I Have Loved You
Key Verse 1:2
“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?”‘ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’, the Lord says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob.’”
Read verse 1. “An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.” There’s not much we know about the prophet Malachi. His name means messenger of the Lord, or angel of the Lord, whereby angels were considered messengers of God who carry God’s message to the Lord’s people. But Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets who lived probably in the 5th century BC. We don’t know if he had any contemporaries, but it is likely that he lived either in the times of Nehemiah the prophet or later. The content of the book certainly puts it in a time after the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. The walls of Jerusalem had already been built. The temple was also rebuilt and people had already been using the temple for their old time religious worship. Perhaps they had been doing so for a short time or it may have even been a while century after being resettled in their own lands. Much of the accusations Nehemiah made of the people are similar to those Malachi reiterates in his book. They are mostly rebukes for their sins against God. Four hundred years later the prophet John the Baptist emerged with this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) The book of Malachi has many serious rebukes for God’s people regardless of when or where they live. The study of this book is helpful for many reasons, but mostly because the condition of the church today is so much like that of the Lord’s people in Malachi’s time.
So, what were these people’s sins against God? As we read the book of Malachi and study it, what their problems and sins were will become apparent. But let me make a point that one of their major sins maybe summarized with the word which appears several times in this book. And the word is “How”. “How have you loved us”? “How have we shown contempt for your name?” “How have we defiled you”? How have we wearied him”? “How are we to return”? “How do we rob you”? “How have we spoken against you.” 1:2, 1:6,1:7, 2:17, 3:7, 3:8, 3:13, and perhaps others as well. This was their spiritual condition, the depth of their sinfulness. “How”, they asked time and again. They asked “How” every time Malachi delivered a message to them from God. Mostly this word “How” perfectly reveals their heart attitude towards God and his word. They were senseless and unrepentant. “How”! It sounds perfectly legitimate and innocent when you’re genuine in your desire to know the will of God, and are eager to turn from the error of your way in order to please God. But these people were far from innocent. They were clueless of their own sins. And in their senselessness, they were also defiant, arrogant, self righteous and unrepentant. I hope that through our study we may see ourselves in their attitude and turn our hearts to God in repentance, lest the words of Malachi fall on deaf ears.
Seven times the prophet Malachi reflects what’s on the heart of this people through their question “How”. Listen to these questions again. The first thing he declared to them is: I have loved you, and their response was: How have you loved us. Then he tells them: You have despised the Lord, and they say: How have we despised him. Then he says: You have polluted my altar, and they say: How have we polluted your altar. And then: You have wearied me, and they respond: How have we wearied you. And then he says: Return to me, and they say, How shall we return to you. He says: You have robbed me, and they say, How have we robbed you. And lastly he says: You have spoken against me, and they respond: How have we spoken against you.
“How— how— how!” This word clearly shows the condition of these people’s hearts. The temple had been rebuilt. The altar had been set up. The sacrifices are being constantly offered. The feasts and fasts are observed. It is to these people who were fulfilling every ritual, obeying every last rule and regulation in the temple that this prophesy and word of God comes. To them is given this divine charge and complaint. And as soon as the word is given, they look at the prophet with contempt, and treat him as he was an eccentric. They are surprised and can’t believe that he’s talking to them like this. And they say, how! What are you talking about? Are you sure this message is for us? You’re mistaken. What gives you the right to talk to us like this, and accuse us of such things? You are charging us with dishonoring God and polluting his altar— with tiring him out, and with wandering away from him and refusing to return to him. What’s wrong with you? We’ve no idea what you’re talking about. We don’t agree with you. That’s not how we see things at all. You’re mistaken! Why should we be accused like this? How can you say we despise God and God’s work? Don’t you have eyes to see? Look at our sacrifices and offerings. Look at all that we do for God and in his name. How could we have polluted the altar? Look at the offerings, gifts and sacrifices we have been making on this altar. You tell us that we have wearied their Lord. When did we do that? We can’t remember doing anything that displeased him. You’re telling us to return to him. But we don’t know where we are to return to him from. When have we even left him that you’re charging us like this? You say that we have been robbing God. We want to know how you came up with that conclusion. Have we spoken against him? When? How? Are you sure this is coming from God rather than from you prophet?
