The Lord is fully aware that the people are questioning his commitment to them. Nevertheless he approaches them in a tender and compassionate manner and reminds them that he loves them. While we know that the Lord is not a human and not possessed of human weaknesses, we are still to recall that he is often a disappointed Lover. What does a Lover want from the object of his affections? He wants love in return, and this reciprocal love had been denied to God. Many times the Lord complains of this lack of loving response, with perhaps the most moving being his messages through the prophet Hosea, vividly illustrated by Hosea’s problems with his wife Gomer. TV Moore describes God’s approach here as follows: ‘It is like the language of a weeping parent, who seeks to woo back a prodigal child, by recalling to his memory the love that has been lavished upon him.’
This love of God is obviously marked by compassion and commitment. It is marked by compassion because the Lord regrets that their disobedience has deprived them of his great blessings. And it is marked by commitment because he has not cast them away, but has returned to them again and again with offers of restoration.
This love of God had also been marked by chastisement. This is the reason why things were not going well with them. They had questioned the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises and concluded his disloyalty was the root of the problems they faced. In reality, the root of the problems was their unfaithfulness to him, and for that they were punished by him. But this chastisement had taken place in order to restore them.
Another feature of God’s amazing love here is its condescension. In response to their insensitive and ignorant response to his overture of love, he proceeds to answer their question. God’s answer informs us that his people were guilty of a bad memory: they forgot their history and they forgot his power. Regarding their response to their history, Moore comments: ‘They refuse to look at the tokens of love strewn all along their history, and dwell in obstinate ingratitude on the evils that their own sin has entailed upon them.’ They had great moments to recall: the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the provision of Canaan, the presence of the Temple, the restoration from Babylon and many others. Yet they had forgotten how good the Lord had been throughout their history, how patient he had been, how forgiving he had been when they had repented.
What is the lesson of these verses for us? Simply, it is that if we are the Lord’s people, the Lord deals with us in grace and providence in the way that we do not deserve because of our sins. Instead, he deals with us in love, a love that chose us, that shows compassion and commitment to us, that chastises us when we need it, that condescends to comfort us, and that controls every moment of history for our benefit. The people in Malachi’s day had forgotten this wonderful reality and their religious life became a mess.