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How have you loved us?

Sermon passage: (Malachi 1:1-5) Spoken on: May 17, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Malachi

Tags: Malachi, 玛拉基书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and languages in various seminaries in Singapore.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Malachi 1:1-5


A. Brief Introduction to the Book & the Prophet

1. The name “Malachi”

“Malachi” means “My Messenger.” The name could be a name of a person or a title. If it is a name, then it means that the prophet’s name was “Malachi”. If it is a title, then it means the prophet was known as “God’s messenger” and his name was unknown. For to avoid inconclusive debate, we shall refer to this prophet as “Malachi.”
2. Malachi’s message is an oracle (Hebrew: maśśa’)

The word “massa” means “a burden”. Thus when we say “Malachi’s message is an oracle” we mean that “Malachi is preaching a message that was heavy upon God’s heart. Malachi’s words express God’s heartache and pain towards Israel.

B. Text (NIV)

1 An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” 4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

C. Central Idea

God is re-assuring Israel of His faithfulness. He reminds them of His choice of Jacob (Israel’s ancestor) over Esau (Edom’s ancestor) to inherit the covenant promise. God’ faithfulness is demonstrated in history when after both Israel and Edom fell - the Edom remains in ruins but Israel is restored.

1. Sermon Overview

In order to understanding the message of the text, we shall answer three key questions:
The three questions to ponder are:
Q1. Why is God telling Israel “I love you”?
Q2. Is God unfair to say “Jacob, I loved; Esau I hated”?
Those who read the Chinese Bible translations will not see the contrasting words “love” and “hate” because the translators had already interpreted the Hebrew expression for the readers. Only the classic English Bible versions retain the literal word-for-word translation.

Q3. What does God’s covenant-love mean for us today?

The first key question that we want to think about is:

“I have loved you,” says the LORD
As we read the OT prophetic books it is essential to gain an overview of the prophetic books. We want to know what time-frame in Israel’s history, a particular prophetic book fit in.
A. An Overview of OT Prophetic Books
Generally, we can classify all the OT prophetic books under three time-periods.
1. Three time-periods are: Pre-Exile; Exile; Post-Exile

2. Under the Post-Exilic period (we have 3 Prophetic books); Exile (we have 2 Prophetic books);and the Pre-Exile (1 dozen Prophetic books)
3. The Post-Exilic prophetic books are : Malachi, Haggai & Zechariah ; The Exilic prophetic books are : Ezekiel & Daniel ; and Pre-Exilic prophetic books are : Jonah & Nahum are directed against Ninevah ; Obadiah is directed against Edom; Israel (Amos & Hosea are directed towardst Israel; and H.I.J.J.L.M.Z. are towards against Judah. H.I.J.J.L.M.Z. are Habakkuk , Isaiah, Joel, Jeremiah, Lamentation, Micah & Zephaniah.

From the three time-periods above, we know that Malachi fit into the Post-Exilic period, and the prophetic message was meant for Jews who returned from the Exile in Babylon.

Next, we need understand the life-situation of the people during Malachi’s time.

B. Social and Religious Situation of the People (about 100 years later after the first return in 536 BC)

During their time of captivity, the people lived with the hope that the Covenant-God will bring them back to their land and restore the nation. Here is one of many promises given by their prophets:

8 "'But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. 9 I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, 10 and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. 11 I will increase the number of men and animals upon you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper (Ezekiel 36:8-11).

In the year 538 BC King Cyrus II of Persia issued a decree to allow all Babylonian captives to return to their respective homelands. The first group of Jews, led by Zerubabbel, returned to Israel in 536 BC. Many of were told stories like “your grandfather was only 12 year-old old when he was taken into Babylon, and he was 82 years when he returned to Israel.” But their grandfather had died so long ago and the grandchildren were now great grandfather themselves.

Over a hundred years had passed since the first return. The year now is 430 BC.

1. Israel was still a small and weak state.

a. There was No nation

Israel used to be a superpower nation during king Solomon’s reign, but now it is just a small Persian province. Where is the restoration that God had promised?

b. There was No king

Israel used to have kings, like David, Hezekiah & Josiah whom the people can boast about, but now they do not any king. Yes, there was a descendent of King David who returned with them, but he was not allowed to be a king. He was a only a governor, at most. After Zerubbabel they had other governors. Nehemiah was their last good governor but he had returned to the Persian capital to serve the king for an indefinite time. The new governor that they now had was not as caring as Nehemiah. So, where was the restoration that God had promised?

c. There was No divine glory

King Solomon once built a magnificent temple in Israel. That temple was once filled with the glory of God. The Lord was present in the temple

4 The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. 5 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple (Ezekiel 36:8-12).

The second temple that they had rebuilt in 516 BC was not as great as Solomon’s temple. God did promise that his glory would return to the temple but until now the majestic glory of the LORD still had not returned to the temple.

2. The God did not seem to be blessing Israel.

a. God’s words seem to be empty promises.

