Preparing For Christmas I: A Journey Through Malachi (1:1-5)
Malachi 1:1-5 NIV
“A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
Israel Doubts God’s Love
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord.
“Yet I have loved Jacob,
3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish.
They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.
5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’”
Preparing For Christmas–A Journey Through The Biblical Book of Malachi
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and seamlessly leads into Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, which contains one of the two infancy narratives (birth accounts) of Jesus (the other is in the Biblical book/Gospel of Luke).
As far as Scripture is concerned, after Malachi there was approximately a 400 year period where the LORD did not make any new utterances to His people Israel…until the arrival of His Son, of course. Thus, as my friend Jim L. just remarked, “Malachi is an important book because it is the last message God gave to the Israelites before the long pause. Last messages usually have very important information.”
As a way to prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas–for celebrating the birth of Jesus, celebrating that the eternal Word of God remained fully God while also becoming fully human–we will be walking together through the book of Malachi over the next six weeks.
Malachi is one of those books of the Bible that we often look at like a crawlspace–we’re glad it’s there but we don’t want to spend much time in it! My prayer is that after walking through Malachi together we will be, as Jesus said in Matthew 13:52, “like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
This is the manner in which God used to communicate with His people: through a prophet like Malachi. And yet Hebrews 1:1-4 reveals a powerful privilege for us today–God now communicates to us through His Son Jesus! But the question remains: do we really believe this? Do we believe that God communicates with us as individuals, that He wants to speak to us personally? Our actions show our answer to this question; that is, do we actually take time each day or week to quietly listen to/wait on God? Do we expect to hear anything from Him through the Bible…Christian music…conversations with others…church worship services…or even moments of solitude and silence? In what ways are we sticking our fingers in our spiritual ears? Do we ever ask God to clean out the wax that we might hear Him more clearly?
You might say: “But I do read the Bible…I DO pray! Nothing seems to happen; I never hear anything!”
That is a fair and legitimate place to be…but please don’t quit! Don’t stop listening for the LORD, just as the Dad in the parable of the prodigal son didn’t stop scanning the horizon for his long lost wayward son (Luke 15:11-32, especially verse 20)! William Wilberforce didn’t stop trying to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire even after DECADES of seeing no fruit/effects/results from his efforts (please click HERE). Abraham Lincoln–bloody battle after bloody battle–didn’t give up on his efforts to keep the Union together, to keep the United States one nation! Job didn’t give up trusting in God, worshiping God, LISTENING for God, even after he lost his wealth, his health, and his children (James 5:10-11)–Job persevered with the LORD’s help, and we can persevere as well with God’s help! God still speaks…but we must listen, for it is often as a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13) or in the midst of a raging storm (Job 38:1).
Ah, how often we ask this question doubtfully and live it out faithlessly in our daily lives: “But how have You loved us, LORD!?” Without realizing it, how often we turn an ungrateful heart toward heaven and implicitly complain, “But what have You done for me LATELY, God?!”
How quickly we forget what the LORD has done for us…just as the Hebrews, freshly thorough the divinely-parted Red Sea, quickly began complaining of the lack of food and water in the desert! They were even suggesting that they should return to slavery in Egypt!
1. Look through the Bible–think through the accounts you have learned about–to remind yourself what God has done for His people over the last 4,000 years, how He has shown love to them:
-Adam & Eve (providing clothing, giving children, extending mercy in the face of sin)
-Noah and his family (surviving the Flood)
-Abraham and Sarah (providing a promised child)
-Joseph, his family, and all of Egypt (giving food during a seven year famine)
-David (when he boldly stood against the warrior-giant Goliath)
-Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (their clothes didn’t even SMELL like smoke)
-Daniel and the lions’ den (their ferocious mouths were SHUT all night long)
Indirectly, God was loving EACH OF US as He loved the people of the Bible because by preserving them He preserved the lineage through which His Son Jesus was born so that we could be offered grace, unconditional love/forgiveness, mercy, adoption into God’s family, and eternal life in heaven forever!
2. Now look back over your own life–your own personal contribution to the 29th chapter of Acts–to remind yourself what God has done for you, in you, and through you over the years.
-re-read your journal entries
-think back over some deep trials/suffering you have faced
-reminisce when you first became a Christian
-go back to and dwell on some big victories/times of joy
3. Finally, spend some time thinking about what God has created–the intricacy of nature, the vastness of space, the complexity of the human body–and write down/research some amazing facts of God’s handiwork. Please click HERE for a list of some of the everyday/common things that I am thankful to God for!
After stepping through the three suggestions above, simply pause and praise God for the ways that He has loved you! He HAS loved you…and He will NEVER STOP!
“The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…” (Psalm 118:23 NIV).
What a challenging verse–God boldly announcing that He has hated Esau (as well as Esau’s descendants). How easy it would be to skip this verse, to implicitly cut it out and move on to more popular verses declaring the love of God! And yet the LORD invites us to know/love HIM as He is, not as we want Him to be. It would do no good to say to your wife, “I love you–you are gorgeous! BUT…I really wish you had a completely different nose, smaller ears, and fuller lips. When I look at you, I honestly pretend I can’t see them–that’s how disagreeable they are. But other than that, you are beautiful!” Yet that is how we treat God when we choose to ignore/disregard certain aspects of His character/decisions, and especially when we use those aspects as a reason to walk away from Him altogether.
