This sermon is number 1 in a series of 8
Malachi's Modern Message - Part 1
"Message On Love"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want you to turn with me to Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, chapter 1 - I don't know really how many weeks it's going to take us getting through this study, I anticipate perhaps nine or ten weeks in this series, but as I know from experience, and you from greater experience, it doesn't always work out that way! Sometimes we have to take a little bit more time, but nevertheless I don't anticipate it going on too long, but we do want to find out what the Lord is saying to us in this age, in the message that I believe is so modern to our contemporary day and age from a prophecy that is so old. Maybe you're wondering, or even questioning the title that I've taken for this series 'Malachi's Modern Message' - how can it be modern? Because many people would look at these Old Testament Scriptures, particularly major and minor prophets, and see them as antiquated historical literature that was penned millennia ago by prophets whose messages have little application to our 21st-century day - but if that's the way you think about prophets like Malachi or any of the major or minor prophets, or indeed any book of Scripture, you couldn't be further from the truth. The minor prophets in particular, I believe, are treasure troves full of practical truth that is particularly, in a modern sense, relevant to our day and age. Because the messages within all of the word of God, but I think particularly in these minor prophets, are timeless messages, because the truth of God is timeless and the truth of God always speaks to the human condition, because we must admit tonight - and we'll see from Malachi's prophecy - that the human condition has not changed from the days of Malachi. Human beings are the same today, they're the same in whatever age we may live, they are sinners fallen from the grace of God, depraved and needing God's salvation.
Though Malachi is only four short chapters long, and in fact in the Hebrew Bible it's only three chapters long, it has much to say to the social, the political, and the religious compromise of both Malachi's age and our age today in which we live. The message is contemporary, and the message is equally convicting even though it was spoken first 2500 years ago. So keeping in mind that Malachi's message is very modern, let us read the first five verses of chapter 1 for our study this evening: "The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you", or it could be translated 'I have loved you deeply', "saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, 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 for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel".
Now let us look at verse 1, which tells us the author of this little prophecy: 'The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi'. 'Malachi' simply means 'my messenger', and there's a little bit of dispute over what the name really means. Others believe it means 'my angel', but of course the word for 'angel' and the word for 'messenger' are the same; but we don't find the name 'Malachi' anywhere else outside of the book of his prophecy. In fact, at the beginning of this book he doesn't even tell us who his father is, which many of the other prophets do, to give us an idea where he came from and who he is, and his personality. Because of that reason, some scholars believe that this name 'Malachi' is not a proper name at all, rather it just means 'my messenger', and it could be any prophet - some believe it is perhaps one particular prophet or another, and they name them, but they don't believe Malachi was an individual. Some believe it's even the surname of one particular prophet, but nevertheless I think that the Bible is clear, and it'll be clear as we go through this study this evening and in further nights that Malachi was an individual person, and indeed he was the last prophet who wrote in the Old Testament Scripture, although he is not classed as the last Old Testament prophet - because we know that John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet, although Malachi is the last prophet that writes in the Old Testament Scriptures.
I think what the Holy Spirit is really telling us, perhaps, through the fact that Malachi's name means 'my messenger', and there's not a lot more told to us about Malachi, is simply that God wants to communicate that the most important thing is not the messenger that brings His message, but the message that the messenger brings. It would do us all well to remember that, and I think Malachi's chief concern was his faithfulness delivering God's message, rather than his personal desire for fame as God's messenger. Let us discern tonight, as we study this little book, and in the weeks that lie ahead of us, that the most important thing that we look at tonight - and we may touch some very controversial subjects - but the most important thing is to receive the message from the Lord: what the message is saying to your heart and my heart; what the modern message is that God is trying to communicate not just to Malachi's contemporary age, but to our modern age in which we live as the people of God.
