The Rev. Robert Lee Hill, Community Christian Church: To better understand the book of the prophet Malachi, it’s best to know something about ritual practices in his day.
Malachi, whose name means “messenger,” proffered his prophetic declarations sometime between 445 and 432 B.C. At that time, ritual sacrifice was understood by the Hebrew people to be a pleasing and mandated way to worship God. For selfish and self-absorbed reasons, however, the best animals, which ritual traditions required, were withheld.
Very few, if any, contemporary faith groups would entertain such a practice now. But that’s not the premier point that can be rendered for contemporary people, anyway. There is a powerful metaphorical lesson at work in Malachi.
Proper worship practices, proper use of our resources and appropriate responses of gratitude to God have always been of ultimate concern to the Hebrew people and the God of the Bible. This is the gist of Malachi’s complaint in the first chapter of the book that bears his name.
Instead of righteousness, the people had “profaned” their relationship with God. The table of God’s welcome has been “polluted,” and some folks are called out-and-out “cheats.” The people are neither doing nor giving their best.
Which could be a fair critique in some communities of faith, especially those concerned more about their own welfare and satisfaction than about the welfare and fulfillment of those in need.
This not-giving-our-best also applies when any religious group settles for less intellectually. When we don’t exercise our mental capacities, we fail to abide by the great commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
So as to not cheat God — or yourself — Malachi reminds us to bring our best selves before the throne of God’s grace — especially when it can help another life — and never save what’s best for later. As Annie Dillard has said, “Give it all, give it now.”
The Rev. Raymond Davis, Jr., founder and emeritus, Greater Corinthian Church of the Christ (Non-Denominational):
The infancy of worship and devotion to God originated in the term sacrifice. Sacrifice was designed to offer God the best. The animal was given priority. God desired the animal sacrifice.
As early as the book of Genesis (4:4), we see the sacrifice of the best. “Abel brought of the firstling of his flock.”
The meaning of this sacrificial system of devotion was to judge the hearts and spirituality of the people. It became Levitical — Covenant — Law and was managed by the priesthood.
Over time, during the long history of this worship practice, abuses took place. Malachi, the last of the scripture prophets, had occasion to expose the abuses and mismanagement of animal sacrifices.
Malachi (2:8) observed this abuse of the covenant and declared: “Ye are departed out of the way.”
Parallels do exist as we worship God according to New Testament, Christ-faith, and the church temple. A scriptural revelation in Timothy (4:1) predicts the departure from Gospel faith in later times. “Now the spirit speaketh (clearly) that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.”
The most significant truth that we should embrace is that it is not animals we bring to God. In his letter to the Romans (12:1), Paul beseeched the faithful to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
Do not depart from “the way.”
The Voices of Faith writers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org