The Point Of Departure
This prophecy is called “the burden of the word of the LORD to Israel.” The term “burden” (massa) refers literally to something which is a load, a thing to be lifted up. It is the common term for the message which prophets must bring to the people in Jehovah’s name. Thus we read in II Kings 9:26: “Jehovah laid this burden upon him, Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth, and the blood of his sons saith Jehovah, and I will requite thee in this plate saith Jehovah.” It is quite evident from the current usage of the term that massa really means oracle, a divine and authoritative announcement of judgment and doom. Emphatically the prophet places on the foreground the truth that also this word of prophecy is not of any private interpretation, by that it is directly from the LORD, be it then delivered by the hand of His messenger.
Here too we have the prophetic word shining in a dark place. We do well to give heed to it until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts in blessed hope of the coming of the Lord to visit His people whom He foreknew in love.
It is of interest, and it adds credence to our point that the term “burden” refers to the authoritative word of God, when one observes that this term is employed especially in the time of Israel’s history, from the time of Isaiah till that of our prophet, Malachi. When one considers that it was in Isaiah’s day that the ten tribes are made tributary to Tiglath-Pilesar (740 B.C.) and that Malachi, the last of the prophets prophesies after the return of Judah from Babylon about 445 B.C., which constitutes a period of some 300 years, one begins to understand the import of the term “the burden” of the Lord. Isaiah employs the term some 14 times against the various nations surrounding Israel; Jeremiah some 9 times. The term is also employed in this sense of announcement of judgment in such prophecies as Ezekiel, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zachariah. One receives a very strong impression from this repeated usage of the term “burden” by the prophets; there is a sense of urgency. God is stepping up, so to speak, the tempo of history in his mighty judgments, bringing about the salvation of his people. So much so is this that the wicked in Israel made mockery of this burden of the Lord as we read in Jeremiah 23:33-38: “And when this people, or the prophet, or a priest shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the LORD? thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? I will even forsake you saith the LORD. And as for the prophet, and the priest, and the people, that shall say, The burden of the LORD, I will even punish that man and his house?’ The wicked were brutal despisers of this “burden” of the LORD. They were like those in Isaiah’s day who said derisively “Commandment upon commandment, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little . . . .” It was in the darkest night of the lives of the true Israel of God in the Old Testament dispensation that the prophetic light shone most brightly. The word of the Lord was not scarce in those days, when it seemed that the glory of the house of David and of his throne would vanish from the earth forever! It was then that God spoke particularly in various times and manners through the prophets.
Now the point of departure in Malachi’s prophecy is: after the return of the remnant according to election from Babylon under Cyrus, king of Persia (397 B.C.). As we stated in our former essay Malachi is the end of the prophetic line, the last of the “burdens” of the LORD to his people. It is the last word of the LORD to His people to warn them to walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:12). It certain seemed that the hope of Israel was vain, and that its history might be a gallant Jewish epic, but that certainly the meaning of its existence and history could not very well be such that it would be a “light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32). And, yet, as the centuries had gone by the pattern of the prophecies of the patriarchs who beheld from afar was becoming more and more evident to those who would but believingly give heed to the “burden” of the LORD!
We do well to try to see this point of departure. It is really not a point of departure in history. Its is dated historically 397 B.C., but its very real point of departure is in the unchangeable and everlasting love of God in Christ Jesus to His people. That is the fundamental key-note. It is really the gospel story: herein is love not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son a propitiation for our sins! Since such is the love of God for Israel she may and must take courage in faith and hope.
The Key-Note of the Prophecy
We believe that the key-note of this prophets, to which we have alluded above, is that of the eternal love of God for Israel, as spoken here by the prophet in the verses 2 to 5 of Chapter 1. Here we read, in part, “I have loved you, saith the LORD.”
The verb form employed here in the Hebrew is the perfect. The term to love in the Hebrew is “ahebh,” which is generally translated into the Greek by the term agapein and refers to ethical love, which is the bond of perfection. This term for love has as its antonym: hate. Here in the context it is thus employed: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. Compare Rom. 9:13 and Col. 3:14.
