Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Malachi 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ malachi-1.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Malachi 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Part I. REPROOF OF THE PRIESTS FOR NEGLECT OF DIVINE SERVICE.
§ 1. Heading and author. The burden (Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; see note on Nahum 1:1). The word of the Lord is heavy and full of threats, but, as St. Jerome notes, it is also consolatory, because it is not "against" but to Israel. By this name the whole covenanted nation is designated, here, perhaps, with some idea of reminding the people of Jacob's faith and patience, and stimulating them to imitate their great ancestor. By Malachi; literally, by the hand of Malachi (comp. Jeremiah 37:2). That Malachi is the proper name of the prophet, and not a mere official designation, see the proof in the Introduction, § II. The LXX. renders, ἐν χειρὶ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ, "by the hand of his angel," or" messenger," and some curious theories have been founded on this translation; e.g. that an angel was the real author of the book, or came and explained it to the people. A similar legend once obtained concerning Haggai, called" The Lord's Messenger" (Haggai 1:13). At the end of the verse the LXX. adds, "fix it in your hearts," which Jerome supposes to have been imported hither from Haggai 2:15.
§ 2. The prophet declares God's special love for Israel
I have loved you. The prophet, desiring to bring home to the people their ingratitude, lays down his thesis; then, in his characteristic manner, repeats the objection of the sceptics in an interrogatory form, and refutes it by plain argument. God had shown his love for Israel by electing them to be his people, and by his treatment of them during the whole course of their history. Wherein hast thou loved us! This was the inward feeling of the people at this time. They doubted God's love and faithfulness. Events had not turned out as they expected. They had, indeed, returned from captivity, and the temple was rebuilt; but none of the splendid things announced by the prophets had come to pass. They were not great and victorious; Messiah had not appeared. Therefore they repined and murmured: they were ungrateful for past favours, and questioned God's power and providence. Was not Esau Jacob's brother? God refutes their unjust charge by referring them to a palpable fact, viz. the different fate of the descendants of the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob. How miserable the destiny of the Edomites! how comparatively fortunate the condition of the Israelites! Yet I loved Jacob.
And I hated Esau. St. Paul quotes these words (Romans 9:13) in order to illustrate his position, "that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth." Even before his birth Jacob was the chosen one, and Esau, the elder, was to serve the younger. This mystery of Divine election has seemed to some to be stated so harshly that they have thought that the words of the text need to be softened, or to be modified by their explanation. Thus they give the glosses, "I have preferred Jacob to Esau;" "I have loved Esau less than Jacob;" or they have limited the terms "love" end "hatred" to the bestowing or withholding of temporal blessings; or they have affirmed that Esau was hated because God foresaw his unworthiness, and Jacob was beloved owing to his foreseen piety and faithfulness. The whole question is discussed by Augustine, 'De Div. Quint. ad Simplic.,' 1.18 (11.433). He ends by saying, "Deus odit impietatem: in aliis etiam punit per damnationem, in aliis adimit per justificationem." But Malachi is not speaking of the predestination of the one brother and the reprobation of the other; he is contrasting the histories of the two peoples represented by them; as Jerome puts it, "In Jacob vos dilexi, in Esau Idumaeos odio habui." Both nations sinned; both are punished; but Israel by God's free mercy was forgiven and restored, while Edom was left in the misery which it had brought upon itself by its own iniquity. Thus is proved God's love for the Israelites (Knabenbauer). That it is of the two nations that the prophet speaks, rather than of the two brothers, is seen by what follows. Laid his mountains … waste. While the Israelites were repeopling and cultivating their land, and their cities were rising from their ruins, and the temple and the capital were rebuilt, Edom, which had suffered at the hand of the same enemies, had never recovered from the blow, and still lay a scene of desolation and ruin. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar attacked and conquered Edom some few years after he had taken Jerusalem. This event happened during one of his expeditions against Egypt, one of which took place in the thirty-seventh year of his reign, as we learn from a record lately deciphered (see 'Transact. of Soc. of Bibl. Archaeology,' 7.210, etc.). (For Edom and its history, see the Introduction to Obadiah.) Dragons; rather, jackals (Micah 1:8); Septuagint, εἰς δώματα ἐρήμου, "for habitations of the desert;" Vulgate, dracones deserti, whence the Authorized Version.
Whereas; rather, if, or although; Vulgate, quod si. If Edom were to attempt to repair its desolation, the Lord would not permit it—a striking contrast to the national restoration of Israel. We are impoverished; or, as the Revised Version, we are beaten; Septuagint, ἡ Ἰδουμαία κατέστραπται, "Idumea has been overthrown." Vulgate, destructl sumus. The desolate places; Vulgate, quae destructa sunt, places once in habited and now deserted. Compare the boast of the Ephraimites (Isaiah 9:9, Isaiah 9:10). I win throw down. Edom never recovered its power; it became the prey of the Per starts, the Nabatheans, the Jews under the Maccabees, the Macedonians, the Romans; and finally the Mohammedan conquest effected its utter ruin. They (men) shall call them, The border of wickedness. Edom shall be called, "The territory of iniquity," its miserable condition attesting the wicked ness of the inhabitants thus punished by Divine justice. Hath indignation; Septuagint, παρατέτακται, "hath" been set in battle array;" St. Jerome, "My anger is proved by their enduring desolation; and in contrast to the evils experienced by your brother, ye shall experience the goodness of God towards you."
Your eyes shall see. Jacob is addressed. When you see these proofs of God's love for you, you shall leave off murmuring and be ready to praise God for his goodness and power. The Lord will be magnified; better, the Lord is great; Septuagint, Ἐμεγαλύνθη Κύριος, "The Lord was magnified." God makes his greatness known. From (over) the border of Israel. This means either beyond the limits of Israel, i.e. in all the world, or upon Israel, i.e. by the protection which he vouchsafes to Israel.
§ 3. Israel had shown no gratitude for all these proofs of God's love, and the very priests had been the chief offenders by offering defective sacrifices, and profaning the temple worship.
A son honoureth his father. The prophet commences with a general principle which every one allows, and argues from that what was the attitude which they ought to assume towards God. A father. God was the Father of Israel by creation, election, preservation, watchful guardianship (see Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8, etc.). My fear. The fear, respect, reverence, due to me. O priests. He addresses his reproof to the priests, as the representatives of the people, and bound to lead them to obedience and holiness, and to be a pattern to the flock. Wherein have we despised thy Name? The priests have grown so callous, and have so obscured true religion by Pharisaical externalism, that they profess to be utterly unconscious how they have shown contempt of God. The Name of God is God himself and all that has to do with him.
Ye offer polluted bread (food) upon mine altar. The prophet answers the priests simply by detailing some of their practices. The "bread" (lechem) is not the shewbread, which was not offered on the altar, but the flesh of the offered victims (see Le Malachi 3:11, Malachi 3:16; 21:6; 22:25). This was "polluted" in that it was not offered in due accordance with the ceremonial Law, as is further explained in the next verse. Wherein have we polluted thee? They did not acknowledge the truth that (as St. Jerome says) "when the sacraments are violated, he himself, whose sacraments they are, is violated" (comp. Ezekiel 13:19; Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 39:7). The table of the Lord is contemptible. This was the thought of their heart, if they did not give open expression to it in words. The "table of the Lord" (Malachi 1:12) is the altar, on which were laid the sacrifices, regarded as the food. of God, and to be eaten by the fire (Ezekiel 41:22; Ezekiel 44:16). They showed that they despised the altar by fancying that anything was good enough for offering thereon, as the next verse explains.
If ye offer the blind. The Law ordered that the victims should be perfect and without blemish (see Leviticus 22:19-25). Is it not evil! It is more forcible to read this without the interrogation, "It is no evil!" and to regard it as the priests' thought or word, here introduced by the prophet in bitter irony. Their conscience had grown so dull, and they had become so familiarized with constant dereliction of duty, that they saw no wrong in these violations of the Law, and never recalled the people to their duty in these matters. Offer it now unto thy governor. The word for "governor" is pechah, as in Haggai 1:1 (where see note). It denotes a ruler set over a province by a Persian king. As Nehemiah had refused to be burdensome to the people (Nehemiah 5:14-18), it is thought that Malachi must have written this when some other person was acting as governor. But Nehemiah's generosity was exhibited in his earlier administration, and he may have thought it right to take the dues under a more prosperous state of affairs. The prophet may be putting the ease generally—Would you dare offer such things to your governor? At any rate, the question is not about provisions and dues supplied to the governor and liable to be exacted by him in his official capacity, but about voluntary offerings and presents, without which no inferior would presume to appear before his prince (see Introduction, § II.). To offer to such a one what was mean and defective would be nothing less than an insult; and yet they thought this was good enough for God. Accept thy person. Regard thee with favour (Genesis 19:21; Job 13:10; Job 42:8).
