Sermon preached on Malachi 1:1-5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/16/2011 in Novato, CA.
“I Have Loved You: Your Own Eyes Shall See This”
Today we begin a new series through the book of Malachi. This is one of the minor prophets, known as minor not because of importance, but simply due to the size of the work. In our message this morning, I’ll first begin with an overview of this book. Then I’ll spend some time addressing the love of God that is affirmed, questioned, and defended in this passage. Finally, we’ll think about how we too know the love of God.
And so let’s begin with a summary of this short book. We’ll root this in verse 1 of our text. “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.” This book claims to be the Word of God, and we receive it as such. It’s a prophecy addressed specifically to Israel as a nation. And yet, we can find much application from it, through the way we’ve been related to Israel in our relationship with Jesus Christ. The author given here is Malachi. That’s where we get the title of the book. Many have wondered if the word Malachi here is actually a name, or if it’s a title. The word means “my messenger.” Some have thought it was just a title, and that maybe the author was someone like Ezra. Long story short, we don’t know for sure, and so we will be content to call the author Malachi. The Bible does not speak of anyone else known as Malachi, so we must be content to not know anything of this author, other than what we glean from this book.
The historical background of this book is very helpful, however, for understanding its context. This book is believed to be the last book written in the Old Testament, dealing with the time frame in Israel’s history known as post exile. Recall, that Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians and deported there. Later the Persians took over Babylon, and allowed Israel to return to their home land. Under Persian control, of course. And so this is the general time frame. This is the period which the historical books Ezra and Nehemiah cover. Those books describe the temple and wall being rebuilt in Jerusalem. Malachi assumes the temple is rebuilt, so likely this book comes just shortly after the events of Ezra and Nehemiah.
This historical context is significant based on what Malachi addresses. You see, at that point in Israel’s history, there is a growing disillusionment. The prophets had predicted that after their exile, that Israel would experience a glorious restoration. They predicted that this restoration would be so glorious, that it would be better than anything their fathers had ever experienced. And yet, at that point in Israel’s history, such a glorious restoration had not yet materialized. They were under foreign occupation. They were having troubles with all the other local peoples. They weren’t experiencing the plenty of the Land as they expected. Even the temple itself was not as glorious as it was before. Later in Malachi we’ll see suggestions of this reality for them, of their lacking prosperity.
In the face of this growing disillusionment, we see Malachi speaking. His book is well known for its distinctive style of disputation. The book is almost entirely made up of six disputed propositions. Here’s how each goes. Malachi will make a truth statement. He’ll then consider a question by the people that challenges that truth claim. You could imagine these as questions from hecklers as he’s preaching – challenges that represent the people’s general views. Malachi then addresses each question, proving the original truth claim. We’ve seen the first of these in our passage for today. God’s love is affirmed. The people then question that love. God then responds to that challenge through Malachi, proving his love.
And yet while Israel was doubting God’s faithfulness to his promises, God was ultimately challenging Israel regarding its faithfulness. Faithfulness to the covenant. You see, the reason why Israel was conquered and brought into exile in the first place was because they had broken God’s covenant with them. During that time, they acknowledged these sins and lamented over them. And yet now that they were back from exile, Malachi shows that they are back to the same old thing. They are again breaking God’s covenant. And so the book of Malachi does encourage Israel that God will keep his promises. The book of Malachi is very much a book about how God will be coming to his people. And yet Malachi gives this as both a blessing and a warning. Malachi paints that coming Day of the Lord as one that will be positive for God’s people, but also one that for many will be a terrible day of judgment. He’s warning for them to repent in light of the coming of God. To turn back to him in faithfulness, that the coming of the Lord doesn’t come as a curse to them. And so this is a book that calls for Israel to return to the Lord in light of his coming. In the same vein, this is the book that predicts that Elijah will come to Israel before the coming of God. That’s a prophecy Jesus said was fulfilled by John the Baptist. And what did John the Baptist do? He called people to repent in light of the imminent coming of Jesus.
And yet all of this is still very applicable to us. We live in a different place in redemptive-history, but with similar struggles. They were waiting for Christ’s coming. We are waiting for Christ’s second coming. They were looking forward to a glorious restoration. We know all about that – we’ve tasted in part of that restoration in Christ, but still are awaiting the final glory too! They awaited these things while the world seemed amuck around them. We await all of this, in much the same way. The world is full of trouble today for God’s people. We have a church that seems to be losing ground on so many fronts. We could wonder, “How is Christ with us at this time, as he promised?” There are ways we could relate to the people back then. But we can also relate to their struggles with sin too. In the church today there is a growing complacency with regards to righteousness and keeping of God’s law. There is a growing toleration of unrepentant sin, or repentance only in name’s sake. There is a growing toleration of false doctrines and idolatries and false religions and corrupt worship practices in the church. These problems creep in to the church, all the while the church in this world thinks that it doesn’t have these problems. And so I think the church today in many ways can relate to the sorts of issues and tensions and challenges found in the book of Malachi.
