In Malachi 1:13 God complains about the priests’ attitude toward the sacrifices, saying,
13 “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it [i.e., “pooh-pooh it”],” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.
Not only were people bringing sacrificial animals that were lame or sick, but also what they had stolen. If the people themselves had brought defective animals, there is little doubt that the priests would have rejected them, because these animals were given to the priests, either to eat or to put in their flocks. They would only accept the best.
However, it was the priests themselves who were guilty of this charge. Since they were the animal inspectors, only God was their Overseer, and only He knew what they were doing. The priests were following religious rituals but did not really believe that these had any beneficial effect. They did not know God, nor were they conscious of His daily presence. It was only a job to them, a means of support and even an opportunity to become wealthy.
“Should I accept such sacrifices?” God asks. Obviously not. Many have given offerings and sacrifices without God accepting them. Religious forms may be satisfied, but no real relationship with God is established or built up.
Malachi 1:14 continues,
14 “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and My name is feared [or revered] among the nations.”
A “swindler” who steals an animal and then offers it to God is offering “a blemished animal.” The problem is not the animal, but the one who offers it. God does not really care about blemished animals, but He cares deeply about blemished hearts and wrong motives.
A study of church history shows how often priests have swindled offerings from the people on the pretext of having them give a sacrificial offering to God. The crude methods of past centuries have now been replaced by more refined swindles, but invariably, these methods are based either on fear or guilt, rather than upon one’s love for Christ.
Today, most of the large ministries hire advertising companies to write their letters appealing for money. Their computers even insert the personal names into those letters, and many actually believe that the minister himself sat down to write them a personal letter. The appeals for money are often shameless, but it is so common that it has become “normal” church practice. And so, we have reached the same level of corruption that Malachi saw in his day.
God pronounces a curse upon such swindlers and their ministries in Mal. 1:14. This does not mean that they would run out of money. It means that they are on course for divine judgment unless they repent and raise their ethical standards in accordance with the laws of sacrifice.
Malachi 2:1, 2 says,
1 “And now, this commandment is for you, O priests. 2 If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the Lord of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.”
One can only imagine the dark looks that Malachi must have received from the priests of his day when he pronounced God’s curse upon them. After all, were they not God’s agents and emissaries on the earth, appointed by God in the days of Moses and Aaron? Did they not enjoy full job security?
There is no evidence that they repented at the preaching of the prophet. These priests of Levi desperately needed cleansing, and indeed, God promised to intervene at some point, for Mal. 3:3 says,
3 And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.
Who was to do this? Verse 1 identifies Him as “the messenger of the covenant,” the fourth messenger in the book of Malachi, who comes “like a refiner’s fire” (vs. 2). This is a reference to Jesus Himself, who was to come suddenly (unexpectedly) to His temple. Jesus fulfilled this in John 7:14 in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles.
John the Baptist identified Him in Matt. 3:11, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This promise was not to be fulfilled in Levi per se, but in the new priests of the Melchizedek Order, with Jesus as their High Priest. There were, of course, Levites and priests of the old order who took heed to John’s words and repented. Later, too, after the day of Pentecost, “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
These priests of Levi ultimately lost their position in the old temple order in Jerusalem, but they gained a new position of authority as priests of Christ in the Melchizedek Order. Of course, they were joined by many others who were not of Levi, because this new order did not have the same genealogical requirements. One did not have to be of Levi to be a Melchizedek priest.
The point is that Mal. 2:2 prophesies a curse that was to be laid upon the priests of the old order. As a result of that curse, Levitical priests were replaced by the new order of priests who were of the Melchizedek Order.
Malachi 2:3 says graphically,
3 Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse [peresh, “dung, entrails”] on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it.
In offering sacrifices at the feasts, the priests were instructed to dispose of the animal’s entrails, or peresh. This word comes from the root word parash, which means “to separate, distinguish.” Hence, the word picture in this verse pictures God smearing the priests’ faces with entrails—in essence, identifying them with the entrails, rather than the sacrifice itself. So He says, “You will be taken away with it,” that is with the entrails.
This was the curse that was laid upon the priests of Levi in the previous verse.
The Change of Priesthood
Mal. 2:4 continues,
4 “Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,” says the Lord of hosts.
The promise of priesthood was given by the commandment of God to Levi (Lev. 8:5). More specifically, the high priesthood was given to Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron as “a covenant of a perpetual [olam, “indefinite; unknown”] priesthood” (Num. 25:13). But even this was not an unconditional promise. His high priestly dynasty ended in the early years of Solomon’s reign, when his descendant, Abiathar, was replaced by Zadok (1 Kings 2:35). The priests in Malachi’s day, though they were descended from Zadok himself, should have known from their own history that their position as priests could be lost.
In fact, the change of priesthood, when Abiathar replaced Zadok, prophesied of another change of priesthood that was to take place later at the coming of the Messiah. The Melchizedek Order replaced that of Levi. Jesus, who came out of the tribe of Judah, became the new High Priest of an entirely different kind of dynasty, one that was no longer based on any genealogy from Levi. So Heb. 7:11, 12 says,
11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
The priests in Malachi’s time apparently did not take to heart the fact that they could be replaced. They thought that their position was secure no matter how displeasing they were to God. But the “perpetual covenant” that God made with Phinehas in the days of Moses was not really perpetual at all. Neither was it an “everlasting covenant” as the KJV reads. The Hebrew word olam does not mean perpetual or everlasting, but “a hidden, indefinite, or unknown period of time.” Phinehas’ dynasty lasted about 300 years, but when this covenant was spoken to him, no one knew how long it might last.
Even the new line of Zadok was only a type and shadow of the Melchizedek Order that was yet to come. Zadok himself was of the lineage of Aaron, though not of Phinehas. The priests in Malachi’s time were, no doubt, from Zadok, but by this time they too had become disobedient to God and were offering corrupted sacrifices. They should not have presumed that God would overlook their disobedience. They should have remembered what happened to their predecessors.
These warnings were given 400 years before Christ was to come. Malachi’s prophecies thus gave the priests ample warning that the “curse” upon them would result in their replacement at some point in history. If they had studied the writings of Daniel, they might have known that their replacement would come at the end of “seventy weeks” of years (i.e., 490 years) from the decree of Artaxerxes. That decree had been issued just a few years before Malachi’s prophecy.