In the first four verses of Malachi, God expresses His love for “Jacob” while hating “Esau-Edom.” Though Edom’s desire was to inherit the promises of God, the decision of God was made before these twin sons were even born.
The Law of the Stubborn Son
The sovereign decision of God, however, appeared to contradict the provision in the law which forbade preferring a younger son over the older (Deut. 21:15-17). Replacing a first-born son could be done only when there was legal cause—primarily, if the older son was found to be unworthy or in a state of rebellion. Hence, the next law in Deut. 21 was about rebellious sons in Deut. 21:18-23.
18 But if any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town…
This law does not focus upon six-year-old boys throwing temper tantrums. It refers to fully grown sons who have no respect for their parents and who are therefore unworthy of receiving an inheritance from them. The law also specifies that the son refuses to repent after discipline. This shows, of course, that bringing the son to the court of elders was only a provision of last resort.
Esau was such a son of Isaac. Whereas Jacob had found a wife from among their relatives in Haran, as Isaac had instructed, Esau did no such thing. Gen. 26:34, 35 says,
34 And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
More important, however, was the fact that Esau was both stubborn and rebellious against his heavenly Father. The law was applicable on both levels. Isaac could give Esau material goods or physical land as a birthright, but only God could grant a spiritual Birthright.
Legal and Emotional Hatred
The law makes it clear that a first-born son could not be disinherited until he had proven himself to be unworthy. Even if he were found unworthy, he was to be disciplined in order to see if he might repent. In fact, the entire Scripture shows that God is not quick to judge men or nations. He is patient and (in the case of national judgments) waits for centuries before destroying the godless nations.
Many have despised God’s law on account of the law of the stubborn son. In fact, this is perhaps the most oft-quoted law raised by antinomians, who use it to prove their case either that the divine law is evil or that it comes from the mind of a vengeful God whose will differs from that Jesus.
But when God said in Mal. 1:3 that He “hated” Esau, He was speaking legally, not emotionally. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world,” and thus His love certainly extended to Esau. Legal hatred is not the same as emotional hatred. In the law of the stubborn son, parents were to bring such sons to the court to be judged by the elders. In doing so, they were showing legal hatred, even if they loved their son on an emotional level.
God Legally Protected Esau
The law established moral boundaries to protect both the sinner and the victim of sin. The law of restitution specified precisely how much restitution the thief was required to pay to his victim (Exodus 22:1-4).
The law allowed the victim to receive full compensation for his losses, while at the same time protecting the sinner from being judged too severely. The law of victims’ rights also gave the victim the leeway to show mercy and to forgive any portion of the debt owed to him or her. At the same time, the law protected the sinner from being judged out of anger, hatred, jealousy, or any other carnal motive.
When Jacob lied to his father to obtain the blessing, he thought he was justified on account of the prophecy that was revealed before he was born. Perhaps he even thought that Esau had already disqualified himself. But such a decision was not his to make. Obviously, Isaac himself had not come to that conclusion. So regardless of the prophecy, Jacob dishonored his father, which put him in danger of being disqualified as well.
God, however, disciplined Jacob until the revelation of God’s sovereignty turned his heart and made him worthy. At that point God gave him the name Israel. He had received the inheritance many years earlier from his father Isaac, but it was only after wrestling with the angel that Jacob’s heavenly Father bestowed it upon him.
God’s “hatred” of Esau in Mal. 1:3 protected Esau by the law of the hated son. It meant that God would give Esau a chance to repent and thereby to prove himself worthy. Hence, in 1948 God gave Edom the time that had been cut short by Jacob’s actions.
Legally speaking, the Israeli state is neither Israel nor Judah, but Edom. They pretend to be Israel in possession of the birthright; however, God allows this only because it is the just judgment of the law. Jacob had pretended to be Esau in order to get the birthright from blind Isaac, so God allowed Esau to pretend to be Jacob in order to get it back. He even blinded most Christians so that they would not object to the divine judgment.
The Blindness Removed
Mal. 1:4 tells us that Edom “will return and build up the ruins.” In other words, what is thought to be Jewish Zionism is actually Edomite Zionism. God acknowledges that they will indeed “return,” but when Edom has fully proven to be a stubborn and rebellious son, then God will “tear down” what they have built.