Now the date and the background of this book are pretty clear, as I've said it's the last Old Testament book penned, and it was written approximately 100 years after Cyrus decreed that Judah could return to the land in 538BC. That means that Malachi is the last of the post-exilic prophets. Judah has returned to the land, they have begun to build the temple. Even though they are under the rule of Persia still, they're back in the promised land and they have been seeing God's blessings again - and 100 years later, after they are found in the land, post-exile, we find this prophecy of Malachi written. Now we have to understand the background of this book, context is so important in everything that we learn from the Holy Scriptures, and we need to understand the background of Malachi's message to understand the import and the force of what God was saying to these Old Testament, post-exilic people. During this time that the people find themselves back in the land, their Jewish faith had been reformed. Not so long ago we were looking at this reformation that happened under the leadership of Nehemiah and also Ezra. But you know, it wasn't long after that reformation - and this is a tale that is told in itself - that the people backslid once more. So often we find that in Jewish history, don't we? There's a kind of revival, or maybe we couldn't use that in the perfect sense, but at least a reformation in religious terms - but all of a sudden, it's not long until we see the people again gripped with apathy and indifference, and becoming morally corrupt in their old ways. Ezra and Nehemiah have reformed the people, but again they return to the vomit like a dog - but there's one thing, one difference that I want to highlight right at the very beginning of our study in this series, a difference in Malachi's prophecy from many of the other Old Testament prophets. Most of the major and minor prophets lived and ministered, prophesied, in days of change. What I mean is, days of political or religious, spiritual upheaval - but Malachi is different: the people are back in the land and, if you want, it is an uneventful time, it is a time when nothing much is happening. Politically, religiously and spiritually, it is a day of small things - God isn't doing mighty things in the land through religion or through politics. You could say that, in a sense, it was a waiting period; they were waiting to see what God was going to do next - but at this present time God didn't seem to be doing anything. In fact, they were going as far now as to say in their apathy and indifference and moral corruption: 'Has God forgotten us? Has God forgotten His people? All the promises that have been spoken to us in the past, God doesn't seem to have honoured them to us'.
If you know the Old Testament history, you'll know that Zerubabbel and Joshua - whom Haggai and Zechariah named as God's chosen men for a new age to build the temple and bring the people back into the land - they had now died. For many Israelites the promises of God's blessing through Zerubabbel and through Joshua had died with their decease. As far as they could see, the temple was now completed - but the prosperity that God's prophets promised had not come to the land: the expansion of peace, the return of God's own glory in the temple had not come to pass - 'Why is this? Has God let us down? Has He forsaken us?'.
Let me illustrate this for you, if you turn to Zechariah - just the book before Malachi - and chapter 1. There are many portions I could show you, but we'll just look at one, chapter 1 and verses 16 and 17 - Zechariah says: 'Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies', this post-exilic people would know the mercies of God. Speaking of the temple: 'My house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity', that was the word that gripped their attention, 'prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem'. You can read about it in chapter 2 as well, these people were waiting - the temple had been completed, but this prosperity had not come. There was nothing momentous or significant that was happening in their age, there was nothing that was occurring to indicate that God's presence had returned among His people.
Literally Ezekiel prophesied, and we studied it a couple of years ago in chapter 43, he told that God's Shekinah glory would one day return to His temple. These people were looking for it, but they never saw it. Now you could imagine, perhaps even forgive or empathise with the people, that they became disillusioned. It seems that God's promises to them were not being fulfilled, in fact, worse than that, they were failing them. As far as they were concerned, as they looked over their prestigious history, the day of miracles had passed. The miracles of their fathers that they had told them of, the days of Elijah and Elisha had died, and God didn't seem to be working any longer in signs and wonders. Yes, in the temple, among the levitical priests there were sacrifices, the routines of religious practices were continuing - but the people weren't stupid, they could see that there was no power, there was no enthusiasm in their worship to God, there was no real meaning in their religion, and they were asking: 'Where is the God of our fathers? Where is His glory that we were told of in His past?'. Then the reasonable depression of thought was that they came to ask the question: 'Well, does it really matter whether we serve God or not? Where is God now? Where is He as our defence? What's the point of serving God, does it really pay off in these days to worship God, and to follow God?'. There were generations who were dying, continuing the Jewish religion without meaning, and many of them were losing their faith simply because they had not received the promises that God spoke to them of.
Someone has said that this period in Israelite history was, if you like, the period after the fireworks, after the climax and the great crescendo. If you like, it is the anti-climax of Israelite history - nothing of significance was happening, and that led to apathy, it led to backsliding, it led to these people questioning God. Now I ask you the question tonight, under the title of this modern message: are we not in a similar situation tonight? I know it's the church period, but is it not a period of waiting in our history? You have to acknowledge that we're not living - no matter what charismatics claim, at times, with signs and wonders - we are not living in apostolic times. The apostles have died and that era has passed on, and even though we have known revivals in our history down through the years, we at this corner of God's world are certainly not experiencing any revival! Now, in one sense, we're to expect that. In fact, the apostles teach us through the epistles that God's people in this age of grace are to be a people who live more by faith and less by sight. You remember in John chapter 20 and verse 29, the Lord Jesus told doubting Thomas, Thomas Didymus: 'You have seen and believed, but blessed are they that do not see, yet believe'. In 2 Corinthians Paul told us and the church in Corinth that we walk by faith, not by sight - we will see less, but we are still to believe. Maybe you know 1 Peter, if you turn to it for just a moment, 1 Peter and chapter 1 verse 8, Peter gives the same sentiment: 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory'.
Now turn with me to 2 Peter, because I want all of us to read a few verses of Scripture together which are so important to understand how we are in a similar situation today as the people of Israel in Malachi's day. Second Peter chapter 3 and verse 3, Peter says: 'Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?', Christ's second coming, 'for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness'.
Now I believe that we are in a similar period to those in Malachi's day, we are in a period of waiting, we are in a day of small things. Certainly in the West we're not experiencing apostolic signs, we're not knowing the reviving of the Spirit of God, and God knows that my heart has the desire to see it again - but we're not experiencing it! We are in, I think, a Laodicean period. Our eyes are looking to heaven and we're waiting on the coming of our glorious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and there are those in the world - and, sadly, in the church tonight - that are asking the question that men even in Peter's day were asking: 'Where is the promise of His coming? Time has always ran like this, the fathers have died, their promises have died with them, where is all that God's word said would come to pass?'. Maybe some Christians are even asking the question, someone has said in the past: 'Doubt the man that never doubts' - who of us have never doubted, at some time or other, the promises of God? Maybe, as you live in a day of small things, and maybe you don't see much happening for God in your life, in your church, in this land, in this continent - you're asking the question: 'Where is the God of our fathers?', and you're despairing. Maybe you're coming to some of the conclusions that the philosophy and science of the world are coming to today? I think much of the church is there as we speak, I think they have given up, to a large extent, by default, without admitting it, to the spirit of the age. They're imbibing the ways of the world, the thinking of the world; and though they take the name of Christ, they're living in the same way as the world lives because they feel that their faith has been unanswerably challenged by science. Maybe it's evolution or physics at university or at school, and you feel the Bible has no answer for these things; so you just go along with it. Maybe it's the philosophy of the age, and you've embraced it; maybe it's world trends, because you just can't beat the flow so you go with it - and you have begun, because of the circumstances that prevail in this land and in the church, to question God, maybe even to question His word. The reality is, whether we want to admit it or not, that just like in Malachi's day, because of the conditions that prevailed in his age, many even today too are losing touch with the living God. They do not have a vital, vibrant, living, burning, electric relationship with God!
