Israel: A People Divinely Loved Malachi 1:1-5 Part one

INTRODUCTION

Background

Malachi was the last Old Testament book to be penned, about one hundred years after Cyrus decreed that Judah could return to their land (538 B.C.). During this time the Jewish faith was reformed under Ezra and Nehemiah, but soon the priests and people became apathetic, indifferent and morally corrupt. Malachi revealed Judah’s sins and proclaimed that judgment was forthcoming unless the people returned to God.

Author

Malachi means my messenger or my angel and is not mentioned outside of this book. Thus, some scholars believe that Malachi cannot be used as a proper name but only has reference to the office oa a messinger. They believe that verse one should read, “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by my messenger.” Other arguments are presented as a basis for their position. First, Jewish Targums consider the term Malachi to refer to the office of a messenger. Second, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah, but only Haggai and Zechariah are mentioned in the two historical books. Space will not allow refutation of the above arguments and others presented by critics, but none of them have proven to be valid. The content of the book indicates that it was written by a prophet, and there is no reason to doubt it was Malachi. Nothing is known of Malachi’s personal background.

Content

The text is divided into four chapters in the English translation but only three chapters in the Hebrew BIble. Chapter one begins with a declaration of God’s love for Israel, but the nation is indifferent, questioning His love for them (vv. 1-5). This indifference is manifested by the priests who pollute the sacrifice, sanctuary and their service to God (vv. 6-14). Chapter two indicates that the priests will be judged if they refuse to repent (vv. 1-9), and the people will be chastened for violating God’s laws of marriage (vv. 10-17). Chapter three declares that God will send His messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah, who will come to purify both the Temple and priesthood, as well as to judge the wicked (vv. 1-6). The people are accused of robbing God (vv. 7-9), but if they pay their tithes and reform their practices, He will bless them (vv. 10-18). Chapter four is a final warning, before the Day of the Lord which will include the coming of Elijah and the Messiah, who will judge the wicked and deliver the righteous (vv. 1-6).

Date

Malachi does not date the writing of his prophecy, but evidence indicates that it was after the fall of Babylon to Cyrus (538 B.C.). Judah seemed to be living under a Persian governor (1:8). The Temple worship was restored (1:7-8, 10), and there was no mention of idolatry being practiced as before their captivity. There was a moral and spiritual decline of the people which paralleled the time of EZra (458 B.C.) and Nehemiah (445 B.C.); intermarriage with Gentiles (2:10-11; Ezra 9:1-2); and oppression of the poor (3:5; Neh. 5:4-5). The Nabataeans had defeated the Edomites (1:2-4), who in turn were defeated early in the fifth century B.C. Therefore, Malachi had to be written sometime between 433-400 B.C.

Style

Malachi’s style is different from other prophetic writers. He does not write in poetic language, but in pointed, easy to understand, exalted prose. The form is set forth in what some call a running disputational dialogue. There are usually three parts to this style: God questioned Israel about her spiritual condition, often beginning with the words, “you say;” Israel countered, claiming innocence, with an inadequate flippant answer; after which God refuted their rebuff (1:2, 6-9, 13; 2-10, 14-15, 17; 3:2, 7-8, 13).

THEME: Rebuking a Rebellious, Ritualistic People

REBELLING AGAINST REBUKE

In what way hast Thou loved us? (1:2)
In what way have we despised Thy name? (1:6)
In what way have we polluted Thee? (2:17)
In what way have we wearied Him? (2:17)
In what way shall we return? (3:7)
In what way have we robbed Thee? (3:8)
What have we spoken so much against Thee? (3:13)
What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance? (3:14)

I. PEOPLE DIVINELY LOVED (1:1-5)

  1.  Love Declared (vv. 1-2)
  2. Love Debated (v. 2)
  3. Love Demonstrated (vv. 3-4)
  4. Love Diffused (v. 5)

II. PRIESTS DISHONORING THE LORD (1:6-14)

  1. God’s Sacredness Defamed (v. 6)
  2. God’s Sanctuary Desecrated (v. 7)
  3. God’s Sacrifice Defective (vv. 8-9)
  4. God’s Servants Demeaning (vv. 10-12)
  5. Godless Service Denounced (vv. 13-14)

III. PRIESTS DISCIPLINED BY THE LORD (2:1-9)

  1. Priests Cursed (vv. 1-3)
  2. Priests’ Covenant (vv. 4-7)
  3. Priests’ Corruption (v. 8)
  4. Priests Condemned (v. 9)

