Malachi 1:2 - A Love Letter
I have loved you, says the LORD.Malachi 1:2
I admit that I have written very few love letters. If I would write one today, I suppose it would begin by addressing the one I love, and then continue by writing to her about why it is I love her so. I would conclude the letter with the words I love you under which I would sign my name.
The LORD’s love letter to his people Israel through his servant Malachi is somewhat different from what I have outlined. It begins in a standard enough way. The one addressed is mentioned in chapter 1:1 “The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” Then, rather than giving Israel the reasons why He loves her and ending with the words, “I love you” the LORD instead begins with those words: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. The Hebrew tense of this verb also allows for an English translation which makes clear that this love is not just a thing of the past, but continues even into the present: “I love you.”
Why does the LORD write his love letter this way? The truth of the matter is that there is not much, if anything, about Israel that makes her lovable. When one reads through the book of Malachi one cannot help but be struck by all the things that make Israel so unattractive. She is a faithless friend of God. Her worship is unacceptable. Her marriages are ungodly and only made worse by her sin of divorce. She accuses her God of injustice, and her tithes are not faithfully brought. Indeed, who would even bother to write a love letter to this people called Israel?
The answer is that the LORD would and does bother. He sends his servant Malachi to a people completely faithless within the covenant relationship, and the very first words out of his mouth are, “I love you.” In confronting Israel’s sin the LORD does not have his servant Malachi begin by pounding the pulpit but by touching their hearts which have grown so cold to his love. This is worthy of imitation by God’s people today. The apostle Paul teaches,
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Ephesians 5:1-2
What draws forth these words of love? So often, if not always, words of love within human relationships are drawn forth by the person to whom they are spoken. For a young man or woman, the words “love you” express an attraction to the opposite sex, an attraction grounded in some outward or inward beauty. However, when God says to Israel that He loves her, then it is not grounded in her inward or outward beauty. She is at that moment not attractive. When you go back to the moment the LORD first set his love on Israel, she was not attractive. In fact, according to Ezekiel 16, she was downright ugly. Yet, the LORD chose to love her because He is love (1 John 4:16). This truth remains when one looks at the people of God today. By nature, each person is downright ugly due to a common share in the sin of Adam and Eve. The apostle Paul is even more accurate when he describes the human condition as being dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Nevertheless today God comes to his people and says, “I love you.”
Why? The verses 2-3 of Malachi 1 begin to answer that question: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” Here God underlines that his love for his people comes from Him and not from them. The patriarch Jacob was loved by God, but his twin brother was hated. Why? The apostle Paul’s answer is that this is not a result of something either brother had done, but even before they were born God had set his love on the one and not on the other (Romans 9:10ff). God’s love is unconditional since it is based not on what you do but upon what He from eternity has chosen. He has chosen from eternity to love a people for himself in Jesus Christ and to bind himself to that people in covenant love. Even in the midst of sins and shortcomings in your life He comes to you and touches your heart with these words, “I have loved you,” says the LORD. What a love letter! What a Lord!