What’s with this people and their recurring question How? Certainly these people are neither rebellious against God nor were they planning on rebelling against him. And they certainly aren’t in the habit of withholding from God his right to receive offerings from them, because they have been bringing offerings all along. These are not people who would abandon God. And they weren’t people who would say to God: We don’t want you any more or we won’t serve you any longer. These are clearly people who are tightly attached to the temple. These are not people who say to each other: Let’s stop worshipping the Lord and do whatever we want instead. But they were convinced that they are worshipping the Lord sincerely and sacrificing a lot for him. Yet God Almighty, would say by the mouth of his prophet: You have wearied me, you have spoken against me and have robbed me.
Again let’s think, what’s with these people? They have been very careful to observe everything the Lord would have them do outwardly. But their hearts— that’s the problem— their hearts have been far away from God. And their hearts haven’t been into all the things they seem to do for him. They boasted about their knowledge of God, thinking that they know him more than others. They had also been expressing what they know of him in an outward mechanical way— in ceremonies and rituals— in outward observances and actions. But their hearts, their lives, their character, what they say and do, have all been one big contradiction in the eyes of God who judges the heart. Everything that they did was a contradiction to the will of God. And when the prophet tells them what God thinks of them and of their actions, they are astonished— surprised— bewildered— and defiant to his words. They say to him: I don’t see any of this. Nothing of what you say is true of me. What’s with them? They were religious in many ways but certainly not spiritual. They were all action but no heart! They were methodical but with no genuine love for God or respect for his word. They were arrogant and self righteous. They thought that this is what God wants of them, to just maintain a holy appearance doing what the word of God tells them they should do. They were ignorant of the most important part of what God wanted them to do. To do so with their hearts, in a love relationship with him.
How often are God’s people like this! They come to church, go through the motions, sing a few hymns, give their offerings, donate their talents, participate in whatever is expected of them, read a passage, listen to Sermon, offer up prayers, and in all this think that this is what God really wants. What do you want from me? I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do, I’m behaving properly, just as you expect me to. These are usually the most difficult people to reach! No one can counsel them. No one can rebuke them. No one can admonish them. No one can even guide them in the way of true holiness because they are perfectly satisfied with themselves and too blind to see the true condition of their own hearts and what God really wants from them. As Isaiah says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13) He’s not talking about the godless people, but of those who are too comfortable in their spirit and ways, rich in their own pride, and faultless in their own eyes. To such people, what the Lord is saying is hidden from their eyes, hidden because of their own arrogance, arrogance and self righteousness. They refuse to humble themselves in order to understand what the prophet is talking about. All they have to say is How? How wretched is man’s or woman’s condition when they have become too blind to see their own sins!
There’s a way to overcome this, of course. Nothing is as hopeless as it may seem. That’s why we have the glorious words in this book. They rebuke us, but they also comfort us and encourage us and set our hearts to hope in the Christ, who alone can turn our hearts from sin to himself. God spoke to these people because God had hope that they would listen and see, because he had hope that they would repent of whatever sins they humbled themselves to see— especially the sins they were ignorant of.
Read verses 2-3. “’I have loved you,’ says the Lord. ‘But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the Lord says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.’” The question is not why did God say that he hated Esau! That’s what most people’s minds turn to when they hear these words. They think how could God possibly hate Esau. When you’re mind turns to questions like this, it’s very difficult to actually understand what Malachi is saying here. And he’s saying something that might be the most important thing in your life. God loved Jacob! So the question we should be asking is ‘Why did God love Jacob?” That’s the question! Not why did he hate Esau. Answer that question and you will understand why God hated Esau. God loves and hates— there’s no doubt about that. God loves righteousness and he hates sin and evil deeds— we know that! But does he really hate Esau? If you can understand how God loved Jacob, wouldn’t you also understand how God hated Esau?
