Confessions: God's Love
While in college, I had to take a class entitled “Dynamics of Family and Marriage.” Dr. Steven Hunter was my professor and did a fantastic job. One of the things we had to do while in that class was take Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” test. Gary identifies 5 modes by which we share and receive love. Some of those modes are more responsive than others. Those languages are—Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I don’t really remember what my preferred love language was, but I retook the test recently and so did my wife and discovered that my preferred love language is words of affirmation, Jamie’s is receiving gifts. One of the things that you discover regarding your love language is that tends to be the way you express love. So for me, since I love being loved with words of affirmation, I tend to love with words of affirmation, but Jamie while Jamie appreciates affirmative words, she recognizes love by received gifts, things that let her know that I am thinking of her. So while I would like her to understand how I show love and receive love, I also need to learn and appreciate how she receives love.
In the book of Malachi, God is addressing a post-exile community who is gradually collecting themselves. With all that happened following 586 B.C. at the hands of Babylon, Israel had many questions regarding their place and status with God. But He also had questions for them, and confessions need to be made. While Israel has there temple restored and cultic practices taking place, were they truly committed to their covenantal relationship with God? Were they prepared to love Him sacrificially and devote themselves wholly? In this book, there are seven questions that God addresses His audience with. Each of these questions are stated as objections to God’s assertions, and each one is followed by a response from God. God first asserts to Israel that He loves them, and that assertion is true for even us, but like Israel, we might ask...
How has God loved us?
Background to Malachi (V.1)
An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
The opening of Malachi sets the stage and tone for the remainder of the book. The very first word, “An oracle,” is derived from a word that means “to carry.” So this term conveys a notion of a message that is burdensome—this is an ominous, foreboding message. The author states that this heavy message is a divine word from God to His covenant people Israel. The aspect of covenant is crucial for this book and deserves some attention. For quite a while, we were taught and it was shared that covenants in the Bible, based on covenants we have seen in the ancient Near Eastern culture was either one of two things—Conditional or Unconditional. This meant that some covenants had conditions, e.g. the Mosaic covenant, but then other covenants were unconditional, that God would fulfill them no matter what—so the Abrahamic, Davidic, and even New Covenant would fit in this category. However, when you study the nature of covenants, in that culture, and simply within Scripture we find that this is simply not the case.
Covenants both in the ancient Near East, and within the Bible were based on Obligations and promises. So even the Noahic covenant has promise—that God would not flood the earth with water—but also obligation—if man sheds someone else’s blood, his blood is required. Abraham was given eternal and exciting promises, but he had an obligation to get up and obey. Even we who are a part of the new covenant find that their are obligations—we are obligated to follow Jesus and obey His commands. As we recently learned, we do not simply say magical words in prayer, gain eternal life, and then live however we want. We would if the covenant were simply unconditional, but even with the promise of eternal life, we find that we must under obligation, abandon this world in order to pursue after Jesus. The image that we will find often used in the Old Testament and even here in Malachi is that of marriage.
Consider that marriage is a covenant. It is not one built on conditions. Jamie and I did not enter this relationship saying that we would stay together based a certain set of conditions. When we exchanged our vows they were not, “I Joshua, take you Jamie to be my wife on the condition of good and not for bad, for health and not in sickness, and so on...” Likewise, it is not simply unconditional. After we walked the aisle and pledged our love, I did not turn to her and say, “Well we’re married now, I’ll see you around.” Imagine how well that statement would have turned out, I married a cajun! No, we made promises—that we would love each other for better or worse, rich or poorer, sickness and in health, as long as we live. Now, those promises also demand obligations. What is the obligation? That I would love, support, and pursue her in each and every one of those situations. All of sudden, love takes on an altogether different kind of meaning, which we will get to in a moment. But for now, bear in mind that God is addressing His covenant people Israel, and Malahchi has an urgent message for them.
This message is literally by the hand of Malachi—Yahweh’s messenger. Like everything else in the Bible, there is debate as to whether or not this book was written by the one whose name serves as the title. I think that Malachi is the author, just as the other 11 minor prophets are so titled by their authors as well. So I won’t spend too much time on this. The name Malachi means something like “My Messenger,” or “Messenger of Yahweh.” God uses Malachi as His personal instrument to relay a message to His people.
This is His message...
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you ask: “How have You loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of Hosts says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the Lord has cursed forever. Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’
The very first words of God to His people are “I have loved you.” You need to understand two things—first how wonderful it is for these people to hear these words. As I had said already, Israel is God’s covenantal people, but by God’s authority, they went into exile in 586 B.C. due to their inability to uphold their obligations in their covenant with God. So nearly 100 years have passed since the exile, and the Israelites probably had a hard time believing that God actually still loved them. The second thing you need to understand is just how painful these words must have been when Israel heard them. You see, Israel is returning back to their home, their land, and to some degree their way of life, but things will never be the same. For instance, they are still under Persian oppression. They still answer to another kingdom. It was only by Darius’ permission that they were permitted to return home, and to begin to rebuild. While they were able to restore the second temple in 515 B.C., it was not without challenges. Similarly, they struggled with subsequent kings as they sought to restore their homeland. You can read about these struggles in Ezra and Nehemiah. So while it is so wonderful to hear the words that God still loved them, the words stung as well. Which prompts Israel’s first objecting question—how have you loved us?
