Wednesday with the Psalms

Psalm 19:1-6

Have you ever considered why, when God began to call things into existence using nothing more than the words of his mouth, that he chose to make so much of his creation something very beautiful for our eyes to behold? Have we simply learned on our own to see things as beautiful or does God, perhaps, have a purpose in the beauty that surrounds us in this world?

Well, Psalm 19 has something to say about all of this, specifically in the first 6 verses. This psalm is is classified as a descriptive praise psalm because it describes the nature of God and how he has wonderfully revealed himself to us both through his creation and through his written word. In today’s devotion we will focus our time on verses 1-6 which deal specifically with God’s revelation of himself through his creation.

Let’s begin by reading these six verses.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

(Psalms 19:1–6 ESV)

In the first verse of this psalm we are told that everything in the heavens declares the glory of God. The sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, and the clouds all proclaim the glory of the One who created them. But how do they do this without being able to speak to us audibly? Though the heavens are very marvelous, and though we gaze in wonder at the heavenly bodies God has suspended in space, they are not capable of “telling” things in the way humans “tell” things. So just how is it that they declare to us the glory of God?

Well the heavens and all their vastness declare the glory of God to all who gaze upon the heavenly bodies God has created and then set in their proper places. They communicate to us that there is a creator and we are staring at his handiwork, the very work of God’s hands. But the heavens do not communicate with audible speech or words. They communicate with their beauty. One commentator describes it well. He says: “They have a voice, but one that speaks not to the ear, but to the devout and understanding heart.”1 The psalmist is convinced that during every time slot in a twenty-four hour period, all the day long, the glory and knowledge of God is being communicated by the heavens. That is what he means in verse 2 when he says “day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.” And we see in verse 4 that there is no one on earth who is able to escape from or ignore the voice of the heavens pointing us to our God. This “voice” and its “words” goes through all the earth and to the end of the world.

The sun rises and moves across the sky, like a young bridegroom full of vigor and strength, enthusiastically coming out of his house on his wedding day, ready to go and claim his bride. It joyfully sets out, in all its God-bestowed glory, on its course, like an athlete competing for a prize. And as it moves from one end of the sky to the other, nothing can hide from the scorching declaration that the God who created all of this is glorious and deserves our worship.

Some, having been compelled by the sun to worship, have made the mistake of merely worshipping the sun or some other part of God’s creation. But the Bible makes very clear that we are not to worship any part of creation, but only its Creator. Romans 1:25 tells us that those who have mistakenly or intentionally done this have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Romans 1:25 ESV). God never intended for us to worship what he created, but instead to worship him as his creation declares to us the glory of God through words we hear with our eyes and process in our hearts.

And so the next time you find yourself staring at the sky in wonder, don’t praise what has been created, but praise the One who created it! The beauty of this world is intended by God to communicate something to us about his glory. Be careful that you are not missing it!

__________________

  1. J.J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, Fifth Edition (London: George Bell and Sons, 1883), 231.
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If Scripture is Food

If Scripture is food, and I a man
Then why don’t I put it fast in a pan?
My hand the pan, my mind the mouth
My spirit to be nourished, my soul cleansed out.

I choose to be starving, starving for God.
Something less than a man, someone deaf toward God.
For it is God who made man, and gave him his Word.
Yet I don’t desire it, it seems so absurd.

But sin makes us wise, so at least we think.
We took Satan’s kool-aid, and gave it a drink.
And so we believe his lies, the ones leading to hell.
We ignore God’s warnings, desiring not his kingdom but a jail.

Please hear these words, please take and eat up.
Take the Scripture my friends, and make it your lunch.
In God’s holy Word, you will certainly find
His words to you, eat them with your mind.

“We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Verse Numbers!”

