Malachi prophesied around 450 BC in Israel. He was one of the last inspired prophets before the 400 years of no divine revelation between the Old Testament and the time of Jesus Christ. Now God had just proven himself to be true to his promise to let Israelites return to their home from the Babylonian exile. Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and the temple restored, yet the people failed to learn their lesson from the exile. They questioned God’s love (1:2). They carelessly worship(1:7). They become indifferent to the truth (2:6-7). They profane and broke the covenant of their fathers (2:10). They were unfaithful to their marriages(2:15; 3:5), and they failed to commit to their financial obligations for the temple of God(3:8).
In many ways Christians may fall into this sin of unbelief in God’s love, and as a result we wander away from Him just like the Israelites. But God wants us to know that he still loves us. And so the Lord sent his messenger, Malachi, to proclaim two things to the nation of Israel then, and to us now: (1) God loves his people(1:2). And (2) God doesn’t change(3:6). Therefore we can say that the purpose of Malachi is to show God’s unchanging love to us. So our aim in this series is to strengthen our faith and devotion by knowing the love God.
We will divide this book into sections and each will have its own exposition. We will follow Malachi’s own section markers. We do this by observing repeated words or formulas that come at the beginning (rubrics) or at the end (colophons) of each section, thereby allowing us to see the author’s own way of sectioning the text for us. Malachi uses the device of a question from the audience to introduce each of his six sections in the book:
How have you loved us?(1:1-5)
How have we despised your name? (1:6-14 to 2:1-9)
Why does he not(accept our offerings)?(2:10-16)
How have we wearied the Lord? (2:17 to 3:1-6)
How shall we return and how have we robbed you? (3:7-12)
How have we spoken against you? (3:13-18 to 4:1-6).
Today we will look at the first section in verses 1-5.
When asked, “How much do you know about the love of God?”, how would you respond? Would you say much or less? Or suppose you were asked, “How did God loved us?”, what would be your answer? You might say, “This is the way God loved the world: He gave His unique Son, so that everyone believing in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” That is true. But how else did God loved us? Did God loved us the same way He loves the Son? How would you give reason for love? Does the reason for loving resides in its object or its subject?
Many will claim to have a knowledge about love, and God’s love in particular, but their concept of it is quite vague. Most Evangelicals believe in a love of God that only renders sinners as “savable” but not actually save. Or that God loves equally. That is, He loved those who will eventually be thrown to hell as much as He loved those who will enter heaven. If that is your view on God’s love, then you have not yet known the weight of the love of God. And Malachi’s aim is to show how weighty and glorious God’s love is and what motivates Him to love.
So the passage starts off with these words, “the oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” Literally in Hebrew, instead of “oracle” it reads “burden”. That is the burden or weight of God’s word came to Israel through Malachi. God had given Malachi a burden. In the Old Testament the word of the Lord is often called a burden but why is that? Two reasons: (1) It’s weighty. It has a certain gravitas that pulls all things down. It is not light and trifling. It is very rich in truth and beauty and it’s deadly serious. (2) Many will reject and make light of the word even when the message is good news.
So what’s the burden of this passage?(vv. 2)
God’s burden was to show to his people that he’s a loving God, because they doubt God’s love. This is clear from their response to God’s pronouncement of love for them. Inspite of what God did in fulfilling his promises, many are doubtful if God is really for them.
Before we look at God’s answer to the question, “How have you loved us?”, let’s go back to the questions I raised earlier about love. Does God love us the way He loves His Son? And does the reason for loving resides in the object of love or the subject of love?
Consider this; we love ice cream not because we unconditionally love ice cream, but because there’s something in it that is to be desired. So the reason for loving or liking or desiring ice cream resides in itself. Perhaps its sweetness, or its flavor. If the flavour is vanilla I won’t buy one. So this love is conditioned upon its object. But there’s another kind of love. A love for the unlovable. Like loving your enemies. Here love is conditioned not in its object but on its subject. There’s no likeable quality that would push us to love those whom we hate.
So which love did God loves us with? And by which love did He love the Son? If you say that the Father loves Jesus with the latter it would seem that God the Son has no desirable qualities. But we constantly hear from Scriptures that the Father delights in the Son and that He is well pleased with him. Therefore God loves the Son with the former. The Father loves the Son because He sees Himself in Him. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. And since God is worthy of all praise and adoration, it is only natural that God would love his Son. So did the Father loves us the way He love Jesus?
