I’ve said before that I’m a completionist. You know what a completionist is, don’t you? If someone plays video games, and he’s a completionist, then he has to complete every level of the game and he’s not satisfied until he does. Or if someone is on twitter or another social media platform, and she’s a completionist, she has to read every message and can’t skip any of them. Or if someone is a collector, he isn’t happy until his collection is complete. That’s a completionist. So, when I was young, if I started a jigsaw, I had to finish it. Nowadays, if I start a novel, I have to finish it, even if it’s boring. And since I’ve preached on Haggai and Zechariah, both of which are post-exilic prophetic books, then I feel compelled to preach on the book of Malachi, which is the third and final post-exilic prophetic book in the Old Testament. When I say post-exilic, I mean these men were preaching to the people after the exile. Some prophets — for instance Isaiah and Hosea — conducted their ministry before the exile. Some prophets — for instance Ezekiel and Daniel — conducted their ministry during the exile. And Haggai and Zechariah and Malachi conducted their ministry after the exile.
We don’t know exactly when Malachi was at work, because his book doesn’t contain any dates. However, since he refers later in chapter 1 to the altar and to animal sacrifices and to the temple doors, then we take it that he was at work some time after the new temple had been rebuilt. And we don’t know anything about Malachi himself. He doesn’t give us any personal details and he doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. In fact, his name means ‘My Messenger’ and some scholars argue that Malachi is not his name, but a pseudonym or made-up name. However, I take it that it is his real name.
Since he mentions Israel and Jacob and Esau and Edom in the first five verses, it might be helpful to remind you of the history of Israel. Back in Genesis 12, God called Abram and promised to make him into a great nation. Abram’s name was later changed to Abraham and he and his wife, Sarah, had a son, Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Before the boys were born, the Lord revealed to Rebekah that two nations would come from her sons; and her older son will serve the younger son. That is, Jacob, the twin who was born second, will be greater than Esau, the twin who was born first. And so it was that the Lord chose Jacob over Esau; and Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. God would work out his plans for the world through Jacob, and not through Esau. And that means he would make his covenant with Jacob’s descendants, and not with Esau’s descendants. Jacob’s descendants will be his chosen people; and they will inherit the Promised Land; and they will enjoy the presence of God in their midst; and, ultimately, the Saviour of the world will come Jacob, and not from Esau. However, while Jacob became the father of the Israelites, Esau also became the father of a nation. He became the father of the Edomites.
In the days of Joseph, Jacob and his family went to live in Egypt. In the days of Moses, they escaped from Egypt and made their way through the wilderness. In the days of Joshua they entered the Promised Land and settled there. For a time the judges ruled over them. Then the people asked for a king and God gave them Saul and then David and then his son, Solomon. After Solomon’s death, the one kingdom of Israel was divided into two: there was the kingdom of Judah in the south and there was the kingdom of Israel in the north. Kings from different families ruled in the north, but the south was always ruled by a descendant of David so that, after one king died, his son succeeded him.
The people in the north and south were disobedient to the Lord. And so, just as he said he would, he punished them by letting the Assyrians invade the northern kingdom and they took the people away into exile; and by letting the Babylonians invade the southern kingdom and they took the people away into exile. But God did not abandon his people and after about 70 years in exile, he moved the heart of Cyrus, the king of Persia, who had taken over Babylon, to issue a decree to allow the people to return to the land of Judah and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed. We read about the rebuilding of the temple in the book of Ezra, while the book of Nehemiah tells us how they also rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The work was difficult and the people faced many obstacles. And though they were back in the Promised Land, they were still under the thumb of a foreign king. And so, the Lord sent Haggai and Zechariah to preach to the people so that they would be encouraged to trust in the Lord and to keep rebuilding the temple, because the Lord had great things in store for his people in the future. And some time after Haggai and Zechariah preached to the people, God also sent them Malachi. And in his opening message, he mentions Israel and Jacob and Esau and the Edomites.
