Do You Honor Your Commitments?

 

Week of June 10, 2012

 

Bible Verses:Malachi 2:1-16.

 

Lesson Focus:God values commitment in relationships and judges those who do not honor their commitments.

 

Your Commitment to God-Given Responsibilities:Malachi 2:1-9.

 

[1]"And now, O priests, this command is for you. [2]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. [3]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. [4]So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. [5]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. [6]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. [7]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. [8]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, [9]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."[ESV]

 

[1-4] The Results of Disobedience. Verse 1 begins with and now, an expression that often in the Old Testament begins a speech or marks a climax or conclusion. Here it introduces a sentence announcing the paragraph topic: a decree of warning or admonition to the priests. There are serious consequences for anyone foolish enough to ignore the Lordís words. A decisive change of attitude is called for in the expression take it to heart. The word heart signifies in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a personís life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of oneís life. In light of the common usage of heart in English of emotions, it is important to differentiate the Hebrew meaning from the English and so to guard against the false impression that biblical man is determined more by feeling than by reason. The expression take it to heart means to determine a course of action in response to oneís knowledge or awareness of something. The particular course of action called for in verse 2 is for the priests to respond to the Lordís greatness by repenting and giving Him the honor He deserved. If questioned, these priests would have testified to knowing and believing the Lordís greatness. But their actions betrayed the superficial nature of their supposed faith. Curse is apparently an allusion to the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68, which soberly warned Israel that the consequence of disobedience would be Godís blocking of every normal artery of blessing and His opening of the floodgates of disaster. The initial warning is followed by an elaboration in three climatic stages, continuing through the end of verse 3. First is the immediate consequence that the Lord would turn their blessings into curses, that is, every aspect of their lives would become plagued by trouble. The second stage of the elaboration is that the curse would also affect the priestsí offspring [3]. This aspect of the warning is given considerable emphasis. Verse 3 begins with Behold, the first of five behold clauses in this book. They all occur, as here, at the end of a division and give prominence to a declaration of the Lord about the certainty of future events. The third stage is Godís rebuke in 2:3 concerning the spreading of dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings. The dung from the sacrificed animals had to be taken outside the camp because it was unclean and otherwise would defile the Lordís dwelling place with His people. Spreading the dung on the priestsí faces and carrying them away as so much waste themselves was a figurative way of saying they would be removed from office in utter disgrace. The use of such vivid imagery expresses both the degree of revulsion the Lord felt for the priestsí behavior and also His attitude toward their hypocritical religious festivals. As they had treated the Lord with contempt [1:6] and defiled His altar with their corrupt and useless sacrifices [1:7], so the Lord would treat them with contempt and defile them, rendering them useless. Since they considered it such a burden to serve the Lord [1:13], He would free them from their burden by removing them and their descendants from His service. Reference to my covenant with Levi [4], repeated in 2:8, introduces the discussion of the covenant in 2:5-9. The purpose of the command and of the threatened curse was the preservation of the covenant with Levi (which the behavior of these priests had placed in jeopardy) and their restoration, if possible, to faithfulness to that covenant.

 

[5-7]Covenant with the Priests.The covenant with Levi referred to in 2:4 is elaborated in 2:5-7 by describing what the Lord demanded from the Levitical priesthood and at first had received. Life and peace was the Lordís covenant promise, and fear was Leviís obligation; both, at first, were fulfilled. Godís covenant of peace with the tribe of Levi or with Israel would involve the assurance of an enduring relationship with Himself and a pledge to secure and protect their welfare by His divine grace, wisdom, and power. In response the Lord had expected and received fear (reverence). Those who have Godís law in their hearts and thus have an appropriate and healthy fear of the true God, as did the early Levitical priests, have no need to fear anything else. As those who know the Lord, we must realize that we live every moment of every day in the immediate presence of a God whose limitless grace is all that protects us from being destroyed by the boundless conflagration of His righteous wrath. Only a fool could respond with anything but fear and love, which together should motivate diligent faithfulness and obedience. The fear of the Lord motivates not only moral obedience in general but also the fulfillment of divinely assigned roles within the community of faith. 2:6-7 describe the teaching role of priests within ancient Israel. Besides performing ritual sacrifice and otherwise officiating at the sanctuary, they were responsible for instructing the people in the deeds and words of God. It was especially as teachers of the law that the priests represented God to the people. True instruction is literally Ďinstruction of truthí where truth would be understood to refer to Godís special revelation through appointed spokesmen like Moses. The priestsí knowledge of Godís Word enabled them to equip Godís people proactively with the truth and so to train them in righteousness. It also equipped the priests to act as judges in settling disputes as Moses had done and so to respond to difficult situations with counsel, rebuke, and correction. Instruction that is true must be true in both content and in application. A faithful teacherís instruction must be consistent, always corresponding to reality, never adjusted according to the situation to favor the interests of teacher or student. The word truth is opposed here to wrong, which denotes injustice, treachery, or some other form of wickedness involving falsehood or deceit. Such things were not to be found on their lips. Those entrusted with teaching and counseling Godís people must be careful and faithful guides to truth and righteousness. To do otherwise is to be a false teacher who imparts lies about God and encourages wickedness. Such wickedness God hates. Being careful and faithful guides to truth and righteousness, however, calls for more than talk. It calls for walking with the Lord in peace and uprightness, that is, maintaining harmony with Him by obedience. Malachiconcludes verse 6 by reminding that Godís teachers must be lighthouses, continually and faithfully proclaiming and practicing the truth, and by that means turning many from iniquity. A messenger was expected to guard knowledge [7] that had been entrusted to him, making sure that it was faithfully delivered in its unchanged entirety at the proper place and time. Such continues to be the responsibility of those called to be teachers of Godís Word. If we permit its sense to be contaminated or its power to be restricted by theintellectual currents of the day or by our own convenience or sinful carelessness, then we have betrayed our trust and violated our calling and deserve the same curse threatened upon these priests, to be removed from service as false teachers.

