Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved
Mal 1:1,2 An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’
Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16) The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.
Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.
Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment? No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action. Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”
Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.” It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.” The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.
Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action. It is as simple as that!
Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi? Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.