Israel had lost touch with God, but Malachi's message - modern to them and modern to us tonight - was simply this: whatever changes in the world, whatever changes among my people, whether they be Israel or whether they be the New Testament church, whatever changes in your transitory life, God never changes! You may be living in a period of time where you're waiting, you may be living in a day of small things when little is happening spiritually in your life or in your church or in your nation, but yet God's word through Malachi - look at chapter 3 and verse 6: 'I am the LORD, I change not'. What God was also saying to them is not the theological dogma of His immutability - that He never changes, that He is the eternal God, the same - but what Malachi is really saying to the people is 'If God does not change, God's word does not change, and what God requires of every man, woman, boy or girl in creation does not change either'. The content of this book bears it out, because chapter 1 that we read this evening, the first five verses open with a declaration of God's unconditional, unchanging love for His elect people, Israel. But the fact of the matter is, as we'll see in a few moments, they were indifferent, they questioned His love for them; and that indifference manifested in the lives of the priests, the clergy of the day, because we'll find out later on in chapter 1 next week that they give polluted sacrifices to the Lord. They polluted the temple sanctuary and their service to God, and their entire worship to God was rejected by holiness because it was corrupt, it was not the best. In chapter 2 we will see that the priests, God said, would be judged if they would not repent and refused to submit to God's will; and then in chapter 3 we will see that God declared that He would send His messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah who would come as a refiner's fire, and purify both the temple and the priesthood and the holy remnant, He would judge the wicked and restore the righteous. We will see how God accused His people of robbing Him: 'Can a man rob God?'. He accuses them of the same sins that were in Israel in Nehemiah's day, and Nehemiah and Ezra condemned: divorcing their Israelite wives to marry foreigners who worshipped pagan gods; fraud and extortion and cheating in business; not paying their tithes as the temple offerings to fulfil the wages for the temple priests. God is calling them through Malachi to change their ways: they may have changed, the situation in the land and in their religion may have changed, but God has not changed! If they disobeyed God, God would judge them; but if they obeyed God, He would bless them.
Has it ever been any different? Then in chapter 4 we will see that the final warning before the Day of the Lord, which has not come yet, which will include the coming of Elijah and Messiah, will mean the final judgment of all who have not obeyed the Lord: the wicked and the deliverance of the righteous, those who please God. Malachi's burden that we read of in verse 1: 'The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi', was simply this - and it should be the burden of all his namesakes, that means every messenger with the word of the Lord should have a call to renewal, a call to revival, a call that God has never changed and what He expects of His people never changes either! That call must come forth, whatever the season is in which we live. If the people of God have become cold, become cynical in their faith and in their doubt, that must be the clarion message that is cried by every prophet of God in every age; because what you will have, if you have all the truth like the people of Malachi's day, but do not have a living vital relationship with God, is nothing but dead orthodoxy! Charles Feinberg, in his commentary on the minor prophets, said that the spirit of the people in Malachi's day developed later into the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees that we find in the New Testament. The Sadducees were the liberals that doubted in resurrection, doubted the existence of the supernatural - that's where we will be led to if we do not have a living relationship with the covenant God! The other extreme from liberalism will be dead orthodoxy and legalism of the Pharisees, following a list of rules and regulations, having all our i's dotted and our t's crossed, yet we do not know the living God in a personal, vibrant, renewing, reviving way.
So God invites all men in Malachi's day and in our day to return to Him, chapter 3 and verse 7: 'Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?'. God doesn't change in His demands, and isn't it very refreshing that although there's a lot of judgment in this little book, that God never changes in His gracious invitation to all of us to be renewed, to be revived, to come again. Isn't it wonderful to know, as verse 16 of chapter 3 tells us, that all who will come to Him in that spirit of reviving renewal will be accepted: 'Then they', verse 16 of 3, 'they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name'.
Now we will see in the subsequent weeks how this book is written, the style of Malachi is very unique because the book takes the format of a dialogue, it's like a conversation between God and the people. First of all, what you find throughout this book is that God charges Israel with a breach of the covenant relationship He has with them, He charges them with failing in something that He has commanded them to do. Then the second thing that we usually read is the people's response, now it is the prophet's version of the people inspired by God, so we can believe it, the way the people react to God's charge upon their covenant relationship. They actually say to God: 'Show us the evidence of what You're saying!'. Thirdly we find in this dialogue that God pronounces His evidence and His subsequent judgment upon their behaviour.
We're going to see this in what is the first symptomatic sign of their spiritual bankruptcy - what is the first symptomatic sign of the spiritual bankruptcy of these people that God cites? It's very, very, very clear - verse 2: 'I have loved you deeply, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob and I hated Esau'. What God is doing is, He is saying: 'The first sign of your backsliding is a complete insensitivity to my love for you!'. Now how does God address that symptomatic sign of their spiritual bankruptcy? The first way He addresses it we find in the first phrase of verse 2, God's pronouncement of His love. He says, 'I have loved you deeply'. Now the word 'love' there in the Hebrew language is in the perfect tense, that means that He is saying 'Not only have I loved you in the past, but the love wherewith I loved you in your history is the same love that I love you with in your present. Whatever is going on, whatever is not going on in your life, I have the same love for you that I've always had'.
