What Does God Mean?
During our regular Bible study, we might come across a Scriptural passage which might at first sight be difficult to understand, requiring further scrutiny, research, prayer and meditation. Peter said at one time that Paul wrote “some things [which] are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). He warned against twisting those Scriptures to one’s own destruction. One fundamental principle to always keep in mind is that the Bible never contradicts itself. Another principle is that God reveals His Truth “line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10).
One of these passages which I recently concentrated on is Malachi 1:11, which says:
“‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
I wondered: Does this passage tell us that in the Millennium or even before, Israelites and Gentiles will bring incense and animal sacrifices and offerings to God wherever they want to, “in every place,” and that God will accept such religious worship?
If so, then we would have been very wrong with comments we made in chapter 8 in our booklet, “Biblical Prophecy—from Now until Forever,” where we explained that at the beginning of the Millennium during the first 3 ½ years of Christ’s reign, animal sacrifices will be given to God by the lost sheep of the House of Israel at a new Temple, but not “in every place” throughout the entire earth. We also pointed out that the third Temple, where the sacrifices will be given, is mentioned only in connection with the House of Israel.
We also said this:
“Physical Israelites will bring animal sacrifices to a new temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Millennium. These sacrifices will not be given for the purpose of obtaining spiritual forgiveness, but just to remind the people that they had sinned, and help them to focus on the ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As it was the case in Old Testament times, these sacrifices will be temporary and will be administered by physical Levites to physical unconverted people, so as to allow the transgressor to remain within the community of Israel.”
There is nothing in the Bible indicating that Gentiles will bring animal sacrifices to God before the Millennium begins; nor, that they will be brought in every place. Jews (not Gentiles) will bring for a short while sacrifices in Jerusalem, not in every place, but even they will be suppressed by the European beast power. And after the Millennium has begun, we read that Egyptians who want to have fellowship with Israelites, will bring sacrifices and offerings (Isaiah 19:21), but the implication is, in light of all the passages in the book of Ezekiel, chapters 40 – 47, that they will do so at the third temple and not “in every place” they choose.
How then, so I wondered, are we to understand Malachi 1:11? I viewed the context and saw the contrast between the Israelites who profane God’s name, and the Gentiles who honor it. I began to contemplate that this must be referring to spiritual sacrifices, which true Christians are already giving now, and which they will also give in the Millennium. I found that several commentaries came to the same conclusion.
The Benson Commentary wrote:
“Prayers and praises shall be presented before me as incense. For here the prophet describes the Christian sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving…”
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary added:
“Since ye Jewish priests and people ‘despise My name’ (Mal 1:6), I shall find others who will magnify it (Mt 3:9). Do not think I shall have no worshippers because I have not you; for from the east to the west My name shall be great among the Gentiles (Isa 66:19, 20), those very peoples whom ye look down upon as abominable. Pure offering—not ‘the blind, the lame, and the sick,’ such as ye offer (Mal 1:8). … The ‘incense’ is figurative of prayers (Ps 141:2; Re 8:3). ‘Sacrifice’ is used metaphorically (Ps 51:17; Heb 13:10, 15, 16; 1Pe 2:5, 12).”
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges stated:
“By ‘incense’ and ‘offering’ we are to understand those ‘spiritual sacrifices’ of prayer and praise (Hebrews 13:15)… and self-dedication (Romans 12:1), which all Christians as a ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5) are privileged to offer, and which are ‘acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’. … incense was the symbol of prayer (Luke 1:9-10). The Psalmist saw the same spiritual significance in ‘incense’ and ‘offering’ (Psalm 141:2).”
I also found other commentaries trying to say that the incense offered by Gentiles refers to Catholic rites and worship services. That explanation could be easily dismissed, as Catholics do not pray to the God of the Bible, but to a Trinitarian God, falsely believing that the Holy Spirit is a person. They most certainly do not magnify God’s true name.
And so, Malachi 1:11 speaks of true Christians who give spiritual sacrifices, and refers especially to those of Gentile descent, who are part of the firstfruits in this day and age, signified by one of the two leavened wave loaves which had to be offered at Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17). Paul says in Romans 15:16 that the offering consisting of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (compare the margin in the new NKJV and the NIV).
The search for the right understanding of Malachi 1:11 just serves as an example as to how we are to study God’s Word. It may need time, effort, patience and dedication to the Truth, without coming to premature and hasty conclusions (Isaiah 28:16). Daniel wondered about a passage and had to wait with patience for understanding until God revealed to him the meaning (Daniel 9:20-23; 10:11-12, 14). Christ opened understanding to His apostles so they would comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). On the other hand, there were certain prophecies which Daniel would not understand, as it was not yet the time (Daniel 12:8-10). But with Bible study, prayer and meditation, answers will come, if God so wills (Ephesians 1:15-19), and these answers will make sense and add further pieces to our comprehension of the great puzzle of God’s masterful Work—the foundation of knowledge—the Holy Bible.