I admit that statement is not entirely true, but there is some truth to it with regard to what is best for a pure Bible reading experience. And I am not saying that we should take all the Bibles we have on our shelves and replace them with Bibles like the new ESV Reader’s Bible, because truth be told, studying the Bible without chapter and verse numbers becomes much more difficult. But did you know that it wasn’t until sometime around 1550 that the chapter and verse divisions we find in our Bibles today were established? Actually, the chapter divisions were established a few hundred years before this time, but it wasn’t until the Geneva Bible was first published in the early 1560s that we had an English Bible with chapter and verse divisions. And no one can deny the benefits of being able to reference and find a very specific portion of Scripture by simply saying words like “John 3:16.”

But following on the heels of printed chapter and verse numbers were our cross reference systems and their corresponding superscripting placed right inside the words of Scripture. These cross reference systems obviously require space (normally in the margins, or in between two columns of biblical text, or in the page footer) to list the cross referenced passages using their chapter and verse numbers. And please don’t get me wrong, the benefits of systems such as these are great. As I said earlier, it sure is easier to study the Bible and make use of biblical commentaries with the addition of this type of reference system in place. But one has to wonder how it has affected the way we read the Bible.

For many the Bible has become little more than a collection of inspirational quotes and “pick-me-ups” that are applicable to certain situations or circumstances I find myself in. Many of our Bibles even list specific verses we should turn to when we are “Feeling Depressed” or “Feeling Ashamed” or “Feeling Tired.” And again, don’t get me wrong, I would rather folks turn to the Bible in these times than anywhere else. But don’t these systems, along with other resources that guide us in daily devotionals based on single verses, contribute to our misunderstanding of the structure of the biblical text? Remember the original authors did not write the books of the Bible with these chapter and verse numbers in mind (they never conceived of them). Their intent was not that we would pluck one individual verse or chapter from their book that speaks to me in a certain situation, but that we would read the Bible in a manner similar to the way we read other literature.

The problem we face today with reading the Bible as it was meant to be read is that when we open our Bibles it looks much more like an encyclopedia, or a dictionary, or some other technical reference manual than it does that copy of classic literature you have on your shelf. For example, when is the last time you picked up a novel, something that is meant to be read as an unbroken narrative, and found each page divided into two columns with with superscripted letters and numbers strewn throughout the text? My guess would be never. All of that extra stuff, though with regard to Bibles is certainly helpful for study, distracts readers from closely following the narrative. And whether we realize it or not, these divisions and the way we discuss them and reference them, communicates something about Scripture that was absolutely foreign in the minds of the original writers.

Now what am I getting at with all of this? Really all I want to do is encourage you to consider picking up a copy of something like the ESV Reader’s Bible and plopping down in your favorite chair and reading it like you would any good book. There is certainly a time and place for detailed Bible study, and no one is a bigger proponent of that than me. But there is also a time to sit down and enjoy Scripture for what it is—namely a story about God’s plan of redemption and restoration of all that he created in the beginning. I am convinced when we read the Bible this way, it will not seem like a chore or a task to be marked off on our daily to-do list, but it will be more like reading any other book that we love. And the ESV Reader’s Bible contributes to this type of reading experience by designing and formatting the book like all those novels we love to get lost within. The text is in a single column and there are no verse numbers. The chapter breaks are included, but they are subtly tucked away in the margin to minimize distracting the reader from the flow of the story.

After a couple of weeks with the ESV Reader’s Bible, I have found myself kicking my feet up in a chair and reading for longer periods of time not so concerned about grasping some nugget of truth I can use to make it through the day or to use in my sermon prep, but reading for the sake of enjoyment alone. I have no doubt that a statement like that makes some recoil in horror that I would approach the Bible in that sort of way, but that’s okay. I am not suggesting we neglect to study our Bibles nor to meditate on Scripture deeply, but maybe we should consider picking our Bibles up and enjoying them for what they are—a really good story!

