Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which features early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now His own people were acting like jackals.
Oracle 1—God has chosen the Hebrew people as God’s own. (1:2-5)
Jacob, Not Esau
An oracle. The word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. [“My Messenger”]
I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord.
Yet I have loved Jacob
but I have hated Esau;Malachi 1:2-3 (NRSV)
The Lord’s messenger assured the people of God’s love for them.
The word God used was more than a lover’s love, it meant
- the relationship of a lover with their beloved,
- and also of a parent to their child,
- and also a best friend relationship.
This love was still theirs from God, they had the unique position among all the people of the whole world of being God’s chosen beloved ones. But the people could not see God’s love. Things looked really bad, from their vantage point.
They did not feel loved at all.
So, God reminded them about Jacob and Esau. It was an iconic story in Israel’s history. By birth Esau was as much a privileged child as Jacob, twin sons of the patriarch Isaac. In fact, Esau had built-in privilege of technically being the oldest son. Yet God gave gracious love, unconditional love, to Jacob and all his descendants—a special, chosen position.
Even though Esau was also given a destiny and a legacy, he was not chosen in the way Jacob was. God rejected Esau, the son entitled to privilege, in favor of Jacob, the second-born.
In the Hebrew language “to love” often means “to favor,” and “to hate” means “to favor, or love, less,” or to reject.
God chose Jacob, renamed Israel, as the forefather of all the Israelites; these were God’s chosen people.
Malachi’s oracle, the word of the Lord, was to remind God’s people they were purposely chosen of God out of all the peoples of earth. God had long ago explained to the Hebrews,
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples.
It was because the Lord loved you.Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (NRSV)
In the same way as choosing a partner or spouse, no one else receives our special love in the way this one person does. It is not that you or I hate all other people! But in a very particular and specific way, we you have rejected them for that position in our hearts that only the one person is given.
This draws us into that hard-to-understand concept of election, or predestination, that God has preordained certain things, from before Jacob and Esau were born.
Did Jacob and Esau have free will to choose God if they wanted? Or was Esau doomed from before he was even born?
The apostle Paul turned to this self-same story, centuries later, as he worked through his own feelings about how it could possibly be that those of Jewish heritage and faith were rejecting Jesus.
Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she [Rebecca] was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” As it is written,
“I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.”
What then are we to say? 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 it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.Romans 9:11-18 (NRSV)
Perhaps it was not as much of a quandary for Malachi’s audience as it was for Paul, or for us today. But, in order for you and I to see God’s love for us—and what is just as important, to trust that love, and to trust the One Who gives it—we must find our way through this cognitive dissonance.
God is not capricious and arbitrary. God is just, God is loving, God is discerning and wise. Yet, the same scriptures that reassure us of these truths tell us God loved Jacob and hated Esau. God chose one, and rejected the other.
Not by Entitlement
“Even before they had been born . . .” Neither of these twins had done anything to earn the right to be chosen, not even by being the firstborn as Esau was.
There could be only one ancestor to carry on the line of Messiah.
Who would that person be?
Someone who could say they earned that privilege, someone who could say they were worthy of that honor?
That would be taking hold of at least some of God’s glory, would it not?
God deliberately chose Jacob, who was not the firstborn, to show there was nothing deserving of God’s choosing that either one of them could claim.
Not by Righteousness
“Even before they had . . . done anything good or bad. . .” It was also not on the basis of God’s foreknowledge of what either of them would do, or choose, or become. Some say the Lord looks ahead and sees what a person is going to do, and, because of God’s foreknowledge, God chooses that person.
But this passage speaks directly against that explanation.
It was not a question of
- or good record,
- or outstanding deeds.
No one starts out more righteous than someone else, not by birth and not be scrupulous obedience to God’s law, and not by religious upbringing. No one earns this privilege, no one merits this honor, to bear the image of Messiah.
God gives God’s grace, God’s favor, only by God’s love, and God’s mercy.
The Lord does not wait to see what a person is going to decide before God acts. The Lord foreknows and calls those to respond to the good news of God’s grace and at the same time God works through a person’s choosing to believe.
Why did you pick your partner, or your best friend, and reject all the rest of the suitable people you knew in your life?
Election is simply this, that Sovereign God loves whom God loves.
The Lord has settled God’s affection on this people, and this person.
God desires us for the Lord, and the Lord will let nothing stand in God’s way, a determined lover, to bring you and me into eternal, intimate union with God, just as God was determined to bring God’s people into intimate communion in Malachi’s day.