Haftarah: Toledot: Sure Is A Funny Way To Prove Your Love
Malachi 1:1-2:7 Is the choice of Jacob over Esau the best proof of God’s love for Israel? “I loved you,” said God, and you said, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau a brother of Jacob,
yet, I loved Jacob.” (1:2) Why am I not overwhelmed with this proof of God’s great love?
Malachi is describing an angry nation. They are challenging God to prove His love. They had good reason to be angry. Cyrus, the king of Persia, had encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and build a new home for God. (Ezra 1:2-3) Other prophets acknowledged the desperate circumstances of the Jews who had returned from Babylon and Persia: “You have sown much but bring in little; eating without being satisfied, drinking without quenching thirst, dressing, yet no one is warmed; and whoever earns money earns it for a purse with a hole.” (Haggai 1:6) Haggai concedes their suffering again, but follows with great promises: “From this day on I will provide blessing.” (2:19) The blessings had yet to materialize. The people were still waiting.
Haggai and Zachariah spoke before the completion of the new Temple. Malachi, the prophet of this selection, is addressing frustrated people after the new Temple was complete. Malachi tries to turn the tables: “You present on My altar loathsome food.” (1:7) “If only there were someone among you who would shut the Temple doors, so that you could not kindle upon My altar in vain!” God is not happy with the service in the new Temple. The people are not happy with God. And, Malachi, desperate to reassure the people of God’s great love for them, speaks of the choice of Jacob over Esau! Was Esau not a wicked man? Why was the choice of Jacob an expression of love and not simply a rejection of Esau evil ways?
Malachi understood that when a nation cries out to God; “How have You loved us,” that they are desperate for God’s love. They were hurt. They experienced their suffering as a rejection by God. It was not only a rejection of them, but of all their effort and dedication in building the new Temple. Where were the blessings that had been promised by Haggai? Why were miracles so blatantly absent from this building dedicated to God? Where were the clouds of glory that rested in Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple? Had they failed? They did not have the resources of Solomon at the height of his power. They could not equal the gifts brought by Israel in the desert for the construction of the Tabernacle. They were poor. They were weak. They were exiles granted the gift of return, but they were still at the mercy of their Persian masters. How could they possibly be expected to match the accomplishments of the generations of Moses and King Solomon?
Malachi understood exactly why their service in the new Temple was so lacking, even to the point of becoming an abomination to God. Their service was tainted by their feelings of rejection. The sense of failure permeated everything they did. The heaviness of their feelings of inadequacy did not begin with their service; it added to the weight of each and every stone in the structure. Every beam was weighed down by the burden of their misery. They saw themselves as less than those who built the first Temple, and they became less.
Malachi understood how these people measured success and failure. They experienced success as a sign of God’s acceptance and any failure as rejection. Malachi understood exactly why they carried such a heavy burden, so he took them back to Jacob and Esau. The people were convinced that Esau was rejected because he was evil. Malachi explained that Esau was not rejected, as much as Jacob was chosen. The prophet does not provide any reason for God’s choice other than “love made Me do it.” The selection of Jacob was not based on approval of Jacob’s deeds or as a denunciation of Esau. It was simply an expression of love.
Malachi understood that once the people understood that God loved Jacob with no cause, for no reason, unexplainable by logic, they would stop measuring their lovability by their actions and they would imbue their efforts in the Temple with a feeling of success, not failure. They would no longer feel weighed down, but weightless. They would soar. They would see themselves as lovable and love what they did. Then and only then would they experience the great blessings promised by Malachi’s friend and colleague, Haggai.