Malachi 1 – questioning God’s love (exegetical notes)
September 5, 2007
Here I am, blogging away again, while time is passing away, and I’m heading deeper and deeper into the academical excrement by the hour:-) Currently working on an assignment about Reformed identity and postmodernism, luckily I’ve done a fair share of reading on similar topics, otherwise there would have been no way I’d have finished. When that one is finished I have to finish up an assignment on the use of one of the parables in the Synoptic Gospels and Thomas. And in-between I’ll be camping Saturday and Sunday, and then again from Sunday evening till Wednesday.
I preached on Malachi 1 the past Sunday. It was my first sermon in the “big church”, our “formal church service” on Sunday. It actually went quite well, I’ve only attended this service myself once, so I didn’t really have any idea how it worked, but the congregation is really friendly, and although some prefer a formal gathering, they are not “stiff” or anything. They can laugh, greet the preacher, actually sing, and responded well after the service.
So, back to Malachi 1. Some thoughts. What really gripped me as I struggled with the book last week was the question in 1:2. “I have loved you,” says the Lord, “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’. As I was reading Brueggemann during the same time, the struggle that took place in Ancient Israel really stood out for me. Written about 450 B.C., the people in the time of Malachi are part of a tradition where the narratives about the great works of the Lord are very important. This is the God who appeared to Abraham, who led the Israelites from Egypt under Moses, who led Joshua to occupy the small nations in Israel. This is the God of David, the greatest king of Israel, under whose reign Israel for a small time was actually a nation to be reckoned with. It’s the God for whom Solomon built the temple, the temple they have only heard about, in all it’s riches.
But this is also the God they were worshiping. But to them, it must have seemed like God has stopped acting. They weren’t observing any more great acts in history like the ones they talked about in their narratives. Actually, they were just suffering. Seems like draughts were common in this time and violence from other nations as well. They were struggling to find their feet, and were oppressed by others. And when Malachi tell them that God loves them, they simply don’t bite into the idea, and thus ask : How have you loved us?. They ask: Really? It doesn’t seem like that!
And in stead of biting of their heads for asking the question, Malachi accepts the question, and try to answer it. I see the whole rest of the book as a reaction to this question (do go read the book, it’s quite short). And what I think Malachi is trying to tell them is that this relationship is not working, the relationship between God en Israel. But in stead of giving them a lot of gifts to prove God’s love, they receive the promise of God’s love lies in his decision to be in relationship with Israel, very much like a marriage. And God will not let go of this relationship. This becomes apparent from 1:6 onwards. God show to Israel that God has ample reason to also doubt Israel love, but in the end God tell them that rather than getting out of the relationship, God will sit this through with them, will help them restore the relationship (4:5-6), which is a further answer to the question How have you loved us?.
I don’t think Malachi has a lot to say for those of us who have a perfect relationship with God, but for those of us who struggle, who sometimes feel that God does not love us, or that God has gone, for us Malachi has something to say. And for those of us who simply keep on doing the rituals, while the relationship with God has gone (read the book).
Well, that was my sermon on Sunday morning, maybe not what you would have started with in your first sermon at a church, but that was the text I got, and this is what I saw when I read the text.