7 You are presenting defiled food on my altar! But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ By saying that the table of Yahweh is despised! 8 When you offer a blind animal for sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer the lame and the one who is ill, is that not wrong? Present it, please, to your governor! Will he be pleased with you? ⌊Will he show you favor⌋?” says Yahweh of hosts.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Mal 1:7–8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
7-8. God has already proved that he had by many favours been a Father to the Jews. They must have felt that he had indeed bound them to himself, provided they possessed any religion or gratitude. He now then concludes his address to them, as though he had said, that he had very ill bestowed all the blessings he had given them; and he adopts two similitudes; he first compares himself to a father, and then to a master. He says, that in these two respects he had a just cause to complain of the Jews; for he had been a father to them, but they did not in their turn conduct themselves as children, in a submissive and obedient manner, as they ought to have done. And farther, he became their master, but they shook off the yoke, and allowed not themselves to be ruled by his authority.
As to the word, Father, we have already shown that the Jews were not only in common with others the children of God, but had been also chosen as his peculiar people. Their adoption then made them God’s children above all other nations; for when they differed nothing from the rest of the world, God adopted them. With regard to the right and power of a master, God, in the first place, held them bound to him as the Creator and former of the whole world; but he also, as it is well known, attained the right by redemption. That he might then enhance their crime, he not only expostulates with them for having abused his favours, but he charges them also with obstinacy, because they disobeyed his authority, while yet he was their Lord.
He says, that a son honours his father, and a servant his master. He applies the same verb to both clauses; but he afterwards makes a difference, ascribing honour to a father and fear to a master. As to the first clause, we know that whenever there is authority, there ought to be honour; and when masters are over servants, they ought to be honoured. But in a subsequent clause he speaks more distinctly, and says, that a master ought to be feared by a servant, while honour is due to a father from a son. For servants do not love their masters; not being able to escape from their power, they fear them: but the reverence which sons have for their fathers, is more generous and more voluntary. But God shows here, that the Jews could by no means be kept to their duty, though so many favours ought to have made it their sweet delight. God had indeed conciliated them as much as possible to himself, but all was without any benefit. The majesty also of God ought to have struck them with fear. It was then the same, as though he had said, that they were of so perverse a nature, that they could not be led to obedience either by a kind and gracious invitation, or by an authoritative command.
The Lord then complains that he was deprived by the Jews of the honour which sons owe to their fathers, as well as of the fear which servants ought to have for their masters; and thus he shows that they were like untameable wild beasts, which cannot be tamed by any kind treatment, nor subdued by scourges, or by any kind of castigation.
He then adds, To you, O priests. It is certain that this complaint ought not to be confined to the priests alone, since God, as we have seen, speaks generally of the whole race of Abraham: for he had said that Levi was advanced to the sacerdotal honour, while the other brethren were passed by; but he had said also, that Jacob was chosen when Esau was rejected; and this belonged in common to the twelve tribes. Now it ought not, and it could not, be confined to the tribe of Levi, that God was their father or their master. Why then does he now expressly address the priests? They ought indeed to have been leaders and teachers to the rest of the people, but he does not on this account exempt the whole people from blame or guilt, though he directs his discourse to the priests; for his object was to show that all things had become so corrupt among the people, that the priests were become as it were the chief in contempt of religion and in sacrileges, and in every kind of pollution. It hence follows that there was nothing sound and right in the community; for when the eyes themselves are without light, they cannot discharge their duty to the body, and what at length will follow?
God then no doubt shows that great corruptions prevailed and had spread so much among the people, that they who ought to have been examples to others, had especially shaken off the yoke and given way to unbridled licentiousness. This then is the reason why the Prophet condemns the priests, though at the beginning he included the whole people, as it is evident from the context.
We must at the same time bear in mind what we have elsewhere said—that the fault of the people was not lessened because the sin of the priest was the most grievous; but that all were involved in the same ruin; for God in this case did not absolve the common people, inasmuch as they were guilty of the same sins; but he shows that the most grievous fault belonged to the teachers, who had not reproved the people, but on the contrary increased licentiousness by their dissimulation, as we shall presently find again.
