Malachi 2
The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.
Prophets and Priests

Malachi 2

"And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you" (Malachi 2:1).

The prophet goes to the fountain-head. The people had only gone wrong because the priests had gone astray. When the leaders are wrong, what can the followers do? In the majority of cases the leaders are wrong, and they would go further wrong, but for the outcry and protestation and moral anguish of the people. But the priest's office was never an easy one. It is a hard thing to have to read and preach and pray by the clock. No man can tell how perilous is the position of a minister, priest, or teacher; he is never far from the bottomless pit. It cannot be an easy thing to speak every day of the Cross of Christ, and yet to keep the emotion of the heart at its finest point. It is an awful thing to pray, to preach, to speak sacred words; it is almost living on the edge of hell to conduct an octave of religious services; to be right—not in words, that is easy, for the words are all written, and may be read with a hireling's tongue; but to keep the spirit in high tone, to say "Calvary," and lose nothing of its pathetic dignity; to point to the Cross, and see it in all its hot blood—to do this day after day, and keep off familiarity, say, is there any greater miracle in human experience? It is an awful exercise to sing, and yet to know nothing about the hymn we have sung; to miss all its meaning, to rattle off its tones with a careless or little-interested tongue; to sing it as if it were so many unrelated letters, instead of having in it the red blood, the arterial blood of the Son of God. It is easy to blame the priest of any day, but he has a weary work to do; he must be more than mortal if he can always do it and always feel it. We know his refuge, but sometimes a man is so tired that he cannot run even for shelter; we know where he ought to go and what he ought to do, but sometimes the wolf is upon him before he can straighten himself after long and conscious prostration. Pity the leaders, pity the singers, pity the preachers: consider them well.

Yet there is nothing unreasonable in the accusations of the Bible. Never does a reproach come alone like a naked razor; the reproach is always associated with reasoning, and out of the reasoning it derives all its keenness. The Lord states the case, argues it, point by point, and then at the end presses home the divine accusation. It is beautiful to see that nowhere in all the Bible is a single railing accusation brought against God himself; never does God lower the moral standard. There is no accommodation in divine righteousness. We never read that to-day we may intermit a little; the law shall no longer be so rigorous and ruthless, the law shall be oiled down into smoothness so that it shall be easy, and the spirit of disobedience shall be less exasperated: never. The law never changes. The moral tone of the Bible is never lowered in accommodation to human weakness or human selfishness. Nor is judgment lessened that a man may feel the more comfortable with himself.

There is wondrous originality in the way of putting the divine judgment before the consideration of men. Probably that judgment was never more vividly and powerfully depicted than in this instance: "I will curse your blessings": what to you is a blessing shall cease to be such, and shall become a curse: I will make your health the worst disease you ever had; I will make you poor through your very wealth; I will send upon the richest results of your labour such a darkness that you will flee away from the very image of your own success. How terrible is God! But always how terrible in righteousness. Why does this punishment fall upon the priestly race or house? Simply because the priest has been unfaithful, self-considering, base in heart, forgetful of his duty to God and his service to man. The Lord does not make priests for nothing; whatever the priest may be, if he fail in his function God plagues him by blighting his blessings. The priest may be a poet, gifted with fine fancy, able to sing to the world's comforting and inspiration, and if he palter with his gift, if he prostitute it, God's judgment will fall heavily upon him. We do not limit the word "priest" to religious functions or exercises or responsibilities; every man has his own call of God, and by so much may be regarded as sustaining a priestly relation to the throne of God. A man may be a merchant, a counsellor, a man of great sagacity, a person qualified to exercise large and useful influence, and if he fail to work out his mission in life this punishment falls upon him; he has more anxiety over his wealth than he ever had over his poverty, and his very health is a plague and a temptation to him all the day. How God tightens his hands upon the reins! How he tugs! how he rules! We think sometimes he has given us full head, and we go at our own pace, and suddenly the jaw is torn, and we begin to feel that we are servants, not masters; that we are under providential guidance, not under selfish inspiration. The Lord reigneth, and he is as loving in judgment as he is in redemption.

