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.

Psalm 16 – Borders and Refugees

God has promised us our inheritance.  By sharing our country with others, that inheritance is not jeopardized.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

 

Happy Advent! I’m so excited to get started.  But where to start? “A Liberal Christian Reads the Bible” is all about finding the Biblical support  for radical love and acceptance. Psalms are kind of like hymns, and singing always lifts my spirits, so I decided to warm up with a psalm.  Googling “Psalms for Advent” gave me a whole list (actually a whole list of lists), and I started with the first one, Psalm 16. I feel like it was divinely inspired, no joke.  By the end of the first verse, I knew it would be a good opening.

Before we talk about the psalm though, let’s talk about Advent. In a nutshell, Advent is the start of the liturgical (church) calendar, and one of my favorite seasons.  It is a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ – both His birth and His return as Messiah.  It is a time of general reflection and contemplation, making it a good time to start this project of biblical reflection and contemplation.  I think of it as a mini and more joyous Lent. Now, let’s talk about the Psalm.

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.”  That word refuge struck me immediately, as the media is full of news of the caravan of refugees now waiting in Mexico to cross the US border.  Then, the last verse of the first part of Psalm 16 says “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”  So, the first section of the psalm starts with refuge, and ends with boundaries…refuge, boundaries…refugees, borders.

16:5 (the verse immediately preceding the one mentioning borders) says “you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.”  Here God is reminding us that there is enough for all.  There are LOTS of problems in this country.  Lots.  But even so, it is a place that people come from all over the world.  If we are faithful Christians, shouldn’t we believe in God’s ability to provide for all of us?  He has assigned us our portion, our lot is secure, our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.  Let us share our bounty with those who may not have such blessings.  It will not hurt us to do so.

Instead, we will be “saints who are in the land…the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” (16:3).  The ones who are in this land (the United States) who welcome these refugees, and indeed, any person in need, will find favor in the eyes of God.

Even though the first section of the Psalm spoke to me strongest, I don’t want to ignore the second two sections of the Psalm, so let’s discuss its broad strokes really quick.  According to my NIV footnotes, it is a prayer for safekeeping or a song of trust.  The three stanzas have three individual themes: One, Refuge; Two, Counsel, and Three, Rejoicing.   We’ve discussed refuge at length.

Reading it in the context I have chosen, I see part two as a reminder to reflect upon my actions, making sure they are truly Godly.  Isn’t the author of this psalm describing all of us at night when he says “even at night, my heart instructs me.”? I know that I, for one, tend to go over the day’s events as I lay in bed.  If we have the Lord “always before [us],” or actively in our thoughts, then even this seemingly mundane act can become an act of faith.

In part three, the writer rejoices. The line that most struck a cord with me is “You have made known to me the path of life…” (16:11).  To bring things full circle, Advent is a time of preparing for Jesus’ arrival.  Arrivals signal the end (and beginning) of journeys, or paths.  The refugees are on a journey, or path.  Americans are preparing for their arrival.  Some with hate and fear in their heart, others with love.  Let me end with a plea, that we prepare for the refugees’ arrival the same as we would prepare for Jesus.  With rejoicing, with generosity, and with love.  God has promised us our inheritance.  By sharing our country with others, that inheritance is not jeopardized.  Not to get ahead of myself in this Bible study, but Jesus says to welcome a stranger is to welcome him. (Matthew 25:35)  Let us welcome the strangers, and become saints of the land, worthy of God’s delight.

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If you would like to do something to help the refugees both at the Mexican border and elsewhere, the International Rescue Committee is a great organization worthy of donations.  Located closer to the action, SIREN is helping refugees apply for asylum. Also, it never hurts to call your representatives to let them know you do not agree with actions being taken at the border, like tear-gas used on children.  While there probably won’t be any immediate effect, being vocal in your beliefs can help change policy in the future.  You can find out who your representatives are, and their phone numbers, here.

Wednesday I’ll start discussing the book of Malachi, if you want to read along.

Hi there!

You’re early!  This liberal Christian will start reading the Bible (and sharing my thoughts with you) the first Sunday of Advent.  That’s December 2.  I’ll be reading Psalm 16, if you want to read it yourself and play along.

So here’s how it works:  There’s 1,189 chapters in the Bible.  I’m aiming to read 3 a week, publishing a post on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The chapter being studied will be quoted in entirety at the beginning of every post.  Some are pretty long.

I welcome you on joining me in this journey. You can learn more about me here, so you know what you’re getting into, and we’ll both refine things from there.  More soon!