Throughout this long section the priests are the principal target (1:6, 2:1). The people may be complicit in the priests’ failure to fulfil their duties, but the priests are held responsible; and the fact that this section comes so near the start of the book, suggests that they bear a large part of the blame for the people’s drift into apathy and faithlessness. Believing as we do in the priesthood of all believers, this is a passage we can apply to ourselves generally, nevertheless it has particularly application to church leaders.
The section falls fairly naturally into two – 1:6-14 addressing what the priests are doing, which they shouldn’t, and 2:1-9 addressing what they are failing to do.
The essential complaint is a failure to give God the honour that is his due (v.6), shown in their offering of diseased and imperfect animals in sacrifice. Such offerings were explicitly forbidden by God (eg. Deut.15:21, 17:1), and showed their contempt for Him. Their worship revealed what worth God held for them – far less than a father or boss or governor. They were fobbing God off with what they could happily do without, yet even such “sacrifices” seemed burdensome (v.13).
God’s reaction to their worship is astonishing and utterly damning – v.10.
One day, though, God will get the honour and worship he deserves – by all nations, in every place (vv.11,14)! That is God’s determination, for that is his due. In the light of this future reality the priests’ current practice betrayed their total lack of awareness of God’s true identity – the great King of all nations.
Because of their failure to honour God (v.2), God threatens to curse them – cutting off their descendants (when nb it was a hereditary priesthood), and defiling them, disqualifying them for service (v.3). The next verse though makes it plain that this judgment on disobedient priests is a refining process, not to annul the covenant with Levi, but to preserve it. God will be worshipped, and therefore he will preserve a people through whom that worship will be offered.
Priesthood required reverence and awe towards God (v.5), which they singularly failed to show. The job description was threefold (v.6,7) – chiefly to teach, but also to live a godly life, and to turn people from sin – and on each of those counts the priests had failed (see vv.8,9). Their failure to fulfil their duties, pandering instead to the whim and unbelief of the people, leads them to be despised and humiliated before the people (v.9) – which has striking resonance with today. And the punishment very much fits the crime (1:6, 2:2).
You could ask before reading the passage might be – What is average person’s attitude to the Inland Revenue? In what way is your attitude to worshipping God different? In what way is it rather similar?
All Christians are priests (cf 1Pet.2:9; Rev.1:6), and are called to offer sacrifices – such as praise (Heb13:15), good deeds (Heb.13:16), christian giving (Phil.4:18), witness (Rom.15:16,17), and indeed the consecration of our whole lives to the will of God (Rom12:1). [ Maybe ask the group what sacrifices the New Testament tells us we should offer.] In what ways might our worship come under the same condemnation?