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Whom do you Seek?

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A focus on the Hebrew distinctions on "Lord" within Malachi and implications for us today.

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Forgive me as I get started, I’m going to do a little pastor nerd out here for the first couple of minutes. This last week I got into a deep conversation with a pair of my colleagues and friends about the book of Malachi, specifically about which we had as part of our readings today.
3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Now, the verse in question seems straight forward enough. A messenger is coming to prepare the way of the Lord! We as Christians today would likely hear this foretelling the coming of John the Baptist. But there is something a bit more as well. As my colleagues and I dug more deeply into this text, we noticed in the Hebrew that there is a discrepancy of words used to describe what we have translated here two times as “Lord” While we see the same word in English, there are two different Hebrew words here.
The second of the two Hebrew words for LORD appears at the end of verse 1 and completes the sentence with the LORD of hosts—the Hebrew word here is the holy name for God, it is YHWH. It is the name that God gave to the Israelites through Moses. YHWH is understood as the full nature of who God is. As you read your Bibles, many translations will capitalize not just the first letter of Lord but all letters of LORD when the word YHWH appears. YHWH is what we most often see used in the Old Testament when the ancient Hebrew writers were referring to God.
But then there is this discrepancy… earlier in the verse we hear God speaking through Malachi saying, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
Lord here is not YHWH. The Hebrew writers use the word, (Ha-a-doan) instead. Ha-a-doan is also a name for God… and it is also translated here as Lord. If you happen to look it up in scripture, though, you might notice that Lord there only capitalizes the first letter of Lord. That was the translator’s way of telling us that this Lord does not mean the same thing as YHWH.
Ok, great. So we have two different Hebrew words… two different names for God. Great. But why? That’s the question that I couldn’t help but wonder. There was no point in using two different names for God. Authors of the Old Testament tend to stick with the name of God that they are accustomed to. We wondered if perhaps this one instance of a different name for God had perhaps been a mistake by someone during the thousands of years that this scripture has been copied over and over. But while such errors can occur, it seemed unlikely in this particular case. And yet, it made little sense as to why this Hebrew word for Lord would be different than the YHWH that the author had used over and over again throughout the rest of the book of Malachi.
That’s about the time that we stumbled upon a potential answer. Within Hebrew tradition the name for God, “Ha-a-doan” is a word that conjures up the image of God as a bringer of justice and a protector on behalf of the people of Israel. Ha-a-doan is the defender of God’s chosen people. Ha-a-doan is still God… but a particular way of understanding God.
An example of Ha-a-doan in action would be the way God protected the Hebrews as they escaped Pharaoh during the Exodus. The splitting of the Red Sea and the following closing of their escape route that swallowed the Egyptian army. This is the watchful father figure protecting the vulnerable ones within his house at all costs. This is Ha-a-doan.
And yet… the question still remains… what difference does it make what name the author uses to describe God?
The answer, we discovered, was in the first sentence of our verse of interest today:
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
The Ha-a-doan whom you seek.
And when we look at the verse just before it in , we get a bit more to the story:
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
In other words, Malachi is telling the people of Judah that God is getting frustrated by their words. When they talk about who God is in relation to themselves, they say that all people who are sinning are still seen as good in God’s eyes… that God delights and loves all people. And yet at the same time, they ask “Where is the God of justice?” Or, where is the God that we protect us and smite our enemies? Where is the God that will teach our opponents a lesson for being evil while letting us do what we want?
And there it is. The Ha-a-doan whom you seek. The reason why the author didn’t use YHWH here… why the author didn’t use the name of God which speaks to the FULL nature of who God is… is because the people were not seeking that God.
The issue for the people of Judah is that they didn’t just want God—they wanted their understanding of God to be fighting for them against their enemies. They had put God in a box as the grand deity that they could pull out in a pinch and be rescued from their enemies. They wanted the God that would challenge their enemies… not their own way of life—not their own thoughts and deeds.
And let me be clear here, the people of Judah weren’t looking for some other God or other power… they were seeking out God. But they were wanting God to come in a particular way, to do a particular job, and to let them continue living the way they always had been.
Which brings us to Advent. We hear the Good News that Christ is on his way. We hear the story of the babe in the manger. We hear the reminders that Christ has come and Christ will come again. We hear a call to seek out Christ. But as we think about Advent, as we think about the nearing of Christmas, what is that we are seeking? What kind of God are we looking for today? Are we open to looking for YHWH? For the full nature of who God is? Are we open to looking for God to stir up our lives? To change the way we act, change the way we think, change the way we live?
Or, are we seeking God in a box… a God that we can unwrap to do a particular job, in a particular way, and then be placed on the shelf until needed again? Are we seeking God that will defend our way of living… and change the ways of others?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m honest with myself, I know that I tend to want a God that I can have in a box. I want a God that can be called to do a particular job on my behalf and then not have to worry about God lingering around and potentially changing me from my ways.
Even John the Baptist, as he called out in the wilderness, “Prepare the Way of the Lord…” we hear later as John sits in prison that he struggled with whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah. verse 3, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” When John the Baptist was faced with God and didn’t see quite what he expected, even he sought out confirmation of who Jesus really was. Why? Because I think John the Baptist… like the Hebrews of Judah that we hear about from Malachi… and us… have a hard time understanding what it really means when we hear that God is coming.
But indeed, while we don’t know if winter is coming or not… we do know that Christmas is coming. Christ is coming. I encourage you, this Advent season, to be open in what you are seeking. Let us take our lessons from those who have put God in a box before us. Let us prepare the way by preparing to be changed.
Truly, seek the one who is coming. Blessings to you, this second Sunday of Advent.
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