“I have loved you,” says the Lord. (CBS – Read the chapter)
The history of Israel is one of the all-time epic stories of human history. Starting through the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it wound its way through 400 hundred years of captivity in Egypt. Moses led the people to freedom and Joshua to inhabit the land God had sworn to Abraham to give his descendants. From there, things were generally rocky. They were on again, off again with God, but He never wavered in His faithfulness to them. Even when He finally had to call a national “time out” because they had drifted so far afield, He was still faithful to them there, and brought them home again to rebuild what had been lost. You perhaps already knew much of that. So why tell it again? Because of what Malachi says here.
We talked about some of the historical context of Malachi a few days ago (here). When we think about the prophets, most people assume their messages to be mostly about judgment and wrath. And yet here, God’s very first words to the people on the lips of His messenger were these: I have loved you.
Now, while sometimes just reading the words of Scripture in our English Bibles is plenty sufficient to understand them, reading them in the language in which they were originally written can give us some extra insight that their English translations (or translation into any other language) cannot. For instance, the word translated “loved” here in v. 2, in Hebrew, is in what’s called the “present perfect tense.” This means that it is describing an action that was initiated in the past, but which has ongoing implications into the present and the future.
What does that mean? In context, what the prophet is doing is setting everything that follows in the context of God’s faithful, covenantal love to them that has been going on for a very long time–all the way back to the founding of the nation. And, it is only in light of this record of love that He is going to call them to do some things.
This is actually a pattern with God that has strong roots in Israel’s history. Without exception, from Abraham onward, whenever God calls the people to do something, He roots this call in what He has done for them in the past; how He has loved them in the past. Now, this doesn’t mean He’s trying to somehow manipulate them into doing what He wants. Rather, He is reminding them of His persistent faithfulness to them and in light of that trust Him enough to do what He’s presently asking them to do.
Perhaps the best way to phrase this pattern is like this: With God, relationship always precedes requirement. In other words, God never comes to us–again, with the possible exception of Abram, but even then, God expressed His love for Abram and His intent to act on that love in the future before asking him to step out on faith–and, out of the blue, demands we do this or that. Instead, He establishes the context of a loving relationship first, and then, out of that relationship, calls us to live within its boundaries.
With God, relationship always precedes requirement. And this love of God is completely unconditional. We can’t earn it. We certainly don’t deserve it. We can’t change it. We can’t lessen it in any way. We can only receive it. The apostle John would later put it like this: We love because He first loved us.
So the next time God calls you to something that seems extraordinary, take a minute to remember the long record of faithfulness He has demonstrated in your life. Go bigger than that even. Take in the record of faithfulness He has demonstrated to His people over the span of several millennia. If He’s been that faithful for that long, you can trust that He’s not going to stop now. Go with Him and experience the life He wants you to live.