Beseech God; literally, the face of God. This is not a serious call to repentance, but an ironical appeal. Come now and ask the favour of God with your polluted sacrifices; intercede, as is your duty, for the people; will he accept you? will he be gracious to the people for your sakes? This hath been by your means. These words form a parenthesis, implying that it was from the priests that the evil custom of offering blemished animals proceeded, and they were answerable for the consequences; that their intercessions were vain was the result of their transgressions in these matters. Others interpret, "The thing depends on you," i.e. whether God shows favour or not. Will he regard your persons? Will he show favour to any one because ye intercede for him? So it might be translated, Will he accept any because of you?
The prophet continues his severe reprobation of the priests. Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for naught, etc.? Thus rendered, the passage rebukes the mercenary spirit of the priests, who would not even shut the temple door nor kindle the altar fire unless they were paid for it; or else it means that, though all the officers of the temple were remunerated for their most trivial services, yet they were remiss in attending to their duties, and neglected the law of sacrifices. The Latin Version omits the negative in the last clause, Quis est in vobis qui claudat ostia, et incendat altare meum gratuito? The LXX; with some little variation in the reading, renders, Διότι καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν σὐκλειθήσονται θύραι καὶ οὐκ ἀνάψεται τὸ θυσιαστήριον, μου δωρεάν, "Wherefore also among you the doors shall be shut, and my altar shall not be kindled for nothing," i.e. God threatens that the temple services shall wholly cease. But it is best to consider the passage as continuing the sarcastic strain of the preceding verse, and saying in effect that it would be better to have no pretence of worship at all than to have it thus profaned. Translate as in the Revised Version, Oh that there were one among you that would shut the doors, that ye might not kindle fire on mine altar in vain! The doors are those of the inner court of the temple, where the great altar stood; and the polluted sectaries is offered "in vain," because it offends God rather than propitiates him. An offering (minchah). Here not sacrifice in general, as many commentators suppose, because it would be unnatural to take the word in one sense in this verse, and in a different sense in the following, where it is confessedly used in its restricted signification. The term is applied technically to the offering of fine flour combined with off and frankincense, burnt on the altar (Le Malachi 2:1, etc.); though it is also occasionally used even of bloody sacrifices; e.g. of Abel's. As liturgically employed, it denotes the unbloody offering. So in this verse we may note a kind of climax. God would not accept the victims sacrificed, no, nor even the meat offering, which was naturally pure and unpolluted,
My Name shall be great. The course of thought is this: God does not need the worship of the Jews and their impious priests; he needs not their maimed sacrifices; his majesty shall be recognized throughout the wide world, and pure worship shall be offered to him from every nation under heaven. How, then, shall he not punish those who, being his elect, ought to have been an example of holiness, and prepaid the way for his universal reception? The LXX. treats this circumstance as already occurring at this time, Τὸ ὄνομά μου δεδόξασται, "My Name hath been and is glorified." This could only be said if it was allowed that the heathen in some sense, however blindly and imperfectly, did worship the true God. But the notion cannot be upheld for a moment; and there is a general consensus of commentators in referring the time to the Messianic future, when God's power is acknowledged and worship offered to him, not in Jerusalem alone, but in every place. The participles in this verse may be rendered by presents or futures, but there can be little doubt that a prophecy is intended, and not a statement of a fact—which, indeed, could not be truthfully maintained. When such a future is in stere, is this a time for Jewish priests to dishonour Jehovah? Incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering (minchah). The universal worship is expressed in the terms of the Jewish ritual (see note on Zephaniah 3:10). The Hebrew is more forcibly rendered, In every place incense is burned, oblation made unto my Name, and indeed a pure oblation. Incense is to our minds a type of prayer (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3, etc.); the pure oblation is the symbol of the Christian sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; and the prophet, rising superior to Jewish prejudices, announces that this prayer and sacrifice shall no longer be confined to one place or one specially favoured country, but be universal, worldwide. The Fathers and mediaeval writers, and many modern commentators, see in this verse a prophecy of the Holy Eucharist, the "pure offering" commemorative of Christ's sacrifice, which is found in every nation under heaven where the Name of Christ is adored.
But ye have profaned it; ye profane God's Name. The prophet contrasts the negligence and profanity of the priests with the piety of the Gentile nations, which he foresees. The table of the Lord (see note on Malachi 1:7). The fruit thereof, even his meat. The food and meat of the altar are the victims offered thereon. By their conduct the priests made both altar and offerings contemptible. Septuagint, Τὰ ἐπιτιθέμενα ἐξουδένωται βρώματα αὐτοῦ, "Its meats that are laid thereon are set at naught;" Vulgate, Quod superponitur contemptibile est, cum igne qui illud devorat. This is either a free paraphrase, or for "meat" Jerome must have read a participle, "eating," and taken "that which eats" the offering to be the fire which consumes it, as "lick up" (1 Kings 18:38). Others explain the Vulgate to mean that the priests complain of the scantiness and inferiority of the victims, the flesh of which formed their support. But as this was owing to their own neglect, they were not likely to make it a subject of complaint
What a weariness is it! The reference is to the table of the Lord. Despising the altar, and performing their duties without heart or faith, the priests found the services an intolerable burden. Vulgate, ecce de labore, which seems to be an excuse of the people, urging that they offer such things as their toil and poverty allow. Septuagint, ταῦτα ἐκ κακοπαθείας ἐστί, which has much the same meaning. The present Hebrew text is represented by the Authorized Version. Ye have snuffed at it; i.e. at the altar. The phrase expresses contempt. "It" has been supposed to be a "scribes' correction" for "me." The Septuagint and Syriac give, "I snorted at them." That which was torn; rather, that which was taken by violence—that which was stolen or unjustly taken. Septuagint, ἁρπάγματα: Ecclesiasticus 34:18 (31:21), "He that sacrificeth of a thing wrongfully gotten, his offering is ridiculous (μεμωκημένη)" Lame... sick (see Leviticus 22:19-25). Thus ye brought an (bring the) offering (minchah). Subject to analogous defects is even your meat offering, the accessory to other sacrifices, and therefore it is unacceptable.
But (and) cursed be the deceiver. The curse is fulminated against all who are guilty of these violations of the Law. The prophet mentions two instances out of many. The first is of one who offers a female victim, on pretence that he has no male in his flock. This will be clearer if we translate, with Keil, "And cursed is he who deceives, whereas there is in his flock a male animal." Septuagint, "Cursed is he who was able and bad in his flock a male." And voweth … a corrupt (blemished) thing. The second case is of one who in some emergency vows an offering, and then pays it by presenting a blemished animal (Le Malachi 3:1, Malachi 3:6). With a slightly altered punctuation, some editors give, "a faulty female." For I am a great King. This is the reason that they are cursed who dishonour him. Dreadful. Held in awe and reverence. Septuagint, ἐπιφανές, notable." He whom the Gentiles honour will not permit his own people to profane his Name.
Malachi and his burden.
I. MALACHI, THE LAST OF THE PROPHETS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. He may be compared to:
1. A late evening closing a long day of light and blessing, and which is itself:
2. A midsummer twilight in some northern latitude, bearing on its besom the new and still brighter day of the gospel.
3. A finger post pointing across an untrodden waste of time in the direction in which the ages should move onwards towards the advent of their expected King.
4. A faithful minister, the last of a noble succession, resigning his trust (the prophetic gift), but bidding his flock expect to "see greater things than these," and expiring with the gospel on his lips (Malachi 4:2-6).
II. THE PROPHET'S BURDEN. Any word of the Lord is:
1. A burden of responsibility to the bearer (1 Corinthians 9:16, 1 Corinthians 9:17). Especially so are messages of judgment with which Malachi was charged. So Jeremiah felt (Jeremiah 15:10-21; Jeremiah 20:8-10), and Paul (Philippians 3:18), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 19:41-44). It is thus a test of fidelity (Proverbs 30:6; Ezekiel 3:17-21) and of courage (Micah 3:8).
2. Messages of judgment should be felt to be burdens by the sinner because they proceed from a God to whom judgment is "a strange work," yet who hates sin more than suffering, and whose holiness is seconded by his omnipotence. Only by repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ can the burden be changed into a beatitude, the curse into a blessing.
