Malachi 2 v 1 – 9
We’re going to read from chapter 2 and we’re going to do the first 9 verses and, as was the case with this morning’s message from the first chapter of Romans, these are hard words to read. If they’re not hard words to read, I can’t see that they will have any value to the reader. If words like these can leave you cold, then the problem with your soul is worse than the problem that the Lord describes in these words, but He does talk about that a little bit too as we will see. He speaks to the priests; to those appointed leaders over the people in leading them in the worship of Yahweh, their Covenant God. The Lord highlights all their failures and He indicts them very strongly in a way that ought to put the fear of God not only into them, but into each one of you. Has the Lord scared you out of something lately; has the Lord frightened you out of something lately? If not, you’ve not been listening, because that’s what He does. That’s what He did with the priests; let’s see what He did. Malachi chapter 2 verses 1 to 9.
”And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honour to My Name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.
3Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. 4So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that My Covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. 5My Covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared Me. He stood in awe of My Name. 6True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 7For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. 8But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the Covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, 9and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep My Ways but show partiality in your instruction.” (ESV)
What we see is the Lord’s cursing of an unholy priesthood. And that is my title this evening: The Lord’s cursing of an unholy priesthood. To understand who the One is who’s doing the cursing and who the ones are who are being cursed, we need to understand the Covenant of God. Right in the heart of this passage, He refers to it and as you can see when the LORD speaks, He speaks in the most affectionate of terms. He is almost melancholic about it; He is almost feeling: ‘I miss that time with Levi. I remember my time with Levi. It was life and it was peace and he feared My Name. And I want those days back.’ There is, as I say almost a kind of a Melancholy in these words of the Lord’s. We must understand that if we understand the purpose of God’s Covenant. Why does the Almighty God want to be in a covenant with people? Why? Because He wants to give them two things that have to do with existence. He wants to give them Life, He wants to give them Peace. And the lack of the latter; the lack of peace, presents Humanity with a threat to its life. Can you see that? Wherever there is not peace, there is a threat to life. Life and peace go together. And that’s why God wanted to give them both. He says His Covenant was one of life and peace. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say it’s a covenant of justification, sanctification and glorification, which it is – because that’s what gives life and that’s what gives peace, but He encapsulates it so beautifully. He calls it life and peace. I don’t think there’s a person in this building tonight or outside of it – well, maybe I must not take it that far – who does not want life and peace. We live in a world where people will take life to have something less than peace. To have a motor car or money or clothing or a house or money for drugs. They will take a life in order to have that, whereas God wants to give life and give peace so that life is Life abundantly.
Now that’s why there was the priesthood in the Old Covenant. Their purpose and their Ministry was to minister this to people: to tell them ‘you’re the called and the elect people of God or the elect and called people of God; the redeemed people of God. You’re the people through whom God wants to make peace in this world and give life to all Peoples’. And these priests – just as Adam did in the Garden – and as we saw this morning – as depraved people do – we saw it in the Book of Romans – we weren’t happy with what God wanted. We second-guessed Him. We doubted His Word first, then we contradicted it and then we replaced it with our own. We saw Adam and Eve do that at the behest of the Devil himself. We saw in the Book of Romans this morning; we saw the Lord says people are still doing it in the days in which we live. Do you know how I know that is true? I have proof of that. For me actually, I do have objective proof. I can point out many examples to you, but I have subjective proof too that people still do it. Do you know what my proof is? I do it, I do it! That’s how I know the Lord is right! When we question His Word and we are indicted for it – when we contradict His Word and we’re indicted for it – when we replace His Word with our own and we’re indicted for it. God is just in every indictment! And I dare say, I think that’s true of maybe some of you? You don’t have to stand up and fess up. But if you are, I hope the Lord’s already speaking to your heart right now, because if we go the way they went: questioning, contradicting and replacing God’s Word – that is a breach of the Covenant and it destroys the life and the peace that is the purpose of God’s Covenant. And that’s terrible [going the way they went], because the world has no other hope. And so it’s in that light that we must see the Lord’s using of the strong term saying He curses them – that’s strong language! If a human being had to do that to another one we’d say that’s one of the worst things you can do, is curse somebody! But the Lord does it and it works almost in a kind of a couplet, this passage. It’s almost one thing that the Lord repeats twice. He gives a command to the priests and then He lays a curse upon the priests and then He repeats almost the same thing. He holds up the Covenant of peace and then He condemns the priests. That’s how the text works. It’s a kind of a double rake. It rakes in everything or a rake with two sets of teeth. If He misses it with the one He will find it with the other. That’s what we see in the passage. So let’s look first of all at the Command to the priests and then the Curse upon the priests, and then we’ll see the Covenant of peace and the Condemnation of the priests. That’s how the text is structured, as I see it.
