Malachi 2, Symptoms of an Eroding Faith

Intro: What are the simple signs of melanoma (deadly skin cancer)? There are certain indicators to look for to identify the deadly from the benign. Doctors refer to what they call the ABCDE rule:

  • A is for Asymmetry – One half is different than the other half;
  • B is for Border Irregularity – The edges are notched, uneven, or blurred;
  • C is for Color – The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan, and black are present;
  • D is for Diameter – Diameter is greater than 6 millimeters.
  • E is for evolving – there has been a change over the last weeks or months. There are other indicators, but these are the most common, and all of these should be taken seriously.

In our study of the book of Malachi last week we mentioned that his message pointed to a clear lack of reverence for God among the people of God. In the same voice as all the prophets before him, Malachi calls for the people to repent. Mal 3:7Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the Lord of hosts. This makes an appropriate study as we come to the end of a year – It is an introspection of both practice and principle – what we do and why we do it. 100 years after the physical return there was still a need for a spiritual return. A closer look at Malachi’s words expose before us several symptoms of the deeper spiritual problem that existed in post-exilic Jerusalem.

I. Signs of an Eroded Faith from the words of Malachi: We termed their spiritual condition as an erosion of faith in the living God. Malachi describes the signs and symptoms of their eroded faith. We need to know the signs, lest we also fall to the same deadly malady. How did Israel demonstrate this imperceptible erosion of faith? [My list is not an acronym (not so creative) but then again if you forget you can always look them up yourself in the book of Malachi.]

A. Cynicism: They refused to see God’s love in their lives. Mal 1:2 – I have loved you,” says the Lord. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ God tells Israel (His people) that He loves them. (What better way to call them back to Himself). But they are cynical to the very thought and retort back, “How have you loved us? (We do not see the evidence) They looked for material prosperity and worldly glory as proof of God’s love. They were disappointed in how things had turned. What callous cynicism and irreverence to bring into question God’s love for His own people! Our murmuring and complaining does the same thing.

1. God’s answer is to remind them of Jacob and Esau (twin brothers), sons of Isaac. Mal 1:2-3 – “Yet Jacob I have loved; 3 But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.” God had loved Jacob, but hated Esau. He is not speaking of two people, but two nations. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, as the Israelites were of Jacob. From the womb God chose that “the older shall serve the younger”, and Paul even utilizes these words to confirm God’s righteous choice of Israel, the nation, as His people (Rom. 9). But the argument of Malachi here is simple enough. If the Jews doubted that God loved them, let them compare the fate of these two nations. Both Israel and Edom had sinned; and both had been severely punished; but Israel (Jacob) had been privileged to return to their homeland in the person of the remnant, but Edom (Esau) would continue to suffer judgment until he was destroyed from the earth. If God did not love them, they would not be here. That is His answer for us as well.

B. Insincere Worship: As a result of their unwillingness to recognize God’s undying love for them, they failed to give Him the respect and honor He deserved. (1:6-7) Consequently their worship of Him fell very short. The prophet’s words are primarily directed toward the priests, and He charges them with despising His name. They are imperceptive to the nature of their disrespect; Mal 1:6Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’

1. Malachi proceeds to describe the corrupt nature of what was going on in the Temple. Their offerings were second-rate; defiled animals (defiled, blind, lame, sick, stolen). Even their earthly rulers would reject such offerings as substandard. (1:8) They gave God what no one else wanted, and what they would never miss (runts of the flock).

a. They reasoned that the table of the Lord is contemptible (v. 7) – “these animals serve no real purpose; they are just burned up anyway – a sacrifice is a sacrifice” I will give to God what I am not using anyway – Do his work in my “spare time”; worship Him if I have nothing else to do.

b. In the midst of this sham of a worship exercise they are asking for God’s blessing. I like the NLT of Mal 1:9 – “Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

c. God also recognizes and condemns their attitude toward the exercise of worship. Mal 1:13You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the Lord of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the Lord. This is so hard”. We are tired of offering these sacrifices” “We are bored by this all”

d. The terminology employed in verse 13 is insightful. “you sneer (snuffed) at it” This is a metaphor taken from the experience of those familiar with the care and feeding of livestock. When cattle do not like their fodder (food) they will blow strongly through their nose at it. It is an idiom for contempt. We say, ‘he turned his nose up at it“. Burton Coffman says it indicates the notion of “cheap grace”…”God will forgive me, it’s His job”

            • different attitudes toward worship: “If I do this, God must do this”; instead of “Because God did this, I want to do this.”

