Keeping Us Out of the Wasteland

edom

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ 

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackalsEdom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.  You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’”  Mal 1:1-5

For the past couple of years, I have been reading through the prophets in chronological order.  I took a break from this for awhile, but thought now would be a good time for me to finish the series.  I only have two books left — Malachi and Joel.  I’m reading Malachi.

Malachi was written after the Israelites came back to Jerusalem following the Babylonian and Persian captivities. You would think that the Jews would have been properly chastened after being in exile for 70 years.  But they still fell into much sin, once they came back to Jerusalem.  According to Nehemiah 13, the Jews were intermarrying with foreign people, not keeping the temple holy, and not keeping the Sabbath.

So in comes Malachi, the last prophet until the time of John the Baptist 400 years later.  The last words of God to His people.  The last warnings to them about how they should live.  (Some say Joel was written later, but Malachi’s words are still among the last prophesies.)

God starts by saying, “I have loved you,” to the Jews, and they ask, “How have you loved us?”

Isn’t that what we do too?  God tells us plainly in His word that He loves us.  Yet we are always saying, “How?”  We always see the things that are going wrong, and think that makes us unloved.

God’s answer is to remind the Jews about Edom.  “If you want to know what it looks like to be unloved, look at Edom!”   Because Edom was desolated.  More than that, Edom would NEVER come back to ascendancy.

Contrast this with the Jewish nation, which, although they went into captivity for 70 years, was brought out of captivity.  As we love to read In Jeremiah 29:11, God says to the Jews, “I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”  This was not true of Edom.

A side note about Edom here.  Edom was a country made up of the descendants of Esau.  Although they originally settled elsewhere, they ended up in a land that was southeast of Judah, where present day Jordan is.  During the time of King David, King Solomon, and many of the kings after them, Edom was a vassal state of Israel.  But then when Jerusalem was conquered, the Edomites joined in the destruction and pillage of the city.  For this reason, God said that he would never allow them to rebuild.

And it is interesting to look at the country of Jordan today.  Much of the country is inhabited by Bedouins, who, according to one source I read, are “desert dwellers” who “endure the desert and have learned to survive its unforgiving climate.”  The land of Edom is still a wasteland.

Bedouin Dwelling

Bedouin Dwelling

But anyway, what I would like to focus on in this passage in Malachi is the contrast between those who have God’s grace and favor, and those who do not.

One of the main ways God showed his favor to the Jews was by giving them the law.  He showed them the right way to live.

I’ve been reading “The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace” by Sam Laing lately, because I tend to feel guilty when I think of the “law” — all of the things in the Bible I SHOULD be doing.  When I remember the law, I start feeling like a failure.

But it recently occurred to me that God gave us the law to KEEP us from being a failure, to set us upon a good path for our lives.  (I’m not going to discuss here that, of course, we are under grace, not the law.  The law still points the way to right and wrong.)

It is as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 6:23: “For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.”  And Ps 19:8 says, “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

Those who don’t follow God don’t have the benefit of knowing the right way.  So with the Edomites, on one hand, they were doomed to destruction because it was their consequence from God for their actions.  But on the other hand, they were not going to thrive because they did not walk according to God’s statutes.

And it really strikes me lately how much the same is true today.  It is like Ps 73:18 says of those who don’t follow God, “Surely you place them on slippery ground.”  People who go their own way so often trip up, or end up in a mess.  Haven’t you seen it?  I think of friends and loved ones I’ve watched go downhill, being battered and bruised, with one bad thing happening to them after another.  It’s hard to watch, and they often won’t listen to advice.

So the last words of prophesy to the Jews would be that God loved them, and gave them a good path.  He also in love gave them strong warnings against straying from the path, and showed them what happened to those who lived apart from it.

Today, all over the world, we see the wasteland of those who do not follow God.  We see wars and atrocities, people rising and then falling.  Will this be a motivation to us to follow God?  Will we see that God loves us and has given everything to help us walk in the right way?  That we should walk in this way not out of compulsion, but in appreciation for having the ingredients for an abundant life?

It is as Ps 119:32 says, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

This is what the LORD says– your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”  Isa 48:17-18

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Filed under Grace, Love, Malachi

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