God once spoke through the prophet Joel about the restoration …

“I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully” (Joel 2:19).

What wine? What oil? What food? We have many poor people in Israel.

Then God also spoke through the prophet Zephaniah …

“I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes” (Zephaniah 3:20)

What honor? What praise? What fortune? Israel is a small state; we are nobody?

God again spoke through the prophet Zechariah about the restoration …

“The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew” (Zechariah 8:12)

Many people who listened to the prophetic words just laughed. The promises sounded like jokes.

The people seriously doubted God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise; they critically questioned God’s covenant-love; and overtime they lost much faith in God.

Israel Worship degenerated into meaningless form and routines. The people, even the priests, lapsed into sins.

Thus in that kind of situation Israel questioned God, “Do you really love us?”

In Malachi 1:2 God tells the people “I love you!” The verb in the Hebrew grammar called the Qal Perfect tense actually means “I have loved you and I still love you.” The covenant-God was re-affirming His love for His people, “I love you then, and I still love you now.” I love you despite who you are. Although you have been faithless, forgetful, ungrateful, always full of excuses …I still love you.

We have answered the first question, “Why is God telling Israel ‘I love you’?” Now, let us think about the second key question.

“Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated…”

To avoid unnecessary misunderstanding, we must understand the use of the terms “love” and “hate” to the Hebrew people.

A. Relative Concept Expressed by “Love” & “Hate” Terms

The Hebrew verb “Hate” when used the “Love” in view expresses relative concepts, not absolute.

To “hate” means to love less by means of comparison

1. Use of “Love-Hate” in Genesis 29:30-31

30 …he (Jacob) loved Rachel more than Leah …

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

“Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah” is expressed as “Jacob loved Rachel but hated Leah (Genesis 29:30, 31).

2. Jesus called his followers to “hate” their family before becoming His disciples (Luke 14:26).

26 "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.

To love Jesus with a far-surpassing love than anyone we love is expressed in an opposite and negative manner “to hate”.

The call to “hate” our family members is actually “to love them less,” not literally hating any one of them.

I would like us to be very clear about the positive reason why God favours Jacob over Esau

B. God’s Favour of Jacob over Esau was to Fulfil His Salvation Plan.

1. God’s way of showing special favours is different from ours.

When an earthly father shows favouritism to one of his children, he may keep on heaping good things to that child until the all the other children cry out “Daddy is so unfair!”

2. God’s way of showing special favours often involved sufferings.

a. God’s favour towards Mary (Luke 1:28-38)

An angel told Mary “You are highly favoured! The Lord is with you …” (v. 28)

Mary had to suffer in order to do God’s will.

b. God’s favour towards Jesus (Luke 3:21f)

At Jesus’ baptism, God declared from heaven “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Hebrews 5:8 tells us, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Jesus had to suffer in order to do God’s will
3. God’s favour towards Jacob is a call to do His will, and it involved much suffering.

C. God’s Covenant-Love was Demonstrated through Israel’s Restoration

The LORD’s covenant-love for Israel was demonstrated through the restoration of Israel after its fall.

1. The nation of Edom fell but was never restored

Edom’s great efforts to rebuild its ruins after the Babylonian conquest were frustrated by God, who was also the Lord of all nations.

In the 5th century BC, an Arab tribe called the Nabateans forced the Edomites out of their country and occupied the country of Edom (located south and east of Judea). The Edomites re-settled themselves in the western desert area. That region was known later as Idumea. Then in the 4th century BC, the Nabateans took over Idumea as well. The Nabateans gradually invaded the entire territory of the Edomites. The Edomites lost their national identity, as well as their nation. Today, “Petra” the ancient capital city of the Edomites became just a spot of tourist attraction as one of the 7 ancient Wonders of the World.

Two pictures of Petra in this section

2. The nation of Israel fell but was restored

Two pictures of Israel in this section

God had repeatedly promised to restore Israel but he condemned Edom to complete destruction, never to be restored (Jer. 49:7-22; Ezek. 35). He restored Israel because of His covenant-love (Deut. 4:29-31; 30:1-10). God has been faithful to His covenant in Israel’s history.

The prophetic message of Malachi starts with the LORD assuring his people of his covenant-love. God’s faithful covenant-love was demonstrated through the His election of Israel. His faithfulness was evident by His restoration of the people to their land. Israel must not take their restoration for granted. Many other nations, like Edom, had tried very hard to rebuild their nations after their falls but without success.

Now, let us think of what the message in Malachi 1:1-5 mean for us in our Christian living.

Implications of God’s Covenant-Love for Us.

Just as Israel was a covenant-people; we, Christians are also a covenant-people. We are people of the new Covenant in Christ. Our relationship with Jesus Christ incorporates us into the community of God’s people. Jesus’ death inaugurated the new Covenant; we became people of the new Covenant in Christ through our belief in and commitment to Christ. As Christians, we are God’s covenant-children.