How will the Lord curse the blessings of the priests? "Behold, I will corrupt your seed." Now, the house of Aaron had nothing to do with ploughing and with sowing; why then corrupt or spoil or mar the seed that was to be sown in the fields? Why take the juice out of it? Why deplete its vitality? The house of Levi is by law exempted from agricultural pursuits. True; but not from agricultural tithes. The priests lived upon the land, as certainly as the farmers did, and the Lord punished the priests where they would most feel it. After they had gone in that direction they should feel the weight of the rule of God where they could most sensitively respond to the imposition. It is easy to sow seed; but are we quite sure that no operation has been performed upon the seed before we have sown it? God is invisible; the hand of God is intangible; the ministry of God is impalpable. The seed looks the same as in the healthiest years and the most abundant harvesting. The farmer says, The seed is good: sow it! If we had been gifted with the piercing eyesight that sees the spiritual we should have known that only yesternight the Spirit of God was in the granary, spoiling every seed garnered against seedtime. Why will we be befooled always by the eyes of our bodies? As if they could see anything. We do not live the faith-life that believes that all things are under the touch as they are under the ownership of God. God makes the wine vinegar; God makes us drink our own etymology. If we call for wine, sharp wine, we shall have enough of it; and God will make the wine sharp and sour to the palate. Why not believe that all things are under the government and benediction of God? Behold the fowls of the air; consider the lilies of the field; see God everywhere.

What a beautiful picture of a priest is given in this very chapter:—

"The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 2:6-7).

What a criticism upon moral influence do we find in these words, namely, "and did turn many away from iniquity." There is no histrionic pomp about the act; but who can tell what moral beauty there is in it? Prophets and priests and preachers and leaders work in different ways. Some have what may be called, from a public point of view, a negative or obscure function; but their record in heaven is that they turned many away from iniquity, by private expostulation, by unknown prayer—that is, fellowship together with the sinner—in communion that is never published. By influence, by example, by tender words, many are turned away from iniquity, from selfishness, from drunkenness, from baseness, from evil pursuits of every kind; not by the thunder of eloquence, not by the lightning of logic or high reasoning, not by the mystery of metaphysics, but by calm, quiet, loving, tutorial interest in private life,—who knows what triumphs have been wrought within the sanctuary of the house? God is not unrighteous to forget our work of faith and labour of love; God knows how many lambs we have tended; how many straying sheep we have brought back to the fold; how many hopeless hearts we have reinspired; to how many we have given of the oil of grace. Let no man, therefore, fail of heart and courage because he does not speak from a public pedestal. His name may not be known far away from his own fireside; there are private priests, there are household evangelists, there are ordained missionaries whose names are not published; there are women-shepherds who are seeking the very worst sheep—the sheep that the shepherds would not look after, the shepherdesses are following still; all the service is written down, and attached to it is the commendation of God.

The Lord now urges against the priesthood the heaviest charge of all: "Ye have caused many to stumble at the law." There is the most malign influence which man can exert on man. No longer is the mere priest condemned, no longer is the laugh expended on the priest himself; the people have got beyond that; they say, If this is the priest, what must the law be? If the law were good, surely it would save the priest from such debasement as he embodies; if the priest can be so bad, so selfish, so worldly, so devil-loving, what must the law be? So we go from the personal to the moral, from the concrete individual instance to the written and eternal law; we begin by mocking the messenger, we end by trampling under foot the message. This has been woefully true in the history of Christianity. Christians have ruined Christianity more than ever the infidel or the unbeliever could do. If Christians speak ambiguously; if Christians resort to sharp practice; if Christians tell lies; if Christians break all the commandments, how can the law stand? What goes down when a man is proved to be bad who ought to have been good? The Cross is shaken; every wound of the Sufferer is made larger by that rough handling of his Cross. If Christians had been faithful there would have been no infidels to-day; if the men who pray had believed in prayer there could have been no argument as to the validity and utility of prayer. The priests so lived that men spat on the altar at which they ministered; Christians have so lived as to point a jeer or suggest an oath. The Lord is naturally more careful about the law than he is about the priest The priest will die, but the law abides. We do more than prove ourselves to be hypocrites, we excite suspicion about the very inspiration which we profess.

Then comes, in Malachi 2:9, a terrible "Therefore." Always stand in reverence before the "Therefores" of divine reasoning: such a Therefore is an iron gate that falls back upon hell. When God says this "Therefore" he gathers the offenders in his hands and places them in the bottomless pit:—"Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base." He added to the contempt already incurred. The priests had made themselves contemptible; the Lord added scorn to the contempt of the people, he added the sting which penetrates the life. Do not imagine that the law is bad because the priest is unworthy; do not speak against the Cross because the preacher is a liar; do not wound the Lord because the servant has gone astray. No man falls because he is a Christian, but because he is not living up to the Christianity which he professes. Do not make excuses out of the bad characters of other men, saying, What can I do in the presence of such debasement as this? That is vicious doctrine, and it would not for a moment be entertained or applied in the common relationship and affairs of life.