God’s love is covenant and commitment, not emotion.
God’s love is covenant and commitment, not emotion.
God responds to Israel’s objection by serving up an object lesson, Esau. Esau was the brother of Jacob, one of the contending twins of Rebekah. In , God tells Isaac that his wife has two nations in her womb, a statement I would not encourage you to tell your pregnant wife. These brothers struggled in the womb, and outside it. Later in chapter 25, Esau sells and despises his birthright to Jacob for bread and lentil stew. Then, in chapter 27, Jacob deceives his father and steals away Esau’s blessing. But God had already spoken to Isaac that Jacob was to receive the covenantal blessing and that God’s plan for salvation history would go through him.
Here now in Malachi, God reminds His people just how He loved them—take a look at Esau. God tells His people that Jacob He loved, and Esau He hated. When we hear these terms of emotion, remember that what God is saying is relating to covenant and not emotion. God chose Jacob to receive the covenantal blessing that promised to bring salvation to the ends of the earth through the line of Abraham. God was and is eternally commited to seeing the obligations of this covenant fulfilled. In verse three, God demonstrates just how He has rejected Esau by talking about the nation that came from Esau—Edom.
God says that He made the mountains of Edom a wasteland and turned over their inheritance to the desert jackals. Time and again Israel had encounters with Edom. When Israel departed from Egypt and sought to crossover into the land of promise, Edom denied them entry. This took place in . As time would go on, we would see King Saul, David, and others would contend with Edom. But in the end, Edom would align themselves with Babylon and fight against Israel. Yet, God would have the final say. Near the time of Judah’s destruction by Babylon, Edom too would fall to the war machine. In , God declared through the weeping prophet that Edom would become a desolation and promised that this wicked nation would receive the full payment of their sins. Here in Malachi, God describes it and tells Israel to see the object lesson that is Edom. Through Babylon, God has ruined Edom and the ones who are enjoying their land are the desert jackals.
Still, Edom will try to rebuild and return. In verse 4, God tells Israel that Edom will rebuild and continue to rebel, but that God would ultimately crush this nation and these people will stand as one eternally cursed. Then God says to Israel, “You have seen this to be true with your own two eyes.”
God had displayed His covenant loyalty to Israel time and time again. This loyalty was a reflection of His love and devotion to His people. Even as they were in exile, God did not completely do away with them, but showed them unmerited grace. We see this with figures such as Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. God provided for Israel and preserved them, even through pagan kings. So while Israel struggles to see and believe that God still loves them, God brings to their attention the long established covenant that He is still committed to uphold.
Such news and revelation is so wonderful, that when the final destruction of Edom occurs in the 4th century B.C., Israel will remember what God had promised and confess that He is great, not simply within the borders of Israel, but far beyond! His greatness and His glory will be seen by all.
Now one thing that has not been mentioned yet, but should be mentioned is that when Israel went into exile, it was as a fractured nation. The northern kingdom Israel went into exile by the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and then the southern kingdom, Judah, went into exile in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians. Notice how God is communicating through this last prophet. He is speaking to Israel, His whole and restored people. This is huge. Other prophets anticipate such a reunion as well, but here God is addressing a unified, not divided people. Another reflection of God’s love—He restores broken relationships, with Himself and with others.
What we see here is God professing His faithfulness, love, and devotion to Israel. And as Israel questions God’s love, we should be reminded that God was never unfaithful. Like Israel, we may question how it is that God loves us. So for a moment, lets talk about that.
What do you think when you hear the words, “God loves me?” Is it a sense of wonderment or perhaps skepticism or even dread? Perhaps you think about your life and you wonder whether God has even noticed you and all that you have gone through and are going through. The longer you think this way, the more you will sound like Israel, and fail to notice how the bible has revealed the love of God towards you.
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him.
