Lacking In Imagination
1. Today we read the word of the Lord given to us through Malachi. Malachi means "my messenger." It doesn't seem to be his real name at all. But, that's no big deal. No matter how you look at it, the important thing is that he has spoken as a messenger of the Lord.
2. Through Malachi the Lord gave a severe rebuking over the worship that was taking place in the temple. This was not the temple built that Solomon had built. The temple Solomon had built had been destroyed and burnt down by Babylonia. This is the temple rebuilt about two hundred years after that. In the sixth century before the Common Era, many people had returned back to Jerusalem and worked very hard to build this temple. That situation is described in Ezra's account. The joy they had when it was completed must have been so great! The people were so excited. The people must have sworn in their hearts to rebuild the people of God and offered up their worship with thanksgiving from the heart.
3. But, the initial excitement waned as time elapsed. The worship of the people who were offering up sacrifices with joy and passion had gradually died out. To continue on so so with a chore that you're supposed to do is even harder to keep up. Both their giving hearts and the sacrifices that were a manifestation of their hearts became lame hearted. This is the background to God's word which we read today.
4. Please read verses six and seven.
"A son repects his father and a servant his master.
But, if I am your father,
Where then is the respect due me?
If I am your master,
Where is the fear due me?,
Thus says the Lord of the armies to you.
O priests who despise my name!
'How did we make light of your name?'
As you keep offering
Defiled bread on my altar
You say, 'How did we defile you?'
But worse, you say
'The table of the Lord should be despised,'" (Malachi 1:6-7).
6. God addresses the priests as "O priests who despise my name!" This is a strong word. But, the priests don't get it. They just don't see it. They don't think they have been making light of His name. They say, "How did we make light of your name?" They say, "How did we defile you?" They just are not seeing how they really look.
7. As we see in verse seven, they are actually offering up defiled bread. What might "defiled bread" be? Here in this text bread is food in general, in this case it meant their sacrifical offerings for worship. In saying defiled bread it didn't mean a dirty offering. It meant an offering unfit for a worship service. It is written with more specifics afterwards. It meant "an animal with an injured eye" or "an animal that is sick with a foot that was injured." According to Deuteronomy, you shouldn't offer an animal like that to God.
8. But, they did offer up such animals. Why did they? Because it made more sense to. At that time the Israelites were under the authority of Persia. While it may say that Jerusalem was being rebuilt, the protective walls of the city were still crumbled down, they were economically poor and didn't take in many crops, and life was still painful. Furthermore, the holocaust offerings were completely burned up. So if they were burned up entirely there wasn't any need for them to be healthy oxen or sheep. If its foot was injured, that shouldn't stop them. That's why they offered those animals up. Since this seemed to make a lot of sense to them, quite expectedly, there was no attitude of sinfulness on this with the priests. They never imagined that they might be making light of His name.
9. What was their problem? They were lacking in imagination. Therefore, the prophet implored the people's power of imagination. Please look at verse eight.
"'Even though you offer lame eyed animals
As a sacrifice, isn't it wrong?
Even though you offer animals with wounded feet and diseased,
Isn't it wrong?
Present them to your governor.
Will he be happy with you and accepting of you?,'
Says the Lord of the armies," (1:8)
11. In the Bible, the Lord God is spoken of with various images. One of them is of "a king." More true to the phraseology, this passage was supposed to be spoken in regard to a king. But, they were more familiar with having a governor directly ruling over them, rather than the Persian king. Actually, in various situations, gifts to the governor were presented to him. The prophet appeals to their imagination and makes them imagine this scene and overlaps their worship in comparison. He makes them imagine their offering up to the governor animals with injured feet or animals with lame eyes. Would he be happy with that? No, he wouldn't. Instead, he would probably punish them for their profanity and disrespect.
12. If he could stir up their imagination they would understand. They were doing something so very strange. They ought to see how disrespectful they were acting.
13. Lacking in imagination must often times be a big problem for us as well. In one respect, just like the priests of Malachi's time, even though we might have done something wrong, it sometimes happens that we never realize it. We don't realize our sin. If we don't see our sin, we can't repent of it. But in another respect, there is a way to awaken our imaginations that have been so mistaken. We have selfishly built up images of God. This leads us to idol worship. We must value the symbols which the Bible clearly points to. We must give weight to biblical pictures. I would like for us to think about the representative images which the Bible uses in the time that is left. Let's awaken our imagination.
