The Complacency of the Nation (continued)
In the Book of Malachi, God made eight charges against His people, and each of them was questioned with incredulity and resentment. The first of these, They Doubted His Love, was dealt with in last month’s article, and the remaining seven now follow.
2. They Despised His Name
“A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? 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 thy name?” (1.6). They despised His name by their attitude, rather than in so many words. Failure to appreciate God’s love was followed by failure to recognise His claims upon them. God was neither honoured nor feared. There was no acknowledgement that, as Father, He was the Source of all that they possessed and enjoyed. There was no recognition that, as Master, they were to serve Him “acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12.28). Both can only flourish when we appreciate His love. To honour and fear God involves unswerving obedience to His Word, and holy zeal for His Name. No doubt Israel maintained a superficial reverence, but it was “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim 3.5). We must learn from this. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa 66.2). This is the honour and fear that His Name should engender.
3. They Debased His Ordinances
“Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible” (1.7; see also 1.12). The instructions for the sacrifices given in the Book of Leviticus had been deliberately flouted (for example, “Ye shall not offer unto the Lord that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut”, Lev 22.24), but this was ignored: “And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? … ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering” (1.8, 13). This was downright sinful: “But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (v 14). It was a case of ‘anything will do for God’. Failure to appreciate God’s love, and failure to recognise His absolute authority in our lives, will lead to failure in our priesthood. Chapter 1.6 – 2.9 is addressed to the priests. In the New Testament, the priesthood of all believers involves offering “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2.5; see also Heb 13.15). God forbid that we too should slip into a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude.
What kind of offering do we bring to God? How, for example, do we offer at the Lord’s Supper? Will anything do? Has the meeting become for us a mere routine, so that our attitude is summed up in verse 13: “Behold, what a weariness is it!” The godly Israelite must have expended considerable time and energy in ensuring that his offering would be acceptable. It would be a sacrifice in more ways than one. If there is no expenditure of time and energy in daily reading and study of Scripture, worship and communion with God, and in meditation upon the Person of Christ, it will be an impoverished offering that we bring on Sunday morning. The RSV¹ rendering of verse 10 is most telling: “Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain.” Need we say more?
4. They Disobeyed His Word
“And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously” (2.13-14). There can be no doubt that this refers to the intermarriage of Israel with women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab, which God had forbidden (Neh 13.23; Deut 7.3-4). The purpose of God was “a godly seed” (2.15), but “Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god” (2.11). James warns against illicit liaisons with the world: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (Jas 4.4). Fellowship with the world is a betrayal of our relationship with God through Christ. Compromise with the world is disobedience.
5. They Distorted His Character
“Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (2.17). The religious world certainly discounts all thought of divine intervention in judgment, and suggests that God accommodates everybody. But this is not the God of the Bible; neither for sinners, nor for saints. Our salvation does not give us licence to do as we please, and then to expect God to take pleasure in us. As we sow, we reap (Gal 6.7). The assembly at Corinth found that God did intervene in the affairs of His people: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor 11.30). Salvation is not a free pass to freedom from any form of chastening and censure, whatever our conduct. It is deliverance from the bondage of sin to serve God. He cannot compromise with evil in His people.
6. They Declined His Offer
“Return unto me, and I will return unto you … But ye said, Wherein shall we return?” (3.7). The answer follows:
7. They Denied His Rights
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (3.8). When Israel brought their “tithes and offerings”, there was far more at stake than support for the priests and Levites. They did not offer to them: they offered to God. God’s rights in our lives are more far-reaching than our substance. He has rights over us: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price …” (1 Cor 6.19-20); “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5.15). The believers in Macedonia recognised this: “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God” (8.5).
As a result of Israel’s selfishness, the Levites were forced to work in the fields, instead of discharging their divinely-appointed tasks in the temple. God’s work will suffer if we fail to recognise His claims upon us, and we will suffer barrenness too. Malachi 3.11 refers to “the devourer”. Blessing for Israel lay in practical recognition of God’s rights over them: “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (v 10). Similarly for ourselves: “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor 9.6). Under law, the Israelite was obliged to give a tenth; under grace, “every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (v 7).
8. They Disparaged His Service
“Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?” (3.13-14). How different from the perfect Servant, who said “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps 40.8). But what about our service? So little sometimes seems to be happening, and we wonder if our efforts are at all worthwhile. Nobody seems to acknowledge our work. People are so unresponsive, the saints so difficult, and we ask ourselves “What’s the use?” Or, perhaps we nurture a desire for a more glamorous field of service, and have come to despise that little job which the Master has entrusted to us. We must remember that “now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (1 Cor 12.18). To treat the Lord’s work as being ‘more trouble than it’s worth’ is to be “stout against” Him.
(To be continued …)
¹ Revised Standard Version