“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would He receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts”
Malachi came preaching late in Israel’s history, after they had returned from captivity to Jerusalem. The temple had been reestablished. The priests were back to their old jobs. The walls of the city had been rebuilt. While they were still under the thumb of the Persian Empire, they were basically free to worship God as they saw fit in their Law. It seemed that God had finally restored His people as He promised through older prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Better still, there was no more rampant idolatry in the land. The golden calves had been done away with. People were no longer sacrificing to Baal or to the other Canaanite gods, but to Yahweh. It is easy to see how Israel might have gotten a high opinion of their spirituality at this point. It is easy to see how Israel could have gotten the notion that they had somehow “arrived” at the height of their nation again and come back into God’s favor.
Yet no one ever “arrives”. Malachi comes into the scene with a message from God, asking, “Where is my respect? Why do you despise My name?” The people respond as if they are unaware what God is talking about: “How have we done that?” God responds with the problem-apathy. Israel no longer cares to serve God sacrificially. They no longer care to worship in a manner that demonstrates utmost reverence and respect for God. Instead, Israel makes excuses for itself and even pretends to be unaware of the problem.
The actual problem seems somewhat outlandish to those of us in the present day that do not have a part in the Levitical sacrificial system. The people were presenting the blind and the lame animals for sacrifice. Some might think, “What is the big deal? The animal is going to die either way, so it will not be of use to anyone?” That was probably the logic of Israel in this situation too. A keeper of sheep or cattle who was obligated to make a sacrifice would look out into his flock, see a blind or lame animal, and realize that it was not going to bring any benefit to his flock. It certainly should not be allowed to reproduce. The most logical decision was to put it to death. What better way to do that than by sacrificing it to Yahweh? This action would kill two birds with one stone, because it would both fulfill worship obligations and it would remove a pesky defected animal from the flock.
However, this sort of behavior was expressly forbidden. In the regulations for sacrifice in Leviticus 1-7, the phrase is repeatedly echoed that the animals offered to Yahweh were to be offered “without defect” (Leviticus 1:3; 1:10; 3:1; 3:6; 4:3; 4:23; 4:28; 4:32; 5:15; 5:18; 6:6) and recurs even more throughout the Mosaic Law. God specifically commanded that whatever bulls or goats were offered to Him were to be offered “without defect” because of how holy He was. But surely this law was not fair! After all, it caused the worship of Yahweh to be especially costly for the shepherds and cattle-herders in that they had to give up their favorite choicest animals. The worship of God does not cost the worshippers, does it?
Yet, David understood this lesson substantially better. This is one of the reasons he is called “a man after God’s own heart.” In 2 Samuel 24, as he is atoning for his sins of numbering the people on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, Aruanah tries to give him the oxen for the burnt offering free of charge, and David refuses. His statement is especially profound-“No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). David understood that the true nature of a relationship with God was not one rooted in convenience. Rather, the worship of God was rooted in a sacrificial and selfless service. A “sacrifice” is a misnomer if it does not cost the one who is sacrificing.
Today, physical animal sacrifices have been done away with. Yet in many ways, our calling is even higher. God demonstrates the true nature of sacrifice through His Son. “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Peter then later goes on to say that we “as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We have an obligation to sacrifice to God on the spiritual level, rather than the physical level. We need to be living and behaving in such a manner that demonstrates our mind is on the “imperishable” rather than the “perishable”.
Being a Christian means substantially more than making appearances in the pew every Sunday and Wednesday. Some come to worship, but do not put their hearts into it, because that will “cost” them effort and concentration. Some tap their foot and watch the clock to make sure they get out at the correct time, because a worship service that dares go five minutes longer would “cost” them their time. Some feel they have done “enough” to get their ticket into heaven, and do not need bother themselves with unnecessary “costs”. Some do not want to study further, because they feel more knowledge will make them accountable and it will “cost” them something. This fear of “cost” is yet another example of the human capacity for selfishness and pride, and it can affect all Christians at some time. The truth is that Christianity is a costly religion. Those that would profess some kind of earthly gain that comes with Christianity are not offering true service to Christ.
Consider Paul, who had to give up his way of life in order to follow Christ. “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). Paul paid a large price for being a Christian, but he counted that “cost” as nothing because he had the proper perspective of value. To gain a relationship with Christ requires one to give up “all things”. It requires one to pay substantial costs. It requires honor and respect for God, and the realization of who He is in relation to us. But the end result will far outweigh the cost paid.
Let us take a lesson from Israel. If we offer to God what costs us nothing based on our profitable human “logic”, that is all we will ever have, and in the next life, we will have nothing. But if we work and toil and give God our all, we shall attain great riches in the resurrection of the dead.
Article by Wayne Welsh