“The Heart of the Priests and the Promise of God”
How many times in our lives have we woken up on a Sunday morning and said, “Just five more minutes,” or possibly, “I don’t want to go to church today. I just want a day off to myself”? Yet, how many times do we just get up anyway and go to church, despite whether we want to or not? Maybe we see the order of worship and just go, “I really don’t like this song, why are we singing it?” Yet, how many times do we sing it anyway? Maybe we say this one every week, “I could have used that money to do this thing with my friends or family.” Yet, we still give that money to God.
How about this? Teachers, have you ever said to yourself, “I cannot teach this kid anything. He or she is completely unteachable”? Those who have jobs, have you ever said to yourself, “This coworker is completely incompetent. He or she can’t even do the simplest of tasks, and makes my life completely tough while I’m here. I can’t teach them anything”? Yet, teachers, do you teach the kids anyway? Of course! It’s your job to teach them. Those who have jobs, do you still try to work with that coworker? Of course! It’s your job to show them what to do.
Though the actions taken above are good things, like going to church or singing songs, or teaching the unteachable, but the truth is our heart is not in it at all. Despite our best efforts, the fact that we even said those things, or just thought them, shows us that our hearts truly do not want to do what we need to do. In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:18, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” What we say comes from what our heart truly believes about the situation or the person.
It seems as though when it comes to our hearts, there is a two-tiered system. On the top tier we have the actions themselves and the words spoken. On the bottom tier we have the heart behind the actions and words. It is on this bottom tier that we get to the root of why it is we say what we say and do what we do. I believe that we can see this two-tiered system at play within our text this morning.
In our passage of Malachi 1:6-2:9, we can see two different offices of the priests: those who offer the sacrifices, and those who are to teach and instruct the people. Malachi 1:6-14 speaks to the sacrifices that the priests offer, which are unclean offerings. As we will see in a few minutes, these sacrifices are unclean themselves, but they are also unclean because of the heart of the priests. Then, in Malachi 2:1-9 the teaching of the priests is corrupted and they are teaching incorrect things, and are even causing the people to stumble. These teachings are in-and-of themselves bad things, but the heart of the priests is one that does not care about what they teach. Despite the failures of the priests in this passage, those of unclean sacrifices and incorrect teaching, the Lord promises to make his name great among the nations.
The way I plan on preaching this passage this morning is this: first, we will look at the top and bottom tiers of 1:6-10, 12-14. In this section, I will expound more upon how the sacrifices themselves were unclean, but more importantly how the priests’ hearts were unclean as well. Next, we will look at the top and bottom tiers of 2:1-9. In this section, I will expound more upon how the teachings of the priests were incorrect teachings, and again how their hearts were not correct. Finally, we will look at 1:11 and see how the Lord promises that despite the failures of the priests, he will make his name great among the nations.
The Problem of Unclean Sacrifices
First, we will look at the top tier: the sacrifices of the priests, and why it is that they are unclean.
The Lord calls the offerings of the priests “polluted” in verse 7. How are these offerings polluted? When we look at Leviticus 22:17-25, we see that the animals that were to be offered to the Lord must be without blemish or defect of any kind. In other words, the offering was supposed to be pure. Nothing less than a pure offering would be acceptable to the Lord. However, what are the offerings that the priests were offering to the Lord? Their animals were blind, lame, sick, or mauled by animals: the exact opposite of pure, and the exact opposite of what they were supposed to offer. In fact, God calls their sacrifices evil because that was what they were.
The sacrifices of the priests were also unclean because of the fact that they were animals that had no value to the priests. Verse 14 points to the fact that the priests and people were to sacrifice an animal that had been vowed to the Lord, or set apart specifically for the Lord. This animal would be something that cost them dearly because this was an animal that typically grew up with the family. Do you remember your first family pet? How much did you love that pet? For me, our dog Max was like a little brother to me, and we even called him my furry brother. We loved him so much that my mom would call me Max sometimes when she was mad. Maybe you had a pet like that at some point. If so, think about that pet. Now imagine having to sacrifice that pet to God in the way he prescribes in the law. Could you do that? How hard would that be for you? This was what the priests and the people were called to sacrifice. Yet, the priests offered things that were not vowed to the Lord and thus not the best of what they had. These animals were probably an inconvenience to them in trying to care for them. However, they were willing to sacrifice the inconvenient for the sake of convenience. Where does this blatant disregard for the law of God come from? I believe that it comes from the second tier: that is the heart.
