This week’s portion, Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9, continues the history of the patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, after the death of Abraham. The beginning of the parasha contains one of the most controversial issues in Scripture aside from the cross—the choosing of Jacob over Esau.
But the children struggled with one another inside her, and she said, “If it’s like this, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of ADONAI. ADONAI said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from your body will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other people, but the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:22-23) [i]
This passage ties the Torah portion to the Haftarah (Malachi 1:1-2:7), and the shocking statement, “Yet I loved Jacob and Esau I hated,” (1:2b-3a). At first glance, the interpretation of both passages seems to describe a God who is inconsistent in His love for all creation while playing favorites for whatever hidden reason He might have. Then there is the whole issue that goes against cultural norms by elevating the younger brother over the elder. Interpreting scriptures in this manner is one of the catalysts for the inaccurate teaching that the God of the “New Testament and the Church” is one of love and grace, as opposed to the God of the “Old Testament and Israel” who is one of law, judgment, and punishment. In the February 12, 2014 web edition of Christianity Today, Mark S. Gignilliat notes, “The second-century heretic Marcion is remembered for his rejection of the Old Testament god in favor of Jesus Christ. The god of the Old Testament was too wrapped up in the messiness of human affairs: he was a sub-deity at best, but not the supreme God. Moreover, Marcion’s dualistic philosophy predisposed him to favor the spiritual world over the material world. God as creator and God as redeemer were set against one another.”[ii] Suffice it to say, this is not our understanding or conception of the God who led Israel out of Egyptian bondage and eventually into the Promised Land after caring for them through the Wilderness wandering. This is not the God who began in the Garden, preparing and calling out a people through whom the redemption and restoration of all creation would one day be realized. In fact, even if there was not other explanation, R. Shaul already addressed the issue in the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) when he told the believers at Rome quite plainly, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For to Moses He says, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,’” (9:14-15).
However, David W. Baker in his NIV Application Commentary on Malachi offers another perspective to correct this misconception:
This statement pair (love–hate) concerns election rather than emotions (cf. 2:16): Jacob (and his line) is chosen by God while Esau (and his line) is peripheral to the story of God’s continued activity in the Bible. The contrast also brings to bear the friction between the two brothers prophesied to their mother Rebekah (Gen. 25:23). This terminology is also used in the context of marriage, where one wife might be loved and the other “hated” (e.g., Gen. 29:31, 33; Deut. 21:15–17)—a theme picked up, though without this terminology, later in the prophecy (Mal. 2:14–16).[iii]
Jacob and his lineage were chosen, among other things, to be a light of ADONAI’s intimate care for all creation exemplified through His covenantal relationship with corporeal Israel. Later, it would be through Israel that Messiah Yeshua would enter the physical plane and make future redemption and restoration possible.
The next section of verses, (Malachi 1:6-2:3), deal with the waywardness of the kohanim (priests) and their blatant disregard of the requirements for offering proper sacrifices upon the LORD’s altar. This is especially scandalous as it is the kohanim who exemplify the holiness that the LORD requires when approaching His presence. This series of ritual sins lead some scholars to suggest that instead of being the end of the Tanakh story (being the end of the Old Testament) that possibly Malachi was written early in the post-exilic period as perversion of the sacrificial system in Malachi 1:6–2:9 seems to compare with Nehemiah 13:4–9 and 30. In this section, Malachi charges the kohanim to approach the governor in the same manner in which they were approaching the LORD and see how he would respond. Isn’t this true even today? Would we treat our spouse, boss, or even government leaders with such disregard as we seem to treat the Creator of the Universe? Do we really suppose that a physical person demands more respect than ADONAI-Tzva’ot (the LORD of Hosts)?
While the above section shows the LORD’s displeasure with and discipline of the kohanim, He does not hold them in disfavor forever. Like Israel herself, the LORD asserts, “For a brief moment I deserted you, but I will re-gather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness will have compassion on you,” says ADONAI your Redeemer,” (Isaiah 54:7-8). In Malachi the kohanim hear that the LORD made a covenant with the sons of Levi, for life and shalom, (Malachi 2:5). Their responsibility before the people is clear; “For a kohen’s lips should guard knowledge, and instruction must be sought from his mouth; for he is a messenger of ADONAI-Tzva’ot,” (Malachi 2:7).
This charge, to be a messenger of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, is not simply relegated to the Levitical kohanim. Speaking to all members of the Kingdom of God, Jews and non-Jews alike, we read, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” (1 Peter 2:9). Whereas the sons of Levi were set apart for priestly during in the Tanakh, in the kingdom of God, we all are priests and messengers of the Most High. This is a warning for us all. Just as the Levitical priests experienced discipline when they disgraced the LORD’s table, so we potentially will receive discipline if we bring disgrace the to the Name of the LORD. “May the words of [our] mouths and the meditation of [our] hearts, be acceptable before You!” (Psalm 19:15)
[iii] David W. Baker. NIV Application commentary: Joel, Obadiah, Malachi. Zondervan 2006. p 220