He says that they despised his name; not that the fear of God prevailed in others, but that it was the duty of the priests to reprove the impiety of the whole people. As then they allowed to others so much liberty, it appeared quite evident that the name of God was but little esteemed by them; for had they possessed true zeal, they would not have suffered the worship of God to be trodden under foot or profaned, as we shall presently find to have been the case.
It then follows, Ye have said, In what have we despised thy name? As the Prophet at the beginning indirectly touched on the hypocrisy and perverseness of the people, so he now no doubt repeats the same thing by using a similar language: for how was it that the priests as well as the people asked a question on a plain matter, as though it were obscure, except that they were blind to their own vices? Now the cause of blindness is hypocrisy, and then, as it is wont to do, it brings with it perverseness; for all who deceive themselves, dare even to raise their horns against God, and petulantly to clamour that he too severely treats them; for the Prophet doubtless does not here relate their words, except for the purpose of showing that they had such a brazen front and so hard a neck, that they boldly repelled all reproofs. We see at this day in the world the same sottishness; for though the crimes reproved are sufficiently known, yet they, even the most wicked, immediately object and say that wrong is done to them; and they will not acknowledge a fault except they be a hundred times convicted, and even then they will make some pretence. And truly were there not daily proofs to teach us how refractory men are towards God, the thing would be incredible. The Prophet then did no doubt by this cutting expression goad and also wound the people as well as the priests, intimating that so gross was their hypocrisy, that they dared to make shifts, when their crimes were openly known to all.
Ye have said then, by what have we despised thy name? They inquired as though they had rubbed their forehead, and then gained boldness, “What does this mean? for thou accusest us here of being wicked and sacrilegious, but we are not conscious of any wrong.” Then the answer is given in God’s name, Ye offer on mine altar polluted bread. A question may be here asked, “Ought this to have been imputed to the priests as a crime; for had victims been offered, such as God in his law commanded, it would have been to the advantage and benefit of the priests; and had fine corn been brought, it would have been advantageous to the priests?” But it seems to me probable, that the priests are condemned because like hungry and famished men they seized indiscriminately on all things around them. Some think that the priests grossly and fraudulently violated the law by changing the victims—that when a fat ram was offered, the priests, as they suppose, took it away, and put in its place a ram that was lean, or lame, or mutilated. But this view appears not to me suitable to the passage. Let us then regard the meaning to be what I have stated—that God here contends with the whole people, but that he directs his reproofs to the priests, because they were in two ways guilty, for they formed a part of the people, and they also suffered God to be dishonoured; for what could have been more disgraceful than to offer polluted victims and polluted bread?
If it be now asked, whether this ought to have been ascribed as a fault to the priests, the answer is this—that the people then were not very wealthy; for they had but lately returned from exile, and they had not brought with them much wealth, and the land was desolate and uncultivated: as, then, there was so much want among the people, and they were intent, each on his advantage, according to what we have seen in the Prophet Haggai, (ch. 1:4,) and neglected the temple of God and their sacrifices, there is no doubt but that they wished anyhow to discharge their duty towards God, and therefore brought beasts which were either lame or blind; and hence the whole worship of God was vitiated, their sacrifices being polluted. The priests ought to have rejected all these, and to have closed up God’s temple, rather than to have received indiscriminately what God had prohibited. As then this indifference of the people was nothing but a profanation of divine worship, the priests ought to have firmly opposed it. But as they themselves were hungry, they thought it better to lay hold on everything around them—“What,” they said, “will become of us? for if we reject these sacrifices, however vicious they may be, they will offer nothing; and thus we shall starve, and there will be no advantage; and we shall be forced in this case to open and to close the temple, and to offer sacrifices at our own expense, and we are not equal to this burden.” Since then the priests spared the people for private gain, our Prophet justly reproves them, and says, ye offer polluted bread.
