Shut the Door!

In Malachi 1:10, God laments the half-hearted service of the priests. He says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!” (ESV). We normally think of shutting the doors or gates as a way to protect a house or city from an outside threat. The angels who visited Lot pulled him inside and “shut the door” to keep out the inhabitants of Sodom (Gen 19:10). In the eerily similar case where the Levite found refuge with an old man in Gibeah, those who wanted to abuse him came and pounded on the door (Judg 19:22).

The temple in Jerusalem had a lot of doors. There were doors at the entrance of the temple proper, giving access to the Holy Place. There were other doors (or gates) that separated the inner court from the court of the women. The inner court was was where the large sacrificial altar was located. These were the doors that God yearned to have closed. The temple model shown below represents the temple as it appeared in the time of Christ, after it was rebuilt by Herod the Great. The layout was very similar to what it would have been in Malachi’s day. The set of three gates visible on the right side of this model (facing the north) gave access to the inner court of the Herodian temple.

Model of the Jerusalem Temple from the time of Christ, showing sets of  doors.

What really makes Malachi 1:10 stand out is that God wished for the doors to be shut against the insiders, to prevent his own priests from offering sacrifices. Why? Because they offered junk sacrifices (animals that were blind, lame, or sick), and because their hearts were not in it. “But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says Yahweh of armies” (Mal 1:13).

So what did God want? Sincerity. Honesty. Respect and honor. Psalm 50 explains the relationship God wants with his people, and it goes way beyond sacrifice. God says, “I will take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds, for every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:9-10). God does not need our sacrifices, or our time, or money, or service. He wants our hearts. He ends that psalm with these words– “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psa 50:23).

Do you serve God with sincerity? Do you honor him in how you live? Do you thank him continually and obey him? It would be better to shut it down and pack it in than to continue on in half-hearted insincerity.

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