“‘But you are profaning it when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” And you scorn it,’ says the Lord of Armies. ‘You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?’ asks the Lord.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There is a genre of comedy I would call “office comedy.” Some of the more popular entries are the movie Office Space from several years ago and the more recent television show, The Office. Entries in this genre all carry the same basic understanding of work: It’s something you have to do because there are bills to be paid and we all like to eat. In this vein, work is a convenience to be sure. But other than the convenience of enabling us to, you know, live, it’s an enormous, soul-sucking inconvenience in our lives that gets in the way of all the things we’d rather be doing. In Malachi’s day–and in ours as well–people were taking the same approach in their thinking about their relationship with God. He wasn’t happy about it.
If God’s first indictment of the people in Malachi was aimed at their cynicism over His character, this second indictment zeroes in on one of the chief results of this cynicism. If God’s love couldn’t be trusted, if His character couldn’t really be relied on to provide a stable platform for living the life the people desired to have, there wasn’t much use in putting any real effort into pursuing a relationship with Him. But, He was still God and He had made clear in their recent past just how much He wasn’t willing to broker their worshiping anyone else, so they couldn’t just give up on Him. And go ahead and banish any thought of their turning to a godless secularism. That’s a modern invention.
The result of this was that they began treating the various instruments God had provided them to connect with Him in a relationship as if they were merely the elements of a religion. These were things they had to do because they were right, but that didn’t make them happy about it, much less excited to pursue them. They had to offer sacrifices in order to keep God happy, but the problem with a sacrifice is that it costs something. Well, do the math here. When you have to do something costly, you begin to resent having to do it. You begin to resent it and look for ways to reduce the cost to the smallest it could possibly be.
In Israel, the people had figured out how to do this. Their system was rooted in sacrificing animals to gain God’s pleasure (or, at least, that’s how they understood it). They had to give up animals from their own flocks for God. They had to burn away their income, their ability to feed their families because God demanded it. That was just how things worked. So, they figured out ways to make the cost less–with the full cooperation and even endorsement of the priests. They would simply bring those animals that were worthless to them for some reason be that deformity, disease, or something else.
In doing all of this, they were treating worship the way the modern office comedy thinks about work. It was a convenience because doing it kept God from being all up in their business, but it was sure inconvenient on every other front. So they scorned the altar and it’s product. They treated it like it was something utterly common; like they could take it or leave it and it really wouldn’t matter, but for the sake of convenience they would take it as little as they possibly could.
And God didn’t like it. As a matter of fact, He didn’t like it so much He told them to just go ahead and board up the temple and quit using it entirely rather than continuing to misuse it as they were. “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle a useless fire on my altar!”
The mistake the people were making is the same mistake their pre-exile ancestors had made, but from a different direction. They weren’t falling into the same kind of idol worship their ancestors had done, but they were treating God as if He were just like all the other gods. They were worshiping just like all the other peoples were worshiping.
The problem, of course, is that God isn’t like anybody else. He is Himself and there are no close approximations. Well, just like you don’t like being treated as if you were someone else, God doesn’t either. Worshiping God as if He were some other god is really to worship this other god in God’s name. Worshiping the wrong thing by the right name is still worshiping the wrong thing. Such worship doesn’t accomplish anything.
Listen, then, because here’s the challenge for us: We do this same kind of thing today. Now, no, we don’t bring ugly animals to slaughter on an altar. That’s not what I mean. But we do treat worship like it is a convenience, like it is something we can take or leave depending on how the moment suits us. We treat God like He’s someone else who doesn’t really care about the worship, He just happens to like the attention He gets for it. We treat God like He’s not important enough to deserve our best. We save that for ourselves.
Friends, God doesn’t like this now any more than He did then.
When you go to worship, think about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What kind of an offering are you bringing? You are the most important offering He desires. Are you bringing your whole self to Him, or are you giving Him something less because your heart is divided between devotion to Him and devotion to something else? Are you living with a spirit of sacrificial generosity that trusts Him completely with the things you have, or are you giving what’s easy and doesn’t take away from the things you’d rather be doing all things considered? Are you treating Him like a cheap trinket that is nice to have but doesn’t ultimately matter, or are you honoring Him as the God who is great and powerful and totally sovereign over all that He made (which includes you!)?
In the end, God will be worshiped. He is the only one who truly deserves that and eventually all creation will be brought back into the order it was designed to have in the beginning. The real question to wrestle with here and now is this one: Will you be a willing participant in that or a begrudging one? Reality is what it is. Let us adjust our lives to it and enjoy the life that only comes in that way.