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“The Message of His Love”

Malachi 1:1-5
Bob DeGray
August 29, 2004

Key Sentence

God expresses his sovereign love by choosing the beloved.


I. The Message of His Love (Malachi 1:1-2)
II. His Sovereign Love (Malachi 1:2-4)
III. His Universal Love (Malachi 1:5)


        In life, we always hope we can make an impact with the last word. When we left Abigail at Moody Bible Institute on Saturday we all gave her hugs, and my last word to her was ‘take the adventure that comes to you’ to which she responded ‘always’. That phrase, which is actually a quote from C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, was one we used a lot when we were going to Russia earlier this year, and as my last word to Abbie it meant ‘don’t fear’ ‘walk with God’, ‘be flexible’, ‘be bold’. She understood that, and I hope it makes a difference for her.

        In the same way, in the Old Testament, God has a last word for Israel, a word designed to make a difference. It is found in the book of Malachi, which we’ll be studying for the next seven week. Malachi is the last word of the Old Testament, the last Scriptural word given by God for nearly five centuries, until John the Baptist and Jesus began to proclaim New Testament truth. Now don’t get me wrong, God didn’t abandon his plan or his people during those centuries; he simply stopped speaking new words of warning or revelation, because by the end of Malachi he had revealed what was needed to fully prepare the world for the coming of Christ.

        But Malachi is not just forward looking prophecy. Though there are some forward looks that will leave us on the edge of our seats, the focus is on God’s sovereign love, and on the response he wants from his people. That response can be summarized using an English word with no clear parallel in Hebrew, the word integrity. The right response to God’s sovereign love is integrity, and much of Malachi is focused on being people of integrity, people who keep their commitments, to God in worship, giving or leadership, and their commitments to each other, or example, in marriage.

I. The Message of His Love (Malachi 1:1-2)

        So it’s a book about integrity that is a right response to the love of a sovereign God. It begins with a declaration of that sovereign love, in verses 1 to 5, which show that God expresses his sovereign love by choosing the beloved. Often in life we don’t understand God’s sovereign choices: but it is at those times that we most need to trust his love, remembering that God expresses his sovereign love by choosing the beloved. Malachi 1:1-5 An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 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,3but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." 4Edom 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. 5You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord--even beyond the borders of Israel!'

        The message of God’s love for his people is introduced as the ‘oracle’ or ‘burden’ of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. This really shouldn’t be called an ‘oracle’, because the word used doesn’t imply a speech: it implies placing a burden on someone by warning them about their sin. Though given in love, the words of Malachi do place a burden on the people of Israel, that they might walk in integrity.

        This word of the Lord is given by Malachi. Nothing is known about this author other than his name, and commentators have debated whether even his name is anything more than a title. Malachi means ‘my messenger’, or possibly ‘Yahweh’s messenger’, which is a good title for a prophet. It’s also a good name for a prophet. There is no evidence in the book itself to help us choose between the two, but Jewish tradition identifies Malachi as a real person who lived at the time of Haggai and Zachariah.

        His book was almost certainly written after the end of the Jewish exile, after the Jewish people had returned from Babylon and had rebuilt their temple and re-instituted temple worship. The content of the book leads us to think it was probably written around the same time as Nehemiah. The two books share many concerns growing out of the same general time period, including concerns about marriage, neglecting paying tithes, disregard of the Sabbath, corruption of the priesthood, and others. But since Malachi does not refer to Nehemiah by name, but only mentions a generic governor, it’s not likely the book was written while Nehemiah was in office. A detailed time line of those years would show that most scholars place Nehemiah back in Babylon between the years 458 and 445 B.C. Taking into account all the evidence, this narrow window is the most likely time for the writing of Malachi,

        The theme of Malachi’s first message, and of the whole book is: “I have loved you, says the Lord”. Like a banner over a Bible conference, this theme hangs over every message the prophet delivers. The Hebrew verb, ahav, is used two hundred times in Scripture, about forty times of God’s love for his people, or for particular individuals. What do we learn about God’s love from these uses? First, that it is a sovereign love. As Lord over all, God does nothing except that which is directed by his own character and being. His love is entirely voluntary and in keeping with his other characteristics, including his justice, holiness, faithfulness, and his truth. This makes his love unconditional: the motivation for it comes entirely from God and is not derived from anything we are or pretend to be. God told Israel this very clearly in Deuteronomy 7. “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” God expresses his love by choosing the beloved. As Deuteronomy 10 says, “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants.”

        God expresses his sovereign love by choosing the beloved. It is in that sense this sovereign love is also intimately personal. It is the love of a father taking his infant son by the arms and teaching him how to walk, as we see in Hosea 11:1-4, a text in which this key word appears twice: “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. 2The more they called them, the more they went from them; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. 3Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; and I bent down and fed them.”