The perfect tense in the Hebrew as in the Greek does not so much express the “time when” as it does the “degree of action finished or unfinished.” Now the Hebrew verb here translated in the King James Version “I have loved” refers to God’s love as a completed and perfect act and attitude on the part of God toward His Israel; I take it, therefore, that the prophet is here speaking of the love of the Lord was this was perfected up to that present moment in Israel’s existence. That the Lord’s love would be and shall be perfected forever is not expressed in the verb, but is clearly taught in all of Holy Writ!
Standing therefore with the prophets who had this “burden” of God in his hand, we believe that Malachi is looking back over the many centuries of Israel’s existence, her weel and woe, and in every point of that history the Lord’s love blazes as the noon-day sun in its clarity upon the Israel of God. It was pure and undiluted love of God, rooted in His sovereign will and decree in Christ Jesus. Always the key-note of history toward the elect Israel of God was “But God being rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He love us . . .” To this Mary gives utterance in the Magnificat, in the hill country of Judea, when she exaltingly prophesies: “. . . And His mercy is from generation to generation upon them that fear Him, He hath shewed strength with His arm . . . . He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever . . . .” Luke 1:38-55.
But not all spoke as did the virgin Mary, in the Magnificat.
There were in Israel many who were not of Israel and who were not accounted for the seed, the true church of God in the world. For the rule of the Scriptures is: and if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise! Gal. 3:29. And not all Israel belonged to Christ, neither were all the Israel of God according to election. Thus Paul speaks in both Gal. 3 and in Rom. 9. This apostle to the Gentiles, according to his knowledge of the mysteries of God, thus gives us the “key of knowledge.” None can unlock the sense of the Scriptures apart from it. The Bible remains a deep and dark enigma for those who refuse to read Rom. 9 and fearlessly apply its instruction to the point, where one must say to those contradicting: “but who art thou, O man, that answereth against God.” Rom. 9:20. All who will not thus interpret the Scriptures must strand on the rock of humanism, Pelagianistic-Arminianism!!
Let us then notice that the prophet here speaks of Jehovah’s love to Israel. Although the name Israel was given to Jacob at Pniel (Gen. 32:28) and that name often refers to Jacob’s personally (Gen. 35, 37, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, and many other passages in Scriptures) it here evidently refers, as it does so often in Scripture, to the offspring of the patriarch, Jacob-Israel, in the nation of the twelve tribes of Israel. God loved Israel as a nation and hated Edom as a nation according to the prophecy here. We hasten to add, however, that this does not detract from the truth that God loved Jacob as a person and hated Esau as a person. Nevertheless, we believe that here in this prophecy the point of departure is God’s love for Israel as a nation and His hatred for Edom as a nation.
It should not escape our attention, nor should we be unwilling to see that Lord, in referring to Esau, has his descendants in mind as the people against whom the LORD (as the LORD of hosts) hath indignation forever.” Verse 5. In verse 2 mention is made of Esau and we read: “And I hated Esau and laid his mountains and heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
What does it mean that the Lord loves Israel?
It means that the Lord loves the people whom he foreknew. Rom. 11:2. He never cast away His people. They are the theocracy of God, the commonwealth of Israel, an organic whole. Paul likens them to an olive tree. The tree never perishes, even when some of the unfruitful and dead branches are cut off. Romans 11:17ff. For it is not all Israel that is out of Israel. Such is the point of departure here in Malachi. What distinguishes Israel from the other nations of the world, making it a peculiar people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar possession, is exactly that God in his sovereign love has foreordained them to glory. Only in Christ, the Son of God, the Root of David, does Israel have meaning and a distinctive place in history. The genealogy is unto Christ. The meaning of Israel as a nation need not be, nor can it be perpetuated, as a nation. The preeminency of Israel is particularly that the oracles of God were entrusted to them; Rom. 3:2.
Let then the Israel of Malachi’s day give heed. The LORD did not choose them because they were mightier; nor because they were better. It was sovereign love and grace; apart from works of merit. We read in Deut. 7:6-8 as follows:
“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God; the LORD God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people. But because the LORD loved you, and because He hath kept the oath which He hath sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.”
Such is the genesis of the Israel of God. She came forth from the bowels of the love of God. That is the only reason for her existence. She has nothing which she has not received. As little as she must boast as if it were not grace, so little must Israel deny this grace by doubting its faithfulness and despairing of His love and pity.