It was indeed the office of the priests to place bread daily on the table; but whence could bread be obtained except some were offered? Now nothing was lost to the priests, when they daily set bread before God, for they presently received it; and thus they preferred, as it was more to their advantage, to offer bread well approved, made of fine flour: but as I have said, their own convenience interposed, for they thought that they could not prevail with the people—“If we irritate these men, they will deny that they have anything to offer; and thus the temple will be empty, and our own houses will be empty; it is then better to take coarse bread from them than nothing; we shall at least feed our families and servants with this bread, after having offered it to the Lord.” We hence see how the fault belonged to the priests, when the people offered polluted bread, and unapproved victims.
I have hitherto explained the Prophet’s words with reference chiefly to the shew-bread; not that they ought to be so strictly taken as many interpreters have considered them; for under the name of bread is included, we know, every kind of eatables; so it seems probable to me that the word ought to be extended to all the sacrifices; but one kind is here mentioned as an example; and it seems also that what immediately follows is added as an explanation—ye offer the lame and the blind and the mutilated. Since these things are connected together, I have no doubt but that God means by bread here every kind of offering, and we know that the shew-bread was not offered on the altar; but there was a table by itself appointed for this purpose near the altar. And why God designates by bread all the sacrifices may be easily explained; for God would have sacrifices offered to him as though he had his habitation and table among the Jews; it was not indeed his purpose to fill their minds with gross imaginations, as though he did eat or drink, as we know that heathens have been deluded with such notions; but his design was only to remind the Jews of that domestic habitation which he had chosen for himself among them. But more on this subject shall presently be said; I shall now proceed to consider the words.
Ye offer on my altar polluted bread; and ye have said, In what have we polluted thee? The priests again answer as though God unjustly accused them; for they allege their innocency, as the question is to be regarded here as a denial: In what then have we polluted thee? They deny that they were rightly condemned, inasmuch as they had duly served God. But we may hence conclude, according to what has been before stated, that the people were under the influence of gross hypocrisy, and had become hardened in their obstinacy. It is the same at this day; though there be such a mass of crimes, which everywhere prevails in the world, and even overflows the earth, yet no one will bear to be condemned; for every one looks on others, and thus when no less grievous sins appear in others, every one absolves himself. This is then the sottishness which the Prophet again goads—Ye have said, In what have we polluted thee? He and other Prophets no doubt charged the Jews with this sacrilege—that they polluted the name of God.
But it deserves to be known, that few think that they pollute God and his name when they worship him superstitiously or formally, as though they had to do with a child: but we see that God himself declares, that the whole of religion is profaned, and that his name is shamefully polluted when men thus trifle with him.
He answers, when ye said, literally, in your saying, The table of Jehovah, it is contemptible. Here the Prophet discovers the fountain of their sin; and he shows as it were by the finger, that they had despised those rites which belonged to the worship of God. The reason follows, If ye offer the blind, he says, for sacrifice, it is no evil. Some read the last clause as a question, “is it not evil?” but ה, he, the mark of a question, is not here; and we may easily gather from the context that the Prophet as yet relates how presumptuously both the priests and the whole people thought they could be acquitted and obtain pardon for themselves, “It is no evil thing if the lame be offered, if the blind be offered, if the maimed be offered; there is nothing evil in all this.” We now then understand what the Prophet means.