The sovereign love of God.
Remembering that the scriptural sense of "hate" in this and corresponding passages is to love less in comparison, or to reject when there is a competition of claims, we nevertheless learn from this passage—
I. THAT GOD'S LOVE TO INDIVIDUALS AND TO NATIONS IS A SOVEREIGN LOVE. By this we mean that it is a love which bestows special favours, for reasons which cannot be discovered in those that enjoy them, but in the gracious purpose of God.
1. In the case of the two brothers personally we note the following facts: Esau was the elder, yet not the heir of the promise. He suffered at the hands of a brother in some respects less noble than himself. He thus lost his father's chief blessing and had to take the remnants, and to be satisfied with a poorer inheritance, while Jacob received "the glory of all lands."
2. The two nations, Israel and Edom, were separated like two rivers issuing from the same fountain, the one destined to be a highway of commerce and a source of fertility, the other to be lost in the sands of the desert. Israel, blessed with a priesthood, a succession of prophets, and a covenant "ordered in all things and sure," in spite of many apostasies; Edom, allowed to drift into idolatry and crime till it became known as "the border of wickedness," etc. (Malachi 1:4). Such gifts and calling of God cannot be annulled any more than his sentences of judgment can be reversed (Malachi 1:4). In those judgments and in those mercies men shall see the finger of God, and shall stand in awe of the glory of God (Malachi 1:5). These truths applicable to God's dealings with nations now.
3. The salvation of individuals is no less the result of sovereign love, inasmuch as the very beginnings of spiritual life are of God, and are "according to his own purpose and grace," etc. (2 Timothy 1:9). Election is not "an order of merit," but a cord of love. The experience of all Christians confirms the doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation, though it cannot answer the many questions suggested by God's varied dealings with individuals, or explain the reasons of his eternal purposes. Note St. Paul's "conclusion of the matter" (Romans 11:33-36).
II. THAT THIS UNMERITED LOVE OF GOD MAY BE IGNORED BY THE RECEIVERS. "Wherein hast thou loved us?" This may arise from:
1. Forgetting past mercies under the presence of present trials, like Israel (Psalms 106:12-14).
2. Forgetting our present blessings as contrasted with the lot of others.
3. Having an imperfect sense of our absolute dependence on the unmerited mercy of God (Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8).
4. And therefore taking even our spiritual blessings very much as a matter of course, and indulging in self-complacency rather than cultivating grateful humility in view of "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7, 1 Corinthians 4:8).
The reverence due to God.
Earthly analogies to Divine relationships are instructive though imperfect. Neither the most absolute master nor the most affectionate father can adequately represent God. Yet God reminds us of the reverence due to himself from the fear and honour expected by them. The appeal should be most powerful to those who, like the priests here appealed to, are in any positions of authority. It should be a most tender plea to all parents. It falls in tones of deepest pathos on those who have received the adoption and the spirit of sons through Jesus Christ. But the appeal binds all to whom in any sense God stands in the sacred relations of "the Father of spirits" (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8). We assume the case of a father who combines that wise authority and tender love which makes him a type of the heavenly Father. A son honoureth such a father—
I. BY OBEDIENCE. This is the first lesson a child must learn. After the early conflicts with self-will, it becomes part of the child-nature. It may rise to self-denial or even heroic self-sacrifice. Illust.: Henry Havelock, as a boy, waiting for hours in a crowded street of London, in obedience to his father, who had forgotten him; or Casa Bianca's son blown up in the French flag ship at the Battle of the Nile. God is greatly honoured when our obedience is habitual and cheerful, when we "worship" the "sweet will of God," and can say, "I delight," etc. (Psalms 40:8; Psalms 119:128).
II. BY LOVE. The instinctive love of an infant makes way for the intelligent affection, founded on esteem, which the youth feels towards a father who has trained him in habits of obedience. Disobedience begets dislike; submission strengthens love. The pruning and training of wise discipline is rewarded by the copious fruits of love. We most honour God when our love is not merely the love of gratitude even for redemption, but of complacent delight in the character of our Father. In that character there are no flaws such as a partial son may nevertheless see in his earthly father (James 1:17). Let him not have to say John 5:42.
III. BY REGARD TO HIS REPUTATION. A boy's eye flashes with indignation if a stranger assails his father's reputation. How do we regard the dishonour done to God by profanity, by reckless criticisms on his character and government, and on the work of Christ ("The Father wounded through the Son")? Can we say, with Christ, "The reproaches," etc. (Psalms 69:9)? Let us beware, however, of the zeal of a Jehu (2 Kings 10:16-31) or of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:15). Let our lives he answers to our prayers, "Hallowed be thy Name."
IV. BY UPHOLDING HIS AUTHORITY.
1. When it has to be exercised in discipline on ourselves (Hebrews 12:5-11).
2. When it is resisted by others. There is a rebellion in the great family of God which requires every true child to take an active part on the side of God. While grieved (Psalms 119:158) and indignant (Psalms 139:21), we shall yet be labourers together with God, that in the spirit of the sinless Son we may seek by all means to save some (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Peter 4:11).
Malachi 1:7, Malachi 1:8
Irreverence-its causes and signs.
Notice how in many places Malachi puts the thoughts of sinners into bold and bald words. He interprets their conduct in speech, that they may see the offensiveness of their thoughts and acts. Sins of the heart may sometimes be best exposed by translating them into unsubmissive or even impious prayers. They cannot endure the light when they are paraded in speech under the scrutiny of our fellow men. Still less can they tolerate the brightness that proceeds from the throne of grace, where God seeth in secret, that he may answer him "that setteth up his idols in his heart" "according to the multitude of his idols" (Ezekiel 14:3, Ezekiel 14:4). In this section the irreverence of the priests and people is exposed y the prophet calling things by their right names. Note—
I. SOME OF THE CAUSES OF IRREVERENCE.
1. Inadequate views of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of men. We forget the names and titles of the God with whom we have to do—"Jehovah," "Lord of hosts," "Master," "Father," "a great King," "glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders," etc. We forget our own utter sinfulness and unworthiness as "dust and ashes," "the imagination of whose heart is evil from our youth," to have any intercourse with the Thrice-holy One (cf. Job 40:3-5). If it is hard to appreciate this, we may be helped by the contrast between what we see in the characters of Christ and of ourselves. Illust.: Peter (Luke 5:8).
2. Familiarity with sacred things. It may "breed contempt." The altar and its offerings were regarded as commonplace or even despicable objects. The worship of God, the table of the Lord, the most sacred acts and objects may be observed and resorted to without the slightest expectation of gaining good. They might be means of grace, but familiarity makes them contemptible.
3. The indolence which shrinks from the effort needed to stir up ourselves to take hold of God (Isaiah 64:7). Worship must be a spiritual service; it may be a "conflict" an ἀγών (Colossians 2:1). Indolence may beget irreverence, and will, in its turn, be a sign of it.
II. SOME OF THE SIGNS OF IRREVERENCE. We may copy the evil example of the Jews in bringing blind, lame, sick, or polluted offerings.
1. Formal and half-hearted services. "Blind is the sacrifice of the soul which is not illumined by the light of Christ. Lame is his sacrifice of prayer who comes with a double mind to entreat the Lord" (Jerome; Matthew 15:8).
2. Superstitious services; e.g. blind obedience to a man claiming to be a priest, which may save the trouble of searching for God with all the heart. Unintelligent worship, perhaps in an unknown tongue, as though a lesson learned by rote would suffice for the Divine Teacher.
3. Offering to God what we should not dare to offer to an earthly superior (verse 8). As though we would say, "God is not very particular." Yet he requires the very best service we can render. Such conduct is virtual dishonesty, for the intention to sacrifice to God at all implies the sacrificing of our best. Illust.: David (2 Samuel 24:24; cf. Matthew 22:37). Note how the revelation of God in Christ shows still more impressively his claims on our highest services. "The Lamb that was slain" is worthy to receive everything and the best of everything we can offer to him (Revelation 5:12).
4. Still grosser forms of irreverence are seen in the Corinthians feasting at the Eucharist, and thus despising the Church of the living God (1 Corinthians 11:22), and making the table of the Lord contemptible; or in men celebrating a sacred rite as a passport to some secular office; or in getting rid of a base coin at a collection, like "the deceiver" in verse 14.
1. The many subtle forms of a deep-seated sin of the heart (Jeremiah 17:9).
2. The need of radical remedies such as Divine power alone can employ (Luke 6:43 Luke 6:45; Psalms 19:12-14).
God's honour secured in spite of his people's sins.