In verse 1 Malachi refers to his book as an oracle. That means it’s a message or revelation from the Lord. The word oracle also means burden, which conveys the idea that the Lord has placed a burden on Malachi. He’s placed this burden in his heart and the only way to unburden himself of this burden is by proclaiming the message which he has been charged to give. But it also conveys the idea that the message should weigh heavily on the people. The Lord is confronting his people with something serious. He has to talk to them about their sins and shortcomings. And sure enough, the Lord brings six or so complaints before the people in the course of the book. In verse 2 of chapter 1, he accuses the people of doubting his love for them. In verse 6 of chapter 1 he asks the people ‘Where is the honour due to me?’ In verse 10 of chapter 2 they are charged with profaning God’s covenant in relation to marriage. In verse 17 of chapter 2 he says they have wearied the Lord with the things they have said. In verse 7 of chapter 3 the accusation is that they have turned away from his decrees. In verse 13 of chapter 3 the Lord complains that they have said harsh things about him. So, the Lord brings these complaints against his people. He’s having to talk to them about their shortcomings. And they need to take this message seriously. His words are not light, but they are heavy. They cannot ignore them, but must pay attention to them.
So, the whole book is an oracle, a message from the Lord which is like a burden on Malachi which he must proclaim and it’s a message which should weigh heavily on the people, pressing them for a response. It’s an oracle. And it’s the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. So, God has sent his prophet to address Israel, his covenant people, who were chosen by God and who had lived under his care ever since God first called Abram and promised to make him into a mighty nation. And God had kept his promise, because they had become a mighty nation; and he gave them the Promised Land to live in; and while other nations came and went, the people of Israel continued to exist, because God was watching over them. Even when he sent them into exile, he was gracious and merciful and be brought them back to the Promised Land. He kept all his promises to them.
Verses 2 and 3
And so, in his first message to them, he announced to his people, ‘I have loved you’. Now, people who don’t really know their Bibles will sometimes say the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament. Have you heard this? The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, whereas the God of the New Testament is a God of love. The God of the Old Testament is about striking down his enemies and he’s about an eye for an eye, but the God of the New Testament is about loving even your enemies and forgiving one another. However, those who say that kind of thing demonstrate that they don’t know their Bible, because there’s a lot of wrath in the New Testament and there’s a lot of love in the Old Testament. The Old Testament speaks to us of God’s unfailing love, his steadfast love. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him. As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear him. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is his faithfulness. The Old Testament is full of these expressions of love. And here in Malachi 1, he says to his people, ‘I have loved you.’
But look how they respond. This is still part of God’s message, so God is repeating what they have been saying. And what have they been saying? They’ve been saying, ‘How has you loved us?’ God says, ‘I have loved you’ and their response is, ‘Yeah right. What have you ever done for us?’ They are being cynical. They are being sceptical. You say you love us, but we don’t believe you. You say you love us, but that’s not the way it seems to us. You say you love us, but I don’t think so.
Why would they say such a thing? Think back to what we read in Ezra and Nehemiah and Haggai and Zechariah. When the people returned from exile, the temple and the city were in ruins. They were still under the thumb of a foreign king. The task to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city was hard and difficult and their enemies tried to stop them and the old men among them who remembered the old temple wept because they could see that the new temple could not compare with the glory of the old one. And when they were repairing the wall, the workers had to carry swords with them in case they were attacked by their enemies. And from Haggai were learned that their harvests hadn’t been good and though they planted a lot, they harvested a little. They eat, but don’t have enough. They drink, but never have their fill. They put on clothes, but they still feel cold. They earn wages, but their money seems to disappear as if there were a hole in their purse. And one of Zechariah’s visions was about mountains being removed. He was talking about the obstacles in their way. Yes, the Lord promised to remove them, but they were still there, making life difficult for them. You say you love us, but we don’t believe it, because our life is so hard and difficult. If you loved us, how come things are so bad?
Have you ever thought that? You come to church and you hear about God’s love which is from everlasting to everlasting. You hear about his mercies which are new every morning. You hear about his faithfulness, which is great. You hear about his love; and you think, ‘Yeah right.’ You doubt his love, because your life is hard and difficult and full of sorrow and trouble. And, with the people of Israel, you say, ‘How have you loved us?’
