The prophecy of this book is entitled, The burden of the word of the Lord (Mal. 1:1), which intimates, 1. That it was of great weight and importance; what the false prophets said was light as the chaff, what the true prophets said was ponderous as the wheat, Jer. 23:38. 2. That it ought to be often repeated to them and by them, as the burden of a song. 3. That there were those to whom it was a burden and a reproach; they were weary of it, and found themselves so aggrieved by it that they were not able to bear it. 4. That to them it would prove a burden indeed, to sink them to the lowest hell, unless they repented. 5. That to those who loved it and embraced it, and bade it welcome, though it was a light burden, as our Saviour calls it (Matt. 11:30), yet it was a burden.
This burden of the word of the Lord was sent, 1. To Israel, for to them pertained the lively oracles of prophecy as well as those of the written word. Many prophets God had sent to Israel, and now he will try them with one more. 2. By Malachi, by the hand of Malachi, as if it were not a message by word of mouth, but a letter put into his hand, for the greater certainty.
In these verses, they are charged with ingratitude, in that they were not duly sensible of God’s distinguishing goodness to them; and such a charge as this may well be called a burden, for it is a heavy one.
I. God asserts the great kindness he had, and had often expressed, for them (Mal. 1:2): I have loved you, saith the Lord. Thus abruptly does the sermon begin, as if God intended, whatever reproofs should be given them, to reconcile them to his love, and to take care that they should still have good thoughts of him. As many as I love I rebuke and chasten. Thus kindly does the sermon begin. God will have his people satisfied that he loves them and is ever mindful of his love. This is the same with what he said of old to the virgin of Israel, that he might engage her affections to himself (Jer. 31:3, 4): Yea I have loved thee with an everlasting love. In this one word God sums up all his gracious dealings with them; love was the spring of all; he loved them because he would love them (Deut. 7:7, 8), loved them in their childhood, Hos. 11:1. His delight was in them, Isa. 62:4. “I have loved you, but you have not loved me, nor made any suitable returns for my love.” Note, God’s people need to be often reminded of his love to them.
II. They question his love, and diminish the instances of it, and seem to quarrel with him for telling them of it: Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us? As God traces up all his favours to them to the fountain, which was his love, so he traces up all their sins against him to the fountain, which was their contempt of his love. Instead of acknowledging his kindness, and studying what they shall render, they scorn to own that they have been beholden to him, challenge him to produce proofs of his love that are material, and think and speak very slightly of the instances they have had of his kindness, as if they were so few, so small, as not to be worth taking notice of, and no more than what they had sufficiently made returns for, or at least than he had sufficiently balanced with instances of his wrath. “Have we not been wasted, impoverished, and carried captive; and wherein then hast thou loved us?” Note, God justly takes it very ill to have his favours slighted, as not worth speaking of; and it is very absurd for us to ask wherein he has loved us, when, which way soever we look, we meet with the proofs and instances of his love to us.
III. He makes it out, beyond contradiction, that he has loved them, loved them in a distinguishing way, which was in a special manner obliging. For proof of this he shows the difference he had made, and would still make, between Jacob and Esau, between Israelites and Edomites. Some read their question, Wherefore hast thou loved us? as if they did indeed own that he had loved them, but withal insinuate that there was a reason for it—that he loved them because their father Abraham had loved him, so that it was not a free love, but a love of debt, to which he replies, “Was not Esau as near akin to Abraham as you are? Was he not Jacob’s own brother, his elder brother? And therefore, if there were any right to a recompence for Abraham’s love, Esau had it, and yet I hated Esau and loved Jacob.”
1. Let them see what a difference God had made between Jacob and Esau. Esau was Jacob’s brother, his twin-brother: “Yet I loved Jacob and I hated Esau, that is, took Jacob into covenant, and entailed the blessing on him and his, but refused and rejected Esau.” Note, Those that are taken into covenant with God, that have the lively oracles and the means of grace committed to them, have reason to look upon these as tokens of his love. Jacob is loved, for he has these, Esau hated, for he has not. The apostle quotes this (Rom. 9:13), and compares it with what the oracle said to Rebecca concerning her twins (Gen. 25:23), The elder shall serve the younger, to illustrate the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in dispensing his favours; for may he not do what he will with his own? Esau was justly hated, but Jacob freely loved; even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy eyes, and it is not for us to ask why or wherefore.
