Malachi 1:1-5: Electing Love
Topic: Default Passage: Malachi 1:1–1:5
In the ten or so years I have been in ministry, there has been a series of highs and lows. Which, I think, is the reality of life for all people, right? After all, we have been warned that a spiritual battle rages. One of the verses that most often comes to mind as I consider this spiritual battle is Ephesians 6:12, which says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There are times when this might seem overwhelming. One thing that I take comfort in, besides God’s Word, is the ordination certificate hanging upon my wall. For those of you who have never sat in on an ordination council, I will tell you that it consists of several local clergy questioning the ordinand, or ordination candidate, sometimes for hours on end: “What do you believe? What do you do to demonstrate that belief? How will you handle this or that situation?” It can be an intense experience. At the end, if these 5 or 6 pastors believe you have been called to ministry, they gather around, they lay hands on you, pray, commit to continued prayer, and commend you to the gospel ministry. In times of discouragement and doubt, I look at that certificate hanging on my wall, and I am reminded that others have affirmed my calling.
Every believer in Christ has a similar affirmation that they can look to when they are discouraged. It doesn’t matter how you feel, whether you’re up or down, whether you feel like a saint or a sinner, God affirms his call over you for—it says—he chose you—believer—in him before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4.
Sometimes when we are discouraged, as Israel is here in our text this morning, we need to be reminded of God’s choosing us, not because we are choice, but because he is glorious. Which leads us to the main idea of our text today: God sovereignly elects to save some and not others for the praise of his glory.
Why in the world would a guest preacher handle such a controversial topic, you might ask? Well, for those of you who know me, you know that I happen to be a military chaplain. You may also know that I preach on the base, once a month on the drill weekend. And I just began a verse-by-verse series on the book of Malachi. And Malachi sort of begins in the deep end of the pool—if you will—with the topic of election. So, no real agenda, other than this just so happens to be what I am preaching at the base. Hopefully, we can approach this difficult topic with clarity, and with charity, as this is not the easiest topic to consider. But we will come to find in this text that there’s a real, practical reason for this doctrine, which will become evident as we go along.
“The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.” Now Malachi, which is the Hebrew name for ‘messenger of the LORD,’ lived approximately 100 years after the people returned to Israel, after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. that ended the Babylonian captivity of Israel. In that time, the temple had been rebuilt under Ezra following the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. And the walls of Jerusalem had been restored under the leadership of Nehemiah. The people no longer practiced the blatant idolatry that had exiled them from the land of Israel in the first place. But their faith had become something of a dead orthodoxy, later amplified in Pharisee-ism: outward obedience without inward heart change. This resulted in a growing discouragement and skepticism as the people questioned God’s favor upon them. And so God, through the prophet Malachi, brings them a word—an oracle, an authoritative, wise expression, literally translated as ‘burden’—to remind them of his continued faithfulness. God has not taken this word he delivers through his prophet Malachi lightly. It’s heavy, if you will. But it is also a word of comfort: a message to Israel, and not against Israel. And that message begins with a word regarding God’s election
God’s election of his chosen people demonstrates his love, 2-3
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. Now keep in mind, this love was not preconditioned upon anything God found commendable in his people. No. They were not better than the people around them. In fact, he says of his people in Ezekiel 16:6 that he found them wallowing in their own blood, meaning that they were newly born when he set his favor upon them. They had not even done anything good or bad. He set his affection on them as an adopted parent would, finding a discarded child. What a profound truth and divine comfort.
But, his people are not convinced of that love. “But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” As if somehow God had not proved his love. Things were not working out for Israel the way they wanted them to at that time. Skepticism reigned. Outwardly, they went through the motions in their worship of God, but at times their hearts were far from him. Perhaps they had a head-knowledge of God’s love, but not a heart-knowledge. They had an idea, but not an experience. As a child doubts the ‘tough love’ of a parent who has to discipline disobedience, so too does Israel doubt the love of God. And I want you to notice that God’s answer to their doubt has not been predicated on their performance, but on his election of them as his people, over and against other people whom he did not elect.
“Is not Esau Jacob’s brother,” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” So God grounds his love for Israel by demonstrating how much favor he has shown them in comparison with their close relative. Jacob, later named Israel, had been chosen to be the line of God’s people, not the older brother, Esau, the father of the Edomites, who had forsaken his birthright. Esau’s forsaking in and of itself might be justification enough for God to forsake Esau’s line. But Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, continued to provoke God’s anger, as evidenced in scripture. When Israel came into the land of Canaan, after having come out of slavery in Egypt, the Edomites would not let them pass through, instead making them go all the way around through the eastern desert in Numbers 20. When Babylon later invaded Israel, carting them off again into slavery, Edom acted treacherously against Israel by cheering the Babylonian invasion in Psalm 137. Throughout Edom’s history they repeatedly raised their hands against Israel, with God condemning their actions both in Amos and Obadiah. In fact, the entire book of Obadiah is dedicated to the judgment that God would bring upon Edom, and has brought by Malachi’s day.
