Malachi 1:7-9: “By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say ‘How have we polluted you?’ ‘By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you?’ says the Lord of hosts.”
God is so holy that “holiness” is the most frequently mentioned attribute of God in the entire Bible. This means that God is good, pure, right, true, and light without any darkness. God made humanity holy, but we soon rebelled against God and became sinfully unholy. This broke our relationship with God.
In love, however, God devised a plan to deal with our sin and restore our relationship. At great labor and expense, the Temple was built as the place where God’s presence would dwell so that people could meet with Him. Priests were commissioned into ministry to serve the people and help them give their sins and burdens to God for forgiveness and healing. This was God’s loving way of helping us.
Since the consequence of sinful unholiness was death, a substitute was chosen to spare people from having to suffer for their own sin. Unblemished animals representing purity and perfection were supposed to be brought by the sinner to the Temple and sacrificed by the priest. The sin of the worshipper was imputed or reckoned to the animal who then died in the place for the sinner.
As lazy worshippers, God’s people stopped going through the hard work of transporting their animal to the Temple which might include regular and lengthy walks over many days. Sensing a business opportunity, animals were put up for sale at the Temple at a premium price. Those selling the animals made a hefty profit off of lazy worshippers. Since the priests had to inspect and approve of any sacrifice, before long they were given a cut of the profits from the booming business. Some priests would only accept animals bought from the high-priced vendors who then gave the priest a cut of the revenue. Poorer people with acceptable sacrifices were sometimes turned away and told they had to go buy another animal. Burdened with the animal they brought and needing money to buy a new one, the poor worshippers would sell their animal at a discount, buy another animal at inflated prices, only to see their animal then sold as an acceptable sacrifice at a massive price increase. This is an evil but highly profitable business plan where the priests and the animal sellers made huge profits in the name of worshipping God.
As if that were not bad enough, eventually the priests also allowed some people to bring sacrifices that were “blind”, “lame”, and “sick”. The priests were paid to accept what God rejected and call it holy. Incensed with the corruption, God reminded them that even though “church” might be working for the people, it was not working for Him. Furthermore, God’s reminded His people that they did not try the same shell game with their taxes as they had more regard for them.
Thankfully, the Lord Jesus came as both our High Priest and sacrifice. Perfect and sinless, we are forgiven of sin and spared death by the “precious blood of Christ…a lamb without blemish or spot”. (1 Peter 1:19). Amazingly, in the next chapter we read how Jesus also sends the Holy Spirit to make each of His followers a priest as we together serve others as “a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…a chosen race, a royal priesthood…” (1 Peter 2:5,9).
Is there any area of your life where you are cheating God or trying to get God on your own terms?