God As Father, Husband, King
14. First, let's consider the image of God as "father." In today's passage the imagery of a father towards his son is used as well as the image of a master towards his servant. "But, if I am your father, where then is the respect due me?," (verse six). In this situation his being a father is tied to "respect."
15. A person's faith life is influenced by the kind of parent one imagines by the word "father." Those who hear this word said and imagine only a parent fond of his children will lead a faith life that goes according to that image. Those with only a bad impression towards fathers cannot correctly see God as a father in their imagination. Especially in modern times when the fatherly image is falling apart, understanding God as a father is very hard to do. Therefore, we must know the kind of fatherly image the Bible presupposes when it speaks of one. We must not think of God with a selfish type fatherly image.
16. As it typically appears in Malachi, it is "respect" that is tied back to the original imagery of the father in the Bible. In the ten commandments we are commanded to "Honor your father and mother." A father is worthy of our respect. He has the right to expect our respect. Parents are inherently persons with this right. This right generally functions as "a giver of instruction." In Israel it was the duty of the father to instruct his child. Thus, this fatherly image is used and is written in Proverbs as "My son, do not despise the instruction of the Lord. Do not turn away from the chastisement of the Lord. As a father who chastises the son of his heart does the Lord chastise his beloved," ( Proverbs 3:11-12). We don't understand what a shocking message "The Parable Of The Prodigal Son" is when we don't have the image of a father who ought to be respected, stands by right for who he is, and inherently has authority in his house.
17. We are really the ones who are like "little babies" before the Father. Paul says that we are persons who have been sent the spirit of God's son who cries "Abba, father," (Galatians 4:6). Abba is the cry by which toddlers call their fathers. It is us when we call "Daddy" before his absolute and unmoveable authority. Well, has our relationship with God been like that?
18. Secondly, it is the image of "a husband." A husband and a wife are united in marriage. With them then, the relationship that exists in their love is the point to be made. For this very reason, the prophet calls it "adultery" when Israel turned its back on God's love and practices idolatry.
19. It is important to see in our minds the faith life as a husband and wife relationship. In marriage relationships in the world, the important thing is to love each other. It is also important to be respectful of each other. With husbands and wives when we say love it's not just a speech of the heart and just words. Even if I claim "I love" my wife so much, but if I disrespect her in my actions, that's not love. Loving her is being respectful in definite ways and is to make her the highest priority above all others. If I make my wife "second or third place," that's not loving her. Similarly, loving God is, more than every thing else, to give him top priority. We shouldn't put him along side anyone else. Thus, even in the ten commandments it says, "You shall not have any gods except me (literally it has the meaning 'along side me')."
20. In daily life priorities are apparent. In our case, for example, priorities are apparent in the way we use our time and money. Specifically, it is apparent in the place we give to worship in our lives and in the budgeting of our resources for the offering. If our relationship with God is a marriage relationship, then it is not just in the heart nor some ideal.
21. Thirdly, it is the image of "a king." This is the most important image in the Bible. That's because the kingdom of God is none other than where God rules as a king.
22. To visualize God as king has importance in all kinds of situations. Especially so is it important when we listen to the word of God. There is a phrase that used to be used all the time when the prophets used to be active in Israel. It is the phrase, "Thus, saith the Lord." This is a set form; it is called the "Messenger's Formula." It is a set phrase that a messenger, sent by someone with authority, uses. The representative of the person with authority is the same as the king.
23. The awareness that was in the prophet speaking forth the word of God was an awareness of himself that he was sent from the true King with the highest authority above any other king in the world. Therefore, he even spoke to the kings of this world. Even to the kings of this world he called for repentance and obedience. Even if the state prohibits it, a prophet speaks the word of God the true king.
24. This is what God's word is saying and telling us. It is in principle the same today as when the word of God is proclaimed in the gospel of Christ. The prophet is no more than the message bearer of God the king. Today's preachers are the same thing. The important thing is not the message bearer, but the message being told. The issue, then, is whether we believers are hearing it as a message from the King or not.
25. When we say that "We hear the word" or "we hear the word of God," if we're thinking mostly that "We are hearing a good speech," then the subject of being obedient to it might never come up. When we hear the word of God as "the word of [our] King," then "obedience" starts to mean something. Those who can't envision God as their King often become christians lacking in obedience. We need the power of our imaginations in order to become christians who "listen and obey God more than any other authority in this world and more than any other person in this world."