This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.
We continue with Section 2 – Malachi 1:6-2:9
KEY VERSE: “When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” (verse 1:8)
God is very clear that when sacrifices are offered to him they must be “without defect”. That phrase occurs 17 times in Leviticus, and 14 times in Numbers 28-29 alone! (For an example of God’s instructions for sacrifices, read Leviticus 22:17-33) Whenever God describes a certain type of sacrifice, he specifies that the animal offered must be PERFECT. The point is that his people are to give him their BEST – the most valuable, not second rate leftovers. Giving God a lamb that is sick and about to die (and is therefore useless to you) doesn’t cost you a lot. A gift that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t a sacrifice. A sacrifice COSTS you something.
God isn’t angry because he’s not getting the best meat. It’s the heart attitude of the priests as they “worship” him that is the problem. They wouldn’t try to con human leaders in this way, so why do they try it with God? They have no respect for him. Beliefs are betrayed by actions. If they really BELIEVED God, believed him worthy of respect, they wouldn’t be cheating on worship and skimping on sacrifices.
KEY VERSE: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you.” (verse 1:10)
God would prefer there be NO sacrifices, NO organised worship, than have a bunch of cynics going through the motions for the sake of tradition and appearances. Practicing rituals without a desire to please God is not worship at all! Doing all the right things because it’s expected is obligation, not worship. This DOESN’T mean that tradition is bad. It doesn’t matter how modern the rituals are – if they are practiced without a desire to please God, they won’t please him. Hebrews 11:6 says we have to believe God exists, and believe he rewards those who seek him. Those who brought sacrifices to God while doubting their sacrifices affected God were not pleasing him.
KEY VERSE: “The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge…he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” (verse 2:7)
Malachi 2:5-8 tells us what God wants from his priests.
- Revere God; stand in awe of his name
- True instruction in his mouth; no lies/deceit
- Walk in peace
- Live righteously
- Turn others away from sin
- Lips preserve knowledge
- People seek instruction from them, because they speak God’s message
I Peter 2:9 says that WE are all priests now – we can ALL minister before the LORD, talk to him directly, enter his presence. These instructions, then, are to us! These are things we are expected to do, in order to serve God. Priests are God’s messengers (verse 7) – we bear his message to his people, and to the world. Notice that almost all these points concern the interaction of the priests with OTHERS, not with God. How you speak to people, how you live your life, sends a message about the character of God.
Sacrifice is worship. By giving up something that is valuable to you, you are saying with your ACTIONS (not just your words) that God is worth MORE than that. There is no objective standard to measure sacrifice by. $100 might be pocket change for one person, but be the life savings of another. Moving to China might be really hard for one person, but fulfil the heart’s desire of another. The sacrifice is measured by how much what is given up is worth to the person who gives it. If it is costly to you, it is precious to him.
- What is the most precious thing you’ve given to God?
- Think of someone who has helped shape your understanding of who God is. What about them (their words, their actions) taught you the most?
- What message are you sharing with the world around you through the way you live?
Section 3 – Malachi 2:10-16
KEY VERSE: “guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith” (verse 15 and verse 16)
God sees breaking faith as a very serious thing. This passage indicates that to break faith is to leave the spirit unguarded. So what does it mean to “break faith”? At its simplest, it means to stop doing something you promised to do – to break a promise, to renege on a commitment, to withdraw support, to be disloyal to your beliefs/principles. Faithfulness is very important in God’s book. God is faithful to every promise he makes – and he desires that we be faithful to our promises.
Marriage vows are promises, and marriage is designed to be a lifelong commitment – the closest model on earth of the intimate relationship we have with God. God permits divorce, but it is not his desire for marriages to end (Jesus talks about this in Matthew 19:3-8). When one partner breaks faith with the partner who is faithful, God hurts for them. God acts as a witness against those who break faith. Breaking faith with a person is an affront to their Creator. When I disrespect a person, I disrespect God. When I hurt a person, I hurt God.
If we are going to NOT break faith, that means we need to KEEP faith – keep our promises, honour our commitments, stay loyal in relationships. We aren’t perfect, and we will make mistakes, but faithfulness should be a quality we esteem highly in ourselves and others – something we work hard at, and make sacrifices to maintain. It’s not always easy to keep faith – but it’s something that matters to God.
One way I practise keeping faith is to carefully consider new commitments before I make them. I try to think about what it will mean to honour the commitment. When I plan from the outset how I will keep faith, I find it easier to do so when life gets busy, or I’m just tired.
- What might it look like to keep faith with someone?
- What does keeping faith with God look like in your life?
- Can you think of an area of your life where you find it hard to keep faith?
- What can you do this week to strength the commitment you’ve made in that area?