Malachi – Lesson 3
MALACHI – LESSON THREE
MALACHI CONFRONTS THE PRIESTS
It is an awesome responsibility to be accountable for the care and well being of another person. Perhaps most of us felt that heavy load when we had our first child. Others feel heavy burdens as bread winners, teachers, pastors, counselors or political leaders. God has delegated leadership roles in the family, government, and church so that people can be well cared for.
In Israel God gave heavy leadership roles to the priests. The priest was the mediator between God and man. (Exodus 28-30) Priests were responsible for offering the sacrifices exactly as God required, for teaching the law to the people, for making judgments regarding righteousness, and for modeling right behavior before the people.
Before a priest could function officially in his role, he had to be cleansed in an elaborate ceremony to symbolize his own model of righteousness. The High Priest was clothed with special garments to set him apart as God’s special representative to all the tribes of the nation. It was a heavy responsibility.
The priests understood their awesome roles as clearly spelled out in the Torah, but in Malachi’s day the priests had become neglectful of their duties and indifferent to the law. They not only do not love God as they should (as Malachi has already established), their actions show that they actually despise Him.
We will learn from their actions. How does our worship reveal our attitude about God? What does our behavior toward God show to those under our care?
DAY ONE: ISRAEL’S LEADERS ARE CONFRONTED.
READ: Malachi 1:6
A. LEADERS ARE QUESTIONED ABOUT GOD’S ROLE.
The Israelites understood relationships. They had their own families. Fathers were very much heads of their households and demanded respect from their sons. They also understood the roles of servants and masters. Servants were required to be strictly obedient to their masters.
Malachi calls on the leaders to identify their relationship to God to see if they are behaving properly by the standards of their own human relationships.
B. IS GOD A FATHER TO ISRAEL?
- Exodus 4:22 — The Lord told Moses to say to Pharaoh – “Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you to let my son go, so he may worship me.”
- Isaiah 63:16b — The prophet wrote – “You O Lord are our Father, our redeemer from of old is your name.”
- Isaiah 64:8 – Again the prophet wrote – “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
- Hosea 11:1 – Another prophet wrote – “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
So, the concept of God as Israel’s Father was not a new idea. The responsibility of sons to a Father was well known. It was even a part of the Ten Commandments. Children were to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). Chronically disobedient sons were to be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Should a nation who considered itself a son refuse to honor its Father?
C. IS GOD A MASTER TO ISRAEL?
Some Israelites may have considered God a master.
- Isaiah 44:1-2 – The prophet wrote – “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel whom I have chosen.”
Again, the responsibility to honor and obey their masters was well known in Israel. Should a nation who considered itself a servant violate their own societal rules for servants and masters?
D. PRIESTS ARE ACCUSED OF MISCONDUCT.
The priests who taught the law and the prophets to the people are now accused of violating their own Scriptures. If they thought of God as Father – they must honor him. If they thought of God as master, they must revere and obey Him. If they served God in the special role of mediator and spiritual leader of the nation they must lead the people in proper worship, just as God had commanded.
The Mosaic Law required them to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to fear Him (Deuteronomy 6:13). This involved exhibiting honor and respect that leads to worship and obedience. The priests were to see that all of God’s people brought honor to God’s name.
It is crucial that we identify our relationship with God today to help us know how to behave toward Him.
E. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What does Isaiah 1:2-4 say about Israel’s relationship to God?
- Read the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-11. What does this tell you about the seriousness of the role of priest?
- What is the meaning of the word “honor?” How do we show honor to God?
- How did Jesus later describe Israel’s spiritual leaders? (Matthew 15:14; 23:1-39)
5. What is the relationship of believers to God in the Christian world? (I John 3:1-2)
6. How do you honor God as your loving Father?
DAY TWO: ISRAEL’S SACRIFICES ARE EXPOSED.
READ: Malachi 1:6-9
A. PRIESTS ARE OPENLY CONFRONTED.
Often our journey away from God is a slow stroll and not a sprint. We become lax in our devotions, our prayer life, our Bible study, our church attendance, and our Christian fellowship. When we begin slipping away from these disciplines, the voice of God becomes more and more faint. The voice of our sin nature increasingly justifies little lapses of obedience. We begin to see negative changes in our behavior that soon seem to be acceptable to ourselves and to those around us. Without some kind of wake-up call, the slide continues downhill.
