Malachi 1 Talk, Turkey!

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As 2005 comes to an end, I felt it would be appropriate to close with the book that wraps up the Old Testament: the great “Italian” prophet, Malachi.

Questions: When is a prophecy a burden? How do we know God loves us? Why is He so demanding? What makes a sacrifice unacceptable? Why does it matter? Who cares? “Read More” to pursue answers in Malachi.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Malachi 1:1-14

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi

Interesting, I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that the word translated “oracle” also means “burden.” This is perhaps particularly apt for Malachi, who has a fairly heavy message:

I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?

This format — I call it an inverse rhetorical question (IRQ), since the speaker is assuming that the listener is making a rhetorical challenge — dominates much of Malachi. To me, this gives the whole book both a curious intimacy yet an almost sarcastic edge. It is like God has grown tired of Israel’s passive-aggressive response and is ready to talk turkey.

In some ways, this reminds me of Job, though with a twist: this time, instead of God answering Job’s explicit queries with more questions, God actually answers the questions they are (implicitly) asking:

[Was] not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid
his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

I must admit, this isn’t a very comforting answer: “you can tell I love you — because you can see how I treat those I hate!” As St. Teresa said, “If that is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few!” Malachi is clearly not from the Dale Carnegie school; his purpose is not “comfort and joy,” but “shock and awe:”

And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.

Still, rather than pass judgement on God’s opening tactics, let’s see how He builds from here:

A son honoureth [his] father , and a servant his master: if then I [be] a father, where [is] mine honour? and if I [be] a master, where [is] my fear* saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?

This brings us to the second IRQ “despising my name” — a strong term, which perhaps explains God’s touchiness! As God is more than happy to explain:

Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] contemptible.

Oops. The Israelites still continued the forms of sacrifice, but had rationalized themselves into giving God “nominal” gifts rather than “choice” gifts. After all, God doesn’t actually need to eat the food, it is just a symbol, so why waste a perfectly good lamb when a disabled one would serve the same purpose:

And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, [is it] not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, [is it] not evil?

The thing is, God understands — perhaps better than they do — what exactly a sacrifice is a symbol of: respect.

offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

The people of that time surely knew the importance of honoring a governor appointed by a distant and powerful monarch; any slight against that personage would be interpreted as disrespect for the King! Do they think God any less sensible of His dignity?

And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.

I suppose one might read this as God being excessively vain about appearances, but I think it goes deeper than that. One of the main things I’ve learned this year is how much of my life (and all humanity) is driven by shame and honor, even in “enlightened” Western culture. Perhaps God’s strong words here actually reflect a foundational understanding of how human beings need to relate to God, if only for their own psychological health.

In fact, God is non-co-dependent enough to prefer an absence of relationship to a dysfunctional one:

Who [is there] even among you that would shut the doors [for nought]? neither do ye kindle [fire] on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.

Further, God seems to imply that He will get the worship He deserves one way or another, even if He has to go beyond Israel:

For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name [shall be] great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense [shall be] offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name [shall be] great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.

In context, this really is a remarkable claim. The Israelites may not have known enough geography to realize the full extent of God’s boast, but they surely knew enough to politics to recognize themselves a defeated, impoverished minority. Is God really claiming His glory is so much greater than their national prestige?

Well, yes.

But cursed [be] the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I [am] a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name [is] dreadful among the heathen.

Strong words. Or perhaps I should say, “strong medicine.” Maybe the point is that the very thing the Israelites need most is to recognize their own smallness vs. God’s greatness. That is, God isn’t tearing them down to shame them, but to help them find true happiness in becoming genuine servants — versus trying to be their own masters.

Hmm.

Prayer

God, I confess that I am no better than the Israelites. Too often I have fed you with the dregs of my time, attention, and energy — rather than the choice firstfruits of my labor. Truly your love is a great and terrible thing, which I discount at my peril. Father, have mercy on me. Teach me to revere you as you deserve, and as I need. May I share in the glory you long to receive from the nations, and experience the fulness of Your holy Kingdom. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

The punctuation in today’s title is inspired by an old joke about performance reviews: the difference between your boss saying

* “It’s time to talk turkey!” (reflecting your bright future)
vs.
* “It’s time to talk, turkey!” (reflecting your pathetic past)
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