For those interested in the ESV Reader’s Bible, check out the video below. I purchased the cloth over board version (shown in the video) because it feels like a good old-fashioned novel. But they also have TruTone editions as well. And if this is something you are really interested in, I would encourage you to check out the Kickstarter project called Bibliotheca which takes this whole concept to another level (see the second video below). And one last thing: Please don’t throw away your study bibles!

ESV Reader’s Bible Video

 
Bibliotheca Video

 
You can also check out this additional links about both of these projects on the wonderfully written Bible Design Blog (he says all of this much better than I have).

Crossway ESV Reader’s Bible (Cloth Bound Hardcover)

ESV Reader’s Bible: Some Notes on Daily Use

Bibliotheca: A Multi-Volume Reader’s Bible on Kickstarter

Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 1

Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 2

Bibliotheca, the ESV Reader’s Bible, and the Future of Printed Bibles

“I’m No Saint!”

Last week I posted a portion of a letter I wrote to an individual who, after one of my sermons, was uncomfortable with the thought of Christians still being labeled as sinners. I explained that my reason for posting this letter was to help others (1) who may, like this individual, recoil against the label “sinner” being applied to Christians whose sins are forgiven, or (2) who may struggle with assurance because, though they believe themselves to be a Christian, they cannot completely reign in their sin.

Well, it occurred to me sometime in the past few days that there are likely some people who read this previous post and are on the opposite end of the spectrum. These folks may not have any problem being labeled a “sinner,” but instead recoil against being called a “saint.” And so I wanted to write a follow up post today to address that issue.

Now to begin, let’s address the reason why we would be uncomfortable with the term “saint” being applied to us. I think we would all agree that our first inclination when we hear the word “saint” is to think of some group individuals at the top of some hypothetical Christian hierarchy. Within Roman Catholicism, those who have served the Church in some extraordinary way are “made” saints through the decisions of Popes and bishops. Outside of Roman Catholicism, in the increasingly more difficult to define “evangelical” world, we reserve the term “saint” for those we believe to be particularly godly people. And it seems that part of our confusion today over the appropriate application of the term “saint” is related to the practice, that originated somewhere back in church history and has stuck within many traditions, of taking those men at the top of the Apostolic chain and placing the word “Saint” in front of their names (for instance, Saint Peter and Saint Paul). And so, for all these reasons, we are reluctant as “normal” Christians to allow ourselves to be willingly and happily identified using the term “saint.”

But what I want to demonstrate today is that in actuality, the Bible speaks of all Christians as “saints.” And so, it is not that there is anything wrong with calling Paul and Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Peter, it is just that we cannot allow them to have a monopoly on that term. In fact, they would not allow it. Over and over again Paul addresses his letters to the “saints” in various churches. Some examples include:

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints (Romans 1:7 ESV)

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1 ESV)

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1 ESV)

And perhaps the best example from Paul is found in the opening of 1 Corinthians which reads:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)

I say this is the best example for two reasons. First of all, as you may know, there were lots of issues in Corinth and within the Corinthian Church. And Paul spends a great deal of his time in those letters addressing these issues. And yet, he does not hesitate to apply the term “saints” to the believers there in either of his New Testament letters. In other words, even for those Christians who were misguided in many ways, in Paul’s mind the term “saint” described them perfectly.

And the second reason this verse from 1 Corinthians 1:2 is a good example for us is because it says that the believers in Corinth were “saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You see the fact is that the root of the Greek word we translate “saint” can also be (and often is) translated using the word “holy” (it is also related to the words we translate “sanctify” or “sanctified”). And we know that through Jesus Christ, God has made all Christians “holy” (or he has sanctified us) in the sense that he has set us apart as his holy people. The saints of Jesus Christ are God’s “holy ones.” Not holy because of their actions, but holy because God has set them apart. This is about identify, not activity. Sainthood is a status God applies to every believer in Jesus Christ, not something that humans dole out to the most pious or religious among them. And so, the term “saint” is one of the most common ways (much, much, much more common than “Christian” which occurs only 3 times in the whole Bible) the New Testament writers refer to those who are part of the Jesus’ church.

