Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which features early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now His own people were acting like jackals.
Oracle 2—Blemished sacrifices were polluting God’s table. (1:6-2:9)
God’s very first words to the Lord’s discouraged people were of love, everlasting, faithful, constant love. God reminded them, through Malachi, that the Lord had chosen their forefather Jacob, and not Esau. They were and would remain God’s chosen people.
This was no injustice of the Lord’s, but simply election at work, God’s sovereign choosing and genuine human free choice at work, as Jacob’s and Esau’s story portrayed. Every person has the freedom to choose whatever they wish, and God also is so powerfully sovereign that the Lord works all things together for God’s purposes—God’s plans are set and nothing can thwart what the Lord has in mind!
Today is not Tomorrow
The people were discouraged, there was no way getting around it. Their circumstances had remained difficult, whatever glorious future the prophets had been predicting was a long time in coming, and there was no hint of current change.
For Malachi’s audience, today’s grim situation seemed to guarantee tomorrow’s grim reality.
It can be like that for you and me, as well. Whatever we are going through can feel like it will last for the rest of our lives, without escape. Sometimes, some aspect of that really is true. When a person dies, they are gone from this earth. They are not coming back. When someone becomes permanently disabled, when something—a house, or a treasured object—is destroyed, when something is lost, that can be a devastating rite of passage. Before is over, and now is the new reality.
But so much more often, now is only now, the middle of the story, and what the Lord has in store is unknown.
So the word of Lord to the people.
I have made his [Esau’s] hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals.
If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says: They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry forever. Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say,
“Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!”Malachi 1:3-5 (NRSV)
Foreknown, Predestined, Called, Justified, Glorified
You and I need that word, too. We need to hear that what assails us today, what has ground us into a weary dejection is only temporary. God’s love for us is secure, and there will come a point when we see with our own eyes God is truly at work, for
The Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s] purpose.
—For those whom [God] foreknew [God] also predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
—And those whom [God] predestined [God] also called;
—and those whom [God] called [God] also justified;
—and those whom [God] justified [God] also glorified.Romans 8:26-30 (NRSV)
God’s unchanging intent for the people of Israel,
If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.God to the Hebrews at Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:5-6 (NRSV)
God’s intention continues into the Christian Testament, as the apostle Peter confirmed,
Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Peter 2:5 (NRSV)
You and I today are as accountable to God and vital to God’s work as Malachi’s original audience.
A son honors his father, and servants their master.
If then I am a father, where is the honor due -me-?
And if I am a master, where is the respect due -me-?
says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.Malachi 1:6 (NRSV)
God’s messenger, the prophet Malachi, must have already remonstrated with the priests for what they had been doing, because he quoted back to them their initial feigned innocence.
You say, “How have we despised your name!?”
By offering polluted food on my altar.
And you say, “How have we polluted it!?”
By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised.
When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong?
Try presenting that to your governor! Will he be pleased with you or show you favor!? says the Lord of hosts.Malachi 1:6-8 (NRSV)
The priests had been accepting blind, crippled, and diseased animals for sacrifice from the people.
How did that ever get started?!
Most likely, it did not happen all at once. Think about it. One day one person brought in an animal, a lamb, and it was not completely perfect in some way. There was something a little bit wrong, just a little blemish, but there it was. The supplicant had come all the way in from the country, he wanted to make a sacrifice, it was finally now his turn at the altar, so he presented this little-bit-blemished lamb to the priest.
That is a moment, suspended in the air, a crossroads.
What was the priest going to do?
In this situation, perhaps God’s word seemed too exacting. Here was a worshipper all the way in from the country. What a chore to have to send him back! At some point, the attending priest compromised with what he knew was Levitical law.
Somehow, it did not seem to occur to either the priest or the supplicant to ask God for a perfect substitute.
So, a blemished lamb ended up on the altar that day. And then another, and then one that was a little bit more more blemished. Until, with eroded standards and misplaced priorities, the sacrifices became as Malachi described them, polluted food that made the table of God despised.
The Perfect Substitute
At stake was even more disastrous than contemptible treatment of God.
It was the corruption of God’s depiction of salvation for all people, because those perfect sacrificial animals were all portrayals symbolic of the one, holy, perfect sacrifice God would make of Himself for you, and for me.
Jesus Provides Genuine Substitution
Jesus presented His Own body to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. Because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, given in complete and willing submission, He replaced all the previous sacrifices.
He is our substitute.
In Greek, the word for substitute is ὑπέρ| huper, meaning on behalf of or in another’s place. Huper is the chief Greek term for expressing the principle of substitution, and substitution is one of the important salvation concepts in the Bible.
We are rescued from the corruption of sin, from death itself, because God the Father sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die huper, on behalf of you and me, to die in our place. Jesus stood in our place as the sinner, and bore the full force of the cleansing wrath of God for our sins. As a result, we are able to stand before God as Christ having been given Jesus’ righteousness
- For Christ’s substitution to be acceptable, He, too had to be perfect, without blemish, which is to say, without sin, without its presence anywhere within Him.
- By His sinlessness Jesus was qualified to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, the perfect substitute to receive and survive the cleansing wrath over sin.
- Jesus fulfilled the law of God perfectly, securing for you and me the necessary merit to receive the blessings of God’s covenant.
This crucial concept was being undermined by the corrupt practices of the priests.