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A PRIEST IS THE MESSENGER OF THE LORD ALMIGHTY

Malachi 2:1-2:16
Key Verse: 2:7

We thank God for his love which is unconditional in his choosing grace. We thank him that he chose us in Christ Jesus. May we dwell in his love and grow in it, giving due honour and respect to him in our lives. May we especially worship him wholeheartedly in our Sunday worship service, listening to his word and offering him our thanks, praise, honour and glory. Today’s passage is God’s admonition to the priests who did not set their hearts to honour the LORD and violated the covenant with Levi, and his reproach to the people who had ungodly marriages and broke the marriage covenant. We can learn who we are and about our priestly duty and the deep meaning of marriage.

First, the covenant with Levi (1-9). Look at verses 1 and 2. “‘And now this admonition is for you, O priests…” Priests were descendants of Aaron in the tribe of Levi. They were privileged people with due responsibilities. They brought the offerings of people’s sacrifices to God on the people’s behalf and prayed for them, intervening between God and men. They were the heart of God’s chosen nation Israel. They were like the last fortress in spiritual warfare. If they were corrupt, the nation would be utterly hopeless. So the LORD said through Malachi, “O priests, this admonition is for you,” and then, “If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honour my name,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honour me.’” God’s curse is his severe punishment (Dt 27:15-26; 28:15-68). This was a strong admonition.

Then the LORD said further in verse 3, “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.”

After sacrifice the offal of animals was to be burned up outside the camp (Lev 8:17). The offal from the festival sacrifices was a lot. God would spread such offal on the faces of the priests and they would be carried off with it. This was the expression of extreme humiliation. Also, because of them he would rebuke their descendants. It must have been so hard for God to do this. Yet, in verse 4 there is a deeper reason of God’s doing this. It says, “‘And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the LORD Almighty.” In the Old Testament, the Levites, from among the 12 tribes, were the LORD’s. The LORD said to Moses in Numbers 4:44, “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel…The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD.” It was truly by God’s grace. And it is written in Joshua 18:7, “The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the LORD is their inheritance…” They served all the work related to the temple of God. And the LORD’s saying, “my covenant with Levi may continue” has a deep meaning.

At this point the LORD reminded them of the faithful Levites of the past and said in verses 5 and 6, “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.” Here we can think of two events in Israel’s history. The first is written Exodus 32. When Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, after receiving the Ten Commandments from the LORD, the Israelites were in a terrible spiritual condition. They had made the golden calf their idol, saying, “These are our gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt,” They were having a wild party, dancing and running. They were out of control and became a laughingstock to their enemies. Moses’ anger burned. He stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him (Ex 32:25-26). Then each man of the Levites killed his brother and friend and neighbour according to the LORD’s command through Moses, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (Ex 32:27-29). The Levites knew how to stand on the side of God, even in a way incomprehensible to human understanding, and were blessed.

Another event is written in Numbers 25. While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifice to their gods. The LORD’s anger burned against them and the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.” Moses carried out this direction. At that moment an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. The LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honour among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites” (Num 25:4-15). Phinehas knew how to live and act for the honour of God. God’s covenant with Levi was the covenant of life and peace.

Then he said in verse 7, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” Here we can have a better understanding of what a priest is to do. As we know, priests belong to the tribe of Levi. On top of the work of sacrifice in the temple and prayer for his people, a priest ought to preserve knowledge (of God or sacred things) and teach (God’s) instruction to the people. One good example is Ezra. He was a priest. It is written in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” In Nehemiah 8, one day Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law (Ne 8:2-3). And the Levites instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read (Ne 8:7-8). And in 2 Chronicles 17:7-9, in the third year of King Jehoshaphat’s reign, certain Levites taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not make war with Jehoshaphat.” In Jerusalem also, Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites, priests and heads of Israelites families to administer the law of the LORD (2 Ch. 19:8).

