Malachi 01(06)–02(09)


Like Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi was a post-exilic prophet, which means the Lord sent him to minister to his people who had returned to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. When the people first returned from exile, they rebuilt the altar and they began to rebuild the temple. But their enemies opposed them and the work to rebuild the temple ground to a halt until around 20 years later when God sent Haggai and Zechariah to preach to them. God used their preaching to stir up the people so that they began to rebuild the temple once again.

We’re not entirely sure when God sent Malachi, but we think it was after the work on the temple had been completed. And God sent Malachi to confront his people about their sins and their unfaithfulness. The people after the exile were no better than the people before the exile. And therefore they began to repeat the same sins as before. In the passage we read last week, the Lord confronted his people through Malachi because they doubted his love. In fact, they were cynical and sceptical about it. When God declared his love for his people, they responded, ‘How have you loved us?’ Or perhaps I can paraphrase what they said: ‘I have loved you’, said the Lord. ‘Yeah, right. We don’t believe you.’ And God answered them and persuaded them of his love for them by reminding them of the time, many, many years before, when he chose their forefather Jacob. And by choosing Jacob, he also chose them, Jacob’s descendants, to be his people. So, how has God loved them? He loved them by choosing them to be his people. And having chosen them, hadn’t be blessed them in many, many ways?

And whenever believers today are tempted to doubt God’s love for them, we ought to remember that Christ died for us. And the reason Christ died for us was because, before the creation of the world, God chose us in Christ Jesus for salvation and eternal life in his presence. We did not deserve it and we could not earn it; and yet he graciously and freely chose us and sent his Son to die for us. That’s how much he has loved us. And the God who loved us and sent his Son to die for us promises to work all things together for our good.

Today we come to the Lord’s second accusation or complaint about his people. And this time the complaint focusses on the priests. The people are implicated too, but the focus of the complaint is on the priests. In the first part of today’s passage, the complaint concerns the sacrifices which the priests were presenting before the Lord in the temple. And in the second part of today’s passage, the complaint concerns the failure of the priests to fulfil their calling. And the shortcomings of the priests in those days highlights the need for a new and better priest and for a new and better sacrifice for sins. And when the time was right, God sent his only Begotten Son into the world to be our Great High Priest and to be the once-for-all sacrifice we needed to take away our sins forever and to make a lasting peace for us with God. And having been cleansed by the blood of Christ, we’re able to offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, made acceptable to God through Christ our Saviour. So, let’s turn to today’s passage.


And it begins with a statement or principle which really no one can deny. A son honours his father. At least, a son ought to honour his father. Who would disagree with that? And a servant honours his master. At least, a servant ought to honour his master. Who would argue with that? That’s the way things should be: a son ought to honour his father and a servant ought to honour his master. And here comes the complaint:

If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me?

And the Lord was a father to his people. He regarded the people of Israel as his son; and, as a father cares for his children, so the Lord cared for the people of Israel. He provided for them and cared for them. He instructed them and, when necessary, he disciplined them. He was a loving father to his people. And he was their master, in the sense that he was their Lord and King and it was their duty to serve him by obeying him. So, he was their father and master; and yet they did not give him the honour and respect he deserved. The word translated ‘honour’ is related to a word meaning weight or heaviness. And so, to honour God means to recognise that he is weighty or important or significant. It means to glorify him. And the word ‘respect’ here means to fear God, to show him due reverence. So, instead of honouring him, they treated him as someone light-weight and unimportant. And instead of approaching him with reverence and fear, they approached him in a casual manner.

And look how Malachi refers to the Lord in this verse. He’s the Lord Almighty. More literally, he’s the Lord of hosts, because he commands the host of heaven and he has an army of angels in heaven, ready to do his bidding. And this title for God is used throughout today’s passage. The Lord accuses his people of not honouring him. And they ought to honour him, because he is the Lord Almighty, the Lord of hosts, who is honoured in heaven by the angels. But instead of honouring him like the angels do, they despised and disregarded him.

And look at the middle of verse 6: the Lord focusses his complaint on the priests. They are the ones, above all, who have despised him. The priests should have been the ones who taught the rest of the nation to honour the Lord and to glorify him. But they were the ones who showed contempt for the Lord’s name. Instead of honouring the Lord in all they said and did, they dishonoured his holy name.

