Return to Your Loving Lord
Please read Malachi 1:1-5.
From a message by my friend Travis Peterson: “Henry Blackaby tells the story of a day when he and his family were at a friend’s home for a gathering. On that day, a small child fell into the swimming pool and was under water far too long. By the time the adults were able to pull the child out, his little face was blue and he wasn’t breathing. On person called 911 and another performed rescue breathing. After a few horrifying and tense minutes, the child coughed, spat up water, and began breathing normally. by the time paramedics arrived, the child was sitting up and things were fine.
“The next day, Blackaby was in his prayer closet thinking about the rescue of the child, thanking God that He was so good. Then Blackaby said that hit him like a shot. Would God not have been good or loving if the child had died? Blackaby had to return to his knees before the Lord and confess his sinfulness. He was measuring God’s goodness and God’s love based on circumstances. You see, God has already proved His love for us, and nothing that happens can change that fact.”
(Peterson, p. 4)
If someone you love told you, “I don’t feel like you love me anymore” what would be your reaction? What if they said their love for you depended on your performance, that they only loved you if you said and did what they wanted? That’s exactly what we’re saying to God when we are uncertain about His love, when experiences of adversity cause us to doubt God’s love.
Whether you feel loved or not, know that the Lord loves you.
CONTEXT (v. 1) - A message for God’s people, delivered by a guy whose name means “my messenger.” The word translated as “message” can also be translated as “burden.” This message exposed deep ingratitude and a lack of faith among God’s people, so it probably was burdensome for Malachi to have to speak these words.
1. God said, “I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOU.” (2)
God has clearly communicated His love for us. Take a moment to hear God say this to you. Let His declaration of love settle on your heart. This is not mere affection, but deep, covenant love.
How does that make you feel? Loved? Comforted? Is there gratitude in your heart toward God? You may be surprised at how God’s people reacted. The text says the people retorted, “REALLY? HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US? The word RETORT means they didn’t take God at His word; with an incredibly bad attitude, they required God to prove His love.
What we’re seeing here is human nature: they didn’t feel loved because things weren’t going well for them. So, they responded in a snarky way. This is effectively responding, “Oh yeah? What have you done for us lately?”
Experience tells us our feelings can get in the way of feeling loved (by God and/or others) in at least 3 ways. First, we don’t always feel loved when uncomfortable. If you need to have things easy and comfortable to feel loved, then you’re going to feel unloved pretty frequently. That feeling will strain your relationships with a disappointment that just shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Second, sometimes it’s hard for us to believe in love: experiences of disappointment can prejudice us against it. In our mind know we’re loved, but our heart isn’t so sure.
Third, we can feel badly about ourselves, that we are, for any number of reasons, unlovable. I suspect this happens more often than we care to admit. God forgives and forgets our sins, but we aren’t so gracious. We remember and we continue to apply unnecessary guilt to ourselves. Deciding you are unlovable stands in the way of being loved just as much as sin does.
Based on the word RETORT, I’d guess the people of Israel were in the first group. They were huffy because they’d been through so much adversity and decided it was evidence of God’s anger not His love. What a faithless response! The Israelites demanded God prove His love for them. In the NT, here is a proof of God’s love Paul offered his readers: BUT GOD SHOWED HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US BY SENDING CHRIST TO DIE FOR US WHILE WE WERE SINNERS. (RMS 5:8) That ought to be enough proof for any of us.
2. God’s treatment of Jacob and Esau as examples of His love and holiness. (2-5)
Both His love for Jacob and His rejection of Esau showed God’s love. (2-3) I know the example of Jacob and Esau are given to make this point because the text plainly says, “THIS IS HOW I SHOWED MY LOVE FOR YOU.” This may seem confusing. How could God’s choice among siblings prove His love for an entire nation?
The nation of Israel are the descendants of Jacob (aka “Israel”). The nation of Edom is the descendants of Esau. God said, “I showed you my love by choosing your daddy, not his brother.” (In Romans 9:10-16; Paul used this Scripture to explain the role of God’s choice in our salvation. This should be reassuring to us: our salvation is based on God’s choice, not on our performance.)
