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The Scriptorium

Itching Ears

False shepherds are a constant problem. Malachi 2

Return from Exile: Malachi 2 (7)

Pray Psalm 51.10-13.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.

Sing Psalm 51.10-13.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Create in me a clean heart, renew me from within!
Take not Your Spirit from me because of all my sin.
Salvation’s joy restore, LORD, and keep me in Your hand;
thus shall I tell Your strong Word to sinners in the land.

Review Malachi 2; meditate on verse 9.

1. What had the priests and Levites failed to do?

2. What would be the effect of this?


The last phrase of verse 9 says it all. The NKJV translation, “shown partiality”, doesn’t quite get at the meaning of the Hebrew phrase, וְנֹשְׂאִ֥ים פָּנִ֖ים, vnahsaim panaim—“lift up faces”. This suggests “a sign of favor” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs) or “playing favorites.”

We might think of it this way. Someone comes to the priest to make an offering or seek counsel or advice. The priest looks up from whatever he’s doing to see who is before him—rich? poor? person of influence? friend or acquaintance? trouble-maker? Quickly the priest calculates how to advantage himself by what he tells his inquirer. Money? Favors? Loyalty? That determined, he bends the Word of God to adjust it to his inquirer’s convenience, to make it easier for the person before him to continue selling on the Sabbath, hold back some tithes, divorce his wife, or keep a little idol on his mantel—just like the way it looks, you know?

Then, in galactic hubris, he twists, distorts, or compromises the Word of the Lord to bring a smile to the face of his inquirer. However their ears itched, the priest would scratch them (2 Tim. 4.3, 4). Job well done. Next.

The Word-keepers of Jerusalem in Malachi’s day used the Law to bolster their status among the people. They told them what they wanted to hear so that they would be liked and favored. But they were only making themselves contemptible and base, first in the eyes of God, and soon enough “before all the people.”

God will remove from their office—by one means or another—those unfaithful shepherds who do not speak His truth to His people (Ezek. 34.10), as well as those unfaithful people who only hear what they want to hear so that they can do as little as possible.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“My minister should keep the knowledge of Me first and foremost in his mind and life.
And because he so obviously does this, the people of his church will seek My law from his mouth.
He will live out the law with his wife and children and the community and the people in his church.
Nothing bad can be said about him because he follows Me. If others take issue with him because of his righteousness, then they should first take issue with Me because he is My messenger. I refer to him as the messenger of the LORD of hosts.

“But here is the problem, he has wearied Me by departing from the way. And not only has he wearied Me, but he has caused My people to stumble away from keeping My law. And by doing this, he has corrupted My covenant. Because My messengers have done this, I must do something in the way of consequence to them, as My people are dear to My heart and they need reliable, honest, trustworthy, kind, impartial, faithful shepherds” (Mal. 2.7-9, my paraphrase).

And this sheep says, thank you God for caring about Your people.
Thank You for being impartial.
Thank You for demanding from each person equally, the same Law be kept.
Thank You for setting the standard high for our shepherds.
Thank You that You trust me to keep Your law.
Thank You that I can read Your Word.
Thank You that I know what You want from me.
Thank You for filling in the gap when Your people lack good shepherds.
Thank You for Your gracious judgment that will find each of us out when we transgress Your Law.

“For a bishop/overseer/pastor must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1.7-9).

In the Old and New Testaments, God set high standards for those whom He chooses to shepherd His people. But He does not expect more of them than He does of everyone who calls on His Name for salvation. They just bear a greater onus for taking on the job and doing it poorly. “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jms. 3.1).

Pray for your pastors. Pray that they will take God’s Law seriously and will teach it faithfully to you. Keeping God’s Law is what sets us apart from those captive to the world. Those captive to God follow Him. And why would we ever not want to follow our loving, gracious, life-giving Shepherd? “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10.11). “I AM the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (Jn. 10.14). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10.27, 28).

Our hearts are warmed and comforted by our Good Shepherd. But His plan, and His Father’s, is that we are to be led and taught by earthbound shepherds who follow God’s Law. May those men step up and forward to do their work properly, pleasingly, and obediently to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All God’s people are waiting for you to show up.

For reflection
1. How important is it for you to pray for the shepherds of your church? What should you pray for them?

2. All believers are called to ministry (Eph. 4.11, 12). What will ministering God’s grace to someone require of you today?

3. What can you do to encourage the shepherds of your church to stay true to the Word of God?

The priests no doubt flattered the people, and thus attempted to deprive the Prophets of every respect, in order that their doctrine might produce no effect. This is the reason why our Prophet so sharply reproves them. John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Malachi 2.9

Pray Psalm 51.14-19.
Pray for yourself and the leaders of your church, that God will cleanse you of all unfaithfulness, renew your spirits to hear and obey His Word, and build His Church as the Body of Christ.

Sing Psalm 51.14-19.
(Aughton: He Leadeth Me)
Deliver us, from guilt, O LORD, You Who have saved us by Your Word;
and let our tongues Your mercy bless, and sing of Your great righteousness!
Refrain vv. 15, 18
ORD, open now our lips to raise to You sweet songs of joyous praise!
Thus let Your favor on us fall, and build and strengthen Zion’s wall!

No sacrifice, no offering would You have us, Your people, bring;
but broken spirits, cleansed of lies, and pure hearts You will not despise.

Now build Your Church, raise high the wall of those who on Your mercy call.
And take our lives and let them be sweet sacrifices, L
ORD, to Thee!

T. M. and Susie Moore 

Two books can help us understand our own captivity and lead us to seek revival and renewal in the Lord. The Church Captive asks us to consider the ways the Church today has become captive to the world. And Revived! can help us find the way to renewal. Learn more and order your free copies by clicking
here and here.

Support for Scriptorium comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalteravailable free by 
clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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