And the priests respond. This is part of God’s message to them through Malachi. So, he’s putting these words in their mouth, but we can be sure this is what they were saying or thinking. They asked, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ They seem to be blind to their own shortcomings, unaware of what they have done wrong. So, tell us what we have done. And the Lord replies that they have placed defiled food on his altar. When he refers to food, he’s referring to the animal sacrifices which the people presented before the Lord in the temple. And one of the main instructions about the sacrifices which the people were to offer to the Lord is that they must be without defect. You couldn’t bring any old animal from the herd or flock, but you had to bring the best. It had to be without defect. Spotless. Free from blemish. Perfect. Anything less that a spotless animal was unacceptable to the Lord.

Do you know why it had to be without defect? It’s because each of those animal sacrifices pointed forward to Christ, who was without sin and without any other moral blemish and who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And so, the animal sacrifices which foreshadowed him also had to be free from defect. But instead of offering to God spotless animals, they offered him animals with defects.

And the priests respond to God’s complaint by asking how they have defiled God. In other words: The animal sacrifices may be defiled, but how does that affect God? That’s their question. And the Lord answers them in verse 7: ‘By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible.’ It’s unlikely they were actually saying this. This is more a case of ‘actions speak louder than words’. By the things they did, by offering up defiled animals, they were in a sense saying that God’s table, or God’s altar, is contemptible. They were treating the Lord’s holy altar as something unimportant and worthless. Who cares what we offer? It doesn’t matter what we offer, because God does not matter.

And God accuses them in verse 8 of bringing before him blind animals and crippled animals and diseased animals. Instead of bringing him the best, they were bringing him the worst, the animals they wanted rid of. ‘Is that not wrong?’ he asks. And, of course, it’s wrong. And the Lord suggests that they try to offer those same animals to the governor. Presumably they had to bring gifts and tributes to the local governor. So, would he accept such animals from you? And everyone knows the answer: No, the governor would not be pleased to receive blind, lame, and diseased animals. And if the governor will not accept them, why should the Lord of hosts accept them? And he goes on in verse 9 to suggest that they should try to pray to God. So: Implore God to be gracious to you. Do you think he will answer you? When you come to him with such offerings, do you think he’ll accept you? No, he will not answer them or accept them, because bringing worthless animals to the Lord shows that they think the Lord is worthless and not worth honouring.

And rather than have his people come before him with such worthless animals, and rather than have them dishonour him in this way, he would prefer it if the doors of the temple were shut and the altar fire was put out. Rather than have them dishonour him, he would rather they close down the temple and offer him nothing at all. I am not pleased with you. I will not accept these offerings from your hand.

For years and years, all during the exile, the temple lay in ruins and the altar was broken and no sacrifices were offered. But God was gracious and kind to his people and he brought them back from their exile and he brought them back to the Promised Land. He helped them rebuild the altar and he helped them rebuild the temple. He sent them Ezra to teach them the law of the Lord; and he sent them Haggai and Zechariah to encourage them by their preaching. The people began to meet together in the temple and to offer sacrifices to the Lord: sacrifices for the removal of their sins and sacrifices to give thanks to God. And every one of these sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice of himself to take away our guilt forever. But as time passed, the hearts of the people must have grown cold and their worship of God became only half-hearted. It became cold and formal. They only went through the motions and instead of offering to God the best of their flocks and herds, they offered him the worst. Their attitude was that it doesn’t matter what we offer him, because he does not matter. He does not matter to us and worshipping him does not matter to us. The people after the exile were no better than the people before the exile. They were still sinners who sinned against God continually. And it would be better if the temple was shut up and no sacrifices offered as it was in the days of the exile.

However, the Lord foretold in verse 11 of a time that was coming when his name will be regarded as great among the nations. From the place where the sun rises to the place where the sun sets and every place in between, the name of the Lord will be praised. In every place, incense and pure offerings will be brought to God’s name. That is, unblemished offerings will be offered to him, because his name and reputation will be great among the nations. He will be honoured throughout the world.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it? Here’s the Lord, accusing his priests in Jerusalem of dishonouring him; he’d rather the temple was shut down and the fires put out. But in the midst of his accusation, he speaks of a time in the future when people across the world will worship him. He’s speaking, of course, of what would happen after Christ left this world and returned to heaven, because after he left, his apostles went into all the world to make disciples of all nations by proclaiming the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners. And the good news continues to be proclaimed throughout the world and Christ’s church is being built in every nation. And in every place, men and women and boys and girls meet together to worship God and to declare the greatness and glory of God. From the rising of the sun to the place of its setting and in every place in between, the name of the Lord is regarded as great.