I had a sum to invest, let me suppose, and I went to a well-known gambler, and said, What should I do with this, pray? And he said, Entrust it to me: I have experience, you have none; I will handle it for you, and you shall know the result. I went to ascertain the result, and the man had fled away. You will naturally inquire why I consulted such a man. I wanted to know the exact value of a picture, to continue my parable, and I submitted it to the criticism of a man; he laid his fingers upon it, and said, I do not think much of your picture. Said I, Why lay your fingers upon it? Because, said he, that is the only medium through which I can form any opinion of your picture. Said I, Can you not look at the picture? No, said he, that I cannot do: I am blind. You will naturally ask me why I consulted such a man as to the value of a picture. I wanted to know how the climate of a far-away country would suit my dying child, so I called upon a man, and asked him. Said he, Do not trust it: it is a bad climate; it is a place that I cannot recommend. Were you ever there, sir? said I. No, said he, I have never been out of my native village. You will naturally wonder that I should have consulted such a man. Now you have consulted infidels about Christianity; you have consulted men who never prayed as to the efficacy of prayer, you have gone in the wrong direction for advice. You smiled behind my back when you thought I had consulted a blind man about a picture: what shall I do with you when I hear that the only books you have read about Christ are the books that tried to tear him in pieces? You have consulted his enemies; you have never consulted his friends. The argument applies to the bad priest, to the ill-behaved professor of Christianity. Blessed be God, our duty is clear. I will not go to the bad priest for a report of his function, I will not go to the bruised and self-damned professor of Christianity in whose character hypocrisy is conspicuous above every other feature, and say, Who is Christ? and what can Christ do for men? This I will do: I will go straight up to the Lord himself, and if he fail, then I shall know what to do.

A Gallery of Pictures

Malachi 1-4

We have some pictures in the prophecy that are very vivid, and some of them very humiliating. For example, we have a picture of the utterest selfishness in Malachi 1:10 :—

"Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought."

Yet they sang how good a thing it was to be but a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. Men do not come to this kind of selfishness all at once. For some degrees of wickedness we must patiently and skilfully graduate. We do not attain the highest quality of iniquity at a bound; we cannot, speaking generally, extemporise the supremest kind of devilishness. We begin carefully, we proceed slowly, we take pains with the details of our action, and not until we have become inured to certain practices and usages do we take the final step that lands us in the very refinement and subtlety of evildoing. Nothing is so soon lost as spiritual apprehension, the power of taking hold upon the invisible, the eternal, the spiritual. There is so much against it We unhappily have eyes that can only see what we describe as the material, and in our folly we describe it as the real. That is the very lowest kind of philosophy. There is a metaphysic that denies the existence of everything we see; I would rather belong to that school of negation than to the school which affirms that there is nothing but what we can see with the eyes of the body. We are always tempted away from the higher lines. Who would shut his eyes and talk to nothing, and call it prayer? Who would have so many of his own aspirations dropping back upon his heart like dead birds, and still believe in an answering, benignant, loving God? Who would refuse the great bribe? There it is, visibly, tangibly, immediately; you can lay your hand upon it, and secure it, and if there is any need by-and-by to pray yourselves back again from the felony, and still retain its produce, then see the man of God and take his ghostly counsel. The distinction of Christianity is its spirituality. Christianity lives amongst the spirits. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth." When we make Christianity a mere argument or a mere philosophy, we lose its whole genius and meaning. Christianity comes to kill the visible by putting it into its right perspective, and investing it with its right value, which is nothing beyond a mere convenience. Christianity comes to lift up the soul to God, and to fix the heart upon things unseen and eternal. Christianity comes to make a man blind to everything but God, and therefore to see everything aright because to see it in its relation to God. How far are we to blame for degrading Christianity from its proper level, and making it stand amongst so-called other religions to take its chance with the general mob? We can be attacked with some success, not to say with desperate savageness, if we fight the battle on wrong lines; but not when we stand upon Christ's lines, of direct living fellowship with God, doing everything for Christ's sake, glorifying God in our body, which is so-called matter, our soul, which plays a part in the psychical philosophies, and our spirit, the touch that makes us one with God. If we pray ourselves into higher prayers, ever-ascending until speech must be displaced by music, then we are upon a way where we shall find no lion, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon, it shall not be found there. And as for dying, we shall not die—"he was not, for God took him," shall be the rhythmic ending of a noble, beautiful, spiritual life. Losing this spiritual apprehension, what do we come to?—to men-service; we come to be men-pleasers, time-servers, investors, hirelings. When the true spirituality reigns in us we shall have no fear of man, we shall see the richest patron of all going out of the sanctuary, not because he is wounded in the back, but because he is wounded in the heart by the Spirit of God, on account of his unrighteousness, unfaithfulness, vanity, and worldliness; the Church will be the richer for his absence. Never let the spirituality of the Church go down, for then you open the door to every kind of invader; you make devastating encroachment possible; but laying hold of God, you shall be safe even from the insidious assaults and invasions of selfishness.

