In Malachi 2, the prophet addresses three further themes about which God had complaints regarding his people. First, he speaks to the priests and criticises the way that they led or did not lead the people; second, he addresses the people in general and points out the way they were committing spiritual adultery in their worship; third, he focuses on family life and rebukes the men in particular for failing to live up to the marriage commitment.
The priests were a privileged group among the people. Their tribe, the tribe of Levi, had been selected by God to function in the work of his temple whether as priests or Levites. Their major concern was with the worship of God. In the previous chapter, the Lord had rebuked them for treating the sacrifices with disdain; in this chapter he rebukes them for failing to teach the people how to live for God.
There had to be right doctrine: they each needed a heart that would honour the name of God (v. 2). In their teaching, they should have informed the people about God’s character, commandments, purposes, promises and warnings.
There was a real danger: the curse of God on them and their families (vv. 2-3). The Lord says that he will take the parts of the sacrificed animals that were sent to the dung heap and wipe these remains on the faces of the priests before sending them as part of the waste to the dung heap. It is a warning of public humiliation. They were treating God with contempt, and he would treat them with contempt.
They had righteous predecessors: Malachi gives a description of previous priests. He is not referring to Levi, the son of Jacob, who does not seem to have functioned as a priest in a special sense. Rather he is referring to the tribe of that name. It was Aaron and his descendants who were to have this role and among them there had been godly priests such as Aaron, Phinehas, Eliezar and others. The character of a servant of God is given in verses 5-9. Each fears God, is faithful to God (he communicated the message), enjoys fellowship with God (peace and life), and turns people from sin.
They needed a repentant demeanour. Instead of being proud of their behaviour, these religious leaders were called to repent. This is an example of the gracious patience of God, but there will come a time when he will cease to be patient with them. The teaching of the priests, instead of enabling God’s people to walk surely and safely, caused them to stumble and fall. They were selective in what they taught; perhaps they played to the gallery or were tolerant with regard to those who could give them a financial reward. Whatever it was, they failed to teach the whole counsel of God, and because of this sin the Lord was threatening to remove them.
It is easy to see a parallel between these priests and ministers. We should pray that the marks that are mentioned in this passage would be true of all ministers known to us.