Second, we will look at the bottom tier: the heart of the priests, and see how that affects their offerings.
In verse 6 the Lord says, “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?” These relationships of father and son, and master and servant are covenant terms. Covenants are made between two different parties, where one party is elevated above the other. In fact, one party submits authority to the other and is therefore subordinate to the greater party. In these examples, the father is obviously the greater party and the son the subordinate party, as well as the master being the greater party and the servant being the subordinate party. The son does not tell the father what to do, nor does the servant tell the master what to do, but rather the father tells the son what to do, just the like master tells the servant what to do. The son is obedient to the father, just as the servant is obedient to his master. Yet, the father loves the son, and the master loves his servant because of the relationship they have with one another. Both parties benefit from the relationship. The son carries out the will of the father by being obedient, and the son receives care and the basic necessities of life. Also, the servant carries out the will of the master, and the master cares for the servant by providing everything he needs. In this scenario, God is father to the people of Israel, and as such the Israelites were to give him the honor due his being father. Not only that, but the Israelites were to fear the Lord because he is their master.
However, it would seem that the priests forgot that the Lord was their father and master, and as such despised his name. The priests despised the name of the Lord so much that their sacrifices became a weariness for them to offer. In verse 13, the priests say, “What a weariness this is,” and snort at the offerings. This is to say that they shrugged off the fact that they were doing what they were not supposed to do.
Ultimately, the heart of the priests was so corrupt, that they started seeking the favor of man rather than the favor of God. The Lord appeals to this fact by saying in verse 7 that the table of the Lord was despised by the priests. This idea of the Lord’s table would bring up images of the people providing food for their governor because of the covenant the two parties had. The people would provide food for the governor, and in turn the governor would provide protection from enemies, and in some cases extra land for the people. However, we need to note here that the priests do not provide for God as if he needed us to provide food for him. Psalm 50:12-13 makes that very clear: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” In Psalm 50, the Lord uses rhetorical questions to show the people of Israel that they do not provide for him, and so the answer to these questions is an emphatic, “NO!” Yet the concept is the same. Just as the priests were to give food to their governor, so the priests were to offer sacrifices to their God.
To prove his point even further, the Lord says, “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” The priests are challenged to present these impure offerings to their governor and see whether he would accept them or not. The priests were offering subpar offerings to God, but saving the best for the governors. In other words, the governors meant more to the priests than God did.
This problem was so bad that the priests’ offerings would not be accepted by God, nor would God be gracious to them. Ouch! To add insult to injury, the Lord says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you . . . and I will not accept an offering from your hand . . . cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.” The Lord is cursing those who vow to offer their best and yet give them their worst. Not only that, but the Lord is calling for his temple – the place where his presence dwelt among the people – to be shut down because of their hearts. It would be like we were under the Old Covenant like the priests, and this building – the one that God so graciously provided for us recently – was the only place in Jackson, TN, where God could be worshipped. It’s like God tells us to shut the doors to the church, lock them, and for good measure go down to JEA to get the water, electricity, and sewage turned off. No one could use this building anymore, and God would not and could not be worshipped rightly in Jackson.
Praise God that we are not under the Old Covenant, but we are rather under the New Covenant. We no longer require priests to make sacrifices for us. Instead, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, as Paul points out in Romans 12:1. Every part of our lives is to be an offering to God, a sweet smelling aroma, and our prayers are to be like incense before him day and night. Who we are down to the core of our being must be sacrificed to God. Only when our entire lives are sacrifices to God will he be pleased with our worship. How are we to do this? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 12:2, in that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As Dr. Bruce Ware told our Systematic I class, the more we meditate on things, the more they will sink down into our heart due to the weighty nature of those things. The longer those things sit in our hearts, the more likely we are to act upon them. So, if we keep meditating on Scripture, then the weight of how much we are thinking on it brings it down to our hearts. Once there, it needs to stay there and become action. This is the only way that we can offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Yes, we will mess up, but that is where the blood of Christ washes away all unrighteousness for those that believe. Let us remember who God is, and when we do, let us dwell on who God is, and let that be our motivation to worship him.