 C. A Disregard of the Marriage Covenant: God’s covenant with Israel contained regulations concerning marriage. But their eroded faith was evident in their disregard for these rules. Mal 2:11– 1 Judah has dealt treacherously, And an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, For Judah has profaned The Lord’s holy institution which He loves: He has married the daughter of a foreign god. The people had violated God’s regulations by intermarrying with idol worshippers (the “daughters of a foreign god”). This was prohibited in the law given through Moses (Ex. 34:12-17; Deut. 7:1-5) Both Ezra and Nehemiah were disturbed by this obvious violation (Ezra 9:1, 2; Neh. 10:30; 13:23-28). Nehemiah said, “I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair” (Neh. 13:25).

    • They had “profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves” (2:11). This refers to the holiness of God’s chosen nation. God was not concerned about a pure physical bloodline, but rather the pure and holy character of his people.

1. When the people asked why God refused to accept their sacrifice on the altar, God answers points to their marriages… 2:14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. 15 But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. 16 “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”

a. The Israelites were condemned on two fronts. Not only had they married women they were forbidden to marry, but they had callously divorced their Hebrew wives in order to do it! God calls Himself was a witness against them and charges them with dealing “treacherously” with wife of their youth.

b. We need to think seriously and reverently about God’s attitude toward divorce.

          • He says in 2:16 that He hates it! (He does not say He hates divorced people, there is a difference). It is not what he wants, or what is good, no matter how we spin it.
          • Malachi’s words describe divorce as an act of “treachery“, the word means literally to “pillage” – it involves the idea of sinning against another person by being unfaithful. Vines says “it is an act committed by a person who knows better but who, for selfish motives, acts in bad faith.” (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words)
          • Thus, Malachi describes their divorces as the breaking of a covenant (2:14). Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, witnessed by God and others. Spouses ought to be able to rest their complete trust in the other and find safety and protection. An unscriptural divorce violates that trust and harms the other person.

c. Malachi also says, “You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with good will from your hands” (Mal. 2:12-14). The wives who were abandoned were weeping for the injustice done to them, and their tears “stood as an impenetrable barrier between the worshipers and Jehovah” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 416). Peter affirms this principle as well. Do not think you can treat your mate with contempt and that God will hear your prayers. (1 Pet. 3:7)

D. Unwillingness to give or invest in God’s work: Mal 3:8-98 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. When God’s people lose sight of God’s love and become cynical they often lose their commitment to His work. God spoke to them about this in the indicting question, Will a man rob God?

1. God commanded the Israelites to tithe in the O.T. Law. (Not commanded today). This was God’s way of providing for the support of the priests and needy among them. But it also represented what the people were giving back to God for His blessings. Thus question, “Will a man rob God”? Their unwillingness to bring the tithe was an affront to the graciousness of God. It reflected their irreverence and apathy. Our willingness (or unwillingness) to give is a direct reflection of our gratitude for God’s blessings and out attitude of reverence for Him.

2. God challenges Israel to give to Him what He desires and deserves. Mal 3:10Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. What would happen if we gave our time, money and energy to God’s work in fearless trust and gratitude? How would this church change in the next year?

3. Rather than give more, the people’s faith was so eroded that they were questioning the value of what they were doing already. Mal 3:13-14 – “Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the Lord, “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the Lord of hosts? They wanted some return on their investment before they were going to give anymore. They wanted God to do something. God answers them in the next chapter – He is coming, and those who do not fear Him are not going to like it when He does!

a. But how do you assess your service to God? Are you waiting for God to do something for you before you invest anymore of your time and energy into His work? Do you judge the value of a worship service by what you get out it? Your faith may be eroding away before your eyes.

Conclusion: It would seem that an honest and objective examination might save our lives. Malachi’s words are relevant and powerful among us for the coming year.