The heartlessness and negligence of the priest leads God to say that the fires of the altar might as well be extinguished, and the temple shut up as it had been in the days of Ahaz; for no offerings would any longer be accepted at their hands, and "Ichabod!" "No glory!" was written on the altar. The godly remnant of the Jews naturally begin to say, "What a dishonour that would be to the God of Israel!" and to ask, like Joshua (Joshua 7:9), "What wilt thou do unto thy great Name?" And even the formalists, who had not entirely cast off God, but wished to keep on speaking terms with him, would shrink from such a public slight being offered to the God of their nation. To all such fears God gives an answer in the declaration and prediction of verse 11, "My Name shall be magnified; my honour shall be secured, in spite of my people's sins:"
(1) among new and more numerous worshippers;
(2) by purer and more spiritual sacrifices.
I. AMONG NEW AND MORE NUMEROUS WORSHIPPERS. It was an inveterate superstition of the Jews that the honour of God was in some way bound up with sacred places or persons. He had taught them in the past that his glory was not attached to the ark, as they thought when they took it into battle (1 Samuel 4:1-22.), or to one line of priests (1 Samuel 2:27-36), or to the tabernacle at Shiloh (Psalms 78:59-64), or to the temple (Jeremiah 7:1-16). He now teaches them that his glory is independent both of the revived priesthood, the restored temple, and the nation brought back from captivity. The temple may be again destroyed; the priesthood may be abolished; the people disinherited. God has a larger temple than the sanctuary on Mount Moriah, or even than the land of promise itself. His temple extends "as far as the east is from the west." His worshippers shall be as numerous as the tribes and the tongues of the heathen world. No longer shall it be especially true that "In Judah is God known; his Name is great in Israel;" "For from the rising of the sun," etc. Comparing this prediction of the kingdom of Christ on earth with others, we are reminded of a few truths respecting the way in which God's honour would be secured among the nations of the earth. His judgments would arouse them (Isaiah 59:18, Isaiah 59:19). His free love would seek those who knew him not (Isaiah 65:1). The atoning sacrifice on the cross would attract their sin-burdened consciences (John 12:32), and the beneficence of the reign of Christ would allure all classes to accept his dominion (Psalms 72:8-14, especially Psalms 72:12, "For," etc.). Thus the Name of God would be glorified in his Son. Apply this truth:
1. To those who refuse to give to God the glory due unto his Name. So did the Jews in the days of Christ. But God's honour could be secured in other ways (cf. Matthew 21:41-43; Luke 19:37-40). Note in the former and latter parts of Psalms 22:1-31. the contrast between Psalms 22:6-8 and Psalms 22:27-31. "His own received him not," but "the Gentiles glorified the word of the Lord" (Acts 13:48; cf. Isaiah 49:3-9; Matthew 8:11, Matthew 8:12).
2. To those who are tempted to shrink from honouring God because of the risk to themselves or the sacrifice required at their hands. Illust.: Esther 4:10-14. The loss will be only our own (Matthew 10:39). God will find other servants in our place to render the honour he asks at our hands, and to receive that which he bestows in return (1 Samuel 2:30).
3. To God's faithful servants who are needlessly anxious about his glory in "a day of trouble and of rebuke and of blasphemy;" e.g. Moses (Numbers 14:11-21), Joshua (Joshua 7:9). But God is more jealous for his own honour than we can be (Deuteronomy 32:26, Deuteronomy 32:27), and is wiser than we can be in answering the prayer he has taught us, "Hallowed be thy Name."
II. BY PURER AND MORE SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES.
1. By the revelation of God in Christ as "the Saviour of all men," God's Name was truly magnified (Psalms 96:1-13. and 98.). That revelation included a sacrifice, the sacrifice of a sinless soul to suffering in order to do the will of God (Hebrews 10:7-10), and thus to offer a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Thus the prayer was answered (John 12:28) and the prediction fulfilled (Romans 15:8, Romans 15:9).
2. By the spiritual sacrifices the acceptable services, like fragrant incense, presented by Gentile hearts, e.g. the penitence of the woman of Samaria; the pertinacious prayers of the Syro-phoenician; the marvellous faith of the centurion; the alms and prayers of Cornelius; the unrecorded acts of faith and service of unknown worshippers in the heathen world;—these are accepted by God, while the tainted sacrifices of the Jewish priests are refused. This a warning to all formalists.
3. By pure offerings from all hearts that "in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (cf. John 4:21-24). Our hearts were once impure, but have been cleansed by the blood and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And now we are eager, impatient to express our sense of the greatness and goodness of God by acceptable sacrifices, our "bodies" (Romans 12:1), our gifts (Philippians 4:18), our praises, our good deeds, and any means by which we can "communicate" to others, and thus glorify our Saviour-God (Hebrews 13:15, Hebrews 13:16).
Notice, in conclusion, what an encouragement this truth may be to those who long to give unto God the glory due unto his Name, but are dissatisfied with their own efforts. God's honour will be secured in spits of our failures. These may stimulate us to seek that greater purity by which our offerings may themselves become purer. It will not provoke us to envy, but rejoice our hearts that others are able to render to God more useful service than we do. And if, in the midst of our efforts to offer such pure offerings and fragrant incense as our poor hearts can present, we are called away from this service, we may rejoice to know that God's honour will not suffer because our services are withdrawn. Illust.: In one Roman Catholic convent there is a chapel of "perpetual adoration," where, every hour, night and day, some service is being offered at the altar. So will be the true worship of God throughout the world—universal and perpetual.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
"The burden of the Lord to Israel by Malachi." Much of the work of the Old Testament prophets involved a serious strain on feeling, and may appropriately be figured as a "burden" which they were called to bear. A very large proportion of it consists of denunciations, declarations of swiftly coming and overwhelming Divine judgments. Those prophets were, in fact, raised up to meet a condition of society and national life of which God disapproved, and by which God was dishonoured. It should never be forgotten that the prophets belong to the Israelite my, and that was not God's ideal of government for his people. It brought and perils the significance of which the prophets were to declare. Malachi's is the last prophet voice of the Old Testament times. After him a great prophetic silence fell on the land. No direct utterance came from God for some three hundred years, until John the Baptist appeared. Nothing is certainly known concerning this Prophet Malachi. He is, indeed, only a name, and our interest lies entirely in his message. His name means, "The Messenger of Jehovah," and it calls us to attend to the message rather than to the speaker. We do know something of the times in which he lived, and we can understand what would be the burden of a Jehovah prophet at such a time. After Nehemiah had been working for some twelve years at the moral reformation of the people of Jersualem and Judea, he was recalled to Persia; and immediately on his departure the old evils which he had stoutly resisted came back like a food. In spite of the presence of Ezra in Jerusalem, it was seen that a reformation enforced by the civil power, rather than as the fruit of individual conviction, had no permanent vitality. When Nehemiah's back was turned, "the tithes due to the temple, the Levites, and the priests were not delivered, and the greatest distress was thus caused to all those who depended on them for maintenance. The choristers, the guards of the gates, and the ordinary Levites alike, were compelled to go back to their homes, and cultivate their fields for a living. Public worship was thus interrupted, and the temple, forsaken by its ministers, was neglected by the people. Nor was the refusal to pay tithes the only sign of an altered spirit. The sabbath was profaned, both in town and country, wine presses were busy in its sacred hours, and the roads and fields were dotted with the workers taking sheaves to the barn on their heavily laden asses. Jerusalem itself was disturbed by a sabbath fair, to which loads of wine, grapes, figs, and much else were carried in during sacred hours. After all the professed zeal to put an end to mixed marriages, things were rapidly drifting to almost a worse condition than of old. The very priests had rapidly lost their high tone. Their irreverence, indifference, and worldliness shocked the thoughtful. Everything that Ezra and Nehemiah had effected was well nigh undone." The Prophet Malachi had the "burden" laid upon him of recalling both priests and people to their duties. And this he did partly by vigorous denunciations of surrounding evils, and partly by anticipations of the times of Messiah. The Coming One would surely prove to be a stern Rebuker of national sin.
I. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE WAS A BURDEN TO HIMSELF. Denunciations of wrong doing and wrong doers lose their true force when those who utter them enjoy their work. Then they put into them a bitter tone, which makes them ungod-like messages. Stern things have still to be spoken for God, but they must be spoken with pathos in the tone, and tears ready to start. No man can deliver a message of judgment aright, unless he feels it to be a burden.
II. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE SHOULD BE A BURDEN TO THOSE ADDRESSED. A burden of holy concern. It should set them upon grave self-searching. It should burden them with anxiety about their sins, and with earnest efforts to put sin away. If it was not taken as a burden in that sense, it would become a burden as bringing upon them full, unrelieved, Divine judgments.
III. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE MAY BE THOUGHT OF AS A BURDEN TO GOD. "Judgment is his strange work;" "In all their affliction he was afflicted;" "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked?" We are permitted to think that it troubles God to punish his people. He is burdened by the messages which our sin compels him to send.—R.T.
Malachi 1:2, Malachi 1:3
The Lord's love for his people.
The Lord had chosen Israel as his peculiar people, out of pure love and kindness, without any antecedent merit on their side. This love is strikingly exhibited by contrasting the Divine dealings with the two nations, Edom and Israel. Both came into Divine judgment for sin, and love triumphed in the restoration of Israel; but because of Edom's treatment of Israel, it was left, to its desolations. The word "hate" is employed, but South properly explains that "hating" is sometimes used comparatively for a less degree of love (Genesis 29:31; Luke 14:26). The English word "hate" has somewhat changed its meaning. Now it means, "have a personal aversion to," "regard with ill will." But when our Bible was translated, it had a simpler and kinder meaning, "love less," "show less favour to." It is important to note that the reference is not to God's personal feelings to individuals, but to his providential dealings with nations. Still, it stands out prominently that God's ways with Israel had been the indication of selecting love for her.
I. GOD'S LOVE FOR ISRAEL WAS A DISTINGUISHING LOVE. Of Israel, as of Christ's apostles, it could be said, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." The race of Abraham is a selected race. It was separated in order to preserve, and to witness for, the great primary religious truths which are essential to the world's well being, but are imperilled by the free moral experiment of humanity. It was a sign of Divine love that Israel received such a trust.
II. GOD'S LOVE FOR ISRAEL WAS A PATIENT LOVE. And the patience was very severely tried by the wilfulness and waywardness of the loved ones. This can be illustrated from every stage of the history. The patience is seen in this, that God kept on endeavouring to correct By chastisement. Under no provocation did he give them up in despair, and let judgment prove finally overwhelming. Compare the case of Edom, which, as a nation, is lost beyond recovery. That patience of the Divine love is the holiest joy to us still.
III. GOD'S LOW FOE ISRAEL WAS A TRIUMPHANT LOVE. This is what seems chiefly in Malachi's mind. He wants the people to feel how the love had triumphed in their recovery from captivity, and their restoration as a nation. And these proofs of the Lord's love should have acted as persuasions to the Lord's service.—R.T.
Malachi 1:4, Malachi 1:5
Divine judgments by disappointments.
The Lord's dealings with Edom are here introduced as contrasting with the Lord's dealings with Israel. And one chief point of contrast is this—Israel's expectations will be realized; but Edom's expectations will be disappointed. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts. They shall build, but I will throw down." There was an exceedingly bitter feeling between Israel and Edom, dating from the time when Edom insultingly refused to allow the passage of Israel through her territory, and so compelled God's people to take the weary and perilous way up the Arabah. Again and again we have hints of the unfriendly feeling between the kindred and neighbour nations; and that it was continued up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar is indicated by the exclamation of the poet, in Psalms 137:7, "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof." That Jehovah, as God and King of Israel, took its part against Edom is clearly intimated in the prophecy of Obadiah. The point of the passage before us is that on the efforts of Edom to recover itself as a nation no permanency would rest; whereas if Israel would but be faithful to its obligations, it as a kingdom should be established forever.
I. FAILURE IN LIFE'S ENTERPRISES IS A SIGN OF DIVINE DEALING WITH US. However we may say that such failure attends
(1) particular dispositions; or
(2) imperfect, training and culture, it remains true that a deeper explanation is possible.
The promise to the good is, "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." The judgment on the evil may be, "Whatsoever he doeth shall fail." There is no experience of life more trying than the disappointment of failing again and again. There is no misery like the hopelessness of feeling as if we could not succeed, and it is no use to try any more. The man is lost who feels that.
II. FAILURE IN LIFE'S ENTERPRISES MAY BE DIVINE DISCIPLINE, BUT IT MAY BE DIVINE JUDGMENT. Chastisement, to convince that we have done the thing wrongly. Judgment, as in the case of Edom, of some sin committed in early life, the spirit of which we have kept up through the long years. If we fail in life, we should searchingly inquire why God lets us fail.—R.T.
Human claims impressing Divine claims.
The figure of fatherhood is used in Scripture to suggest God's peculiar relation to Israel; and we are therefore invited to use the family sentiments and responsibilities in the endeavour to realize our obligations to God. Our Lord, in his teachings, made a similar appeal to family feelings: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews argues in a similar way, "Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" It is true that arguments based on human relationships must take due account of human infirmities; but there is an ideal human relationship in every case, which men in their hearts recognize, and the obligations connected with it may always be safely applied to our relations with God. But there is a special point in Malachi's pleading with the priests of his day. In common with Jehovah's people, they came under the children's claims and responsibilities; but, as priests, they were children honoured with special trusts. They were favoured children, and were bound to be model children. The obligation of the servant to the master is similar to that of the son to the father, but in the case of the child there is the help of personal affection. The two figures may be used to illustrate the point of this passage.
I. A MASTER'S CLAIM ILLUSTRATES THE DIVINE CLAIM. "If I be a Master, where is my fear? saith the Lord." This is taking the lowest ground. There is no necessary affection in this relationship, There is simply obligation and duty. A servant is bound to serve. Apply to the priests, who were precisely the servants of Jehovah's house, or temple. He had a right to claim service that would honour him, that would show a cherished sense of reverence and fear, and would make others think highly of him. But just that service the priests of the day were failing to render. Still, if no higher relation be realized, God claims our service as his servants.
II. A FATHER'S CLAIM ILLUSTRATES THE DIVINE CLAIM. This is higher ground to take, because it is a relation involving personal affection, and the refusal of the claim is therefore the more unworthy. Work out that if the father figure as presented in the Old Testament was a great persuasion of the Divine claims, much more must the Father figure be as revealed in the teaching and Sonship of Jesus Christ.—R.T.
Polluted bread; or, priestly sins.
What was consumed upon the altar was regarded as God's portion, and may, in a figure, be called "the bread of God." "The offerings of the Lord made by fire, and the bread of God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy" (Leviticus 21:6). By "polluted bread" we are to understand maimed and blemished sacrifices. The Divine reproach is that the priests show how little value they have for the worship of God, since they do not care in how slight and contemptuous a manner it is performed. The Prophet Malachi deals very largely with the unfaithfulness, the unpriestliness, of the priests of his day. It was at once a sign of a sad condition of morals and religion when the priests failed of their duty; and the way to recover the nation to righteousness, when the priests were recalled to the sense of their obligations.
I. SOCIETY REVEALED IN THE UNFAITHFULNESS OF THE PRIESTS. These may be taken as representing the clergy of the Christian generations. It has always been true that society is reflected in the moral standard of the clergy. This is embodied in the saying, "Like priest, like people;" and it is a wider and more searching truth than is usually apprehended. The clergy are the moral barometers by which the atmosphere of an age is discovered. The priests of Malachi's time declare the moral and religious degeneracy of the people. "The saddest sign of all was the degeneracy of the priesthood which Malachi, though perhaps himself a priest, was specially commissioned to denounce. The lack of all real faith and moral soundness in the very order which ought to have kept alive among the people the essential elements of the spiritual life, was eating like a cancer into the heart of the national sincerity" (Farrar). It may be shown that priestly indifference and unfaithfulness are products and results of neglected personal religious life. So long as priestly duties are instinct with spiritual feeling they will be worthily performed. When personal godliness fails, they become perfunctory, and then if in seeming they are kept up, in reality they deteriorate. It is in maintaining the personal religious life that priests lead the nations.
II. SOCIETY IS RECOVERED BY THE RECOVERY OF THE PRIESTS. Therefore Malachi appeals to them. It may be that the priests are the last to yield to the society evils; but they must always be the first recovered. They must become forces on the side of Cad in the restoration of moral health to a nation. Revivals are always hopeless things unless their first effect is the spiritual revival of the clergy.—R.T.
The law of acceptable sacrifice.