At the same time, the blindness will be removed from the church, for “men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” Men cannot make such an assessment apart from understanding the divine plan in regard to the Israeli (Edomite) state.
Moreover, Mal. 1:5 says,
5 And your eyes will see this, and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”
In other words, when eyes are opened and blindness is healed, the people not only will “see this,” but will also be in agreement with God’s actions. They will understand and will glorify God even “beyond the border of Israel!” This suggests a universal understanding of the divine plan.
The Rebellious and Stubborn Priests
Mal. 1:6 shows that the problem of Edom was found among the priests of Jerusalem as well:
6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name…
The priests in those days would have supported any prophecy against Edom, but they did not understand that they were as guilty as Edom for dishonoring their heavenly Father. Hence, they objected, saying,
6 … But you say, “How have we despised Thy name?”
God’s answer is given in Mal. 1:7, 8,
7 “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled Thee?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ 8 But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts.
The law speaks of sacrificial animals in Deut. 15:21,
21 But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.
This prohibition under the Old Covenant applied to animals being offered for sacrifice. These were mere types of Christ, whom John presented as a spotless Lamb of God. When the people offered blind or lame sacrifices, they dishonored Christ, testifying that God should accept an imperfect messiah to be the sacrifice for sin.
All animal sacrifices were temporary, because they were types and shadows of something greater yet to come. Hence, when we view the law through New Covenant eyes, the sin of those priests was their false and even blasphemous testimony of the messiah. In their stubborn and rebellious hearts, they were setting forth their preference for a flawed messiah, and they were unaware of the condition of their own hearts.
Hence, in the 400 years leading to the advent of Christ, the prophet points out a key motive hidden in the hearts of the priests, which soon was to cause them to reject the true Messiah, hoping instead for a flawed messiah of their own choosing. For this reason, when given a choice, they chose Barabbas rather than Jesus (John 18:38-40). They wanted a military messiah who would use his power to overthrow Rome, not knowing that their real need was for a Messiah who would save them from their own sins.
The Message Summarized
So here is what we know so far about Malachi’s message: God says to Judah, “I love you,” proven by the fact that He chose Jacob and rejected Esau. So why is Judah acting like a stubborn and rebellious son? Was it from a lack of love?
Obviously not. Yet as so often happens with children, they do not understand that their parents love them, because they confuse judgment and discipline with hatred. Somehow this misunderstanding causes the child to react to discipline in a rebellious manner by dishonoring his parents.
This was the problem with Judah and Jerusalem in the time of Malachi. The prophet put his finger on the problem that was to develop through the centuries until it manifested fully in their rejection of Jesus Christ.
In fact, this problem paved the way for Judah’s merger with Edom in 126 B.C. As Judah became more and more carnal, the nation began to resemble Edom in its bitterness against God for daring to discipline them. So when the Judeans conquered the Edomites, Edom was forced to change its form of religion from one carnal belief system to another.
If Judah had truly manifested the truth and the love of God to Edom, the Edomites might have been converted to God (Christ), rather than to a religion. But forced conversions only serve to enslave men to religious systems. They force relationships to religions, rather than to God Himself.
So we find that in the first century, the Edomites were among the most rabid defenders of Jerusalem against the Romans. Yet Josephus records how vicious they were, even to the point of sending assassins to enforce their brand of radical Judaism upon the rest of the people. Essentially, they were motivated by the same spirit of force that had converted them to Judaism in 126 B.C.
So neither the priests of Jerusalem nor the Edomites were able to accept the Prince of Peace. They wanted a Prince of War to defend their carnality against the Romans. All of this is presented to us in the fact that the priests were offering blind and lame animals as sacrifices to God. Their sacrifices were manifestations of their own hearts, veiled by blindness through the Old Covenant. 2 Cor. 3:14, 15 says,
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.
When men take up physical swords to conquer men (or to convert them to their religion), they employ the method of the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, we take up spiritual weapons, including the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. But this is done only by those who follow the New Covenant and its Mediator, Jesus Christ.
Offering Useless Sacrifices
Malachi 1:10 continues,
10 Oh that there were one [priest] among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! “I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.”
Sacrifices are gifts to God that represent the condition of one’s heart. It is not the size of the offering, for even a widow’s mite can be a large offering in the eyes of God.