        C. S. Lewis compares this to the love that exists in a good marriage between a husband and wife. In this situation, Lewis said, “each is willing to forgive the most (because that love is willing to love beyond any faults) while condoning the least in the other partner (because that love, while continuing to forgive, nevertheless never ceases to coax, pray, wish and hope for the best from the other partner). In the same way God, continually offers us pardon and acceptance while maintaining the high and holy standards of his righteousness.” It is precisely in the tension between forgiving the most and condoning the least that we understand the uniqueness of God’s holy love. This tension, this tough love, also explains how God can call for justice and judgment and at the same time to continue to claim I have loved you.

II. His Sovereign Love (Malachi 1:2-4)

        But that leads us to what may be the key application question this morning. Do you really believe God loves you despite the fact that he makes sovereign choices you don’t fully understand. In the case of Israel their glorious return from exile, which should have been a source of confidence and rejoicing, had turned out to be inglorious and full of difficulties. So when God says “I have loved you”, this forgetful people’s response is “in what way have you loved us?” God answers by reminding them that in his love he had sovereignly chosen them. He points out hat his sovereign love choose Jacob, and in comparison he had “hated” Esau. Malachi 1:2-4 "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the Lord says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, 3but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." 4Edom 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.

        God’s answer raises significant questions for modern readers: is it right for God to hate? The Biblical answer is ‘yes’. The Bible lists several objects of God’s hatred: one example is hypocritical worship; Isaiah 1:14 or Amos 5:21. And Proverbs 6:16 tells us that “there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

        So hate and anger are the right and proper emotions for disavowing wrong and evil, and differentiating between them and their opposites. True love for others must include a burning desire for their good, which implies a burning anger toward all that is wrong and harmful. If we want a God who loves good, we have to allow him to be a God who hates evil. If we want a God who loves righteousness, we have to allow him to be a God who hates sin. If we want a God who loves truth, we have to allow him to be a God who hates falsehood.

        But, does that imply that if we want a God who loves one person he must necessarily hate another? I don’t think the Biblical data says this. Both the Old and New Testaments use this pair of words, love and hate, in a specialized way. Take as an example Jacob’s response to his wives Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29. Verse 31 says “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb.” The word translated ‘not loved’, or ‘unloved’, is this word ‘hated’. The same is true in verse 33, and again in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, where Moses talks about the rights of an ‘unloved’ wife. The ‘hated’ wife in both these illustrations is the less-loved one. The same relationship between love and hate is evident when Jesus uses the words. To love is to prefer and to choose one, while to hate is to think less of and not choose another. Jesus says in Luke 14:26 ‘if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother... he cannot be my disciple’ but in a similar setting in Matthew 10 he says ‘he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’

        These examples make it clear that the Bible does not call for absolute hatred; rather, it calls for ranking, preferring, or choosing. In Jacob’s case, God’s love signaled his election and call to service of Jacob. In Esau’s case, God’s hatred was not a sign of his disdain, disgust, or a desire for revenge. Remember, Esau too was an object of God’s preached word, especially when the prophets preach to Edom, the nation descended from Esau. In fact, Obadiah and Amos clearly name Esau’s descendants as the object of God’s deliverance in the end times. Walter Kaiser summarizes this in his commentary by saying “the act of God’s ‘love’ and ‘hate’ (as manifested in his choosing or not choosing people) took place apart from anything that people did or became (God’s choice of Jacob, for example, took place before Jacob was born) and apart from their merits or demerits. His election love of the one son and his decision not to choose the other for a particular work in his plan was the sovereign, unconditional, intimately personal, and discriminating love of God.” Or, as we’ve been saying today, God expresses his sovereign love by choosing the beloved.

        Once again, the parallel with marriage is instructive. When we marry we choose to make a commitment to one person to the exclusion of all others. This doesn’t mean we hate all the others or do not to them good, but it does mean that we have chosen one out of many, and committed ourselves to that one in a special way. If, having made that choice, we should cause someone grief by not giving ourselves to them in that same exclusive way, it is not because we are being unrighteous, but righteous.

        This is why God’s sovereign choice had such grave consequences for the nation of Edom, Esau’s descendants. Verse 3 tells us that Esau was ‘laid waste’. It’s hard to say whether this refers to Edom’s destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C., or its destruction at the hands of the Nabateans sometime between 550 and 400 B.C., as recorded in the historical book of First Maccabees. We know the Nabateans ransacked Edom, leaving only small pockets of Edomites in the desert. Remember, we dated the book of Malachi in the period between 458 and 445 B.C., so Edom’s destruction could very well have been a recent event to Malachi.

        But these consequences weren’t unjust, for both Esau and Edom made choices too, choices that warranted God’s judgment. Esau had been called to righteousness. Instead, he was ‘immoral’, and ‘godless’, as recorded in both Testaments. The book of Hebrews characterizes Esau as godless when he sold his birthright to Jacob. Genesis shows him disobeying God by taking wives from among the Canaanites. Later, the nation of Edom became the enemy of Israel and hindered God’s people during the Exodus. God’s love required that he punish Edom for her sin: had he abandoned her, he would not have used his justice as a way of calling her back to himself.