However, many times in our lives …

A. We may often wonder “God, how have you loved me?”

Do you really love me? I don’t think so!

We doubt God’s love for us…

1. When we compare ourselves with others

We often compare what we have with those who have more than us. It is puzzling why people normally do not compare what they have with those who have less than them. The key to having a happy and fulfilled life is not by getting more, but by being able to be content with what you have now. Someone says “If we cannot be content with what we have; we cannot never be content with what we will have.” Contentment comes from God. We need to seek God to learn be content.

Second, we doubt God’s love …

2. When we become forgetful of God’s blessings

One lady who was married for four years but had no children says, “God is so unfair” “Other women can have children, I cannot.” Then she conceived, but sadly experienced a miscarriage. She cried out more miserably, “God it very unfair!” After sometimes, she became pregnant again, and this time she was able to deliver a beautiful baby girl. Over a year later, she became pregnant once more, and then gave birth to another baby girl. But after the birth of her second daughter, she cried out, “God is So Unfair!” “Other people can have a son, but I have only daughters… “

It is very difficult to be God …

We may doubt God’s love for us when we are forgetful about God’s past blessings in our lives. Israel in Malachi’s time was forgetful about God’s blessings in her life. They only look at the negative things but forget about the many positive things that God had done for them. We must not forget even the small, small things that God had done for us.

Next, we may doubt God’s love for us …

3. When we are experiencing pains that we do not understand.

I have two friends who are a married couple; they used to have three healthy and very precocious children. Then their eldest child’s growth became retarded, the 6-year-old girl’s mentality and health degenerates gradually. They were told that their daughter has a rare disease called Niemann Pick. Children like her who contracted the disease at 6 would usually die before they reach 12 year-old. Sadly, their second child was also found to have Niemann Pick. His health degenerated much faster than the first child, and he died over three years ago. After that, they also discovered that his third child also have Niemann Pick disorder. The couple later learned that their children’s disease is congenial. It came from defective genes from both the parents. They started their parenthood with three healthy children, but right now, their children became deformed and are dying slowly one by one. Both my friends are God-loving Christians. People around them cannot understand why they suffer. BUT they always tell others, “Although we cannot understand our sufferings, we are always sure of one thing - ‘God loves us very much.’” If God does not love us, He would not provide us the money to pay for the medical bills. They spent over $7,000 per month to cover the medical expenses for the two surviving, but dying children.

Some of you may be suffering. You do not understand why you are suffering. We may not know the “why’s,” only God knows. One day God shall explain the situation to you. Right now, just be assured that God loves you. He loves you no less than He loves others.

As God had assured Israel of His love for them, He is also assuring us of his love in Jesus Christ. When we think about God covenant’s love, let us remember that …

B. God’s covenant-love is not primarily evident by His blessings

Many Israelites defined their worship of the LORD by this concept:

When they obey the Torah, God will bless them;
When they disobey the Torah, God will punish them.

So, when we obey God, God is expected to bless us.
When they we this kind of attitude towards God and His Covenant,
The Bible can become a long lists of “do’s and don’ts” to us.

Christianity is not a “do’s and don’t” religion; Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus Christ, God is present with us. Thus, we must realize that …

C. God’s covenant-love is evident by His presence with us.

Israel failed to realized that the reason why they are blessed is because of the presence of God with them – God lived among them

The worship of the LORD is a relationship with God.

The Bible term this kind of worship as “Walking with God”

We see this reality in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and David. Those people experienced protection, deliverance and successes amidst their hardship and life-crisis because God’s presence was with them. They walked with God.

D. The Apostle Paul also teaches emphatically concerning God’s covenant love.

Paul wrote that …

1. God has given us His very best through Jesus Christ.

32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

2. Nothing can separate us for God’s covenant-love

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

2. We have the greatest of all blessings when the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is present with us.

One of our benediction traditions reminds us of God’s presence with us.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

This benediction reminds us of God’s presence with us. It is a prayer that we will experience the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit every moment of our lives. When we have God’s presence, we shall experience His grace, His love and His fellowship, that is the reality of God’s living in us and among us.

In closing, I would like to read the text again, but this time in a paraphrase that seeks to summarize the message.

Text (A Paraphrase)

A message that was heavy upon God’s heart:
“I loved you and I still love you, despite what you are,” says the Covenant-God.
But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”
“Review your history – Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says
“Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” The ways that I have treated you, Jacob, is a world of difference from Esau.
I have reduced Esau’s egoistic achievements to almost nothing, and turned his attractive city into a deserted town.
Edom (Esau) may say, “Though we have been crushed, we can easily rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what God, the Lord of the Celestial Armies says, “They may build, but I will keep tearing down.” Others will look at you and say, “Land of evil! “A people who are under God’s judgment.”
You shall witness all these with your own eyes and exclaim “Great is God’s faithfulness to His covenant”; “His greatness extends even beyond the borders of Israel.”

Malachi 1:1–5 (Listen)

1:1 The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

“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 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 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.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”