God’s Word for You
Malachi 1:12-16 Unworthy and worthy
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 23, 2021
Paul warned, “Do not despise prophecy” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). Walther, the great pastor of the Missouri Synod, always interpreted this to mean, “Do not despise the exposition (explanation) of Scripture.” In this chapter of Malachi, the prophet has been condemning the priests for their sloppy, slipshod, and shoddy work. Now he turns back to Moses with an exposition of the laws given about the priesthood. As always with the Word of God, we must take it carefully to heart, whether we are laypeople reading about the pitfalls of pastoral ministry or pastors reminded of our sinful smallness in service of God’s immense greatness.
12 But you profane it when you say, “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.” 13 And you also say, “How tiresome this is!” and you sniff at it, says the LORD of Armies.
The “it” being profaned is the name of God (Malachi 1:11). The priests themselves defiled God’s name by saying his table is defiled. They received their living from the sacrifices brought to the table (altar) of the Lord. They had become pompous, puffed-up, prancing, preening prigs who thought they were better than everyone. They thought they deserved better than God gave. The “fruit” and “food” stand for the priest’s share of the sacrifices. The “food” (bread) is the living anyone makes from their job. It is one’s salary. The “fruit” of the Lord’s altar is a reminder that we are given all of our needs from God’s own hand, whether what we receive is a gift, a wage we’ve earned, or food we’ve grown with our own labor. It is all still a gift from God the Almighty Creator.
The priests had begun to think that they deserved more, and so their wage was “contemptible.” And they followed this by sighing like the arrogant snobs they had become, “How tiresome all this is!” Their job was primarily to approve of animals and baskets of food brought by worshipers any day of the week, observe or assist in the killing of the animal, catching and sprinkling the blood, sometimes helping with the butchery, and then seeing to the proper burning, roasting or boiling of the meat. They sighed at this, the very act that pointed ahead to the sacrifice of the Savior on the cross to atone for their sins and mine, and they “sniffed at it.” This was a sniff of contempt, of disgust. They should have inhaled the aroma of the sacrifice to appreciate God’s continuous thousand-year-old prophecy of Calvary, but they just sniffed. At the very least, Malachi warns, they should realize who this is that they’re sniffing at. This is no tin statuette on a shelf above a pagan’s dinner table. This is the LORD of Armies. This is the Champion of Eternity. Think twice before you snort at what he offers you.
You bring stolen, crippled, or sickly animals, and offer them as sacrifices! Should I accept them from your hand? says the LORD.
The law forbade any animal sacrifice if the animal had a defect. God said:
“You must not offer anything with a defect, for it will not be acceptable for you. Whoever brings an offering from the herd or flock, it must be perfect to be accepted. It can have no defect. You may not offer to the LORD what is blind, injured, maimed, or has a wart, or is festering, or has a running sore.” (Leviticus 22:20-22)
The word “injured” in verse 13 usually means “stolen” (Jeremiah 21:12, 22:3). While it could be an animal injured by “tearing” (Psalm 22:13), the idea of bringing stolen property as an offering to God is even more severe a crime. Almighty God is not fooled by the lies men tell themselves or one another. He knows what is stolen. He knows the gifts he himself gives. He also recognizes a crippled animal, or a sickly animal, because nothing escapes his notice, from the fall of an ox (Luke 14:5) to the fall of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29). What is acceptable to God is an offering given from faith (Luke 21:2-4), “whate’er the gift may be.”
14 Cursed be the cheat who has a fine male in his flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great King, says the LORD of Armies, and my name will be feared among the nations.
The law actually had a provision for this kind of cheating on sacrifices. “If an animal has been pledged as an offering to the LORD, then the whole animal given to the LORD becomes holy. He cannot exchange it, not to trade a better one for a bad one, or a bad for a better one. If he tries to exchange animal for animal, then both it and the one he was trading it for shall be holy.” (Leviticus 27:9-10). In other words, if you said you were going to give animal #1 and instead brought animal #2, you forfeited both of them. Better to have given the better one you pledged and keep the other than lose them both.
The law even allowed an unclean animal to be used in the service of God, provided it was properly redeemed, as long as it wasn’t for a sacrifice. This was how the hides of sea cows were able to be used as coverings for the Holy Place, to waterproof it from the torrential winter and spring rains (Exodus 25:3; Numbers 4:6-14). “The priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad. Whatever value the priest gives it will be its value” (Leviticus 27:12). But the priests in Malachi’s day weren’t bringing acceptable sacrifices of any kind, and by their example, the people weren’t bringing acceptable sacrifices, either. Naturally, the priests were upset by the quality of those gifts because that was how they were paid. And so their own unbelief was undercutting everything among God’s people. If the ministers will not worship, will the people want to worship? This is how the priests were profaning the worship of the Lord, and therefore the name of the Lord.
It is a privilege to worship the true God, and a privilege to lead that worship. Oh, that God would forgive my sins, overlook my shortcomings, and permit me to stand in his place (in his place!) to announce the forgiveness of sins and to give the blessing! And, as a preacher, to explain Scripture and therefore to prophesy the Word of the Lord to his people! No one is up to that task. No one is holy enough. But because God forgives, I can serve him. Because God forgives, we all can bring our gifts. Because God forgives, we respond to his forgiveness, and a neverending chain of forgiveness and thanks is knitted together by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The unworthy responds to the worthy, and is made worthy by the worthiness of Christ. This is our worship. This is God’s love.
Pastor Timothy Smith