Malachi 1:1-5 – God’s Covenant Love

Malachi Lesson One 1:1-5 – God’s Covenant Love

An oracle:  The word of the Lord  to Israel through  Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But 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.” Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild  the ruins,” the Lord of Hosts 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.’ (HCSB)

Author: There is widespread disagreement on who the author is. The word “malachi” in Hebrew means “my messenger.” In the Septuagint, the name is translated as angelou autou, or “his angel/messenger.” If “Malachi” is used to designate a function and not a person, then the book is anonymous, an easy position to support as there is no information given about the writer. On the other hand, some scholars believe the writer may have been a priest or Temple prophet and witnessed the corruption of the priesthood from a first-person vantage point.

There is an early Jewish tradition recorded in the Talmud that the book was written by Ezra, and there are many similarities in the content of the two books. In addition, one Aramaic Targum manuscript adds after “Malachi” the words “whose name is Ezra the Scribe.” In contrast, Jewish tradition has personalized the name and considers it a proper name just like the other prophetic works. However, we shouldn’t let that distract us from the message of the book, where forty-seven out of fifty-five verses are personal addresses of the Lord.

Date: The book contains no specific facts that allow accurate dating; the contents of the book and its position in the canon argues for a date during the Persian empire but after the rebuilding of the temple in 515 B.C. The majority of scholars prefer a date prior to the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Form: The book is in the form of speeches by Yahweh to His people through the prophet. 

Message: The book is an indictment against the religious leaders of the period and chastises God’s people for their spiritual apathy and their cynicism about God’s plan for their future. It calls for the people to correct their wrong attitude concerning worship by trusting God as the living Lord. It also warns the people of their sinful behavior toward each other and calls repentance so they won’t be fearful of the coming of the Lord. The message weaves together three main ideas.

  • Situation: The failure of the priests of Judah to fear the Lord and serve the people faithfully. This ushered in, again, a period of apathy toward Yahweh by the Israelites.
  • Command: Malachi commands them to return to Yahweh by following His instructions and restoring worship that honors Him.
  • Motivation: Yahweh’s love (verse 1:2), spiritual and covenant unity with God and each other (verse 2:10), assurance of the coming of the Lord that brings final redemption and judgment, blessing those who fear God and casting out the wicked (3:1-6 and 3:16-4:3).

Verse 1

The phrase “to Israel” may seem somewhat unusual as the letter is dated around the beginning of the post-exilic period, and one could argue that “Israel” no longer existed as a nation. However, Judah’s leaders knew that God still recognized them as the remnant of His covenant people, as well as the continuation of God’s redemptive plan. Therefore, the remnant of the Israelites to whom Malachi wrote were still recipients of God’s promise to Israel and was obligated to obey the regulations of the covenant.

Verses 2-5

These verses contain the first exchange between Yahweh and Judah focused on the issue of God’s love for His people. However, Judah does not grasp the truth of the statement. In both pre and post-exilic Israel, the people had turned from God but for different reasons.

  • Pre-exilic – The abundance that Israel experienced resulted in forgetting that they depended on God for their blessings. 
    • Deuteronomy 8:12-14 – When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
    • Hosea 13:4-6 – I have been Yahweh your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but Me, and no Savior exists besides Me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. When they had to pasture, they became satisfied; they were satisfied, and their hearts became proud. Therefore they forgot Me.
  • Post-exilic – The people allowed their difficulties to rob them of God’s loving presence.

Verse 2

Starting in this verse and following in other places through the book, the Israelites display an “attitude” with Yahweh by repeating His statements or questions and countering with their own questions. Malachi reminds the people of God’s love for them as a rebuke against those who were questioning whether God loved Israel. It would appear that the people had a short memory regarding God’s love and faithfulness.

  • The remnant who returned from exile in Babylon must have been awestruck by God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant. 
    • Nehemiah 9:8 – You found his heart faithful in Your sight, and made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites – to give it to his descendants. You have kept Your promise, for You are righteous.
    • Nehemiah 9:17 – They refused to listen and did not remember Your wonders You performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, and You did not abandon them.
  • But the sense of being awestruck didn’t last long, and they soon returned to their pattern of sinful behavior. 
    • Like self-centered children, they started to take Yahweh’s love for granted and became blind to it.
    • They responded to discipline with an attitude of, “you don’t love us anymore.”
    • Their misunderstanding of Scripture had skewed their understanding of the experience of the exile.
      • God hates evil.
      • God hates idolatry.
      • God hates hypocritical worship.
      • God will, sooner or later, reject the wicked.
      • God loves righteousness.
      • God welcomes the upright.