We have also a picture of the true priest:—

"The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 2:6-7).

What was said of Levi should be said of every man in the varied ministry of the Church; he ought to be as beautiful as this. Yet not only beautiful, but massive, strong, pure, dominating; not asking permission to live and to preach, but granting permission to millionaires to chink their gold. It is quite true that here we have an ideal picture. It satisfies the imagination to have a word like "ideal" in its vocabulary. But may we not so use the word "ideal" as to find in it a temptation to a continual lowering of the spiritual stature, and a continual cooling of the spiritual temperature? Certainly these words are ideal; this is God making another Adam, this time out of marble, breathing into him the breath of life, and making him majestic and noble: this is God's conception of the true priest. Yet we call it ideal, and then go away to our commonplace. The minister of Christ cannot rise to perfection. If any man were to assume himself to be perfect he would justly discredit himself by that very assumption. What is it that is required of the true priest, preacher, minister, or pastor? It is required of him first that he be found faithful to his light, to his immediate inspiration; he is not to live for tomorrow, he is to live for this present day, with all its clamour and all its importunate necessity. But should not a man study consistency? Yes—No. Is it possible for an answer to be both in the affirmative and in the negative? Certainly. Wherein is to be the consistency of the preacher? In his spiritual sincerity. There he must never fail. As to his words and views, do we not live in an atmosphere? Are we not environed? Do not ten thousand ministries continually play upon every line and fibre of our nature? There may be inconsistency in words, phrases, terms, and statements, and yet there may be consistency of the finest quality and fibre in the moral purpose, the spiritual intent, the unchangeable loyalty to the Cross of God the Son. A preacher's perfectness should be found in the continuance of his aspiration, and the continuance of all practical endeavour to overtake his own prayers. Do not mock a man because his life is not equal to his prayer; when a man has no higher prayer to offer than he can live he may pass on into some other world in the Father's universe. Meanwhile, no man can pray sincerely, profoundly, continually, and want to be like Christ without growing,—not always upwards; there is a growth in refinement, in susceptibility, in moral tenderness, in sympathy of the soul for others, as well as a growth in knowledge, and stature in intellectual majesty. It is well to have an ideal before us. One of two things must happen in the case of the priest. "... Did turn many away from iniquity." That is a beautiful work for you, my preaching brother, to have done. You may never have been heard of beyond your own sphere, and yet within that sphere you may have been working miracles which have astounded the angels. You have kept or turned many away from iniquity. I have a brother who had great influence over one of his leading men, and that brother, though his name was never heard of beyond his own circle of ministerial exertion, laid himself out to save that man. That man's temptation was drink. The minister followed him, turned swiftly upon him at the public-house door, and said, No, not here! It was not much of a sermon to preach from a public point of view, but the poor tempted soul quailed under the interdict, and went home. Why, to have been the means of giving him one night's release from the devil was to have done a work worthy of the Cross! You cannot tell what your negative work amounts to—how many you have kept from going wrong, doing wrong, or speaking unwisely, untruly, or impurely; you do not know what your example has done. Be cheered, be encouraged; you do not always live in the miracle of Pentecost; sometimes you live in the quietness that can only do a negative work, but blessed be God, when he comes to judge our work there will be nothing negative about it He who has turned away a man from iniquity shall be accounted as one who has turned a soul to righteousness; he is a great judge, and he gives great heavens to those who serve him.

There is another line of thought—

"Ye have caused many to stumble" (Malachi 2:8).

