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Friday, 3 November 2017

Only the best is good enough!

Throughout my increasingly long life, I have often been informed - in a negatively critical manner - that I am a "perfectionist"! I was reminded of that when I read these words, in a blog from David Robertson: "... please send us your best – no other sacrifice is good enough for the Lord."

The reason why those words resonated with me is that it is in that area that I willingly plead "Guilty", as charged. The Old Testament prophet, Malachi (he whose book is the final one in translations from the Hebrew), had something to say about the subject. The literal translation of his name is "my messenger", and his ministry consisted of calling God's people - the Children of Israel - back to their spiritual responsibilities, and to a fresh commitment.

Malachi wrote his prophetic message about 450 B.C., at the time when the Children of Israel had returned to the land of Judah, in Canaan, and had succeeded in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. However, once this had been achieved the people, as had happened so often before in their long history, had become backslidden and idolatrous. Malachi is the prophet, chosen and called by YHWH (the LORD) to reawaken them, and to challenge them to live up to their God-given responsibilities as the Chosen People.

The prophet criticises the people in four main areas, the first of which was their failure to put God first in their list of priorities. They had begun to take Him for granted, and had lost their sense of spiritual need. Worst of all, it was the priests - those who should have been teaching the people and ensuring that they kept the Torah (which is much more than "Law" in our modern, Western, sense) - who were most guilty! Malachi's accusation is specific: "A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a Father, where is My honour? And if I am a Master, where is My fear? says YHWH Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts) to you, O priests, who despise My Name." (1:6). He goes on to make the accusation even more specific by pointing out that the priests, instead of offering unblemished animals for sacrifice, were palming off, on the Almighty, cheap and worthless beasts. "You say, ‘How have we despised Thy Name?’  By offering polluted food upon My altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that YHWH's table may be despised.  When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favour? says YHWH Sabaoth." (1:6-8).

Today, of course, animal sacrifices are unnecessary - certainly for disciples of Jesus whose voluntary death has fully paid the penalty for our sin. We are still obliged, however, to honour Almighty God as Father and Master. If we fail to do so, and neglect to give Him His due - in time, money, energy, talents, concerns - then we are no different from those priests from 2,500 years ago. If we are, indeed, disciples of Jesus, this may be the very moment in which we should re-establish our priorities! 

At the end of this section - what we know as the first chapter of the prophecy - are these words of YHWH: "Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to YHWH what is blemished; ..." (v.14; emphasis added). A man who offered an unfit sacrifice in Old Testament times was referred to, by Almighty God, as a 'cheat'! We, too, fall into this category when we refuse, or fail, to give Him our best. As David Robertson said: "- no other sacrifice is good enough for the Lord."

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