IV. PEOPLE DEFILING THE LAW (2:10-17)

  1. Mixed Marriage Laws Violated (vv. 10-12)
  2. Marriage Laws Violated (vv. 13-16)
  3. Man’s Loyalty a Veneer (v. 17)

V. PURIFICATION DELIVERED BY THE LORD (3:1-6)

  1. Messenger’s Preparation (v. 1)
  2. Messiah Presented (v. 1)
  3. Messiah’s Purging (vv. 2-4)
  4. Messiah’s Punishment (vv. 5-6)

VI. PEOPLE DEFRAUDING THE LORD (3:7-18)

  1. A. Return to God Required (v. 7)
  2. Robbing God Revealed (vv. 8-9)
  3. Reproach of Godless Removed (vv. 10-12)
  4. Rhetoric of Godless Reproved (vv. 13-15)
  5. Righteous of God Remembered (vv. 16-18)

VII. PREDICTED DAY OF THE LORD (4:1-6)

  1. Eliminating the Wicked (v. 1)
  2. Exalting the Worthy (vv. 2-3)
  3. Exhorting the Worthy (v. 4)
  4. Elijah’s Work (vv. 5-6)

KEY WORDS

  1. Ye Say
  2. In What Way
  3. Cursed

KEY VERSE  Mal. 3:8

In 1917, F. M. Lehman penned a hymn which he entitled “The Love of God.” Touched by words scribbled on the wall of a mental institution, he incorporated them in the last stanza of his hymn. The lyrics read like this: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made. Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill, And ev’ry man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.” One could replace the word “above” and make the phrase read, ”to write the love of God to Israel,” and be theologically correct, for God’s love to Israel permeates the whole revelation of His Word to man.

Malachi was about to unfold God’s love for Israel, but before doing so he introduced his prophecy with the phrase, “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi” (v. 1). The term “burden” (massa) has the idea of something heavy, a load to be lifted (cp. Nah. 1:1; Hab. 1:1; Zech. 9:1). It is equivalent to saying, a weighty word full of meaning. The message Malachi was about to deliver had divine authority behind it, for it was “the word of the Lord” (v. 1). The word “Lord” (Yahweh) is the name used to express God’s covenant relationship with Israel, to which covenant she was not being faithful.

Malachi’s message is addressed “to Israel” (v. 1). But how can this be, for lsrael (ten tribes) was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.? The words “to Israel’ had reference to both the ten tribes in the north and the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin.

It must be remembered that not all Israel (only the leadership and military establishment) was deported to Assyria in 722 B.C., for years later Hezekiah called the remnant of Israel, who were left in the land, to come and keep the Passover in Jerusalem (2 Chr. 30:5-6). Many came from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun (2 Chr. 30:18). Even before the Assyrian captivity a large number from the tribes came to Judah (2 Chr. 11:16-17) and identified with the house of David (2 Chr. 19:4; 30:1, 10-11, 25-26; 35:17-18).

Therefore, a number of conclusions can be made. First, all the tribes were represented in Judah after the Assyrian invasion. Second, all the tribes (Ezra 7:1-10) were represented in Judah when she returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity (536 B.C.), for they are referred to as Israel (2 Chr. 12:6; 21:2; 28:19). Third, Christ offered Himself to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (all the tribes) [Mt. 10:6]. Fourth, the tribes are mentioned as existing in the land during the New Testament times (Mt. 4:13, 15; Lk. 2:36; Acts 4:36; Phil. 3:5; Jas. 1:1). Fifth, in Acts 2, Peter used the terms “Jews” (v. 5), “Judea” (v. 14), “men of Israel” (v. 22) and “house of Israel” (v. 36) as being synonymous terms. Thus, the twelve tribes are represented within the tribe of Judah and were not destroyed or lost as some would  teach today.

LOVE DECLARED (VV. 1-2)

Malachi wasted no time in declaring God’s true feelings for His people: “I have loved you, saith the Lord” (v. 2). The word love is in the perfect tense, indicating that God not only loved Israel in the past, but in the present too.

There are a number of aspects to God’s love for Israel. First, His love is unconditional for it was an act of pure grace, not depending upon anything Israel had done (Dt. 7:7-8; 10:15; 23:5). Second, God’s love was sovereignly bestowed; He called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans  (Gen. 12:1- 3);  made  a  covenant  with  him  (Gen.  15:1-12); and confirmed  it through Isaac (Gen. 17:19) and Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15). Third, God’s love to Israel is everlasting (Jer. 31:3) -a commitment He has not made with any other nation. His compassion for the nation is like that of a mother for her child; in fact, God has engraved Israel upon the palms of His hands (Isa. 49:14-16). Fourth, God’s love for Israel is like that of a husband and wife (2:11). Fifth, God’s love for Israel is like a father’s love for his son (1:6; 3:17); He even called Israel His son (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1).