Verses 11 and 12 are about what would happen later. But verse 12 takes us back to what was happening in Jerusalem in the days of Malachi where the priests defiled God’s altar. ‘It is defiled’ they said. Again, they probably didn’t say it was defiled, but that’s what they were saying by the things they did. And they considered the worship of God a burden. Do you see that in verse 13? It was a burden. It was tiresome. It was too much trouble. It was wearisome.

And in the final verse of chapter 1, the Lord depicts this man, this cheat, who makes a vow to the Lord. So, when he was in trouble, he made a vow to the Lord to offer to God an animal sacrifice so long as God helped him. And afterwards, after God helped him, he still kept his vow. He still offered a sacrifice. But instead of offering to God an acceptable sheep from his flock, he kept that one for himself, and offered to God a blemished animal. Well, instead of blessing that man, the Lord will only curse him. And while his own people in Jerusalem may despise him, the Lord speaks once again of the time to come when the nations will worship him and regard him as great.


And so, we come to the second half of today’s passage. In the first part the complaint concerned the sacrifices which the priests were presenting before the Lord in the temple. In the second part of today’s passage, the complaint concerns the failure of the priests to fulfil their calling. In verses 1 and 2, he warns that if the priests do not listen to what he’s been saying, and if they do not honour him as they should, then he will send a curse upon them. Under the terms of God’s covenant with Israel, if the people obeyed him, they could expect him to bless them by filling their lives with good things. But if the people disobeyed him, they could expect him to curse them by filling their live with trouble. And so, if the priests don’t turn from their sins, he will pour down his curses upon them. Moreover, he will curse their blessings. There are at least two ways to interpret this. The first is that one of the tasks of the priest was to bless the people. And so, perhaps the Lord is saying that he will overturn their blessings so that when they bless the people, God will curse them. The other way to interpret this is that all the blessing the priests received will be cursed by God. So, all the income they received from being a priest, will be taken from them. Whichever it is, the Lord is warning them that they can only expect trouble from the Lord and not good things. In fact, he has already cursed them. And he warns as well in verse 3 that he will rebuke — or it should probably be ‘cut off’ — their descendants. And he warns that he will spread on their faces the offal from the sacrifices. The word translated offal can also be translated dung. Whether he’s talking about offal or dung, it’s an unpleasant image. These respected men in the community will be humiliated when they are covered in dung and offal. And that’s only the start of their humiliation, because the Lord warns that they will be carried off. That is, they will be taken away from the temple to the place where dung and offal were dumped.

Of course, these particular curses have not yet fallen on the priests. God is only warning them to expect these things if they do not repent and return to the Lord with their whole heart. And so, the warning is a sign of God’s grace and mercy. He wants them to repent and return to him so that he can bless them. He wants what is best for them. And so, he warns them for their own good. And that’s what verse 4 is about. He’s warning them so that his covenant with Levi may continue. The priests who served in the temple all came from the tribe of Levi. And God had set them apart from the rest of Israel to serve him in the temple. He promised them this honour. And he wants them to continue in that role. He doesn’t want to have to remove them. And so, his warning now is a sign of his grace and mercy and his willingness to pardon them so long as they repent and show him the reverence he deserves and so long as they revere him and stand in awe of his name.

When he says in verse 6 that true instruction was in Levi’s mouth, he’s thinking of a time when the priests instructed the people concerning God’s law. When he says nothing false was found on Levi’s lips. he’s thinking of a time when the priests didn’t lead the people astray and didn’t said anything contrary to God’s law. When he says that Levi walked in peace and uprightness, he’s thinking of a time when the priests lived good and upright lives. They were an example to the people of godliness and devotion; and by what they said and did they turned people from their sins. That’s what the priests should do. They should preserve knowledge by teaching what is true. They should instruct the people about God’s will. The priest was meant to be a messenger from God, sent by God to lead and teach his people. But instead of fulfilling their calling, they turned from the way and they caused many to stumble and they violated God’s covenant with Levi by not doing what they were supposed to do. And so, because they have not followed God’s ways, he has caused them to be despised and humiliated.