Look at verse again, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” Jesus once said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45; Mt 12:34b-35). When the knowledge of God (or knowledge of sacred things) is stored up in the heart of a priest, his lips can preserve the knowledge and from his mouth men can seek instruction. A priest is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.

In the Old Testament, kings and prophets and priests were anointed. Among them only priests remained after Malachi through the 400 years of silence before Jesus’ coming. Notably Luke’s gospel begins with the story of a priest named Zechariah. After that, there is no more description of formal priests. Then in Roman 15:16, Paul bore the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, saying, “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” In 1 Peter 2:9, Apostle Peter said to the scattered Christians under persecution, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Now each believer in Christ Jesus is to be a priest. What an incredible blessing of God! Again the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge and from his mouth men should seek instruction, because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty. When a priest speaks the words of God, the destiny of those who listen can be changed from eternal destruction to eternal life, from curse to blessing, from God’s wrath to God’s salvation, from the darkness of sin and death into the wonderful light, the life of life and peace. Meaningfully this is written in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, with the general expression of “a priest.” Certainly, this is related to the covenant with Levi, the covenant of life and peace.

Then in verses 8 and 9, “‘But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the LORD Almighty. So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.” The covenant with Levi failed in the Old Testament, but it would be fulfilled in the New Testament through Christ Jesus. May each of us bear this amazing blessing of being a priest in Christ Jesus, knowing that we are his, as new Levis.

Second, the marriage covenant (10-17). In verse 10, “‘Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?” To the Israelites God was their Father as the one who created them and formed the nation, Israel. Here “the covenant of our fathers” refers to the Ten Commandments, the core teaching of which is to love God and to love neighbours. The Israelites were brothers and sisters under one Father, but they profaned the covenant. Although they were freed from Babylonian captivity, slavery was again present amongst the Israelites themselves. Sadly, some were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others” (Ne 5:4-5). In this, they broke faith with one another.

Then in verse 11 “Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty.” At that time after coming back from Babylon, it was serious problem that the Israelites including priests and Levite intermarried with the neighbouring peoples following their detestable practices was serious. They mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. This was the unfaithfulness of the exiles. When Ezra heard this, he tore his tunic and cloak, pulled hair from his head and beard and sat down appalled (Ezra 9:1-4). When Nehemiah saw that half of the children through the intermarriage spoke one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah, he rebuked them and called curses down on them. He beat some of the men and pulled their hair. Both Ezra and Nehemiah knew the seriousness of their people’s sin and were sincerely repentant before God. The people of Judah desecrated the sanctuary of the holy community and family. And the message was very clear: “As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob.”

Marriage is God’s utmost blessing to man and woman. When God established the first family, they were very happy, so was God. However, at the time of Noah the corruption of the people reached the climax. It began with people’s distorted, ungodly view of marriage. In their choosing their marriage partners God was not there. They chose the ones they liked based on outward physical attraction and pleasure and romantic feelings. God was displeased with such marriages and was grieved that he had made man on the earth. Also, when Nehemiah rebuked his people for their ungodly marriages, he reminded them of Solomon, saying, “was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?” (Ne 13:26-27) Such marriage was the expression of unfaithfulness to God.

Then in verses 13 and 14, he continues, “Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accept them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” The marriage covenant or vow is beautiful: that each marriage partner promises to be faithful to the other partner until death do them part. Furthermore, Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “…what God has joined together, let man not separate.” But when faith with each other was broken, that broke the hearts of both and the heart of God as well. The family was broken and the children from the broken families were broken-hearted with many wounds. It was a painful thing.

Actually the relationship between God and the Israelites was like that of a husband and a wife. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Their lives seemed to be worse than animals. But God brought them out of Egypt with his mighty power because of his love for them. Then a sort of the marriage covenant was made at Mount Sinai. There God spoke to them through Moses, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…” Then the people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD had said.” God descended on the mountain in thunder and lightning with a thick cloud and a trumpet sound, and the people consecrated themselves to meet God (Ex 19). In that marriage covenant God and the Israelites were so happy. Later on when they were to build the tabernacle, they brought all the precious things and offered them to God. But soon they broke the marriage covenant. When the marriage covenant with God was broken, their marriage covenant with their spouses was broken, as it is written, “you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.”