It must be such as would be acceptable if offered to any earthly official. This, indeed, is but taking low ground, but that the prophet should take this position, and use this argument, is in itself a revelation of the sad condition into which the priesthood of the day had fallen. He could not take high grounds, and make his appeal directly to the holiness of the claims of the infinitely Holy One. "It argues a great contempt of Almighty God when men are less careful in maintaining the decencies of his worship than they are in giving proper respects to their superiors." It should be borne in mind that the Levitical system very rigorously demanded that only sound and clean animals should he presented in sacrifice. It is always necessary to check the meanness of men, which tempts them to put God off with that which they themselves do not greatly value (see Leviticus 22:22, etc.). The sin of offering the imperfect to God can be tested in two very simple ways.
I. OFFER AN IMPERFECT GIFT TO YOUR FRIEND. For a birthday time find something you have done with; something you do not care for; something out of taste in your own house, which you are glad to get rid of; something damaged, or soiled, or broken. You send it, saying in your heart, "It is good enough for him." That gift dishonours the friend, and morally degrades you as the giver. If that friend has any spirit, he despises such gifts, and sends the coldest of acknowledgments of their receipt. Is God in Christ our Friend? What shall be the love gifts which alone can be acceptable to him?
II. OFFER AN IMPERFECT GIFT TO YOUR GOVERNOR. If a man wants to show his respect, or to indicate his gratitude for some favour received, he is always most particular in the selection of his present. He takes care that there is no flaw in it; he selects the best possible; he is most anxious about its being conveyed without injury. If the governor has any spirit, he will not look at or receive anything hut the very best. Is God our supreme Governor? Then how can we fail to offer the very best possible to him?
III. OFFER AN IMPERFECT GIFT TO YOUR GOD. Has he not more claim than either friend or governor to the perfect offering? How should we respond to
(1) his authority;
(2) his holiness;
(3) his redemption?
Though out of our sight, he searchingly tests all our gifts, offerings, and sacrifices. Open out how we may be offering the imperfect in
(1) our acts of worship;
(2) our acts of benevolence;
(3) our acts of ministry and service.—R.T.
Regarding the person.
"Will he regard your persons?" The idea of the verse is somewhat difficult to trace; but it appears to be this: "You are expecting that God will accept you just because you are priests, on account of your official standing alone. You think that it does not matter to him what you are morally, so long as you go through the routine of his service according to the standards;" It is intimated plainly enough that their intercessions on behalf of the people must be in vain so long as they are acting unworthily.
I. THE SENSE IN WHICH GOD DOES REGARD THE PERSON.
1. He deals with each individual, never loses the one in the many; each person stands out distinctly before him as if there were no other. This truth needs to be dwelt on, because men readily hide themselves from their own view, and think to hide themselves from God's view, in the class to which they belong. The sins of the priests may not deeply humble any particular priest.
2. He deals with a man's moral condition. That belongs exclusively to the man. It is his personality. It is the matter of supreme concern to God.
II. THE SENSE IN WHICH GOD DOES NOT REGARD THE PERSON. He is no "Respecter of persons." This enlarges the idea, and we may see:
1. That God takes no account of bodily peculiarities. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart."
2. God takes no account of social rank. He pays no deference to the high-born and rich; he shows no indifference to the low-born and poor. His supreme interest is in men, not in the accidents of men. This is not meant to imply any failure in our estimating the value of social status and influence; it only emphasizes that these are not the matters of Divine consideration. They do not belong to the essence of manhood.
3. God takes no account of official position. No man stands in the special favour of God because he is a king, and no man has any special ground for pleading with God in the fact that he is a priest or clergyman. A man's power of intercession with God is dependent on his personal relations with God, but it is assumed that every priest and every minister is what he ought to be—in accepted personal relations with God. No matter what our office may be, if there is not at the heart of it a right state of mind and heart, the acceptance of the ministry of that office cannot be assured.—R.T.
"One of the works on which Nehemiah looked back with most satisfaction was that he had secured to the Levites the payment of a sufficient remuneration for their work. It was a right thing in itself. It asserted what we have learnt to call the principle of an 'established' Church, and of a fair division of its income. But that spirit might easily pass, and had actually passed, into the temper which is always clamorous for rights and privileges, which will work only when those rights and privileges are secured. The spirit of the hireling takes the place of that of the worshipper. And so, amongst the foremost sins which the prophet is called on to condemn we find this, noted with special reference to the functions of those Levites over whose interests Nehemiah had been so watchful. 'Who is there even among you,' he asks, 'that would shut the doors for naught?' And the hireling spirit, once fostered, showed itself, as it always does, in neglect, evasion, dishonesty" (Plumptre).
I. THE WORKMAN IS WORTHY OF HIS HIRE. This sentence embodies a good working principle, which has its proper application in religious as well as in secular spheres. They who minister in spiritual things may reasonably claim to be ministered unto in carnal things. Clergymen share all common bodily and family wants; and we have no sympathy with those who talk as if some wrong were done when spiritual men are concerned for their material interests. Priests and Levites deserved their pay.
II. THE WORKMAN IS WORTHY ONLY WHEN HE DOES NOT WORK FOR HIS HIRE. This is only true in a higher sense of the Levite; it is really true of every workman. A man is on a low plane when he works just for his wage. He is but a time server, a self-server. The best work never is done by such men; and their work is never the best blessing to them. A man must work for the love of his work if he is to do it nobly. A religious man must work for God if his work is to be acceptable. To work
The universal worship that is to be.
These words are usually taken as a prophetic announcement of the future rejection of Israel and calling of the Gentiles; but it is difficult to trace the connection of thought, if this be regarded as the prophet's meaning. The LXX. rightly uses the present, not the future, tense throughout this verse. "My Name is great," etc. This gives an actual preset comparison of the fear of God's Name among Gentiles and among Jews, to the manifest disadvantage of the Jew. God found a devoutness, earnestness, and sincerity outside his own people, which wholly put to shame their indifference, formality, and time serving. This suggestion is in the line of Malachi's teaching, whereas a description of future religious conditions seems to introduce a new subject. Dean Plumptre says, "It was given to the last of the prophets to proclaim, with an entirely new distinctness, not only as Isaiah had done, the accession of Gentile proselytes to the worship and faith of Israel, but the acceptance of their worship wherever it might be offered." The Gentile religion in the mind of the prophet was probably that of Zoroaster, the purest form that Gentile religion has ever taken.
I. THE BASIS OF THE UNIVERSAL WORSHIP. The prophet must not be regarded as giving a complete account of the universal worship. He deals with it only in view of his immediate object, and to point his appeal to the unfaithful and time-serving priests. He brings out three points.
1. One characteristic of the universal worship is reverence for the Divine Name. "My Name is great among the Gentiles," No religion can ever fit to the needs of men which does not at least seem to honour the Divine Name. This is our first test of every religion.
2. Another is the demand for prayer. "Incense is offered." Every true religion provides communion with God, and gives man hope in prayer. "When we have learned by experience the unutterable value of prayer, then shall theism become a religion fit for humanity."
3. Another is sincerity shown in purity of offerings. Our Lord expressed the universal worship in a sentence, when he said," The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth."
II. THE REPROACH OF THE UNIVERSAL WORSHIP. It reproaches all who fail to meet these primal conditions, whatever their historical standing might be. It reproached the Jewish priests of Malachi's time, for they were dishonouring the Name, putting routine for prayer, and making unworthy and impure offerings which revealed their insincerity.—R.T.
Religion a weariness.
"Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it!" It is clearly a bad sign when the people find the worship of God to be a weariness; but it is a much worse sign when the ministers of religion both feel the worship to be a weariness, and show that they feel it to be such.
I. IN THE NATURE OF THINGS RELIGIOUS WORSHIP SHOULD NOT BE A WEARINESS.
1. Take it as the proper and fitting expression of the creature's dependence on his Creator. It ought to be full of the joy of thankfulness.
2. Take it as the natural impulse of the sinner's love to his Saviour. Man fallen should feel a joy in worship even beyond that of man unfallen. The song of the redeemed is an altogether nobler song than the innocent can ever sing. And religious worship, kept within the lines of Divine claims, never need be a weariness. It is religion with the multiplied added demands of men that is in danger of proving a weariness. No reasonable man could say that Mosaism was a weariness, so far as it was a Divine institution. But every man could say that Rabbinism was a weariness; for it laded men with burdens too grievous to be borne. Spiritual religion is always simplifying worship. As spirituality fails, exacting demands are increased, and religion tends to become a weariness.