Now we might look at that word ‘hate’ and ask, “How can a loving God hate anyone?” God did not hate them personally, but providentially. In other words, in God’s providence he divinely elected to show favor to one and not the other. Israel had been given the covenant, not Edom. God entrusted to Israel: the Scriptures, temple worship, the priesthood, the prophets, and ultimately the line leading to the Messiah, Jesus. So in their discouragement, God reminds Israel of his favor. Now those who make a sharp distinction between Old and New Testaments, between a God of wrath and a God of love, might easily dismiss this passage as something altogether foreign, as something meant only for the Israelite people, and not God’s people as a whole. But that would be a misreading, for both this verse and this concept of divine election find continued mention in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Romans.
Romans 9 sheds further light on this idea of divine election. Verse 11 says, “though they”—referring to Jacob and Esau—“were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she”—referring to their mother, Rebekah—“was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written,”—and the Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Malachi—“‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it”—meaning God’s divine favor, salvation—“depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
Early in my Christian walk I would say, “It’s not fair that God would elect some to salvation and not others.” I hated this idea. Until I realized that if I really wanted fairness, it would be fair for God to condemn all, for all have sinned. I don’t think we truly understand, or appreciate, the heinousness of sin, if we think God to be unfair in election. I think we paper over sin. I think we minimize it. None of us deserve this free gift of salvation. Now we may not be as bad as we can be, we may not be a Hitler or Stalin or even our more blatantly sinful neighbor, but we are corrupt in our nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” How can we talk about our will’s being free, when Romans 6 repeatedly says that outside of Christ’s intervention we are slaves to sin. Slavery is not freedom. My will, before Christ saved me, was bound to sin. Therefore, I don’t want fairness. I want mercy. I want my heart of stone to be transformed—not left to my will, which would always choose wrongly, but to God’s will—into a heart of flesh. God is the initiator of that change. He says in Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This is not an easy teaching. This doctrine of divine election has been a dividing line throughout the history of the church. In the fourth century, Augustine affirmed election, Pelagius denied election and was ultimately deemed a heretic. In the 16th century, John Calvin affirmed election, Jacob Arminius for all practical purposes denied—or at least changed the condition of—election. The debate still continues today, with Christians on both sides of the divide. Did you hear what I said? There are Christians on both sides of the divide: your brothers and sisters. So what is election? Put simply, election is God choosing to save some and not others, which goes back to the main idea of today’s message. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, or repentance. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom he selected. Several verses point to this divine choice. One being John 6:44, where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” meaning that God is the initiator of salvation. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” meaning that God reveals himself in salvation, you didn’t happen upon him on your own. He revealed himself to you. So what seemed like a choice on your part, was God electing to turn your heart towards him. Or Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen,” meaning that God chooses, or elects, you to salvation. Without God’s intervention we would be lost, for Romans 3:11 says, “No one seeks for God.” We weren’t looking for him. He sought us.
Now for those of you who already affirm this doctrine, you might be prone to affirm it in the wrong way. What I mean is that election is never purely an abstract concept. It’s not simply something you add to your knowledge base of systematic theology as if you know something others do not. No, no. Doctrine is always meant to be applied. Otherwise, you have a dead orthodoxy not unlike the dead orthodoxy Israel experienced at this very time. Which beg the question, why does God reveal this doctrine to us? It must be for our edification. Particularly, why does God reveal this doctrine in this passage in Malachi? It is for his people’s encouragement. Remember, they’re discouraged. They’re going through the motions, questioning God’s favor, “How have you loved us,” they ask. Particularly, God says. I have loved you, particularly. With the favor of a father.
Now perhaps there was a time in your life, when you were going through great difficulty. You just weren’t feeling it, as they say. And perhaps your behavior was out of step with the values your parents taught you. But imagine if your dad said to you, “It’s going to be okay. I love you.” In other words, his love was not conditioned upon circumstance. It wasn’t even conditioned upon your behavior or your response. His love was—and is, hopefully—conditioned upon his role as a father. I have a friend who was unofficially adopted by his neighbors as a teenager. And no matter how out of step my friend was with their Christian values, no matter how difficult it became in my friend’s biological parent’s home, he always had a place in his unofficially adopted family, spending most of his senior year of high school sleeping on their floor. This act of kindness ultimately led to my friend’s salvation, as he saw godly fatherhood and God’s love displayed.
That, in essence, is what we see here. In so many words, God declares to them, “I have shown you favor like I have with no other. I have chosen—adopted—you to be my child; not because you were choice, but because I am merciful.” And through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, that favor has been extended to you. In fact it is extended to all of those who call upon the name of the LORD. Do you want to know if you are elect or not? Call out to him. Ask for, and receive, forgiveness. If you’re not elect, you won’t call out. You’ll justify yourself in some form or fashion. God does not turn anyone away. There are not people pounding upon the door of heaven that God will not allow in. For everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved, as we see in Acts 2:21. In vv2-3, we see that God’s election of his chosen people demonstrates his love.