The priests of Israel receive their wake-up call from Malachi. Imagine their surprise when they are accused of defiling the very altar of God and showing contempt for His name. These men have been entrusted with the highest honor in the land by being named the keepers of the temple and the spiritual leaders of the nation. They never forgot their important positions but they failed to remember the importance of strict obedience to the sacrificial offerings. They are surprised and defensive when confronted.
B. PRIESTS OFFERED DEFILED FOOD.
The Law of Moses was painstakingly detailed regarding the sacrifices that were acceptable to God. Both the kind of sacrifice and the method by which it was offered were specifically given. The book of Leviticus was the “manual” for worshipping a Holy God and living a holy life – for priests and for people. It never changed. It was incredibly important because it pointed to something greater for the whole world.
Although the instructions were not lost, the priests had become lax and indifferent in carrying them out.
- They accepted defective, sick, lame or blind animals. These were strictly forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 1:3).
- The priests themselves had defiled “the Lord’s Table” by their contemptible speech. When they showed that they did not respect the laws, the people became careless in their offerings. Their leadership was defective.
As the leader goes, so goes the nation. The sacrifices had become a disgrace. The message shouted that God was not important.
C. MALACHI GAVE THE PRIESTS A SIMPLE TEST.
Malachi told the priests to try giving these animals to their civic leaders (governors). Would they dare to bring a sick or blemished animal to give to people that they considered important? Would their governors be pleased?
Perhaps the priests thought the proper sacrifices were too costly and God was too demanding. After all, times were hard. Or perhaps their lack of love for God was simply showing through. Whatever their thinking, the worship was a disgrace. In verse nine, Malachi calls for prayer before it is too late. They need to stop the slide away from God and return to proper worship so God can restore grace.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Why do you think the priests might think the sacrifices were a burden? (Hebrews 10:11)
- Why is Jesus’ sacrifice superior? (Hebrews 10:12-14)
- Despite the difficulty of their tasks, what important thing did the sacrifice accomplish?
4. How easy is it for you to treat worship services with contempt?
5. Read the instructions Jesus gave for celebrating communion. (1 Corinthians 11:23) How seriously do you take this solemn remembrance?
DAY THREE: ISRAEL’S PRIESTS ARE CHALLENGED.
READ: Malachi 1:10-12
A. POLLUTED OFFERINGS ARE NOT ACCEPTED BY GOD.
Sometimes it only takes one faithful person to make a huge difference. We think of great leaders in the recent past who have led in great reform movements or great revivals. In Israel, a few kings and prophets like Elijah boldly stood for God when the nation was being led astray. Now Malachi, speaking for God, wishes that one faithful priest would step forward and shut the temple doors. It would be better to stop the offerings altogether than to keep bringing offerings that God cannot accept. Isaiah describes how God feels about hypocritical worship (Isaiah 1:11-15).
B. GOD’S GREATNESS DEMANDS RESPECT.
Malachi again points to a time when the whole earth will recognize the greatness of God. But God’s own chosen people and God’s anointed priests are leading the nation to abuse their great God. He enumerates their abuses:
- The priests spoke ill of the whole sacrificial system.
- The priests considered their sacred duties as a wearisome burden.
- The priests accepted forbidden offerings.
- The priests accepted people who made deceptive vows.
C. GOD WILL NOT BE DECEIVED.
God will bring a curse on people who are dishonest with Him. We may fool ourselves and we may sometimes fool others, but God will not be mocked. Later Jesus will teach about imposters in the church along with false teachers and false prophets.
D. JUDAH SHOULD LEAD IN HONORING GOD.
When God selected Israel as His chosen people to honor Him before the watching world, He demanded honesty in worship. He has shown Himself to be a great king and a faithful father. He has honored his covenant of blessing and will continue to do so. Their witness before the nations demands that they honor their covenant and vows.
