02 God’s Love Declared, Doubted and Defended

Malachi 1 v 1 – 5

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
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 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
4If 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.'”
5Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

Now last week we introduced the Book of Malachi and I hope that you can remember that and that you tuned in by live stream or you were here and you can remember what we had to say about the book of Malachi last week. Just to recap: We know very little about this next to last prophet of the Old Testament. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Old Testament as you know, and he (Malachi) ministered to the restored nation of Israel about 400 years before Christ. That’s when he lived and the sins described in this book are found in Nehemiah chapter 13:10-30 and here are the sins: The fact that Israel doubted God’s love, they despised God’s Name and they defiled God’s Covenant. All the sins that they committed fall into one of those three categories or more of them: Doubting God’s Love, despising God’s Name and defiling God’s Covenant. Those were the sins of the people of Israel in the time of Malachi and he speaks to that by the Holy Spirit. And the first message that Malachi preaches, he directs to the priests – to the priests in particular, and then he turns to the people collectively. Like people, like priest Malachi seems to say. And as he delivers God’s Word, the people respond to him by argument. You need to notice in the Book of Malachi how many times you see the word ‘how’ – in the King James version I think it’s ‘wherein’. “Wherein have You loved us?” – “How have you loved us?” – always doubting His Love, despising His Name and defiling His Covenant. Now it’s a dangerous thing when people argue with God and try to defend their sinful ways before Him. And as human beings, we have an intuitive tendency towards that – to want to argue with God, to justify, to blame-shift and to scapegoat. But it will not work for us. Malachi points out the terrible sins of the people and of the priests in this prophecy.
 Now, first of all, he starts out by indicting them that they doubted God’s love. That’s what we just read in the first five verses. We saw Malachi’s lament that they were doubting God’s love! And it’s actually not Malachi speaking to them. It’s the Lord Himself speaking to them by the mouth of Malachi – you need to notice that. This is not Malachi speaking to the people – it’s God Himself by mouth of His prophet in the power of the Holy Spirit. He’s speaking to them and He says “I have loved you” says the Lord.
 Now, we need to know something about love if we want to understand properly what exactly in God is being questioned here. It’s the Lord who teaches us what love is. And we live in a world that talks about love all the time, have you noticed that? Everybody is a bleeding heart! It’s other people who don’t love – we love and love! And you cannot turn on the radio and all people can sing about is love – most of the time a kind of promiscuous love too. But if I want to know what love is we need to know what God says it is. And then we need to know that how God says love is, that’s the way in which He loved Israel. And then we need to know that He loved Israel like that through very adverse circumstances in good times, in bad times. Israel went through good times, Israel went through bad times and God maintains that He’s loved them through it all, and they’re doubting it. Now I know that’s difficult for us when we find ourselves in times of affliction and in times of adversity that we tend to want to also say ‘how have You loved me Lord? Is this love?’ We become like the people of Israel. It’s difficult to understand that even in times of adversity – in times of affliction God loves with the kind of love that He describes this true love in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s God’s agape love and his Covenant Love – it’s all wrapped in one. I’m not one for making too clear a distinction between all these loves. You know: Philia love, Agape love and Eros love. I think it’s just so much talk. I think all of those are expressions of true love. What does it look like? And you know what I said to you sometime back when we looked at 1 Corinthians 13 and we saw three things about love. How many people can remember what that is? Love is the first thing, love is the finest thing, love is the final thing. This thing that God says He gave to Israel is the first thing – there’s nothing without it. It’s the finest thing – there’s nothing quite like it. It’s the final thing – it will last forever.
 What does it look like? It serves us well to read it. God maintains that this is how He acted towards Israel throughout all their seasons – good and bad. He says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and I understand all mysteries and all knowledge and I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and deliver my body up to be burned but I have not love, I gain nothing.” Now up to that point what the Lord has said is love is the first thing. If you don’t have love you’re a noisy nobody with nothing. That’s what loveless people are. They are noisy nobody’s with nothing – unlike God who is a tender Somebody with everything because He is love. He doesn’t just love – He doesn’t just give love – He doesn’t just show love – He doesn’t just express love – He is it! It’s the only thing of which the Word says God is it – love! So God is the merciful glorious God of heaven with everything, because He is love. And it’s from that that everything that God does and refrains from doing – it’s from that that it flows – it’s from His love. And He maintains “Israel, you’ve experienced Me like that.” That’s what He claims.
 Now what is love like? It’s the finest thing. There’s nothing better than that. Look at it. Love is patient, it’s kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it’s not arrogant, it’s not rude, it does not insist on its own way (that’s among human beings – God is the only one who can insist on His own way), it’s not irritable or resentful – ugly little thing resentment isn’t it? Destructive human characteristics, Jordan Peterson even will tell you this, is resentment and arrogance. There are no two more destructive human attitudes and characteristics on this planet than resentment and arrogance. If you want to destroy yourself, get resentful, get arrogant. Love is not resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing – it rejoices with the truth. Now listen to this in verse 7: “It bears all things – not just the one whom you love’s strengths and good points. You don’t just bear that – you bear all things. The things that drive you up the wall are things that are part of all things. You bear that if you love. It bears all things. It believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. There’s a naivety to love in that it believes all things. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that you are gullible. It means that you always put the best possible construction on every set of circumstances until it clearly proves otherwise. That’s what it means. That makes it the finest thing. And God says “Israel, I’ve given you this first thing, I’ve given you this finest thing Israel. Yes, I know you’ve gone through terrible times. You’ve gone through good times too. But Israel, throughout it all I have given you this finest thing!” And it’s the final thing too in verse 8: “it never ends. Prophecies will pass away – tongues, they will cease – knowledge, it will pass away. We know in part and we prophesy in part but when the perfect comes the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like one I thought like one I reasoned like one, but when I grew up and became a man I gave up childish ways.” I dare say that’s not true of everyone is it! “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I see in part – then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. So now faith, hope and love abide: these three, but the greatest of these is love.
 So it’s the final thing – it’s the only thing that you have that will never end. And He says to Israel: “I’ve loved you with that love and I will never give up on it.” Now that’s God’s claim – He says to Israel who’s just come out of the Syrian captivity. He says to them “I’ve loved you like that.” Some of them lost generations of family on the other side – they lost everything they had – they saw the temple destroyed – they saw the whole land pillaged by the Assyrians! And they must have wondered ‘where was God when that happened? Where was He?’ But God says through all of that, Israel, I have loved you! As human beings we find that hard to believe and we’re faced here with a text that tells us that we think wrong about these things, because God’s love for God’s people have some really terrible effects on those who make themselves God’s people’s enemies and God’s enemies before they even make themselves God’s people’s enemies, they make themselves God’s enemies and then terrible things happen. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, as the Edomites know. And that’s the illustration that Malachi is pressed upon to hold up to the Israelites.
 When you read this passage, you would think God – the God of love of 1 Corinthians 13? When somebody says how have You loved us? He would say: “look our patient I was. Look how I bore all things. Look how kind I was. I was never resentful. I never insisted on My own way. Do you remember that time?” God does not use that as an apologetic to convince Israel of His love. In a most stark way, He uses what happened to those whom He did not love. In fact, Malachi says whom He hated and whom He’ll hate forever! And that’s what we see in the text – that’s what we need to consider together this evening. God’s love declared, God’s love doubted and God’s love defended is what we see in this text – and almost like this morning each one of those main points has two sub points except for the last one which has three sub points for good reason.