Israel is pictured as the apple of God’s eye (Dt. 32:10),which literally means the pupil of the eye. When one looks into the eye of another, the pupil acts as a mirror reflecting the person’s image. ln reference to the Jew, he is the reflected image from the pupil of God’s eye. Israel is so precious in God’s sight that the Lord protects her from danger as He would His own eye. When the Jew is afflicted, God feels it as if it happened to Him (Isa. 63:7, 9) .

LOVE DEBATED (V. 2)

How did Israel respond to the declaration of God’s love? Malachi verbalized what the nation felt: “Yet ye say, In what way hast thou loved us?” (v. 2). It is possible that Israel questioned God’s love for a number of reasons. The prophets had proclaimed that the kingdom would be restored to Israel upon their return to the land, but she was still being controlled by a foreign power (1:8).

Neither were they enjoying the expected pros­perity which the prophets had predicted would accompany a return to the land. True, the Temple had been rebuilt, but its splendor was nothing like that of Solomon’s Temple. Therefore, an embittered people questioned God’s love for them.

How could the people respond with such stunning words to an expression of God’s love for them? They had experienced such privilege, protection and personal blessing from God! He had restored the land; allowed the reestablishing of the Temple and its worship; brought revival under Ezra and Nehemiah; and given them rest from their enemies. Often an ungrateful heart will blind a person or people to what God has bestowed upon them.

Where love is most manifested, it is often least appreciated. Many times this is seen within a family -between husband and wife, or between children and parents. It is often seen in a nation-people who have received great blessing from God question His concern for them during difficult times. It is seen in the lives of Christians greatly loved and blessed who will question His love for them during times of extended trial or loss.

Although God was under no obligation to entertain such an insensitive question, He is long-suffering and will respond in love not judgment.

LOVE DEMONSTRATED (v.v. 2-4)

God refuted Israel’s charge concerning His lack of love by referring back to Jacob’s election over Esau: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob” (v. 2). Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, but Esau, being the firstborn (Gen. 25:24-26), had the privilege of primogeniture. Yet God intervened and chose Jacob over Esau to receive the birthright and blessing (Gen. 27:27-33).

Not only did God love Jacob, but He contrasted that love by the statement, “And I hated Esau” (v. 3). How is this statement to be interpreted? First, some believe the word “hate” should be taken at face value. God meant what He said, He hated Esau because of his wicked deeds and those of his descendants.  Second, others believe that the words “love” and “hate” should be used in a relative sense. God loved Jacob so much that in comparison it would seem as if He hated Esau, or loved him less. Third, still others believe that one cannot determine what God really meant by the statement, because no interpretation was given.

Scripture seems to bear out that the second position is preferable. This is illustrated by Jacob’s marriages to Rachel and Leah. Jacob is said to have loved Rachel, but he hated Leah (Gen. 29:30-33). Does this mean that Jacob hated Leah, his wife? No! It simply means that he loved Rachel much more than Leah. The word “hate” is better translated “unloved” in this context. The same illustration is presented under the law concerning a man who had two wives (Dt. 21:15- 17).

Jesus presented the same idea in relation to one’s salvation. The individual must hate one’s family and self, or he cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Lk. 14:26). Naturally, He is not referring to hating one’s family members or self, but loving them less as clarified by Matthew 10:37.

Paul used the loving and hating illustration to show God’s sovereign election of Jacob over Esau in Romans 9:10-15. God was not speaking on an emotional level, as if He had fondness of one over the other, but with reference to His sovereign choice of Jacob and his descendants to carry out His spiritual purposes. Someone has said, “The difficult question is not why God would say that He hated Esau, but how could He say He loved Jacob?”

Often Jacob is pictured as a shrewd schemer who stole his brother’s birthright and blessing. Esau, on the other hand, is looked upon as a rugged outdoors man, simple in his understand­ing, who was taken in by a crafty brother.

It must be remembered that God revealed to the parents that He had reversed the order, “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Before the Law, there was no commandment stating that the birthright and blessing were to go to the firstborn; it was, however, customary to do so.

