Acts Lesson Six

Acts Lesson Six – 4:1-12: Persecution Begins

4 Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were provoked that they were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection from the dead, using Jesus as the example. So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. 

The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family.  After they had Peter and John stand before them, they asked the question: “By what power or in what name have you done this?” 

Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man—by what means he was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing here before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is 

the stone rejected by you builders, 

which has become the cornerstone. 

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (HCSB)

In chapter four of Acts, the official persecution of the New Testament church begins, which Jesus had predicted would occur.

  • Matthew 10:17-20 – 17 Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.18 You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. 19 But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, 20 because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you.
  • Luke 21:12-15 – 12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. 14 Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, 15 for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Peter’s message produced two very different results.

  • Approximately 2,000 more came to faith in Jesus.
  • The religious leaders rejected the message and tried to silence the Apostles.

Now let’s look at each group that is referenced in the first verse. It would be easy to skim over this, but it speaks to the level of attention and persecution that is beginning.

  • Priests.
    • The priestly caste in general.
    • They were opposed to Jesus before His crucifixion.
    • They were now opposed to the witness of Jesus’ followers.
    • Their teaching was being undermined by the Apostle’s teaching.
  • Commander of the Temple Police.
    • Not Roman troops.
    • These were the people who arrested Jesus.
    • Apart from the Roman governor and the Roman army, he was the second most powerful person in Jerusalem.
      • Romans first.
      • High Priest second.
      • Commander of the Temple Police third.
  • Sadducees.
    • Not the numerically biggest group in the Sanhedrin.
    • Upper class.
    • Powerful in position and with significant financial backing.
    • They understood that to survive the Roman occupation; they would have to cooperate with the occupiers. Hence, they had established close ties with the Roman authorities and would do anything to keep that influence.

So we see that power-brokers in the Jewish religious system were united in an effort to crush this new religious movement which threatened the stability and the positions of power that they now occupied. Instead of pursuing the truth, they were more concerned with preserving their prestige, status, and wealth.

We see in verse two what it was that was really bothering the religious leaders.

  • The Apostles were teaching the people.
    • Religious teaching was reserved for the priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, rulers, elders, and teachers of the Law.
    • In their minds, teaching was reserved for those who had attended a rabbinical academy and received the approval to begin teaching independently.
      • This was a point about Jesus that had really bothered them.
      • Still, Jesus had intrinsic authority in His teaching.
        • The people marveled at His teaching and followed Him to hear more.
        • His teaching was so powerful that at one point, when the temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned to the religious leaders and explained their failure (John 7:46.
      • Now they didn’t have one man to deal with; they had a group who spoke with the same level of authority.
        • The Apostles never attended rabbinical schools.
        • They came from simple backgrounds.
          • Fishermen.
          • Tax-collectors.
          • Untaught people. 
        • But they were teaching like Jesus, with authority, and the people were listening.
  • The Apostles were teaching about Jesus and God the Father raising Him from the dead.
    • Teaching only about resurrection would likely not have resulted in the persecution that now starts.
      • The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
      • The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection.
        • This split in belief was later used by Paul to divide the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-9).
    • The Apostles were teaching about a resurrection on the last day.
    • They were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus.
      • If true, this would lead to several conclusions.
        • It would validate Jesus’ identity.
        • It would prove His nature and the value of what He came to do.
        • It would indict the religious leaders in the murder of their Messiah.

The religious leaders now resorted to a common, worldly method of retaining control. They used power in an attempt to intimidate and control the Apostles.

  • Power.
    • Economic power.
    • Authoritarian power – courts, legal system, and military.
    • Positional power.
      • You can preach when we allow it.
      • We can stop you anytime we feel like it.
      • We can arrest you without just cause.
  • Intimidation.
    • Putting them in jail was not necessary.
    • The Apostles were preaching in the open and not hiding.
    • They could have had brought them before the Sanhedrin the following morning.

The following day, as the Sanhedrin met, reveals additional powerful forces brought against the fledgling church.