 

[8-9]Corruption and Contempt of the Priests. Here the prophet turns back to his audience, the priests, with a threefold indictment. First, rather than walking with the Lord in peace and uprightness, they had turned aside from the way. Their failure in the ministry began with failure in their own lives. Second, instead of turning many from sin, their instruction had caused many to stumble. Stumbling is how the Bible often describes the failure of sin and its disastrous effects. It is a trouble typical of those who follow the way of the wicked but avoided by those who love the law of the Lord and thus have great peace. The wicked may cause others to stumble by placing in their way an obstacle they cannot see or avoid, by leading them onto a path full of such obstacles, or by failing to warn them of such dangers. Those trusted with the task of instruction are thus partly responsible for the failure of those in their charge if they give false instruction by word or example. The third and most prominent charge was that instead of standing in awe of the Lordís name the priests had corrupted the covenant of Levi. The verb refers to the state of something being so damaged as to render it useless or out of commission. The divine consequences of the three charges had already commenced. The verb translated despised is the same one that describes the priestsí treatment of the Lord in 1:6. The Lord who specializes in bringing down the proud and exalting the humble had begun showing up their proud professionalism for the emptiness it was. The cause for their humiliation is expressed here more generally as their failure to be the Lordís loyal servants. Loyal service is frequently the sense of keep my ways, since it involves a servantís carefully following his masterís instructions. To show partiality in your instruction indicates that the priests were not applying the law equitably to all which was causing many to stumble. Whenever teachers of Godís Word sacrifice the message of that Word because it is inconvenient, offensive, or politically incorrect for some or all of their hearers in the contemporary context, they have betrayed both their divine Master and those entrusted to their care, whom they are leading to disaster. They also show that they really despise and profane the Lordís name and His worship and so invite upon themselves the Lordís curse as false teachers.

 

Your Commitment to Others and to God:Malachi 2:10-12.

 

[10]Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? [11]Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. [12]May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts![ESV]

 

