The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
The burden of the word of the Lord, etc. Malachi - which means "Messenger" the last of the Hebrew prophets, is a man whose personal history is wrapped in utter obscurity. He is supposed to have lived after Haggai and Zechariah, and to be contemporary with Nehemiah. It is likely that he occupied a relationship to Nehemiah somewhat analogous to that which Haggai and Zechariah sustained to Zerubbabel. The general opinion is that he prophesied about the year B.C. 430. This was that brilliant period in Greece in which flourished some of its greatest men - Cimon, son of Miltiades, distinguished as a commander; Pericles, the greatest of Athenian statesmen, under whom Athens attained a splendour that made her the wonder and admiration of all Greece; Phidias, the celebrated sculptor, and a host of distinguished artists; Simonides and Pindar, eminent lyric poets; AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, distinguished dramatists; and Herodotus, who has received a title really due to Moses, "the Father of History." From this passage the following truths may be legitimately deduced.
I. THAT SOME MEN ON THIS EARTH SEEM TO BE MORE FAVOURED BY PROVIDENCE THAN OTHERS, AND YET THEY ARE OFTEN UNCONSCIOUS OF IT. This is the communication or "burden" of the Divine message which Malachi had to deliver to Israel: "I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?" Israel here stands for all the tribes, all the descendants of Jacob. The Israelitish nation was more favoured than any nation on the face of the earth. In relation to their privileges Paul says of the Israelites, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises: whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came' (Romans 9:4, 5). As individuals, some men are more favoured than others. As Jacob was more favoured than Esau, so some men in all generations are more blessed than others - blessed with more vigorous frames, more intellectual resources, more emotional wealth, etc. There is amongst men immense variety in the degree of natural endowments. Read the parable of the talents. But it is man nationally that is here referred to. "I have loved you" that is, "I have regarded you more than other nations." Is not our England more favoured than most if not all of the other nations of the earth? She is, in some respects, as far exalted above all existing states, as Israel of old was above all the heathen nations that surrounded it. But individually, as was said above, all men are not treated alike. Some are born of healthier parents than others, live in more salubrious climes than others, are endowed with higher faculties than others, brought up under more wholesome laws and higher educational influences than others. The existence of these distinctions is too obvious to require either argument or illustration. But whilst this is such a patent fact, the favoured ones are too often unconscious of the distinction. "Wherein hast thou loved us?" Israel did not realize its exalted privileges. How often is this the case! The men most favoured of Providence are often most unconscious of the favours, and they say, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" As a rule, perhaps the moat favoured of Providence are the greatest complainers. What ingratitude is here!
II. THAT THIS DIFFERENCE IN THE PRIVILEGES OF MEN IS TO BE ASCRIBED TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau." Some read it, "I favoured Jacob, but rejected Esau." Why was Jacob more favoured than Esau? Not because he had a nobler moral character. In some respects he appears more despicable than Esau. It was simply because God chose to distinguish him. The reason of distinction was in the mind of God, and nowhere else. "He worketh all things according to the counsel of his will." His sovereignty does not imply either of two things.
1. Partiality on his part. The fact that the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob, in their history endured, perhaps, calamities as great as those that befell the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, proved that it was no partiality on God's part. He is no Respecter of persons. Nor does it imply:
2. Irresponsibility on man's part. "They who have least," says Godwin, "and bear most, may become better and happier than they who have most and suffer least." The permanent value of all things depends on the use which is made of them: the first often becoming last, and the last first. But no argument can be drawn from differences in men's condition as to which will be the most morally advantageous or disadvantageous according to their conduct. Whilst the differences of one kind depend solely on the Divine will, the differences of the other kind are not irrespective of human choice.
III. THOSE WHOM THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD DOES NOT FAVOUR ARE LEFT IN A SECULARLY UNENVIABLE CONDITION.
1. The words teach us that they will have possessions destroyed. "I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons [jackals] of the wilderness." These men, the men of Edom, struggled hard to build up their kingdom and to give it wealth and power, but the product of all their labours was utterly destroyed. Their great things, their "mountains," their wealthy things, their "heritage," the scenes of their power, gave place to the "dragons of the wilderness." Where is Edom now? If Heaven has determined that the fortune you have built up after years of earnest and indefatigable labour shall be swept away, it will depart as a vision of the night.
2. That their efforts were frustrated. "If Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever." They struggle to restore their position, labour hard to build the desolate places, but in every effort they are thwarted. It is in vain to strive against destiny. Mark that all that is here said concerns only the secular prosperity of men. Divine sovereignty is always in favour of spiritual prosperity, progress in intelligence, purity, and happiness. In all these matters men cannot labour in vain.
3. Their enemies prosper. "And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel." Edom hated Israel from the beginning, fought hard against it for centuries, struggled continually to destroy it, but all in vain. The time came when it found itself in ruins and its enemy in prosperity. "The argument of these verses is this," says Dr. Dods, "if you would see the difference between hatred and love, look at the different condition and prospects of Edom and Israel. The desolation with which their territory is visited is irremediable: they have no glorious future beyond: whereas the wretched condition of which you complain is but the bleakness of seed time that precedes the richest harvest."
CONCLUSION. Are we not here in this England of ours among the peoples whom Heaven has specially favoured? Are not the words specially applicable to us, "I have loved you, saith the Lord"? But what is our practical response? Does not our daily life speak out the ingratitude and unbelief of Israel, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" We do not see it; we do not feel it; "Wherein?" What ought we to think of our civilization, our liberties, our fruitful laud and salubrious air? above all, what of our Christ? "Herein is love." - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.