“I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’” (v. 2a)
The golden age of Israel under David and Solomon was long since past. This is the post-exilic period and enough time has gone by that the nation has already begun to spiral back into old habits. God confronts His people through the prophet Malachi. He reminds them of His love. “Ahh, we’re not feeling it,” they insolently scoff, “to what love are You referring?”
Here is just a portion of the love to which Yahweh had shown Israel: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
Years removed from those words given to the nation in the desert, the Lord again spoke to His people: “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you; Therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life.” (Isaiah 43:3,4) And with a “heart churn(ing) within (Him), (His) sympathy stirred” the Lord recounts – “I taught Ephraim (Israel) to walk, taking them by the arms; But they did not know that I healed them, I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” (Hosea 11:8c, 3-4)
In the exchange between Malachi and the people concerning His love, God again, points to His choosing them and His sure promises to give them “a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11) Putting this all together we can make an honest assessment that God unconditionally loves His people.
It is said that perception is nine tenths of reality. Israel obviously had the perception that God did not love them. But as we just determined, that is not true. Where is the disconnect? Maybe the people had moved so far away from God they could no longer perceive His love. Perhaps it was their love and their hearts that had become distant and cold and hard. It could be that they, in their constant backsliding, lacked love for God.
And today, at your house, my house, God’s love for us is a surety – but where is our love for Him? Are we so afar off “we’re not feeling” His love or so close we are awash in it? In what state is our heart found – soft and open and giving and receiving or hard and closed and giving and receiving nothing? Are we in a perpetual backslide that deadens our love for Him or are we living for Him, deepening our love every step of the way?
Next time: (Part 2 – Offering)