Malachi 1:1-5 What Love is This?
“Get up. You will be late for church!” shouted his mother as she knocked on the bedroom door of her juvenile son. He groaned, turned over and buried his head under the pillow, “I don’t want to go to church.” he whined. She knocked again “Give me three reasons why you shouldn’t get up and go to church” she called out. “The sermons are boring. They don’t like me. I don’t like them. Give me three good reasons why I should go.” He replied. “Because you are forty-three, you’re the pastor and they won’t start without you. Now get up!” As we begin this new series of studies in the last book of the Old Testament, I sometimes wonder whether the prophet Malachi felt like staying in bed rather than give this message. Sometimes I do…. Delivering God’s message is not always a popular assignment. It doesn’t always guarantee a long life.
But I for one am glad that Malachi got up that morning. The opening verse of Malachi is packed full of information that will help give us a background for our study together: “An oracle:The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.” (Malachi 1:1). The word “oracle” (Heb. massa’) means a “burden” – indeed something difficult to bear. It is found some sixty times in the OT. The idea is of a ‘burden’ imposed by a master or a ruler. Here it emphasizes the prophet’s sense of constraint and responsibility in giving the message which has been entrusted to him by God. Malachi would not necessarily have chosen to say such a thing, but the choice is not his: the burden has been placed upon him by the LORD, and he simply has to accept it and discharge his duty. Malachi was simply the messenger boy. In fact that is what his name means = “my messenger”. The Apostle Peter tells us,
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
The message of the prophet is therefore not one he has dreamed up. Nor does he speak because he likes to hear the sound of his own voice. Nor is he energized by the desire to win friends and influence people. Rather, it is a message which has been laid on his heart as a ‘burden’. But it is also meant to weigh on the consciences of his hearers. God’s word is a burden on those who receive it also. We see this in Jeremiah,
“When the people, or
a prophet, or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall
say to them, ‘You are the burden…’ (Jeremiah 23:33-40)
Do you realise you are his burden? He cares about you! – you are the reason Christ died. If you are a parent with grown up children, did you stop worrying about them when they turned 18? Of course not. You still care for them. They still give you sleepless nights don’t they? Jesus said, “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who keep on asking.” (Matthew 7:11).
The message is a burden to the messenger because those receiving it are a burden to the Lord. There is then an interaction taking place between the one sending the message, the one delivering it and all those receiving it. The word is indeed “Living and active sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).
As we study Malachi together during May and June, we promise to do our very best to allow the burden God has spoken of to filter through our lives first before we preach it to you. Will you commit to do the same when you hear God’s burden for you? Read through this short book once a week for the next two months. If you do, you’ll discover that while there are some challenging and sobering truths to consider, at its core, Malachi is really a love letter from God. It is a love letter full of hope and encouragement. It is a love letter containing some heated exchanges. If you are married, you may remember your first heated exchange.
Did it surprise you? Upset you? Malachi contains six such disputes between God and his people:
1. A dispute about God’s love (1:2–5)
2. A dispute about God’s honour (1:6–2:9)
3. A dispute about faithlessness (2:10–16)
4. A dispute about God’s justice (2:17–3:5)
5. A dispute about God’s blessing (3:6–12)
6. A dispute about God’s mercy (3:13–4:3)
These are heated exchanges because God is a jealous God. He loves us passionately.
God felt strongly about his people 2400 years ago and He feels strongly about you too. He wants to use Malachi to speak to us, afresh, of his love for us today.
For an introduction to Malachi, see the handout that accompanies the sermon outline. We are going to discover three things – God’s love declared. God’s love doubted. God’s love demonstrated.
1. God’s Love Declared
“I have loved you,” says the LORD” (Malachi 1:2a)
Notice how this oracle begins – God declares His unfailing love for them: “I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” He doesn’t begin by pointing out their sins or listing his complaints. The word “love” is in the perfect tense, indicating that God not only loved in the past but loves in the present as well. We could say it this way: “I have loved and do love you.” And the word He chooses for “love” is not the typical OT term that describes “tough love” or “covenant love.” This word is more relational: “I have embraced you. I have expressed my affection for you,” says the Lord. In Sacred Romance, John Eldridge wrote:
“God is courting us, as He pursues us with His love and calls us to a journey full of intimacy, adventure and beauty. To ignore this whispered call is to become one of the living dead who carry on their lives divorced from their heart” The consistent testimony of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament reveals God’s unfailing love. For example: “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isaiah 43:4). What does it mean when we say that God loves us? This is probably the most abused and misunderstood concept in the Christian vocabulary. There are at least three aspects of God’s love:
God’s love is Sovereign
He chooses to love us. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
God’s love is sovereign.