Fifteen hundred years have now passed since God chose and called Jacob to a covenant of love and life with him. Fifteen hundred years have already proved that he loved him. For fifteen hundred years he had so carefully and wholeheartedly taken care of Jacob and his descendants— exactly the way he promised Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He led them by the hand to Egypt when they were on the verge of starvation. He led them out of Egypt when they were suffering in slavery to Egypt. He helped them build a nation unlike any other nation in this world— a nation founded on Grace and Truth. When they sinned he disciplined them. When they repented he forgave them and restored them. All this time he was a good Father and Husband for them. Just because they were now struggling with something serious or suffering some set back doesn’t prove anything— certainly it doesn’t prove that God didn’t love Jacob and his people. The word of the Lord: “I have loved you”, is an absolute truth. It’s their reality. He loved Jacob. He loved his people. He loved his nation. And he bore them through generations of sinfulness and unfaithfulness on their part. When they ask a question like this: “How have you loved us?” it just doesn’t make sense! They asked this kind of question because they were like spoiled children who expected to get their way but didn’t— like a child who says to his parents you don’t love me because they refused to give him more toys, or because they punish him for something he’d done which he shouldn’t have. They asked such a question because they were too blind to understand and appreciate the love of God for them. Surely God loved Jacob and his people. We shouldn’t see Jacob in one moment of discomfort or suffering and then conclude that God doesn’t love him— whatever his situation may be at any moment. Fifteen hundred years of constant divine care revealed that God truly loved him.
When it came to Esau, God never worked in him as he had done with Jacob. I’m sure there were a few in Esau’s line who might have had faith in God, whom God also loved and protected— people in Esau’s descendants who heard of the God of Abraham and put their faith in him— and whom in turn God loved and protected. Our God takes care of and blesses anyone who calls on his name. But God never took a whole nation— a whole family of believers—as his own family to love and to protect like he did with Jacob. I don’t believe that God hated Esau as the word hate is usually meant. But if God’s love includes God’s oversight and protection, then certainly Esau didn’t have that at all. And we can understand why. Esau loved only himself. He had no love for God. He only thought of himself and served his own purpose. He lived for sport and for the thrill of the hunt. He loved a good meal more than fellowship with God. He married godless and ungodly women who brought anguish to Isaac and Rebecca’s home. Esau didn’t really hate God, nor did he ever really openly hate God. But his way of thinking— what occupied his heart— his lifestyle— and everything he said and did shouted in God’s face the words “I hate you. I hate everything about you. I hate your ways. I hate hearing about you. I hate wasting time on you. I hate even the mention of your name.” Esau never really thought he hated God. He just didn’t care. If that’s hatred for God, then we can say that the opposite is true of God as well. God didn’t really hate Esau. He just left him alone. That’s typical hatred because when God leaves you alone because you want him to leave you alone and because you want nothing to do with him— then that’s the epitome of hatred! That’s when you have absolutely no relationship with God. There is no bond of love with him. Jacob in many ways was a terrible man. He was selfish and opportunistic. But he loved God enough to lose all his privileges as a prince in exchange for God’s blessing. And God loved him for it.
God loved him in a special way. He chose him even from birth to be his. And he chose him by grace. He set him apart as a man belonging to God and severely trained him until Jacob could lift His heart at the end of his life to God and confess with the confidence that comes from faith that: “God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” (Genesis 48:15) Jacob wasn’t perfect. But God loved him and God loved his family, and after that God loved his people as the apple of his own eye. But these people were foolish and it made them blind to the love of God. They said: “How have you loved us?” What a sinful question to ask when God was as intimate with them as a mother is with her children!