God knew the character of Esau and Jacob before their birth (Ps. 139). He knew Esau had no interest in spiritual things, that he would marry two heathen (one was a Hittite, one was a Hivite) women, and that he would later be called a fornicator and profane person (Heb. 12:16). Jacob, on the other hand, is described as a “quiet man” (Gen. 25:27), which meant he was sincere or complete. Actually, Jacob was a righteous man who had a concern for the family birthright and blessing. He was.much better prepared to carry on the spiritual function for the family, since Esau despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34). Thus, God had ordained for Jacob to receive both the birthright and blessing.

Since Isaac would not have bestowed the blessing upon Jacob (which was God’s design), Rebekah developed a plan to bring it about. Jacob did not want to go through with the deception planned by his mother, but he was obedient to parental authority when she agreed to take responsibility for the outcome of her actions (Gen. 27:13).

After receiving the blessing, God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. During the dream, God never rebuked him for how the blessing was acquired from his father. In fact, He pronounced more blessing upon Jacob (Gen. 28:12-15).

What God does or allows to happen is right, although His actions might seem incongruous to finite man.

God not only hated Esau, but “laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the jackels of the wilderness” (v. 3). The term “mountains” referred to the land of the Edomites, who were Esau’s descendants. They were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (Jer. 25:9, 21; 49:7-9) and by the Nabataean Arabs sometime between 550-400 B.C.

The Nabataeans intermingled with a remnant of the Edomites and became a mighty power (south and east of Judea) until the Romans destroyed them around 100 A.D. The Romans referred to the Edomites as Idumaeans, from whom King Herod was a descendant.

Why did God destroy Edom? The Edomites were an immoral and godless people (Gen. 36:1- 8; Heb. 12:16) who continually oppressed Israel. First, they refused to allow Moses passage through their land during Israel’s pilgrimage to Canaan (Num. 20:14-20). Second, many of the kings of Israel had to fight the Edomites because of their opposition to Israel: Saul (1 Sam. 14:17); David (1 Ki. 11:14-17); Solomon (1 Ki. 11:14-25); Je­hoshaphat (2 Chr. 20:22); and Jehoram (2 Chr. 21:8). Third, Edom did not come to help or even offer assistance to Judah when she was invaded by foreign powers who carried off the treasure of Jerusalem (Obad. 11). Fourth, she rejoiced over Jerusalem after her destruction  (Obad. 13). Sixth, she helped set up roadblocks to prevent Jewish people from fleeing their enemies (Obad. 14). Seventh, she delivered up the people of Judah to their captors (Obad. 14). God severely judged Edom for their violence towards Israel (Obad. 10).

The Edomites were a very arrogant people who thought themselves to be impregnable (Obad. 3-4), but how wrong they were. Yet after their destruction they still exuded with pride and confidence in their ability to rebuild Edom: “we will return and build the desolate places” (v. 4), they said.

But the Lord had the final word: “They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever” (v.  4).  Though other nations might fall, they would rise again, but Edom would not survive as a people (Joel. 3:19) because of the violence they did to Judah.

Israel had questioned God’s love and was very bitter because He had allowed the Babylonians to destroy them and the Edomites to add to their sorrow (Ps. 137:7). God proved His love for Israel by choosing Jacob over Esau and destroy­ ing the Edomites, who would never rise again.

LOVE DIFFUSED (V. 5)

Although Israel was insensitive and indifferent to God’s love and grace (v. 2), there will come a day when she will be forced to acknowledge it, “And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel” (v. 5). The word “from” (v. 5) can be translated above or beyond the border of Israel. Both interpretations are possible, but the context indicates that beyond is to be preferred, since God’s name will be great among the nations (vv. 11, 14). Thus, God’s love transcends national boundaries and is not only extended to Israel but to all nations.

God’s love for all nations is seen in the cove­nant He made with Abraham, “. . . in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who was the means of spiritual redemption to mankind (Gal. 3:8, 16).

God has chosen a great multitude from the nations, forged them into “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Pet. 2:9; cp. Eph. 1:4-5), which He calls the Church. God’s divine purpose for both Israel and the Church is that they shall show forth His praise (Isa. 43:21; 1 Pet. 2:9) throughout the world.

Dr. P. P. Bliss, the evangelistic singer and composer, was in a meeting where the song, “O How I Love Jesus,” was continually being sung. Upon reflection, he was struck with the idea of how much God loved him, as compared to his love for God. Quickly he wrote the lyrics to “Jesus Loves Even Me.” His second stanza captured the theme of Malachi’s message to Israel and all men: “Though I forget Him and wander away, Still He doth love me wherever I stray; Back to His dear loving arms would I flee, When I remember that Jesus loves me.”

I am so glad that Jesus loves me! Are you glad that He loves you, my friend?

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