Malachi 01 – Loving and Hating

An introduction to Biblical hyperbole.

 A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.

12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord.14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

Now that we’ve warmed up with a psalm, let’s get into our main reading for Advent.  I chose to read Malachi for a few reasons, but mainly, it’s short.  I can get a whole book knocked out in the first few weeks of this project, and gain a little momentum.  It feels good to check things of a list, right?  But second and more profound, Malachi is (probably) the last prophet of the Old Testament.  (Some say Joel is later, thanks NIV reading notes!) And prophets are all about preparing for the Lord, which is what Advent it all about, too, so it seems a fitting place to start.  So….let’s get started!

And it’s a great place to start, because right off the bat we’re introduced to some Biblical hyperbole.  From my sporadic Bible reading I’ve already completed, I already know that Jesus often speaks in hyperbole to get his point across.  Like Father, like Son, I guess.  I’m not making light of what God is commanding us, but hyperbole is important to keep in mind for measured, reasoned reading.  Like this line right here:

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

If you’re a little rusty on Biblical history, Jacob and Esau are the twin grandsons of Abraham (father of the Abrahamic religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). We’ll get into the details when we read Genesis, but to super-paraphrase: Jacob got a holy birthright from his father and Esau didn’t.  But, even though Esau didn’t get that holy birthright, he was said to “have plenty” (Genesis 33:9) and a whole chapter (Genesis 36) is dedicated to listing off his many numerous descendants.  Maybe Edom (his homeland) doesn’t stay around forever and ever, but you got to admit, to have a whole chapter of your sons listed in Genesis, you’re doing pretty good.

All this is to say, the “hate” is hyperbole.  If I were Malachi, writing for today’s audience, I would pass God’s message along like this: “Were not Esau and Jacob brothers?  I loved Esau, but I loved Jacob even more.  Esau’s descendants were numerous and he lived a life of plenty, but Jacob’s descendants shall be more numerous still.  Their country shall never be turned to wasteland and their inheritance never resigned to desert jackals.”  Something like that.  Basically, “loving” and “loving more” is a better read than “loving” and “hating.”  Again, I’m going to draw right from NIV text notes:

“God chose Jacob but not Esau.  For the use of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ here, cross reference how Leah was ‘hated’ in the fact that Jacob loved Rachel more (Genesis 29:31, 33).  Likewise, believers are supposed to ‘hate’ their parents (Luke 14:26) in the sense that they love Christ even more (Matthew 10:37)”

As this text note establishes, the word “hate” is being used to make a point, putting it in strong contrast to “love.” But really, I think “hate” can be almost entirely removed in these contrasting statements.  At least here it can.  “Loved” and “Loved more” is, in my mind, a more accurate representation of God’s meaning. “Loved more” might still be a little uncomfortable for today’s readers, I’ll admit.  No parent is supposed to have one child they “love more,” for example.  But it’s a hell of a lot better than “hate,” right?  So, if you happen to be perusing the Bible and come across the word “hate,”  see if love can be worked into the equation instead.  I bet in most cases it can.

There’s a whole second part to this chapter – the whole sacrificing blind and lame animals thing – but I’m going to leave that for a later post, because it can be looked at more holistically with some themes from chapter three.  Yeah, I’ve read ahead.  I encourage you to do the same, knowing that God loves you, and keeping love in your own heart.