  • Rulers – most likely those in positions of authority within the Jewish government.
  • Elders – distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and wielding great influence.
  • Scribes – teachers of the Law.
  • Annas – the high priest.
    • Although the Romans had removed him from the official position years earlier, he was still the power behind the position of the high priest.
    • In Israel, the high priest occupied that position for life. The Jews would consider Annas the true high priest until he died.
    • He connived to have his five sons and one son-in-law become high priest after he was removed from the position.
  • Caiaphas – the son-in-law and acting high priest.
    • He conspired along with Annas to have Jesus killed.
    • They may have begun to devise a similar plot against Jesus’ followers.
  • John and Alexander – not much is known about them. Most likely, they were members of the priestly family.

As we consider what had taken place so far, we need to review the responsibility of the Sanhedrin in Jewish life.

  • They were responsible for protecting the Jewish faith.
  • They were required to examine any new teacher or teaching within Israel (Deuteronomy 13).
  • They had the right to investigate what the fledgling church was doing, but they didn’t have the right to arrest innocent men and refuse to examine the evidence that was presented honestly.

The council now asks by what power, authority, or name they had healed the lame man. They unwittingly presented Peter with an opportunity to witness, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Peter now begins his defense.

  • Peter demonstrates respect for the council as he explains how the lame man was healed.
  • There is also a not-so-subtle jab at the religious leaders regarding their arrest.
    • Since the question that they ask is about the healing of the lame man, Peter is implying that the only reason they could have been arrested was for healing him.
    • Healing the man is not a crime.
  • Peter then says it was through the name of Jesus that the lame man was healed. 
    • The religious council likely thought they had heard the last of Jesus after His crucifixion.
      • But the Apostles were teaching that Jesus was alive.
      • To the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, this would have been tantamount to a heavy religious slap in the face.
  • Peter’s defense is guided by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had told them.
    • Luke 21:15 For I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 
    • Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, a direct messianic reference that Jesus also quoted in Matthew 21:42.
    • Peter tells the council that they are the builder, but they rejected God’s stone, Jesus.
    • The image of a stone or rock is scattered throughout the Old Testament and is often symbolic of God. 
    • The stone can be a blessing or a stumbling block.
      • A blessing to those who place their faith in Jesus.
      • A stumbling block to those who reject Jesus.
  • Peter concludes his defense by stating that not only was the lame man healed in the name of Jesus but that Jesus is the only way to salvation and restoration with God.
  • In Peter’s short defense, we see a tactic that Paul would also use later. Not only did Peter speak in defense of their actions, but he also used it as an opportunity to witness to the truth of Jesus to the religious council, the very ones who should have already known who Jesus is.
  • Peter’s sermon can be summarized around four points.
    • The religious leaders were guilty of killing Jesus. 
    • Jesus rose from the dead; He was alive! The very God that the religious leaders worshiped is the God who raised Jesus and placed Him at His right hand, proving that Jesus is God the Son, the savior of the world.
    • God’s purpose was fulfilled despite the opposition of the religious leaders. 
    • Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A point to remember as we continue our journey through Acts, after chapter three, only three other chapters in total don’t mention persecution. This would imply that persecution, at some level, might be a necessary part of every believer’s life. Scripture would seem to confirm this.

  • 2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
  • John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

There is an essential point for the modern church to consider here. How often did we/do we hear about suffering as being an expected part of the Christian life? I know that was never mentioned to me before I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I understand it now and don’t run from it. When we look at the shallowness of the modern church, especially in the affluent West, we need to consider whether the church’s neglect in this area has led to a significant number of shallow Christians who view salvation as a “get out of hell, free” card, but who otherwise don’t live as a faithful follower of Jesus. As Jesus said, we must count the cost.

Applications

  • The church must teach that persecution will occur. As we witness to the lost, we must talk about persecution. As we walk with Jesus, we must prepare ourselves for persecution. For many of us, persecution is something we read about. However, we have many brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution on a daily basis. And according to Scripture, those of us who don’t currently face persecution may soon find out circumstances rapidly changing, especially as we view what’s happening around the world.
  • We should never fear persecution. As followers of Jesus, we are to walk in His footsteps. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Walk and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The power behind the early church was the Holy Spirit. Ordinary, uneducated men were accomplishing remarkable things powered by God. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “forgotten God,” because the modern church often doesn’t rely on Him. 
  • No matter the circumstances or challenges we face, let the Holy Spirit lead you as you share the Gospel with the lost around you. Jesus is the only path to salvation.

