Malachi, Disposition 2 continues. Malachi exposes the priests’ offenses and rebukes them for condoning these, thereby violating the Lord’s covenant with Levi.
In 539 B.C. Cyrus invaded the Babylonian Empire, following the banks of the Gyndes (Diyala) on his way to Babylon. He allegedly dug canals to divert the river’s stream, making it easier to cross. Cyrus met and routed the Babylonian army in battle near Opis, where the Diyala flows into the Tigris.
Cyrus the Great, king of the Achaemenid Empire, conquered Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus then ended the Babylonian captivity. In the first year of his reign he was prompted by God to decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that Jews who wished to could return to their homeland for this purpose.
The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took Ezra the priest and the caravan he was traveling with four months to traverse the nearly 900 miles (1,448 km). An army could have traveled much faster, but Ezra’s entourage probably included children and elderly people.1.
“1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel — He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:1-4 ESV).
Cyrus is famous for freeing the Jewish captives in Babylonia and allow them to return to their homeland.
Clearly this is a time for great rejoicing. The captivity was, perhaps, seventy years. “Among those who accept a tradition (Jeremiah 29:10) that the exile lasted 70 years, some choose the dates 608 to 538, others 586 to about 516 (the year when the rebuilt Temple was dedicated in Jerusalem).”2.
“10 For thus says the Lord, When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and keep My good promise to you, causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).
11 And this whole land shall be a waste and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then when seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, says the Lord, for their iniquity, and will make the land [of the Chaldeans] a perpetual waste” (Jeremiah 25:11-12).
We don’t talk much about reverential fear of the LORD, but our love and commitment to Him must enable us to recognize the need to respect and to exalt Him and His holy Name.
Our God holds the power of life and of death. He is the Creator of the universe.
When facing death, we hope our love had been faithful and true and our faith solid so that we may be admitted to an eternity with Him.
With reverential fear and deep longing, we await the precious face of Christ welcoming us. Our lives are in His hands. Come, Lord Jesus, come. #Faith #LoveGod #Messiah.With reverential fear and deep longing, we await the precious face of Christ welcoming us. Our lives are in His hands. Come, Lord Jesus, come. #Faith #LoveGod #Messiah. Click To Tweet
Now, imagine the priests at the temple having no respect for the Lord. What would happen in your local church if the pastor and all the leaders despised God, how would that impact your church?
I imagine that a church like this wouldn’t exist for very long. What would its purpose be?
The priests of this time knew this, but had ceased to live it out, never directing Israel to honor God with this type of deep personal respect, coupled with love and an awareness of God’s might.
All of these descriptions are true of God and indicate various ways we respond to His majesty. Not only did the priests not show love, reverence, and respect — what they should have been feeling and demonstrating — but they instead showed contempt toward the LORD of hosts.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you say, “How have we despised your name?” (Malachi 1:6b NIV).
“Show contempt” means: Strong’s #959. In Hebrew: בָּזָה bāzāh: A verb meaning to hold in contempt or to despise. The verb means to hold in disdain, to disrespect…or not to treat something with proper respect (Ezek. 16:59; 22:8; Mal. 1:6).”8
This is the exact opposite of deep personal respect, coupled with love and an awareness of God’s might.
The situation is truly bad when the priests don’t believe in the words and actions that they daily perform. This is hypocrisy. They act out of contempt for the LORD by mocking and disdaining the acts of worship, by talking about Him with disrespect, and by holding the entire idea of their faith in disdain.
The priests failed the people, for the responsibility of the priesthood was to instruct the Jewish nation, no longer in captivity, how to worship, how to approach God, and how to know their God.
They had not worshiped the LORD in temple worship in sixty to seventy years, yet the instructions were written down in the Old Testament scrolls. The priests knew this. They ignored it. They blew it.
Meeting together in smaller gatherings while they were in Babylon may have laid the future groundwork for the synagogue for Jews scattered abroad. Synagogues didn’t require any of the sacrificial rituals. This may have been part of the problem. Now the priests had relearn the skills necessary for the temple.
What was their place now? To instruct. To teach. To pass on the Scriptures as memorized by them.
Did they let all of this slip away?
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?” says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?‘ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?‘ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised (Malachi 1:6-7 ESV).
Because of their distrust, disdain, and contempt for the LORD, the priests neglected their duty to instruct and to guide the people in how to worship and how to approach their God.
Through Malachi, the Holy Spirit explains more thoroughly how to honor the LORD:
“8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is not that wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is not that wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. 9 “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” —says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 1:8-9 NIV).
Animals which were blind, lame, or diseased were unacceptable to offer to the LORD. These were in “a ceremonial unclean state and so not acceptable as covenantal behavior…” (Malachi 1:7b+) (Malachi 1:7a, 12+).3
The Lord Almighty Himself instructs the people in how to please Him, so that He may be gracious toward them. Of course, the people won’t know unless the priests pass on what God has instructed.
The offering they have been giving is a shabby representation of the perfect offering God requires.
The perfection required of the offering was a foreshadowing of when Messiah would be sacrificed for us, the final necessary sacrifice. His perfection would far excel this meat market brawl of what is clean and what is not clean, what is worthy behavior, and what most decidedly is not.
“In this letter, Malachi defends the reality of God’s elective love for Israel, a love which calls for robust covenant obedience and sincere worship as its response. Instead, the people were dishonoring God by their worthless offerings and the hypocritical formalism of their worship.”4
Again, this reminds us of the current state of the church in our nation. Are we doing the same? In what ways do we carry out dishonor toward God?
“‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 1:2 ESV) are God’s first words to Israel. This fact, the most significant reality in their lives, is where they need to focus. God’s love for them surpasses all.
Jacob I have loved (chosen as patriarch of Messiah’s lineage). Esau I have hated (not chosen, though he was the firstborn).
They should have focused on the good that God had done for Jacob’s descendants. But they did not.
Like them, do we forget to focus on the goodness of God and of all of His blessings?
- ESV Study Bible note on 2 Kings 24:8-17
- ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, study notes for these passages.