  1. God’s Love Declared
    He says: “I have loved” – that’s just His love declared. “I have loved you” says the Lord. We see two things there: the Lover and the Beloved. Ramon Leu in the 13th century – that’s before the Reformation by the way – there weren’t Protestants around then – he was a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi and he wrote a beautiful work entitled The Lover and the Beloved and he said wonderful things in it. We lack the time for me to hold some of that up to you, but one of the things he did say is that a true lover’s love is fueled by two fires – is enhanced by two fires – it’s awakened by two fires: The fire of thought and feeling and emotion and the fire of tears and grief and fear. Love is also warmed by the fire of adversity. We know that even as humans when we see somebody we love suffering. It’s in love that your love is kindled. It’s by that adversity – the grief, the tears, the fear that your love is kindled. Dawid knows as well right now as his dear sister suffers – the grief, the tears the fear kindles the love! And that’s the way God loves and He says to Israel: “I have loved you this way.” And of the Lord’s love declared, we see that the lover is the Lord – it’s the “I”. “I have loved” – the One who is the I AM, has loved. I have loved, I’m the lover says the Lord. And then the Beloved: “you” says the Lord. He’s the lover, they the Beloved. He’s the lover, we are the Beloved. We love the Lord because He’s loved us first and He says to Israel: “It’s always been that way.” And that’s his love declared. In other words, He’s claiming to them what He would later on say in 1 Corinthians 13. He’s made that manifest in His relationship to them throughout the centuries. But as I said, they went through some pretty bad times. That captivity was not fun and games, and so they stand up and we see next:

