Vain Priestly Offerings

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand” (v. 10).

- Malachi 1:6–14

Scripture tells us repeatedly that divine election brings with it important responsibilities. Certainly, election itself is by grace alone, based not on anything we do, and we can in no way take credit for it; otherwise, grace would not be grace (Rom. 11:1–6). However, God does not elect people to salvation so that they can sit around and do nothing. All whom He has chosen are called to bear fruit and, indeed, prove their election by their love for the Lord in word and deed. This is why the New Testament is insistent that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Good works of obedience are not the ground of justification, but they are its proof and the fruit of sanctification (James 2:14–26; 2 Peter 1:3–15).

Malachi understood this doctrinal point quite well, which explains why he is so harsh on the post-exilic community in today’s passage. God had chosen Israel to be His people, not Edom or any other nation (Mal. 1:1–5), but the people in Malachi’s day were providing hardly any proof of their election. The prophet charges the community—particularly the priests, who should have known better—with dishonoring Him with polluted offerings (vv. 6–14). When the ancient Jews brought animal sacrifices to the Lord, these animals had to be perfect and free from all diseases and other defects (Deut. 17:1). Yet the people were offering blind, lame, and sick animals to God. They had the gall to bring animals that they would not offer as gifts to the governor, who, important as he was, was not the most holy Creator of all things (Mal. 1:8). But worst of all, the priests, who were supposed to be the guardians of the sanctity of worship, did not stop the people from bringing impure offerings.

We do not know precisely why the priests were doing this. It probably had to do with their personal economic situations. Old covenant priests depended on the sacrifices for food and income, and they usually ate a portion of the meat or grain that the worshipper brought to the temple (for example, see Lev. 2:1–3). Meat from a defective animal tasted just as good as meat from a stronger animal with no defects. By allowing the Jews to sacrifice a greater quantity of the defective animals instead of the stronger breeding specimens, the priests had more food resources at their disposal.

Given the sorry state of the temple, the priests would have been better off shutting its doors and calling worship off (Mal. 1:10). Malachi condemns them for not doing so and for allowing the people to be complacent in their hypocritical, halfhearted worship.

Coram Deo

God wants all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength in all that we do, but particularly in the case of worship. If we are not endeavoring to worship according to His commands and with the right intent, it would be better for us not to worship at all. He does not seek perfect worship from us at the present time, which is impossible given our sinful condition. What He seeks is true, intentional worship that is a testimony to His great glory.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 10:1–3
Hosea 6:6

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