Malachi Lesson Three

Malachi Lesson Three 2:1-9 – Yahweh Warns the Priests

“Therefore, this decree  is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart  to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings.  In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart. 

“Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants,  and I will spread animal waste  over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices,  and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree so My covenant with Levi  may continue,” says the Lord of Hosts. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace,  and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.  True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me  in peace and fairness and turned many from sin.  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. 

“You, on the other hand, have turned from the way.  You have caused many to stumble  by your instruction. You have violated  the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised  and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.” (HCSB)

In this passage, we see Yahweh giving a warning to the disobedient priests, telling them what will happen if they continue and reminding them of how He rewards faithful service. Their behavior wasn’t only disobedience to God; they also led the people away from true worship by their negligent behavior.

Verse 1

The beginning of chapter two links back to chapter one with the word “therefore.” God is warning the priests that if they continue with the disobedience described in chapter one, they will face the punishment described in this passage. 

Verse 2

Verse 1 gives a conditional choice to the priests. Nevertheless, God was still willing to grant mercy and forgiveness if they repented and began to act as priests. 

However, this will require a heart change on the part of the priests. The phrase “take it to heart” has a deeper meaning in the original Hebrew. It denotes the “command center” of a person’s life. A place where knowledge is collected and considered. A place where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of a person’s life. It is not an emotional response. The phrase occurs a dozen times in the Old Testament, and in each case, it refers to determining a course of action in response to knowledge. If the priests responded to God’s call for repentance and giving Him the honor He deserved, they would be restored. Up until this point, they had demonstrated a superficial faith. God was calling on them to display genuine faith.

The term “curse” doesn’t have a hidden meaning; it is literally a curse. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 warns of the covenant curses that would befall Israel if they disobeyed God. The curses are identified in three stages in this verse.

  • Sending a curse.
  • Turning blessings into a curse.
  • The curses had already started.

Verse 3

Not only will the priests be cursed if they don’t correct their behavior, but their descendants will also be cursed. The word “look,” some translations have “see” or “behold,” adds urgency to the coming curse. The original Hebrew phrase indicates an event that will occur in the imminent future. Thus, we see in the Bible where descendants share in the blessings.

  • Numbers 25:13 – It will be a covenant of perpetual priesthood for him and his future descendants, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.

Then an illustration is given on how God will humiliate and remove the unrepentant priests from their position. The picture of animal excrement being spread on the priest’s face and then being thrown in the same trash heap like the rest of the excrement shouldn’t be taken literally. However, it does mean that the priests would be removed from their position in such a way that would bring the greatest amount of disgrace on them. This strong imagery indicates the degree to which God was repulsed by the priest’s behavior. Just as they had treated God with contempt (verse 1:6) and defiled His altar with corrupt and useless sacrifices (verse 1:7), God would treat them with contempt and defile them, making them worthless for future service. The priests felt it was a burden to faithfully serve God (verse 1:13), so now they and their descendants would be free from the burden of service.

Verse 4

Yahweh desires to honor His covenant with Levi, that his descendants will continue to serve the role as priests for Israel. An important point to remember regarding covenants made with groups. Although the group will be blessed by God, it does not ensure that each individual in the group will receive the blessing. It still requires adherence to the requirements of the covenant, and failing to do that, as the priests here were failing, leads to being removed from the covenant relationship.

  • Matthew 8:11-12 – I tell you that many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Luke 13:28 – There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown out.
  • Romans 9:6-8 – But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.

In the same way, today, we are not Christians because our parents were Christians. Those who believe and place their trust in Jesus are Christians, regardless of their ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, or any other demographic delineation. 

Malachi considered the “covenant of peace” to apply not just to Phinehas (son of Eleazar) and his descendants or the descendants of Aaron but to the entire tribe of Levi. This understanding is likely based upon Deuteronomy 10:8 – At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the LORD’s covenant, to stand before Yahweh to serve Him, and to pronounce blessings in His name, as it is today.

Verses 5-7 – This section describes how the priests were expected to conduct themselves.

