 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.¹ The eleventh verse ofMalachi 1 is not just a prophecy of the ingathering of the Gentiles, however, but also a prophecy of the priesthood of all believers in the New Testament and the spiritual sacrifices that are offered by that universal priesthood.
That glorifying and honoring of God’s name by the Gentiles is described in terms of their becoming a priesthood that replaces the corrupt and wicked priesthood of Malachi’s day. The verse therefore prophesies what Luther called the priesthood of all believers. In that priesthood every believer is now priest, as well as prophet and king, through Christ and under Christ. Apart from the priesthood of Christ Himself, there is no longer a special and separate priesthood.
That priesthood is mentioned and its work described in I Peter 2:5: “Ye also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Those spiritual sacrifices are described in Romans 12:1, 2as the offering of our bodies in grateful service to God; in Hebrews 12:15 as the offering of our lips in praise; and in Psalm 51:17, the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart. These sacrifices are offered, according to I Peter 2:9, for the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Such offerings are made in worship and in the everyday life of God’s people. They really are sacrifices in that they require the giving up of all pride, all self-sufficiency, all self-seeking, and all fleshly desires. They are true spiritual sacrifices, sacrifices with which God is well-pleased and which He accepts, not as an atonement for sin—that sacrifice was offered and could be offered only by Christ—but as a thank offering, a freewill offering, that is the deepest expression of a redeemed and regenerated heart. As a spiritual and universal priesthood, New Testament believers no longer need trust in the intercession of an earthly priesthood, but go themselves to the throne of grace, praying there for one another and for themselves.
As a spiritual priesthood, they bring and offer their own sacrifices. And insofar as their priesthood is universal, their work as priests is no longer limited to one place but is done “from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same.”
That priesthood of all believers, one of the great doctrines of the Reformation, though seldom remembered or believed today, is an important truth for the daily life as well as for the church life of every believer. It is that priesthood which requires private prayer and worship as an integral part of the life of every believer. As a priest, every believing father has the calling to be an intercessor and teacher in his own family. Holding that priestly office, every child of God, male or female, young and old alike, has the calling to be holy and in holiness to offer himself in all he or she does as a sacrifice to God. It is that same priesthood of believers that requires that believers be participants, not spectators, in the public worship of God, and that makes them the source of all authority in the church.
The Heidelberg Catechism identifies this priesthood of all believers with being a Christian. In answer to the question: “But why art thou called a Christian?” the Catechism answers: “Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing; that so I may … present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him….” In those who fulfill these priestly duties and do so with a true heart, the prophecy of Malachi is fulfilled.
1:12. But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible.
1:13. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness it is! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.
In these verses, which conclude the first chapter but not God’s word to the priests, the prophet returns to the matter of priestly sins. Insofar as this section repeats what has already been said in verses 6- 10 it does so by way of emphasizing the seriousness of the priests’ sins. God could not forget or overlook those sins, though the priests would not recognize them. This section, then, is not just repetition, but it elaborates on the sins of the priests and on the reason why their actions were so wicked.
Verse 12 and the first part of verse 13 tell us more about the attitude of the priests towards their priestly duties and office. The priests excused their laxness with respect to the offerings by saying that what they were doing really did not matter—that neither the table of the LORD, that is, the table of shewbread, nor the food that was offered to God on that table and on the altar were very important.
We do not know exactly what they were saying, but perhaps they used the excuse that neither the table nor the altar were the originals, or that the meat of the sacrifices and the bread of the table were only types and shadows of heavenly things. Whatever they were saying, it was simply an excuse for their own lack of proper regard for the things of God. Thus they found the service of God wearisome and snuffed at it, that is, treated it with disdain and contempt.
How common these sins are. Many have the same attitude toward those aspects and elements of worship that God commands. When anyone raises questions about their own practice, their excuse is always that these things do not really matter, that the only thing that matters is that God be worshiped and served—the how is of no account. And when they must endure the things God has commanded, they view them with the same contempt and sneering arrogance as did the priests whom Malachi curses.
This is their attitude not only towards matters of public worship, but towards the things that are required of the Christian in his daily life. All that matters is feeling and sincerity. The specific details of the Christian life commanded in the Word of God do not matter. Blasphemous words, Sabbath-breaking, disdain for authority, fornicating, lying, cheating and stealing, speaking evil of others, coveting and hatred do not matter.
It should be noted, too, that “torn” in the description of their sacrifices does not mean “torn by wild beasts” but torn away from others by violence, stolen. That needs emphasis over against the practice of so many self-appointed priests and leaders in the church who use their influence and office to fulfill their own carnal desires, and who by hook and crook, by pleas and tears, by suggesting that the Lord will take them away if their hearers do not send them millions, tear away the living of the poor and of the widows. That is bad enough, but when they make a pretense of offering it in the service of God, surely they must hear Him say, “Should I accept this of your hand?”
1:14. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.
God is not in verse 14 simply speaking again of the way in which the priests corrupted His offerings. Rather, He is implicating the people as well in their wickedness. Rarely is it the case that the church has bad leaders and good members, or that the wickedness of the leaders cannot be traced to the failings and weaknesses of the people themselves, as well as the wickedness of the people to that of the leaders. Here, too, that was the case. The priests polluted the offerings of God, but did so at the behest of the people who were themselves covetous and empty of the fear of God.
God is also saying something about how evil the practice of both people and priests was in light of the fact that He required so little of them. He did not ask all their flocks and herds, only an occasional beast. He did not expect them to bring the more valuable females, but allowed them to bring the more expendable males. So little did He ask, and even that they would not do. Having vowed a male, they brought one that was sick or lame. Obliged to bring a sacrifice, they brought only what they did not want anyway. We are often like them. As one commentator says: “How often do we keep back the firstlings of our flocks, the best of our services, and offer God the shreds of our time, the weary remnants of our thoughts and affections, and the niggardly gleanings of our means.”²
For the first time, the book of Malachi uses the name “Lord,” that is Adonai. This name, not all in capitals, as all who are acquainted with the KJV know, is a different name from the name LORD, or Jehovah. The name Lord refers to God’s sovereign ownership of all things, and is a further reminder that the grudging covetousness of the Jews in giving God only their castoffs was all the worse in view of the fact that all that they had belonged not to them but to Him. In bringing their offerings they were only giving Him what was already His own. For us, too, it is always the case that when we forget that God is the Owner of all, we begin to grudge everything He asks of us.
God shows them, and us too, that this is no small thing in His sight, for He is no beggar to be satisfied with scraps and leavings, but a great King, one whose name is worthy of awe and reverence, one who is offended and angered at their contempt for Him. Even the heathen, He says, had shown and would show more regard for His name than do His own people.
The reference to the heathen is a reminder of those heathen who had in times past acknowledged, some of them under duress, the greatness of God’s name (Dan. 4:1-3; Jonah 3:6-9). It is also a prophecy of the coming of Christ, when God’s name would be taken from the Jews and given to the heathen who would honor and worship it.
¹ As was noted last time, the words “Gentiles” and “heathen” in verse 11, though translated differently in the KJV, are really the same word in Hebrew.
² T. V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai and Malachi, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974, p. 123.