God is Merciful - Malachi 1.2-5
September 22, 2013 Series: Malachi | Rhetorical God
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Malachi 1:2–1:5
2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’ ” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”
Intro: A Burden of Love
An unknown prophet named Malachi receives a Word from the Lord called an oracle, literally translated THE BURDEN of the LORD. It is called a burden because there is weightiness to the message of this little book. It is difficult to preach, difficult to receive, and even more difficult to act upon. Too often we approach God’s Word as it if it is anything but God’s actual words. The message of Malachi is not a history report of yesterday’s Christians; it is not a guide for Christian living today; and its meaning cannot be summarized in 140 characters or less on Twitter. The message of Malachi is a call for true worship. In order to make worshippers, God reveals His heart; and in revealing His heart, He reveals ours.
“I have loved you.”
The prophecy is largely a series of divine admonishments; but the book begins with a bold declaration of love and ends with an even bolder promise of future love. God always leads with grace. Through these simple words, God reveals so much about himself. He reveals that He is a God who is personal. He is a God who is emotional. He is a God who is intentional. He is a God who is faithful. In declaring “I have loved you,” He is not only describing his nature as a God who is love; He is declaring his disposition toward His covenant people. “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7.6). These are God’s people, His nation, and His treasured possession. Beginning with the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, through the conquest of Joshua, to the establishment of a Kingdom, God had provided tangible evidences of his love for thousands of years. And though God had sent them away into exile as punishment for their false worship, God never ceased to love His people. 100 years prior to this prophecy, God had again proved He loved His people by rescuing them exile, empowering them to rebuild the city and the temple, and inviting them to restore relationship with Him through worship.
How have you loved us?
But as He declares His love, God knows what the Israelites are thinking, more than, he declares He knows what they are saying. While they may not deny that God has “LOVED” them in the past, in their present circumstances, they cannot see HOW or WHERE God is demonstrating this love. God can be understood as saying, “I love you”; a statement the Israelites do not believe. Using the word “HOW” implies they want proof of God’s love, but also that they have already concluded there is none (Complaint vs. Apathy). God is not afraid of our questions but we must be careful. When we question what (or that) God is doing, we usually end up denying who God is. To deny God is loving is to deny that: 1) God is present enough to love or 2) God is powerful enough to love or that 3) God is good enough to love.
We must fight the temptation to judge and work to understand: Why do they feel this way (not loved by God)? 100 years has passed since the temple has been rebuilt and worship resumed. It has been 100 years since through Zechariah, God promised to return to Jerusalem, to dwell in the city, to defend the city, to institute peace and bring prosperity. God promised fruitfulness. God promised safety. God promised prosperity. God even promised respect from the world saying: 20 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. 21 The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ 22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zech. 8.20-23). They have not experienced any of these things. The promises of God have not been realized in the time or way that they expected, therefore, God does not love them (in their eyes). Their families are suffering, they are surrounded by their enemies, they are barely paying their bills, and they are an international mockery. Worship has been restored, but they are under the rule of another King, so they begin to believe that God does not love them.
How I have loved you – The PROOF
In response to Israel’s disillusionment and doubts, God graciously offers three different proofs for His love—this is the second proof of God’s love—that he engages personally. God has no need to defend himself. The point of sending a prophet to engage in a cerebral conversation is to magnify his great love for us—what he tells the Israelites should encourage us to endure in our own faith.
HIS WORD: 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.
I say that that was the second proof of His love, because the first proof of God’s love is really the only proof Israel needs. God’s has spoken. God has said, “I love you.” If God says this is evil, it is evil. If God says this is good, that is good, then that is good. If God says judgment is coming, then judgment is coming. If God says, He’s in control, He is in control. And if God says I have loved you, I am loving you, and will love you, then He does—even if we don’t comprehend it perfectly. Let’s be honest, in the chaos of life sometimes that is all we have. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
HIS MERCY: “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob
God also offers a proof of His love by asking Israel a question - “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” The answer to the rhetorical question is yes. Jacob’s name has been changed to Israel = Jacob is Israel. And every Israelite knew Esau was Jacob’s brother, sons of Isaac, grandsons of Abraham. They also know that Esau’s descendants grew into the nation of Edom. Esau = Edom. Now Jacob and Esau were not only brothers they were twin brothers. Esau was born first and customs dictated that Esau would be the heir of the father's blessings. But that is not what happened. Genesis 25 records how Jacob tricked Esau into selling him his birthright for a bowl of soup. Through deception, Jacob receives his father’s blessing. And that is not the last time Jacob swindles someone. He proves himself to be a pretty rotten guy. Yet, God blessed Him. God was not manipulated into blessing as a result of Jacob’s deception. On the contrary, the Bible says: 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9.9-13)
HIS JUDGEMENT: 3 but Esau I have hated.
If Israel wants to see what it looks like when God does not love, they need to look no further than Edom. God hated Esau. God says, 1) I have laid waste his country (they have no land) 2) I have let his heritage die (they have no family) 3) I have thwarted his efforts (they have no power) 4) I have caused them to be hated (they have no respect) 5) I have condemned them forever (they have no hope of a messiah). Interestingly, these are the very things that Zechariah promised Israel will have one day.