The Problem of Corrupt Teaching
First, we will look at the top tier: the corrupt teachings of the priests.
Quite simply, the priests have turned aside from the second part of their job: the teaching of the people. The priests were supposed to teach good doctrine, but instead they turned from correct doctrine and are teaching false things to the people. In turn, these false teachings are causing the people to stumble and fall into sin themselves. Also, these priests are showing partiality in their teachings. Perhaps they gave special treatment to the rich and shunned the poor, or maybe they taught things that made their sacrifices clean, rather than what the law said in that they were really unclean.
All we know from this passage is that the priests are teaching things that are contrary to the law, but they are supposed to be teaching true instruction, walking in peace and uprightness, and turning people from iniquity. The priests are supposed to be the ones who guard knowledge and should be the ones to whom the people can come to hear the word of God. Also, the priests were supposed to walk alongside the people and show them what it looks like to live out the law that they were teaching. In fact, this job was given to the priests because they were to be the messengers of the Lord. Did you get that? They were to be the messengers of the Lord. What an incredible task! Ezra himself, a contemporary of these priests, is the epitome of what the priests were supposed to be. He taught the people the law of God from his heart as Ezra 7:10 says, however the priests did not see this as important, and their hearts were far from this job that they were called to.
Second, we will look at the bottom tier: the heart behind the corrupt teachings of the priests, and how it affects their teaching.
Again, the priests despise the name of the Lord, and because of this, the Lord will curse them and their offspring. Throughout the Old Testament, we see this idea of cursing both the offenders and their offspring for the breaking of covenant stipulations. For example: in Exodus 20:5, the Lord tells Moses that the iniquity of the fathers will be on their children, even to the third and fourth generation. We also see this in Deuteronomy 28:18, where the fruit of the womb will be cursed, that is children, if the covenant stipulations were broken. Thus, this cursing of children was not a new concept for the priests. How is it that the Lord will curse the priests and their offspring?
This is the part where things get a little nasty. The Lord says that he will curse the priests by spreading dung on the faces of the priests and their offspring. How many of us have changed a dirty diaper before? Things tend to go well to start off with, but then, there is a drop of something on your finger; something that is from the diaper. What do you do? You immediately go wash off whatever it is that is on your finger, no matter how big or small the drop is. You do not want to be unclean for long. How unclean do you think you would feel if that drop were to get on your face instead of your finger? Yet, God says here that he will take the dung of their sacrifices and spread it on their faces. This not only would make them feel unclean, but would make them unfit for service in the temple. In fact, they would be like that dung and be cast out from the city because they are useless.
The priests were not to have this heart that contended with God and despised his name, but rather they were to uphold the covenant that God made with Levi. You might be asking, “What is this covenant with Levi? I’ve never heard of it.” In the Old Testament there is no one covenant with Levi, however, there are two semi-covenants with the Levites in Exodus 32:25-29 and the other with Phinehas in Numbers 25:10-13.
The first covenant was with the Levites in Exodus 32:25-29, which is the golden calf episode. Moses came down off Mt. Sinai to see the Israelites worshipping this false god, this golden calf that Aaron had made. God saw this, of course, and was about to pour out his wrath upon the people, but Moses called and asked who was on the side of the Lord. That day, the Levites stood with God and went back and forth in the camp killing their own brothers. It was on that day that the Lord set them apart by the blood of their brothers, and it was due to their actions that his wrath was stayed. From then on, all priests would be set apart as holy before the Lord.
The second covenant was with Phinehas in Numbers 25:10-13. At this time, the people of Israel were beginning to have unlawful sexual relations with the people of Moab. It was this whoring of the nation of Israel that led God to send a plague upon the Israelite camp. Once again, there was a man who stood up on the side of the Lord and killed an Israelite man and a Moabite woman by spearing them on the same spear. After this episode, the Lord relented of the plague. This man was Phinehas, who was in the high priestly line and to whom God made a covenant of peace. Not only that, but God promised a never-ending line of priests through Phinehas because he was jealous for God. It was to Phinehas that all priests needed to look up to as a role model; one that would show them what it meant to be a priest of God.
Needless to say, the priests despise this covenant that has set them apart and despise their role model, Phinehas. The priests do not take their job of teaching the people seriously, and as such caused many to stumble and many to fall by their actions and by their words. Because of their hearts, God has made them despised and abased before the nations. As the nations would come by and see this temple that God allowed his people to come out of exile to build, they would see the priests and look down upon them. The nations would know that these were the cursed of God.
