Malachi confronted the religious leaders in Israel for “despising” the name of the Lord. Their rebellion and disobedience to ways of worship set forth in the Scriptures were, according to Malachi, rebellion against God, Himself. But the religious leaders, rejecting even the prophet’s authority and confrontation, want to argue about what is right and what is wrong with their behavior. They want to know exactly what Malachi is accusing them of. So the prophet points out in detail how the religious leaders disrespect God and His Name. In Malachi 1:7-8 he says, “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.”

The priests offered “polluted food.” I think what Malachi means by “polluted food” is that the priests ignored the specific directions regarding sacrificial animals. The priests offered blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices to God. Not only did these animals represent disobedience to the law, but they represented gifts of lesser value. They kept the good ones for themselves and gave God what wasn’t of much real value. If these things were offered to secular leaders, they would not accept them, but you expect God to stay silent as you disrespect Him with such offerings. With Malachi as God’s spokesman, God doesn’t remain silent. When I was on recruiting duty in Detroit, Michigan, if you had a military vehicle signed out to you, you had to go through a training class. This was back in the late 70s. As I remember it, seatbelts were just becoming mandatory. I remember the instructor telling all the recruiters that if they had an accident, make sure they told the authorities you were wearing your seat belt. It didn’t matter whether we were wearing it or not. They were not really popular at the time. He said, “Only God and you know the truth. And God isn’t going to tell anyone.” This was the attitude the priests took about offering polluted sacrifices to the Lord. But in this case, the Lord did speak.

Malachi sounded extremely harsh when he accused the priests of “despising” the table of the Lord. It’s just a little white lie that no one cares about, the instructor at the Navy Recruiting station said. It’s just a broken leg, the priest said. It’s such a little thing. But little things like that never stay little. Peter Adam said. “They began by accepting worthless sacrifices, that then led to despising the table or altar on which the sacrifices were offered. The logic is that if the sacrifices are worthless, then the table must be worthless as well. So, they despise the gracious gift of God, the means by which sin is atoned for, and offerings are accepted. To despise God’s gifts is to despise God; to treat God’s gifts of grace as unholy is to reject the very means that God has provided for sins to be forgiven. And this attitude is then reflected in what they say and so communicated to others, priests and worshippers alike: ‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts (13). We see here a spiraling moral decline, in which sin multiplies and intensifies.”[1] The sacrificial offerings were how God would bestow forgiveness for the people’s sins. Today, it’s the cross of Jesus Christ. The communion table represents the reminder that it was the worthy sacrifice of the Son of God, the shedding of that blood, that makes forgiveness possible for us today. To take the Lord’s name in vain, as it is done today, is to “sniff” at God and to despise the table of the Lord.

[1] Adam, Peter. 2013. The Message of Malachi: “I Have Loved You,” Says the Lord. Edited by Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball. The Bible Speaks Today. England: Inter-Varsity Press.