Zechariah opens with the expression of God’s anger at the children of Israel who broke the covenant with Him. God’s anger resulted in the destruction of Israel first, then Jerusalem, and even God’s own house, the temple. The temple represents God’s presence with His people. God dwelt in the temple but in Ezekiel’s vision, the Gory of God departs from the temple. When the period of exile is over, the remnant of Israel returns to the land and rebuilds the temple but it’s not what it used to be.  Returning to their land, the Israelites face opposition from within and without. There is financial hardship. There is civil unrest. The surrounding nations have attacked them and the task of rebuilding a nation seemed overwhelming for the returning exiles under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Now, Malachi comes telling the people that God loves them! Amid life’s trials, disappointments, hardships, pain, and severe losses, it’s hard to see God’s love. As God’s messenger, Malachi wants the people to know that regardless of life’s struggles and difficulties, God loves them. The book of Malachi opens, with “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’”

Zechariah speaks of God’s anger. Malachi speaks of God’s love. How do we reconcile the two? God’s anger is his disposition toward evil. God’s love is his disposition toward the good. “The church father Lactantius (last half of the third century) put the question in a more biblical perspective: ‘He who loves the good also hates the evil, and he who does not hate the evil does not love the good because, on the one hand, to love the good comes from hatred of evil and to hate the evil rises from the love of the good.’ Our difficulty in accepting that anger is part of the character of God is related to our improper association of anger with ‘the desire for retaliation,’ or the desire to ‘get even.’ Anger, properly defined, however, is the legitimate emotion of a person rising up to resist evil. Anger need not be unchecked or uncontrolled. God’s anger is certainly never explosive, unchecked or uncontrolled. In fact, in comparison to His love, His anger passes quickly while His love endures.”[1]

On the one hand, I might agree with Blaising who says, “The words I have loved you are not a general statement about God’s love for all people.”[2] He is speaking specifically to Israel in the post-exilic world to motivate them to live well and worship God even amidst trying situations. But I agree with Ross’s statement on this verse. He writes, “If people are in any way open to the word of God, the constantly repeated message of God’s faithful love for his people should inspire greater devotion and service. But the appeal of Malachi will be even wider than that, for the object of God’s love in this passage is the whole nation—some unbelievers and some believers. Even the unbelievers would have to acknowledge that they were part of a special people whom God loved and desired to use if they would only believe and follow his word. So Malachi began with the most powerful motivation that he could use to appeal to the people: the love of God.”[3] The apostle John appeals on the same basis. He writes, “For God so loved the world, that whosoever would believe in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) Paul appeals on the basis of God’s love as well, “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

[1] Kaiser, Walter C., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1992. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Vol. 23. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] Blaising, Craig A. 1985. “Malachi.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 1:1575. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Ross, Allen P. 2016. Malachi Then and Now: An Expository Commentary Based on Detailed Exegetical Analysis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.