The fact is that while in ourselves we are “sinners,” we are at the same time “saints” in Christ. We’ve all heard the saying, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints,” and while I understand the point and agree with the sentiment, I have to argue again that the Bible does not support this sort of dichotomy between “saint” and “sinner” for those who have been saved by Jesus Christ. The church is indeed a hospital for sinners: some still needing the forgiveness God offers in Christ and some having already received that forgiveness and who are thus saints in addition to being sinners. So for the Christian, both terms still apply… for now. But this too shall pass. And one day the “sinner” label with be shed along with our mortal bodies when Christ clothes us with immortality. And then we will be saints and nothing but saints… God’s holy ones for all of eternity.

Simultaneously Saint and Sinner

This morning, my thoughts were taken back to a conversation and a follow-up letter I wrote to an individual who, after one of my sermons, was uncomfortable with the thought of Christians still being labeled as sinners. I thought I would share some of the follow-up letter I wrote to help those (1) who may, like this individual, recoil against this notion because our sins are forgiven, or (2) who may struggle with assurance because, though they believe themselves to be a Christian, they cannot completely reign in their sin. Below is the a portion of the letter:

I wanted to thank you for speaking with me about your concern over my use of the term “sinner” in my sermon on Sunday without some other adjective like “forgiven” or “saved by grace” attached to it. I appreciate and applaud your instinctive impulse that we have a new identity in Christ. In our conversation after the service, I mentioned to you the famous latin phrase from Martin Luther “simul iustus et pecator” which means “simultaenously saint and sinner” or “at the same time righteous and a sinner.” The reality is that, before God, Christians are completely righteous. We really are “saints” (holy ones). That is the new identity we have in Jesus Christ. And that, I believe, was your contention and instinctive response to my use of the word “sinner” with regard to Christians on Sunday. And it is an absolutely correct response. If I didn’t emphasize the new identity we have in Christ clearly enough, thank you for correcting me. In the context of the passage, which was dealing with legalism and the false belief that we can behave in certain ways to make ourselves righteous before God, I was trying to point out that the only righteousness we have is an “alien” righteousness given to us by Jesus Christ (By “alien” I mean a righteousness or right standing before God that is not our own. It is foreign to us because it was given to us by Another. )

But I also believe that, while in identity we are “saints,” in practice we are still “sinners.” And as forgiven sinners we still need to be reminded that our only hope for forgiveness is the fact that we have been “saved by grace.” Not saved through any means of our own and not saved through some particular religious system. And so as forgiven sinners, we have no basis to judge or be prideful toward unforgiven sinners. We have done nothing to earn the new identity we have in Christ, it is a free gift to us, and were it not for God’s grace and mercy to us, we would remain unforgiven sinners as well. The fact is that as human beings we all are sinners in practice. But some of us are forgiven sinners because of our faith in Jesus Christ and the mercy of God.

So I think it is important for Christians to recognize that this concept of “simultaneously saint and sinner” is true of us. This realization does not attack the assurance we have of salvation in Christ, but it actually strengthens it. For if I held to the belief that I was no longer a “sinner” in any sense of the word, when I found myself sinning, then where would I be? I would be concerned for my eternal security and questioning whether or not I am truly a saint. But if I recognize that I am “simultaneously a saint and a sinner,” then I can be confident that my sins do not affect my status and identity as a saint.

In the end, holding to the belief that I am no longer a sinner is only going to make me miserably insecure. On the other hand, when I am able to believe that because of my unity with Christ I am a saint despite of my sins, then I have a security that cannot be shaken. Because then my security rests in Christ alone and not in me. By accepting this doctrine of “simultaneously saint and sinner” I don’t have to question whether or not I am a saint when I prove to be a sinner by my sinning.

