“Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings. But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“But you dishonor my name with your actions. By bringing contemptible food, you are saying it’s all right to defile the Lord’s table. You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the Lord,’ and you turn up your noses at my commands,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Think of it! Animals that are stolen and crippled and sick are being presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?” asks the Lord.
“Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is feared among the nations!”
- Malachi 1:6-14
Let’s not get hung up on all the talk of diseased animals and sacrifices. If we think that God needed the Israelites to bring Him a certain sort of animal in a certain sort of condition, we’re missing the point. It’s not as if such sacrifices were somehow taken through a magic portal into Heaven where He used them for purposes unknown. The sacrifices offered to God were typically eaten either by the priests or by the people who offered them (depends on the circumstances).
No, our Lord’s issue here is with the condition of His people’s hearts: “Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” (v. 8). Translation? We respect those who have been placed in authority over us, and would never insult them with haphazard and petty offerings. If I were meeting with a great political leader in my country and I had an opportunity to bring that person a gift, would I simply fish a dollar or two out of my pocket when the time comes, as we so often do when the collection plate gets passed around?
No, I’m not about to go on a tangent about tithing. Those who insist on a 10% rule are also, as far as I can tell, missing the point on this issue. Elsewhere in scripture God rejects Israel’s evidently abundant sacrifices with no mention at all of poor quality.
“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats... wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
- Isaiah 1:11,16-17
Here the text's subject matter is different – in Malachi it's the quality of the sacrifices, in Isaiah it’s the nation’s character of injustice – and yet it’s the same; God detests the sacrifices of malicious, self-centered and unclean hearts no matter what those sacrifices may be. The sacrifice that He truly desires is a clean, contrite and reverent heart (Psalm 51:17, Micah 6:8, Psalm 51:10).
Malachi is addressing people who have failed to put the Lord of Heaven’s armies into His proper context, revere Him as God, Creator of the universe, Holy, Awesome, Terrible, Wonderful. Israel has ceased believing that God is God. He’s become a figurehead, a harmless overseer, an absentee landlord who is not expected to return any time soon. If they believed Him to be otherwise, would they dare insult Him? Would we?
The point for us vis-à-vis church offerings? Whatever amount you put into the collection plate, if you do so generously, cheerfully, reverently and sacrificially, you’re right.* Whatever amount you put into the collection plate, if you do so self-righteously, sparingly, irreverently or thoughtlessly, you’re wrong.
The point for us vis-à-vis everything else? Our Lord is not an idea, not a harmless benefactor, not an afterthought, not to be taken for granted. Yes, He loves us amazingly, overwhelmingly, constantly, but let’s not mistake His love for impassive tolerance. He is to be worshiped. This is not something to be taken lightly.
Heavenly Father. It's so easy for us to take our eyes off you for a moment and plunge headlong off the narrow path, forgetting who you truly are in the process. We beg you not to let this happen. Correct us before we fall, remind us of how awesome, powerful and wonderful you are. And never let us forget or neglect your profoundly tender, personal and overwhelming love. We pray in the name of your precious son, Jesus. Amen.
*This isn't to be taken as an excuse for offering trifles at church. One thing we may want to consider is whether our giving is sacrificial because we've left no margin in our lives for giving. Any reasonable percentage may be nearly impossible for me because I've secured the highest mortgage my broker said I could borrow and/or the largest car loan my bank would allow; consequently I've left so little room at the end of my budget that I can't contribute much to my church without going further into debt. If this is the case, I may not be living a biblical lifestyle; this is a problem I should take pains to address.
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.