A Study by Scott Sperling
Malachi 1:1-5 -
The Book of Malachi
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?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob,
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
You 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
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”
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.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Baldwin, Joyce G. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Downer’s Grove, IL:Inter-Varsity,
Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets. 2 Vols. in 1. Grand Rapids, MI:
Kregel Publications, 1983.
Calvin, John. A Minor Prophets, Vol. V. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986.
(Originally published in 1559).
Feinberg, Charles L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody Press, 1990. (Originally
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical,
Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 3 Vols. Grand
Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1993. (Originally published in 1866).
Kaiser, Walter. Mastering the Old Testament: Micah–Malachi. Dallas: Word, 1992.
© 1994-2017, Scott Sperling