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III. Honor Belongs To The Lord (1:6–2:9)

The message continues in the guise of the Lord's accusation against the people. He charges that they dishonor Him. They, as children, would honor their father or as servants they would honor their master, but they show no respect for God. The priests are identified as the most guilty in this respect. They engage in practices that reflect a callous indifference to the religious observances that are their charge. Their actions actually result in offerings being made to the Lord that defile rather than show reverence. In spite of the ancient instruction that sacrifices should represent the first and the best of that which the people have (Dt. 15:21; Lev 1:3; et al.), the priests have been offering animals that are crippled or diseased, ritually unfit for sacrifice. How can they expect to be the recipients of God's gracious beneficence when they treat him as they do?

A comparison between the KJV and NIV at v. 10 will show that difficulty exists in interpreting the Hebrew text. The KJV implies that the priests had sunk to such a low level that they refused to do simple duties without receiving compensation for their services. The context, however, favors the NIV translation. God is so displeased with the quality of their sacrifices that it would be better for the doors of the temple to be closed and no sacrificial fires lighted than for them to go through a mockery of sacrificial service that God will not accept (cf. Am 5:21-22; Hos 6:6; 8:11ff.; Isa 1:11ff.).

Thus by both attitude and action Yahweh was being demeaned. He who should be lauded as Lord and King over all the earth was belittled by those who had been chosen by him to receive the blessings of his great love.

It is not likely that the prophet whom we know as Malachi believed in a universal monotheism (1:11, 14) in spite of the fact that he achieves an insight that points in that direction. Some particularistic ideas are incorporated in this small book. For example, the God who loves Jacob hates Esau. He is the God who disapproved of entangling intermarriages with foreigners. The statement about his fatherhood (2:10), which could be applied to all humankind, is applied immediately to the Jews (Bewer, Prophets, 592). With such a mixture of the general and the particular, it is difficult to know exactly what the prophet understood. He may have been reaching for the lofty concept of one God and the unity of the human family as expressed in the book of Jonah. He may have been claiming that the nations recognized the sovereignty of Yahweh. Or perhaps the prophet was only contrasting the honor accorded Yahweh in other places with the insulting neglect in evidence in Jerusalem (Smith, ICC, 30ff.).

The attitude priests display toward Yahweh and the temple services will not go unpunished. Beginning with 2:1 God's judgment is pronounced. Blessings will be turned into cursings. In fact this has already been done. The adverse conditions now being experienced by the people come as a result of God's judgment (cf. Dt. 28:1ff.). Blessings and curses are direct and immediate and are physical consequences of God's pleasure or displeasure with his people. As Dentan expresses it, the curse is a “missile which can be sent out and will damage the thing which it strikes” (p. 1130). For a more detailed treatment of the meaning of blessings and curses see Pedersen, 182ff.; 437ff.

Yahweh's rebuke of the priests is of such great consequence that they are in danger of suffering public shame (2:3). Furthermore, their posterity may be cut off from the priesthood. The purpose of the admonition is to preserve the covenant made with Levi (2:4; cf. Nu 3:45; 18:21-24; Dt 33:8-11). Malachi seems to have the Deuteronomic description of the Levitical duties in mind rather than those found in Numbers (see above reference), since stress is laid upon the instructional obligations of the priesthood (v. 7). The priests' failure to fulfill these duties has already brought shame and humiliation upon themselves.