God’s love is Unconditional
We have done nothing to deserve love and He is committed to us even when we mess up.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7–8)
Philip Yancey has a helpful perspective on this in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.” When you read the whole of Malachi and the six disputes God has with them; when you understand how these people had treated God, it makes this opening affirmation of love all the more compelling. “I have loved you and still do.” God’s love is sovereign. God’s love is unconditional.
God’s love is Personal
God knows your name. Max Lucado puts it this way, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.”
Jesus said “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
God’s love is relational. It is sovereign, it is unconditional and it is personal. It seems audacious therefore to question His commitment, doesn’t it? And yet, that’s what they do. God’s love declared.
2. God’s Love Doubted
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob.” (Malachi 1:2b)
The Israelites were back in the Land. Cyrus the Persian king had allowed them to return. They had rebuilt the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem but they remained under Persian rule (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther). The people had lost the enthusiasm of those who had first returned from captivity, and they were complaining about their condition, blaming God for their woes.
What they didn’t realize was that it was their disobedience that was keeping them from God’s blessings. The people may have thought they were just complaining to Malachi, but they were not. They were moaning against God.
And they thought they could get away with it.
Once upon a time there was a theological student who made a similar mistake when he arrived at his college chapel service... He looked at the order of service and groaned out loud. The middle-aged woman next to him asked him what was wrong. The student replied, “It’s the preacher. I have him for a class and he’s the dullest man alive. He’s totally boring.” The woman looked at him and said, “Young man, do you know who I am?” The student looked at her and said he didn’t. “Well,” said the woman, “That is my husband!” The student replied faintly, “And do you know who I am?” “No.” “Hallelujah,” he cried as he got up and ran out the door.
Did these people really think they could get away with questioning God’s love? Before we get too critical of the Israelites, let’s remember that we can easily slip into the same mentality can’t we? When things get tough, when someone hurts us, when we get sick, when someone we love or dies, when we find ourselves made redundant, out of a job, struggling financially, when things don’t go as planned, it’s so very easy to question God’s love. Does he really care? And we imply, “God, if you loved us we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
And as we shall see, God replies “You wouldn’t be in such a mess if you understood how much I love you.” So God gives them a history lesson. God’s love declared. God’s love disputed.
3. God’s Love Demonstrated
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” 4 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. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’ (Malachi 1:2-5)
You may remember back in Genesis, God promised Rebekah her two sons would be the forefathers of two nations. But the older one would serve the younger.
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23).
When Esau gave away his birthright, his promised inheritance, for a bowl of soup, God’s word came true. Now this summary of those events may seem harsh to our ears. “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated”. But this was merely a common way of speaking in Hebrew. It makes a radical statement as clear as possible. It wasn’t intended to be taken literally. Jesus uses similarly provocative language to describe the cost of discipleship.
“if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple”. (Luke 14:26).
Jesus is not telling us to break the 5th commandment to honour our father and mother. He simply means we must love him more - with all our heart, our mind and strength.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37).
So likewise, his love for Israel was special because they had been chosen for a purpose – to be his light to the nations. That is why he had rescued them out of captivity. The Israelites would have suffered the same way as the Edomites were it not for His electing love. Way back in Deuteronomy, God reminded them,
“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. But it was because the LORD loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
God always chooses in order to fulfill His purposes, whether we understand them or not. Those whom He elects, He also protects. Their very existence was evidence of God’s love. Four hundred years after Malachi, the apostle Paul used the same story of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9 to explain God’s electing grace in calling out both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus to be his chosen people – the children of Abraham (Romans 9:1-16). God’s word has not failed and will not fail. We are his chosen people today.
“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29).
“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed.” (Romans 4:17)
Your presence here drawn
from over 25 different nations and many different cultural and economic
backgrounds, is evidence of God’s election, God’s love and grace.
In our uncertain world, when we are tempted to doubt God just like Malachi’s generation, it is heartening to know that, before God addresses any of the burdens on his heart, he reminds us with them of his love. God’s love declared. God’s love doubted. God’s love demonstrated.
Phillip Jensen says, “Christian believers have this same confidence, that nothing can put us outside this inheritance. It is expressed beautifully in Romans 8:37-39,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
Let us pray.
Special thanks to:
LeRoy Redding for his sermon on Malachi 1 entitled “Experiencing God’s Love” on sermoncentral.com.
David Baker, The NIV Application Commentary, Joel, Obadiah and Malachi (Zondervan)
Phillip Jensen & Richard Pulley, Burning Desire (St Matthias Press)
Stephen Gaukroger, Hunger for Holiness (Scripture Union)