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)
After the prophet had delivered God’s message of love, he now took the priests to task who were polluting God’s altar and God’s table with blemished sacrifices.
Where is God’s Favor?
It was one of those negative loops people get stuck in. They longed to hear an encouraging word from God, they longed to see God come in power to make their lives rich and filled with all the good earthly blessings they had read about in the books of Moses, blessings promised by God in return for their obedience.
All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:
(1) Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
(2) Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
(3) Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
(4) Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
(5) The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways.
(6) The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
(7) The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you . . .
(8) All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you.
(9) The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you.
(10) The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings.
(11) You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow.
(12) The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottomGod’s promises delivered through Moses, Deuteronomy 28:2-13 (NRSV)
But, when the blessings were slow in coming, their obedience to God also grew slower and slower, and for many it simply stopped.
You implore the Lord for God’s favor, Malachi wrote, but the fault does not lie with God. The fault lies with you.
It was not the first time the Lord had explained what little pleasure God took in sacrifices given out of resentment, or a sense of empty obligation, or as a veiled attempt at manipulating God. God would rather you shut the doors of this new temple, Malachi told them, than to keep offering these unacceptable sacrifices.
But what the prophet said next must have sucked the air from the people’s collective lungs.
“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”Malachi 1:11 (NRSV)
How that must have stung!
Those who did not enjoy God’s special favor praised and worshiped God with pure offerings, while God’s own chosen and treasured people carelessly offered polluted offerings.
You profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised.
“What a weariness this is,” you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!
. . . Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemishedMalachi 1:12-14 (NRSV)
And now the whole story was out. It was not just a problem with the priests, but also with the people.
God charged them with carelessness in their service to the Lord—“Shall I accept that from your hand?” God asked them, “for I am a great King, and my name is reverenced among the nations.” The people made vows to God they had no intention of keeping, and the priests had become weary with the whole thing.
As Malachi delivered his oracles from God, Nehemiah also heard concerning reports of how seriously the people’s relationship with God was disintegrating.
I then discovered
(1) the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.
And I was very angry.
I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room. Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
(2) I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.
(3) I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day;
(4) [Marrying foreign women who did not convert to the Jewish faith, and whose children did not even learn to speak Hebrew]Nehemiah 13:4-31 (NRSV)
The situation was dire!
The answer did not lie simply in gritting their teeth, ignoring their feelings, applying steely self-will to “fake it” until they “make it.”
God had already opened the invitation to come to the Lord in their current condition for God’s comfort.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,1 Samuel 15:22 (NRSV)
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;Psalm 51:16-17 (NRSV)
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
To do righteousness and justiceProverbs 21:3 (NRSV)
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
There are many more!
And God’s invitation remains the same for you and me today, as Jesus said,
‘to love [God] with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”Jesus, Mark 12:33 (NRSV)