So let’s look at God’s answer to the question, “How have you loved us?” in verses 2-3. God answered first with a rhetorical question, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?”, which expects the answer yes. Then he followed it with an adversative subordinate propositions, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated”.
Now what sort of answer is that? It seems that he only restated the problem.The Israelites asked, “How have you loved us?” But his response was, “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated”? Isn’t that just a repetition of what he already said in the first part of verse 2, “I have loved you, says the Lord”? No, this is really a valid argument, and it’s because of the following question, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” But what does that mean? Why did God ask that? He asked it because the answer to that question is the key to the essence of his love. What is the implied answer? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? The answer is yes. In fact as every Israelite knew, Esau was not only Jacob’s brother, he was his twin brother, conceived in the womb of Rebecca by their father Isaac. And not only were they twins, Esau was the elder, which means that by all customary rights and privileges he would be the main heir of the father’s blessings. Now what is the point of saying, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” The point is this: Based on what Jacob and Esau were in themselves God could just as easily have chosen Esau over Jacob. God is saying “Isn’t Esau your brother? Weren’t you twins? Isn’t he in fact your elder? But I chose you, and passed him by.” What then is God’s answer to the question, “How have you loved us?” His answer is, “I have loved you with free, sovereign, unconditional, electing love; that is how I have loved you.”
Now if you are a Christian here today, and if you say to God, “How have you loved me?” can you answer the way God answered the Israelites? Do you look at your relatives and friends who are living in sin and tremble that you have been chosen? And that your election is not because of anything in you? And that your faith and hope and every thing good in you now are owing to God? Do you tremble on the fact that you are as hell bound as those people, yet God chose to love you unconditionally?
Therefore God loved us in one sense quite differently from how he love the Son. God’s love for us is unconditional. There’s nothing in us that would compel, or cause God to love us.
But what about Esau? Note that God chooses to highlight his love for his people by contrasting it with his hatred for Esau and his descendants, the nation of Edom. If we ask, what does God mean by saying (in verse 3), “Esau I hated,” the answer is in verses 3 and 4: “I have hated Esau; I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert. If Edom says, We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins, the Lord of hosts says, They may build, but I will tear down, till they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry for ever. ” Notice four things on what it means for God to hate Esau. First, it means that God opposes their prosperity and brings their land under judgment. “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” Second, it means that God will continue to oppose them when they resist his judgment. Verse 4: “If Edom says, We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins, the Lord of hosts says, They may build, but I will tear down.” This is the polar opposite of Romans 8:28. God will see to it that all things will not work for their good. Third, God’s hate for Esau means that they will by and large as a nation be given up to wickedness. Verse 4b: “…till they are called the wicked country.” God’s decree of reprobation makes certain that the punishment is fitting and just. No innocent person will ever suffer hell. Lastly, at the end of verse 4 it means that the Lord is angry, or indignant with them forever.
So to answer our question earlier, “Does God love everyone equally?”, the answer is a resounding no. His love for those who will perish is not the same as God’s saving and electing love.
Now why does God inspire Malachi to begin his message this way? “I have loved you, says the Lord. How have you loved us? Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I have loved you and hated Esau. How have I loved you?”
First is to show how God have loved his people with free, sovereign, unconditional, electing love. Second is so that he may be feared.
It’s meant to humble us and take away your presumption. It removes every ground of boasting in ourselves. And it’s meant to make us tremble with tears of joy that we belong to God, just as the psalmist says, “There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared!” (Psalm 130:4).
But that is not all. God has another purpose in revealing the greatness of his electing love for Jacob and his judgment upon Esau. Verse 5 says: “Your own eyes shall see this and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’ ” The pronoun “this” is referring to the judgment of Edom. In other words, part of what it means, in fact essential part to what God’s great love really means is that He wants us to experience and behold His greatness even beyond the people called by his name. He reigns in Edom, just as he reigns in Israel.Yahweh is not a tribal god. Ultimately, the Lord’s purposes are not frustrated by the wickedness of any people. “Great is the Lord, beyond the border of Israel!” That’s why this love is weighty, because the one who does it is weighty and glorious.
So let us humble ourselves before this great God. Let us give him all the glory for our salvation. And let us proclaim, “Great is the Lord even beyond the walls of our homes, our churches, our schools, and our work places.”