“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor 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. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My 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. True 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. 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. But 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, and 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.”
(Malachi 2:1-9 ESV)
Imagine that somebody is saying false things about you, leading others to form an opinion of you that isn’t correct.
Now imagine that the person spreading these lies is a close friend, or a family member - the very person who you would expect to know you and describe you accurately is doing the exact opposite. How would that feel? This leads us right into the situation that Malachi is speaking into.
God has declared His love for his people who are questioning whether he really does love them. Their lack of understanding has led to dead religion. They are bringing poor quality sacrifices and complaining about having to do so. Why does this matter? Because their ‘religion’ is not declaring God’s glory to the surrounding nations. Malachi now draws attention to two specific areas where this is happening: priests and marriages.
The priests are not honouring God. How are they not honouring him?
God promised the tribe of Levi (the priests) life and peace. Their role contained contained a number of things (eg sacrifices) that aren't mentioned here - but here God points out two specific things:
- They were to fear God
- They were to teach people about God
As a result, they would turning many from sin (v6), leading the people towards the life and peace God had promised
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. But 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
(Malachi 2:7-8 ESV)
God takes this seriously, using strong language about smearing them with dung and burning outside the camp. What we teach about God matters because it is a matter of life and death. There is a particular warning here for people who teach the Bible but all of us need to listen because we all teach others about God through what we say and do.
Teaching about God can either lead to life and peace or to being smeared in animal dung and burned outside the camp - the language couldn’t be any more intense. We are not left in any doubt about the importance of this so we need to carefully consider what our lives and our words teach others about God. This is a weighty thought but there is good news, the Bible doesn’t end there!
These priests were failing in their role and leading people away from God. We all find ourselves failing and misrepresenting God through our words and actions. But we have a great high priest - Jesus
Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever
(Hebrews 7:6-28 ESV)
Unlike the priests who were causing people to stumble - Jesus perfectly represents the Father and leads us into the life and peace that he promised.