"How Have You Loved Us?" Malachi 1:1–5

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How Have You Loved Us?

Malachi writes at a time in which God has begun to fulfill his promises to Israel as many have returned from exile in Babylon and they have rebuilt the temple. Yet something seems amiss. God doesn’t appear to be doing all that he promised, and the people seem to be losing hope that he will ever do what he said. They begin to ask some hard questions. So Malachi connects the people of God to the story of Scripture so that they might respond faithfully to their God.

As we begin to listen in on this conversation, Yahweh declares, “I have loved you” (Malachi 1:2). But because of their current circumstances, Israel struggles to believe that Yahweh truly loves them. So they respond honestly and perhaps hopefully, “How have you loved us?” To answer this question here in Malachi 1:2–5, the prophet reaches back into the story of Israel’s origins (Genesis 25–36) and exile (Isaiah 34:5–15; Ezekiel 35; Joel 4:19–20; Obadiah) in order to remind them of God’s electing and enduring love.[1]

God’s Electing Love of Jacob

At first, it may be difficult to see how God’s loving Jacob and hating Esau answers Israel’s question, “How have you loved us?” But God is reminding them that he continues to be faithful to his covenant with Abraham. Particularly important for Malachi 1:2–5 is God’s promise to give Abraham land (Genesis 12:1). The promise of this land was passed on to Isaac (not Ishmael) and Jacob (not Esau). Choosing Jacob as the one through whom this promise would continue is the expression of God’s love. That God hates Esau simply means that God did not choose Esau as the one through whom God would continue his covenant promises. Indeed, although Jacob and Esau would have a tense relationship in the beginning of their story (wrestling in the womb, parents who loved one more than the other, stealing birthright and blessing), they would both go on to live rather blessed and full lives apart from one another and ultimately be reconciled to one another.

After Isaac sent Jacob away from the land of promise in order to find a wife, Jacob did not see Esau for a couple decades. In spite of Jacob’s (understandable) fear after not seeing Esau for more than twenty years, when they first see each other, “Esau ran to meet [Jacob] and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4). And Jacob says that seeing the face of Esau is like seeing the face of God (Genesis 33:10). When the brothers part ways following their meeting, Jacob makes his dwelling in the land God promised to him (Genesis 33:18), while Esau makes his dwelling in the hill country of Seir (Genesis 33:16 –20; 36:43 –37:1).

The people of Israel in Malachi’s time mirror the story of Jacob. God had given them the land long ago, they were sent away for a time in exile, and now they have returned to make their dwelling there. The land that God had promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the people of Israel was theirs. God had been and continued to be faithful to his promises, even ones he had made 1.5 millennia ago. God had chosen them as the special object of his love and that love had not waned. That they inhabited the land that God promised them demonstrated that fact. Although Jacob and Esau would end their story reconciled, the nations that came from them would not. God’s electing love of Jacob in the story of Jacob and Esau becomes God’s enduring love to Israel in the story of Israel and Edom.

God’s Enduring Love to Israel

If it seems odd that God’s love for Jacob and hatred toward Esau would somehow be a response to Israel’s question, “How have you loved us?” then even more perplexing is the next part of Yahweh’s answer. As demonstration of his love to Israel God has destroyed Edom, the land of Esau’s descendants.

So how does destroying Edom work as a demonstration of God’s love toward Israel?

When Rebekah becomes pregnant with the twins Jacob and Esau, God tells her that there are two nations in her womb that will be divided (Genesis 25:22–23). From Jacob would come the people of Israel, and the Edomites would descend from Esau. Throughout the two nations’ histories there were minor points of conflict, but one major transgression especially kindled God’s anger toward Edom.  

The Edomites allied themselves with the Babylonians in the sack of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Although one can find prophetic words of judgment against Edom littered throughout the prophetic literature, Ezekiel 35–36 resonates most with Malachi 1:3–5. Ezekiel prophesies concerning Edom, “I will make you a perpetual desolation, and your cities shall not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the LORD. ‘Because you said, ‘These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will take possession of them’—although the LORD was there—therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will deal with you according to the anger and envy that you showed because of your hatred against them. And I will make myself known among them, when I judge you. And you shall know that I am the LORD…. You shall be desolate Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then you will know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 35:9–12, 15).

Edom attempted to take the land that God promised to Jacob by joining forces with the Babylonians, helping them sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple, and remove Jacob’s descendants from the land. In God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham and his prophetic word against Edom because of their sin (Ezekiel 35), God demonstrates his justice in his judgment upon Edom. In his faithfulness to the covenant with Abraham and his prophetic word of return and restoration for Israel (Ezekiel 36), Israel now dwells in the land promised to them. God’s judgment on Edom and restoration of Israel demonstrate God’s enduring love for his people.  

 

 

[1] The language of electing and enduring love comes from Jonathan Gibson, Covenant Continuity and Fidelity: A Study of Inner-Biblical Allusion and Exegesis in Malachi (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 49.

Mark Catlin