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Offering God Less than the Best (Part 3)

November 7, 2009

After you offer less than the best to God, you must seek his favor with an appropriate offering.

And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 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, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:9-11)

In the next section the prophet instructs the people what they should do. They have a choice. If they feel that they have violated the holy things, then all they can do, and do quickly, is pray to the Lord for forgiveness. “And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us.” The expression is bold, but simple – they have to pray for divine favor. The motivation is that God may be gracious. The word “gracious” imjudge-gavelplies that they do not deserve God’s favor, but rather his judgment, for “grace” is undeserved favor.

The reason for the urgent prayer is that the people are guilty: “With such a gift from your hand” is a phrase in the book that means, “this is what you have produced.” Will God be pleased or will he respect those who offer this kind of worship? The implied answer to the rhetorical question is that God has no pleasure in or respect for the worshiper who offers to God something that is less than his best.

But on the other hand, if they are going to keep worshiping like this, the prophet declares, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!” Malachi thinks it is better to lock the doors of the temple and keep the people out. If they continue to worship this way, then the fire they light on the altar will be worthless, pointless, for no reason, a waste of time. God takes no pleasure in worthless worship; in fact, he rejects it! If people do not do worship with love and devotion, but only out of compulsion to follow a ritual, their gift will be worthless, and they will be rejected.

What would be the outcome of shutting down the temple and keeping false worship out? God would turn to the Gentiles. In verse 11 we have one of the early predictions of Gentile faith: if the Israelites reject the Lord, the nations will not. So, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the Gentiles will worship him. All day long and everywhere the nations will worship and magnify the Lord. Moreover, they will burn incense and offer pure sacrifices to the Lord. The burning of incense signifies offering prayers, and offering pure sacrifices signifies the obedience of faith, for to do that they would have to prepare for the worship. In time this is what happened, God turned to the Gentiles. And when the Gospel went to all nations, people celebrated the pure offering, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Just because God has turned to the Gentiles does not mean we can offer unworthy worship any more than the Jews of the Old Testament could. There have always been, and will always be, those who do not truly know and worship God. In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus tells us what happens to those who continually act like they are trying to worship God but are not: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

The priests knew how to make offering to and worship God. Knowledge is not enough. Our worship must be pure and come from a pure heart with pure motives. Apparently, the ones Jesus referred knew who God is and knew that he is powerful and he is to be honored and feared because they did all those works in his name. It was not enough. Again, our worship must be pure and come from a pure heart with pure motives. Just like the priests of Malachi’s day and just like the ones Jesus talked about, God does not recognize our impure worship.

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