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The Sin Of The Priests
In a fuller and more pointed manner are the sins of the priesthood brought home to their consciences in this second chapter. Anointed for temple service, set apart to holiness, and devoted to the most sacred of all offices, “ordained for men, in things pertaining to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices,” they had proved recreant to their sacred trust, and thought only of their own profit. “Supposing that gain is godliness,” they lost no opportunity of ministering to their own desires, while neglecting their holy calling.
There is no such official sacerdotal order recognized by God in the present dispensation, but all believers are now anointed priests, both holy and royal, having immediate access to the holiest in virtue of the blood of Jesus. As worshipers they go in to God to offer up spiritual sacrifices. As royal priests separated to Himself, they come out to show His praises to a needy world, and as holy priests they are appointed to intercede on behalf of those who pray not for themselves. What cause, then, for shame and humiliation when our feet stumble and our paths are crooked! All that is here said to the earthly priesthood may well be pondered by the heavenly company, as we challenge our consciences as to whether we too have not failed grievously, as they did.
“O ye priests, this commandment is for you.” Thus clearly and distinctly the hierarchy is addressed in verse 1. If they refused to hear and heed the word so solemnly given, the Lord would send a grievous curse upon them, cursing their blessings, as He had already begun to do. Their seed should be rejected, and thus the family of Levi set aside from their appointed place of privilege, as has been the case ever since the rending of the veil, though only manifestly since Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans under Titus. Their solemn feasts too should be polluted, and they themselves rendered unclean, ceremonially, to set forth the uncleanness of their hearts and hands (vers. 2, 3).
Of old His covenant of life and peace had been with Levi, when he was separated from his brethren to find his all in God. For the fear wherewith he feared Jehovah, when Israel made the calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32:25-29), an everlasting covenant had been confirmed to him; but this should not hinder the outpouring of divine wrath during the season of Israel’s dispersion because of their sins. No longer were they afraid before His name, as they had been in those days of the wilderness. Then the law of truth was in their mouths and iniquity was not found in their lips, when in singleness of heart they walked with God in peace and equity, and were His honored instruments in executing judgment upon evil (vers. 4-6). It is a lovely description of true devotion to the Lord. Only as the priest thus keeps his heart and guards his ways will God be glorified in his life. To talk of separation and holding the truth while neglecting what is here set forth is mere sham and hypocrisy.
The priest’s lips should keep knowledge and men should seek the law at his mouth, thus approving himself as the messenger of the Lord of hosts (ver. 7). Therefore the need of earnest, prayerful study of the whole word of God, with a view to bringing all the life into practical subjection thereto. The servant of God in the New Testament is exhorted to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is not a question of following some favorite teacher or cleaving to a particular line of doctrines, but giving the Holy Scriptures, in their entirety, that honored place which God intended they should hold as the complete guide for His people and the suited food for their souls.
Nor is it merely Bible study that is enjoined, but we are called to be “doers of the Word,” allowing no portion of it to be a dead letter to us, but giving it all its due weight and authority over our hearts and consciences, seeking to walk in all that is written therein.
This, the priests addressed by Malachi utterly ignored. Having departed from the path of obedience themselves, they caused the simple to stumble at the law, and to go astray from the word of the Lord. Therefore the covenant of Levi had become corrupted, as they had shown themselves to be anything but the moral seed of Phinehas, whose javelin had stayed the plague, and whose faithfulness would be remembered to all generations. Contemning the law, these recreant priests had been made contemptible themselves, and they should be despised by the people they had misled. Their ways testified against them, so the Lord refused their service (vers. 8, 9).
The tenth verse is the beginning of the second division of the book, which goes on to the end of the prophecy. It is now the people of Judah as a whole who are addressed in the last message they were ever to get directly from God until the coming of the Just One, the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, preceded as to public ministry by John, the messenger whose coming is predicted in the first verse of chapter 3.
They had all sprung from one common father, Abraham, and were created by one God, Jehovah of hosts. Why then should brethren deal treacherously with each other by profaning the covenant of their fathers? (ver. 10). It is not the so-called “Fatherhood of God” that is here declared. There is not the slightest evidence that “one father” refers to the Deity. It was the Lord Jesus who made known the Father. Only in a national sense could Israel say, “Doubtless Thou art our Father.” Individually they all had one father, however, in whom they gloried, even Abraham, whose seed they all were. Thus they were a nation of brethren. But, alas, how un-brotherly had they acted!
