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Malachi 1:1-2:9


Today’s reading from Malachi covers two of six ‘disputations’ or short dialogues/arguments between God and the people. 

1:2-4 | In the first disputation, the people want to know why it is that if their ancestor Jacob was favored over his twin brother Esau, the descendants of Esau (Edom) seem to be having a better go of it than Israel.  God responds by assuring them that the reverse is true, that they are favored and will be blessed by God and that Edom will be destroyed.  Sure enough, by about 400 BC, the nation of Edom is dispersed by nomadic Arab tribes, losing their identity and homeland forever.

This passage c0ntains a verse that’s always given me trouble, though.  God says, ‘I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.’  How’d you like to go down in history as being hated by God.  I’ve never had trouble with Esau’s fate.  He sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge, which is short-sighted and demonstrates some questionable priorities.  But this idea that God hated Esau has always stuck in my craw.

I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted this song here before, but Prove Me Wrong by Caedmon’s Call is relevant yet again to my reactions to scripture:

And I am sad that Esau hated,
crying against what’s fated,
saying, ‘Father, please, is there any left for me?’

That verse doubly nails my reaction to this idea that God hated Esau.  First, it breaks my heart to think of Esau being struck by His foolishness and begging Isaac for mercy.  Secondly, it gets at that scary notion that Esau’s mistake and consequent destiny was ‘fated’ in some way, that Esau is being punished for a decision that was pre-written for him. 

Without getting into the nitty gritty of Esau’s responsibility for his actions (which I’ve done elsewhere, I think, and will inevitably do again), the way out of this ‘hated’ conundrum is given by the ESV Study Bible folks.  They explain that ‘loved’ in this verse means more chosen than a term of affection; likewise, ‘hated’ means rejected, not detested.  So the verse is not introducing a new understanding of the story, where God adores Jacob and detests Esau.  Rather, it’s just laying out the facts as we knew them:  Jacob was chosen to father God’s people, and Esau was rejected for that role because he gave away his birthright. 

This I’m more comfortable with because it deals with their respective roles in salvation history, not their value as people or their ultimate spiritual status. 

1:6 | In the second disputation, God turns the tables around on the people.  The issue isn’t whether God loves His people, but rather whether the people love God.  He finds it rather rich of them to be complaining that Edom has it better off while they shirk their ritual obligations and half-ass their way through sacrifice and obedience. 

It reminds me of the central conceit behind CS Lewis’ essay, God in the Dock.  He points out the absurdity of the modern man’s attitude towards God.  People of all cultures throughout history have concerned themselves with finding God so they can make sure to honor Him and be judged favorably by Him. 

Modern man, however, is less worried about being judged by God and is more interested in judging God:  ‘Do you exist?  Prove it?  If you’re as loving and omnipotent as you claim, explain pain to me.  Why should I consider you good, let alone worship you?’  This obviously represents complex intellectual trends throughout the past few centuries of Western history, and it’s not meant as a condemnation of those people who seek God in this way.  But the idea of man judging God is illustrative of the intellectual tenor of our age.

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