As followers of Christ, we too are called to teach others all that God has commanded in his word. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20 that we are to teach those we are making into disciples. It is a command from our Lord Jesus Christ, and we must obey. How are we to obey and how are we to teach these people? In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord promises that the law will no longer be written on tablets of stone, but rather on the hearts of those whom he loves and whom he chooses. Each one of us will be able to teach all that Christ has commanded us because the Spirit of God has written this law upon our hearts. This is the beauty of our salvation: we are given hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone; we are given the law on our hearts, so that we might live it out before others. Part of our teaching ministry is to lead people by example, just as the priests were to lead the people by example. All this is possible because the Lord has so changed our hearts that we remember who he is and let that guide us in our teaching and leading, rather than half-heartedly teaching and leading, as the priests were doing.
The Promise of God
Despite the failures of the priests and despite their hearts forgetting who God is, the Lord will make his name great among the nations. This is the promise of verse 11, and which can be seen by the phrasing, “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” This is not a phrase speaking to his name being great all day, as Psalm 1 would lead us to believe, but rather this is saying, “My name will be great from the point that the sun rises to the point where it goes down. All that within those points is where my name will be made great.”
Despite the failures of the priests to offer pure sacrifices, the nations will offer pure sacrifices to God because of his great name. Not only this, but the teaching of the law would have to go throughout the nations as the way of knowing what sacrifices were to be used and which were acceptable to the Lord. Needless to say, there needs to be someone whom the Lord uses as an example to the nations.
When we look back at the covenant with Adam, we see that the plan of God was for them to be fruitful and fill the earth. In other words, the Garden was to spread until the entire earth was covered by it. However, when sin entered the world, man was kicked out of the Garden because of his sin. In his covenant with Noah, God reaffirms his commitment to the fact that the family of Noah was to spread throughout the earth and bring the name of God with them. In Babel, we see that defiance and yet, God spread the people by confusing their languages. When God covenants with Abraham, he gives him land, which was perfectly situated. If we were to look at where Israel is in relation to the rest of the nations of the time, we would see that it lies directly on the main trade routes between nations. This was so that when the nations would come through Israel, they would see them worshipping God and in turn be brought into the chosen nation. Not only this, but God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him and his offspring. This offspring is the one promised to Abraham; he is the one who can fulfill the entire law given to Israel at Mt. Sinai; he is the priest promised to Phinehas in Numbers; he is the promised offspring and king given to David; he is Jesus Christ.
The plan of God is still the same: we are to make his name great among the nations. How are we to do this today? This same Jesus, the promised one to all those mentioned, tells us in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is our mission; this is our goal. This is precisely why this church is so big in sending out those onto the mission field like Casey Kidd, Andy Pettigrew, Timothy O’Day, and many others. We as Cornerstone Community Church hold this as our mission statement, and this is what we use all our resources towards. It is for this reason that I stand before you this morning, as an intern, being trained to be sent out to plant churches. God’s name will be made great among the nations, despite our failures, despite our sinfulness, God still uses us and delights in using his people for his mission, and for his glory. Let us go forth from this place this morning telling the nations that our great King reigns!
If you are here this morning and you are not a follower of Christ, I beg with you to place your faith in him. Once you do that, let one of our elders know or someone else, so that we might talk to you. After that, you make that profession of faith known by being baptized by immersion in water, and then we as a church will lay hands on you and pray for you as we accept you into the membership of this church. I plead with you to place your faith in Christ this morning.
Maybe you’re here this morning and you identify with one of those scenarios earlier, where your heart might not be right in coming here this morning. I plead with you: get your heart right by remembering who God is and what he has done for you. Remember that, as my brother Logan preached this past Sunday night, God loves you and has chosen you when you didn’t deserve it. If that is not enough to get your heart right, then I don’t know what is. Let us continue in the spirit of worship that we started last week. Needless to say, it was an honor to lead in singing last week because of what I saw. I saw before me my fellow brothers and sisters crying out in worship to God in thanksgiving for this new building he has provided for us. Seeing that encouraged me and made me cry out to God in the same way. Let’s keep up the right heart of worship by remembering the promise that God has given us.