It is hard to emphasize all of this in every sermon, but you have helped me to realize I need to be more careful in this area. And though our identity in Christ was a huge point of emphasis in the Colossians sermon series we went through earlier this year, that was months ago and some people listening to me on Sunday likely were not present for those sermons.

I am including an excerpt from a book by Jerry Bridges, the author of the modern classic, The Pursuit of Holiness and a staff member with the Navigators for over 50 years. In this article he says the following:

“We should always view ourselves both in terms of what we are in Christ, that is, saints, and what we are in ourselves, namely, sinners.”

I think that is a good way of saying it. And do not forget this quote from the Apostle Paul who also new himself to be a sinner as well.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Esau I have hated?

This past Sunday at Monte Sano Baptist Church our sermon passage was Malachi 1:2–5 which contains the difficult saying, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” And because God’s feelings toward Esau are not the main point of this passage (the main point is God’s special, covenantal love for Israel), I only touched briefly on what God means here. But I also promised that I would make some more information available to those who were interested in better understanding what God means when he says, “Esau I have hated.” And that is what I want to do in this post.

In the sermon this past Sunday I explained that one of the most important themes in the Old Testament is God’s election (or his choosing) of Israel to be his special people. I reminded us that out of all the people on the earth God decided that he would accomplish his purposes through this particular group of people. Beginning with Abraham, a man who was a pagan and who had no special qualities that would set him apart from anyone else, God determined that his special people would be Abraham’s descendants. And so Abraham would become the “Father” of this “chosen” people. (That is why so many children have learned the song “Father Abraham” in vacation Bible School.) And God decided that through this group of people, who were Abraham’s descendants, he would carry out his plan of redemption for the world. He would place his special covenantal love on them. He would be their God and they would be his people. A people loved by him in a special way.

And we considered the question: Why, out of all the potential candidates on the earth, did God choose this group of people? Why Abraham and his descendants? Was it because of something they did? Was it because they were special in some way? And the answer to that is, of course, “No.” In fact I pointed out that if you read their stories you learn that was definitely not the case and that some of them were outright scoundrels. So why did God choose these people? And the answer I gave on Sunday is that what the Bible teaches us is that God placed his special love upon them out of his mercy and for no other reason. In fact God tells Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6–9:

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:6–9 ESV)

As we see here, God’s choosing of Abraham and his descendants was a meritless selection. And as I pointed out on Sunday, this meritless selection is made very clear in the story of the two twins which were referred to in our passage on Sunday from Malachi 1:2–5.

These two twins are known as Jacob and Esau and they were the grandsons of Abraham. And from these two twins would come two nations. Jacob would become Israel and Esau would become Edom. And God made a choice between these two boys, and thus these two nations, while the twins were still in their mother’s womb. And as I explained Sunday, his choice was not based upon anything special within the boys nor because he was looking into the future and knew one would be better than the other. Very simply, God did not choose Jacob over Esau based on anything special about Jacob or anything negative about Esau. The simple fact is that the lineage of God’s special people was only going to go through one of them and he chose Jacob. God’s promises to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation would continue with Jacob and not Esau.

But still, why Jacob and not Esau? Well, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 9 that when Rebekah (Jacob and Esau’s mother) “had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (Romans 9:10–12 ESV). And Paul goes on to quote from Malachi 1:2–3 saying, “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13 ESV).

Now the point here is that God did not choose Jacob based on any special quality in him or based on any negative quality in Esau. God’s choice to love Jacob with his special, covenantal love and not love Esau with that same special covenantal love was done solely to achieve the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the world. Much about these purposes is a mystery, but what is not a mystery is that God was using this special group of people who would descend from Jacob to bring salvation to the whole world. The bottom line is that God’s plan of redemption included sending a Messiah to save not just Israel, but the whole world. He chose Israel as the nation through whom Jesus Christ would be born. And so ultimately, Jesus Christ is the reason God chose Israel. The Messiah must come from some nation, and God chose Israel. Not on the basis of anything special about them, but simply on the basis of God’s choosing.