On the one hand, God said, “I LOVED YOUR ANCESTOR JACOB.” The twelve sons of Jacob formed the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Through Jacob, God kept His promise to Abraham and made him into a great nation.
Even though he was the “chosen one,” Jacob did not have an easy life. Some of his difficulties can be traced to his own decisions, others were pressed upon him. (Kind of like all of us, right?) Those experiences did not prove God did not love Jacob. Just the opposite - Jacob enduring and prospering in spite of the difficulties is evidence of God’s love for him.
God did not choose Jacob because he was a saintly character. He was a schemer and a scoundrel at points in his life. A cynical person might say that between Jacob and Esau, Jacob was the lesser of two evils. Choosing Jacob says a lot more about God’s grace than it does about Jacob’s qualifications.
On the other hand, Esau’s rejection by God was the reason for Edom’s suffering and loss. (3-4) To see the truth of this passage, we are required to see both sides of this equation. It’s tempting to focus on the positive things, but we lose true perspective when we ignore the things that seem negative to us. For example, God did not just choose Jacob; He also rejected Esau. He said, “I REJECTED HIS BROTHER, ESAU, AND DEVASTATED HIS HILL COUNTRY.”
The will of God was actively against Esau’s descendants just as much it was for Jacob’s descendants. God made His choice obvious in the outcome of Edom. Verse three says, “I TURNED ESAU’S INHERITANCE INTO A DESERT FOR JACKALS.” In verses four and five God warned Edom though they try to rebuild, He would simply DEMOLISH THEM AGAIN. He would frustrate them.
Feeling awe for God, being worshipful, will reinforce their assurance of His love. (5) With an accurate understanding of their history, God’s people were to understand that Edom’s DESTRUCTION was reason for them to praise God, saying, “TRULY, THE LORD’S GREATNESS REACHES FAR BEYOND ISRAEL’S BORDERS!”
To our ears that doesn’t sound like a great big declaration of confident faith. However, in their culture, the popular international belief might be called “henotheism.” Henotheism is the belief that all the gods worshipped in the ancient world were real, but they were more powerful within the borders of the nation that worshiped them.
For example, in 1 Kings 20, Ben-Hadad, king of Aram launched attacks against Israel. When these attacks failed, he foolishly thought the God of Israel was more powerful in the hills than in the plains. Then, of course, he was defeated on the plains. This was a short-sighted lack of faith, a fundamental misunderstanding of God. Yet, when we doubt him, we are no different. When one nation defeated another nation in war, that was taken as proof that the winner’s god(s) was more powerful than the loser’s god(s). If you know to look for it, you see this belief expressed fairly often in the OT. This may be a partial explanation of the reason why Israel should sound surprised that their God’s GREATNESS should reach beyond the borders of Israel.
Whether you feel loved or not, know that the Lord loves you.
In our human relationships we know that each person has preferences for ways in which they feel loved. These are called “love languages.” To a degree, if someone doesn’t speak or act according to our love languages, we are not going to feel loved, regardless of how authentic their love for us is. It can be like someone saying “I love you” in a language you don’t understand; you don’t get the message and you don’t feel loved.
Here in the beginning of the very last prophecy of OT history, God started off by reassuring His people He loved them. The problem was, they weren’t hearing His expression of love in a “love language” that appealed to them. They wanted military victories and material prosperity and God gave them history and context.
It was not God’s will to give Israel victory in battle or prosperity. Instead, He had already demonstrated His love for them and now reminded them of that historical context. They could know they were loved because they were Jacob’s kids. God had chosen Jacob and rejected Esau. Those two facts were all they needed to know to be assured that He loved them.
This is a vastly superior way when you think about it. If we require things to be easy in following God, we’re not really following Him at all. If our focus is on self, we will sooner or later question God’s love. Only by keeping our focus on Him will we be able to trust in His love for us.
Travis Peterson, Sermon: “Return to a Faithful God,” January 4, 2009.