The Whole Love of God
Malachi 1:1-5 CSB
1 A pronouncement:
The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
Yet you ask, “How have you loved us?”
“Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, 3 but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
4 Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of Armies says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the Lord has cursed forever. 5 Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’
We’re beginning the book of Malachi today. It’s a short book so we’ll only be here for about 7 weeks.
Malachi is a unique book—which I like. Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament in your Bible, but more significantly, it is the last book written before Jesus came to earth. There’s a gap of about 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist, so it is often said that Malachi ushered in what has been called the ‘Silent Period,’ the longest period of time in the Old Testament where the Lord did not send any prophets to communicate with His people, Israel. There are no prophets between Malachi and John the Baptist at the beginning of the New Testament.
Malachi is unique, because Malachi did’t paint a picture of Israel quite like the other prophets. Most of the Old Testament prophets painted the picture of Israel as an adulterous bride who was always betraying the Lord God and running after other gods, whoring around with the gods of the nations—as Hosea, Ezekiel, and Nahum all accuse.
But, Malachi paints a different picture, because Israel is quite literally a different people in this time. In the time of Malachi, Israel was a faithful bride who claimed to love the Lord. But, Israel still had a major problem and it’s a problem that has persisted in many ways through the Jews of the New Testament and even, almost 2500 years later, into the church today.
When you get married, it seems obvious to me that there are certain things about a relationship that change when you get married, when you move from a dating relationship to a marriage. It’s very natural when you are dating to want to work to win the affections of your partner. You serve your partner. You speak kind and affectionate words. You sacrifice. The dating relationship is about winning the love of your partner.
Yahweh, God, did that. The Lord courted Israel and was patient with Israel, even when Israel was unfaithful. And Israel ultimately became devoted to Yahweh, God like a faithful wife.
The problem is, that, when you look at dating or courtship as the journey to win the prize, you might look at your marriage ceremony as the awards ceremony, the receiving of the prize, or the end of the journey. If you have recieved the prize then all those things you used to do to earn the prize—the courtship—you don’t have to do anymore. All the things that made your dating relationship great—service, kind words, sacrifice—it all goes away, because you’re done running the race. You already hold the prize. So, then what? Your husband or wife is nothing more than a memory, a dusty trophy on the top shelf.
Certainly most of you wouldn’t speak of your spouse who you no doubt love very much in that way, but you may prize the memory of who they were far more than you hold onto the person they’ve become. The trophy was the young fit body, and the late night conversations, and the fancy dates. So then, the spouse you have now, becomes nothing more than a reminder of the good times gone by.
You can probably imagine—maybe because this has happened in your own marriage or you have at least seen it in movies—you come into the room to find your wife distraught, laid out on the bed, crying her eyes out that her husband doesn’t her anymore.
You says, ‘But, I have loved you!’ ‘Look how I have loved you!’ And the wife cries back through tears, in frustration and anger, ‘How have you loved me?!’
It seems that, if the husband does in fact love his wife, then for some reason wife doesn’t understand the love of her husband. For some reason the wife does not see the love of her husband any longer—not like when they were dating, not like before.
And you might think, What a deadbeat! What kind of man doesn’t try to please his wife? And the frank answer is, most kinds.
But, there are actually two reasons this scenario happens in a marriage. Maybe your assumption is right. Maybe the husband is no longer loving the wife the way he ought to love her. That’s definitely possible and very often the case. The husband becomes complacent, he already has the prize so he doesn’t work to please his wife.
But, the other reason—maybe the wife has an unrealistic expectation for what love ought to look like. Maybe she became very materialistic during the dating relationship and she misses the gifts and the vacations and the luxuries of the dating relationship now that they have been replaced by kids, and a mortgage, and car payments. That’s a whole different problem.
And it happens to be the problem that Israel was having with God. We’ll go to our text. Malachi wrote,
- Malachi 1:1–2b (CSB) — A pronouncement: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you ask, “How have you loved us?”
You see, it’s the same problem. The book of Malachi contains a number of these cynical questions posed to God from Israel. This is the first. How have you loved us?
If we think back on the two reasons this sort of issue happens, it’s not that God was no longer was expressing His love for His people Israel. They were in the promised land. They were protected. They were eating well. They were being cared for spiritually by the priests. Neglect is unlikely in a relationship with God. If we’re talking about the Lord, it makes no sense to say that he is the one who caused this misunderstanding.