Verse 5

Yahweh had blessed the priestly tribe of Levi with a full and happy life filled with shalom. Shalom should be understood to mean peace and wholeness. The twin concepts of life and peace are present in:

  • 1 Samuel 15:6 – Then say this: “Long life to you, and peace to you, to your family, and to all that is yours.”
  • Proverbs 3:2 – For they will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being.
  • Numbers 25:12 – Therefore declare: I grant him My covenant of peace.
  • Joshua 9:15 – So Joshua established peace with them and made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders of the community swore an oath to them.

God’s covenant of peace with the tribe of Levi would be an assurance of a lasting relationship and a promise to secure and protect their welfare by His grace, wisdom, and power. In return, Yahweh expected and received reverence (fear), demonstrating that the early priests, in contrast to those being addressed here, wisely feared only God. 

Verse 6

Fear of the Lord shouldn’t motivate only the priests’ moral obedience but also their responsibility to teach and uphold the commands contained within Scripture. Thus, not only were the priests responsible for conducting the sacrifices (correctly) on behalf of the people, they were also teachers of the Law.

  • Leviticus 10:11 – and teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given to them through Moses.
  • Deuteronomy 33:10a – They will teach Your ordinances to Jacob and your instructions to Israel.
  • 2 Chronicles 15:3 – For many years Israel had been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction.
  • Ezekiel 7:26 – Disaster after disaster will come, and there will be rumor after rumor. Then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but instruction will perish from the priests and counsel from the elders.
  • Hosea 4:6 – My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons.

Authentic instruction should be understood to mean “instruction of truth.” The priests were responsible for teaching truth to Israel, and this was done through teaching and obeying the Law. This instruction would teach Israel how they were to live in God’s covenant community and how to avoid defiling the tabernacle. In addition, obedience to the Law would determine Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant Yahweh had established with them. Because of this, the health of this covenant relationship was highly dependent on the priests faithfully performing their responsibilities. However, it is not defined just by how faithfully the priests taught the people; it also included the faithfulness of their lives. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers.

Verse 7

Since verse 6 focused on the responsibility of the priest’s teaching, this verse explains that the priests are messengers of Yahweh. In contrast to angels or prophets who would convey new instructions from God, the priests were messengers in the context of teaching the people what was already revealed in the Law and how it applied to their lives. A key point here, and still applicable today, is the relevance of God’s instructions to us through Scripture and the role of the priests (pastors/elders today) of faithfully and correctly teaching what is contained in Scripture and how that applies to us. That is what is meant by the term “guard knowledge” in this verse. Those today who preach/teach a false or altered understanding of Scripture are the same as the priests being condemned in Malachi. They may get away with it for a period of time, but they will be judged. 

  • James 3:1 – Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.

Verse 8

Here Malachi returns to address the sinning priests, accusing them in three different areas.

  • They had turned from the way. Their failure started with themselves; they were solely responsible for their actions.
    • Judges 2:17 – But they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.
    • Exodus 32:8 – They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, “Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
    • Deuteronomy 9:12 – The LORD said to me, “Get up and go down immediately from here. For your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made a cast image for themselves.”
  • Instead of turning from sin, they had caused others to fall into sin. The word “stumble” is often used in Scripture to identify sin and its consequences.
    • Isaiah 3:8 – For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen because they have spoken and acted against the LORD, defying His glorious presence.
    • Isaiah 8:14-15 – He will be a sanctuary, but for the two houses of Israel, He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over these; they will fall and be broken; they will be snared and captured.
    • Hosea 14:1 – Israel, return to Yahweh your God, for you have stumbled in your sin.
    • Proverbs 4:19 – But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they don’t know what makes them stumble.
    • Leviticus 26:37 – They will stumble over one another as if fleeing from a sword though no one is pursuing them. You will not be able to stand against your enemies.
    • Luke 17:1-2 – He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
  • The third and most prominent charge was that the priests had violated the covenant with Levi. As we consider the seriousness of this, we need to remember that a covenant was a relationship between two parties and made effective by an oath of obligation. If one side failed to live up to the agreement, the covenant was considered to have been broken (violated). The offended party could forgive the offender and restore or renew the covenant. This is the situation here. The covenant was broken but not destroyed. Yahweh is showing mercy by allowing the priests to repent and return if they will follow the Law.

