Torah reading: Genesis 25:19-28:9
Haftorah reading: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7
The prophet Malachi ministered to the people of Israel about 100 years after their return from Babyon and his short book contains several rebukes and corrections addressing their rebellious condition. Before God corrects He assures them of His love. This lays a foundation for their obedience, because if they love Him, they will keep His commandments. The book opens with these words:
The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Malachi 1:1-2
The prophecy of Malachi is built around seven questions the people asked God. These questions revealed their doubting, discouraged, sinful heart.
· In what way have You loved us? (Malachi 1:2)
· In what way have we despised Your name? (Malachi 1:6)
· In what way have we defiled You? (Malachi 1:7)
· In what way have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17)
· In what way shall we return? (Malachi 3:7)
· In what way have we robbed You? (Malachi 3:8)
· In what way have we spoken against You? (Malachi 3:13)
God reminds Israel that they are chosen and will remain His chosen and favored people. When the people of Israel compared themselves to their neighbors the Edomites (the descendants of Esau), they saw that God chose to preserve Israel and punished the Edomites. The prophet, Obadiah, had prophesied judgment against the land and people of Edom. Apparently by Malachi’s time it had happened, and God’s protection of Israel was a demonstration of His love for them. Yet it appears they were severely lacking in appreciation.
Being aware and convinced that God chose us before we were born and He did so because of His love, not because of anything we had done to deserve it, should engender in each of us a profound gratitude and confidence in our spiritual journey through life. To live our life that through prism of that awareness is to demonstrate an unshakeable faith, an unswerving loyalty and a personal and passionate love towards Him in return.
That is not to say that we never have a difficult day or season; nor that everything is always perfect in our lives. Not at all! But it IS to say that regardless of what may be happening at any given time, our faith holds steady, our joy in knowing Him is unshakeable and our perseverance does not weaken. He is forever the faithful, covenant-keeping God of Israel.
God through the prophet raises the issue of being ‘chosen’ in order to lay the foundation for the correction He is about to bring to Israel. While the Bible makes eminently clear that God loves ALL the nations and ALL peoples, He chose Israel for a specific purpose. It does not make the children of Israel better than anyone else – God forbid that anyone should think that. Rather, it makes the children of Israel responsible for their specific mission as a nation. It was that very responsibility that the LORD was about to address.
Our greatest error in considering God’s ‘choosing’ a nation or a person to a specific role in history is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He made choices in an “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” way of choosing. Not at all! We may not understand God’s reasons for choosing and they may be reasons He alone knows and doesn’t share with us, but God’s choices are not capricious. The all knowing God has a perfect plan for the redemption of mankind, and His choices are in keeping with that eternal plan that only He sees in its fulness.
When in the next verse we read, ‘Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated’ we may be initially shocked at the statement. This is another one of those verses that loses something in translation from the original Hebrew. God does not ‘hate’ Jacob’s older brother like a man may have visceral hatred toward a fellow human being. That is not what this verse means in the original text. In the Hebrew it literally means ‘loved less by contrast’. You will remember that God promised that Esau would also be blessed and prospered but the difference is that the calling upon the children of Israel(Jacob) was a specific destiny to which they are appointed with the accompanying responsibility to fulfill that destiny.
In the next verses, God addresses Israel:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar. But you say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the Lord of hosts. verses 6-8
To put it simply, their religious observance had no heart, no spirit in it. Instead of offering the best they had to God, they were stingy with their offerings, keeping the best for themselves and ‘sacrificing to God’ the worst of their flocks. In doing so, they showed that they had no fear of the LORD, no respect, no reverence. They gave God the ‘leftovers’, not the ‘first fruits’ or to say it another way, ‘the best they had to give’.
The issue here is not so much the gift itself but the attitude of their hearts, something we too must examine in ourselves. In our ‘offerings’ to God – whether it be in the form of money or the use of our time, do we hold back the ‘best’ for ourselves and give as little as possible, just enough to meet the minimum requirement? Or are we ‘maximum’ kind of people? If someone needs our help, is our first reaction to find an excuse why we can’t oblige? Do we make decisions about how we share ourselves and our possessions by what’s best for us- ‘a me first’kind of attitude? Or have we truly learned that all that we have is a gift from God that we are to hold lightly and be prepared to share generously – our time, our skills and talents and our possessions.
At the time that Malachi prophesied to the people, the children of Israel had become self-centered, materialistic and cynical towards the things of God. Doing the ‘minimum’ to fulfill their ‘religious’ obligations they had become so self-absorbed and self-focused that they even dared to demand of God, ‘How have we dishonored You?’
In the rest of the book, God tells them exactly what they are doing that displeases Him and exposes their hardened hearts. But He doesn’t just rebuke; He calls them back to Himself.
In Tune with Torah this week = first, we must understand that when God corrects us, it is always for the purpose of calling us back to Him. His correction and rebuke comes from His love for us, the same way that a conscientious parent rebukes and corrects his child when he sees that the path they are following will lead to destruction. God loves those He disciplines and it is up to us to humble ourselves and receive His correction, choose to make those internal changes that are required in our attitudes and actions so that we will be better able to fulfill the purpose for which we have been chosen by Him.