And so, as I pointed out Sunday, when the people of Israel in Malachi’s day are wondering whether or not God really loves them. God points them to the story of Jacob and Esau. He reminds them of the special covenantal love he has for them. When the people of Israel respond to God’s declaration of love to them by saying, “How have you loved us?” God answers them saying, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” In other words, “Didn’t Esau have the same right to be chosen as Jacob. On the basis of who Jacob and Esau were in and of themselves, didn’t Esau have the same right to my covenantal love as Jacob? And don’t the people of Edom have the same right to be my special people as you people do? Aren’t the Edomites also descendants of Abraham and Isaac, your forefathers. Weren’t Jacob and Esau in the same womb? Esau was even the older brother who traditionally would have been the favored brother. And yet, I chose Jacob, and thus, I chose you. I have chosen you out of all the people on the earth to be the recipients of my special, covenantal love.”

You see, the fact is that Jacob and Esau, and their descendants, have equal claims to God’s love. But in the mysterious purposes of God, God set his special love on Jacob and Jacob’s descendants. And Malachi begins his message by reminding the people of Israel of this fact.

But with all this said, there are still some words in this passage that make it difficult for us to understand, aren’t there? The struggle we have is not in the words, “Jacob I have loved,” the struggle we have is in the words, “Esau I have hated.” We struggle to think of God hating someone. And not just someone, but a whole group of people. Well, take comfort in knowing we aren’t the first people to struggle with these words. There has been much ink used trying to explain what God means here. And I found myself on Friday as I was preparing my sermon for Sunday walking through my house saying out loud to myself and anyone else who would listen, “I don’t have to defend God. I don’t have to defend God. I don’t have to defend God.” Because often times that is what it seems like people who comment on verses like these are trying to do. But God is a big boy. He can defend himself. So please know that I am not going to offer a defense for what he says in this passage. God doesn’t anyone defending him, but that is so often what we see people trying to do regarding difficult passages.

Regarding this passage, there are some who claim (a great many actually and many who I respect as teachers of God’s word) that when God says he hates Esau, what he means is that he loves Esau less. And they have some pretty good support for this. They point to passages like Genesis 29:30–31 where it says that Jacob both “hated” his wife Leah in one verse and that he “loved her less” than his other wife Rachel in the other verse. So they claim this idea of hate is a “more and less” thing. Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel and God loved Esau less than Jacob.

And they also point to the New Testament where Jesus says in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We know that Jesus does not want us to “hate” (in our normal understanding of that word “hate”) our family. Jesus even tells us that we are to love our enemies. And so when Jesus says that we are to hate our family and ourselves, it is clear that he is speaking in comparative terms. We are to love him so much that our love for others and ourselves appears more like hate.

But is that what God means here about his love for Jacob and his hate for Esau? Well let’s look at what the rest of this passage says. What does Malachi say God has done to Esau? At the end of verse 3, after saying “Esau I have hated,” God says, “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” And God goes on to say in in verse 4 that if Edom should decide to rebuild what God has destroyed that “they may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” And so God’s choosing to love Jacob’s people and choosing to “hate” or “reject” Esau’s people has had concrete results.[1] Jacob’s descendants have been brought back to their land, to rebuild and to reestablish their covenant with God, while Esau’s descendants have acted wickedly and have had everything taken away from them and have become the objects of God’s anger and have become known as a “wicked country.” Again, there is a sense in which the result of God giving his special attention to Jacob and not Esau resulted in Esau and his descendants doing many evil and wicked things which eventually resulted in God’s destruction of their nation. When left to their own devices, Edom did many evil and wicked things. This evil included having spiteful and destructive behaviors toward Israel. It included “pillaging and looting” them during Israel and Judah’s destruction by Babylon.[2] And so in one sense, “Edom brought divine judgment upon themselves.”[3] But in another sense, God’s treatment of Edom is connected to the “divine rejection of Esau that occurred before he and his twin brother Jacob were born.”[4]

