The announcement of an oracle echoes Zechariah – but the setting is different. Imagine a courtroom, following the Deuteronomy code, rather than the Priestly code of Leviticus. Cases too tough for arbitration in the city gates come to this room. Malachi imagines himself as a judge, hearing the dispute between God and Israel.
In these days of rebuilding, after exile, the discourse sounds like matrimonial litigation between spouses. Why might Judah around Jerusalem reconcile with God? Why not Edom to the south? God’s favour is described in terms of the Genesis toledot of Jacob and Esau, the personified origins of these nations.
God is still angry – primarily with the priests. Their offence is sloppiness and laziness, moderate compromises. People bring leftovers as offerings, instead of first fruits, and the priest shrug and accept them. God is angry. That lack of pride and militancy among leaders will corrupt the people further.
When did we become a petty clubhouse for rummage sales, “Junk for Jesus”, taking cast-offs and afterthoughts, stuff ‘not good enough for hand-me-down or consignment shops, but too good for Goodwill’? When did we give up on tithing and exhaust ourselves in the treadmill of fundraising bake sales? It’s time we publish donor lists with numbers again, to show who are the cheats, and which churches are indulging what economists call the ‘free rider phenomenon’!
Malachi 1 (NRSV)
1 An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
2 I have loved you, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the LORD. Yet I have loved Jacob
3but I have hated Esau; I have made his hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals.
4If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the LORD of hosts says: They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the LORD is angry for ever.
5Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the LORD beyond the borders of Israel!’
6 A son honours his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honour due to me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due to me? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
7By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the LORD’s table may be despised.
8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favour? says the LORD of hosts.
9And now implore the favour of God, that he may be gracious to us. The fault is yours. Will he show favour to any of you? says the LORD of hosts.
10O that someone among you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hands.
11For 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.
12But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised.
13‘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.
14Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give 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 reverenced among the nations.