Now in verse 15. “Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.” Here we are reminded of Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” We have learned that the meaning of marriage is a life-commitment to one man or one woman, and so the two becoming one according to the words of God in Genesis. Now here in Malachi, the meaning and purpose of marriage goes further. God seeks godly offspring through the marriage. It is more than producing offspring. It is to raise them up to be godly. For this, the father and the mother have to become one faith, one in heart and mind and in life purpose and direction, loving God and serving him together. We remember the priestly family of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were childless. But they kept their life of faith studying the word of God together, and praying together, overcoming their fatalistic elements of life. In time, they could finally bear the wonderful godly offspring of John the Baptist. We can think of not only physical offspring but also spiritual offspring. There was one godly couple, Priscilla and Aquila. They invited a very intellectual man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures but without clear gospel faith, and helped him until he was deeply convinced by the way of God through Christ. The family of Priscilla and Aquila was an example of a house church. The wife’s name Priscilla is written first, probably stressing that the role of a wife is more significant than that of a husband in a house church. Actually, the house church began when the believers met in their houses because there was no church buildings until the 2nd century. Here a clear point is that God is seeking godly offspring, both physical and spiritual, in each family. When we think of our time, there are many broken families and children from such families are wounded and wandering and lost. Our education system is so corrupt that the people have gotten rid of the clear definition of gender, male and female. Now they are trying to remove even the concept of father and mother. In that situation we realize more and more the urgency and importance of bringing up godly offspring.

Jonathan Edward (1703-1758) was the main figure who led 1st Awakening movement in America. His father was a pastor and his mother was a daughter of a pastor. He received faith education from his childhood, and prayed five times a day. He met God personally when he was nine, and from 10 began to write spiritual papers. He began to preach from 19. In this way he received thorough godly training. He also raised his children with strict faith education. Then God blessed his children and descendants. The father of Indian mission, David Brainerd, was his son-in-law. His grandson Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) was president of Yale for 22 years and wrote many hymn songs, and raised spiritual leaders. From among his descendants came 300 pastors and pastors’ wives, 1 vice president, 13 university presidents, 100 professors, 3 congressmen. 145 judges. We believe God bless a godly family that has a clear direction to raise up godly offspring.

Verse 15b says, “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” And verse 16 says, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” Covering oneself with garment refers to marriage. (Ruth 3:9; Ezek 16:8). It is a wicked thing to covering oneself with garment and then cover himself with violence and the LORD hates it. Here in verses 15 and 16, “So guard yourself in your spirit” is written repeatedly. What does this mean? Human beings are spiritual beings as well as physical beings. We are to love God as God loves us. When we love God and honour God as God, we can guard ourselves in our spirit. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” According to Jesus, this is the first and greatest commandment (Mt 22:3738). God should be in the first place in our hearts and then the first place in our family. It is to love Christ our bridegroom most, more than our spouses and children. Then we can keep ourselves in spirit and we can truly love our spouses and children, and so we can raise godly offspring, the family together bearing the priestly duty.

In God’s creation the establishment of a family was the end of creation story. A family that honours God is the key element in universe. In Malachi the families of God’s chosen nation was broken because of their ungodly marriages and random divorce. Yet, it was clearly stated that God is seeking godly offspring in the marriage. Thus this book meaningfully leads to the godly family of Joseph and Mary, through which Jesus was born. It was to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” Restoration of worship includes restoration of family with an absolute moral standard and clear purpose. Christ came to restore family and worship.

In this passage we thought of the covenant with Levi and the marriage covenant. Thank God that we are his in Christ Jesus. In his bountiful grace may each of us have a clear identity as a priest with knowledge and instruction of God filling our hearts and preserved on our lips, and live with a clear sense of mission to raise godly offspring in this generation.

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