  2. God’s Love Doubted
    Because they don’t understand that the Lord’s love is also warmed by the fire of adversity and grief and tears. And most often we are the cause of them anyway – or some human is the cause of it. The Lord’s love doubted. “I have loved you” He says to His people. “O, really? How have You loved us? Prove it, tell us!” I want you to know that doubting God’s love is the very beginning of unbelief and disobedience! We saw our Eve doubted God’s love and ate of the forbidden tree because she thought that God was holding out on her. Satan wants us to feel neglected by God. Get this in your spiritual warfare. Let me tell you a little secret – it’s not so secret – it’s an open secret: The devil wants you to feel neglected and abandoned by God. He works at it every day and you mustn’t let him. “Look at your difficult circumstances” he said to the Israelite remnant that returned. “Where are your crops? Look at your fields – where are your crops? Why doesn’t God take care of you? Why didn’t He protect you against the Assyrians?” – forgetting that God sent the Assyrians and He had good reason to do that. God proves His love two people in two ways. And we’re going to see that, because now we see not only God’s love declared but we see God’s love doubted as we’ve just seen how they doubted God’s love: “How have You loved us?” they say to Him.
     And then we see what they do is a very human thing to do. It really is – you and I do it every day. We are so good at doing this. They doubted God’s love in the most horrible way, did these Israelites. Look what they say to Him. “How have you loved us? Prove it to us!” Now we see the first point God makes is He says to them: “My love is elective (or it’s exclusive).”
    a. God’s Love is Elective
    He does not love everyone in the same way! And He begins to point out to them that He graciously chose Jacob. That’s where their love started. And He rejected Esau. He says “Esau have I hated”, who in many ways was a much better man than Jacob was. God’s love is elective. That’s the first point He makes. And people struggle with that. They want God to love everyone. Everyone must be loved. Do you know that if God loved nobody among us, He would still be just? In order to try to refute that statement, you would have to prove to me that in some way somehow there’s somebody somewhere who deserves to be loved by God. Can you think of anyone? Do you deserve to be loved by God? You know your heart, you know your mind. I don’t deserve to be loved by God. There are days that I weep before Him and I want to know from Him one thing: “Why do you love me? Don’t You see me the way I am? You’ve seen my thoughts, Lord! You’ve seen my emotions. You’ve seen the motives of my heart. You’ve see my actions. Why do you love me?” It should not be to us an extraordinary thing that there are those of whom God says He hates. It shouldn’t surprise us. What should be surprising to us is that there is any one He loves among us. It’s a wonderful thing! So His love is elective. That’s His first point. He loves His people in two ways. He says He graciously chose Jacob their father and He rejected Esau. And as I said, he was in many ways a better man than Jacob. And in a second way: He judges the Edomites – Esau’s descendants and He gave Israel the best of the lands. He promised Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, but their sins polluted the land. Even then He graciously restored them to their land and delivered them from captivity, helped them rebuild the temple and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And his point is: “Israel, here’s how I loved you – I chose Jacob your father and that had effects in his life – that changed his life and the life of his children from there on and you are his children. The fact that you’re not exterminated before Me is because I loved Jacob. I didn’t have to, but I loved Jacob.” And He puts it in graphic terms: Compared to His love what He felt for Esau was hatred in human terms. I’m convinced that what God felt is not the kind of hatred that we feel. We know how hatred feels to us. Hatred with a human being is an unholy and an impure and a sinful thing. Amen!? Not so with God – you know that’s true. You know that God’s hatred does not lie on the same level – does not have the same make-up as human hatred. – it doesn’t! And our minds can’t comprehend this. We don’t understand. God will have to show us one day. All we know is when God loves one and not the other it has effects on both – for the one that has wonderful effects – for the other one it has terrible effects. And the first point that Malachi makes is God’s love is elective.  It’s God’s elected love that he is speaking about here. But secondly:
    b. God’s Love is Enduring
    We see that in the text. Notice how His love is enduring: He goes through history and He shows them how that elective love has endured throughout history. It never ended! Do you see that? He tells them: “this is what has happened in your history. I laid waste his hill country. Do you remember that in Israel? I laid waste his hill country. Another thing that you remember – I left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” What did the Lord do for Jacob while he did that for Esau? He blessed their hill country. While He left Esau’s heritage to jackals, He protected Israel’s heritage against jackals. And He says: “this is how it will endure – not only has it endured throughout history Israel, and you know that, but it will endure throughout history, and here’s how:” He says: “They can stand up and say we are shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” The Lord says: “My love will endure – they can build, but I’ll tear it down, and they will be called the wicked country and the people with whom the Lord is angry forever. His love is enduring! And the Holy Spirit is deliberately using these contrasts because Israel’s basis on which they’re questioning God’s love is the following: They are selecting all the negative things from their history, forgetting all the good things and forgetting the reasons for the bad things. Isn’t that what we do if we want to see if somebody loved us we don’t go and say – sometimes we do – we say “well, let’s see the good things you’ve done for me”, but if you’ve had a bad experience with that person and you don’t feel loved you’re not going to bring up the good things – you’re going to leave them there and you’re going to bring up all the bad things and you’re going to forget the reason why the person treated you that badly. You’re going to say to yourself ‘it’s just because they’re bad – it’s not because I was bad and this is exactly what Israel’s doing! It’s saying to God: “Here’s how we know you didn’t love us!” Then they forget all the good things God did for them. He chose them; protected them. They remember only the bad things and they blame God for it. They forget the reasons why those bad things happened to them. And they use that as proof that God doesn’t love them. But God says: My love has endured. My love is elective. My love is enduring.

