Offering God Less than the Best (Part 2)
When you offer less that the best to God, you despise the name of the Lord.
“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. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:6-8)
Malachi begins his message with a couple of affirmations that the people would probably agree with wholeheartedly, but that he would use to lead into his rebuke. He declares, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.” Who would disagree with that? The priests certainly would not. But Malachi follows this with two rhetorical questions from God: “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.” This would have really rocked the priests back on their heels; they thought the message was going to be on the human relationships he introduced, but he turned it to their spiritual relationship with God. The accusation is clear: they were not honoring nor respecting the Lord, and so they did not really consider him their father or their master. He still has not stated what the problem is, but whatever it is it can be summarized that they do not honor the Lord and they do not fear him–and yet they are priests and worshipers! It is possible to be in attendance in a worship service, go through all the rituals and sing all the hymns, and yet despise the Lord.
The priests thought they were doing everything right, saying the prayers and the blessings, and making all the right sacrifices; so they responded (at least Malachi knows how they would respond), “How have we despised your name?” They assumed that even if they made a mistake here or there in the service, it did not mean that they despised the name of the Lord. But Malachi said the Lord said otherwise.
This is a very serious charge even as it stands; the seriousness is signaled by the title of God, “Lord of hosts”, which was a judgment title meaning that God has all the heavenly and earthly armies at his disposal to judge the people. And so now that Malachi had their attention, he could explain what was happening. The Lord said through the prophet that they were offering on the high altar defiled sacrifices. This was a serious charge because of the requirements in the Law. They were supposed to bring sacrifices that were perfect – healthy animals, without any blemish at all. There were two very important reasons for this.
First, the sacrifice was a gift that was to be offered to God. As I mentioned before, the kind of gift that someone gives indicates what they think of the person they are giving it to.
My lovely bride and I recently celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary. I wanted to get my wife some flowers. I could have gone to the grocery store, or even a florist, and just picked up a bouquet of flowers. Over the last thirteen years I have given my wife flowers a number of times. I have learned what kind of flowers she likes and wants from me. Buying a random bouquet sends one message. Giving her the flowers she wants sends a different message. It speaks volumes about what I think of her. (By the way, that was meant as illustration, but it can serve as application!) So to bring a gift to God that was defiled or inferior was a real insult–no matter how much the priests protested the charge.
Second, theologically the animal sacrifice was for atonement, signifying that the perfect animal would be offered in place of the sinner. Since the animal represented God’s provision for the sins of the worshiper, it had to be without blemish itself. This principle came to fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross: he was the sinless Lamb of God who gave his life for the sins of the world. If Christ had been defiled, a sinner, his death would have been no better than our own deaths. The only one who could redeem us from sin was the only one who was sinless.
So to bring defiled offerings was serious. And they knew it. But they challenged this as well: “How have we polluted you?” You see, bringing defiled sacrifices was not just about the sacrifices. If the sanctuary were holy, if the altar was holy, if the sacrifices were to be holy, then to bring in defiled gifts would be to defile everything about worship. How so? Because, as Malachi answers this charge, he says that in effect they are saying that the table of the Lord is contemptible! Here is the word “despise” again–not only do they despise the name of the Lord, they think the table, that is the altar, is worthless. Because the people brought defiled gifts they did not think the altar and the ritual was worthwhile.
How exactly did they despise the altar and offer defiled things? Here are the specifics. In verse 8 the prophet says, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?” He is talking about animals. The people knew they had to bring animal sacrifices to the sanctuary for their worship – an animal for a sin offering, another animal for the burnt offering, a third animal for the peace offering – three animals for the family group every time they came to the sanctuary! That could get expensive, of course. And so they brought the animals that were diseased, crippled, blind, and worthless, animals they could not sell or use, but they could offer them to God. After all, they were only going to be burned up anyway. So this was a very practical thing to do – so they thought – fulfill the ritual and get rid of the crummy livestock at the same time.
But Malachi challenges them: “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.” I’ll offer you the same challenge. Try paying your taxes to the government by giving it worthless things. No, the government gets its hand into the paycheck first and takes its share right off the top. Always. But God is more important than the government; so why do people think they can get away with giving him less than what he deserves and demands?
And the people in Malachi’s day are not the only ones guilty of this. When I was growing up people used to collect things for missionaries or disaster relief, and they often found that people had given junk, things that they could not use any more. What happened to sacrificial giving? This was cleaning out the attic. And, when people give to the Lord in worship, it is often what is left over after they plan everything else that they want to do with their money. The standard in worship from the beginning is that God gets the first and the best. The first-born animal, the first fruit from the trees and the field, go to God; and whatever is given to God has to be perfect, it has to be the best. This is true of physical gifts as well as spiritual service. Our money, our time, our service–God’s people must give the best they have to him; and like Colossians 1:18 says, in everything He must be first.