For the week of December 3, 2005 / 2 Kislev 5766
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 - 2:7
Getting on God's Good Side
"I have loved you," says the LORD. "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the LORD says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." (Malachi 1:2,3)
One of the most common Hebrew names for the Old Testament is Tenach, which is based on the initial letters of the names of the three sections of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim (the "K" in Ketuvim becomes a softer "ch" sound, similar to the "ch" in the composer's name "Bach."). Torah means "law," "direction," or "teaching" and is the five books of Moses. Nevi'im means "prophets" and includes the books named after the prophets as well as others that feature some of the earlier prophets. Ketuvim means, "writings" and includes the Psalms, Proverbs, Chronicles, as well as some of the shorter books.
As the Torah is read through each year, the weekly portion is accompanied on the Sabbath by a reading from Nevi' im. This reading is referred to as the Haftarah and means "completion". That it sounds like the word "torah" is a coincidence. The Haftarah accompanying the Torah reading is the same every year. On special occasions, such as holidays, an alternate Haftarah that relates to the holiday is read instead.
Sometimes the reason the ancient leaders chose a particular reading for the Haftarah is obvious, other times, it's not so obvious. This week it is obvious. The book of the prophet Malachi begins with a striking statement concerning the key individuals featured in the associated Torah portion, Jacob and Esau.
The competition between these twin brothers began before they were born. When God spoke to the boys' mother-to-be, Rebekah, concerning them, he said,
Even though Jacob was the younger, through intrigue and circumstance, he took the place of the first born. Both the divine and human aspects of the outworking of this story has been the subject of much discussion. One of the more difficult questions has to do with God's role in what appears to be the underhanded tactics of Jacob.
Some people find what God would say later through Malachi concerning these brothers even more difficult. This is what I read at the beginning:
These words may give the impression that God plays favorites. Reading this statement back into the lives of Jacob and Esau make it sounds as if God simply set up Jacob for a good and blessed future, while Esau was doomed. There are scholars who believe this is exactly what God did, and that he continues to do the same today. Therefore if you do not come into this world favored by God, you are destined to damnation and there is nothing you can do about it. This kind of conclusion misses what God is seeking to communicate to us. Whatever the Bible teaches about issues such as predestination, it is not intended to lead us to fatalistic conclusions.
What we need to see here is that God relates to people in very specific ways. He loves some and he hates others. To be in right relationship with him is essential for a good life and a secure future. We ignore this to our peril.
What God is saying through Malachi is that it matters whether or not we are on his good side. When we are in right relationship with him, we can expect his blessing and help. If we are not, then our only expectation is his wrath...unless we too, get on his good side.
You may or may not like the fact that God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses, but he does. Jacob acknowledged this and got on God's good side, while Esau couldn't care less and suffered for it.
I know this sounds very different from the typical "God loves you" message. It is true that God loves everyone. His heart is to forgive us and to see us restored as his beloved children. That is why he sent the Messiah. Yet we will never truly experience his love if we refuse his offer to get on his good side.
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