Offerings are only effective if given by faith. Faith, though, comes by hearing and obedience. Hence, when God told the people that they must not offer animals that were blind or lame, the people were to have faith in God’s word. They were to know that God had purpose in these instructions. They were not arbitrary. The instructions were prophetic (as, indeed, is the whole law). They prophesied of Christ, His nature, and His work.
To offer the blind and lame animals were useless acts of a carnal religion as long as faith (belief in God’s word) was lacking. This problem did not suddenly begin in Malachi’s time. The problem traces back to the beginning even under Moses himself. Isaiah also speaks of this problem in his time. Isaiah 1:11-14 says,
11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13 Bring your worthless offerings no longer. Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14 I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts. They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
The early church writing known as the Epistle of Barnabas interprets this, saying,
9 Lastly, he saith unto them: Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot bear them. Consider what he means by it; the Sabbaths, says he, which ye now keep are not acceptable unto me, but those which I have made; when resting from all things I shall begin the eighth day, that is, the beginning of the other world [age]. 10 For which cause we observe the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead… (Barnabas, XIII, 9, 10)
In other words, Barnabas sees this passage as a prophecy of a change of Sabbath to the eighth day, or Sunday. He retains the seven-day cycle, but gives it a new reference point, that being the resurrection of Christ.
Hosea echoes the same theme in his prophecy to the House of Israel. He says in Hosea 2:11,
11 I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her festal assemblies.
We see, then, that the prophets agree that sacrifices are worthless apart from faith in Christ. Furthermore, the forms of worship changed when the type was fulfilled by the antitype. The lesser gave way to that which was “better.”
The Greater Sacrifice
The prophet then tells the people in Malachi 1:11,
11 “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered in My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts.
By removing the Old Covenant form of sacrifice and replacing it with something “better,” God intended to make His name great. This is not a matter of wishful thinking, but it is a statement of intent. As such, it is a New Covenant vow, something not dependent upon the will of men, but only upon the will of God and His ability to make it happen.
In replacing the old form of sacrifice and worship with that of the New Covenant, He will succeed where Israel and Judah had failed under the Old Covenant. The old form of worship, based on the Old Covenant, could only succeed if men were able to keep their vow in Exodus 19:8. The new form of worship, based on the New Covenant, no longer depends upon men, but upon God’s ability to keep His vow.
The Old Form No Longer Acceptable
Malachi gives no details that might reveal the manner in which God intended to accomplish this goal. It is only by studying the New Testament that we can understand that Jesus Christ laid the foundation for a new temple, as well as new forms of sacrifice and worship.
Malachi 1:12 continues,
12 But you are profaning it [othi, “Me”], in that you say, “The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.”
The priests had profaned God Himself, according to the Hebrew text. Dr. Bullinger’s notes tell us,
“12. It = Me. “Me” was the reading in the primitive text; but the Sopherim state that they altered ‘othi (Me) to ‘otho (him, or it) out of a (mistaken) sense of reverence.”
In other words, the Sopherim (Jewish scholars) believed that God Himself could not be profaned, and so they made notes in the margins in order to read it properly—in their view. But to say that the priests were profaning God is not at all blasphemous. That was simply the truth. The blasphemy was being done by the priests who were offering blind sacrifices that represented a flawed messiah. Hence, the “Me” in this verse is Jesus Christ Himself. This prophesied of the time when the priests would profane Christ directly.
No doubt the priests’ opinion differed from God’s view of truth. It seems unlikely that the priests themselves believed the charges that Malachi laid at their feet. Their religious spirit had blinded their eyes to the truth. They had already put away the truth in favor of the traditions of men, and so Isaiah 29:13 tells us that they worshiped God in vain.
From the priestly position, dictated by the traditions of men, “the table of the Lord is defiled.” The “table” here is put for the food or fruit that was on it. It is a prophetic reference to the Lord’s Table that was yet to be revealed, for this was the new sacrifice under the New Covenant. No longer were the people to eat of sacrificial animals, but rather they were to eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood (John 6:56).
It is this that the corrupted priesthood truly despised, thinking that such a Table was “defiled” and “despised.” But from God’s viewpoint, it was the priests’ table that was truly defiled and ought to be despised. We see how this disagreement manifested after Jesus told the people that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. John 6:66 says,
66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.
Jesus’ disciples had a difficult time understanding this as well, but they had faith in Jesus. Therefore, they remained with Him, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). We agree.