God's pronouncement of His love. Now, we don't have time to look at His love for His Old Testament people, but let me give you some of the ways in which He expressed his love. It was an unconditional love. You don't read long into the Old Testament till you find out that God's love for His ancient people Israel was an act of pure grace. If you turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter 7, you'll find in verses 7 and 8: 'The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt'. In chapter 9 we find out that God even admits that they are rebellious and stiffnecked, hard people, yet He saves them - not because of anything that they are, but because He loves them, and in love He has unconditionally chosen them.
His love in the past to Israel was an unconditional love, and it still is to them in Malachi's day. We see secondly in the Old Testament, added to that, God's love to them was sovereignly bestowed. You remember their history, God called Abraham from the Ur of the Chaldees, and God made a covenant with him, and God confirmed that covenant unto Isaac and unto Jacob out of grace! Why did God pick Abraham? Why did God bless his descendants in Jacob and in Isaac? It was simply God's sovereign choice.
Thirdly we see that His love for Israel in the Old Testament was an everlasting love. In Jeremiah 31 and verse 3 you read those very familiar words, where God says to His people through the prophet: 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love'. He goes on to say how He loves His people like a mother loves a child. He then says in Isaiah 49 that He has graven His people upon His own hands, a sign of writing and cutting the covenant on the palms of His own divine hands. He expresses also in the Old Testament His love for Israel like the love of a husband and a wife. In Malachi, in chapter 2 and verse 11, we see that borne out: 'Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god'. He sees His covenant relationship with His people like a marriage bond, they have been unfaithful to it and God is grieved. In chapter 1 and verse 6 He says: 'A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master', He is likening the love that He has for His people like the love that a father has for his son. Then in Deuteronomy 32, you will know this verse well, God said that His people Israel were the apple of His eye, and literally in the Hebrew the word 'apple of His eye' means 'the pupil'. It's this sense that, just as you or I would protect our eyes from being hurt, God protects His people like He would protect His own eye. And the antithesis of that is that if anyone touches Israel, if anyone touches God's people - if I can say it reverently - it's like poking God in the eye! It invokes His wrath, His anger, because He loves His people with an unconditional, a sovereign, and everlasting love. He says: 'That love that I have always loved you with is the same love that I love you with tonight!'. He said that to Malachi, and I believe He says it to us in the New Testament sense, that we have entered into the covenant, a new blessing.
God's pronouncement of His love to you here tonight...well, let's tease it out a little more, because we see that that wasn't enough for the people. The second thing we see is the people's protest against God's love. They say: 'Wherein hast Thou loved us?'. Do you know what they're saying? 'What? You love us? Prove it! Where is the evidence? Wherein have You loved us? How have You loved us? We don't have any evidence in our day and age how You're loving us, God! We've got the opposite!'. They began to doubt God's love, living in a day of small things. You know, we can be guilty of the same sin, but you know their problem is ours at times: they had, and we have short memories. You see these people, although they were living in a spiritually mundane time, they had experienced many privileges. They had known the protection of God from their enemies, they had known personal blessing, He had restored the land to them, He had allowed them to re-establish the temple, to reinstitute the temple worship and priests, and He even brought revival not so long ago through Ezra and Nehemiah, and He had given them rest from their enemies - but they showed complete indifference, apathy, ingratitude to it all.
What a lesson all of us can learn tonight, and it is this: ingratitude for past blessings blinds us to present blessings. When we forget what God has done for us in the past, even if it only - and I use that word 'only' advisedly - only be our salvation experience, ought that not to be enough for us to have great gratitude in our hearts for the love that God has showed toward us? Someone has said: 'Where love is most manifested, it is often least appreciated', is that not true? You often see it in the relationship between a husband and a wife, a greater human love cannot be known yet at times the one that is closest to you is the one that you seem to hurt the most. You can see it in all sorts of relationships, and we must make sure that we have an appreciation of the mighty love of God, that we never become ungrateful for it or even doubt it in our present circumstances - and this is a warning to us all, because it's a dangerous thing when we start to argue with God, and we try to defend our sinful ways and accuse God!