It’s far more likely that Israel, the bride, had unrealistic expectations about God’s love or what God’s love ought to look like. And we will see that play out through this series; Israel’s unrealistic expectations resulted in complacency and a halfhearted obedience towards God. Because Israel was not being loved the way they wanted to be loved, they no longer loved God back with the zeal that God deserves and expects.
So, it’s not that Israel became adulterous as in earlier times; they had kind of grown out of that. It’s that Israel was suffering from complacency, halfhearted devotion to God.
So, the Israelites asked, How have you loved us? Here’s God’s response. It’s not what you would expect.
- Malachi 1:2b–5 (CSB) — “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of Armies says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the Lord has cursed forever. Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’
This is sort of a strange response to the question, but it’s a common way of communication, not just in ancient times, but today as well.
How have you loved us?
The Lord’s response: “Let me tell you a story.” Let me illustrate the answer. In this case, the Lord reminded them of a story that they knew very well. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. They were born to parents Isaac and Rebekah nearly 3000 years ago. Jacob and Esau were twins, but they were not in any way identical. The had different personalities, different interests, and different talents.
Esau, who was the first-born, was rugged and strong, and became a great hunter. Jacob, the second-born by only a few minutes, was less so. He took care of flocks and cared for the things of his father Isaac while Isaac and Esau were away hunting.
Well, it happened that one day Jacob was making stew at home and Esau returned from a vigorous hunting trip. He was starving and came to Jacob to get some red lentil stew. Now, Jacob was the weaker brother, but he was also the smarter brother.
He didn’t feel as loved by his father and he knew that, as the second born, that would also mean that he would get a smaller share of his father’s household when he died—and Isaac was getting very old. And he also knew that his father would not bless him with as great a blessing as his brother Esau.
So, when Esau came to Jacob begging for some of His stew, lest he die, Jacob seized the opportunity. Here’s how Moses finished the story.
- Genesis 25:31–34 (CSB) — Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die, so what good is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to Jacob and sold his birthright to him. Then Jacob gave bread and lentil stew to Esau; he ate, drank, got up, and went away. So Esau despised his birthright.
Esau sold his birthright, his share of his father’s inheritance and the blessing of his father, for a bowl of stew.
If you know the story, you know that Jacob’s trickery continued. When their father Isaac was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing that was due to Esau as the older son. And Esau got a lesser blessing.
What’s interesting is that neither brother, in the story shows great character. Jacob is deceitful. And Esau has little reverence for the traditions of the family. But, God, nonetheless, honored the blessings given to Jacob and Esau by Isaac when he died. Jacob became the man Israel who fathered the nation of Israel. And Esau became the father of the nation of Edom and enjoyed great wealth and prosperity in life.
In life Jacob and Esau reconciled as brothers. But, in death, their respective nations continued the grudge of their youth. Israel became the chosen people of God. And Edom was always a thorn in Israel’s side. We have two men who were deserving of nothing according to their own merit—no character or righteousness or other trait of such value that they deserved God’s love. And we have two nations who are a pretty good representation of their fathers; there is nothing in Israel or Edom that merits the love of God.
Yet Jacob was blessed with fathering the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. And Esau, the lesser blessing of fathering the nation of Edom.
So, the Lord pointed to this story in response to the Israelites question, How have you loved us? and He did so for a very good reason.
- Malachi 1:2–3 (CSB) — “I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you ask, “How have you loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
Israel was flourishing in the land that God had given them and their blessing had become so routine that they don’t even realize how great was the love of God for them.
You know this happens. You see the news where terrible things happen in other countries and you exclaim, “Thank God I live in the US.” For a moment you’re grateful of the providence of God. But, then you go back to day-to-day life, bickering and complaining, wondering if God even loves you, wondering if your blessing will ever come.
Do you get what God is saying?
Edom got exactly what they deserved. They were destroyed. But, Israel did not get what they deserved. They received blessing in the land that God had graciously promised to them. God chose Israel to be different and Israel was blessed. And yet Israel was blind to their blessing, exclaiming as we so often do, How have you loved us? I don’t see it God. How have you loved us?
It’s so easy to focus on the negative things in life and completely miss the blessings of God.
I want to sidestep a bit and go to the New Testament to show you how the Apostle Paul understood this text in Malachi and then we are going to come back to it for one final implication regarding Edom.
The Jews understood that to speak of Jacob and Esau was to speak figuratively of the nations they fathered, Israel and Edom. Edom can be used in a further figurative sense here in Malachi and in the Old Testament, referring not just to the nation of Edom, but representing all of the nations that were not Israel, all of the nations that were not chosen by God. So, you have Jacob and Esau representing chosen Israel, and the nations.