How acute, how penetrating, how ruthless is the criticism of God! Here again we may not have been wanton in our irreligion, we may not have been irreligious at all in the ordinary sense of the term, but for lack of zeal, for lack of honesty, for lack of character, we may have caused the citizens of Gath to mock, and the daughters of Philistia to sneer at the Lord. "Caused many to stumble": how could they help it? They looked to the priests, pastors, guides, and teachers of the community for example, and they saw nothing but warning. They said, The speech of these men will be pure, gentle, courteous, gracious; they will especially speak of one another in terms of appreciation and brotherly regard. Hark! Why, this is talk we might have heard at the tavern; this is criticism we might have heard at hell's gate; this is censoriousness that would shame an infidel. What if they have gone away to mock the God whose name his own professors had forgotten? "Caused many to stumble"—by little-mindedness, by narrowness of soul, by lack of sympathy, by idolatry instead of worship, by pointing at a church-roof and calling it God's own sky. Here we should daily pray that we give offence to no man needlessly; here we should do many things that the Gospel be not hindered; here we may work miracles in the name and power of the Cross.

Another picture is that of a terrible judgment:—

"And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:5).

O God, send some man to testify against us, and we can contradict him; send the oldest and purest of thy prophets to charge us, and we can recriminate, and remind him of his human nature, and tell him to take care of himself lest he fall, rather than waste his criticism upon us who have fallen. Send Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel; send all the minstrels of Israel, let them mass themselves into a cloud of witnesses, and we can laugh them to scorn, and tell them not to mock our fallibility by an assumption of infallibility of their own; but thou wilt not do this, thou dost come thyself. Who can answer thunder? Who can reason with lightning? Who can avert the oncoming of eternity? "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." He will be not only a witness, but a "swift witness"; he will break upon us suddenly, he will come upon us from unexpected points; where we say, All is safe here, there shall the fire leap up, and there through a hedge, where we thought to make a resting-place, shall a serpent break through to bite us. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." Yea, I call mine a man's hand, but to thee it is the hand of a little child; take hold of it, for the way is slippery, the crags are here and there very sharp, and the steep is infinite, and the enemy is already breathing upon my neck. O God, save me, or I perish! In that modesty we have strength; in that reliance upon God we have a pavilion that the thunder cannot shake, that the lightning cannot penetrate. I would hide me in the house of my Saviour's heart.

Then we have a picture of a perfect restoration:—

"And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:11-12).

One nation cannot be good without another nation feeling it. When England is noble the whole world is aware of the transformation; when America has responded to the appeal of righteousness the whole globe feels as if a Sabbath were dawning upon the shores of time; when any nation does a noble deed it is as if all the world had prayed. Let us remember the might, the immeasurable might, of spiritual influence. Convert England, and you convert the world; convert London, and you convert England, speaking after the manner of men. Leave God to look after the results which you call material. Is there a devourer? God will rebuke him for our sakes. Does the vine cast her fruit before her time? Angels shall keep that fruit on the stem until it be purple with hospitality, yea, with the very love of God's heart; and as for the fields, their hedges will become fruit trees, and all the fences shall bloom and blossom because the Lord's blessing has fallen upon the earth. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." God will take care of the vine if we take care of the altar.

Then, lastly, we have a picture of a sun-lighted world:—

"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2).

The last verse of the Old Testament is terrible; it reads"—"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers"—that is good, but the last words—"lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." The Rabbi would never end with that; the Rabbi said, "No, I will go back and read the last verse but one." The Rabbi could not end with a curse. There are several books in the Bible that end with doleful words: "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." The Rabbi could not defile the synagogue with making "evil" the climacteric word, so he read the verse before. Isaiah ends: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." And the Rabbi said, We cannot end with that, we must end with the verse before. And the Lamentation,—"But thou hast utterly rejected us: thou art very wroth against us." And the Rabbi said, Read the verse before that; we cannot end with storm and darkness, and tempests of imprecation. Oh let us close with some word of comfort! So must it ever be with the true messenger of God. He will have to deliver his tremendous message; but blessed be the Cross of Christ, every sermon may end with music and light and joy. There is no text in the Bible that lies half a mile from Calvary. I do not care what the text is, there is a road from it right into Golgotha. Malachi has for his last word curse; but we may have for our last word blessing, we may have for our closing word peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God for he will abundantly pardon." If we added to that we should be attempting to paint the lily and gild refined gold. There is but one word that can be added to it, and that is not our own: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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