Debilitating doubt

MALACHI -Second in a series

Malachi 1:1-5... Malachi reproves the Jews for doubting God's love.

Do you like God? That does not matter. The Lord is looking for those who will love him. The heart that is wholly devoted is what the Lord seeks. (Rev 3:16; 2 Chr 16:9; Mat 6:33)

We like people because they are clever, fun, intelligent, whatever, and act toward them with friendliness and so forth; but love is much different and deeper. First Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, and the list is long:

  1. longsuffering
  2. kind
  3. not envious
  4. not prideful or boastful about self nor about the object of affection
  5. not ill-behaved
  6. not self centered
  7. not easily provoked
  8. not thinking evil
  9. not rejoicing in iniquity but in truth as an ideal
  10. concealing the errors and faults of the one who is loved
  11. believing all things to encourage the loved one
  12. hoping all things to inspire and support you
  13. enduring all things, standing by you no matter what
  14. never failing

Paul lists the expressions and qualities of Christian love, while Malachi in his prologue reminds us that love is an act of volition.

The burden [oracle] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Mal 1:1-3)

Malachi describes his prophecy as a burden. God has shown him that his nation, those returned from exile and now settled back in Israel, doubt God's love for them despite his preferential treatment of them. Indeed, over time Esau would be removed forever. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel. (Mal 1:4-5) A full end of Edom would arrive while Israel would revive, and why? The Lord is mindful of his own; he remembers his children, and promises they will “possess the gate” of their enemies. (Gen 22:17)

Doubting is not believing all things. It is not kind, long-suffering or never-failing. It is instead ill-behaved, thinking evil of God; not hopeful but displaying that turn of heart also known as being easily provoked.

Perhaps God's nation did not like to recall that their exile to Babylon was for sins they committed. Perhaps they did not care that they were special because they were the children of Abraham. Isaiah wrote, "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." (Is 51:2)

An aside: The language of Isaiah is rich and poetic, moving and lifting. Malachi's words are blunt and hard-hitting. Commentators point out that Malachi lived in the decline of Hebrew poetry. As nations lose their acumen and affinity for fine expression, indulging rather in blunt, vulgar and simple conversational communications, it is no use to regale them with poetry or prose. You will barely reach them with plain language, though slang or some cursing may help. Malachi relates God's message plainly: I loved Jacob and I hated Esau. (Ref unknown)

God had called Abraham and made a covenant with him which was maintained through Isaac not Ishmael and then through Jacob not Esau. Why? Perhaps in the case of Ishmael we can understand: wrong mother. But with the twin brothers we cannot. It seems to us like favoritism which we perceive as unjust or imperious. Romans 9 makes clear the distinction was not drawn based on behavior but on God's sovereign actions. (Rom 9:11-13)

We encounter stumbling blocks on the road to faith. One of these is Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death was required to save man from eternal damnation, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his good deeds.

And there is the stumbling block of election, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his decision to serve Christ. Man's decisions are important, but the choice to serve God and to love him is enabled by God first choosing and loving man. (John 6:44; 1 John 4:19) Again, this smacks of favoritism, and we cannot understand.

There is also the stumbling block of presumption. We cannot figure out God's ways. We question his methods and doubt his judgment. The result is that we also doubt his love for us and do not trust in his promises.