But, when we get to the New Testament and we look at Paul’s writings, Jacob and Esau become figures for the church and the world.
So, we are going to look at chapter 9 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Paul is addressing the accusation that the word of God failed when it came to the nation of Israel. It’s like they thought that God failed with Israel and so now he was starting over with this new thing called the church. And Paul says, not so! God didn’t fail.
Here’s how Paul responded to the accusation.
- Romans 9:6–8 (CSB) — Now it is not as though the word of God has failed, because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are all of Abraham’s children his descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.
Paul responded to the accusation that God failed with Israel by saying that true Israelites are not Israelites by being actual offspring of the man Jacob, but those who have received the promises of God, which we know are offered through Jesus Christ.
In other words, God didn’t fail with Israel, because Israel as a national entity was never the point. Just like we know that the United States or any other country today is not the people of God, Paul says that Israel as an earthly nation was never precisely God’s chosen. Instead, it is those who became children of God through the promise, through faith in the Lord.
Paul goes on to address the parents of Jacob and Esau who are Issac and Rebekah. He wrote,
- Romans 9:10–12 (CSB) — Rebekah conceived children through one man, our father Isaac. For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand…she was told, The older will serve the younger.
You can’t miss this. God did not bless Jacob and punish Esau because Jacob was good and Esau was bad. God determined to bless Jacob and not Esau before they were even born. Paul is clear. It wasn’t about moral obedience. God didn’t foresee that Jacob would be good and Esau bad. They were both sinful men deserving God’s wrath. No, it was about something else entirely. Paul said in the conclusion of this thought,
- Romans 9:13 (CSB) — As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.
And that is my point. Paul quoted from our text, Malachi 1, verses 2 and 3.
Jacob was blessed, not because of obedience to God, but because God chose to love Jacob before he was even born. In the same way Israel was blessed, even when they didn’t see it, not because they were obedient to God, but because God chose to bless them. And, again, the church is blessed, not because of our obedience to God, but because God loves His church.
That might sound terribly unjust, but God loves who He loves and hates who He hates. I think you understand the romance of the way this system works.
Imagine you go to a wedding. Jami, the kids, and I went to a beautiful wedding for a good friend a few weeks ago. You can imagine, the bride comes down the isle and the music is playing and everything is beautiful; it’s perfect. The officiant speaks some beautiful and profound words about marriage and then it’s time to say vows.
The groom begins,
I take thee to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish—you know, as long as you keep the house clean and always have dinner on the table when I get home from work—till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance—that is, as long as you always stay in really good shape and make sure to look beautiful for me every day—and thereto I pledge myself to you for as long as we both shall live, or until I decide I can’t bear to listen to or live with you any longer.
Can you imagine? Is that romance or what?
I’d probably walk out if I heard the groom give vows like that. You give vows at a wedding that demonstrate your unconditional devotion to your wife; not your conditional devotion. When I do premarital counseling, I am adamant that the bride and groom look at their marriage as completely unconditional—they plan to stay together no matter what. When I do a wedding, divorce is off the table before the wedding even begins.
And that’s precisely how Christ loves His church. He loves the church unconditionally. You aren’t loved by God ‘if.’ You are loved by God because it pleases Him to love you and for no other reason. I don’t know why we always try to squeeze the word if into God’s love, but we do. We always want to make it seem like God only loves us if we act right, think right, speak right. But, God loves us because it pleases Him to love us, and even when we are outright adulterous against God, he loves us, because it pleases Him to love us.
So, I ask husbands to do the same and I work to love my wife just the same; I love my wife because it pleases me to love her, not because she has earned it, and I hope she does the same for me.
Now, we must deal with the whole text because, it pleased God to love Jacob and hate Esau. It pleased God to love Israel and hate the nations. It pleases God to love the church and to hate the world.
And you’re like, “Whoa, don’t say hate! God doesn’t hate!”
I’m just reading what the Bible says. It says that God hates Esau. But, God doesn’t just hate Esau for no reason. Look at how Malachi ends this passage.
- Malachi 1:4–5 (CSB) — Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of Armies says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the Lord has cursed forever. Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’
Listen, the Lord demolished Edom, even when they tried to rebuild, just to demonstrate to Israel the breadth of the Lord’s dominion. That means that the Lord’s destruction of Edom was an act of love towards Israel.