Verse 9

Divine judgment had already begun, but it was not irreversible. The original Hebrew word for “despised” used here is the same one that describes the priest’s despising Yahweh in 1:6. Yahweh doesn’t tolerate pride and will overturn those who are prideful and lack humility.

  • 1 Samual 2:1-10.
  • Isaiah 2:11-17.
  • Isaiah 57:15.
  • Ezekiel 17:24

The reason for their humiliation is that they failed to be loyal and obedient servants to Yahweh. This is a timeless message and warning for today’s church and church leaders. Whenever those who teach God’s Word sacrifice the truth of the message, change it, alter it for their benefit, try to “soften” the message, so they don’t offend anyone, or try to be politically correct, they have betrayed the position that they are filling and the flock entrusted to their care. At the least, this could involve the loss of respect from the flock entrusted to their care. At the worst, it could be the type of punishment Jesus mentioned in Luke 17:1-2, where the offender is thrown into a sea attached to a millstone.

In reviewing this passage, there are four characteristics of a pastor/elder/shepherd leader.

  • The first is a proper relationship to God, which is referred to in Malachi as reverence. True knowledge begins with a reverential awe of God. Spiritual leaders need to cultivate reverence more than anything else.
  • A faithful shepherd will stand true even when confronted by false teachers and heretics. When shepherd leaders faithfully preach God’s Word, we speak absolute truth that applies to any point in history. Teaching God’s Word is a heavy responsibility.
  • They are marked with a godlike character and holiness. The key requirement here is godliness. Church leaders should pray for godliness and ask their congregation to pray for godliness in their leader and faithful teaching from Scripture
  • Knowledge of God, which is salvation through Jesus and living a life of obedience to God and His Word. When church leaders do this, the sheep are fed, and they look to the leader for instruction.

Applications – Although this passage was directed towards the Levitical priests, there are application points for all of us in the passage.

  • If we are in a church leadership position, are we faithful and obedient to what God’s Word requires of us? We need to make an honest assessment of this question, and if we aren’t following God’s Word, we need to repent and get back on the right path. God will extend mercy and grace if we are genuinely repentant about our disobedience.
  • If we teach and preach, do we hold true to what Scripture says, or do we put our own spin on it or twist Scripture to advance our personal agenda? This is a dangerous practice and will ultimately result in judgment against us. Just as in application point one above, we need to repent and be faithful as we teach God’s Word.
  • If we have been involved in false teaching and we have caused others to stumble, we need to repent of that and go to that person(s) or congregation and correct the mistake, as well as ask for forgiveness. Doing just the first part is not enough.
  • Teaching God’s Word is a great responsibility. We can’t do it on our own or through our “head knowledge.” We need guidance from the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it is a wonderful experience to preach God’s Word and see lives changed and souls added to the spiritual family of God.

Malachi Lesson Two

Malachi Lesson Two 1:6-14 – Disobedience of the Priests

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me?  says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.” Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?” “By presenting defiled food on My altar.” You ask: “How have we defiled You?” When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.” “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong?  Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us?  Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?”  asks the Lord of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors,  so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar!  I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept  no offering from your hands. 

11 “For My name will be great among the nations,  from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense  and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,”  says Yahweh of Hosts. 

12 But you are profaning it  when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” 13 You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” “And you scorn  it,”  e says the Lord of Hosts. “You bring stolen,  g lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord. 

14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord.  For I am a great King,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “and My name  will be feared among the nations. 

In this passage, Yahweh is addressing the priests and their disobedient and disrespectful behavior towards Him. The address will continue into the next lesson, which begins with chapter two. The reason Yahweh doesn’t specifically address the priests until the beginning of chapter two is that this paragraph applies not only to the priests but to all of Israel and the book as a whole. This passage and the first part of chapter two form a contrast between Yahweh’s love and Israel’s failure to honor Him in response. Displaying love towards God is exhibited by obedience from the heart. In this passage, the first explicit revelation of the problem the prophet was addressing; the failure of Judah, lead by the priests, honor and fear Yahweh.

