Finally we have made it! It’s time to get into the text of Malachi, now that we’ve explored its historical context.
As we saw last time, Malachi addresses six issues in the hearts of the returned exiles. Today we will look at issue #1: Israel, the privileged people, ask: “How have you loved us?”
“How have you loved us?” Really, people, really?!
Wow! God starts this book with the uplifting words to His people: “I have loved you” (1:2). Ahhh, how beautiful. Thank you, Lord!
No! That’s not how the script goes. They don’t appreciate the words. They offer a challenge: “How have you loved us?” they ask.
When you tell someone that you love them how do you want them to reply? Certainly not with a challenge! God’s heart must have broken when they return His profession of love with a challenging “how?” They’re saying to God: “prove it!”
Over and over in the Old Testament you see God’s love for His chosen people. This is the last book in the Old Testament, and the people still can’t see His love past their immediate self-absorption and circumstances. How forgetful mankind can be. No wonder God constantly commanded the people to remembrance in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible; books of the Law).
Now, I must admit, that I’m really impressed by God’s response to His people here. If I was on the receiving end of their question I would be flabbergasted – left speechless – with my jaw hanging down in disbelief! But God answers their question by comparing the two brothers: Jacob and Esau.
Question: What is the significance of them being brothers? Why is God using brothers as a comparison to show His choice?
[Pause. Go on, have a think about it].
Brothers are level. They were born into the same family. They have the same history, same genes, same start in life. They are a good means for comparison.
God compares the brothers, saying: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated” (1:2-3)
Did anyone feel God’s words were harsh here? I mean, really, there’s no need to bring love and hate into it! Today, we tend to tie love and hate to emotions, but remember that the Bible wasn’t written in our century. In this case it is a historical statement: “I chose you; I didn’t chose Esau”.
Am I making the historical statement thing up? Are you asking: Where else do we see this? Here are a few examples:
- Genesis 29:30-31 -> We are told that Jacob loved Rachel, not Leah. But if you read it in context, it was that Rachel was the one he chose, not her sister, Leah.
- Luke 14 -> Jesus says: “If you want to be my disciple, hate your parent”. The Bible also tells us that we must honour are parents. Jesus is really saying that we must chose Him, even over our families.
Paul further unpacks this in Romans in the passage 9:10-18. He shows that salvation is based on nothing but the election of God, not on works. It’s not on what we have done, just as Jacob was not more holy than his brother. This should show the returned exiles, our original readers, the love He has for them -> that He chose them, and rejected Esau.
However, I also want to point out that the choice goes two-ways. So, yes: God chose Jacob, but Esau also made a choice to reject God:
Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:33)
This is the same tension we have when Scripture talks about God choosing His elect for salvation, but also the choice believers must make for Him. It can be likened to a marriage: the husband chose his wife, and proposed, but the wife also had a choice to make.
Coming back to Malachi, in 1:3-4 God talks about what He did to Edom.
Question: Why were they destroyed? Why was Edom destroyed?
[Hint: Have a look at the book of Obadiah].
The book of Obadiah is only one chapter long. It lists God’s judgement against the nation of Edom. The Edomites were judged for their hatred towards their brother, Israel. In verse 12 of Obadiah, we read that the Edomites gloated over Israel’s fall. This should be an encouragement to the original readers, showing them that God remembered their humility and their brother’s acts against them.
God’s choice should have brought a response of thanksgiving and praise, but their response was “HOW?” – How have you loved us? They were so fixated on their immediate circumstances that they failed to see the proof of His love for them throughout the history of their nation.
Finally, God finishes addressing this first issue in verse 5 by saying that they (the original hearers of Malachi’s message) shall testify that God is great beyond the border of Israel. It’s not just going to be about them any more! This is inclusive language – all the nations – God is looking at the Gentiles! Bring on the New Testament! Christ came for the salvation of ALL mankind!
Five packed verses!
Now it’s our turn. What is the application for our lives?
The returned exiles were not focused on what God had done for them as a nation, or His grace over their history. They were fixated on their pre-conceived ideas and misconceptions of what their post-exile return to the land should look like. This should serve as a call for us to remember, which is our first healthy heart habit.
Healthy Heart Habit #1 = Remember what God has done for us
- Do you take time to remember what God has done for you or are you fixated on the present?
Keeping our hearts grateful requires us to remain focused on who God is, and what He has done for us.
Challenge: Think back on what God has done for you. If you journal, take some time today to look back through your journal and remember what He has done in your life.
When we come back we’ll get into the text looking at the next issue that God addresses:
Issue #2 Israel’s polluted priesthood, say: “How have we despised your name?” (1:6-2:9)