I don’t think I would ever make it in a culture that required me to barter. It never dawns on me to make an offer for anything other than the asking price when I am at a garage sale or flea market. I do, however, like you, like to make deals.
Its like playing Monopoly. I really don’t care about winning. I am far more interested in getting people to agree to ridiculous deals with me for the exchange of property. Thrilling! This concept and skill starts in each of us at a young age.
A few weeks ago, at the camp where I was speaking, we saw it again. Everyday the campers were required to clean up their cabins during the time between breakfast and morning chapel. The boys and girls were in fierce competition to be the winning team for the week and a good cabin clean up score could move enough points into the win column for those willing to work hard enough.
Here is the variable. The deciding factor in a good vs. bad score is the camp nurse. She wields the power of a Greek goddess for the time she is inspecting these cabins. She is like a Greek deity in one particular way. She can be swayed by the cunning of people; in this case Junior high students.
These kids will find out what kind of candy, treat, or hand-craft the nurse likes and leave for her ‘offerings’ at the altar which is their cabin. This lady can expect to come back to her office with her arms full of candy bars, candles, flowers, and drawings in the hopes that someone will be able to push her in one direction or another. EVERY camper (and counselor for that matter) knows what the standard is but they will work all the harder to work the system.
The hearers/recipients of Malachi live out this illustration in great detail. The second discussion God has with Israel via Malachi in 1:6-14 goes like this: “You know I am your Father, right? You know I am your Master, right? Then where is my respect? Why do you show contempt (‘sniff in the air’) for my name?” Incredibly, the priests respond with, “how?”.
If God told you or I we didn’t give him proper respect or honor wouldn’t we stop everything until we figured out how to fix it? I would hope that would be my response but I am afraid I would (and DO) what the priests were doing – cheating God.
Spend some time and read those verses and understand what is happening. The priests (those who know better) are promising God one thing and giving him something else, something cheap. Instead of bringing God the best of their sheep, as they were instructed and KNEW, they were bring him lame and diseased sheep. Picture that! Here comes the priest dragging along this lame little animal with a runny eye and a hacking cough. “I am here for sacrifice!”, he might proclaim with great fanfare. Meanwhile his best is back home being prepared for he and his family to eat.
What does God call this? Cheating. In fact he says, “cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king says the LORD Almighty, and my name is to be feared among the nations” (1:14).
All this begs the question: do we cheat God? Perhaps a better question is “HOW do we cheat God”?
Let us not reduce this issue to world of the ridiculous. I have heard plenty of really bad arguments for dress code or music ‘standards’ based on this passage. All garbage. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with your particular comfort level for worship music, your proclivity to wear a tie in “God’s house”, or preferred Bible translation.
A sacrifice is the giving up of something you actually need. It is certainly not any of the examples listed above nor is it having an abundance of anything and giving away the portion you don’t need, want, or care about. How often do we promise God more time and make time for everything else except Him? Have we not done that with other resources too like finances, talent, leadership, or just raw compassion? Honestly, I cheat and try to get away with it.
OK, so let’s take a look at our “flocks”. Got anything in there that God deserves? I do, and I bet you might as well.