We could take a lesson from Israel’s behavior. Do we keep the vows we make to God? Do we worship in spirit and truth? Do we honor God in our conversation? Do we obey God at all times and in all places? God will not be mocked.
E. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What did Solomon say about vows in Ecclesiastes 5:4-5?
- What do you learn from the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11?
- What did Jesus say about hypocritical behavior in Luke 6:46?
- What did the Lord require of the men serving in the office of priest at their original ordination? (Leviticus 8:34-36)
5. When have you made a vow to God (regarding tithing, promising a better prayer life, regular devotions, etc.)? Have you faithfully kept your vow?
6. How does your conversation bring honor to God’s name?
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE: THE PRIESTS ARE CHARGED.
READ: Malachi 2:1-9
A. DISCIPLINE IS IN ORDER.
There are times when we think we can get away with misbehavior. But the
Bible tells us – “Your sins will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23) A loving and responsible Father must discipline his erring children. Otherwise children become “wild things” who bring dishonor to the family name. In the news recently is a case of a child who was not taught the consequences of disobedience. His condition has been labeled “affluenza.” His affluence and lack of discipline led him to believe he had no boundaries or consequences regarding his behavior. Like Israel, he has openly disregarded the law.
As Father of His chosen people, God must deal with the priests who are misbehaving. Their conduct is especially damaging because of their leadership roles. Malachi pronounced an ultimatum for them. If they do not turn from evil and set their hearts to honor God, several judgments would fall on them:
- Curses (hardships) will fall on them.
- Their blessings and work will be ineffective.
- Their descendants will be rebuked or their privileged position as priests will be taken away.
- They will be humiliated before the people and then carried away.
B. PRIESTS ARE REMINDED OF THEIR COVENANT.
God wanted the priests to repent and return to right behavior so they might continue in the covenant God made with Levi regarding the priesthood.
The Lord said to Moses, Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of His God and made atonement for the Israelites. Numbers 25:10-13
This covenant was to provide “life and peace” to Israel. Phineas (son of Aaron) showed that he held God’s name in high honor. He stood for God in a turbulent time by taking a stand against evil. Balaam was trying to corrupt God’s nation by seducing them to worship Baal and practice sexual immorality with Moabite women in a fertility ritual practiced by worshippers of Baal. Phineas took action and turned away God’s wrath.
The priests in Malachi’s day are doing the opposite. They are bringing about God’s wrath by their attitudes, words, and actions. They even allowed influential people to break the law.
C. PRIESTS ARE REMINDED OF THEIR POTENTIAL.
Malachi reminds the priests that they are to impart knowledge. They should be the ones men come to in order to receive instruction. After all, they are God’s messengers. Instead they have done the opposite and have turned people away from God. Even now they are despised by the people.
What a sobering passage for believers. We are God’s priests today to speak God’s truth and live in righteousness as a model for the watching world and for our families.
“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25
We serve a high and holy God. We are privileged to represent Him well every day of our lives.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION.
- Read the story of Phineas in Numbers 25:1-13. What impresses you?
- What do you think it means to provide “life and peace” to someone?
- What kinds of temptation are being offered in your culture to draw you into corruption?
4. What change can you make to honor God more overtly?
5. Who might be impacted by your model of conduct?
All behavior has consequences. We are either agents for good or for evil. In our leadership roles in the family, church, or community we have the potential to impact a few or perhaps a large number of people. Woe to those whose leadership impacts for evil. God will take note and eventually He will take action.
God eventually allowed the temple to be destroyed in A.D. 70. The duties of the priesthood were brought to an end. We often see church doors close as well. But we still have the opportunity to proclaim God’s great name from nations all over the world. Will you be like Phineas and boldly stand for good and for God?
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
Honoring God’s ways and God’s name will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.
Speak often of the greatness and goodness of God to those around you.
About the author
LaWanda Neel is a lifelong Bible student. She has served as a Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship and has conducted studies for neighborhood and church groups. She is now retired and lives with her husband in Lakewood, Colorado. She spends time reading, studying, teaching, writing, traveling all around the world and entertaining her five grandchildren. This is her third Weekly Word series for Thrive Ministries. Contact her for questions or comments at [email protected]View all articles by: LaWanda Neel
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