  • Nehemiah 9:16-17 – But our ancestors acted arrogantly; they became stiff-necked and did not listen to Your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember Your wonders You performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, and You did not abandon them.
  • Nehemiah 9:26, 29 – But they were disobedient and rebelled against You. They flung Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who warned them in order to turn them back to You. They committed terrible blasphemies…You warned them to turn back to Your law, but they acted arrogantly and would not obey Your commands. They sinned against Your ordinances, which a person will live by if he does them. They stubbornly resisted, stiffened their necks, and would not obey. 

A second theme appears in verses 11-14, pagan nations who have been hostile to Yahweh will someday submit and give Him the honor and fear that He deserves and desires.

As we go through this passage, there are four personal failures of the priests identified.

  • They were offering defiled sacrifices on God’s altar. 
  • They were harming the people by accepting defiled sacrifices.
  • They showed contempt for the office of the priest.
  • They were defying God.

Verse 6

The prophet’s point here is that even if Judah was blind to God’s love, they should have viewed God as their father and Lord and given the honor expected of that relationship.

  • Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
  • Deuteronomy 5:16 – Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and so that you may prosper in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  • Isaiah 66:19 – I will establish a sign among them, and I will send survivors from them to the nations – to Tarshish, Put, Lud (who are archers), Tubal, Javan, and the islands far away – who have not heard of My fame or seen My glory. And they will proclaim My glory among the nations.

Let’s also address the concept of “fear” towards God to ensure that we correctly understand what a “fearful attitude” towards God means. No single English word conveys every aspect of the word “fear” in this phrase. The meaning includes worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to the covenant-keeping God of Israel. Proper fear of Yahweh can also be understood as “wisdom.” This would result in covenant loyalty and restraint from sin. 

  • Psalm 111:10 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His instructions have good insight. His praise endures forever.
  • Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.

However, the priests were displaying an attitude that lacked honor, fear, and love. Instead, they “despised” God as insignificant or worthless, not taking God seriously.

Verse 7

By presenting a defiled sacrifice, the altar was also defiled. The priests showed how they “despised” God by offering sacrifices that defiled the sanctuary’s holiness that was their responsibility to maintain, as presented in Numbers 18:1-7. The table was also symbolic of hospitality and the relationship between those who shared the table. By having a lax and irreverent attitude towards the table, the priests exhibited their contempt towards God.

Verse 8

The priests were responsible for determining whether a sacrifice meet the requirements as stated in the Law. 

  • Leviticus 22:19-20 – Must offer an unblemished male from the cattle, sheep, or goats in order for you to be accepted. You are not to present anything that has a defect, because it will not be accepted.
  • Deuteronomy 15:21 – But if there is a defect in the animal, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you must not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.

The worship that the priests were allowing was false worship filled with lies and unrighteousness, profaning God’s name. If such gifts/sacrifices wouldn’t be acceptable to earthly kings/rulers, why would we think they’ll be acceptable to an infinitely holy God?

Verse 9

Why should we expect God to be gracious to us or answer our prayers when we act in such a disrespectful and irreverent manner towards God? We are kidding ourselves if we think we will find favor with God by acting in this way.

Verse 10

Here we find the first directive in the book, “shut the temple doors.” However, this is not what God really wants. Instead, what He desires is contained in this passage; fear and honor displayed by proper sacrifices coming from pure hearts. It is amazing but not surprising that after the punishment of the exile and their restoration to Israel, they quickly fell back into practices of empty worship. 

  • Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.
  • Isaiah 1:13 – Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to Me. New Moon and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies – I cannot stand iniquity with a festival.

God doesn’t need our offerings or service. Instead, they serve as a way for us to testify to His greatness and magnify His name. God is pleased when He receives sincere praise and worship. In addition, worship benefits us by nourishing our relationship with God and enabling us to interact and encourage each other in our faith. However, being “religious” without genuine love and gratitude towards God is both useless and repulsive to Him as it degrades His character.

Verse 11

Here the prophet is contrasting how the priests of God’s temple were treating Him, with contempt, with how the pagan nations would one day treat Him. This points to a future time when God’s name will be great among the nations (pagans), and they will offer pleasing sacrifices to Him. Thus, the prophecy contained in this book can be understood as being fulfilled in the present age (New Covenant/New Testament church).