II. THROUGH THE MOODS OF MEN RELIGIOUS WORSHIP BECOMES A WEARINESS. What the priests of earlier times had done gladly and joyfully, the priests of Malachi's time dragged through. The joy of Levites in their work is expressed in the Korahite psalms (Psalm42:84, etc.), which are full of longings for restoration to the temple service. There was no difference in the worship. The difference was in the moods of the men. Their spiritual life was low. They had no personal joy in God, so they could have no joy in the routine of God's worship. The sadness of the restored Judaism of the exiles was that, to so large an extent, it was the restoration of the Jewish formalities, without the restoration of that spiritual life which would have vitalized the formalities. And still the weariness men feel at the length of Christian services, etc; is the revelation of their wrong mood; of their lost personal joy in God their Saviour.—R.T.
The great and dreadful Name.
The idea in the word "dreadful" would be better conveyed by "awe-ful," if that were a word in familiar use. "Dreadful" we reserve for something that is unusually calamitous and destructive. Awe of God; reverence of his august majesty; fear which leads to the symbolic removal of the shoes;—these things are essential to right and acceptable worship, and these things are absolutely befitting to man the creature, and much more to man the sinner. A man may be tested by the measure of his reverent awe of the Divine Name (comp. Joshua 7:9). "With a startling reiteration, after every specific denunciation of the sins of priests and people, they are represented as asking, as if in utter unconsciousness of their sin," 'Wherein have we polluted thee? Wherein have we despised thy Name?' They have fallen into the last stage of selfish formalism when conscience ceases to do its work as an accusing witness, into the hypocrisy which does not even know itself to be hypocritical; the hypocrisy, in other words, of the scribes and Pharisees."
I. REVERENCE FOR THE DIVINE NAME IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL LIFE. It was necessary that God should demand reverence for his Divine Name in one of his ten great commandments, "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his Name in vain." But that law is never needed by any man who has and cherishes right thoughts of God; he simply cannot take his Name in vain. All worship is truly reverent according to the spiritual life that is at the heart of it. Therefore we train children in reverence for the Divine Name, because it is the basis of spiritual religion.
II. FAILING REVERENCE FOR THE DIVINE NAME IS A SIGN OF FALLING SPIRITUAL LIFE. It is one of the first, and one of the surest, signs. A light tone of speech, in reference to the infinitely Holy One, at once tells of lost spiritual health. Leech the sense of awe, and innumerable evils can creep in. Reverence for the great Name keeps the gate of the soul safe shut against intruders; and it is our continual inspiration to pare and holy living.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The sovereignty of God in relation to man's secular condition of life.
"The burden of the word of the Lord," etc. Malachi—which means "Messenger" the last of the Hebrew prophets, is a man whose personal history is wrapped in utter obscurity. He is supposed to have lived after Haggai and Zechariah, and to be contemporary with Nehemiah. It is likely that he occupied a relationship to Nehemiah somewhat analogous to that which Haggai and Zechariah sustained to Zerubbabel. The general opinion is that he prophesied about the year B.C. 430. This was that brilliant period in Greece in which flourished some of its greatest men—Cimon, son of Miltiades, distinguished as a commander; Pericles, the greatest of Athenian statesmen, under whom Athens attained a splendour that made her the wonder and admiration of all Greece; Phidias, the celebrated sculptor, and a host of distinguished artists; Simonides and Pindar, eminent lyric poets; AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, distinguished dramatists; and Herodotus, who has received a title really due to Moses, "the Father of History." From this passage the following truths may be legitimately deduced.
I. THAT SOME MEN ON THIS EARTH SEEM TO BE MORE FAVOURED BY PROVIDENCE THAN OTHERS, AND YET THEY ARE OFTEN UNCONSCIOUS OF IT. This is the communication or "burden" of the Divine message which Malachi had to deliver to Israel: "I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?" Israel here stands for all the tribes, all the descendants of Jacob. The Israelitish nation was more favoured than any nation on the face of the earth. In relation to their privileges Paul says of the Israelites, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises: whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came' (Romans 9:4, Romans 9:5). As individuals, some men are more favoured than others. As Jacob was more favoured than Esau, so some men in all generations are more blessed than others—blessed with more vigorous frames, more intellectual resources, more emotional wealth, etc. There is amongst men immense variety in the degree of natural endowments. Read the parable of the talents. But it is man nationally that is here referred to. "I have loved you" that is, "I have regarded you more than other nations." Is not our England more favoured than most if not all of the other nations of the earth? She is, in some respects, as far exalted above all existing states, as Israel of old was above all the heathen nations that surrounded it. But individually, as was said above, all men are not treated alike. Some are born of healthier parents than others, live in more salubrious climes than others, are endowed with higher faculties than others, brought up under more wholesome laws and higher educational influences than others. The existence of these distinctions is too obvious to require either argument or illustration. But whilst this is such a patent fact, the favoured ones are too often unconscious of the distinction. "Wherein hast thou loved us?" Israel did not realize its exalted privileges. How often is this the case! The men most favoured of Providence are often most unconscious of the favours, and they say, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" As a rule, perhaps the moat favoured of Providence are the greatest complainers. What ingratitude is here!
II. THAT THIS DIFFERENCE IN THE PRIVILEGES OF MEN IS TO BE ASCRIBED TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau." Some read it, "I favoured Jacob, but rejected Esau." Why was Jacob more favoured than Esau? Not because he had a nobler moral character. In some respects he appears more despicable than Esau. It was simply because God chose to distinguish him. The reason of distinction was in the mind of God, and nowhere else. "He worketh all things according to the counsel of his will." His sovereignty does not imply either of two things.
1. Partiality on his part. The fact that the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob, in their history endured, perhaps, calamities as great as those that befell the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, proved that it was no partiality on God's part. He is no Respecter of persons. Nor does it imply:
2. Irresponsibility on man's part. "They who have least," says Godwin, "and bear most, may become better and happier than they who have most and suffer least." The permanent value of all things depends on the use which is made of them: the first often becoming last, and the last first. But no argument can be drawn from differences in men's condition as to which will be the most morally advantageous or disadvantageous according to their conduct. Whilst the differences of one kind depend solely on the Divine will, the differences of the other kind are not irrespective of human choice.
III. THOSE WHOM THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD DOES NOT FAVOUR ARE LEFT IN A SECULARLY UNENVIABLE CONDITION.
1. The words teach us that they will have possessions destroyed. "I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons [jackals] of the wilderness." These men, the men of Edom, struggled hard to build up their kingdom and to give it wealth and power, but the product of all their labours was utterly destroyed. Their great things, their "mountains," their wealthy things, their "heritage," the scenes of their power, gave place to the "dragons of the wilderness." Where is Edom now? If Heaven has determined that the fortune you have built up after years of earnest and indefatigable labour shall be swept away, it will depart as a vision of the night.
2. That their efforts were frustrated. "If Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever." They struggle to restore their position, labour hard to build the desolate places, but in every effort they are thwarted. It is in vain to strive against destiny. Mark that all that is here said concerns only the secular prosperity of men. Divine sovereignty is always in favour of spiritual prosperity, progress in intelligence, purity, and happiness. In all these matters men cannot labour in vain.
3. Their enemies prosper. "And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel." Edom hated Israel from the beginning, fought hard against it for centuries, struggled continually to destroy it, but all in vain. The time came when it found itself in ruins and its enemy in prosperity. "The argument of these verses is this," says Dr. Dods, "if you would see the difference between hatred and love, look at the different condition and prospects of Edom and Israel. The desolation with which their territory is visited is irremediable: they have no glorious future beyond: whereas the wretched condition of which you complain is but the bleakness of seed time that precedes the richest harvest."
CONCLUSION. Are we not here in this England of ours among the peoples whom Heaven has specially favoured? Are not the words specially applicable to us, "I have loved you, saith the Lord"? But what is our practical response? Does not our daily life speak out the ingratitude and unbelief of Israel, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" We do not see it; we do not feel it; "Wherein?" What ought we to think of our civilization, our liberties, our fruitful laud and salubrious air? above all, what of our Christ? "Herein is love."—D.T.
The profession and the practice of religion.
"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?" etc. The subject of these words is the profession and the practice of religion; and they suggest two thoughts.