Yahweh now goes on to prove His love by referencing Esau, which is expanded on in the following two verses.

Verses 3-4

The contrasting concepts of love and hate attached to Jacob and Esau need some explaining to properly understand how the original hearers of the message would view these two words. The words “love” and “hate” are not referring to emotions in the context of this message. Those emotional words would have been understood by the Israelites as actually referring to a covenant relationship. In the context of the passage, it refers to the covenant relationship that Yahweh had with Jacob (love) and the lack of a covenant relationship with Esau (hate). Jacob and his family line were chosen by Yahweh, while Esau and his family line were not, becoming a side note to the story of God’s activity in the Bible.

The contrast between the two is the fruition of what Yahweh had told Rebekah.

  • Genesis 25:23 – And the LORD said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

The same idea was used in the context of marriage.

  • Genesis 29:31 – When the LORD says that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive.
  • Genesis 29:33 – She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The LORD heard that I am unloved and has given me this son also.”
  • Deuteronomy 21:15a – If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved.

As we reflect on this concept, we need to remember that Yahweh was not imparting complete abandonment on all of Esau’s line (Edomites). Therefore, it was possible for individual Edomites to enter into a covenant relationship with Yahweh.

  • Deuteronomy 23:7-8 – Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you were a foreign resident in his land. The children born to them in the third generation may enter the LORD’s assembly.
  • Amos 9:12a – So that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that are called by My name.

We also need to remember that Ruth, a Moabite, was not prevented from entering into a covenant relationship by swearing allegiance to Yahweh, as well as Rahab.

Although God is troubled by the sinful nature of people regardless of them being in or out of the covenant relationship, His response is different.

  • Those inside the covenant relationship face discipline. Judah’s devastation by Babylon was temporary.
  • Those outside the covenant relationship face wrath. As a nation, Edom faced complete and permanent destruction.

The message here is more than an example between Jacob and Eau. The judgment that Edom received is a message that evil will face justice. The passage in Isaiah 34:5-17, although it references Edom, is actually a message against all the arrogant nations who oppose Yahweh, clearly stating that they will receive divine judgment and destruction.

  • Isaiah 63:1-6 – Who is this coming from Edom in crimson-stained garments from Bozrah – this One who is splendid in His apparel, rising up proudly in His great might? It is I, proclaiming vindication, powerful to save. Why are Your clothes red, and Your garments like one who treads a winepress? I trampled the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered My garments, and all My clothes were stained. For I planned the day of vengeance, and the year of My redemption came. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I was amazed that no one assisted; so My arm accomplished victory for Me, and My wrath assisted Me. I crushed nations in My anger; I made them drunk with My wrath and poured out their blood on the ground.
  • Ezekiel 36:5 – This is what the Lord GOD says: Certainly in My burning zeal I speak against the rest of the nations and all of Edom, who took My land as their own possession with wholehearted rejoicing and utter contempt so that its pastureland became plunder.

When Esau despised his birthright and sold it for one meal, it was the equivalent to despising Yahweh’s promises.

Hebrews 12:16-17 – And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal. For you know later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance, though he sought it with tears.

Covenantal, committed love serves as a model to the church today. Jesus calls on us to love one another.

  • John 13:34 – I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.
  • 1 John 4:7 – Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

As fellow members of the body of Christ, we don’t exist in a sentimental and fleeting type of love. On the contrary, the love that believers have for each other is based on the mutual need and benefit of all participating parties. At the same time, this type of love must be subject to discipline when necessary. This is true even if the discipline removes the offender from the relationship for a period of time, just as Israel was removed from the promised land, only to return later.

Verse 5

The point of this verse is that someday a repentant Israel will witness God’s judgment on all of His enemies, and they will praise God for His greatness and His covenant faithfulness and power. Yahweh is the God of all creation and the one to whom everyone must answer. Unlike other books of the Bible, Malachi is not one of universal acceptance of all people (which is true) but of  universal lordship over all creation.

Applications

  • Do we fear God in a way that acknowledges that He is the creator of everything?
  • Do we understand that if we are in a covenant relationship with God (faith in Jesus), we will face discipline for our sinful behavior, but we won’t face eternal destruction? In contrast, those outside a covenant relationship with God (no faith in Jesus) will face eternal destruction?
  • We are called to be in a loving covenant relationship with fellow believers in the church. Do you pursue these relationships, or are you lukewarm to fellow believers?
  • Don’t worry over the supposed lack of judgment against evil or evil people. God will judge them in His time.

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