And God answered his people in Malachi’s day by reminding them of the time, all those years ago, when Isaac and Rebekah had two sons: Jacob and Esau. And God loved Jacob and he hated Esau. He means he set his love upon Jacob and chose Jacob and his descendants to be his people; and to make them into a great nation; and to give them the Promised Land as their very own; and to live among them; and never to leave them or forsake them. He promised to treat them as his treasured possession and to fill their lives with good things if they obeyed him and to discipline them when they disobeyed him. And he also gave them sacrifices to cleanse them from their guilt and shame. He said he would bless those who blessed them and he would curse those who cursed them. He will look after them and will treat Jacob and his descendants as if they were his own son so that e will care for them always.
So, he loved Jacob and not Esau. Now, his choice of Jacob over Esau was not because Jacob was better than his brother or more deserving. That’s obvious because we only have to think of the time Jacob deceived his father by dressing up as his brother so that his father would bless him instead of Esau. He was not any better than his brother. He was not — in any way — more deserving. And yet, God graciously and freely chose him and his descendants and promised to fill their lives with good things.
The Apostle Paul writes about these two brothers in Romans 9. Why did God choose one and not the other? Paul writes that before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose in election might stand; not by works, but by him who calls — Rebekah was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ So, when the boys were still in their mother’s womb, and before they had done anything at all, whether good or bad, God revealed that he had chosen Jacob and not Esau. And so, he revealed that his choice of Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with Jacob being better or Esau being worse. His choice of Jacob was gracious and free. Jacob did not deserve it. Jacob had not earned it. But God freely and graciously chose him and his descendants after him. And having chosen Jacob and his descendants, he had filled their lives with good things. When there was a famine in the land, didn’t he send Joseph to Egypt to get everything ready for them so that they would have enough to eat? And when the Pharaoh turned against them, didn’t the Lord send Moses to deliver them from their captivity? When the Egyptians were chasing after them, didn’t he provide a way of escape for them through the Red Sea? And when they were in the wilderness, didn’t God provide for them, giving them bread from heaven and water from a rock? And when they came to the Promised Land, didn’t he help them defeat the Canaanites and take over the land? When their enemies attacked them, didn’t he send them judges to save them? When they wanted a king, didn’t he give them Saul and David and Solomon and a succession of other kings? Didn’t he cause the rain to fall and their crops to grow so that they had all they needed in the Promised Land, which was a land like the Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey? And when they sinned, didn’t he give them sacrifices to take away their sins? And didn’t he give them priests to pray for them and prophets to teach them? He did all of these things for them, because he had chosen them. And remember: they did not do anything to deserve any of this, because he chose them freely and graciously. And even though he had sent them away into exile, because of their persistent sin and rebellion, hadn’t he brought them back to the land, just as he said he would? How had he loved them? He loved them by choosing them and by doing all of these things for his chosen people.
Meanwhile, what about Esau and his descendants? The Lord reveals to his people that he hated Esau. Now, when we were studying God’s attributes on Wednesday evening, I saw that God is impassible, which means God is without passions and he cannot undergo changes of emotion the way we do. His mood is not affected by what we do and he does not experience emotions the way we do. And so, when we’re told here that he hated Esau, it means that he was against Esau and his descendants. Whereas he had set his love on Jacob and his descendants and would always take care of them, he would be against Esau and his descendants and he would curse them and not bless them. And so, as we read here, the Lord turned Esau’s mountains into a wasteland and he left Esau’s inheritance to the desert jackals. That is, he left their land to the jackals. It’s become a wilderness, a place where no-one lives. The Edomites had either been killed or taken way.
We don’t know too much about the history of the Edomites. We know there was a longstanding bitterness between the Edomites and Israelites. For instance, when the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they wanted to pass through the land of Edom. But the Edomites refused to let them through. And Amos 1 speaks of Edom pursuing the Israelites with a sword, stifling all compassion, because Edom’s anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked. And in Psalm 137 we read how the Edomites were glad when they heard about the destruction of Jerusalem. And the whole of the book of Obadiah is about God’s judgment on the Edomites because of their bitter hatred towards the Israelites. It seems they were a violent and angry people. And it’s believed that a Babylonian king eventually invaded Edom and it’s thought that many of the people were taken away into exile. And that could be what the Lord is referring to in verse 3. Because of God’s wrath against Edom, its mountains have been turned into a wasteland.
