Malachi, apocalyptic series, Disputation #1: Does God make a distinction between the good and the arrogantly wicked? God’s elective love vindicated in His judgment (1:2-5).

“‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 1:1 ESV). These are God’s first words to Israel as penned by Malachi. This scroll begins with love.

And yet, “the popular attitude was that God had forsaken His people. Though the Exile might have prompted such feelings, one would think that the near miraculous turn of events that led to the repatriation of many of the Hebrews would have given the people cause to think about God’s faithfulness.”1.

This fact of God’s love, the most significant reality in their lives (and in ours), is essential. God’s love for them surpasses all of their current trials and all of their sin, if only they had turned to the Lord. We are exactly like them in this need for God’s love and in this type of stubbornness.

The History of their Current Situation

“The captivity formally ended in 538 BCE, when the Persian conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus the Great, gave the Jews permission to return to Palestine. Historians agree that several deportations took place (each the result of uprisings in Palestine), that not all Jews were forced to leave their homeland, that returning Jews left Babylonia at various times, and that some Jews chose to remain in Babyloniathus constituting the first of numerous Jewish communities living permanently in the Diaspora.”2.

Judah remained an almost insignificant territory of about 20 by 30 miles (32 by 48 km), inhabited by a population of perhaps 150,000. They lived on the land that now includes Israel, Gaza, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Golan Heights, parts of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Although they enjoyed the benefits of Persia’s enlightened policy of religious toleration and limited self-rule, the Jews acutely felt their subjugation to a foreign power (Neh. 1:3; 9:36ff), and they suffered persistent opposition from their neighbors (Ezra 4:23; Dan. 9:25).

Judah was no longer an independent nation and was no longer ruled by a Davidic king.

Worst of all, in spite of the promises of the coming Messiah and God’s own glorious presence (e.g. Zech. 1:16ff; 2:4, 10-13; 8:3-17, 23; 9:9-13), Israel experienced only spiritual destitution. Unlike Bible books from earlier periods, the postexilic books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are remarkably candid in their description of Judah as generally lacking miraculous evidences of God’s presence.

“In contrast to both Solomon’s temple and the prophetic promise of the restored temple (Ezekiel 40-43), the actual postexilic temple was physically and spiritually inferior. As Malachi 3:1 implies, the Most Holy Place in this second temple had no visible manifestation of the glory of God. Though God was certainly alive and well (as revealed, e.g., by his remarkable providences in the book of Esther), it was a period in which God’s people had to live more by faith than by sight.”3.

Coupled with their own personal experiences, all of this had caused them to harden their hearts.

This wasn’t what they had expected. Hence, we arrive at them hurling this question at God:

“How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2b). The difficulties overwhelmed their faith.

God’s reply: “‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’–and so, as far as dignity went, as much entitled to God’s favor as Jacob. My adoption of Jacob, therefore, was altogether by gratuitous favor (Romans 9).”4.

Jacob I have loved

Esau I have hated (in this context it implies “not chosen,” even though Esau was the firstborn). “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Malachi 1:3 ESV).

None of this was a mistake. All of this was under the LORD’s sovereign control. These truths are what gave Israel its position and which kept Esau from overtaking them. Jacob I have loved.

Years later, the apostle Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a helpful explanation, so that we might understand this better. This doesn’t seem fair, but it is.

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:14-18 NIV).

Lest that sound harsh, recall that God is love. He determined the best plan to bring as many people into relationship with Himself as is possible through His Son via the lineage of Abraham: Jacob I have loved. God could have simply ignored all of humanity completely, watching us flame out and perish.

But God is love. His love does not let go.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor, because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children...”On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (Romans 9:6-9 NIV).

Sarah did have a son, just as God has promised. And this son was Isaac, who fathered Jacob and Esau, and from this lineage, God chose Jacob, not Esau to produce the family tree that would father Messiah. Even though Esau was firstborn, God did not choose him.

“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 1not by works but by him who callsshe was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:10-13 NIV).

“Not by works but by Him who calls” assures us that we cannot work our way to heaven.

None of us can. This is a matter of God’s choice. We don’t know the whys of God’s choices. But He is good, and He loves us. He sent His son to redeem us. It’s all in God’s hands.

We can't work our way to heaven. None of us can. It's a matter of God's choice and sovereignty. We don't know the whys of God's choices. But He is good, and He loves us, even sending His own Son to redeem us.#LoveOfGod #bgbg2 Click To Tweet

God said, “Jacob I have loved.”

And yet now, due to all of their diminished circumstances, Jacob’s descendants did not believe that they were loved by God.

God’s chosen people should have focused on the good that God had done for them as Jacob’s descendants. The LORD had brought them back from Babylon alive. And now, they lived in Jerusalem once more, preparing for Messiah.

These descendants of Jacob should have focused on God’s acts of kindness, and then they would have understood the love God had shown to them.

But they did not do this. They are so much like us!

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Romans 9:14-16 NIV).

God Decides.

Like them, do we forget the sovereign goodness of God and the graciousness of His blessings?

Like them, do we let the intimate moments when we are aware of His nearness to simply slide by, unacknowledged and soon forgotten?

Like them, do we forget the LORD’s latest miracle on our behalf, a prayer answered, a child believing in Jesus as their Savior, a baby born to the family, an accident or sickness averted?

If we forget, we are just like they were, our hearts just as hard, our discontent visible.

  1. Kenneth L. Barker, John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition, Old Testament, Zondervan. pg. 1543-1544.
  3. Introduction to Malachi, Purpose, Occasion, and Background., ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008, pg. 1771
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997) Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, pp. 736-737). Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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