- The Command to the Priests
Verse 1: “And now, O priests, this command is for you.” It’s the first thing we must get – there is a command there. There’s not a suggestion. There’s not a recommendation. There is nothing like: ‘Well, I’m just going to put this out there and you go think about it’ – like the post modernists do – whatever you come back with is fine – it’s your truth, that makes it true. No it doesn’t! It’s a command; it’s not a suggestion and a recommendation. This command – there it is – in other words: I’m going to stand in My glory in the authority that I have, in the power that I have and I’m going to talk down to you. That’s what a command is, and it’s for the priests: “it is for you, O priests.” This is God talking down very seriously from His glory to these men. And just as an aside, let me remind you they were all men. Now what is the command that God gives them? He gives them a two-fold command; He tells them:
a. They must have Ears that Hear the Word of God
He said “if you will not listen” – if you will not listen. In other words, He’s saying to them I want you to listen and if you don’t listen it’s going to have consequences – if you will not listen. And we need to know what that means, because every one of your toddlers knows exactly what that means when you say that to them: ‘If you don’t listen to what I say’, the toddler already knows; he senses danger in the home right there. He gets it, but adult people don’t get it when God says “if you don’t listen…” Toddlers respond better than many adult Christians do. God says to you if you will not listen, I better see what will happen if I don’t listen – I’m listening Lord! So the first thing He is saying to them is ‘I want you to have ears that hear the Word of God’, but He doesn’t stop there because we need to not only be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word. He wants them to do something. He wants them to hear so that they do something important. Now what is it He wants them to do?
b. They must have Hearts that Honour the Name of God
Not only must they have ears that hear the Word of God. They must have hearts that honour the Name of God. He said if you will not take it to heart. Not only if you won’t listen, but if you won’t take it to heart. In other words, what goes in your ears must go right into your heart. I don’t want to just pass the test here. I want to go live a life on what you learnt. That’s the Christian Life, otherwise we’re hearers and we’re not doers. These priests weren’t even hearers. But the Lord’s command is you must have ears that hear the Word of God and you must have hearts that honour the Name of God. “If you will not take it to heart to give honour to My Name says the Lord of hosts.” So there’s the command, twofold: ‘Have ears that hear my Word; have hearts that honour My Name.’ He says if you don’t do that, just hang in there because look what He says immediately. If you will not do that, then I will send the curse upon you and will curse your blessings.
- A Curse upon the Priests
You may say but wait a minute, He hasn’t even given them a chance to…. Listen to what the Lord says. He says: ‘I’ll send a curse upon you and will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them – I’ve already cursed them. We see the pronouncement of the curse. We see the particulars of the curse and the purpose of the curse.
a. The Pronouncement of the Curse
“I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings.” Indeed, I’ve already cursed them. That’s the pronouncement of the curse.
b. The Particulars of the Curse
How bad is it? I’m sure one could see more, but I see three terrifying things. I see suffering, I see shame – then I see separation. Suffering, shame and separation from God. Those are the particulars of The Curse. Note with me: “Because you do not lay it to heart,”
(i) ”Behold, I will rebuke your offspring.” That’s suffering. That means not only you, but your children are going to have a really hard time. I will rebuke your offspring. It’s a frightening thought – that something that you and I do, that the priests do, will have an effect on their children. We see it already. Many of the sins of our past – our children are paying for it the world over. I’ve seen that where there were homes with alcoholic fathers. I see the children paying the penalty; in that it becomes hereditary. It has consequences not only for us but for our children. And this comes from the priests. He says if you don’t have ears that hear My Word; if you don’t have a heart that honours My Name, there will be suffering. I’ll rebuke your offspring but it’s not only that there’s also
(ii) shame that goes with the suffering: “…and spread dung on your faces; the dung of your offerings.” I don’t think I need to open that up for you more. That’s shame to smell like that – to have the stench of what you’ve done or fail to do on you all the time. You walk in the door and people smell it. Nobody wants to hang with you because it’s not pleasant. There is this green cloud around you. Not only suffering, but shame and you’d say that’s already very bad, but it gets worse. It gets as bad as it can. It cannot get worse than this –
(iii) separation – separation from God: “…and you shall be taken away.” Out of My presence! As we say in slang today: ‘Get out of my face.’ That’s the curse upon the priests, that’s the pronouncement of it, and those are the particulars of it. And it’s horrid! Suffering, shame, separation! A really bad place to be – the worst place to be – to be a stinking man and woman who couldn’t take care of their children, chased away by God! And they were the priests. So that’s the pronouncement of the curse; the particulars of the curse.