        But Edom revealed her hard-heartedness and self-dependence by saying, even after this destruction, that ‘though we have been impoverished, we will return and build up the desolate places.’ When God is trying to reach someone with his love, he often has to knock down any self-sufficiency they think they have. God promises here that ‘though they may build I will throw down, so that ‘men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.’ As Kaiser says “sin would leave its mark on the people and the land. The quiet ruins of Petra, a city then in Edom, now in Jordan, stand as testimony to the truthfulness of God’s word. God’s love for the good meant he had to exercise justice on Edom.

        So we’ve heard God declare his love, here for the people of Israel, but indirectly for us as well. We’ve also noticed that since God’s love is a sovereign love, he makes sovereign choices to choose his beloved, which means there are others he does not choose. The question is, are you okay with that? Is it okay that God’s love is a sovereign love that makes choices? Can you trust him anyway? Do you believe that he is at work for your good and for the good of others when he makes choices and carries out plans that seem to bring suffering or even apparent evil on people?

III. His Universal Love (Malachi 1:5)

        One of the ways of resolving this tension is to remember what we talked about three weeks ago, that God has a plan for all the nations, and that what he does in any particular nation, whether Israel or Edom, is intended to show his love to all. I mentioned then that there were hundreds of places in the Old Testament we could have touched down to see how God works to make his glory known among the nations. Malachi 1: 5 is one of those hundreds, and it’s says: You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord--even beyond the borders of Israel!'

        There are two ways of taking this verse. It could be that Israel sees God at work judging other nations and says “Wow, God is powerful even beyond our borders.” For them to see that would be a definite improvement over their current doubt that God even loves them. But the Hebrew implies more than that. In verse 11 God affirms that his name will be great among the nations, and in 14 that it will be feared among the nations, so it is likely that here in verse 5, Malachi is affirming that God will also be magnified among the nations: that he will be lifted up in their eyes when they see his sovereign love at work in Israel and Edom and other places. Malachi knew that in the future God would be exalted beyond the boundaries of Israel, that his love exceeds all national, political, geographic, and cultural boundaries.

        We have to keep remembering his promise to Abraham, that foundational promise, that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. I didn’t mention three weeks ago that in Galatians 3 Paul calls this promise ‘the good news’. God sent judgment on Edom and her people just as he sent judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians so the world might know that he is God. Here is at least a partial answer to our question. Can we trust in God’s love even when that love sovereignly chooses to do things we don’t understand, even things that might offend us? We can if we remember that God’s big idea is to bring the good news about Jesus to all the nations, so that all men might magnify, and glorify, and fear, and believe him. God is at work for our good, for the good of all mankind, and for his glory.

        Do we trust in his love? When he says ‘I have loved you’ do we respond with praise, do we take him at his word? He is saying to you today, ‘I have loved you’, and the evidence of his love is just as obvious if we think about it, as it would have been to the Jews if they had thought about how he had rescued them from Babylon and brought them back to their own country. If we think about it, we quickly remember Jesus. We remember that Jesus suffered and died for us, out of love for us. As one of my favorite verses in Romans says “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sins, and rose from the dead to guarantee our salvation and our eternal life, and he did this because God loved the world so much that he wanted to rescue everyone who would put their trust in Jesus.

        But like these Israelites, it is very easy to look around at the mundane, or at the difficulties in our lives, and forget what God has done, forget the demonstration of his love for us, forget that he choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. We forget, and then we look around, as these Israelites did, at their difficult circumstances, and we say ‘tell me again how it is you’ve loved me?’ The reality of our suffering, the reality of our difficulties, the reality of our need for a long obedience in the same direction, causes us to forget in practice his wonderful answers to that question.

        Do you trust that his sovereign love is at work for your good and for his glory, or do you allow yourself to focus on his apparent absence from your present circumstances? When family struggles or relational struggles get you down, do you remember? When unexpected expenses and a limited income cause you to fall short not just once, but many times, so it seems like you’ve got yourself in a hole that you can’t climb out of, do you remember? When illness strikes a loved one, or even takes a loved one away, do you still trust that he really you loves you, and that his plan is good? Or do you begin to build walls, saying, ‘God, if this is the way to treat your loved ones, then maybe I don’t really want this relationship with you. Maybe I just won’t trust you anymore. Maybe I’ll have to get through this life on my own.’

        You know deep down that you can’t. God’s love may often be hard to explain, but a world without God’s love, without God’s sovereign choice, without God’s self-sacrifice, and his redemption, is impossible to explain. A world without God’s sovereign love is simply random and cruel. But a world in which God says ‘I have loved you’, no matter how hard it may be to understand at times, is at least a world with a purpose, and someone who is working out that purpose. It is a world with justice, and someone who is working out that justice. It is a world with good and evil, and someone who is defending that good. It is a world with truth and falsehood, and someone who has established that truth. It is a world where the God who chooses has chosen to rescue you. God expresses the sovereignty of his love by choosing us, his beloved.