  • Hebrews 13:15-16 – Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name. Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
  • 1 Peter 2:4-5 – Coming to Him, a living stone – rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God – you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

It also includes complete fulfillment when Jesus returns.

Verse 12

To accuse someone of profaning the name of God is a very strong and serious charge. To profane something is to desanctify it, to treat it as unholy, insignificant, or worthless. A person’s name is what makes them unique, different from everyone else. To profane Yahweh’s name is the ultimate humiliation. Profane could also project the idea of bringing dishonor or disgrace to someone by associating their name with something shameful.

  • Ezekiel 36:20-23 – When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said about them, “These are the people of Yahweh, yet they had to leave His land in exile.” Then I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they went. “Therefore, say to the house of Israel: This is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, house of Israel, but for My holy name, which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will honor the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations – the name you profaned among them. The nations will know that I am Yahweh,” – the declaration of the Lord GOD – “when I demonstrate My holiness through you in their sight.”

God’s name is holy because He is holy, perfect in every way.

Verse 13

Here we have further evidence of the disrespect the priests were showing to God. The priests considered their duty to be “a nuisance.” The original Hebrew words could be translated as a “hardship” or a “burden.” Some translations use the phrase “you sniff at it in contempt.” The contempt mentioned here could apply to either the sacrifices on the altar or the name of God. Either one fits, and either one is a serious charge. The “worship” that priests were engaged in was an insincere religious activity that heaped insult upon God. 

  • Hosea 6:6 – For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
  • Micah 6:6-8 – What should I bring before the LORD when I come to bow before God on high? Should I come before Him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the child of my body for my own sin? Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.

The failure of Israel to respond to the trials of their lives with wisdom and faith led to them losing their delight in God. Each of us must be careful that we don’t head down the same path and develop a cold heart towards God. A quote from Mallone is appropriate here, “A man must respond to the One who has given him everything. Not to do so is the highest form of ingratitude and self-sufficiency.” It is not an understatement to state that losing our gratitude towards God and delight in worshipping Him are warning signs of spiritual decay that could result in a shipwrecked life.

Verse 14 – split into two parts.

Verse 14a. 

The accusation is now directed against those bringing the sacrifice and not the priests. Although the priests were the final decision point on whether the offering was acceptable or not (something they utterly failed at), the people should also have known that such an offering was unacceptable. 

Those that brought the unacceptable sacrifices were “cursed” in God’s eyes. In the context of this passage and book, it means separation from God. It also means being expelled from a community relationship and from the security that was found in such a community. Being cursed by God meant to be “delivered over to misfortune.”

Verse 14b

The priests and people of Judah showed more honor to their earthly leaders than they showed to God (verse 8). The focus of the second part of verse 14 points to future events. It points to the time of the Messiah. God will be feared (revered) in the future when all tribes and nations will be welcomed into the spiritual family of God.

As we reflect on this passage, we need to remember through our faith in Jesus, we have a “priestly identity,” and we are to bring spiritual sacrifices to Him.

  • 1 Peter 2:5 – You yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
  • What are these “spiritual sacrifices?”
    • Our bodies. Romans 12:1 Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.
    • Our offerings. Philippians 4:14-18 Still, you did well by sharing with me in my hardship. And you Philippians know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone. For even in Thessalonica you sent gifts for my need several times. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that is increasing to your account. But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
    • Our praise. Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name. 
    • Our good works. Hebrews 13:16 Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
    • Our evangelism. Romans 15:16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Are we bringing God our best, or only what is convenient for us?

Applications

  • Do we honor and obey God in the way Scripture calls us to as our heavenly Father?
  • Do we bring our best in our spiritual sacrifices? Do we sacrifice in the ways presented above? Or do we think that second best, or worse, is good enough and keep the best for ourselves?
  • Are we careful to make sure that the church we attend doesn’t preach a watered-down message, compromise Scripture, or ignore those who disobey Scripture? We need to pay attention to what our church teaches and, if the message doesn’t line up with Scripture, find a church that is faithful to God’s Word.