c. The Purpose of the Curse
You say why does God do it this way? What does He want to achieve? We know why He does it; for what reason – because the question ‘why’ can have both those meanings: why, for what reason or why, to what end. We’ve seen the ‘why’ for what reason: they don’t have ears that hear His Word. They don’t have hearts that honour His Name. That’s the ‘why’ for what reason. The ‘why’ for what purpose? What does He want to achieve by it? Two things:
(i) So that they may know that God has sent this command to you. That’s what He says in verse 4: “So shall you know that I have sent this command to you.” He wants them to walk around with that consciousness; that awareness that: I am where I am, I stink like I stink, my children suffer like they suffer and I’m sitting where I’m sitting, because God sent this command. God sent it. This is not some ill-tempered person who posted a nasty thing on my Facebook page. This is the Almighty God in His indignation; in the revelation of His wrath as we saw it this morning. He says I’m doing this, and the first reason is you’ll know who you crossed. And when you crossed Me, it did not have the same meaning as when I crossed you, as we shall see. You’ll know “I did this and I’m God.” That’s the first purpose.
(ii) So that His Covenant with Levi my stand. I find that so heart stirring. Why? Still Lord? Still? Haven’t we done enough to show You that we’re the most undeserving drivel? Aren’t You giving up? We messed with the Covenant; we broke it and You want it to stand?
And already you need to see a hint of the Gospel in there. You need to see that God never gives up. The purpose He wants to achieve is going to make His Covenant stand. No man can take that away; no woman can take that away. He will not just make me stand – He’ll make His Covenant stand. He’s the God of Malachi. So what do we see? A command to the priests: have ears to hear my Word, have hearts to honour My Name, the curse on the priests, the pronouncement of it and the particulars: suffering, shame and separation. The purpose of it: So that they may know it’s the Lord who did it and He’s going to make His Covenant with Levi stand. And now He speaks about that Covenant.
- A Covenant of Peace
“My Covenant with Levi was one of life and peace and I gave them to him.” And I said something about that to you in the introduction. “It was a covenant of fear and he feared Me; he stood in awe of My Name. That’s why it was a covenant of peace. There can be no peace until there is peace between God and Humanity. As long as there’s no peace between God and Humanity, there cannot be peace between man and man. It’s not possible. There can be a temporary ceasefire and we praise God for the many that He has granted us, but it’s all you can have. Sooner or later, unless you get the peace and the life, the war will come to your children and bring death – that suffering that we spoke about earlier on. Look how Levi was: “true instruction was in his mouth and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness.” In other words, he didn’t fight with God. He walked in uprightness; in justice in righteousness, giving to God and to his fellow human beings that which is due to them – that’s righteousness. And he did it in such a way that he turned many from iniquity. You see if a righteous priest does that, he turns others from iniquity. But unrighteous ones, they just bring curses. He says: “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” That’s not only for pastors. We’ll see later on: We are a holy nation; we are a holy priesthood. You’re all priests, not just the Levites. And God wants to use you to proclaim His Covenant of peace and life. He wants you to have right words in your mouth and instruction and you should guard knowledge. I’m talking about guarding knowledge and I am not sure if this is more than an aside. Let me tell you something: You want knowledge? Google won’t work. Buy books. Read them with a pen in your hand – preferably a fountain pen that you cherish and an open Bible beside it. You need knowledge. You should guard it. That’s His Covenant of Peace, but they didn’t keep it and so we get fourthly and lastly:
- A Condemnation of the Priests
There are three causes of it and one consequence. I want to look at the three causes of it first and it’s – we’ve already seen it – but He puts it in different language now. I call it deviation, deception and dissolution and I’ll explain what they are. Dissolution of course is unrestrained – if you do something that’s not restrained by convention or morality. The Law; nobody constrains you – that’s dissolution. He calls it corruption – Levi [Malachi] does. I think we need to stop talking about all the corruption around and start talking about all the dissolution around and then we must find the solution. Look at the condemnation of the priests – three causes:
a. Their Deviation from God’s Way
“You have turned aside from the Way.” They deviated from the Way and the Way is Christ. They deviated. Look at their deception.