But the subject would have been obscure had not a fuller explanation been given in these words, The table of Jehovah, it is contemptible. God does here show, as I have before stated, why he was so much displeased with the Jews. Nothing is indeed so precious as his worship; and he had instituted under the law sacrifices and other rites, that the children of Abraham might exercise themselves in worshipping him spiritually. It was then the same as though he had said, that he cared nothing for sheep and calves, and for any thing of that kind, but that their impiety was sufficiently manifested, inasmuch as they did not think that the whole of religion was despised when they despised the external acts of worship according to the law. God then brings back the attention of the Jews from brute animals to himself, as though he had said, “Ye offer to me lame and blind animals, which I have forbidden to be offered; that you act unfaithfully towards me is sufficiently apparent; and if ye say that these are small things and of no moment, I answer, that you ought to have regarded the end for which I designed that sacrifices should be offered to me, and ordered bread to be laid on my table in the sanctuary; for by these tokens you ought to have known that I live in the midst of you, and that whatever ye eat or drink is sacred to me, and that all you possess comes to you through my bounty. As then this end for which sacrifices have been appointed has been neglected by you, it is quite evident that ye have no care nor concern for true religion.
We now then perceive why the Prophet objects to the priests, that they had called the table of Jehovah contemptible; not that they had spoken thus expressly, but because they had regarded it almost as nothing to pervert and adulterate the whole of divine worship according to the law, which was an evidence of religion when there was any.
Now it may seem strange, that God one while so strictly requires pure sacrifices and urges the observance of them, when yet at another time he says that he does not seek sacrifices, “Sacrifice I desire not, but mercy,” (Hos. 6:6;) and again, “Have I commanded your fathers when I delivered them from Egypt, to offer victims to me? With this alone was I content, that they should obey my voice.” He says afterwards in Micah, “Shall I be propitious to you if ye offer me all your flocks? but rather, O man, humble thyself before thy God.” (Mic. 6:6.) The same is said in the fiftieth Psalm, in the first and the last chapters of Isaiah, and in many other places. Since then God elsewhere depreciates sacrifices, and shows that they are not so highly esteemed by him, why does he now so rigidly expostulate with the Jews, because they offered lame and maimed animals? I answer, that there was a reason why God should by this reproof discover the impiety of the people. Had all their victims been fat or well fed, our Prophet would have spoken as we find that others have done; but since their faithlessness had gone so far that they showed even to children that they had no regard for the worship of God—since they had advanced so far in shamelessness, it was necessary that they should be thus convicted of impiety; and hence he says, ye offer to me polluted bread, as though he had said, “I supply you with food, it was your duty to offer to me the first-fruits, the tenths, and the shew-bread; and the design of these external performances is, that they may regard themselves as fed by me daily, and also that they may feed moderately and temperately on the bread and flesh and other things given them, as though they were sitting at my table: for when they see that bread made from the same corn is before the presence of God, this ought to come to their minds, ‘it is God’s will, as though he lived with us, that a portion of the same bread should ever be set on the holy table:’ and then when they offer victims, they are not only to be thus stirred up to repentance and faith, but they ought also to acknowledge that all these are sacred to God, for when they set before the altar either a calf, or an ox, or a lamb, and then see the animal sacrificed, (a part of which remains for the priests,) and the altar sprinkled with blood, they ought to think thus within themselves, ‘Behold, we have all these things in common with God, as though clothed in a human form he dwelt with us and took the same food and the same drink.’ They ought then to have performed in this manner their outward rites.”
God now justly complains, that his table was contemptible, as though he had said, that his favour was rejected, because the people, as it were in contempt, brought coarse bread, as though they wished to feed some swineherd,—a conduct similar to that mentioned in Zechariah, when God said, that a reward was offered for him as though he were some worthless hireling, (Zech. 2:12;)—“I have carefully fed you,” he says, “and I now demand my reward: ye give for me thirty silverings, a mean and disgraceful price.” So also in this place, Ye have said, the table of Jehovah, it is polluted. There is an emphasis in the pronoun; for God shows that he by no means deserved such a reproach: “Who am I, that ye should thus despise my table? I have consecrated it, that ye might have a near access to me, as though I dwelt in the visible sanctuary; but ye have despised my table as though I were nothing.”