I don't know about you, but I find that Malachi's teaching strikes at the heart of today's nominal, easy-going Christianity, just as it does at the easy-going nominal Judaism of Malachi's day. I don't know where you are tonight, maybe Satan comes to you and tells you that God has neglected you, God has forgotten you in that illness, in that problem, in your turmoil; that God has failed you, that God has let you down! Maybe he's whispering in your ear: 'Look at your life, it's a disaster! Where is God now? Where are His promises?'. Be very careful, because doubting God's love is the beginning of unbelief, and the beginning of disobedience, and we have that right at the very beginning of the Bible when Eve believed Satan rather than God, and effectively Eve doubted that God loved her. She thought that God was disenfranchising her from something that was good, something that would add to her life. When we start thinking like that about God we're doubting His love. Satan came to the people of Israel and said: 'Where are your crops that God has promised? What has happened to His promises spoken through His prophets? Why doesn't God look after you the way the prophets have told you all down through the years?'.
God's pronouncement of His love wasn't enough, because the people protested against God's love. But the third thing I want you to see tonight is that God cited His proof of His love. God's proof of His love, He said: 'Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness'. Basically, 'Edom, as she tries to build her cities and her civilisation, comes to nothing; because I've loved you Jacob, Israel and not Esau'. God cites two ways in which He has loved His people. First of all He tells them how He graciously chose Jacob, their father, and rejected Esau. We'll look at that in just a moment, but then secondly He tells them how He judged the Edomites, that is Esau's descendants, verses 3 and 4, and gave to Israel the best lands, and has prospered Israel - and yet Edom are a waste, wilderness, for jackals.
What God is saying to them is: 'Do you want proof that I love you? My divine sovereign election is proof that I love you. Esau have I hated, you Jacob have I loved'. Now, I know what's going through some of your heads now: 'What's he going to say on this word 'hated', how is he going to talk about election?'. You might even, as you read those words, feel that they jar against your conscience or your heart to think that God could pronounce that He hated someone! 'Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated' - what does that word 'hate' mean? Let me say, before I go on to comment - and I will say in preface that a lot of you won't agree with what I'm going to say tonight, and I'd be surprised if all of you did agree, but I would ask you to disagree graciously if that is within your being, and I don't really want to debate it at the door - but whatever it does mean, do not question God. Surely that's the one lesson that we find in Malachi? It's not advisable to question God, and we have to start with the common denominator that whatever God does is right. God doesn't just do right things, whatever God does is right, even though we may not be able to reconcile it in our own human ingenuity, no matter how intelligent we think ourselves to be.
Now I'm not going to enter into a whole exposition of this word 'hate' tonight, save to say that many commentators say that we can understand this word 'hate' by looking at Luke chapter 14 and verse 26, that is the passage where the Lord Jesus, with the call of the disciples, says: 'Except you hate your father and mother', and mentions a number of other family relations, 'you cannot be my disciple. You must deny yourself, you must take up your cross and follow me'. Then the commentators will turn you from Luke 14 to Matthew 10, and then show how the Lord Jesus in the same vein says it a little different: 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me'. So they conclude that when the Lord says you have to 'hate' father and mother, that it just means that you don't love them as much as you love the Lord - it doesn't mean an actual, positive hatred of them, but it's a lesser love. Now that is correct in that sense; and Jesus, of course, when He tells us to hate father and mother, He doesn't mean to hate them in the wrong sense. But is that the way we're to understand this word 'hate', which it definitely is, in the book of Malachi?