But this is not only these people’s problem alone. These people were in every way believers, people who worshipped God and confessed faith in him. They were like modern day Christians who believe in Christ and yet doubt the love of God. Look at your life, examine it! How often has God been there for you— protecting you— guiding you— helping you— blessing you— disciplining you! When you say things such as “God doesn’t love me” or “How can God love me”, they’re foolish and rash statements that reveal immaturity on your part. Put aside your laziness for a while, and examine your life from beginning to end and see if God loves you or hates you. So often people mistake God’s love for God’s hate! When God disciplines— when God withholds from us what we think is a blessings when in reality what we want is more like a curse— when we pray for something that is never given us— we often mistake God’s love for his hatred or his lack of concern. But examine your life in truth and see if God really hates you or loves you! You will see how great the love of God is for you. God chose you for himself— set you apart from the world— destined you for glory to be part of his son’s family! Your calling is one of the trademarks of God’s love. Don’t make the mistake these people kept making in questioning the love of God. It’s a terrible sin to question the love of God just because you are suffering something or other, or just because your life had some difficult turns, or just perhaps your life didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to.
I heard about the story of this motivational speaker whose message may help us understand what the love of God looks like. Of course nothing paints the love of God better than looking at our savior crucified for our sins, shedding his innocent blood so that our guilty blood may be purged and purified. But this speaker tells his own story and it starts out in misery. You need nothing more to prove to you that God loves you. But this man’s story is good. His father was an abusive drunk who spent all his money on booze and little on food for his family. When feeding his habit became his priority spending all his money on drink, there was a time this boy went hungry for days at a time. A neighbor noticed this and began to leave food for the boy to eat. When the father found out that someone was feeding his son he was incensed and abandoned the family all together. The boy was about 10 by then. It got worse after that because the boy had no one to care for him anymore. Growing up his suffering was intense. He could have grown up to be a bitter and angry man blaming the father or the neighbor for all his misery. He could have wasted his life building up himself. But as he grew up he realized that his situation was the best thing that had ever happened to him. And he started taking care of hungry children in a similar situation as his own. He doesn’t talk about God nor the love of God in his speeches. But we can learn something from him. Some of our most desperate situations may be the best thing that ever happened to us. They can make bitter rejects out of us always whining about how unfair life is. Or we can acknowledge the love of God who allowed us to go through hardship to strengthen us and to make better servants out of us— stronger people who thank God for his love and who become a blessing to others. We study John chapter 9 where Jesus said about a man born blind that what happened to him was for the sake of glorifying God in his life. The once blind man could look back and say that his blindness was the best thing that ever happened to him because through it his eyes were opened to see God and to share his love. I know that some of us have gone through or are going through difficult times. But we must never say to God: “How have you loved me— I don’t see it”. We must never say to God: “If you love me you’d help me now”. “I have loved you”, the Lord says, and we must accept it and live in it with all our hearts— never doubting the love of God.
Read verses 3-5. “But Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals. Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’ But this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord— even beyond the borders of Israel!’” What God is saying here is that his conduct and actions with these people reveal that God loved Jacob and his people rather than Esau. Esau’s descendants walked in Esau’s footsteps. Over time their hearts were bent on worldly things and they had no room for God in their hearts. Esau didn’t inherit his father’s and mother’s faith at all. Rather he and his people lived apart from God. They even waged war against Jacob and God’s family of believers. They were their sworn enemies. I don’t know what makes people hate God and God’s people! But these people left God and never looked back. And God in turn also abandoned them and left them to their own devices. Finally God removed his hand from their lives until anything they did, even if it prospered ended up tragically in ruins. In the end they failed at everything. Eventually there was no Edom any more. They were scattered among all the other godless nations of the world, without identity, without future and without hope.
But God continued to love Jacob, and through him sent the Savior in whom we trust and in whom we taste the very great love of God in every way conceivable. Most people don’t seem to understand the fullness of God’s love. They say God is love, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. But to know his grace in your life, to know the blessing of his calling, and then to submit to his rule in your life is to know his love and to remain in it. People like this can live out all the troubles and hardship of life, the pain and sorrows of this world, without ever doubting God’s love. They lift up their hearts to heaven in all things and say: “Thank you Lord for your great love for me, for your great love for us. How great is your love!” It’s when Adam doubted the love of God that plunged this world into deep darkness. But in Christ Jesus we have all seen the light! Never doubt the love of God. I should know in the depth of my heart that God loves me. He loves the church. He loves his people. He is ever with me. He is ever refining us to be his reflection of love to all people. That should be our testimony.