Even when we question God’s love, we remain the object of His persistent love because he never changes.
Malachi 1:1-5: 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!”
How do you feel when your loved ones accuse you of not loving them? When we first moved from Manhattan to Metuchen, it broke our hearts when our four-year-old son accused us of not loving him. We tried really hard that summer to help him to acclimate, but he missed his friends at school and Taekwondo and his freedom to roam New York City on his scooter and play in Central Park so much that his circumstances and unmet expectations overshadowed our love, so he questioned it.
In Malachi 1:1-5, God’s children, the chosen people of Israel, broke God’s heart when they questioned His love for them. For the last seventy years, they had been in Babylonian captivity, and upon their return, they were expecting God to return the golden age of Israel, better than what they had under David and Solomon, essentially an era of Messianic reign as prophesized by Isaiah, Haggai, or Zechariah. However, their circumstances and unmet expectations overshadowed God’s love for them. As a result, they questioned God’s love.
Many of you carry some expectations with you. Some of you have been waiting for God to act for so long that you have begun to wonder whether God even cares. How could God say that He loves you and not act? As a result, you may be questioning God’s love.
The problem is, we equate God’s love with how much He does or does not do for us. Therefore, when our circumstances are good, when we have health, good jobs, and great relationships, then God is loving. But the moment things go sideways we question God’s love. God is not bound to our circumstances, moods, and situations. He is sovereign over everything. Our circumstances will always change, but He will remain unchanged. His love is His character. Since He cannot change, even when we question God’s love, we remain the object of His persistent love.
In this last book of the Old Testament, Malachi describes how God’s persistent love saturated the entire Old Testament and shows that the proof of that was God’s irrevocable, independent, and unilateral election of people of Israel.
God is determined to love His elected even when His love is overshadowed by our focus on our circumstances and unmet expectations. Why do we focus on our circumstances so much that at times we question God’s love and forget what He has done, is doing, and promises to do? In this passage, Malachi 1:1-5 gives three reasons why we do that.
Distrust in God’s Plans
We question God’s love and forget what he has done, is doing, and promises to do is because we do not trust God’s plans. Verse 1 says, “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” In Hebrew, Malachi literally means “my messenger.” God is talking through His messenger, Malachi, to His beloved Israel, who have returned from 70 years in exile. The word “oracle” is the Hebrew word massa, which means burden. It carries the idea of something heavy that must be lifted up. The burden here is the covenant relationship through God’s election, which much be lifted up by God and His people. His people, with their focus on their circumstances and unmet expectation, think that God has not come through. Sounds familiar?
Do we not do that at times? Notice the first half of verse 2, “I have loved you,” says the Lord.” It sounds odd, but in the Hebrew grammar structure, this means, I have loved you, I do love you, and I will love you. It shows God’s persistent love is unconditional, meaning it does not matter what Israel does or doesn’t do. Israel cannot make God love them less or more since it is out of pure grace. He loves His elected and has always been with them, even in captivity.
The Hebrew word for love here is ahab. In the Old Testament, it is the love between husband and wife, father and son, and the love for family members. God is telling them you are my family. He is pouring out His heart. But notice their response. The verse says, “But you say, “How have you loved us?” Why? Because deep down, they did not trust God’s plan completely. After all, it was God who sent the Prophet Jeremiah to pronounce the end of an era in which God was to undo all that He had done for Israel ever since He brought them out of Egypt. However, the judgment and destruction of Israel under the divine wrath of God came with a promise of rebuilding, restoring, and renewal after 70 years in captivity.
Listen to what God said in Jeremiah 29:10-11, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
My wife has always wanted to live by the water, and I told her we will someday. If she’s still waiting after 70 years, won’t she begin to question if it’s ever going to happen? Too bad Metuchen isn’t a beach town, or I would have made good on that promise 2 years ago!
In our text, after 70 years in captivity, now back in the promised land, the Israelites were still subjects of the Persian king. They were not happy. They wanted their own promised kingdom, greater than all other kingdoms. They did not want words, they wanted action. They wanted the Messiah. They wanted the proof of God’s love to restore their trust.
But the trouble is this: they were so focused on their circumstances and unmet expectations that when the Messiah did come, they hung Him on the cross. They were not interested in His words either. They wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman empire and establish His kingdom, aka their kingdom. When the very proof of God’s love that they questioned hung on the cross, they demanded more proof to believe. They wanted Him to come down.
When we do not get what we want, when we want, and how we want in our jobs, health, or relationships, we lose trust in God. We question His love. We say, how could he love me if he is unwilling to give me what I want, when I want, and how I want? What we need, then, is a reminder of God’s election and His faithfulness.
