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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Malachi 1:6-8

6. A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?

6. Filius honorat patrem, et servus dominum suum; et si pater ego, ubi honor meus? et si dominus ego, ubi timor mei? dicit Iehova exercituum ad vos, O sacerdotes, qui contemnitis nomen meum: et dixistis, In quo contempsimus nomen tuum?

7. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.

7. Qui offertis super altare meum panem pollutum; et dixistis, In quo polluimus te? Quum dicitis, Mensa Iehovae ipsa est contemptibilis (vel, despecta.)

8. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

8. Si obtuleritis caecum ad immolandum, non malum est? et si claudum vel mutilum obtuleritis, non malum est? Offer hoc nunc (vel, adedum, vel, quaeso; [n'] dubiae est significationis, offer ergo, obsecro, hoc) praefecto tuo, an complacebit ei in te, vel suscipiet faciem tuam, dicit Iehova exercituum?

God as already proved that he had by many favors 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 favors, but he charges them also with obstinacy, because they disobeyed his authority, while yet he was their Lord.

He says, that a son who honors his father, and a servant his master. He applies the same verb to both clauses; but he afterwards makes a difference, ascribing honor to a father and fear to a master. As to the first clause, we know that whenever there is authority, there ought to be honor; and when masters are over servants, they ought to be honored. But in a subsequent clause he speaks more distinctly, and says, that a master ought to be feared by a servant, while honor 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 favors 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 ass deprived by the Jews of the honor 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 honor, 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 clamor 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 pretense. 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 accuses 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 dishonored; 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, (Haggai 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 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,| (Hosea 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.| (Micah 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 favor 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, (Zechariah 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 honor 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

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