“When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Malachi was the last prophet of the people of Israel until John the Baptist arrived on the scene to introduce people to Jesus some 400 years later. In other words, he was the last word the people had from God for 400 years. Ancient though he may be, his words could have been written yesterday they are so relevant to issues we are still facing today.
The biggest issue Malachi addresses with the people was the fact that they weren’t worshiping God as He deserved to be worshiped. Earlier in chapter one, we see God defending His love for them. He does so with the well-known and challenging statement that He had loved them, but not Esau (whose descendants were the people of Edom). More than being a description of His feelings toward the respective nations, though, the prophet was referring to God’s choice to preserve and accomplish His work through Israel instead of Edom. The obvious evidence of this was that at this point in history, Edom had been totally destroyed and would never be rebuilt. Israel, on the other hand, had been returned from their exile in Babylon and had seen their society and way of life almost entirely restored.
But, in spite of God’s obvious favor on them, the people had become callous and programmed in their worship. They had begun to view the rituals of worship prescribed in the Law as a burden. Being where they were on the far side of the cross, they still operated under the sacrificial system. Sin requires death, death means blood, but rather than demanding their own blood for their sins, God in His gracious mercy allowed them to sacrifice an animal in their place.
Yet not just any animal would do. Because God is holy, they needed to bring an animal that was without blemish for their sacrifices. Anything less was unworthy of the God to whom they were sacrificing and it would not be accepted by Him as payment for their sins. The purpose of this rejection was not to demean the value or quality of the blemished animals, but to send the people a message about the extent of the holiness of God and the kind of things and people that could be in His presence.
Still, though, the people wearied of giving God their best and began to look for ways around the burdens of the sacrificial system. What this really meant was that they were not taking their sin as seriously as they should have been. And because they weren’t taking sin as seriously as it deserved, they didn’t really believe they needed to go through the rigmarole of offering the best animals of their flocks. They wanted those and the income they would provide for themselves.
But still, there was the problem of God’s expectations. They found an easy way around this. They would promise to bring a sacrifice for their sins, but when the time came, they would bring an animal that was diseased or sick to the temple. And, since it would have been such a hassle to go home and get another one (and how was I to know about this one little defect?), the complicit priests let it go.
This was not at all okay with God. And through Malachi, God made His feelings on the matter plain. What God makes clear is that He expects our best, not what’s left. The question and challenge for us here is rather obvious: In our own worship, are we bringing God our very best to honor His holiness, or are we bringing Him whatever is leftover after we get done with it? God is worthy of our best. Nothing less will do. In fact, a couple of verses later, God tells the people to not even bother worshiping if they weren’t going to bring their best. He still feels the same way today.
Take up the challenge then: Are you bringing God your best or what’s left? How can you make sure you are consistently giving your full self to God instead of coming to Him only after you have exhausted yourself in everything else? He not only expects it, He deserves it.