Digging in Deeper: Malachi 1:2-3a

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you ask, “How have you loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

This morning we ran into this incredibly hard statement on God’s part that He hated someone. Namely, He hated Esau, Jacob’s brother. But, the observation wasn’t specific to just Esau. It included the entire nation of his descendants as well. Fortunately, the way God was using the words “love” and “hate” in Malachi, wasn’t the same as the way we often use them today. He simply meant that He chose one over the other. There were no emotions involved. The thing is, even understanding that, this passage is still really hard to accept. Let’s talk about why.

The reason this passage is so hard for modern folks to get our hearts and minds around is because we are primed to think in terms of fairness. From an early age in our culture we have the notion driven deeply into our hearts and minds that life is supposed to be fair. If someone gets something we don’t have, we should be able to obtain the same thing or at least something similar. Life is supposed to be fair.

And when we encounter a passage like this one where God chooses one people for blessing and does not seem to similarly choose another people (or any other people for that matter) for the same blessing, something in us rises up to protest: That’s not fair! It’s not fair that God chose one people and not another. What are we supposed to do with this? Was it unfair of God?

Well, we can start by resting assured that this is a concern pressing to us in a way it wasn’t for Malachi’s audience (and not simply because they were the chosen ones). Fairness wasn’t something that entered into the thought processes of the average Israelite in the 6th or 5th century B.C. Fairness wasn’t something that entered into anyone’s thought process until yesterday, historically speaking. Life was the way it was, and the gods did what they did. You could live with it or…well…not.

But let’s think on this for a minute, because this is an issue that trips up not a few folks, and we need to be able to respond to it. Is it unfair that God chose Jacob and his descendants instead of Esau and his?

Well, only if God has to treat everyone equally. It’s only unfair if He can’t give to one person what He doesn’t also give to another person without compromising His character. For us to say it was unfair of God to choose Jacob instead of Esau is to say that He did something wrong in making such a choice. That’s a fine claim to make, but what exactly did He do that was so wrong?

Well…He chose one and not the other.

Right…so, what makes that wrong?

Well…because one got what the other didn’t.

Still with you…but what makes that wrong?

Well…it’s just not fair.

And you see, we’ve come full circle. This person is arguing in a circle. His reasoning isn’t valid which makes his critique invalid. You see, for us to evaluate God as having done something wrong here, we have to have some standard by which we are evaluating His actions. What is that standard? Who determined its details? It can’t be God because why would He create a standard that He would then violate? If He was creating the standard, why not leave a little extra room for stuff like this?

But if God didn’t create the standard we are using, then who did? Is there some being higher than God? If there is, then we need to be worshiping that instead of God. If someone lower than God created the standard, though (like, say, us), then how on earth do we justify using a standard created by a creature to meaningfully evaluate the Creator? Do you see the problems here? Any argument that God has done something that isn’t fair immediately falls apart on its own merits.

Still, pointing out the flaws in the reasoning of this critique won’t necessarily satisfy the critic. So, here are two more points to consider.

First, God is free. He is the Creator. The world and everything in it are His. What He does with His creation is His business. When He makes the choice to accomplish something through someone, it’s because He wants to. There’s nothing that compels or constrains His choosing other than His character.

At the same time, the whole world is broken by sin. That means none of it or us are worthy of His choosing. This means He didn’t choose Jacob and his descendants because they were somehow more special than Esau. He chose them because He wanted to choose them. He could have easily chosen someone else. But He didn’t. He chose them. One commentator put it like this: “God’s electing love is not based on performance, position, or power. It’s based on His prerogative. The input one has in being chosen is the same input one has in choosing one’s parents, the country in which one is born, or the city in which one was raised.”

Second, if you take in the larger context of His choosing of Israel, God was in the process of building a nation with a culture from which He could enter the world in the person of Jesus Christ, proclaim the truth and life, and then die to enable us to live it. He couldn’t do that through multiple people groups at the same time. That’s not how genetics or culture work. He had to choose one. But, in choosing that one, He was doing so for the sake of the rest of the world. Giving life to all the world was always the plan. In other words, in the beginning, God wasn’t rejecting Esau at all. He was simply choosing to accomplish His plans for Esau and the rest of the world through Jacob. Nothing unfair about that.

The bottom line is this: In Christ, God has chosen everyone who will receive Him. That includes you if you are willing. Don’t get all hung up on the choices He’s made to enable Him to choose you; simply receive the choosing He’s offered. Receive the life He gives. Because of sin, choosing us will always be unfair. Take it anyway. His love is worth it.

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