given on 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013
Let’s continue tackling the question of how to break sin’s code or, in a slightly different approach, figure why God decided to break sin’s code? Unlocking the secrets or solving a mystery takes time, and we are now over 2,000 years since Malachi prophesied that God had run out of patience.
Last week the process began with a look at the chronological layout of the Bible. In doing so, the timeline indicated that Malachi is indeed the last book of the Old Testament and Matthew/Luke have the first entries for the New Testament.
Malachi was written about 400 years before God sent the Messiah. What happened in between Malachi’s prophecy and the birth of Jesus? Did sin have such a grip on humanity that it took that long? Or was there enough faithful people that God was not fully convinced that a Savior was the answer? What clues are there to sort all this out? Is there a secret to unlocking sin? Is there a reason it took so long to prepare for the birth of Jesus?
Remember that Malachi has four chapters and four main points. Last week the first point was made when Malachi said that God had loved his people even when they were disobedient. In the first chapter, God explains his love is like that of a child to the parent and that the parents deserve respect.
As he states this, the chapter transitions into looking at the priests who were responsible for leading his children to live a faithful life. The second major point Malachi delivers is God’s displeasure with the disobedience of the priests.
From Malachi 1:6-14, readers are given a clear example of how the priests have failed to show disrespect towards God: making sacrifices using the worst quality of offerings rather than the best (sick, aged or injured animals). The second chapter develops God’s displeasure with the priests as Malachi continues the prophecy:
“Now I am giving a warning to you priests. 2 Listen to it. Honor me with all your heart,” says the Lord who rules over all. “If you do not, I will send a curse on you. I will turn your blessings into curses. In fact, I have already done that because you have not honored me with all your heart.”
This warning leaves no room for misunderstanding. God is not happy and he blames the priests for not preserving the behaviors his people who were to be obedient and respectful children.
The prophecy is a warning, but it can also provide clues to unlocking sin’s code. Malachi certainly does not sugarcoat the warning, as the description of the priests’ curse is graphic:
3 “Because of what you have done, I will punish your children. I will smear the guts from your sacrifices on your faces. And you will be carried off to the dump along with them. 4 You will know that I have given you a warning. I have warned you so that my covenant with Levi will continue,” says the Lord who rules over all.
Pretty nasty, but look at that last verse again. There is another clue—the covenant with Levi. What is the covenant with Levi? That started a new search to find what that covenant entailed.
Breaking codes is not easy and this clue seems to be a mystery even to the theologians and Bible experts. Covenants are not unfamiliar because the Old Testament uses them in a variety of settings. The most familiar is the covenant with Moses as God delivers the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, the old covenant is replaced with the new covenant—simply to love one another.
Yet beginning with a Biblical concordance, the covenant with Levi is not listed. Instead the explanation can be found only by looking up Levi, which leads to Levites. Complicated. Therefore, to simplify the mystery, one might be tempted to say there is no covenant with Levi.
Unfortunately the covenant is complicated and not stated in concrete terms. The experts indicate that something happened in which the tribe of Levi was originally given land, but in a takeover, they lost the land. Levi and his subsequent offspring became known as Levities and were given the responsibility of serving as priests. No longer did they have dominion over land, instead they were assigned cities over which they were to serve as the priests.
Reading the Old Testament book Numbers gives more insight into the covenant with Levi, and if looking through the genealogy of Jesus, as listed in Luke, the Levite relationship is maintained. The connection was important to the Jewish people, even though our culture may not see it as a key to maintaining a relationship with God.
Regardless of the ancient history, the Levites were assigned to maintain the religious teachings, the worship, and the sacrifices at the temples in the Jewish territories. They became the defenders of the relationship with God, the peoples’ faith, and even the tabernacle itself.
When Malachi shared that God was displeased with the priests, he was displeased with leadership, with education, and with preservation of faith. No wonder God was angry.
Malachi 2:5-7 explains God’s relationship with Levi, therefore his offspring the Levities:
5 “My covenant promised Levi life and peace. So I gave them to him. I required him to respect me. And he had great respect for my name. 6 True teaching came from his mouth. Nothing but the truth came from his lips. He walked with me in peace. He did what was right. He turned many people away from their sins.
7 “The lips of a priest should guard knowledge. People should look for true teaching from his mouth. After all, he is my messenger.
When God saw that the priests were not fulfilling their responsibilities correctly, His anger surfaced in the next verses:
8 But you have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has caused many people to trip and fall. You have broken my covenant with Levi,” says the Lord who rules over all. 9 “So I have caused all of the people to hate you. They have lost respect for you. You have not done what I told you to do. Instead, you have favored one person over another in matters of the law.”
Sin was winning! God was angry. Malachi was making sure that everybody knew what was going on and what needed to be done! If the leaders could not keep sin away, how could the people? Maybe another example could help.
The responsibility of the priests is to maintain the purity of the sacraments. Certainly the manner in which they handled the sacrifices was wrong, but another issue shared in Malachi deals with marriage.
The men of Judah (a territory) were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women.
Why? A touchy question, but as always, the issue needs to be viewed through the filter of culture. The Jewish marriages were sacraments. What was happening was men just tired of their wives and divorced them and married pagan women–ignoring commitments within the Jewish faith.
God’s anger was first directed toward the priests as they were not maintaining the covenant with Levi, not preserving the sacraments as they were trained, not leading the people to preserve their commitments within the faith. What a mess!
Have we broken sin’s code? Not yet. Maybe we have cracked open the problem, but we have not found the solution. Malachi has more to share with us. There is more to explore and to understand. And there still is the 400-year delay before God’s savior will be born. Sin still is winning, and now, 2,000 years later we confront sin, too. Is sin still winning even today? We need more work to break sin’s code.
Dear Patient Father,
We hear Malachi’s warnings.
We read to understand the warnings.
We evaluate the message in his prophecy.
Speak to us today.
Use words we know well.
Make sure we understand.
Lead us with Your commandment.
Let us model our faith in You.
Open others’ eyes, hearts, and minds
to Your endless love. –Amen