What can be more shocking than to be called by a name so suggestive of love and tenderness (even as Abraham himself said to Lot, “We be brethren”), and yet to treat one another with callous indifference and cold-heartedness, amounting at times even to enmity and hatred. “Who are these brethren?” one is reported to have asked, concerning certain companies of factious saints. “They are people,” was the reply, “who are very particular about breaking bread, and very careless about breaking hearts!” What a crying shame that such a testimony concerning any Christians should ever be more than an evil calumny invented by the father of lies! “Let brotherly love continue” is God’s admonition to us all. And let us bear in mind that, since our Head has gone back to the glory, we manifest our love to Him by love to His members here upon the earth.
The feeble remnant, returned to the place of the Name, separated from the nations, surely needed the strength to be derived from heart-unity and each other’s love and brotherly encouragement. Outside, the wolves raged and snarled. Inside, the sheep were biting and devouring one another! It is a pitiable picture. Alas, it has been often duplicated by Christ’s sheep since. It was not the outside opposition that wounded the heart of Nehemiah: but when he found the separated people exacting usury of one another, and treating their brethren with cruelty and rigor, his great soul was moved to its depths. That the evil had never been really departed from, only temporarily checked, Malachi makes evident.
Dealing treacherously every man against his brother, it was only to be expected that they would prove traitors to their God. And this the prophet charges directly upon all Judah and Israel. They had profaned the holiness of Jehovah, that holiness “which He loved” (how striking the expression!), and had been united in marriage to the daughters of strange gods (ver. 11). These mixed marriages are also mentioned in Nehemiah and Ezra, thus helping us to decide as to the true time of Malachi’s ministry. Neither true to each other nor to the Lord, they defiled themselves by forming unholy alliances with the idolatrous people around them. When brotherly love is lacking, true godly separation will soon be only a name, and none need be surprised if the rising generation turn to the world for their companions when they have seen bickerings and variance among those professedly separated to the one only Name.
But God’s face is against all those who so act, and He will cut them off. He could not accept offerings from a people so indifferent to His holy character, whatever the outward expression of grief and penitence (vers. 12, 13).
The manner in which they inquired, “Wherefore?” in response to words of such pathos and solemnity, exhibits the actual state of their souls. He is not slow to reply. He was the witness to all their evil-doing. Forbidden to enter into marriages with the heathen, He had made of twain one flesh among His own people. But they had violated their nuptial pledges by adding to their households outlandish women who were leading them away from Himself. It was that He might seek a godly seed that He had thus decreed concerning their family relationships. But laxity as to divorce, and mixed marriages, were fast corrupting the seed of God (vers. 14, 15).
The practice of setting aside their wives (so common, alas, in our own degenerate times) to gratify a passing whim was detestable in His eyes. He hates putting away. Hidden violence would all be searched out, and could not remain forever covered. All must come to light in due time. “Therefore take heed to your spirit,” was His word, “that ye deal not treacherously” (ver. 16).
We need only to turn to the nineteenth chapter of Matthew to see how little effect this remonstrance had upon them. Divorces were granted on most trifling and absurd pretences, and meantime all their lawlessness was covered with a cloak of extreme punctiliousness in outward religious observances. How easy it is to make much of externals while habitually careless as to the true piety and sincere obedience to the weightier matters of the word of God!
The Lord was wearied with their empty religiousness-mere words from the lips, and not the genuine utterance of the heart acceptable in His sight. But again they answer Him with a caviling question, saying, “Wherein have we wearied Thee?” He replies, “When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (ver. 17). It was thus they were setting aside His revealed Word and congratulating themselves on being Abraham’s seed, and therefore in the line of promise. The merits of the fathers were made to cover all possible delinquencies in their own lives. It could not be, thought they, that God would visit in judgment those in whose veins flowed the blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus they dwelt negligently in a fool’s paradise, having already forgotten the lesson of the Babylonish captivity. Nor has it been otherwise with the Church. Ruin and disaster early came in, because of departure from the living God. For centuries spiritual Babylon held sway over the consciences of His children, and kept them in bondage and ignorance.
At last, through the recovery of the word of God, came deliverance and blessing, followed, even in the lifetime of the Reformers, by a lifeless orthodoxy, coupled with relaxation of morals and indifference to that Word so graciously entrusted to them.
Since then, there have been various revival periods when the special work of the Spirit has been to emphasize practical godliness and devotion to Christ. Each successive movement has begun with more or less loyalty to God and to His word. But decay and disintegration have soon followed. At last the truth of the mystery of Christ and the Church was brought to light, and the name of Jesus became the rallying-standard for many of His people, wearied of the failing systems of men. But again have pride and self-will wrought sad havoc; and it remains now to be seen how far there will be a judging of what has thus marred the lovely testimony raised up to the excellency of the peerless name of the Lord.
The hour is late. The Judge is at the door. The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Lowliness and self-judgment become us all. May we have grace given to discern the signs of the times, and to bow our hearts to His Word.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Malachi 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany