The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”
– Malachi 1:1-5 (ESV)
“How have you loved us?” The answer to this question is an interesting one. God doesn’t answer by listing all the ways he has loved his people. He doesn’t talk about preserving Jacob’s family in the famine, or making Israel into a nation in Egypt, or freeing them from slavery, or giving them a land, or freeing them from Babylon. Instead, he compares them to their brother Esau. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”
What is he saying here?
Here’s what he isn’t saying: he isn’t saying that Esau is somehow worse than Jacob. Edom is not worse than Israel. But upon Israel the favor and love of the Lord has rested. “How have you loved us?” His wrath has fallen upon those outside the covenant, those outside the family. The same wrath we all deserved has not fallen upon us. There’s a bright contrast. A love so bright everything else looks like hate.
As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
– Romans 9:25-29 ESV
This is amazing love. Questioning it, as the questioner in Malachi has done, and as we so often do, is just a symptom of our spiritual blindness.
How has he loved us? He has loved like one who has given his life to save the life of his enemy. He has loved us like one who rushes into a burning building to save those in danger from the fire, and lets the building fall on top of him. He loves us the way a King does who adopts a poor, unlovely child no one else wants and raises her with honor and love and the rights of full inheritance.
How he has loved us!