The threat of questioned love is often used as a tool for evil. For example, have you ever heard a child, with a whine in his voice, say to one of his parents, “If you loved me, you’d let me do this or that”? “If you loved me you wouldn’t enforce a curfew on the weekends.” “If you loved me you’d not make me eat these vegetables I don’t like.” “If you really love me, you’d let me choose my own friends.”
One of the problems inherent in children is their lack of experience in life. They are not sufficiently wise to see that dangers of bad companions and the effects of potential bad habits. Without seeing into the future, and anticipating only the best, they don’t recognize the predators out there. Adults, on the other hand, can usually look back at their own lives and accurately predict what their children may be creating for themselves.
Having said that, it’s important to point out that even seasoned adults can behave like foolish children. Even with years of experience, we can look into our own futures and misread the signs in front of us. We can don our imitation Ray-bans and block out certain colors of the spectrum, putting ourselves into serious danger. Abraham, even after his disastrous venture into Egypt, said to a Canaanite king, “Sarah is my sister.” Solomon, with his God-given wisdom and experience, should have stopped with marrying one wife. And Peter, after being warned by the Saviour, “denied with an oath, I do not know the man.”
In our scripture, we see Israel about a thousand years after the Exodus and their first introduction to God. Things were not going well for the chosen nation. They had become not rich; they were not at peace with the neighbors. The Messiah had not come, and the blessings of the Millennium had not arrived. They were not dwelling “safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba,” as it was in the days of Solomon. Having, once again put on their knock-off Versace sun glasses, they had made themselves semi-blind to the blessings which God had given them.
Jehovah, through his prophet Malachi, began a dialog with His people. There was conversation back and forth. And the first statement the Lord made was “I have loved you.” Then with a selfish, petulant, childish reply – a retort actually – Israel said, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” “If you loved us, you’d make our lives better; you’d make us rich; you’d take away our pain and trials.” “How can you say that you love us?”
Strong says that the ancient Hebrew word “whatever” is an interrogative which can mean either “what” or “how,” “why,” or even “when.” Substituting some of those words into Israel’s comeback to God, we come up with – “In what way hast thou love us?” “How have you showed us your love?” “When did you show us your love?” One of my references went on to say that the word can be used as an exclamation – “WHAT? You love us?” – as though it was some sort of surprise. And then it went even further to say it could be used as an indefinite – “what (including whatever…) I know my expert didn’t mean it this way, but I can hear some modern childish Israelites when hearing God say, “I have love you,” reply, “Whatever.”
With this I am coming to the point of our lesson.
Malachi is not a New Testament prophet preaching to a bunch of Christians or to a crowd of modern day sinners, giving to them the gospel. He is addressing Israel – the people who returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But they possessed an attitude which can be found in every day and age since the flood. Those people reveal the mind-set of people today, some who profess to be children of God. “God, I deserve more than I have. You owe me more than you are giving me.” “How can you talk about your love, when there is so much pain in the world – and in me?” “How can you be a loving God, when your own people are unloving towards me?” “WHEREIN hast thou loved us?”
Notice that the Lord didn’t respond by sending a hundred lightning bolts down on Jerusalem, igniting a fire storm of destruction. He certainly had the power to do that, and He has the right as well, but He doesn’t often use that power. No, He responded by appealing to their hearts, to their intellects and to the written Word – the history of Israel. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Are you willing to listen to reason? Are you willing to listen to God? “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob.”
The Lord’s answer at the end of verse 2 and into the next two verses – is a significant statement. It is used by Paul in the Book of Romans, and it is important in the doctrine of sovereign election – salvation by grace. But this morning, I’d like to reduce it to its historical origin and leave the next few verses to another day. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob.” The people had asked, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” In the second part of His statement, the Lord replied, “Well, you are children of Jacob aren’t you? “Look at your great, great grandfather and tell me that I haven’t demonstrated my love toward him. And then tell me that I haven’t blessed you THROUGH him.”
Before we go any further, let me be perfectly clear – I do not hold to the doctrines of “Replacement theology.” I was told the other day that those doctrines are now called “Fulfilment theology” by some people. It is the Protestant idea that New Testament Christians have replaced Israel – stealing from them all the promises which God made to Abraham, Jacob and David. “Replacement theology” includes the idea that the so-called “church” of today – the imaginary universal church – has become – the “Israel” of the past. These people say that the “church” of today has become the real “Israel.” There are a number of lies and heresies in those opinions, and to my death, I will vociferously deny them.
However, I do often draw parallels between the history of Israel and Christians of the 21st century. We can learn many things about ourselves by studying the history, the victories and the sins of Israel. And I would like to make that kind of parallel right now, in the person of Jacob. As Paul said in Romans, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.” And that includes things we might draw from the history of Israel.