That is exactly what we see in the rest of verse 2 and the following: “’Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob.’” God reminds them of their history to show His unilateral decision to elect them as His chosen people to bless them and make them a blessing for the rest of the nations.
The illustration of God’s election is noteworthy because Genesis 25:21-22 tells us Rachael, the mother of Esau and Jacob, was barren. When Isaac, the son of Abraham, prayed for his wife Rachel, God gave them the twins Esau and Jacob. God chose Jacob even before he was born to be his. Just as God chose Abraham, He chose Isaac and not Ishmael, and He chose Jacob and not Esau. They were chosen before they were born, and so were we before the foundation of this world.
What we have here is the reminder of the Sinai covenant in Deuteronomy 7:7-9 in which God spoke to Israel through Moses, saying, “The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”
This applies to you, too, because in Christ, He chose you and not the other way around.
What is the application here?
God’s election has always been unilateral and independent of anything humans can ever do or offer. When we trust His plans for our life, His love becomes evident even in the worst situation. God’s timing is perfect, and He never hastens his plan to accommodate our expectations because He knows how it ends. Abraham died without seeing the fulfillment of the promises. So did Isaac and Jacob, but they trusted God’s plans. So, trust God’s plan for your life.
Distrust in God’s Purpose
The second reason why we focus on our circumstances so much that we question God’s love and forget what He has done, is doing, and promises to do is because we do not trust God’s purpose. Verse 3 says, “But Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” Here we see that the purpose behind God’s plan is His irrevocable unilateral independent election. God gives miracle twin boys to a barren woman: one is elected and loved, and the other is rejected and hated.
Sarah, my wife, told me that she has identical twin brothers in her fire academy (she is a volunteer firefighter), and since she cannot tell the difference, she addresses them together as a combined name.
When two people are exactly the same, how could you love one and hate the other? It is like going into an Apple store and looking at 2 iPhone 14s with the same color and specs and loving one and hating the other. Since God is love, He cannot hate. This verse has nothing to do with the human emotions of love and hate, but instead, God’s election of one man and his descendants and His rejection of another man and his descendants.
Yes, the ultimate purpose of the election of Jacob was to bring the Messiah through the line of Jacob, but this election was not solely for the purpose of producing the Messiah. God’s purpose was to create a nation of priests and prophets, distinct people who live for God and point others toward Him.
Let’s look at the application here: If God could crush His own elect and undo all that He had done to show the nations that He is their defender and protector to correct them, how much worse would He do to those who are not His elect? As Israel had to learn the hard way that they could not continue to take God’s grace and His election for granted; if we do not heed His warnings and repent, He may do the same to us. His purpose in our election is to make us His witness but when we do not do that and live an ungodly life, He will not spare the rod to correct us. God is as interested in our life on this side of eternity as He is in our eternal life.
Distrust in God’s Promises
The third and final reason why we focus on our circumstances so much that, at times, we question God’s love and forget what He has done, is doing, and promises to do is because we do not trust God’s Promises. Verses 4-5 say, “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!’”
Notice how God switches from two individuals, Esau and Jacob, to their descendants. Israel is the nation that came out of Jacob, and Edom is the nation that came out of Esau. God is showing how He has loved Israel. God’s plan was to create a nation for Himself, and His purpose was to set them apart from the rest of the nations to be His own possession, and His promise was to bless them and, through them, bless other nations.
This text is a reminder of God’s persistent love and election. Jesus and the apostles repeated this message, and we, the church of Christ, should proclaim it clearly and boldly because we are loved and elected to be His own people. Even when we don’t see the whole plan, we need to trust that it’s there.
Back in New York, on New Year’s Eve, if we stood on our street, 55th Street, we could see only a few people. If we walked down to 7th Ave, we would see a flood of people. But if we watched the ball dropping on TV, then we could see everything, the whole picture. The problem is that in any given circumstance, we see only what is in front of us, but if we step outside of our circumstances, we will notice there is more to it. If we trust God, who has a birds-eye view of eternity, then his plans, purposes, and promises will make perfect sense.
Trust God’s plan, purposes, and promises in all seasons, and you will never question His love for you.
When things are not going your way, and you begin to question God’s love: 1). Know that you are probably focusing on your circumstances and unmet expectations more than God’s love and what God has done, is doing, and promises to do. 2). Remember that God says in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 3). Know that God is determined to love you even when your focus on your circumstances and unmet expectations overshadows His love. 4). Know that His irrevocable, unilateral, independent, unchanging, persistent love will chase you down and fight for you.
Trust God’s persistent love in all circumstances, and you will not miss His blessing, for He has plans for you, a purpose for your life, and promises for you.