He afterwards adds, Offer this now to thy governor; will he be pleased with thee? God here complains that less honour is given to him than to mortals; for he adduces this comparison, “When any one owes a tribute or tax to a governor, and brings any thing maimed or defective, he will not receive it.” Hence he draws this inference, that he was extremely insulted, for the Jews dared to offer him what every mortal would reject. He thus reasons from the less to the greater, that this was not a sacrilege that could be borne, as the Jews had so presumptuously abused his kindness; and hence he subjoins—
7–8 In mock horror the priests ask how they have despised him, and the answer is in the contempt with which they view the table of the Lord (v. 7). The same verb bwz describes the attitude of the priests to the table. The word “table” (šulḥan), synonymously parallel to “altar” (mizbēaḥ), leads to another analogy from human life and relationship—that pertaining to the governor (v. 8). In a sense the altar is the table of the Lord on which are placed the offerings of which he partakes as they are consumed in the flames.
But what kinds of offerings are the priests presenting on the people’s behalf? They are described as “defiled food” (Heb. leḥem megōʾāl, lit., “desecrated bread”) and livestock that is physically defective, a direct violation of ritual law (Dt 15:21). Not only are they bold enough to offer such contemptible and flagrantly illicit tokens of worship, but they also defend their practice by declaring, in effect, “there’s nothing wrong with this” (thus, ʾên rāʿ twice in v. 8). Sin, when left unpunished, emboldens the sinner to persist in evil ways and even to justify them. Eventually, good becomes evil and evil becomes good (Isa 5:20; cf. Mic 3:2; Mal 2:17).
These same priests, says the Lord, would hardly dare to serve the governor of the province with such fare (v. 8). Indeed, he will take no pleasure in the person who manifests such rudeness and insubordination, nor will he pay such a person even the slightest attention (thus the idiom yiśśāʾ pāneykā, “lift up your face”). If this is the case with a human ruler, how can one expect the infinitely transcendent God of the universe to do so?
This second comparison between the Lord and human figures (father and master in v. 6; the governor in v. 8) invites attention to an epithet of the Lord that occurs twenty-four times in this brief book, “Lord Almighty” (yhwh ṣebāʾôt, “Lord of hosts”; GK 3378, 7372). Eleven of these occurrences appear in this passage (1:6–2:9), thus underscoring the vast difference between God and human persons and institutions. This underscoring is necessary first of all because the tiny province of Yehud is but an afterthought in comparison to the vast Persian Empire of which it is a part. The Jews need to know that as mighty as are Persia’s kings, their God is mightier, for he is the Lord of heaven and earth.
But Malachi is also concerned to stress the idea that the insubordination of the people and priests of Yehud is not against some minor deity who can be trifled with but against “a great king” (1:14) who will call them to account. Thus as both a master and a governor he is Lord Almighty (vv. 6, 8).
7 Instead of honoring the name of the Lord, they have despised it by offering defiled, polluted food on his altar. In the MT the subject is not mentioned but assumed.40 The participial form again stresses continuity. The priests were habitually and continually offering polluted food. The official task of the priests was to offer or “bring” (Hiphil of nāg̱aš) the sacrifices taken from and on behalf of the people to be put on (ʿal) the altar. This “approach” to the altar is a technical designation of the priests’ office (Lev. 2:8), and is characteristically used by Malachi to denote the offering of sacrifices (1:8, 11; 2:12; 3:3; cf. Amos 5:25).
The problem with the food (i.e., the animal sacrifices, v. 8) was that it was defiled. The Hebrew word meg̱ōʾāl (from gāʾal II) does not mean “unworthy,” but is used in the sense of “contaminated,” “unfit,” “to be rejected as unqualified.” Hands (Isa. 59:3) or clothing (Isa. 63:3) may be “stained” or “defiled” (Lam. 4:14) with blood. Priests without family records were “excluded from the priesthood as “unclean” (Ezra 2:62; Neh. 7:64). Having been united in mixed marriages the priests had “defiled” the priestly office (Neh. 13:29). The term defiled thus has a strong cultic connotation. It means that the sacrifices are unqualified to be accepted as such. A sacrifice must be “pure,” “clean” (ṭehôrâ) and “perfect” (ṭāmîm) to be acceptable. This pollution of the sacrifices also presupposes an attitude of mind which causes the priests to regard the table of the Lord as contemptible.
