Zechariah described what would change about human institutions in the eschaton. All government and rule would be based on Torah. Individual human behavior would have to change, too. This is the topic of Malachi. The people’s incorrect and non-chalant attitude towards service of the Lord would need to look much different if they were going to follow Torah in all their deeds.
Most importantly, they would need to stop hedging their bets. In Hosea, at the opposite end of the Book of the XII, hedging looked like following an additional deity, just in case one didn’t pull through at a crucial time. In Malachi, the people hedge their bets by sacrificing the least valuable items. These actions betray distrust in the Lord, that they have to preserve their own wealth. Trying to preserve wealth means clinging to human power–which leads back to the previous state of affairs of cyclical destruction.
The people’s self-righteousness blinds them to their show of disrespect to the Lord. This chapter includes dialogue where a “chorus” asks how they’re committing the sin the Lord identifies. The prophet uses this technique to uncover the people’s willful ignorance.
Does the Lord love us?
The people don’t understand how the Lord has loved them (1:1-5). Lost inside their own minds, they didn’t see what real rejection looks like–Esau (also called Edom). The Lord rejected any kind of civilization Edom tried to build, and when they tried to rebuild. The people of Israel could look from its seat of power and see that Edom could never establish itself. That the people could ask this question from a position of comfort proves how much the Lord loved them. That they didn’t know the answer demonstrates that they had disassociated the reason for their success and wealth from the Lord.
Did we disrespect the Lord?
Even though the Lord was worthy of the greatest glory of the people, they disrespected him through their thoughtlessness (1:6-9). When the Lord declared that he is due the highest honor, the people didn’t realize that they had scorned the Lord at all. Their ignorance continued as the priests didn’t understand how they defiiled the altar.
The priests and the people wanted to hedge their bets by offering their worst animals for sacrifice. Flocks lived out in the wilderness, vulnerable to predators, who would pick out the weakest for their prey. The people preemptively offered these blind and lame animals for sacrifice; why not, since they were going to die anyway? This was a better idea–in the eyes of the corrupt people–than offering strong, healthy animals that would help the rest of the flock. The Lord shamed them by pointing out that they would never offer such a lousy offering to a governor, so why offer it to the Lord, worthy of even more honor? The people could only hope for the Lord’s mercy after such an affront.
They forgot that the Lord provided the good and the bad; all belonged to him and was a gift. By offering the least and the worst, they were saving the best, just in case they would be in need later. Their lack of faith in the Lord’s provision displayed their underlying apostasy, in spite of their pious actions of offering sacrifice.
As a result, the Lord was ready to close up the temple–he didn’t need the piety of the people (1:10-14). The Lord didn’t want perfunctory sacrifice; he didn’t need sacrifice at all. Moreover, nations from the far reaches of the world actually honored the Lord, unlike the people. The people treated the table (ie, the altar) with no respect; even though they vowed to offer a strong animal, they still offered a weak animal.
Fear and no gratitude are the problem
The people interacted with the Lord out of fear of want, not out of gratitude for what they had. In their minds they separated the Lord from their wealth; he only wanted something from them, which they begrudgingly provided. They felt entitled to what they had, even keeping it when it was promised to the Lord. Their entitlement and fear underminded their cultic practice, and the Lord was willing to end the cultic sacrifice altogether when he saw the lack of correct attitude. Because the people did not link the Lord with their bounty and existence, they could no longer perceive his love for them. The Lord exorted them to turn to him with the correct attitude of respect, or he could turn to any one of a number of nations who would do so.