Malachi 1:6-9 (ESV) reads:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.”
God clearly cares about the manner in which His worship is conducted. This portion of Malachi begins by asserting He ought to be honored as a Father and feared as a master. Later in the passage the LORD of hosts says, “For I am a great King . . . and my name will be feared among the nations.”
The Lord insists He should be revered, honored, even feared.
Yes, reverence, honor, and fear are attitudes. They are inward. They are the result of the Spirit’s gracious working in the heart. But they are not intangible. Note that the Lord, when confronting the Israelites, does not cite his direct knowledge of their attitudes toward Him, though He surely could. Rather He cites how their improper attitude (dare I say “improper feeling”?) towards God manifests itself in the external characteristics of their worship. (Note also the people’s/priests’ seeming incredulity at his charge—perhaps they thought they truly honored Him.)
I will stipulate that God had given His people strict standards by which they should have chosen their sacrifices; the animals were to be males without spot and blemish. But, again, the specific nature of the confrontation here is, I think, revealing. The Lord does not confront them in light of His commands about sacrifice. He confronts them in light of what their heathen governors would think of such offerings. He essentially says, “You wouldn’t dare present this to honor your human authorities, why would you present it to your King in heaven?” Indeed, that their offerings were outside of what is allowed by Hebrew law was not expressly mentioned.
The fact that we no longer offer sacrifices or that the Bible does not contain a handbook of specific aesthetic style does not negate the principle of this passage—there are right ways and wrong ways to demonstrate our reverence, love, fear, and etc, before the Lord.
But I am going to go farther than that assertion (which some may find far too bold itself). I am going to suggest that looking to the cultural mores of our society to determine appropriate ways to address our Lord is problematic, despite this remonstrance of Malachi.
I suggest that in a society whose citizens feel free to ask a presidential candidate to disclose the specific design of his favored undergarments and the most recognizable father icon in our society is, arguably, Homer Simpson, the prevailing modes of approaching the institutions of king, father, and master may be a flock predominantly composed of the blind, the spotted, and the lame.
If this is the case, is it so outlandish to suggest that our “native languages” do not sufficiently equip us for worship?