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you in deep and serious reflection on the words which have been read. You will be abundantly sensible how well they are adapted to my purpose, when you shail have placed yourselves, in thought, in the circumstances wherein the Jews were placed at the time they were addressed to them. With this I open my subject.
The prophet Malachi, whose voice God is here employing on a messaye to his people, lived a few years after the return from the captivity. He succeeded Haggai and Zechariah. These two prophets had been raised up, chiefly for the purpose of stimulating the Jews to undertake the rebuilding of the temple. Malachi was specially destined, to urge them to render unto God, in that maynificent edifice, a worship suitable to the majesty of him to whose service it was consecrated. The same difficulties, which the two first of those holy men had to encounter in the discharge of their ministry, he encountered in the exercise of his. What desire more ardent could animate men, who had lived threescore and ten years without a temple, without altars, without sacrifices, without a public worship, than that of beholling in the midst of them, those gracious signs of the divine presence? This was, however, by no means the object of general ambition and pursuit. They looked to the rearing and embellishing of their own houses, and left to God the care of building that which belonged to him.
We find traces of this shameful history, in the prophecies of the two first whom we have named, particularly in those of Haggai. There we have displayed the excuses made by that wretched people, to serve as a color to their criminal negligence : Thus speaketh the Lord of Hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the lime
that the Lord's house should be built, chap. i. 2. We have a censure of this spirit and conduct, proportioned to their enormity, in ver. 4. Is it time for you, () ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? But, what is still more awful, we behold the tremendous judgments, by which God avenged himself of guilt so atrocious, in ver. 9, 10, 11. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little ; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.
How awfully respectable is a preacher, my brethren, when the indignation of heaven seconds his voice! When the pestilence, mortality, famine, add weight to the threatenings which he denounced ! Haggai, supported by this all-powerful aid, at length obtained the object of his ministry. The Jews did that from constraint which they ought to have done from a principle of piety and zeal : you might now see them laboring with emulous fevor, to raise the august edifice, and the temple arose out of its ruins.
But scarcely was the house of the Lord rebuilt, when they profaned the sanctity of the place, and violated the laws which were there to be observed. The observation of those laws was burthensome, It required not only great mental application, but was likewise attended with very considerable expense. The avarice of their sordid spirits made them consider every thing which they dedicated to such purposes, as next to lost. They durst not, at the same time, venture entirely to shake off the yoke of religion. They did what men generally do, when the laws of God clash with their inclinations : they neither yielded complete submission, nor dared to avow open rebellion. They attempted to reconcile the dictates of their own passions with the commands of heaven. To comply with the commands of heaven, they presented offerings; but to gratify the cravings of passion, they presented offerings of little value.
This idea of the circumstances, in which the Jews were, at the time when our prophet flourished, is one of the best keys for disclosing the real sense of the words of the text. If it unfolds not to us the whole extent of its signification, it furnishes at least a good general explication. Malachi severely censures the priests of his day, that called, as they were, to maintain good order in the church, they calmly overlooked, or avowedly countenanced the open violation of it.
He reproaches them for this misconduct, by the example of what a son owes to his father, and a servant to his master. ploys this image, because the priests were, in an appropriate sense, considered as belonging unto God; in conformity to whai God himself says in chap. viii, of the book of Numbers: Thou shalt separate the Levites from among the children of Israel : and the Levites shall be mine : for they are wholly given unto me, from among the children of Israel .... instead of the first-born of all the children of Israel, have I taken them unto me : .... on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified them for myself. It is to you, O ye priests, says he to them, that I address myself: A son honoreth his father,
and a serrant his master : if then I be a father, where is mine honor ? and if I be a master, where is my fear ? suith the Lord of Hosts unto you, O priests, rhuld spise my name. And ye say, Whoein hure we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine aliar; and ye suy, Wherein have we polluled thee? In that ye suy, The table of the Lord is contemptible.
If any difficulty still remain, respecting the general sense of the passage, it can be of no considerable importance, as it prevents not our discerning the principal aim and design of the Holy Spirit. It is not perhaps easy, I adinit, to determine with exact precision, what we are to understand by the tuble of the Lord, by that contempt which was expressed for it, and by the polluted bread which those unworthy ministers offered upon it. There are two opinions on this subject, but which both issue in the idea we have suggested to you, of our prophet's sentiment.
It is the opinion of some commentators, that by the table, of which Malachi speaks, is to be understood the table which corresponded 10 that placed by Moses, by the command of God, in that part of the tabernacle denominated the Holy Fluce. The law enjoined that there should always be upon that table twelve loaves, or cakes, which we denominate the shew-bread, otherwise called the breud of faces, not because these cakes were moulded into several sides, or raised into small protuberances, according to the opinion of certain Jewish doctors, but because they were continually exposed in the presence of Jehovah, who was considered as residing in the Holy Place. The law which enjoined the offering of them, had likewise prescribed the rites which were to be observed in presenting that offering. They were to be placed on the holy table to the number of twelve; they were to be composed of fine flour kneaded into a puste: each cake was to contain an omer of flour, The Jews tell us, that it must have past eleven times through the searse; and if St. Jerome is to be credited, it belouged to the priests to sow, to reap, and to grind the corn, of which the cakes were made, and to knead the dough. Whatever may be the truth as to some of these particulars, to treat the table of the Lord as contemptible, to offer unto God polluled breud, is conformably to the sentiment which I have detailed, to violate some of the rights which were to be observed in the offering of the cakes, placed, by divine command, on the table which was in the Holy Place.
The generality of interpreters have adopted another opinion, which we have no difficulty in following. By the table of the Lord, they here understand the altar of burnt-offerings. It is denominated the table of the Lord, in some other pas sages of scripture; particularly in chap. xli. of the prophecies of Ezekiel. There, after a description of the table of burnt-offerings, it is added, This is the table that is before the Lord, ver. 22. On this altar were offered cakes of fine flour, as we see in various passages, particularly in the first verses of chap. ii. of the book of Leviticus. These cakesuare represented as if they were the bread of God. The same name was given to every thing offered to deity on that altar. All was called the bread of God, or the meat of God; for reasons which will be best understood in the sequel. I shall, at present, satisfy myself with quoting a single passage in justification of this remark. It is in chap. xxi. of the book of Leviticus, the 6th verse. Moses, after having laid down the duties of the priests, adds these words : They shall be holy unto their