“I will… spread dung upon your faces…”
We might think this is a bit “over the top!” I have never preached about God spreading dung on the faces of the priests, and on the surface, it seemed a coarse tactic to use. Recently I have been preaching through Malachi and was confronted and challenged by this troubling passage. What could this possibly mean and why would God go to such extreme measures?
The Levites were called to speak blessing to the nation because they ought to have been glorifying, fearing, and obeying God and teaching Israel likewise to do (Numbers 6:22-27; Deut.31:9-13; Deut. 33:10). They had the incredible privilege to serve in the temple and teach Israel the Word of God, but they were despising both God’s name and their calling to serve Him (Mal.1:6, 12). Their work had become like a boring job and cumbersome burden. They went through the motions of formality of religion and offered blind, lame, and sick sacrifices which should have been disqualified, and in doing so they were despising God’s name. Their teaching led many to fall away from God (Mal.2:8). God warns them that if they do not repent He will curse the blessing of this privileged ministry. He will sweep them away in order that His covenant promises to Israel would continue.
This judgment by God upon the priests was His response to their corrupt behavior which in effect disqualified them from serving at God’s holy altar.
What is God saying when He threatens the priests that He will “spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it?” (Malachi 2:3) In very direct and coarse language, God is saying that the priest’s sacrifices should have been ineligible for sacrificial use, but by their continual offering of blind and lame sacrifices, which was clearly contrary to the Mosaic Law (Deut.15:21), they were now disqualified from His service.
God will expose their crimes of disobedience and remove them from their privileged service. How? By spreading the dung of the sacrificial beasts upon their faces! The dung was the undigested contents of the stomach and intestines of the animal sacrifices, something so disgusting and unclean that it was carried outside the camp and burned. (Exodus 29:14; Lev. 4:11) This act would obviously make the priests as unclean as the dung of those sacrifices and fit them for the garbage heap.
God warns the priests that they are at a “make or break moment.” If they refuse to repent He will publicly expose their sins, humiliate them for their unrepentant behavior, and disqualify them from continuing in their priestly ministry. God is saying that the priests were like the waste part of the animal that was not worth anything but judgment.
What a radical reversal of their privileged priestly position. They no longer were qualified to serve in the temple. Their place would be with the refuse.
They still had an opportunity to repent, however, just as the High Priest Joshua had done in Zechariah 3. In that passage he was clothed with “filthy garments” (Zechariah 3:3) Some believe that this is the excrement of the sacrificial animals similar to the “dung” in Malachi 2:3. God in mercy forgave his iniquity and in grace clothed him with clean garments. Just as there was hope and forgiveness for Joshua the High Priest, there is hope and forgiveness for the priests of Malachi’s day.
Many of us have seen or heard of men in ministry fall into some terrible sin that disqualified them from ministry. Often we respected and sought to emulate some of these men. Nevertheless, these individual who were privileged and respected in their public office, secretly persisted in some sin until it was publicly exposed. At that time, they were humiliated and immediately removed from their service. Sadly, the illustrations are numerous.
There are men functioning now who may be living in unrepentant sin and continuing in it, thinking that they can get away with it. They can’t. A person can choose whether God will forgive them and clothe them with a change of raiment, or whether He will in a sense, spread dung on their face, that is, publicly expose their sin, humiliate them and remove them from ministry. The Apostle Paul warns the Corinthians, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Judgment then and now “must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)