God’s judgment for the wicked inspires his people’s praise, 4-52
“If 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.” Notice the futility regarding the efforts of the wicked, in particular, Edom here. It doesn’t matter how much effort they give, for it will all come to naught. This verse exemplifies the idea in Psalm 92:7, “that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever.” As God declares in Exodus 34:7, “[he] will by no means clear the guilty.” The wicked cannot work their will forever. They can say they will rebuild, or do this or that, but God has determined what they can and cannot do. Again, what an encouragement. You might read the news, or see wicked agendas being propagated in schools, in laws, and in the world in general, and you might wonder, “What is going on? Is this just the way it’s going to be?” You are not the first of God’s people to experience that. Though the wicked flourish, they are doomed to destruction. This too will pass. Evil does not win. It does not have the upper hand. God can, and will, thwart wickedness in his time and in his way. They can say, “We are going to do this.” But God ultimately determines what they can and cannot do.
Ultimately this prophecy was fulfilled and the Edomites were largely driven from their land by Arab tribes around 400 B.C., later settling in the region of Idumea, an impregnable, rocky, fortress-like region that should have been easily defensible. But nothing can protect a people, once God has set his heart against them. But even that was not the end of their story. You see, the Edomites became the Idumeans. The Romans later installed an Idumean on the throne of Israel. You know him as Herod the Great, an Idumean, who continued to exemplify wickedness, particularly in his assault and slaughter of the children of Bethlehem in his attempt to murder the Messiah, Jesus. “But God, you promised in Malachi that though they build you will tear down. Why does Edom still prosper?” Though God is longsuffering, he will not endure forever the plans of the wicked. For a few hundred years Edom continued, even sitting on the throne of God’s servant, David—the throne that belonged to David’s descendent, Jesus. But God demonstrates his love for his people, Israel, in a couple of ways: (1) By ensuring their continued existence. When was the last time you turned on the news and heard something about an Edomite or Idumean? Their state has been swept away forever. (2) By fulfilling his promise in giving the Messiah. The Idumeans did not sit on David’s throne forever. Jesus Christ sits on that throne, ruling and reigning, not just a small state in the Middle East, but the universe as a whole. His kingdom is not of this world. He has chosen you to be a part of that kingdom before the foundation of the world.
So God comforts his people in calling to mind the special favor he has shown them, saying, “Your own eyes shall see this”—meaning you will see God thwart wickedness. That is how you will know he is at work, that he has not left you, nor forsaken you. He will judge. And as a result, you will worship. For the verse goes on, “And you shall say, ‘Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!’” Yahweh God is not some regional deity with localized powers for a particular land, and a particular people, at a particular time. His greatness extends beyond geographic borders. His power knows no bounds of time or place. And this is praiseworthy. This induces worship. This causes us to say, “Great is the LORD.”
Herod did not have the last say. His wicked heart and wicked plans to kill Christ in the cradle were thwarted. Neither did Satan have the last say. His wicked heart and wicked plans to kill Christ on the cross were also thwarted. For Christ has gone before us as the firstfruits of the resurrection, meaning that because he was raised, all of those in Christ, elected from before the foundation of the world will be raised to new life as well. Great is the LORD.
Now God’s electing love is meant to both cultivate and crush certain qualities in his people. First of all, his electing love cultivates humility for it was by grace that we have been saved, Ephesians 2:8. Additionally, it cultivates dependence, for many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand, Proverbs 19:21. Finally, God’s electing love cultivates praise, for we anticipate the day when we will stand with the multitudes in heaven declaring, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” Revelation 19:1. But God’s electing love should also crush, cull, or kill a couple of undesirable qualities that often accompany spiritual pride and pedigree. First, his electing love crushes presumption, for those unrighteous who are, “bold—some translations say, ‘presumptious’—and willful, do not tremble as they blaspheme,” 2 Peter 2:10. We cannot presume he will be merciful forever as we go our own way. We cannot assume we’re good because we grew up in church, or do good things, or even go to church and believe in God. Even the demons believe and shudder, according to James 2:19. 2 Peter 1:10 says, “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election,” by your reliance on the righteousness of your God and Savior Jesus Christ. Finally God’s electing love crushes pride. After having declared that none seek after God, that all have sinned and fallen short of his glory, and yet are justified by his grace as a gift, Paul asks in Romans 3:27, “What becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” Election isn’t something that makes smart. It shouldn’t even make us angry. It’s meant to encourage us and remind us of just how helpless we are without the intervention of Christ on our behalf across the entire spectrum of salvation.
God loved you enough, Christian, not to leave you to your own devices. In vv2-3 we see that God’s election of his chosen people shows his love. In vv-4-5, we see that God’s judgment for the wicked inspires his people’s praise. Because of this, “you shall say, ‘Great is the LORD beyond the borders of Israel.’”