b. Their Deception through Instruction
“You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.” They deceived them into believing wrong things. One of the things that make me nervous is that Christian counsellors these days come at two a dime on the YouTube channels and so on. Have you seen that some of you? Everybody is a counselor now. I’ve come to that point in my life where I feel about counselling the same way I feel about music and books. I listen to the music of dead people only. I listen to Mozart and Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff; Mendelssohn. And I read the books of dead people only. Want me to read your book? You’re going to have to wait a time if you’re healthy. And I feel this way about things. I think counsellors also need to be a little bit more grey headed. That’s the point I want to make with the music and the books. I think they ought to have stood the test of time a little bit, don’t you think? The Lord gave me the honour this morning of meeting – briefly – a dear brother who’s been coming to our congregation. I took one look at him and I knew that he was a counselor. We need some Gamaliels around us so that we don’t have this deception that makes people to stumble by their instruction. We can make people stumble by our instruction. There are many ways to do it. The priests did it. I walked in on a family two weeks ago – never met the man who I buried, but I did see the sorrow of his children and his grandchildren. And when I saw his grandchildren cry for him, I knew that he must have been some man. This is how you don’t make them stumble by your instruction. It’s a bit overwhelming when you sit there and they look at you with their hearts ripped out and they’re hoping you can make it a little bit better because you are the pastor after all, aren’t you? And I have a line that I always say to people like that. I say: ‘I want you to know that I can’t say anything smart to take your pain away. And if you see me trying to say something smart to take your pain away, that ought to be to you a clear indication that I don’t understand your pain. So I’m not going to be talking too much. You do the talking and I’ll try to respond as best I can.’ Because you don’t want to make people stumble by your instruction, whether they’re burying their dead or blessing their new-borns or looking to you to help them pull their children as a brand from the fire of drug addiction. You don’t want to make them stumble by your instruction. You also don’t want to make them stumble by your instruction when they are narcissists, materialists and hedonists who want to be puffed, pleased and paid. You don’t want [them to] stumble with your instruction by telling them: ‘It’s okay for you to stay that way. You’re right – people don’t admire you enough.’ I need to have the courage to say: ‘You need to come down from the throne. It belongs to God – not to you! You need to come down here and be with me – a worm and crawl before Him and honour His Name.’ That’s what the priests are there for. But they made many to stumble by their instruction. Later on verse 9 says: “You show partiality in your instruction.” That means to the guy with a lot of money you say one thing; to the guy with a little money you say something else. When the guy with a little money tells you ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t be to church for a few weeks. You know, I I’ve been rather busy.’ You say ‘Yah, but you know the Lord needs to have priority.’ But the rich guy tells you who hasn’t been [at church] you say: ‘Yah, I know you’re a busy man.’ That’s showing partiality in your instruction. And that’s what the priests did. And it’s really sad, because it has social consequences – it has spiritual consequences. So there’s their condemnation for those three reasons deviation from the Word of God, deception of people and disillusion.
c. Their Disillusion with the Covenant
“You have corrupted the Covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” They’ve been totally corrupt. In other words, they took something holy and set aside for a specific purpose and abused it to their own ends – in total defiance of convention, of the law – unrestrained by morality. It’s a serious thing. Those are the three causes. Here’s the consequence.
d. They will be Despised “And so I make you despised and abased before all the people,” – I’m going to call you out in front of all of them and put you on public display of shame with dung all over you, having disowned you – “inasmuch as you do not keep My Ways, but you show partiality in your instruction.”
So what have we learned from Malachi in the Lord’s cursing of an unholy priesthood? The purpose of the Covenant is that we might have life and peace. What the priests did brought us violence and death. He gave a command to the priests that they have ears to hear the Word of God, that they have hearts to honour the Name of God. And because they didn’t, He had already cursed them, and the curse upon the priests there’s the pronouncement: “I’ve already cursed you.” And the particulars: “suffering, shame and separation.” The two fold purpose: So they know it’s God who did it and so that His Covenant with Levi may stand. He describes that Covenant of peace to us in the beautiful example of Levi and because they didn’t hold to it, He ends with a condemnation of the priests – for their deviation from the Word of God, their deception of the people and their disillusion with the Covenant. And therefore they will be despised.
We want that peace. We want that life. We praise God the Word does not end there. It actually continues in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the first verse in chapter five: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” So Paul tells us what they should have known in their day already. We have peace with Him because He justifies us. These priests stood guilty of all the things that God indicted them for. All they could do was see their children die while they walk away stinking from the presence of a holy God, and they could do nothing about it. God had to justify – it was too late for them to go back and do it. And we praise Him that in the cross He did that because what those priests didn’t know is every time they led the people of Israel in worship, He was showing them Christ and they missed Him, which is a great tragedy. But we mustn’t be too hard on the priests, and for a selfish reason. I am one [a priest] – not in the Roman Catholic sense or the Old Covenant sense. I am one in the sense that each one of you is a priest. Do you have ears that hear the Word of God? Do you have hearts that honour the Name of God? Dad’s in your homes, do you? I have so often failed my family. If we don’t [heed], they’ll be suffering shame and separation so that you know that God spoke and He’s going to make His Covenant with Levi stand – a covenant of life and of peace! And if we don’t heed – if we don’t have the ears and the hearts that God wants us to have, we too will be condemned because of our deviations, our deceptions and our disillusion, and we will be despised.
But glory be to God, we finish with the council of 1 Peter 2:1-10. Beautifully he picks up on this: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood,” to do what? To do what these priests did – “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”