Well, that is an overview of the book. Let us turn now to consider the subject of God’s love discussed in this passage. Malachi’s statement of truth is in verse 2. That’s his teaching. God says to his people, I have loved you. Don’t miss how wonderful that is. The almighty maker of heaven and earth declares his love for his people. When someone tells you that they love you, it’s usually assumed to be a positive thing, and it’s typical to reciprocate that love in some way. Certainly God’s people should respond with the love of God when he expresses his love for us. And yet look how Israel was responding to this. Verse 2 goes on to hear Israel’s response. Here’s the question. It’s a question that challenges the principle asserted. The Lord said that he loved them. The people respond, “In what way have you loved us?” They respond with a question that denies God’s love! They question and essentially deny God’s love! You don’t love us!
Think of the audacity of this. You can imagine the child who is upset with their parents for whatever the reason. Parents who have sacrificed for the child time and time again. And yet when the child doesn’t get the one thing they wanted at the moment, they cry out, “You don’t love me!” Well, God’s people can act that way with God too. Just think of all that Israel had experienced of God and you can appreciate why this was such an audacious claim. They had been set apart from Abraham and the patriarchs to be God’s special people. God had saved them in the Exodus and gave them victory in the conquest of Canaan. He saved them repeatedly during the time of the Judges. They experienced plenty and peace during much of the time of the monarchy in Israel. Most recently God had brought them back from exile to the Promised Land and given them many freedoms, even if it was not yet the full restoration he had promised. But they audaciously question God’s love.
And yet God responds. Graciously, he responds to the question as his love is impugned. God could have drawn from so much to show them his love. He chooses one main example. Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. Edom was another name for Esau, and the country that formed from his descendents was named Edom. Well, God begins by starting with his election of Jacob over Esau. All Israelites were descendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau were brothers. And yet, God specifically chose to carry on his line of promise through Jacob. God’s predestination of Jacob is put in startling terms here. God says here, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Paul quotes this in Romans 9 and says this shows a bigger principle. How God chooses some to be recipients of his love, grace, and mercy. And how God leaves some to their sin and so leaves them to the divine judgment they deserve. Now it would be helpful to explain these strong words of love and hate here. Some confusion can arise because we do know there is a general way in which God loves everyone. He has a common love for everyone that expresses itself in good things even for the wicked. For example, in Matthew 5 Jesus says that God sends the sun and rain to both the just and the unjust. Jesus says this is why we should love our enemies, modeled after the love God shows even for the wicked.
And yet God’s common love is not the same as his saving love. There a way in which God has a kind of general love and benevolence for all mankind right now. But there is also a love and hatred that goes beyond that. There is a saving love that God has shown toward his elect; his chosen ones. Jacob is one of those chosen ones. Jacob he has loved in this way, choosing to save him from his sins and show him love and forgiveness. Esau, on the other hand, he has not chosen to do this. Instead he has left Esau to his sins. Neither Jacob or Esau in Genesis show themselves to be pillars of righteousness. Esau especially showed a wicked response when he despised his birthright. Jacob’s deceptiveness and lies were not commendable. And yet God chose to showing saving love to Jacob. And he chose to hate Esau and his sin as all humans deserve. God is a holy God, and it is right for him to hate sin and even sinners with a holy hatred. These are sobering words. And yet the focus in this passage is not about sending a message to Edom. It’s about God showing his love for Jacob. Both Jacob and Esau were sinners rightly deserving God’s wrath and curse. All humanity deserves this. But God chose to show love and kindness and grace to Jacob. Through Jacob he would continue his promise to save his elect. Jacob was one of those saved. Those of Jacob’s descendants who called upon the name of the Lord to be saved, were also his elect. As a side note, I mentioned how Paul connects this idea to Christians in Romans 9. We are part of Christ’s elect who have placed their faith in Jesus. Paul makes it clear that the real children of promise from Jacob’s line are not those physically born of Jacob. Rather, it is those spiritually born of God to faith in God’s salvation; those who share in that same faith of Jacob in God’s grace. But the initial point God is making here is that the well known fact that he chose Jacob over Esau is proof of God’s love for them. God did not leave them to their sins as they deserve. He could have let them be like Esau, but he did not. He had worked savingly in their lives and history.
On the contrast, the Edomites’ history had been one where God has not been there to give them special aid. Rather their history is one where God’s curse upon sin has been evident. Verse 3 God describes the judgment that he has brought upon the Edomites. “He’s laid waste their mountains and given his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.” In the Bible, we sometimes see God’s final judgment brought early upon certain people. It’s a warning to all of the final Day of Judgment that is coming. Verse 3 says that God had brought some of that already to Edom. God had brought judgment in part upon the Edomites because of their sin. In verse 4, God then addresses the Edomites’ response to this. It’s the response of human hopefulness. Faced with disaster, they vow to rebuild. But God quickly replies – it will not stand. They may rebuild, but God will throw down. Notice then that God gives them two labels. The Territory of Wickedness and The People Against Whom the LORD Will Have Indignation Forever. That’s the name he’s given them. But it’s also the explanation for God’s actions. As I told you, and now you see it here in the text – this destruction is God’s judgment upon their sin. They have been wicked, and so God’s indignation and wrath has been poured out upon them. It would continue to be poured out upon him.
