“‘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. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.’”
— Malachi 1:2-3 (CSB – Read the chapter)
Sometimes we just don’t understand God’s love. It might be that our lack of understanding comes because of ignorance. It could come from pride and an accompanying unwillingness to see beyond what we already have our minds wrapped around. Our struggle could also arise out of a lack of perspective. Sometimes it comes from being broken by life. Israel was struggling to understand God’s love—that much we do understand. His defense, however, is another matter.
I’ve touched on these verses before almost exactly a year ago. I may repeat myself a bit, but they are worth looking at again because of how jarringly dissonant God’s response to their query rings in our ears. As I introduced Malachi’s collection of prophecy yesterday, I explained that God was speaking to a people who were disillusioned with religion and cynical of God’s intentions toward them. Most of this collection of prophecy is God challenging them on their attitudes and behaviors resulting from that along with their responses to Him.
God begins here with a reaffirmation of His love for them. We can perhaps imagine—some of us all too well—the way Israel was feeling and how that played into their response to His reassertion of His love. “How?” they said. That perhaps seems cold, but they were hurt and frustrated. They were angry that coming home from exile hadn’t been the return to glory they hoped it would. God seemed absent and life wasn’t getting any easier.
So God offered some proof for them: I chose you. I chose you when I could have chosen someone else. Specifically, I could have chosen your brother—your older brother no less—but I didn’t. I chose you. As a result, you’re still here and he is long gone. You’ve been returned from exile and restored whereas he will never rebuild even if he tries.
Now, it’s the way God puts this is that is so hard for us. He puts this in the language of loving and hating. Those are emotional words in our culture’s lexicon. For Israel, though, they were volitional words. They didn’t have to do with feeling, but rather choice.
Israel was chosen by God. We hear that language used a lot in the Scriptures. We still talk in those terms today some. As followers of Jesus, guys like Paul and Peter describe us as chosen by God after the pattern of His choosing Israel. Yet what does it mean to be chosen by God?
That’s a bigger question than I can answer even in this longer than usual post, but let’s explore it just a bit to give you something to think about going into this holiday weekend (at least here in my country). Peter talks about being chosen by God in very encouraging terms. Paul too. We should be glad for our choosing. It comes with benefits that not being chosen can’t access by any other means.
But that doesn’t seem fair, does it? I mean, if God is going to give something good to some of the people He has created, why can’t He give it to all of them? Well, we have to add a little nuance in our thinking about the idea of chosenness and recognize that how God talked about it with Israel wasn’t the same as the New Testament authors did.
Let’s start with that second idea. When God chose Israel, it was so He had a vessel to see His plans for His world brought to fruition. He was focused on bringing Jesus to the world in order to save all of it. God didn’t choose Israel because He wanted to give them something that He didn’t then give everyone else. He chose them precisely because He wanted to give something to everyone.
Bringing one person to earth requires a family line. Babies come from parents. Parents come from grandparents. Grandparents come from great grandparents and on back it goes. Additionally, God needed to have a worldview in place so that the things He wanted to reveal through the Messiah, His Son, made sense. While some worldview elements are common across many different worldviews, each nation has a unique worldview. Given these two factors, God had to work through a single people, not all of them, to accomplish His plans.
Now, yes, Israel got special breaks that other nations did not in terms of grace when they blew it, but they still paid for their sinfulness, and if anything, their behavior as compared to the nations around them revealed just how little God’s choosing as He did made a difference in how they turned out.
God simply chose them because He wanted to. He could have chosen someone else. He made clear in the Law that they shouldn’t think of themselves as more special than anyone else for His choosing. They were simply chosen. Their chosenness made them special, yes, but they were chosen because they were special. And, their being chosen was for the purpose of bringing the same blessings they enjoyed in terms of access to God to the whole world.
As for our chosenness as followers of Jesus, that’s an even bigger topic. And it’s a topic on which opinions will depend mightily on one’s theology of God’s sovereignty. Suffice to say here, the perspective of Peter and Paul seems to be that if you are a follower of Jesus, you were chosen to that position by God. This doesn’t mean folks who aren’t are not similarly chosen or are chosen to not follow Him. As long as they are living, they can still give their lives to Christ which will reveal their chosenness.
The real point for us here is that nobody gets close to God unless He lets them get close. He is the one in charge of the universe, not us. It is a gift and evidence of His love that anyone gets close. If you are close to God, He chose you to that position. Relish His choice and enjoy His love. If you aren’t, that doesn’t mean He didn’t choose you, it is much more likely to mean He’s waiting for you to embrace His choosing by trusting Him with your life. Rest assured, you’ll be glad you did.
His love is already poured out in Christ in ways Israel couldn’t have even imagined. There’s no need to struggle with it like they did. We only need to receive it and live. We live with a freedom that not even my homeland will be celebrating this weekend. It will be the freedom to live life to the fullest.