It is verses like this that remind us of the importance of understanding the Bible properly with reliance on the Holy Spirit, much prayer, personal reflection, diligently cross-referencing with other Bible passages, humble discussion with other maturing Christians, and also faith in Who God is (even if a particular passage seems contradictory). Over time this helps us to know what the Bible says (exegesis) instead of reading into the Bible/seeing what we want it to say (eisegesis). The tools previously listed serve as protection for us as we read the Bible–as we wield the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT that is itself alive and sharp enough to cut soul/spirit, joint/marrow, thoughts/desires (Hebrews 4:12). Even an expert utilizes protection when wielding a powerful 500 cc chainsaw–goggles, gloves, other gear–because such a saw, while extremely useful/helpful, is also extremely dangerous. How much more useful–and dangerous!–is the Word of the Living God!
And yet if we do come across passages of Scripture that cause us to doubt God’s love/goodness–if we come across certain verses that we don’t fully understand–let us fall back on the verses that we do understand that speak clearly of the depth/purity/faithfulness of His goodness, trustworthiness, and compassion (1 John 4:9-10, 16; Romans 8:35-39). Let us remember that God did not even spare HIMSELF–sin has caused Him to suffer more than anyone else (Romans 8:32). Standing in the gutter of a slum/ghetto can cause us to forget/doubt the big-picture beauty of the world God has created, a beauty that must be refreshed by looking at a picture of the entire globe taken from outer space. Sometimes we must do the same with the LORD.
In this verse the Edomites were not learning from God’s correction, judgment, rebuke, warning–they were stubbornly resisting/not listening to what the LORD was trying to teach them through the calamities He had brought upon them (I am not saying that every single hard time we face is due to our disobedience or is a judgment directly from God, but in this case for the Edomites they as a nation were suffering for their sins). They were living out the very definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Rigidly unheeding God’s lessons is not noble, is not true perseverance, is not to be commended (1 Peter 2:19-20)–it is foolishness, pride, and sin, just as Pharaoh with his own eyes saw the wonders/miracles of the LORD and yet refused–even as Egypt crumbled around him–to obey God’s command to let His people go (Exodus 7-10).
God continues in verse 4, reminding His people that He will actively work against the efforts of Edom, that though they build, He will demolish. Why? Is the LORD being a temperamental two year old who loves to mischievously knock down the block towers being built by older siblings? NO! The LORD, in His efforts against Edom, was showing both Edom AND Israel (and all today who will listen) the futility of striving to achieve/live/accomplish anything apart from God, in disregard of God, without seeking the help of God, for the glory of ourselves and not of God (Psalm 127:1; Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). This is the very reason there are a multitude of different languages today–humanity used to speak the same tongue but we abused that convenience/blessing to begin building a giant tower (Babel) in order to “make a name” for ourselves (Genesis 11:1-8). The Tower of Babel was the ancient world’s YouTube–their way of “broadcasting themselves.” This is pride–the very sin that got the devil and 1/3 of all angels cast out of heaven. Pride is ruthlessly contagious, brutally deadly, and a noxious stench in the nostrils of the LORD Almighty. He therefore reserves the right and prerogative to deal with it as He sees fit–patiently most of the time yet decisively/intensely at other times and with unchangeable finality/unquenchable fury at the end of time. God didn’t even spare His Temple–allowing one of the wonders of the ancient world and the place where His Presence lived in a special way to be completely destroyed by the pagan Romans in AD 76 where, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24:1-2, not even one stone was left on top of another. This will happen to all the kingdoms/accomplishments/plans/glory of humans…so what are we building with our efforts/time/skills/money each day? What are we building…and will it last? (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
Again–is the LORD being cruel in verse 4 where He judges an entire people–Edom–by calling their land “wicked” and revealing that they will always be under His wrath? No. God alone is allowed to judge, even to judge by the group/nation. He sees the heart–and He sees ALL OF IT–He alone knows the extent of the spiritual filthiness of an individual or a group. Thus His judgments are always right, always true, always appropriate. God’s mercy/love/patience seemed irresponsible to Jonah (Jonah 4:1-4); so let us not be surprised if God’s judgment/punishment sometimes seems unfair to us. The task left to us–especially when we disagree with certain actions of God–is not whether we will ever agree with or understand why God does certain things; the task left to us is whether we will continue to worship and obey Him in spite of our disagreement/lack of understanding (Job 1:18-22). Remember: God answers to NONE; His ways are not our ways; we did not ELECT Him, we cannot impeach Him, and He will never be controlled by the wishes of His spiritual shareholders.
Yet this does not give us license to judge the individual or group by the heart; we may know a tree by its fruit, but we cannot judge it by its heart/motives. Let’s leave that judgment–and revenge as well–to God alone. Rather, God calls us (and equips us!)–we the unwilling Jonah’s–to announce/share/explain His offer of grace and mercy to the world through our words AND actions.
Finally, what a reminder here that those who trust in the LORD will eventually see the greatness of God WITH OUR OWN EYES! How lovingly the Holy Spirit points us here to have the long-view–the eternal perspective–that despite the fog, sin, temptation, and spiritual dehydration of earth He will someday help us see HIM–the Object of our faith! Beyond the borders of our current confusion, doubt, trials, challenges, fears…even beyond the borders of our current victories, joys, dreams, neighborhoods, vision, time and space themselves…someday, beyond ALL BORDERS we WILL SEE the pure greatness of the LORD! YES! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20) Looking ahead to Jesus’ second coming…what a great way to prepare us to look back and remember/celebrate Jesus’ first coming.