[10-12]The audience of the second address broadened beyond the religious leadership to the entire nation of Judah. The prophetís concern was the peopleís indifference to the Lordís will. The address begins with three questions. The first two describe the existing situation, whereas the third describes an ongoing activity considered illogical and reprehensible in that existing situation. The one another refers to participants in the covenant of our fathers and thus the people of Israel. The fatherhood of God in the Old Testament is an expression of the unique and exclusive relationship the Lord established with Israel by His sovereign grace in choosing them through Abraham, redeeming them from Egypt, and forming His covenant with them at Sinai. The theme of the Lord as Israelís Father runs throughout Malachiís prophecy. Realizing that God brought them into existence as a united whole in a covenant relationship to Himself should have produced faithfulness not only to Him, but also to one another. Their unity should have motivated mutual understanding, caring, and support. The passage is unified by the use of faithless which occurs in 2:10,11,14,15 and 16. The term faithless describes either violation of a covenant or an act of betrayal or treachery in a relationship that calls for loyalty, kindness, and service. The term occurs most often in reference to Israelís covenant with the Lord, usually in contrast to His faithfulness. According to Malachi, not only were the men of Judah guilty of committing acts of treachery such as betrayal of the marriage covenant [14], but their behavior involved a violation and thus a betrayal of their covenant with God. This covenant is identified here as the covenant of our fathers. To profane meant to make something unholy, that is, to rob it of its significance or worth. Thus to profane a covenant would be to disregard it or to treat it with contempt by violating it. Since this was a covenant made not only before God but with God, profaning it involved the most serious repudiation of faith. The term abomination whose root meant to hate or abhor, referred to activity that would cause the most serious defilement requiring destruction or death. Locating the abomination in Jerusalem means that the violation was committed even in the spiritual center of the nation, thereby profaning the sanctuary of the Lord. Probably daughter of a foreign god refers collectively to women outside the community of faith, foreign pagans who worshiped a god other than the Lord. Marriage outside the covenant community was forbidden by Moses, not for reasons of racial or ethnic exclusivism but because of introducing idolatry into the covenant community. The corruption of the human heart is already a strong enough foe to righteousness without inviting enticement to sin into oneís home through marriage to one who is still in bondage to the spiritual powers of wickedness. Israelís history offers abundant examples of the spiritual dangers of entering relationships with unbelievers. The point of verse 12 seems to be that the violation of Judah or of the man was being committed while at the same time continuing to worship the Lord as if nothing had changed. This is especially why the temple was being defiled. The term cut off describes radical removal or eradication. As a penalty it seems to have been a divine sentence of condemnation that would eventually result in the cessation of oneís name from the family of Israel and implied exclusion from peace in the afterlife.

 

Your Commitment to Family:Malachi 2:13-16.

 

[13]And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. [14]But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. [15]Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. [16]"For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless."[ESV]

 

[13-16] Charge of Unfaithfulness to Wives. This passage picks up from 1:6-14 the theme of useless offerings. Whereas Judah had expected the Lord to receive and accept their offerings, the offerings were actually detestable to Him because Judahís behavior was detestable. Godís people had not yet learned the lesson that religious activity in itself cannot please God. The answer to the peopleís question and complaint is that the men have betrayed their wives by violating their marriage covenant. The phrase the wife of your youth in itself heightens the heinousness of the treachery since it implies a long history of the wivesí faithfulness to their husbands. Judahís behavior was an insult and outrage against the God before whom they had formed their covenants. The Lord being witness meant that He would act as judge to ensure that if the covenant was violated the guilty party would be punished. Make them one refers back to Genesis 2:24 and the original divine intention for marriage where the husband and wife are to become one. And the Spirit was active in giving life to the marriage union by witnessing to the union and filling them with the divine presence. The nature or purpose of that oneness was that it would produce Godly offspring. The first divine command given to the first human couple was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it [Gen. 1:28]. God intended that a manís purpose in departing from his father and mother and in joining himself to a wife by covenant, thus becoming one with her in flesh, should be fruitfulness. By that means were Godís people to spread His rule throughout the whole earth, producing and discipling children who would manifest the divine glory in their obedient lives and continue the process until the earth was full of His glory [Gen. 22:17]. Although sin interfered with the process, the purpose has not been superseded. Certainly marrying the daughter of a foreign god was not the way to seek Godly offspring. The beginning and end of the command section is marked by commands not to be faithless, each of which is preceded by instructions to guard yourselves in your spirit. The verb translated guard yourselves means to be on oneís guard against some danger or to pay careful attention regarding certain instructions. The issue in verse 16 is divorce. The word translated violence is used of cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality. It sometimes involves false accusation and usually describes the strong doing wrong or injury to the weak. The one who divorces his wife out of hate or greedy desire, then, according to the prophet, joins a devilish fraternity. The very things he is responsible as her husband to pursue on her behalf Ė blessings, good, salvation, praise, right, peace, and justice Ė he is wickedly and unscrupulously robbing from her. Such a treacherous man will wear his shameful character, as a garment, for all to see.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† In 2:1-9 compare and contrast how God commands the priests to act and how they are indeed acting. What are the consequences of the disobedience of the priests? How do these verses apply to the church today?

 

2.†††††††† Why was the teaching role of the priests so important for Godís covenant people? How is that still true for todayís church?

 

3.†††††††† According to Malachi, the focus of Godís anger towards the priests was their hypocritical worship and service. They continued to perform the external duties of the covenant but their hearts were not committed to God. How can you make sure that your worship and service of your covenant God comes from a sincere heart?

 

References:

Malachi, E. Ray Clendenen, NAC, B & H Publishers.

Malachi, Peter A. Verhoef, NICOT, Eerdmans.

Malachi, Douglas Stuart, Baker.