The reaction is stereotyped: How have we defiled you? The LXX, followed by the Vetus Latina, read “defiled it,” meaning either the “food” or the “altar.” Despite the fact that this reading is generally accepted,43 we must give preference to the MT (supported by Syr. and Vulg.) as the more difficult reading. We agree with Lattey that “such vigorous phrasing would far more easily be changed than invented.” The idea behind this “vigorous phrasing” is that the defiling of the sacrifices or of God’s altar is in itself a defiling of the Lord.44
The answer to this question is By saying that the table of the Lord is contemptible. It is unlikely that these words were uttered. The intention clearly is that they have said it to themselves, that these words reflected their subconscious attitudes. We agree with Laetsch, “Even if they did not publicly use these exact words, their actions spoke louder than could any words that they regarded the Temple service not as an undeserved honor, but as a contemptible, miserable job.”
the table of the Lord. This expression is used only by Malachi in the OT, and only here and in v. 12. The Hebrew word šulḥān is used literally to denote an ordinary table (Judg. 1:7; etc.), or figuratively, for instance, when Israelites were accused of spreading a “table” for Fortune (Isa. 65:11; cf. Ps. 23:5; 69:23 [Eng. 22]; etc.). The table for “the bread of the presence” is implied to be a “table of the Lord” but is nowhere called by that name (Exod. 25:23–30; etc.). It is obvious that the prophet was not referring to this table, because he had blood sacrifices in mind. In Ezek. 40:39–43 tables were provided at the gates of the inner court for the purpose of slaughtering the sacrifices, or for the utensils that were needed (v. 42). In Ezek. 41:22 the “table of incense” is called “the table that is before the Lord,” whereas “table” in Ezek. 44:16 obviously referred to “the altar of burnt offering. “ In our text “the table of the Lord” is synonymous with the altar on which defiled food has been offered and unfit animals have been sacrificed. The figurative meaning of “table” is derived from the meaning of sacrifices as being “food.”47
This “table of the Lord” is deemed contemptible. There is no need to approach it with the necessary respect, to regard it as a sacred object in the service of a holy God. They have despised his name (v. 6) and therefore have no scruples in despising his altar.
7 The confrontation thus continues with Yahweh’s and the priests’ responses. While the textual issues contribute to various interpretations, Mal 1:7 presents a clear picture of the nature of the priests’ dishonor through cultic infractions.
(a) Statement of the Argument (Yahweh) (1:7aα)
The priests are further accused of despising Yahweh’s name by presenting (nāgaš) defiled food on the altar (Mal 1:7a). The clear reference to Yahweh further illuminates the gravity of the charge. Here “food” (leḥem) is used of animal sacrifice, as in Lev 21:6, 8, “food of their/your God,” and Hag 2:12. In Lev 22:21–25 (esp. v. 25) the “food” presented to Yahweh is disqualified as unacceptable “for you” if it is corrupt (mošḥāt) or blemished (mûm). In Mal 1:7a) the food is deemed to be defiled (məgōʾāl). Apparently, the term məgōʾāl is derived from gāʾal, a late usage that appears mainly in prophetic texts depicting a defiled city (Lam 4:14) or the corrupting practices of the city leaders (Isa 59:3; Zeph 3:1–4).
(b) Refutation (Priests) (1:7aβ)
Consistent with the pattern of the text, the accusation/charge is followed by a question that appears to challenge the charge. From this perspective the first question—how Yahweh’s name is being despised (bāzâ)—is answered. The response shows the connection between Yahweh’s name and Yahweh’s altar: defiling (gāʾal) the altar is despising Yahweh’s name.