  3. God’s Love Defended
    We see that God’s love will be established. God says not only is His love elective, not only is it enduring, but it will be established.
    Listen to what he says your own eyes shall see this and you shall say: “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel. Great is the Lord!” He says “Israel, My love will be established. There will come that great day when you’ll look back and you’ll say: “Great is the Lord, beyond the border of Israel! The things You’ve done to Edom was all to protect us, and the only reason You’re protecting us is because of Your elective love which You didn’t have to do.” Now, this text that we read here in Malachi is quoted by the Apostle Paul of course in Romans chapter 9:13-16. And Paul tells us: “as it is written Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What shall we say then? Is there Injustice on God’s part?” You see how Paul’s already picking up on what people have been saying? “Oh, You chose Jacob, You didn’t choose Esau. There’s Injustice on Your part!” Isn’t that the way we think? God knows that, and this is how He answers it. “Is there injustice on God’s part? For He says to Moses…” Listen to what God says. “…I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” You know what we say in Afrikaans to that? ‘Finish en klaar!’ Later on Paul says: “Who are you to talk back to God?” Who are we to talk back to God? Do you know what you need a think of yourself in order to talk back to God? Do you know the level of narcissism that is required to talk back to God – do you know?” But that’s Paul’s response to this.

So God proves His love. God’s love is declared. “I have loved you. I’m the Lover, you’re the beloved. God’s love is doubted, and we see the doubt identified by them saying but and the doubt indicted by the Lord, it was expressed. It was explicit the Lord says and then lastly the Lord’s love defended. His love, the Lord says is elective. His love is enduring and his love will be established. We know where He established that love and proved it in a most vivid way – John 3:16. How did You love us? When I read this again this afternoon, I thought it would have been so nice if the Apostle John could have been there. He would have said: “You’re asking how did love us? Wherein did You love us?” John would have said: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes shall not perish but have life eternal.” That’s how I loved you, Jacob. That’s how He loves you. That’s how He loves your family. That’s how He loves those people out there who are confused and locked down – lying on a hospital sick beds – begging on the streets – whosoever believes shall not perish, but have eternal life.
 That love of God says to us “Come to Me, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  And you need to tell your families and your friends who haven’t come yet. You need a tell them: “Do you know that God says to you, are you weak? Are you heavy laden? You all work with people and sometimes you’re standing at the photocopy machine at your place of work, if you have one, and somebody comes up and mutters about the boss and they’re very weak and heavy laden. That’s a teaching moment to say: “Come to Me all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest” so that they can hear about the love of God. We’re going to journey through this book of Malachi and we’re going to see that because they doubted His love, they despised His Name and they defiled His Covenant. And this is why the lesson that we need to take away this evening is: Once you doubt God’s love it’s the beginning of unbelief and disobedience. That’s where it begins – it begins with doubting His love and you and I need to not doubt His love, because His love He will defend. So we’ve seen His love declared, His love doubted and His love defended. His love lasts forever.