Now I think one of the reactions people have against this word 'hate' is that they think that what God is saying here is 'Jacob have I saved, and Esau have I damned'. Now that is not what God's word is saying here, because we need to remember that election in this verse is related to God's purposes through a nation. Just because Jacob was chosen did not mean and transpire that all the Israelites after Jacob would be saved, isn't that correct? Just because Esau was not chosen does not mean that all the Edomites would be damned, so I think that we can conclude that that word 'hate' does not mean 'damned'. We have to therefore also say that Jacob was born in sin and shapen in iniquity, just as Esau was, was he not? Because we are all damned, we are all judged in Adam as being sinners, and we are all condemned - so God does not condemn one over another, we have condemned ourselves because we are in Adam and we are judged for such. Jacob was a sinner under condemnation like Esau, but this is what I want you to notice - and we get to the definition of this word 'hate' by this - what made the difference between Jacob and Esau was that God graciously chose Jacob. Whatever it means for God to graciously choose Jacob, the opposite of that is what that word 'hate' means. It means 'reject', God chose Jacob and God rejected Esau. One thing that it definitely means is that Esau was not chosen, and whatever this elective love was that God shows towards Jacob, it is not shown toward Esau. Esau was the first born, the birthright did belong to him, a double portion of the inheritance, nevertheless God set His love upon Jacob and not upon Esau.
Some people, and I want a bit of time to explain this, some people maintain that divine foreknowledge of the character of Esau was the reason for Esau's rejection, that means that God knew he was going to be a bad spud and so He didn't choose him - He knew all the things he was going to do in his life. But that doesn't weigh up, because Jacob was far from a man that was eligible for divine election if that was the grounds of it. The whole point of God's sovereign election is simply this: it's not upon any merits of our own, it's by grace and grace alone! When Paul, in Romans chapter 9 cites this little verse, if you turn with me to it - this verse from Malachi, 'Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated' - this is the very argument that he makes concerning the nation of Israel, verse 11 of chapter 9: 'The children being not yet born', that is Jacob and Esau, they weren't even born, they hadn't done any good or evil, but 'that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her', Rebecca, 'The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion'.
Jacob was not a deserving individual, it was grace that saved him. Now let me say, in case you think that I'm going down some kind of hyper-Calvinistic line, the Bible teaches that human beings are responsible for their actions as creatures of God. The Bible does not teach a fatalism, a fatalistic view that all events are determined by a blind necessity; but can I categorically say tonight: let us never attempt to explain away the biblical mystery of God's election! It is in the Bible, and if you can't reconcile it with man's responsibility, you've got the problem! The greatest tragedy that I want you to think about tonight is that we lose an aspect of divine love if we ignore God's sovereign election. The doctrine of God's divine elective love, it's not there to perplex us, it's not there to trouble us, when it's properly understood it's there - just like it was for the people in Malachi's day - to revive them, to thrill them, to warm their hearts! What could warm your heart more tonight, if you're downcast as a believer, if you think that God's forgot you, than what Paul said to the Ephesians in chapter 1 and verse 4, that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, before creation was. What can warm your heart more than what the Lord Jesus said in John 15:19, that He chose His own out of the world. Peter, yes, declared that that choosing was according to the foreknowledge of God, but please do not say that that means that God just saw that you were going to turn out well and believe God's message. It's not according to your merit! Now don't ask me to explain it, I can't! But don't dilute it, because it's in God's word - I can't understand it, I can't reconcile it, but I'm not required to understand it or reconcile it, I'm called to believe it and enjoy it! For the Lord has declared it: 'All whom the Father gives me, shall come to me'. He plainly stated: 'No man can come to me, except the Father who has sent me draws him'. He held that doctrine in complete balance with the other doctrine that men were responsible: 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out'. He said to the Jews: 'Ye will not come that ye may have life'; and He invited people 'Come unto me all ye that labour'. As 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 14 says, this doctrine that we have been chosen by God, Paul says, therefore salvation ought to bring thanksgiving, reviving praise from our heart!
What is the first step of renewal that Malachi gives these people? It's simply this: get touched again by the eternal never-changing love of God for you, that He chose you in grace, that the Saviour died for you and shed His blood in love for you, and has drawn you to Himself, and one day will make you perfect. I go as far as to say that it is almost blasphemous for a child of God in this age to say: 'How has God loved me?'. In 1916 a man called F.M. Lehman was touched by the words that he saw scribbled on the wall of an asylum, and he incorporated them into the last stanza of his hymn, and the lyrics read like this:
'Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky'
If that was madness, we all could do with a dose of it, and it would revive our hearts in love for God for His love for us; it would take us from dead orthodoxy into a living, vital relationship with Jesus Christ.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his Malachi's Modern Message series, titled "Message On Love" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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