Monday, March 24, 2014

An Indictment Against the Priests of Israel

A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.” (Malachi 1:6-7)

Transitioning into an indictment against the religious leadership of the nation, the LORD'S declaration concerning honor begins the discourse. Generally speaking, although moral degradation greatly affects the respecting of elders, a son shows at least some deference to his father. In the Jewish society of Malachi's day, this respect would have been far greater than what is present in the world today. Also, any servant with even a slight amount of common sense would see the value in giving regard to the wishes of the one who held much control over that servants future. Yet, the greatest Father and Master of all was being treated as though He was unworthy of even the honor paid to a common man. Twice in this book, God is called a father. Though used more extensively in the New Testament, the title of Father is not foreign to Old Testament thinking. The LORD wastes no time in getting to the heart of the issue. The fear of God was absent from the lives of the priests. Scripture places a high value on the fear of the LORD. One cannot read Scripture long before coming upon this holy, yet hated, doctrine. Proverbs 14:27 says, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” Concerning the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah 11:2-3 declares “ And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him...the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD:” The character of the Messiah Himself is clothed with the fear of Jehovah; yet, the priests of Malachi's day so no need to seek after it. Man hasn't changed. In recent times, a low and compromising view has been taken of the fear of the LORD. Some have taught that this fear of God is nothing more than a healthy respect, while others have chosen to ignore the doctrine altogether; yet, the Scriptures bear record of its importance. The Hebrew text is clear. This word for fear means terror. “God is greatly to feared in the assembly of the saints (Psalm 89:7),” not because He is despotic or cruel, but because He is first and foremost holy, and His holiness demands the exercise of judgment against sin. If a person will be honest with themselves, a simple search of the soul through the use of Scripture will quickly reveal that a lack of the fear of God is at the heart of every sin. The very ones who should have been leading the nation toward the fear of God were the ones who were void of such fear. In fact, they had come to despise God's name. The root idea of the word despise is to attribute little or no worth to something. What a sad place for God's priest to be! The believer priest in Christ can find himself in the same position if not careful. The old man is ever present in the believer's earthly life, waiting to distract him from the value of God.

Israel's arrogant questions reveal their lack of sensitivity to the Lord. First, they commence with a rebuttal of their perverted attitude toward God's sovereignty. They have the audacity to ask, “Wherein have we despised thy name?” Questions such as this may be appropriate if man is making the indictment, but when the LORD of all points out an error, nothing but speedy conformity is proper. They are not asking these questions out of curiosity or a lack of understanding. As context will soon reveal, these questions are prompted by a rebellious heart. The Lord points out specifically how the priests were showing contempt for His name. He says, “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar.” Instead of immediately acknowledging their wrong, they continue to argue (a certain sign of a rebellious heart). They return answer with a rebuttal of their polluted assessment of God's sacrifices, “Wherein have we polluted thee?” The LORD'S reply points out the reality of their unworthy sacrifices, “In that ye say, the table of the LORD is contemptible.” This last answer is very specific. Sacrifices may be polluted by more than one means. The priests had no respect for the importance of God's sacrifices; therefore, their attitude had polluted their actions, but their actions could not atone for their attitude. Sin is contagious. Holiness is not. The attitude and heart of the one offering the sacrifice has always been the primary concern of God. This may be seen in the example of the great passover which was kept in the days of Hezekiah, “And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the LORD God of Israel...And they stood in their place after their manner, according to the law of Moses the man of God: the priests sprinkled the blood, which they received of the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the LORD. For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (II Chronicles 30:1, 16-20).”

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