Application 1

The failure of the priests to offer acceptable sacrifices to God highlights the need for a new and better priest and for a new and better sacrifice. And God, who is gracious and kind, sent his only Begotten Son into the world to be our Great High Priest. And the Lord Jesus has fulfilled the calling of a priest perfectly, because true instruction was on his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips and he walked with God in peace and uprightness and turned many from their sins. He preserved knowledge by always teaching what was true and he instructed men about God’s will and he was indeed the messenger of God, because God the Father sent him into the world as the Word of God Incarnate to make known to all God’s grace and kindness and his willingness to pardon sinners.

And as our Great High Priest, he offered up to God an acceptable sacrifice. In fact, he offered up to God the most acceptable sacrifice, because he offered himself up to God as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice, a sacrifice which was undefiled and unblemished in every way. He offered himself as the spotless, sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; and with his blood he has cleansed us from all unrighteousness. Those who believe in him are sprinkled with his blood and cleansed completely and made holy through his one and only sacrifice of himself. We’re able to approach God with confidence, knowing that we have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ and our sins have been paid for in full and we have peace with God forever. And so, with confidence we can come before God to worship him and to seek his help. Even though we are sinners, we know that Christ our High Priest has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. And so, despite our sins and shortcomings, we may come to God through Christ.

And whereas God warned that he would carry off those sinful, corrupt earthly priests to the place where offal and dung was dumped, Christ our Great High Priest is our priest forever and he serves not in an earthly temple, but in the true, heavenly temple. Instead of being sent away, he will always stand before the Father on our behalf, to represent us and to intercede for us, seeking from God everything we need.

Application 2

But the Lord’s complaint in today’s passage is a challenge to us about the way we worship. A son honours his father and a servant his master. Because of Christ, God has become our Father. But do we give him the honour he deserves when we worship him? And God is our Master. He is our Lord and King and our God. We are his servants. But do we approach him in worship with reverence and awe? Do we treat him as someone who is light-weight and unimportant or do we regard him as the Great King who is worthy of all our love and praise and honour and obedience? When we think about coming to worship him, do we think of it was a wearisome burden or as our joy and delight? Do we say it does not matter whether we worship him or not, because he does not matter? And so, this passage challenges us to examine our hearts and to consider how we worship him.

If our hearts condemn us when we examine them, then the good news for guilty sinners is that, just as we are accepted in the Beloved, so our worship is accepted in the Beloved too. Because we’re sinners, we are unacceptable to God. But God pardons us and accepts us because of Christ who gave up his life to pay for our sins. And then, because we’re sinners, our worship is unacceptable to God. None of us is able to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Everything we do, including our worship, is spoiled by sin. However, God graciously and freely pardons and accepts us and our worship for the sake of Christ. And so, though our worship here on earth is far from perfect, and will never be perfect so long as we live in this world, nevertheless we know that God will accept our worship so long as we’re trusting in Christ our Saviour.

However, this does not mean that we should be satisfied with half-hearted worship or worship which he has not commanded. Instead, because of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus, we should make it our aim to worship him with all of our heart and in accordance with his will. And that leads me to the next point.

Application 3

We should offer up to God a sacrifice of praise for his kindness to us. There is no need for us to offer up to God animal sacrifices, because all of those animal sacrifices foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Christ. And now that he has come, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices for sin. But in gratitude to God for all that he has done for us in Christ, we can offer up to him a sacrifice of praise. We can worship him and praise his name and declare that he is great.

And as well as offering up to him a sacrifice of praise, we can offer ourselves to him as a living sacrifice. So, in the past, the people offered him a dead sacrifice. But we can offer ourselves as living, breathing sacrifices, wholly devoted to serving him and doing his will here on earth. The Old Testament sacrifices were dedicated to the Lord. And you too can dedicate yourself to God and his glory so in that in all you do and say you will seek to honour him.

And just as the priests in the past were to have true instruction in their mouths, so we can instruct one another and encourage one another to worship the Lord and to do his will here on earth.

Application 4

And the final thing to say today is that you can pray to the Lord to bring to completion what he announced in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 1. Pray to the Lord Almighty to enable men and women and boys and girls everywhere to acknowledge his greatness and glory so that his name and reputation will be great among the nations. Pray that his name will be honoured in the place where the sun rises and in the place where it sets and in every place in between. Pray that in every place men and women and children will offer up a sacrifice of praise to him and will offer themselves to him as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to doing his will. Pray that his name will be great among the nations. In other words, pray the words the Lord Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s name will be hallowed in all the world. Pray that people will no longer show him contempt, but that they’ll love him and honour him and praise him and give thanks to him and to Jesus Christ his Son.