“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect [fear]?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, ‘O priests who despise My name.’ But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?'” -Mal. 1.6
We need to be leery of any view of the Fatherhood of God that does not lead us into a holy esteem for the Lord. In the same way that our view of His Lordship ought always to be accompanied with a sense of His kindness, lest it become stoic and lifeless, our view of His Fatherhood must necessarily be attended by the quintessential reality of His holiness, lest we find that we are engaged headlong in activities supposedly performed “in His name,” but altogether devoid of His honor.
The prophet commences with an “oracle of the word of the Lord,” declaring, “I have loved you.”
How did Israel requite the Lord for His gracious love? From the love of God the prophet now turns to the ingratitude of His people. God has treated the people of Israel as a son; have they honored Him as Father? They have retained the relationship of servant to Him as Master; have they rendered Him due reverence? The rightful respect due God has been withheld, due mainly to the ungodliness of the priests against whom the charge is directed.
(Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets; Moody Press, 1990 ed. pp. 251-252)
It is becoming a rarity for the “rightful respect due God” to have a place in the consideration of modern saints. With the advent of smart phones, instant internet access, and a thousand other forms of entertainment and distraction, the idea of being “still” and knowing that He is God is taking on an archaic character to most minds. The common bustling believer is being (or has already been) reduced to a brand of humanity that can only respond to and receive from that which is quick, easy, and colorful, and the priestly distinctive of waiting and honoring and revering the One on the throne has reached the status of taboo, even if we would refuse to admit it.
We have learned to live with the offering up of blind, lame, and sickly sacrifices, and the robust faith of the apostles and prophets of old is near extinction, particularly in the Western Christian experience. We need daily to be reminded that:
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. -Ps. 19.8-9
Many now have been raised with an idea of God as Father that is tragically bereft of the kind of honor that the prophets and the old Levites bore before the people. There is something tinpot and cheap about our hurried ministries and perfunctory thoughts of God. They do not ring with the life-giving note of the fear of the Lord, and unless we attain that, we can be sure that however busy we might be with work, play, or some ostensible expression of ministry, we will not bear the necessary priestly distinctive, “holiness unto to the Lord.” Our witness will be reduced to humanism and our ministry to mere religion.
Our great task is not first to perform externals, but to bear the knowledge of God as He is before the people, and that knowledge cannot be obtained by a people who are not in earnest pursuit of the One Who is worthy of the totality of our honor. If we give slipshod attention to Him, however feverishly engaged in ministry we might be, He will be as a Father without our honor, and we need to be arrested by the reality that He will have nothing to do with those kinds of garbled definitions of priestliness and sonship.
Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” -Mal. 1.10
We need to be acutely aware of the fact that it is possible to be found functioning in a distorted kind of faith that somehow stimulates our spiritual preferences, but that is not pleasing to the Lord, and it is even possible for this infringement and offense to be committed “on My altar” or under the auspices of Christian ministry.
Leon Morris wrote that Malachi gives attention to “laxity among the priests,” and this may well be the characteristic condition of believers in modern times, whether the expression is Evangelical or Charismatic. The laxity is not in activity, but in earnestness after God, and such is the case today. The Levites had deviated from the priestly covenant, and in like manner, the Church has largely deviated from “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
‘My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts. So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as your are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. -Mal. 2.5-9
We need to peer long and hard into the Levitic call, especially at its heart, for it is not unlike the call of every saint. We have the distinct privilege and responsibility to walk with God “in peace and uprightness,” and to turn “many back from iniquity.” If we fail to grow in the knowledge of God as God, and if we fail to recognize Him as holy “before the people,” we have deviated from the essence of priesthood. Let us see to the recovery of His honor in our own hearts and in His house, that Israel and the nations might see Him in all His glory and worth.
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