Well, you've had the main course of Dan Phillips covered in Reformation, the dose of Spurgeon, the sweet confection of Phil Johnson naming names of our critics, and now you'll have to settle for the small fizzy Alka-Seltzer of, um, me.
And you're all still angry at me for not really finishing my series on daGifts, so it's not even really a satisfying fizzy drink -- I'm a bitter little bromo, and you have to need me to even like me. Dan and Phil (and of course, the great Spurgy) are a hard act to follow, but I have no shame.
So what can I say that you will even bother to read now? How about this:
"I have loved you," says YHVH.If you read Malachi somewhat superficially, you might think it's a book in which Israel complains to God -- and in some respect, that's true. "How have you loved us?" they ask. "What weariness [the temple worship] is," they groan. "How have we despised your name, Lord," they wonder.
But you say, "How have you loved us?"
But in fact, this book is God's complaint against Israel. See: in this point in Israel's history, the nation of Israel has had a covenant with God that should have set them apart -- it should have made them a nation at which the other nations marvelled. But instead, starting with the generation after Joshua, and going on through Saul and almost all the kings in the line of David (yes, there were exceptions), they were a nation who wanted to be like all the other nations. They wanted a king who was the tallest one even though he was the kind of man to hide among the baggage. They wanted to serve gods like the other nations had, where they could have a religion and then do as they pleased rather than have a God who lives among them and makes them a blessing in all things -- from business to justice to family. They wanted justice against their enemies, but they didn't want to be a just people who treated those with nothing as brothers in the image of God.
So God starts His second-to-last message to them (John the Baptist is still to come) by saying to them, "I love you." Think about that: this disobedient people, this nation who has broken the covenant from Horeb, God starts a letter of condemnation by saying, "I love you."
I think the answer lies in Israel's response to God's "I love you." They say, "How have you loved us?"
The sense here is that they cannot remember God ever loving them. So God says to them, "listen: from the time of your father Jacob, I loved you instead of his brother Esau -- and to this day, the children of Esau are my enemies. You got Jerusalem back -- but Edom gets nothing back. My power is greater than just the boundaries of Israel."
That is: when the rest of the world has nothing to hope for, Israel still should have had something to hope for.
Well, so what? "Yes -- we get it," says the proper reader of this blog with his Hebrew Tanach open to this passage. "Israel has forgotten the covenant. They are an ungrateful people. They are about to be the people who reject the Messiah when they see Him, and He is going to clean house. How does this help me today, when I wonder what is going to happen to our nation?"
I think you better ask yourself, my dear Hebrew buff, what it meant to the Jews who were wondering exactly that about their nation. God says that the problem with their nation is that they need a dose of the refiner's fire, and a round with the fuller's soap -- starting with you who do not know what it means for God to love you
Now, before you don't get what I'm driving at, let me sum it up. The comparison here is not between America and Israel. America is not a chosen nation in spite of its blessing any more than Rome was a chosen nation for all its ancient blessings. Sorry 700 club -- sorry Jack Van Impe. The comparison ought to be between the church and Israel. In the latter case -- in Israel's case -- Israel was chosen by God to be a blessing to all nations, and they forgot everything that God did for them and wondered if God ever loved them.
Today, the church must say, "God loves us! He has loved us!" We must not be ungrateful for what He has done. We must rejoice for what He has done because today is when that matters. Today is when we live like God is keeping His promises. If we are worried about our nation, we should then live as if God loves us and not as if we can only think, "well, when has God loved us?"
I mean: how can we call the Gospel "good news" if we think that somehow the outcome of a human vote can leave us without hope? How good could it be if a mere ideology or ballot process renders it somehow weakened or can overcome it?
Today, God says to His church, "I love you." And now it is our place to be beloved and act like a beloved people. We should remember that God's love is a hard act to follow, and that it is where our hope actually lies.