Agonizomai: Malachi 1:6b-8 - Death by Degrees

Friday, July 24, 2009

Malachi 1:6b-8 - Death by Degrees

Malachi 1:6b-8 - Death by Degrees

Malachi 1:6b-8
But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. 8 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.

Through Malachi God completes the didactic dialectic. "How have we despised your name?" was the question to which God answers for them, "By offering polluted food upon My altar." That seems to be fairly clear doesn’t it? The Jews knew what constituted "pollution" in their offerings. At least, they should have known.

But the next dialectic shows what God truly thinks of their attitudes. He has them not examining themselves in abject humility and repentance - but pressing the question that God has already answered. "How have we polluted You?" Do you see the effect of their hardness of heart? Instead of hearing the Word of the Lord that they had sinned and falling on their knees for mercy they answer with the equivalent of, "O yeah? So how exactly are we supposed to have slipped up?"

It is important to understand the rhetorical nature of these prophetic comments. This is a literary device in which God is both accuser and answerer. He takes both sides of the conversation. But He has perfect understanding of their hearts and so is able to render the essence of the content of those hearts plain for them (and us) to see.

There are no accidents with God. We need to see the depravity of the heart of the professing Hebrew in order to know the depravity of our own hearts as professing Christians. If we merely stand and observe and wag our heads and add condemnation to them we are in precisely the same danger as the people of Romans Chapter 2:1 who were elated to see the Gentiles get their comeuppance but had no clue that they were just as bad, if not worse. The greater the light ignored, the greater the condemnation and the more severe the judgement. {Lu 10:13-14}

But so long as God is warning rather than cutting off there is hope. He is showing patience, tenderness, longsuffering and lovingkindness by means of warnings. Note to the neo-evangelical crowd - He is not being "tolerant" of their sin, their error and their apostasy; He is lovingly warning them by pointing out the consequences of carrying on in that direction. There are consequences. If we are disobedient there are fruits of disobedience and if we are found finally impenitent then there is eternal punishment. We do not lose our salvation, but may find that we were never truly saved. {Mt 7:21-23}

And here God is speaking through the prophet to lay naked before the leaders of Israel the hypocrisy of their ways and the atrocious neglect of their responsibility as leaders of the people. Bad examples make bad influences. But prolonged apostasy further hardens the heart. It is possible to understand, then, that while men harden their own hearts it is a mercy that God speaks the truth to them, calling them to repentance.

The leaders have been offering and accepting second and third grade animals and goods in sacrifice. This is a sure sign of a loss of faith in God. It is more than an insult. It is more than disobedience. It is that form of creeping disbelief by which something - anything - other than God is given the actual primacy. It may start in a small way with just a single slip - just this lame little lamb with only a slight limp - hardly noticeable at all, really... But it is not a question of the lamb itself, but of the holding back of that which is perfect for oneself contrary to the commandment (and the right) of God. It is a shale slope that once embarked upon turns into a crumbling screed upon which the very next step is an acceleration towards an uncontrolled descent.

And here is a sure sign of apostasy - when our respect for/fear of men is greater than that which we have towards God. When we curry the favour of men with the best we have - but we give to God the second best - what is left over - what would not be acceptable to a mere earthly potentate, and we feel alright about it; our consciences are not bothered. We are not convicted. We long since passed the point where it truly mattered to us, despite what we said we believed.

Do I please earthly governors before I would please the Lord of Hosts? Here’s a perfect example of how dull the mind is. THE LORD OF HOSTS is the One being asked to take the back seat. Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and King of all the armies of heaven - and do I slough Him off with seconds!? What rank indifference! What functional disbelief! What idiocy! What foolishness! And yet it is in the heart of every man - and especially in the hearts of all professors of religion.

The pagans don’t care about the True God at all. They make no profession of allegiance/faith/obedience. But the ones professing Jehovah (or in our case, Christ - the Same), if they deny the depravity that remains on account of worldly and bodily lusts - and thereby fail to constantly fall upon God’s grace to mortify it - eventually come to not even be aware of their denials. And the prospect of that ought to frighten us exceedingly. O God of mercy keep us all from such presumption, such hardness of heart and such indifference.


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