The priests had lost their livelihood. They had lost their workplace. They were no longer in community with like-minded people. Yet, as they were carried off, young fathers attempting to walk in their father’s footsteps, those fathers were gone, shackled one by one, and off to Babylon they went.
What should you do as a priest?
Nebuchadnezzar’s commander of the guard, Nebuzaradan, was the commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s guard. It was he who carried out the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the people of Judah. Acting on orders, as they left, Nebuzaradan set fire to the city of Jerusalem and leveled its walls (II Kings 25:9ff.).1.
Certain of the ecclesiastical, military, and civil officers and leading citizens who were supporters of Zedekiah were brought before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah and executed (25:20), and Gedaliah son of Ahikam was placed in charge of the remaining population. Five years later, Nebuzaradan deported another 745 people (Jer. 52:30).
Fathers died or were murdered. Mothers, too. Siblings disappeared. Godly guidance was gone, an experience that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria had lived through upon first arriving in Persia. Then they were passed of to Babylonian’s masters.
At last Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah arrived in Babylon in the first of three deportation of Jews from Palestine (Daniel 1:1-7). “The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he call Abednego” (Daniel 1:5-7 ESV).
Chileab (Hebrew: כִלְאָב, Ḵīləʾāḇ) also known as Daniel, was the second son of David, King of Israel, according to the Bible.
According to Jeremiah 52:28-30, 3,023 Jews were deported in the first wave, 832 in the second, and 745 in the third, making 4,600 in all. However, it is likely that only the men were counted. Including women and children it is estimated that 14,000 to 18,000 people would be the full number.
On this latest deportations, only about 25% of the population had been deported to Babylon, the best of the best, with the remaining 75% staying in Judah.
By the time those who returned began straggling back around 538 BC., the priests were no longer the men their fathers had been. They had rejected and didn’t even know the basics of the Law.
Malachi prophesies, aiming his words directly at the priests’ rampant sin in Israel.
The priests and leaders had lived in a pagan society for at least two generations — sixty to seventy years. Therefore, the people, both those returning from Babylon and those who had remained in Judah, didn’t know the Law and what comprised godly living. They had not been instructed by the priests during those years of captivity and didn’t know what was lawful and holy and what was forbidden.
“Apathy toward the temple ritual and especially toward the Law of Moses reached such proportions in post-exilic Judah that God raised up the prophet Malachi to reprimand the people. The battle for truth and righteousness had waned because their obvious political enemies were gone. They now no longer lived amidst pagan Babylonians. Yet this left room for the not-so-obvious enemies — namely smugness, pride, and compromise. These attitudes can do plenty of damage.
“The people in general and the priests in particular had lost their sense of ‘chosen-ness’ (1:2). Not respecting the LORD’s codes and regulations (1:6) showed they had stopped honoring God. Among them intermarriage with unbelievers was rampant (2:11). Their domestic commitment was low, and divorce was the result (2:16). In 3:5 is a list of abuses and unacceptable practices they were committing: sorcery, adultery, perjury, fraud, oppression, and injustice. These were the things that occasioned Malachi’s angry indictment.”1 And so, the LORD made a promise.
“Behold I send my Messenger, and He will prepare the way before Me. And the LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1 ESV).
Messiah! God’s Messenger!
“But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi [the priests] and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. THEN the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:2-4 ESV).
Israel, beginning with the priests themselves, clearly needed to be cleansed, revitalized, and repentant. “The images used for that purifying work, the refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap, stress both its thoroughness and its severity. The heat of the refiner’s fire was intense in order to separate the dross from the molten pure metal. Similarly, the fuller washed clothes using strong lye soap, after which the clothes would be placed on rocks and beaten with sticks. If sinners prefer the Lord’s cleansing work to his judgment, this is the price that must be paid (see Hebrews 12:7-11).”3
Messiah will come. He will judge some, and others He will refine. He purifies.
He saves. These promises are welcome. These promises are needed.
We see here an interweaving of Messiah’s first and His second comings. What happened then? What will occur in the future? Maybe these efforts are necessary during both times? This part is unclear, a mystery.
The priests needed the guidance of the LORD, for they have turned toward pagan ways.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against:
- sorcerers: “involved the use of supernatural powers that hardened hearts against the truth”3.
- those who defraud laborers of their wages
- those who oppress the widows and the fatherless: “Israel’s concern for the widow was founded in the Lord’s own concern” (Ps. 68:5).
- those who deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me–those who thrust aside the strangers or sojourners in Israel who were not native-born Israelites and were temporary dwellers or newcomers.
….says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 3:5 NIV). From this list, we see sinful the priests had become.
“For I the LORD do not change: therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your father you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. “Return to me, and I will return to you says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:6-7a ESV).
The LORD has maintained His position. The offspring of Jacob have not.
And yet, they are still His people. Malachi records the LORD’s pleas that they return to Him. He now awaits their response. Will they turn again toward the LORD of hosts?
For now, the LORD names those who harm others in many various ways. These will be tried before the LORD. In the meantime, those in power are to see that no one abuses the weak and needy.
The priests who were to reinforce this didn’t know the Law any longer.
How would the fact that they no longer felt “chosen” as God’s people shape their actions? How does this harmful attitude, this lie, weaken the covenant between God and Israel?
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?
What about our nation? As the number of true Christians in America shrinks, do we no longer feel “chosen”? Have we confused Christian nationalism with true faith in God?
“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
The situation is truly bad when the priests don’t believe in the words and actions that they daily perform. They act out of contempt for the LORD by mocking and disdaining these acts of worship, by talking about Him with disrespect, and by holding the entire idea of their faith in disdain.
Imagine how harmful this would be in your church if this was how the senior pastor and all of the leaders acted every single time you came to worship, mocking, disdaining, disrespecting the name of the LORD.
In this way the priests failed the people, for the responsibility of the priesthood was to instruct the Jewish nation in how to worship, how to approach, and how to know their God. They had not worshiped the LORD in temple worship for more than seventy years, yet the instructions were written down in the Old Testament scrolls. The priests knew this. They ignored it. They blew it.
- Nebuzaradan, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nebuzaradan-2