And yet this passage is not really about telling Edom they are under judgment. It’s a passage directed to Israel. Edom’s judgment is a demonstration of God’s love for them. Why? We answered already because it reminded them of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. But there is another reason too. You see, Edom had become a political enemy of Israel. Though distant relatives, Edom had acted unfaithfully against Judah when Babylon was attacking them. They raided Judah towns when they were already having trouble with Babylon. The book of Obadiah is all about this, and the judgment God was going to bring upon them. Obadiah 1:10, God says to Edom, “For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” And so Edom, set themselves up as enemies to Israel. And so, God’s love for Israel would in part be demonstrated in judging their enemies. They would find relief and salvation from their enemies, by the God who loves them and acts on their behalf. Interesting, in the prophets that tension between Israel and Edom had grown so high, that there are multiple passages that connect Israel’s glorious restoration with Edom’s utter destruction – like they go hand in hand. Compare Isaiah chapters 34 and 35 together, for example.
And so, this description of Edom’s terrible future is to show God’s love in that God was giving Israel justice over their enemies. Behind that it’s a working out of God’s predestinating Jacob and his offspring over Edom. And what will happen to Edom stands as a contrast to what will yet happen with Israel. Edom had arrogantly said that their land will be restored. But instead the prophets have said that Israel is the one God will restore. God will indeed not let Edom be restored. But this should remind Israel of the hope that they do have – they still do have the hope of a glorious restoration. That should again point them to God’s love for them. Edom he will destroy and not let be restored. Israel has been destroyed in the past, but God is coming with healing in his wings. God is coming to restore and purify them.
And yet there is an implied warning here for Israel too. It’s something that runs throughout this prophetic book. This books ends with the warning that God’s coming could be for a curse if the people persist in their sin and rebellion. Instead Malachi will call them to fear God and return to him in seeking to obey his covenant. The warning is that not all Israel are Israel, as Paul says. That some who are ethnically Israel could have a fate similar to the Edomites, if they persist in their rebellion against God. The restoration promised by God is for his people who fear him, not for those who reject him and his love. The people should not trust that they are physically descendants of Jacob. They could be cut off from the line of promise if they don’t follow God. Rather, they like us must work out their election with fear and trembling. In other words, they should respond to the warnings of Malachi with renewed repentance and a firm trust in the Lord.
Well, in all of this passage on God’s love, he has a promise for Israel. Verse 5.
“Your eyes shall see, And you shall say, ‘The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.'” Israel questions God’s love in this passage. And yet the end result will be that they will see that love. They will see this love through how God destroys the Edomites, and how he saves them. The result will be that they will praise him for it. But notice it says they’ll see this with their eyes. In other words, God’s predicting that they will have a change of heart. They will go from doubting God’s love, to finally recognizing it. Surely it’s God’s grace that will give them the spiritual sight needed to see this. God will enable them to recognize his love in their lives. And so God predicts here that his people will go from doubting his love to acknowledging it.
Well, as we think about how to apply this passage to us, it becomes clear very quickly. God told Israel, I have loved you. And God has told us as his people, “I have loved you.” Dare we ask, how has God loved us? No, for we know how God has loved us. Christians can answer so boldly that we know how God has loved us! We have seen it with our eyes!
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
God sent his Son to die for us. Jesus died for us. God has spoken correctly. He has loved us. He has loved us with an everlasting love. And so think about this in light of this passage. God has made known his love so clearly to us. He has left no doubt. He has demonstrated his love toward us so that we can see it with our own eyes. So that we can praise him. That’s the thrust of verse 5 – that God wants to be praised for his love. We have seen his love in Christ, and we do praise him for it. For we should have been numbered with Edom. God’s enduring indignation should have been on us. But instead, God poured that out on Jesus on the cross. In our place; as an act of love.
Brothers and sisters, in your own life, don’t doubt God’s love. See Christ. “He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Think for a moment and consider all the reasons why you may have been doubting God’s love in your life. Then cast those wicked thoughts away. Put them on the feet of Jesus and then look up and see the fullest expression of God’s love for you. Know the love of God for you. God wants you to know it. That’s one of the main things Paul says he prays for the church about – that we would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. God wants you to know his love. Be reminded of it today. He loves you! And he has shown it!
Believers may be quick to have times in their life where they doubt God. And yet, isn’t it so often that our own love is lacking toward God? We can doubt that God loves us, when really it’s our love toward God that is lacking. Jesus told his disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Well, that’s something that we fall short in. Malachi is a book with that same kind of challenge. Malachi makes it clear. In our relationship with God, it’s not God’s love that is ever in question. God’s love is clearly demonstrated. Believers, on the other hand, even when they do love God, struggle to demonstrate it. At Malachi’s time, the people did not keep God’s commandments as they ought. But Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. Let us then endeavor to show God how much we love him. We love, because he first loved us. But he has given us that love. We can love God because God has first loved us. Let us then look to show forth this love. Love by obedience. Yes, this is a law we won’t keep perfectly. But be empowered to begin to keep it as you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and on his great love for you. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.