The Priestly Theocracy #10
Zechariah’s vision was clouded by the rapid change in the world’s leadership. The supporting Persians, who lifted the priests into power, were defeated by Alexander the Great. And Alexander the Great’s death raised up two mortal enemies of Judah; namely, Egypt and Syria. In particular, Syria Hellenized her domain and the priests refused to submit to Syria. And as Zechariah had predicted, Judah split into two parties, which did more harm to each other than all the Greeks and the Romans. Hence, before it could get better, it became much worse. The prophet Malachi deplored the chasm, which the priests had created between themselves and between their own people. This condition was also prevalent in Jesus’ day, and the Jews practiced it even when Rome scattered them among the nations. Malachi described how God felt in “The Oracle of the Lord to Israel”:
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How hast thou loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau; I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, till they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the LORD is angry for ever.” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD, beyond the border of Israel!”
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised thy name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the LORD’S table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon 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. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the LORD’S table is polluted, and the food for its may be despised. ‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name is feared among the nations (Malachi 1:2-14).
Malachi was told that God loved Jacob or Israel as a father did, but Jacob did not return his love. Jacob did not honor God with his blemished and damaged sacrifices. God received more respect from the nations than from Israel. God abhors dishonesty, like cheating him out whole and healthy sacrifices. God wanted the first-born of man and animals, the first crop and not the leftovers. God like anyone else needs supplies to help when needs arise. Even when there is a competitor like an earthly king, God wants his share. That is why Jesus insisted, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). The idea that God accepts man as he is, physically wrecked, mentally confused, and morally defunct, is not so. This is contrary to God’s nature! And that is why God sent His Son to institute a program, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Paul was even more direct, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
The lack of love for God complained to Malachi about — Jesus complained to the Church in Ephesus about, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4-5). There are times, in the Bible, when God had to speak harshly with the people He needed in His service. He impaired Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus to stop him from hurting Jesus’ followers, and Paul served the Lord for the rest of his life as a handicapped (Acts 9:1-31; Galatians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I can relate to Paul in a similar way. For the first twenty-one years in my life, I had little time for God and Christ. Then an accident disabled me and I, too, served the Lord as a physically disabled person for sixty-three plus years. Reading Malachi, I wonder how much love for God and others I have passed on in my living, preaching, teaching, and writing? At the age of eighty-six plus, I have come to the conclusion that if my ministry has not changed my listeners, then I have not adequately represented the Gospel’s Message of Christ. If I have served to please my fellow man with a message of “grace” that mellowed God, then I have failed; and I seek God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness. In Malachi, Chapter Two, God holds the priests, and the clergy, and those that teach the Gospel accountable for the failure of the people to qualify for the Kingdom of God:
And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory 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 upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might 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 men 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 have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.
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? 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 daughters of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob, for the man who does this, any to witness or answer, or to bring an offering to the LORD of hosts!
And this again 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 at your hand. You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. “For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.
You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:1-17).
God rejected the authorities of the priests. And God rejects every authority that is selfish and that is evil. Jesus regarded the leaders of his day sitting in Moses’ seat, but they did not do what Moses did:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; so practice and observe what they tell you, but do not do what they do; for they preach, but do not practice; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:1-12).
To please the Roman authorities, the Gentile Apostle Paul told his followers to subject to the authorities; for they, too, were of God. In my opinion, Paul knew, in his heart, that there were authorities that were not of God. The Romans did not reward the Christians and the Jews for being good, but for doing their dirty work. The Romans were the most brutal authorities the world had ever seen. I have lived under two authorities, under Hitler who was a saint compared to the Caesars; and under Stalin, who may have outdone what the Caesars did. Comparing two references in Paul’s writing give us a clearer picture of what good people are facing. God-fearing people may have to stand up and face those who usurp the authority of Moses and say with Peter and John, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have not fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not hear bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:1-7).
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:10-20).
The reason man chooses bad government is because he has lost the sense of right and wrong! And man expects God to turn his lost sense of right and wrong into justice. Malachi, Chapter Two, concluded with the question, “Where is the God of justice?” In Chapter Three, the Lord gives the reasons for the delay. He will send one more messenger who will prepare the way for God to come in person by burning of evil. He will come not to adjust to their ways, but as a judge to hold them accountable for their words and for their deeds. Again, there will be a remnant that will welcome the Lord God in person. They will be identified, not by their confessions, but by services acceptable to God:
Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delights says the LORD of hosts.
You words have been stout against me, says the LORD. Yet you say, ‘How have we spoken against thee?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the good of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? Henceforth we deem the arrogant blessed; evildoers not only prosper but when they put God to the test they escape.’
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another; the LORD heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and thought on his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him (Malachi 3:1-17).
Malachi did not write to please his contemporaries nor does he please us. Malachi’s God does not forget the evil man inflict on each other, who is the image of God, by overlooking their transgressions, or by sweeping them under the carpet of grace. While man is in the flesh, God will not alter the course we have set for ourselves. When evil, like weeds, appeared, and if we did not pull them out or trample on them; then, the result is that we must now walk on thorn until our flesh is destroyed. God gave us a light, which is the Law of Moses, to deal with evil. And God has sent many Elijahs to show us the way:
For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.
Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse (Malachi 4:1-6).
Luke, the writer of the Third Gospel and Acts, has Jesus tell a “Parable of Lazarus and a Rich Man,” who neglected being humane because he did not follow the Law of Moses. Luke linked the parable to the way sin grows into a major problem and man lets it grow out of control, into a sycamine tree that can no longer be moved. How does one make faith move a tree? The disciples had a problem and so do we. Jesus had Abraham answer the Rich Man and explained it to his disciples. If you want something to change and moved, use your muscles.
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead (Luke 16:29-31).
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
The apostles said to the LORD, “Increase our faith!” And the LORD said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and would obey you (Luke 17:1-6).
Faith, what has faith to do with keeping the Law of Moses, or with temptations, or with moving a fig tree? Faith has to do with everything because it determines where we ultimately end up. Biblical faith is active and not passive. It is a vehicle, we all use, to get where we want to go. Those of us that sit on faith, expect others to take us, and far, far too many expect God or the Messiah to show up and take us where they expect us to be. The heavenly beings or our creators will not show up and interfere in our decisions because they have put us in charge over our own faith that will move us in the right direction. God and his messengers have provided us with Laws and with examples, which show us the way where our faith or vehicle should take us. Everyone of us must board the right ship because no one else can travel in our seats. That is why so many empty trains go in the direction of heaven. Faith is like a mustard seed that must be planted, in order for it to grow into a tree that can provide shelter, not just for birds, but faith, in oneself, can move mountains. And faith even can move nations (Matthew 13: 31-32; 17:20). Faith needs nourishment and care; otherwise, faith will wither and die. This lack of attention to faith hurt Israel and it is also hurting Christians. Jesus had this fear of “lack of faith” in man, “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth (Luke 18:8)?”