Summary: What does God consider acceptable worship?
The Lord Treats Lightly Those Who Treat Him Lightly
The third of the Ten Commandments reads: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Often we think of this as not using God’s name in cursing. But is this all of that it means? And considering that many consider the Ten Commandments to be suggestions anyway, what difference does it make how we treat God’s commandments? The text we are going to study today from the Book of Malachi will shed much light on this commandment.
Exposition of the Text
The Book of Malachi was written at the end of the Old Testament era. It is the final word of the Old Testament prophets who wrote about 400 years before Christ. God’s voice would go silent in Israel during this period until the time of John the Baptist. Malachi in his prophecy tells of the coming of John as well as Jesus. At the time of Malachi, the land of Israel was ruled by the Persians. The Persians ruled their provinces through governors who ruled with all the authority of the Persian King. Nehemiah in the Bible was one of the appointed governors.
The Persians ruled as absolute monarchs and expected exact obedience. Not paying respect to his governors was punishable by death. Subjects were also required to pay their taxes to Persia and obey her laws, or else. In other words, it was wise police to fear the governor. Judah was a slave state ruled over by a governor appointed by the king of Persia.
The LORD who makes his complaint against Judah is also the LORD over all the earth. In other words, the king of Persia is his slave. Seeing this is true, then the LORD was worthy of even more fear and respect than the Persians. He hints at his sovereignty, but more directly addresses Judah as a father to his disobedient son. In other words, the LORD who is to be feared would rather be loved by his children. The name of Yahweh is a special name which indicates the covenant the LORD made with Israel.
As the Lord of all and the father of Israel, Yahweh deserved the very best from his children. But Israel showed itself faithless to another of the Ten Commandments. They did not honor their covenant Father. To fail to do so brought a curse. Israel thought it could maintain this family covenant by simply going through the ritual of worship. They did not seem to think that anything else was necessary. In verse six, they seemed blind to the real state of affairs. They asked how they had offended the LORD.
The LORD not demonstrates how they had taken Him lightly. They had treated the table of the LORD with contempt. They were offering blind animals in sacrifice as though the LORD was blind to what they were doing. The Law prescribed that all sacrificial offerings be perfect and from the best of the flock. They had given themselves the best, and the LORD the rest.
The LORD held this kind of offering in contempt. It did not even meet the lesser standard of what a slave owed to his master out of obligation. In verse 14, the LORD asks Israel that if they treated their royally appointed governor with such contempt, then how would Persia respond to this insolence? But because of the special father-son relationship between Yahweh and Israel, their transgression was even worse.
The LORD tells Israel that because they have treaded Him with contempt that the LORD would have contempt for their offerings. He tells them that He will no longer listen to their prayers or take notice of their worship. In light of this, the LORD calls them to heartfelt repentance. If they truly loved the LORD as a son loves his father, they would try much harder to please Him. They would want to honor their father who is head of the family and assure that the other nations would know of the greatness of the God of Israel. They would offer the pure incense and the best of their flocks. They would treat the LORD with special reverence instead of going through the rote of their empty and heartless ritual.
To put it simply, Israel’s actions were taking the name of the LORD in vain and breaking the third commandment. In a sense they were breaking all of the commandments by their actions. They may have mouthed the right words. Formally they did not cuss using the LORD’s name. Nonetheless, they made a God of their possessions, were stealing from the LORD, committing spiritual adultery, profaning the Sabbath, making idols of their worship, and putting other gods above him. Their worship was a lie to the LORD, and He through Malachi calls them to task for it and commands them to repent.