I. THE PROFESSION AND THE PRACTICE SHOULD ALWAYS BE IN ACCORD. "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master." This is stated as a fact. The son here, of course, must be supposed to be worthy of the name son. There are some children who are destitute of natural affection. What Aristotle of old said will be endorsed by all thoughtful men. "A son must always be his father's debtor, because he can never repay him for those greatest of all benefits, birth and upbringing, and in these the fathers resemble God." This being so, and you Israel being "my son, my firstborn, a relationship which you profess, where is mine honour? If the language is, as some suppose, specially addressed to the priests, the appeal gets new emphasis. The idea is—You profess to regard me as your Father and your Master, and you should, therefore, in your life treat me with honour, reverential fear, and loyal devotion. "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" Any discrepancy between our profession and our practice is morally unnatural. Our conduct should accord with our creed, our deeds with our doctrines.
II. THE PROFESSION AND THE PRACTICE ARE OFTENTIMES AT VARIANCE. The priests to whom these words were addressed practically contradicted their profession. They called him Father and Master, and yet see how they treated him in their sacrifices in the temple. Look at them in their offerings. They showed:
1. A lawless spirit. "Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar." This is directly contrary to the Law as given in Deuteronomy: "If there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the Lord thy God." "The sin with which the priests are charged is that of polluting God's altar by offering beasts not ceremonially clean, unfit for sacrifice. Any beast was passed as good enough for sacrifice, the lame or blind, that had become useless for work, sick or torn, the beast that was dying on its feet, and could not be used for meat, or that which had been stolen, and so marked that it would not sell—anything, in short, that could serve no other purpose, was good enough for God. His courts had the appearance of a knacker's yard."
2. A niggardly spirit. Not only were they polluted, which is contrary to ceremonial law, but they were worthless: blind, lame, wretched skeletons were the beasts offered, worth nothing in the tidal or the market, mere refuse. "A cheap religion," says one, "costing little, is rejected by God, worth nothing: it costs more than it is worth, for it is worth nothing, and so proves really dear." God despiseth not the widow's mite, but he disdains the miser's gold.
3. A captious spirit. They say, "Wherein have we despised thy Name?" "Wherein have we polluted thee?" So blind aunt so insensible were they to moral propriety that they insulted the Almighty even in their formal efforts to serve him.
4. A thoughtless spirit. "Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts? And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the Lord of hosts." This sentence is ironical: Ye dare not go before your governor with such presents; but come now, I pray you, enter God's presence, and use your stock phrase of supplication (Numbers 6:25), that he "would be gracious unto us." Will he regard your persons? How many who profess God to be their Father and their Master act out, even in their religious services, this lawless, niggardly, captious, thoughtless spirit! Herein there is the discrepancy between profession and practice. But, alas! how common is it!
With lip we call him Master,
In life oppose his Word,
We ev'ry day deny him,
And yet we call him Lord!
No more is our religion
Like his in soul or deed
Than painted grain on canvas
Is like the living seed.
In the balance we are weigh'd
And wanting we are found,
In all that's true and Christly
The universe around.
CONCLUSION. A fact narrated to me by the late Revelation Dr. Leifchild some years ago affords a striking illustration of the discrepancy between profession and practice in religion. He told me that there was an old lady in his Church, very wealthy, and very loud in her professions, and apparently very enthusiastic in her devotions, but whose contributions for religious purposes were of the most niggardly kind. One Sunday, in singing a hymn with which they closed the service of the Lord's Supper, she being near to the table, be observed her as the deacons were going round, according to their custom, collecting subscriptions for the poor. It so happened that the verse they were singing at the time the deacon came to her with the plate was—
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my heart, my life, my all."
No one in the whole congregation seemed more hearty in shouting out those words with his voice than she. Meanwhile the deacon held the plate right under her eye, but she let it pass without enriching it by even a copper.—D.T.
"Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for naught?" etc. The subject of these words is wrong worship, and they suggest the following remarks.
I. THAT WRONG WORSHIP IS WORSE THAN NO WORSHIP AT ALL. "Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for naught? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for naught. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand." Keil gives a version mere in accordance with the original, "Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that ye might not light mine altar to no purpose! I have no pleasure in you, saith Jehovah of hosts, and sacrificial offering does not please me from your hand." "As if," says Dr. Dods, "God were to say it were far better that the temple were shut than that such profane and fruitless worship were carried on in it (Isaiah 1:12). Better that you and your offensive beasts be together shut out of the temple, and that no smoke ascend from the altar, since all such offerings as you present are offered in vain. The Hebrew word translated 'for naught,' is the etymological equivalent of 'gratis;' but the meaning here is not 'without reward,' but the closely allied, secondary meaning 'without result;' it is not the mercenary but the fruitless character of the services which is pointed at." There is a deal of wrong worship in the world, not only in heathen regions but in Christendom, not only in Popery hut in Protestantism, not only in the Church but in Dissent. Some of the hymns used are not only gross but blasphemous, and some prayers, too, are repugnant alike to reason and conscience. No worship is a thousand times better than wrong worship. Wrong worship insults the Infinite Father, and degrades the human soul.
II. THAT WRONG WORSHIP WILL ONE DAY BE PRACTICALLY REPUDIATED. "From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my Name shall be great among the Gentiles." A modern expositor expresses the idea thus: "Since ye Jewish priests and people 'despise my Name,' I shall find others who will magnify it (Matthew 8:11). Do not think I shall have no worshippers because I have not you, for from the east to the west my Name shall be great among the Gentiles (Isaiah 59:19; Isaiah 66:19, Isaiah 66:20), these very peoples whom ye look down on as abominable. 'And a pure offering,' not the blind, the lame, and the sick, such as ye offer." "In every place" implies the catholicity of the Christian Church (John 4:21-23; 1 Timothy 2:8). The incense is figurative of prayer (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 8:3). Sacrifice is used metaphorically of the offering of a "broken and contrite heart."
1. This period, though far in the future, is certain to dawn on the world. God hath promised it, and it is "impossible for him to lie." "And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted into thee" (Isaiah 60:3-5).
2. This period will exclude all false worship. It will he in "every place." No room for the knee in the temple of the false worshipper. Neither in this mountain nor in that mountain shall ye worship the Father. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
3. In this period all human souls will be blended in love and devotion. No more divisions. "Thy Name shall be great among the heathen." He will be the great centre around which all souls will revolve, from which all will draw their heat, their light, their harmony.
III. THAT WRONG WORSHIP IS SOMETIMES RENDERED EVEN BY THE RELIGIOUS TEACHERS OF MANKIND. "But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, the Table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible." From these words we learn that these priests made worship appear:
1. Contemptible. Perhaps these priests did not literally say the Lords table was contemptible, but in their acts they declared it. Is the word "contemptible" here intended to express the feeling of the priests themselves? Some have considered it as referring to the revenue which the priests drew from their services at the altar. The beasts which were brought for offering were so lean, diseased, and wretched, that the flesh which fell to their share for food was so poor that they could not eat it, it filled them with disgust, it was contemptible. As if they had said, "The reward which we have for our services at the altar is truly contemptible." But this view can scarcely be adopted, inasmuch as they themselves accepted those worthless animals for sacrifice. It rather means that they had made worship appear contemptible to others, that their services had brought worship into contempt. How often do the religious leaders of mankind, by the crudity of their thoughts, the narrowness of their creeds, the worldliness of their spirits, bring religion into popular contempt!
2. Burdensome. "Behold, what a weariness is it!" etc. This is not, alas! an uncommon occurrence. Religious leaders, perhaps the majority of them, have in all ages, by their hoary platitudes, their vain repetitions, their long, dull prayers, their monotonous tones, their prosy twaddlings, made their hearers often exclaim, "Behold, what a weariness is it!" In truth, religious service is a weariness to all who have not their hearts in it. Dr. Pusey well remarks, "The service of God is its own reward. If not, it becomes a greater toil, with less reward from this earth than the things of this earth. Our only choice is between love and weariness."
IV. THAT WRONG WORSHIP EVERMORE INCURS THE JUST DISPLEASURE OF HEAVEN. "But cursed be the deceiver," etc. He is here called the deceiver, who has the means of presenting a valuable sacrifice, and yet presents a worthless one. He "hath in his flock a male," something that is valuable. It is not the man who openly denies God, and who makes no pretence of serving him, that is here cursed, but the man who professes to serve him, and yet is destitute of the true spirit of devotion. He who offers to him the mere dregs of his time, his strength, his means, virtually presents that "polluted bread" upon the altar which is abhorrent to the Almighty.
CONCLUSION. Let all eschew vain worship, a worship that may be either the worship of a wrong god, some idol, or the worship of the right God in a wrong way. Let those of us who presume to be the religious leaders of our race take care that we do not bring public worship into contempt; and by our lack of spiritual vivacity and the exciting inspiration of true devotion, cause the people to exclaim, "Behold, what a weariness is it!"—D.T.