The Apostle Paul says that God proved His love for us that even while we were sinners, and His enemies, He sent Jesus to die on our behalf. Why would He do such a thing? Well in , Paul said that you and I were alienated and even hostile towards God by our evil actions. Because of your sin, your devotion to the evil intentions in your heart, you and I stood wholly separated from God with no way of reunion. You cannot by your own strength pull yourself out of your sin, make your dead, sinful soul come alive, and unalienate yourself with God. And God knows this. Still, we try to do all we can in our commitment to live a rebellious lifestyle. We are devoted to pursue our way and not God’s. “But,” Paul says. God proves—literally “provides evidence of a personal characteristic” that He loves us. So by the blood of Christ and through repentance and faith you too can be restored into a right relationship with God and join in the everlasting covenant as recpients who experience the blessing of Abraham. The love of God will save you from the wrath of God that condemns you. As Esau, who was rejected because he despised his birthright, you and I stand outside the covenant promises of God. But like Jacob, you and I can experience the eternal love of God by the means of God’s only begotten—Jesus. This is not a matter of merit or ability, for if you follow the story of Jacob you will find the world’s original con-artist, but a matter of God unlimited, unmeasured love. So you ask “Does God really love me?” Or “How could God love me?” “Why would God love me?” Well, the answer is because it is in His nature and you are made in His image. He promised to restore this broken world and He is doing it one broken life at a time.
Yet, while we ask the question as Israel did, God’s declaration of love to Israel also stands as a condmenation of Israel. God’s love is not the one that should be questioned, and I think we all know that as we read the passage. The love that should be in question is Israel, ours.
How have you loved God?
Let that frightening question echo in your ears. How have you loved God? We tend to see this relationship as one sided, that God is the one with the obligations. He has to save me, He has to provide for me, He has to protect, and on and on and on with all the expectations we have of God. In fact, this selfish behavior appears far too many times in our marriages. We find husbands expecting from the wives everything while offering nothing in return, or wives leaving all responsibilities to their husbands and excercising no responsibility of their own. No wonder we find so many marriages crumbling. They depend on the ability and effort of one individual, and that is far too much weight for one to handle! We then think about the salvation God extends and we say that God must save us, and keep us, and bring us into His heaven, but we say nothing of what is expected of us. So hear this, if your relationship with God is one sided, it is likely that it does not exist. Because, those who know of and experienced the love of God, love Him in return. They are incapable of doing otherwise because of the work that God did in their heart. Then all of a sudden we find ourselves desperately involved in this relationship with God for there is not a greater relationship to be found in this world.
But how do we love God?
In , and in 23, Jesus says if you love Him you will keep His commands. It is one thing to embrace the love of God, but it is an altogether different thing to be changed by the love of God and then love Him in return. For when you love Him in return, you find that His commands are not burdensome, but freeing. You desire to obey what Christ has taught. Yet, if you were to walk, let’s say into this church, would it be known that we loved God? Well, lets talk about what love is. For if love is strictly emotional, then it depends on the song selection, the kind of story the pastor shared, whether or not I was properly greeted and recognized, and so many other categories that must transpire in particular ways that allow me to say at the end of the service “I felt like I was at church today.” How tragic a statement. That my love for God would be dependent on so many other things outside my dependence of God to love. If it were not for God, I would not know love. But if the church service does not adequately stir me emotionally, then I’m likely not going to “feel” like worshipping or that I’m worshipping. And if this statement is true, who is it that we really love? Ourselves. Then all of sudden, like Israel, we have made for ourselves idols. Oh how great the sin is that lives among God’s people! That we would say we love God, but only in the right conditions. So then the command for believers to come together happens only when it is convenient and our schedules are not overbooked. We might tithe occasionally, when we haven’t overspent our budget and maxed out our credit cards. We might share our faith when we see a fight on facebook that demands our support, but hear how shallow our commitment is to the covenant we have entered into with Jesus Christ.
If we have no devotion to Jesus, we have no love for Jesus.
If we have no devotion to Jesus, we have no love for Jesus.
If you are devoted to Jesus, it seen not in speech but in action. As we continue on in the book of Malachi, you will see the grievances against God’s people. A commitment to God is a commitment to His church. We see this commitment in the greatest two commodities we have in this world—time and money. Have you made weekly gathering other believers a priority in your life or is it only when it is convenient? Have you made use of your talents and abilities available to God and His church or are you still content to see others love God with their gifts? Are lovingly contributing financially and sacrificially with the firstfruits of your financial income or are you still a slave to sin?
Quote from VOV...
If I love thee my soul shall seek thee,
but can I seek thee unless my love to thee is kept
alive to this end?
Do I love thee because thou art good,
and canst alone do me good?
It is fitting thou shouldest not regard me,
for I am vile and selfish;
and when I find thee there is no wrath to devour me,
but only sweet love
God has demonstrated His character of love through Jesus and is commited to the covenant He has established. Today, can you honestly say that you love Him? If you have never known the love God and have never confessed your sin and need of salvation, I’d like for you to look up at me. I’m going to pray in a moment and when I finished praying I want you to come down to the front with me so that you can know and experience the love of God today. Ok, you can put your head back down. Now, if you have experienced the love of God, but today you realize you have not loved Him faithfully as you should, I want you to look at me. This response time is also for you. Make a commitment today to follow the words of Christ. Serve Jesus by serving His church and reaching the world. I’m going to pray and when I finish praying, the front is open, and I’m hear to pray with you as well. Let’s pray.