The Book of Malachi
1An 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!’"
Here we continue our studies of the books written by the post-exilic prophets, by beginning a study in the book of Malachi. Three prophetic books of the Bible were written after the children of Israel returned from their exile in Babylon. Haggai was written to encourage the children of Israel to resume the rebuilding of the Temple, which had lapsed. Zechariah was written to encourage the children of Israel while they were rebuilding the Temple. Malachi was written some years after the Temple had been rebuilt, to encourage the children of Israel to worship God in truth and obedience.
After the Temple was rebuilt, the children of Israel, it seems, had fallen into a spiritual decline. They were going through the motions of worshipping God, but were not truly being obedient to God’s Word. "These people are not in open rebellion against God, nor do they deny His right to offerings, but they are laboring under the delusion that because they have brought offerings, they have been true to Him all along" [Morgan, in Boice, 233]. "The sum and substance of the Book is—that though the Jews had but lately returned to their own country, they yet soon returned to their own nature, became unmindful of God’s favour, and so gave themselves up to many corruptions; that their state was nothing better than that of their fathers before them, so that God had as it were lost all His labour in chastising them" [Calvin, 460].
The book of Malachi, being the last book of the Old Testament, is a transition book from the Old to the New Testament. In it, the children of Israel are rebuked for many of the same things for which the Pharisees and Sadducees are rebuked by Jesus in the Gospels.
In addition, the chastisement of the Lord upon the children of Israel in Malachi applies to many professing Christians today. Like the children of Israel in those times, many professing Christians today believe that going through ritualistic motions—such as attending church every Sunday, and bowing one’s head in grace at dinnertime—is enough to please God.
As the children of Israel are being chastened by the Lord, rather than accept and act on His rebukes, they challenge the rebukes of the Lord. For instance, in verse 2, the Lord says, "I have loved you", and the children of Israel challenge this assertion by asking, "How have you loved us?" It is as if they consider themselves to be spiritual, moral and intellectual equals to God. "The eightfold controversy of the Lord with His people is stated in 1:2,6,7; 2:14,17; 3:7,8,13. In each instance when they are accused of sin, they contradict the Lord and ask for evidences of these charges" [Feinberg, 250]. Each of these instances "expresses a state of mind that challenges God’s statements, demanding that He give an accounting of Himself in human terms… Perhaps more than any other Old Testament book, Malachi describes that modern attitude of mind that considers man superior to God and which has the audacity to attempt to bring God down to earth and measure Him by the yardstick of human morality" [Boice, 231].
The book of Malachi is introduced: "An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi" (vs. 1). The word "oracle" can also be translated "burden". This designation for the prophecy "indicates that the message is one of rebuke rather than comfort or encouragement" [Feinberg, 250].
The Lord begins with what should be a convicting statement for any of God’s people who hear it: "‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord" (vs. 2). We are blessed with a loving God. Even if God did not love us, we would owe Him our reverence and obedience because He is our creator. But God does love us, and He demonstrates His love for us in a myriad of ways. How much more, then, do we owe Him reverence and obedience?
Rather than being convicted by the Lord’s statement, the children of Israel challenged it: "‘But you ask, "How have you loved us?"’" (vs. 2). This challenge, the unawareness of God’s love, was the root of their sin. If the children of Israel were acutely aware of God’s love for them, they would have repented from their sins and turned to Him in obedience. Sadly, "God’s love is often least acknowledged where it is most manifested" [JFB, 712]. This is also the case today. If unbelievers would realize that God loves them and only works for their good, they would repent. Yet, many unbelievers close their eyes to His love, and see God as some sort of pesky guardian who wants to restrict their behavior.
The Lord goes on to give, as proof of His love, a comparison between His treatment of the children of Israel, as a specially chosen people, with His treatment of the children of Esau (Israel’s brother): "‘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’" (vs. 2-3). This comparison shows that the love shown for the children of Israel was a special love that was not bestowed upon other nations. "This love was not that general love wherewith He loved all mankind, but His special love where-with He loved Israel; whom He chose to be His peculiar people above all other people; and entered into a gracious Covenant with them" [Westminster Divines]. Given that the children of Israel have received, throughout their history, the special blessing of God, their questioning of God’s love for them was especially a slap in the face. "They have had the audacity to demand that God show how He has loved them, utterly disregarding their unique status as His elect people" [Boice, 234]. "When therefore God says that He loved the Jews, we see that His object was to convict them of ingratitude for having despised the singular favour bestowed on them alone, rather than to press that authority which He possesses over all mankind in common" [Calvin, 463].
As further proof of His love, God reveals, not only that He has blessed the children of Israel, but that He has worked against other nations: "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!"’" (vss. 4-5). The Edomites are typical of those who reject God. They think that because they do not believe in God, God has no effect on their lives. They say, "Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins." But God is in control, even over those who choose not to follow Him. He says: "They may build, but I will demolish." God is not indifferent to those who are indifferent to Him. Trust me in this: it is much better to be on God’s side, than to work against Him.