The people of the United States are among the most God-blessed in the world, just as Israel once was. It can be properly said of our country that we constantly experience God’s general love, mercy and grace. That obviously doesn’t mean that all Americans are children of God, enjoying that special love which the Lord shares with His adopted sons and daughters. Nevertheless, we and our neighbors are truly blessed, and the blessings of general love and grace often lead to saving love and grace. I believe we can see this in Jacob.
“As it is written, Jacob have I loved” – Romans 9:13.
We are introduced to Jacob in Genesis 25, where in verse 19 we read – “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” Rebekah conceived and later brought-forth twin sons – Esau, first, and then Jacob.
Apparently, Isaac and Rebekah had no children for some time. A number of years? I think we can assume that naturally, they couldn’t have children. But after some time, Isaac began to pray – he “intreated the Lord for his wife” – he begged God for a child. “And the Lord was intreated of him,” and the children were born. Every baby is a gift from God, whether they are planned by their parents or they come as a “surprise.” Since the Israelites of Malachi’s day were descendants of Jacob, it could be argued that they had life because of God’s love for Isaac and Rebekah, in providing them with children. We, and our neighbors, no matter what the condition of our lives – have LIFE – one of the most precious of all gifts. And it is a gift – OF GOD – an evidence of the Lord general love and grace.
Then in Jacob’s case, the Lord displayed his love toward that man, by elevating him from number two to one. For nine months Rebekah carried two babies in her womb. When the day of her delivery arrived, Esau appeared first; thus he became Isaac’s first born and the primary heir of his father. Jacob followed immediately on Esau’s heels – literally – “His hand took hold on Esau’s heel.” The name “Jacob” translates as “supplanter” which means “catcher” or someone who “replaces” things. For nine months “the children struggled together within (Rebekah); and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” Years later, Esau rejected outright his birthright as the first born son of Isaac, just because he was hungry. He said tp his brother, “Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.” Then a chapter later, Jacob deceived his father and stole the priestly blessing which belonged to Esau. I don’t believe Jacob needed to cheat and steal to have that blessing, because God loved Jacob and intended to promote him. Jacob had a special relationship to Jehovah which was based on God’s particular love for this man. Jacob didn’t need to steal Esau’s blessing, but he did, and that fact leads to other important lessons.
The United States of America is a blessed place to live – as is proved by people climbing walls and digging tunnels to get here. In so many ways, this is the best country in the world in which to live, despite all the strife and contention. When did this country rise to the top? It was 1,700 years after Jesus walked in this world. It was 3,000 years after David and Solomon made Israel the greatest of all nations. God loved Jacob, and God has loved us in a general sort of way. We have been grafted onto the olive tree of God’s blessings, as Paul teaches us in Romans 11.
When Paul was using Malachi’s statement, he adorned it with a few Spirit-inspired comments. He said in Romans 9, “When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Paul specifically pointed out that neither child had yet done any good or evil when God chose to love Jacob. There are things about Jacob which are quite reprehensible. There are things about Esau which, I think, are more appealing than what we find in his brother. And yet God sovereignly said, “Jacob have I loved,” and He still does, because God’s love is eternal.
But the Israelites replied, “Wherein hast thou loved us?” God said, “I loved that wretched father of yours, didn’t I?” One lesson is – Don’t let the sins of your past, your youth and your foolishness, blind your eyes to God’s grace. Yes, you had an abortion when you were 19, but didn’t David and Saul of Tarsus also commit murder? Yes, you enticed a friend into drug abuse with you, and he sank lower and lower until he was gone. But remember that Abraham put his wife in danger by saying, “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with ME for thy sake; and MY soul shall live because of thee.” I’m not playing down anyone’s immorality or any other sins, but God’s love is self-originated, and not based on anything good or bad in people. God loved Jacob because God chose to love Jacob.
“Wherein hast thou loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob.” Jehovah’s love was displayed in the family which He gave to the man – 12 sons and at least one daughter. In the society of that day, a family of that size was considered to be among the greatest of all blessings. In any society, two children, six children, or whatever number should be considered evidence of God’s love. Those people in Malachi’s day should have recognized they were products of the children of Jacob. They owed their existence to the fact that God loved Jacob.
The blessings I have mentioned thus far, despite being linked to the love of the Lord, were general and somewhat secular. And yet, these blessings and a thousand smaller tokens of Jehovah’s love were designed by the sovereign God to bring this wicked man to repentance. Romans 2:4 – Israel, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” None of the things I’ve mentioned thus far were sufficient in themselves to convert that sinner into a saint of God – that requires the miracle of God’s grace. No American is a Christian because he was born in this country. No number of divine kindnesses in Jacob’s life thus far made him a child of God. Even though God, from the foundation of the world, intended to redeem this son of Isaac – in real time, he was still a lost man. He was dead in trespasses and sins, walking according to the course of this world.
