Key verse Mal 1:14
Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.
This book was written around 400 BC, about a century after the return from exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of the wall and temple under Nehemiah and Ezra.
The Israelites had lost sight of the purpose of sacrifice and were going through the motions half-heartedly.
The book begins "This is a prophecy given to Malachi by God, *to Israel*". This is not written to us, St Matthias. But... there may be a hidden message somewhere in the text that could apply to us.
God says "I have loved you". But God's people say, "How have you loved us?"
This sets the tone for the rest of the book. It is a dialog between God and his people, a good cop, bad cop question and answer session.
But here God plays both roles - he is both prosecution and defence. He puts forward the facts of the case. Israel is a serial offender; the nation has a long history of unfaithfulness, and has done time on two occasions. In both instances God granted parole, but they haven't learnt a thing. As soon as they hit the streets they're up to their old tricks again.
God says: I have loved you, but you have not honoured me like a son should, not even as a servant should. You have shown contempt for my name, placed defiled food on my altar and asked me to accept it and be gracious to you.
The witness, Israel, initially tries to play the innocent; but God's having none of it.
First He contrasts the nation of Israel with the nation of Edom. God loved Jacob. He chose him and has prospered his children, the twelve tribes that make up the nation of Israel. He did *not* choose Esau. The nation that descended from Esau, the Edomites, have struggled from day one. Everything they do turns to dust. They are crushed, destroyed. They are an example to Israel. Israel has had so much, but does not appreciate any of it. The spoiled brat has grown into a fat and lazy nation, and cares nothing for the God that has cherished them from their earliest days.
In chapters 6 to the end we discover that Israel has lost the plot. Literally. Like some third-rate 'Son of Police Academy 6, Part II: The Sequel Strikes Back', the actors in this production are going through the motions, but have forgotten what the play is supposed to be about. They've got the right script, the Law of Moses, but it's just a bunch of words. It doesn't *mean* anything any more.
God would rather see us blundering through the story of our lives in earnest, like determined little six-year-olds in their first Nativity, than half-heartedly mouthing sound-bites from the auto-cue.
In chapter 7 God says: When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?"
Think for a moment of the gifts you give to God.
Money: whether regular tithes or one-off giving. Include the gift of your *attitude* to money, is it a means to an end, or the be all and end all?
Time: be it a couple of hours on a Sunday, or time each day given over to focussing on your relationship with your saviour and loving father. What about extra time spent on coffee rotas or committees? Or clearing up the church grounds once in a blue moon!
Do you say, "What a burden!"? Do you think it? Do you sometimes wish you didn't have to bother with all this palaver? There are enough pressures in life already without God adding his ten penn'orth. Wouldn't it be nice just to do your job, get home in the evening and watch telly, rather than having to trek to house-group through the snow?
Okay, I'm laying it on with a trowel, but you get the picture. It's all too easy to get into the mind-set of the Israelites if we lose sight of our relationship with God. Anything we have in this world is because He gives good gifts to his children. We have the gift of eternal life because, *like Jacob*, we have been chosen by God.
Chosen by God. Neither we nor the Israelites did anything to merit our salvation. They looked forward to the Messiah for their redemption, we look back at the cross for ours.
Romans 12 says: "Therefore brothers I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship."
Whatever sacrifices we make are simply a gift of thanks back to God from the bounty He has already provided for us.
Giving back to God out the provision we have received from him pre-dates the Law of Moses. When Abraham returned from rescuing Lot he gave a tenth of his plunder to the priest in Jerusalem [Ge 14:20].
After Jacob's 'Stairway to Heaven' vision, he vowed to give a tenth of all that God would give him, if he would be his God, and watch over him. [Ge 28:22]
The laws God gave to Moses created a structure for giving to God: 'tithing' a tenth of what one had received from the Lord (grain, fruit & animals). The purpose of this 'tithe' was to provide for the Levites, the priests who were commissioned to do God's work in the Tent of Meeting. Since their time was *all* given over to serving the Lord, they couldn't work to provide food for themselves, so the tenth of the wealth of the other eleven tribes went to the tribe of the Levi. In turn, the Levites would tithe a tenth of their tithed income, and give that to God.
But this wasn't about gaining God's favour. It was always meant to be a gift of love.
[Placed a number of 'gifts' under chairs before service began: empty wine bottles, badly bruised fruit, a 5p lolly, a toy horse with a broken leg, box of Quality Street wrappers, some in nice gift boxes, others carelessly wrapped]
Our sacrifices are meant to be a gift, a present from us to God. They don't gain us anything (we are saved through faith in Christ, not by works) they are an expression of our love for God. But the present can equally demonstrate our *lack* of love for God.
How do you feel about your present?
How does God feel about our sacrifices?
God gives good gifts to his children. How do *our* free will thank offerings measure up?
Do we give our best, or the scrapings? When you give money to God, give it from the top of your pay check. Don't wait to see if there's anything left at the end of the month.
Do you say (or think) "What a burden" - with regard to jobs around the church, rotas (coffee, vergering, etc), yesterday's clean-up party. When someone stands at the front asking for helpers for x, y or z, are you thinking "I could do that" or "Hope they don't nail me after the service." [Pointed out that the Toddler Group Fair volunteers list has one name on it after three weeks of requests for help.]
We are called to give our lives to God (Rom 12:1). Like the Israelites freeing up the priests to do God's work, if *we* are giving our time/money/energy to the church it frees Keith up to get on with God's work.
"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Are you full of good intentions, but fail to carry them out? Do you say "Yes, I'll be there" and not turn up? "I'll pray for you", and never get round to it? Malachi 1 ends with this warning: 'Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.' [Mal 1:14]
Lord, speak to our hearts. Teach us to sacrifice freely, as a gift back to our Creator, the author of all good things that come to us. Let us not be going through the motions - let us rejoice that you who need nothing desire a gift of love from us.