Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: April 1, 2006, p. 297.
2:1. And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.
2:2. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.
2:3. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts, and one shall take you away with it.
The chapter break here is particularly unfortunate. The first three verses of chapter 2 record God’s judgment on the priests for the sin of despising and polluting His offerings, the sin just mentioned in the last verses of chapter 1.
The commandment of which God speaks is not His law concerning the offerings. That law the priests knew, though they callously disregarded it. The word “commandment” is used in a more general sense and refers to the word of judgment and cursing that God speaks against the priests. It is a curse that He commands against them, especially designed for them. That curse comes on them for two things, for their actual disobedience and for their refusal to hear God’s rebuke and “lay it to heart.”
The curse is referred to as a commandment because it comes by the sovereign disposition of the great King and Judge, but also because it comes upon these priests through God’s commands to the creation: to the wind and rain, to the fields and crops, to the blight and grasshopper. This commandment, therefore, is the Word by which God exercises His providential control over all things and by which they serve His purposes.
The word “if” does not suggest that there was any doubt about the reaction of the priests—they were so hardened and callous in their disobedient wickedness, that God does not even pause before telling them that He had cursed them already. The word “if” has more the force of a strong oath here, as it does so often in the Old Testament, so that the idea is really this: “Since ye most surely will not hear and lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings.”
God’s curse is a terrible thing. It is the powerful and effective word that He speaks against the sinner that drives the sinner out of God’s presence into hell. This curse God speaks not only against the priests themselves: “I will even send a curse upon you,” but upon their blessings, that is, upon all the good temporal gifts God had given them.
The passage makes it abundantly clear that such things are “blessings” only in a temporal and limited away, for they can be cursed and become a curse to those who have them. They do not, in other words, represent in themselves the favor or love of God for those who possess them.
That God promises to curse their blessings can only mean that He would in the end take all those things away from them so that they would be left with nothing, but even while they still possessed them He would bring them nothing but grief and trouble and wrath through them. Of this Psalm 73speaks when it reminds us that God uses such things to set the sinner in slippery places, and Proverbs, when it tells us that under the judgment of God even the daily labors of the ungodly are sin (Proverbs 21:4).
Here again God reminds those to whom He speaks that He is the LORD of hosts, whom all things serve. If He commands temporal things to be a blessing and mark of His favor, then they will surely be that, but if He commands them to bring His disfavor upon those who have them, then that too will surely happen.
God does not just speak in general terms of His curse, however, but tells them exactly how He will curse them and judge them. His judgment will come both upon the fields and upon their work. The seed referred to in verse 3 is not their children, but the produce of the fields. In corrupting it as they had corrupted His offerings (the same word is used), God would take away their very livelihood, and leave them impoverished and hungry. Their covetousness and greed, rather than getting them what they wanted, would have the opposite effect. Ultimately, of course, that curse would leave them forever desolate in hell. That God sometimes leaves the wicked to prosper in their wickedness does not mean that He allows them to have what they want and to enjoy it. With Asaph, we must see their end, and their end is destruction and desolation.
That God would spread the dung of their solemn feasts upon their faces means that He would bring them to dishonor and shame in the eyes of the people just as they had dishonored Him before the people. As they had treated their priestly work like dung, so God would make them like dung in the sight of the people. When they appear before the people to do their priestly work, it will be as though they had dung spread on their faces, and they will be polluted and despised in the eyes of the very people whose favor they curried and whose gifts they coveted and for whom they had forsaken their calling.
That the dung would be the dung of their own solemn feasts means that the contempt with which they had treated God’s ordinances would be learned by the people, so that they would themselves become contemptible in the sight of the people who would no longer honor them and support them and come to them.
How often that happens. For the sake of earthly things and the favor of men, the leaders of God’s people forsake their calling and treat God’s commands with contempt, doing whatever they please in the worship of God. To their own surprise, the end result is not that they have the support and honor of the fickle multitude, but that they are treated with the same contempt that they have shown and the people go their own way, no longer supporting them in the work or even coming to them as representatives of God.
This is always the end result of apostasy, that the people no longer even come to worship God, to the temples in which these men have corrupted the worship of God, and they become wholly secular and worldly, as has our society here in the west, so that there are fewer and fewer who show any interest at all in the things these corrupt leaders tout as the worship and the service of God.
And just as dung is carted away and disposed of, so God disposes of this corrupt priesthood, whether it is that of the Old Testament or of the New. In Israel He did that when He brought all the types and shadows of the Old Testament, including the priesthood, to an end. Finally He does that when He throws all idolaters and those who love and make lies into hell.
2:4. And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.
2:5. My covenant with him was of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.
2:6. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.
2:7. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
In this closing section of God’s word to the priests, He examines their sin from the viewpoint of His covenant with Levi. God calls that covenant with Levi a covenant of life and peace, and He speaks of the duties of the priesthood as their covenant obligations. That covenant the priesthood had violated and broken by their wickedness. Their sin, in other words, was covenant unfaithfulness.
That covenant with Levi was established when the Levitical priesthood, through Phinehas the son of Aaron, showed great zeal for God and for His holiness by killing in the act at Shittim, on the borders of Canaan, a man of Simeon and a woman of Midian who were openly committing fornication. God said of Phinehas and his descendants at that time: “Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel” (Num. 25:12, 13).
That this covenant with Levi is part and parcel of the same covenant mentioned elsewhere in Scripture is evident from the fact that God speaks of it as “my covenant.” It is not a different covenant, nor different in nature from God’s covenant with Abraham, with Israel, or with David. That this covenant is a relationship, part of the relationship between God and His people that is always at the heart of the covenant, is clear from verse 6, which speaks of Levi walking with God.
God’s covenant as a relationship between God and His people is described in especially three ways in Scripture. Sometimes one finds the covenant formula or a variation of it: “I will be thy God and ye shall be my people” (cf. Gen. 17:7). At other times Scripture speaks of walking with God and of fellowship with God (Gen. 5:22, 6:9), and in a few passages of friendship between God and His people (James 2:23), but the idea is always the same, that of a close relationship between God and His people.
That covenant of God is always viewed in Scripture as one and everlasting, and therefore also as an unconditional covenant, which is made and preserved by God alone without man’s help. That is true here also. Levi’s unfaithfulness, though it can be described as covenant breaking, is not the end of the covenant, but shows the need for a priest, a messenger of the Lord who would not break the covenant and through whom God’s covenant with Levi would be kept forever.
That this covenant with Levi was part of God’s covenant with Abraham and with Israel should be immediately evident in that Levi represented Israel to God and God to Israel. Levi’s unfaithfulness in the covenant was Israel’s unfaithfulness, and the calling that Levi had in the covenant was Israel’s calling, fulfilled through Levi as their representative before God.
God’s word in this passage begins, therefore, with a reminder that God had sent Malachi to call Levi and, through them, the whole nation back to covenant faithfulness. The command, as we have seen, refers to the word of condemnation and judgment that Malachi brought, but it was sent in order that the priests might themselves repent of their wickedness and return to God and that through them the people might do the same, and that thus both God and His people might once again enjoy together the blessings of His relationship to them.