Verses 4 and 5
And then, in verse 4, the Lord says through Malachi that the Edomites may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’ So, they think they will rebuild what has been destroyed. They are confident in their own ability to overcome. But this is what the Lord says: They may rebuild, but I will demolish. And they will be called the Wicked Land and a people who are always under the wrath of God. So, God was determined to destroy them. And he was determined to destroy them because they were a Wicked Land. That is, the people were wicked. They were a wicked people and therefore God was determined to pour out his wrath on them and to destroy them for their sin and rebellion.
And Malachi foretells how the Israelites will see it and they will praise the Lord. And they’ll praise the Lord, because they’ll see his power in the way he is able to lift up one nation and tear down another nation. He’s mighty God. And they’ll praise him, because God had finally punished the Edomites for their bitter enmity towards Israel. And they’ll praise him too, because what happened to Edom could have happened to them too, if it were not for the Lord setting his love on Jacob all those years ago and choosing Jacob and his descendants to be his people. The people of Israel were sinners, just like the people of Edom. Like the rest of the nations, the Israelites were sinners, who sinned against the Lord continually in thought and word and deed. In the past, the Israelites had forgotten the Lord and had bowed down to other gods. Instead of walking in his ways, they went astray. When they sinned, they did not offer up the right sacrifices. Though they were his chosen people, they turned away from him and lived like those who do not believe. And the Lord saw it all and he was patient with them, giving them time to repent. When they did not repent, he sent them into exile. And he could have left them there, in exile. He could have turned their mountains into a wasteland. He could have left their land to the desert jackals. But because he loved them and had bound himself to them as their God, he brought them back from exile and settled them in the land once again. And he helped them overcome their enemies and he helped them rebuild the temple and city walls. Even though they were still sinners, who sinned against him continually, the Lord did not demolish what they rebuilt, but he was with them to help them. Though they deserved to be destroyed with the Edomites, God was gracious and merciful towards them and he did not treat them as their sins deserve and he did not repay them according to their iniquity. He pardoned them, because they were his people and he had promised to love them with a never-ending love.
Do you ever look at your life and say to yourself, ‘How has God loved me?’ He says he loves me, but I can’t see it. If God loved me, why is my life like this? Well, if you’re a believer, if you’re trusting in Christ for salvation, let me tell you how he has loved you. Before the creation of the world, he chose you in Christ Jesus to belong to him and to be with him forever. And when the time was right, he sent his Only Begotten Son into the world as one of us to pay for your sins with his life and to shed his blood for your forgiveness. He took the blame for all that you have ever done wrong. And the Saviour who died for you was raised for you; and from his throne in heaven he has sent you his Spirit to enable you receive the salvation he won for you on the cross. And his Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing to you what is to come, which is eternal life in God’s presence. And every day he watches over you and he provides you with every good thing you need to cope with this life’s trouble and trials. When you are in danger of going astray, he disciplines you to bring you back onto the right way. And when you confess your sins, he reassures you of his forgiveness and love. And one day, when you die, he will bring you into his presence where he will glorify you. And when Christ comes again, he’ll raise your body from the dead and you will live with him in body and soul for ever and for ever in the new and better world to come.
And when you’re there, standing with all of his people, drawn from every nation, you’ll praise him, because it will be clear to you that did not deserve any of this. You did not deserve any of this. What you deserved was to be sent away into hell and to suffer the wrath of God for a lifetime of sin and rebellion. But instead of receiving what you deserved, you received eternal life in the presence of God. And the only reason the Lord has treated you this way is because he loved you and chose you in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world to belong to him and to be with him for ever. ‘I have loved you’ he says. ‘How have you loved me?’ you might ask. Well, you’re a sinner like everyone else. But, nevertheless, he loved you and he chose you and he did everything necessary to bring you into his presence.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him….’ Praise be to him. Everyday his people should praise him and give thanks to him for setting his love upon us and for choosing us to belong to him. And whenever life is hard and difficult and you’re tempted to doubt God’s love for you, remember the ways that he has loved you. Didn’t he send his Son to die for you? Didn’t he send his Spirit into your life? Didn’t he give you forgiveness and the hope of eternal life? Hasn’t he done all of that and more besides? Count all the ways he has blessed you. And remember that the reason he has blessed you like this is because he chose you in Christ before the creation of the world to belong to him. And while you may not know why your loving Heavenly Father has sent this trouble into your life, nevertheless you do know that everything else he has done for you bears witness to the greatness of his love for you.