Presumably, the priests recognize and do not debate the fact that they have defiled something. The follow-up question How have we defiled you? (bammê gēʾalnûkā) responds to the charge that the priests have presented defiled food on the altar and directly links the cultic malpractice with defiling Yahweh. Neither the presentation nor the content of the question suggests the priests’ ignorance of the connection. Rather, they debate the connection between the accusation of despising the name and presenting polluted food on the altar. Thus, the priests ask how they have polluted Yahweh, implying that it is the altar—if anything—that they have polluted. In this depiction, the priests’ question suggests that they see no connection between their activity on the altar and polluting Yahweh’s name. Hence, those whose role presumes their knowledge of the connection are perhaps feigning ignorance of the connection. Yahweh’s charge is that the priests have despised the name and the altar; their question ties the name and the altar to Yahweh by inquiring how they have defiled Yahweh.104 Table 8 displays these connections.
Table 8. Synecdoche for the Deity in Malachi 1
|My/your Name →
|My altar →
The charge against the priests together with the priests’ response presupposes the possibility of defiling Yahweh and may explain the announcement of judgment against their descendants (to defile them, Mal 2:3): tit-for-tat. Likewise, the connection of the various elements (name, altar, table) equates the two terms used to characterize each of the elements. So to despise and to defile connote the same outcome, if not the same process.
(c) Presentation of the Evidence (Yahweh) (1:7b–9)
The question-answer pattern continues with the Deity’s response to the priests’ question about defiling the Deity. As in Gen 3, where the man’s response belies the state of the speaker, here in Mal 1:7b the priests betray their awareness of their behavior through their perspective: the table of Yahweh is despised. Would the priests voice such a perspective about Yahweh’s table and by implication the sacrificial system and the Deity? Some argue that the prophetic voice here represents in words what the priests’ actions already demonstrate. Whether voiced or implied, the perspective attributed to the priests agrees with the Deity’s perspective that the priests have despised Yahweh, albeit by means of the name, altar, and table (cf. Mal 1:12).
While Mal 1:7aα and 1:7b equate the altar (mizbēaḥ) and the table (šulḥān), the two are distinguished elsewhere (cf. Mal 1:8a, 13aβ). “Altar” (mizbēaḥ) is typically used when referring to “food” offered in fire to the Deity (cf. Lev 3:11; 21:21; 22:22, 25). The “table” (šulḥān), on the other hand, usually refers to the table of the Presence (Num 4:7) or the bread of the Presence (cf. Exod 30:27–29; 31:8–10; 35:13–15; 40:3–5; Num 4:7, 13 [the altar]; 2 Chr 29:18; Num 3:31 [table and altar]). The usage in Ezek 40–48 seems to differ from that of the Pentateuch. Thus, the table is a place of slaughtering the sacrifice (Ezek 40:38–39) and presenting the burnt offering (Ezek 44:14–15). Consequently, the structure of the argument in Mal 1:6–7 treats the altar and table as equivalent, and Ezek 40–48 attests that equivalence in the cultic tradition.
How were they dishonouring God’s name? (vv. 7–8)
What was God’s basis for accusing them of dishonouring his name? Verse 7 tells us that the priests were offering ‘defiled food’ to God. Verse 8 tells us that they were bringing the blind, the lame and the sick to God.
They were supposed to bring their best to God, and they were bringing their worst. They were offering as sacrifices the very animals that were likely to die very soon. Thus they were not really sacrificing anything at all! They were essentially saying that God was not worthy of their best.
To drive his point home, the Lord tells them to try the same thing with their governor (v. 8)! No political leader of that day would have been pleased with his people paying their taxes with diseased animals. They would not even try to get by with such a thing! But they were doing it with their supreme ruler!
In telling them to take their worthless offerings to the governor, the Lord gives his people of every era a valuable test by which they can determine how they are going about their service to him: are we trying to pass off on God things we would not dare pass off on a human superior?
Here are some things people often say to excuse themselves from worshipping and serving God:
‘I had to do this so much as a child, I got burned out on it.’
‘I felt unappreciated.’
‘No one spoke to me.’