2. Let them see what he was now doing and would do with them, pursuant to this original difference.
(1.) The Edomites shall be made the monuments of God’s justice, and he will be glorified in their utter destruction: For Esau have I hated; I laid his mountains waste, the mountains of Seir, which were his heritage. When all that part of the world was ravaged by the Chaldean army the country of Edom was, among the rest, laid in ruins, and became a habitation for the dragons of the wilderness, so perfectly desolate was it; as was foretold, Isa. 34:6, 11. The Edomites had triumphed in Jerusalem’s overthrow (Ps. 137:7), and therefore it was just with God to put the same cup of trembling into their hands. And, though Edom’s ruins were last, yet they were lasting, and the desolation perpetual; and in this the difference was made between Jacob and Esau, and is made between the righteous and the wicked, to whom otherwise all things come alike, and there seems to be one event. Jacob’s cities are laid waste, but they are rebuilt; Edom’s are laid waste, and never rebuilt. The sufferings of the righteous will have an end and will end well; all their grievances will be redressed, and their sorrow turned into joy; but the sufferings of the wicked will be endless and remediless, as Edom’s desolations, Mal. 1:4. Observe here, [1.] The vain hopes of the Edomites, that they shall have their ruins repaired as well as Israel, though they had no promise to build their hope upon. They say, “It is true, we are impoverished; it is the common chance, and there is no remedy; but we will return and build the desolate places; we are resolved we will” (not so much as asking God leave); “we will whether he will or no; nay, we will do it in defiance of God’s curse, and that sentence pronounced upon Edom (Isa. 34:10), From generation to generation it shall lie waste.” They build presumptuously, as Hiel built Jericho in direct contradiction to the word of God (1 Kgs. 16:34), and it shall speed accordingly. Note, It is common for those whose hearts are unhumbled under humbling providences to think to make their part good against God himself, and to build, and plant, and flourish again as much as ever, though God has said that they shall be impoverished. But see, [2.] The dashing of these hopes and the disappointment of them: They say, We will build; but what says the Lord of hosts? For we are sure his word shall stand, and not theirs; and he says, First, Their attempts shall be baffled: They shall build, but I will throw down. Note, Those that walk contrary to God will find that he will walk contrary to them; for who ever hardened his heart against God and prospered? When the Jews had rejected Christ and his gospel they became Edomites, and this word was fulfilled in them; for when, in the time of the emperor Adrian, they attempted to rebuild Jerusalem, God by earthquakes and eruptions of fire threw down what they built, so that they were forced to quit the enterprise. Secondly, They shall be looked upon by all as abandoned to utter ruin. All that see them shall call them the border of wickedness, a sinful nation, incurably so, and therefore the people against whom the Lord has indignation for ever. Since their wickedness is such as will never be reformed, their desolations shall be such as are never to be repaired. Against Israel God was a little displeased (Zech. 1:15), but against Edom he has indignation, and will have for ever, for they are the people of his curse, Isa. 34:5.
(2.) The Israelites shall be made the monuments of his mercy, and he will be glorified in their salvation, Mal. 1:5. “The Edomites shall be stigmatized as a people hated of God, but your eyes shall see your doubts concerning his love to you for ever silenced; for you shall say, and have cause to say, The Lord is and will be magnified from the border of Israel, from every part and border of the land of Israel.” The border of Edom is a border of wickedness, and therefore the Lord will have indignation against it for ever; but the border of Israel is a border of holiness, the border of the sanctuary (Ps. 78:54), and therefore God will make it to appear (though it may for a time lie desolate) that he has mercy in store for it, and thence he will be magnified; he will give his people Israel both cause, and hearts, to praise him. When the border of Edom still remains desolate, and the border of Israel is repaired and replenished, then it will appear that God has loved Jacob. Note, [1.] Those who doubt of God’s love to his people shall, sooner or later, have convincing and undeniable proofs given them of it: “your own eyes shall see what you will not believe.” [2.] Deliverances out of trouble are to be reckoned proofs of God’s good-will to his people, though they may be suffered to fall into trouble, Ps. 34:19. [3.] Distinguishing favours are very obliging. If God rear up again the border of Israel, but leave the border of Edom in ruins, let no Israelite ask, for shame, Wherein hast thou loved us? [4.] The dignifying of Israel is the magnifying of the God of Israel, and, one way or other, God will have honour from his professing people. [5.] God’s goodness being his glory, when he does us good we must proclaim him great, for that is magnifying him. It is an instance of his goodness that he has pleasure in the prosperity of his servants, and for this those that love his salvation say, The Lord be magnified, Ps. 35:27.