God is telling Israel, quite simply, I AM PRESENT WITH YOU, I AM PROMISED TO YOU, I AM FAITHFUL TO YOU. He could just as easily have chosen Esau—their twin brother who has more “right” than they do. But God says, “I chose you, and passed him by”. How has God loved Israel? God’s answer is not what we expect. God says, He has lovingly shown mercy. He has loved them unconditionally (based on God’s choice), undeservedly (sinful and disobedient), and in a way that is unfailing (assured but not yet).
Why don’t I feel loved?
What does this mean for us? As yourself, not if, but WHEN you don’t feel/felt loved by God? When do we begin to doubt the promises of the Lord? We may not say it out loud, but perhaps that is really how we feel expectations of about what we though God was going to do are not met. When do we read verses like Romans 8.28 which declare that God purposes all things for good and think, “WHATEVER”? The better question is: What could happen to cause you to doubt God’s love?
Israel is hurting physically, emotionally, financially, materially, and in many other ways. Life is hard and somewhat hopeless—we will see that this doesn’t result in anger but apathy in their relationship with God. Suffering, whether it is a major devastation or a minor disillusionment, has the power to lead us to doubt God’s love. How do I know when I am doubting God’s love? Generally, I believe we begin to disbelieve three things:
1. We do not believe that God is PRESENT in our pain—He is not personally involved, does not care.
2. We do not believe that God is in CONTROL of our pain – He is not strong enough to stop it.
3. We do not believe He is GOOD (esp. if he is present and in control)—He is not loving enough to give us something better.
All of this leads to apathetic worship. Everyone has personal thresholds, some spoken and others unspoken, that lead to disbelief in God’s love. Sometimes it is learning about thousands gassed in Syria, or 13 people getting shot at a Navy base, or a faithful friend dying of cancer, or not having money to pay your bills, or losing your job, or a miscarriage, or some other event that leaves us in state of hopelessness. We find it difficult to find God, difficult trust God, and almost impossible to worship God in our despair.
This past week, an Acts 29 pastor shared the loss of their 35 week old daughter. The due date for their baby was October 11th. There were no signs of anything wrong until recently one night when the wife said she could not feel the baby. For reasons unknown, the baby had died in the womb. As they waited for the doctor to deliver their daughter, the father shared some of his thoughts: “Our faith is strong, and we are trying hard to not lean on our own understanding in this situation. And to be open and share my burdens with you men, I’m so sad.” Would this be enough for you to begin to doubt God’s presence? Enough to doubt that He is in control? Enough to doubt that His love?
The young girl was delivered and he posted a picture of mom holding her. I wept as I saw it, and read what her father shared. “My daughters name is Maizie Grace, because we are relying on the amazing grace of the Father to get us through this lifelong healing process.” What makes this man so confident in God’s love and grace?
How the suffering of Jesus Helps me to see God’s love
The difference between this pastor’s turning away from, or pressing into God, is his deep belief in the gospel. The truth of the gospel does not remove the disappointment or pain, but it guards our hearts from doubt and causes us to remember God’s love. Until we can see the love of God in the suffering of Christ, we will continue to doubt God’s presence, power, and love when we suffer.
1. In Christ we see that God is present in our sufferings. God is not distant from our human experience—which is full of suffering. He enters into our suffering and lives for 33 years as a man, experiencing the hardship of life. And even though he was sinless, obeying and worshipping perfectly, He experienced temptation, sorrow, disrespect, poverty, rejection, mockery, abuse, and death. Jesus dwells with sinners.
2. In Christ we see that God is in control of our suffering. What we have, and what we don’t have, is from God. The hard life and the tragic death of Jesus did not surprise God, it was his plan. Acts 2.23 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men Though Jesus suffered at the hands of Romans, Jews, even family and friends, God was always in control. Jesus willingly suffered for sinners
3. In the cross of Christ, we see that God is good in our suffering. You will never believe that God loves you until you see the mercy that God has shown you through love of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but he does give what we deserve to someone else—His own son. To preserve his pure justice, sin must be punished. But to proclaim his love, sinners must be forgiven. God shows us mercy by sending His Son to die in our place. Until you can see that there is one who proved eternally loving—you’ll always question God’s love. Jesus dies for sinners.
Jesus said: 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13 God fulfills all of his promise to Israel, and to us, in the cross of Jesus Christ. He fulfills his promise to return to us, to dwell with us, to defend us, and to bring us peace and prosperity…if not now, then in eternity.
In their suffering, unbelieving Edom has nothing to hope in or for—God does not love them. But God’s people have everything. We do not question God’s love, rather, we see that God has loved us undeservedly, unconditionally, and unfailingly in Jesus Christ. For those who are in Christ, our suffering leads us closer to the love of God—and the world cannot understand this. In many ways, we suffer worse because we believe we shouldn’t have to suffer. The cross of Jesus not only shows us that suffering is a part of the best of lives; the cross makes all suffering meaningful. As the song from Shane and Shane says: Though You slay me; Yet I will praise You; Though You take from me; I will bless Your name; Though You ruin me; Still I will worship; Sing a song to the one who's all I need
CONCLUSION: Until we can see the love of God in the suffering of Christ, we will continue to doubt God’s presence, power, and love when we suffer. And when we taste God’s love, though we may feel “MY PAIN IS GREAT” we begin to say looko, “MY GOD IS GREAT”