Would we dare use such excuses with our employers? If not, we should not dare use them with God! John Benton pointedly asks: ‘How can we possibly have less respect for the King of kings than we do for the political powers who are appointed by him?’
Are we giving our best to God in worship? Do we arrive on time with hearts that are prepared and eager to worship? Do we concentrate on what we are doing in public worship? Or do we allow our thoughts to wander? Do we give the preaching of God’s Word a grateful and careful hearing? Or have we allowed our familiarity with the things of God to dull our appreciation for them? Have we lost the wonder of it all? Have we brought ourselves under the following indictment of the Lord Jesus:
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to
Me with their mouth,
And honour me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me …’
We like to avoid thinking about such things, but the more we avoid them, the more our faith weakens. And the more it weakens, the more we rob ourselves of peace, joy and comfort in the Lord. The way back from a sputtering faith is to stop making excuses for ourselves and recognize again the privilege of having God as our Father and our Master.
1:7 / The priests’ quoted question asks for an explanation of the charge, “How have we shown contempt for your name?” (v. 6). God’s one-sentence response focuses on a specific aspect of the priests’ ministry: “You place defiled food on my altar.” Israel’s offerings were foodstuffs for them—meat, grain, and oil—and they could be called, metaphorically, God’s “food” (Lev. 21:6). A second quoted question requests further clarification, “How have we defiled you?” The altar (1:12) as well as the offerings here are objects of this rare verb, “defiled,” but here God is the object. This question reveals the heart of their problem: their failure to honor God in their ministry at the altar has deposed God. The Lord is not being worshipped.
7. ye offer, &c.—God’s answer to their challenge (Mal 1:6), “Wherein have we despised?”
polluted bread—namely, blemished sacrifices (Mal 1:8, 13, 14; De 15:21). So “the bread of thy God” is used for “sacrifices to God” (Le 21:8).
polluted thee—that is, offered to thee “polluted bread.”
table of the Lord—that is, the altar (Ez 41:22) (not the table of showbread). Just as the sacrificial flesh is called “bread.”
contemptible—(Mal 1:12, 13). Ye sanction the niggardly and blemished offerings of the people on the altar, to gain favor with them. Darius, and probably his successors, had liberally supplied them with victims for sacrifice, yet they presented none but the worst. A cheap religion, costing little, is rejected by God, and so is worth nothing. It costs more than it is worth, for it is worth nothing, and so proves really dear. God despises not the widow’s mite, but he does despise the miser’s mite [Moore].
Ver. 7.—Ye offer polluted bread (food) upon mine altar. The prophet answers the priests simply by detailing some of their practices. The “bread” (lechem) is not the shewbread, which was not offered on the altar, but the flesh of the offered victims (see Lev. 3:11, 16; 21:6; 22:25). This was “polluted” in that it was not offered in due accordance with the ceremonial Law, as is further explained in the next verse. Wherein have we polluted thee? They did not acknowledge the truth that (as St. Jerome says) “when the sacraments are violated, he himself, whose sacraments they are, is violated” (comp. Ezek. 13:19; 20:9; 39:7). The table of the Lord is contemptible. This was the thought of their heart, if they did not give open expression to it in words. The “table of the Lord” (ver. 12) is the altar, on which were laid the sacrifices, regarded as the food of God, and to be eaten by the fire (Ezek. 41:22; 44:16). They showed that they despised the altar by fancying that anything was good enough for offering thereon, as the next verse explains.
1:7–8a. The Lord presented His proof—they allowed the offering of defiled food (lit., “bread,” used of sacrificial offerings, Lv 21:6) on the Lord’s table, a synonym for the altar and an allusion to covenantal meals (Ex 24:1). By allowing imperfect animals (blind, lame, sick, Mal 1:7–8) to be sacrificed, they blatantly disobeyed the law (cf. Dt 15:21; note that the word translated “serious” in Dt 15:21 is literally “evil,” the same word used in Mal 1:8 to describe priestly behavior) and showed their contempt for the Lord.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 737). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.