But the love of God was still at work. One day, through the Lord’s providence, Jacob was led to one of God’s churches – or at least that is the illustration. In Genesis 28:16 we read, “And Jacob …said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And he called the name of that place Bethel,” which means “house of God.” It is a good thing to go to the house of God, because if it is really God’s house, then it will be a place where a person can meet the Lord. It is one thing to hear our father and grandfather talk about Jehovah and His grace. It is a good thing to read about the gracious salvation which God gave to Noah and his children. It is wonderful to learn about God’s blessings and promises to Abraham. But you and I need a direct, personal relationship with the Lord. That does not have to begin in church – the house of God – but that is often where it first takes place.
Jacob left his home in Beersheba with plans to go to Haran, a city connected to his grandfather Abraham. Along the way, he stopped to spend the night in, or near, the village of Luz. Little did he know at the time that in Luz was a house of God. He only stopped there for some rest and perhaps a good meal. And then he bedded down to sleep, but during that night Jehovah chose to revealed Himself.
That was the place of “Jacob’s ladder” – so-called – literally a stair case. “And the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” Behold the love of God toward Jacob. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly when the man was regenerated, converted, born-again, but at the very least this was a very serious part of that conversion.
Out of all the people of the earth, including his elder brother, God chose to reveal Himself to Jacob. It took place in Bethel, “the house of God.” And where are you this morning? You are in the house of God. Whether you like the idea or not, God may be revealing Himself to you, calling your name, and convicting you of sin, just as He did Jacob that night. There are very few things more gracious than this. There are very few things which reveal God’s love than this. You can either acknowledge God’s revelation to you, as Jacob did, or you can leave Bethel as Luz and continue on towards the Lake of Fire and judgment.
After this initial revelation, God continued to shower His love down on Jacob – in various ways. He gave him a good wife, and as I said, a multitude of children. And despite the duplicity of greedy people against him, the Lord made Jacob wealthy. The Lord changed Jacob’s name from “supplanter” to “Israel” – “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Shortly after that, when he finally went home to the land promised to the family of Abraham, he was met by his brother, Esau, whom he had envisioned as filled with hatred towards him. But the God who rules all hearts had turned the hatred of Esau into kindness and brotherly love. God’s love for Jacob proved itself over and over again.
But the greatest gift of divine love is the Saviour and deliverance.
The faith of God’s man, Israel, was put to the test, through a number of providential events. One of Israel’s sons, Joseph, disappeared while on a mission to check on his older siblings. In reality, he was sold by his brethren into Egyptian slavery. Jacob and Rachel were heart-broken, having been deceived into thinking the very worst about their child. But out of God’s love, Joseph was sent into Egypt, just as God’s own son was eventually sent to the earth. 1 John 4:9 – “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” Through the miraculous providence of God, Joseph became the Prime Minister of Egypt.
In the mean time, famine and poverty broke the economy of the Promised Land, and Israel was forced to apply to Egypt for relief. I hope you know the story of Jacob’s son Joseph – his trials, his ascension and the glory he received. His treacherous brethren had for the most part forgotten about what they had done, and they certainly didn’t expect him to be in authority in Egypt, second only unto Pharaoh. When Joseph revealed himself to them, he said, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Joseph is one of the best pictures in the Old Testament of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel, Jacob, went down into Egypt, to be saved by Joseph – the type of Christ.
“I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob.” God loved that man, providentially leading and blessing him throughout his youth and early manhood. Then He continued to prove His love by convicting him of his sins and his sinful wicked heart. He proved his love by preparing a Saviour. And He demonstrated His love by actually saving Him – physically and spiritually. Jacob was saved by faith through faith, just as Abraham had been. He became a true child of God by his faith in the promise of God. And that salvation was illustrated in the redemption which brought Israel out of the death trap of Egypt.
I believe the Lord still has a special love for multitudes of people, some of whom are not yet saved. Many of the residents of this country may be saying, “Wherein hath thou loved us?” The answer to that question surrounds us like ten thousand points of light. But the greatest of these is seen in the gospel and the Bethel wherein is preached that gospel.
We all come into this world as “Jacobs” – self-centered cheats, blindly walking toward hell. But God in His sovereign grace has looked upon millions of such “Jacobs” from before they were born, choosing to love them. He chose to change their names from “sinner” to “saint;” changing them from “children of the Devil” to “children of God.” He prepared from before the foundation of the world, a Saviour, His own precious Son. He designed the means of their deliverance and salvation – and carried it to fruition. And as difficult as it is to understand, He did it because “As it is written, Jacob have I loved.” David have I loved; Steven have I loved; Daniel have I love; Mary have I loved, and Anabel have I loved.
Insert your name into that verse, and humbly make your claim on that divine love. Put your trust in that love and in the divine Lover. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Empty your heart of all other affections – all your idolatries – and love God in return. Trust the salvation which God has provided – Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”