Meditations in Malachi : 2. 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?’
Before we consider the other side of this particular coin, hold on to what we said in the first meditation. The starting point is that God DOES love Israel and DOES love you and me. His love, the Bible declares, is real and not under question, and yet a question is exactly what we now find here. In fact this little book is full of questions and they are questions about what God says, by the people.
Now a question of itself is neutral but what is important about it is the motivation behind it, the reason the person is asking the question. There are many questions in the Bible and sometimes they come from God questioning us, for example to Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek 37:3) and Ezekiel wisely responds, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Or His question to Elijah in the cave: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) That wasn’t such a comfortable question for He was confronting Elijah with the truth. Or there was Jesus’ question of his disciples in the storm on the lake: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt 8:26) Again a challenging question, but when God asks questions of us it is to bring us into a right way of thinking and behaviour.
Our questions of God so often reveal a wrong way of thinking. When Zechariah questioned the angel, it obviously was not from a position of faith: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) and he was going to be made to remember that for nine months! Occasionally there is a question that simply seeks out information: “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” (Jn 11:8) This was the disciples when Jesus was saying they would go south to raise Lazarus. It was a legitimate worry and they had yet to learn it was all very much part of God’s plan.
Now in Malachi we find the Lord confronting the people with their question. They have come through the Exile and now Jerusalem is being re-established and they are becoming complacent. All is well again, we are back in our land again, relax. But they are not excited by who they are or, even more importantly, who the Lord is. They have lost perspective: being one of God’s chosen people is nothing special. The Lord speaks to them: “I love you.” Their reply is tantamount to, “Oh yes?” They have lost perspective.
I believe in the West today, here in the Church, we are in a similar position. The truth is that atheism and materialism have made big strides and the committed Christian population is the minority. Yes, we have our religion, we have our Sunday Services and we even have our Alpha courses, and yet within many there appears to be little sense of the wonder of the Lord or of the excitement of being a Christian. Indeed Jesus’ words to the Laodicean church may ring true: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot….You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:15,17) We’re not actually cold but neither are we hot. We are not what we should be and so the Lord says, “I love you,” and we reply half-heartedly, “Well, yes, I suppose so,” with the implication we’re not sure of that.
We allow circumstances to determine the truth and not the truth to change the circumstances. Things go wrong and we don’t seem to see the Lord coming to help and so we question, “How do you love us?” We expect more but aren’t really concerned to cry for it. We are complacent. When you lose a job, the children get into trouble, your partner leaves you, you have an accident or you get seriously ill, it is easy to lose perspective. Gideon was a classic example of this, for when the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior,” (Jud 6:12) Gideon’s response was, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about.” The circumstances didn’t match the thought of God being with them.
But is that true of you and me? In a measure, yes, for surely the Lord wants to manifest His presence through His church far more, but actually most of us are really blessed. It is our affluence (the fruit of God’s blessing) that puts us to sleep spiritually. The Lord is going to speak to Israel through Malachi to show ways that He has revealed His love. Does He need to do that again for us? Stop and think about the Gospel, stop and think about the goodness of His provision for us in so many ways, and then praise and worship Him and don’t dare say, “How have you loved us?”