We’ve talked about cosmic geography before. That’s the idea that every geographic region, every nation, is governed by it’s own cosmic deity and each deity is limited in power to that geographic region. Well, the Lord is clear here, that His power is not restricted to the region of Israel. The Lord is more powerful than any cosmic force and He will show His power even beyond the borders of Israel. He’s not just Lord of Israel, He Lord of Lords.
He’s not just God of Israel, he’s God of gods.
Why does God reach out beyond His chosen people?
So that Israel will know that the Lord loves them, that He has chosen them, and that He has bestowed great blessing upon them.
And that’s where I want to wrap up today, because it is so easy for sinful, self-righteous, and self-centered humans like us to become so distracted by the painful things of life that we are blinded to the blessings of God. But, God’s judgment comes upon this sin-cursed creation all of the time, so that we will remember the promises made to us and remember how God has loved us, even as He hates this world.
When we hear about the genocide of Nigerian Christians, it’s so tempting to pray to God, How have you loved us?
When we get caught up in political arguments and no side seems to want to follow God, it’s so tempting to pray, How have you loved us?
When illness, job loss, or any other trial of life comes our way, we pray, Lord, why me? How have you loved us?
See, the Israelites made the mistake of thinking that God should express His love to them in wealth, in health, and in prosperity. And we fall prey to the same thinking.
If God loves us then why am I broke and in debt?
If God loves me then how come I have all these health problems?
If God loves me, then how come all these family problems are going on?
What kind of self-centered wife are we as the church?
Have we forgotten the vows that the Lord has made to us?
Do we think well of a wife who demands comforts and riches from her husband? Then why do we demand it of God?
He has made vows to you, but not for health, wealth, and prosperity in this life. The author of Hebrews wrote precisely about this when he wrote,
- Hebrews 13:5 (CSB) — Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.
God is faithful and He will never leave or abandon His covenant people, the church.
It’s the same vow we take in marriage—unconditional faithfulness to our spouses.
He has bound Himself to us and promised like a faithful husband that He will never leave us. We may not have everything we want out of life, but we are told to be satisfied with what we do have—for this reason—because the Lord is with us and His love is sufficient to sustain us through all life’s temptations and trials. He is faithful and thus we can be, ought to be, satisfied in Him.
But, learn from Israel! They were half-hearted in their obedience to God because they did not understand the fullness of God’s love for them. They didn’t understand the depth of, “I love you and I will never leave you, never abandon you.” And because they didn’t understand the love of God, they scoffed at God, How have you loved us? When God said, “But I do love you!,” they fell in tears on their bed crying, “How have you loved us?”
Learn from Israel.
Never allow yourself to believe that you have been good enough for God and thus God must bless you in some way. Jesus did not die to save you because of your goodness. He died because of your wretchedness. He did not call you to faith on account of your righteous deeds. He did not rescue you from the pits of hell because you had anything to offer Him in His Kingdom. God has called you to Himself through His son, because—wait for it—it pleases God to save sinners.
I’ve shared this before, but as we come to the Lord’s table today, I encourage you to remember that this ceremony is the renewal of our wedding vows before God. It is the wedding of Christ to His church in which we are bound to God by the blood of Christ. God has spoken His vow, “Never will I leave you.”
The Apostle Paul wrote of the Lord’s Table,
- 1 Corinthians 11:23–25 (CSB) — For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
The Lord spoke of His covenant promise to us, His wedding vows to us, His declaration of love for us, His church. We receive and believe God’s vow at the Lord’s table. And if you have never known God, you haven’t been bound to Christ. Today is the day you ought to do that. If you are still part of the world that God hates, God is calling you to Him, to be bound to Him as a bride to a husband, that He might love you and be eternally faithful to you.
I encourage you, that if you would believe the word of God and choose to also be faithful to Jesus Christ, then today take and eat of the bread and take and drink of the cup as a commitment, that your life might find rest through Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 11:26 (CSB) — For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
For most of us, we come to the Lord’s table, not so much to renew our vows to God, but to remember His vow to us, and to proclaim that vow to others, that through His death we are bound to Him and we believe that He will never let go of His church.
We come to the Lord’s table weekly, because we don’t want to become complacent like Israel. We don’t want to start to feel as if God does not love us, like the Jews of Malachi’s day. But, instead we remember the love of God through Christ Jesus, that while we were sinners and deserved nothing from God, Christ died for us. And we remember the promise of God, and we revel in the unfathomable mercy of God. When you understand that you deserve nothing and yet it pleases God to rescue you anyway, then, and only then, do you understand the full love of God.
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