And I think one implication is that God is trying to make here is that, had God not been involved intimately with the people of Israel, the result would have been the same. As one commentator explains, “[Israel] deserved nothing from [God] and would wind up in the same state as Edom for their wickedness, were it not for [God’s] changeless and sovereign love.”[5] God does punish Israel for their evil actions by destroying their land and sending them into exile, but because of his covenant love for them, he is bringing them back to rebuild and renew. Something he is not doing for Esau.

God’s choice of Jacob and not Esau meant that Esau’s descendants would not be the nation upon whom God placed his special, covenantal love. God’s choice of Jacob and his descendants was the establishment of a permanent, unbreakable relationship with them. And no matter how unfaithfully the people of Israel acted, God would always remain faithful to them. When God’s special people sin, God’s response is discipline. He sends them to exile for discipline. (Remember I said a few weeks ago that after the Exile, Israel never had a problem with idolatry again.) Hebrews 12:6 tells us that God disciplines those whom he loves. But his response to Edom is not discipline. It is judgment and condemnation. Where Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians was temporary, Edom would never return to their land again.[6] While God temporarily rejected Israel, according to Malachi 1:4, God’s rejection of Edom is forever.[7] Why the difference? Israel had a “perpetual alliance with God” that “made the difference between Israel and the other nations.”[8]

So I don’t think we can simply say, this is a more or less thing. I don’t think we can simply say that when God says “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated,” that we can simply conclude “Oh what he means by that is that he loves them both, he just loves Jacob a little more.” God made a choice. He made a choice to place his special, covenantal love upon Jacob and not upon Esau. And so, as one commentary explains it: “The point is not that God loved Jacob more than Esau but that he loved himrather than Esau.[9]

Now, that is hard stuff. And there is a lot of mystery in it. And I could continue writing and try to make you feel better about God choosing to love Jacob and choosing to “not love” or “hate” Esau, but I am not sure I would accomplish much.

But, nonetheless, without trying to defend God, I will say say just a few things about this. First of all, this is why when we encounter a difficult passage like Malachi 1:2–5 that I so often say that we have to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. When we run across something like this that seems out of character for God to us, we have to let what we clearlyknow about God from elsewhere in Scripture inform what Scripture is trying to teach us in difficult passages like this one. Again, the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. And one thing we know clearly from Scripture is that God is not like us. When Malachi 1:3 says God hates, that does not carry all of the normal human baggage with it. God is not vindictive, he is not evil, he is not spiteful, he is not all those things that come along with human hate. So don’t think of God’s hate in those terms. Think of his hate in terms of his choosing to not love Esau in the same way he loved Jacob. Think of it in terms of being “rejected” or “passed over” or “not chosen.” Don’t lay on God all the baggage that normally accompanies human hate.

Also note that in Deuteronomy 23:7, God instructed the people of Israel to not despise or detest or abhor the descendants of Esau. Again interpret Scripture with Scripture. He said: “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” Now, God is not going to tell the people of Israel to do something he is not willing to do. So again, this hatred is not to be understood in the way we understand the hatred of one human being for another. There is something different going on here. It is not that God has personal animosity towards Esau. It is simply that in the Bible, in the context of God’s covenant with Israel and his special love for them, when the word “hate” is coupled with the word “love” the word “hate” is best understood as “not loved” or “not chosen” or “rejected.”[10] Hate in this sense is not the opposite of love. It is more the absence of the love that God only has for his chosen people.

And finally, we know that in some sense God loves all of his creation. Although God’s people, including us as Christians, are loved by God in a special way, that does not mean that God does not love all of his creation in other ways. We know that God is love. 1 John 4:8 says so. God has also told us to love our enemies. And as we saw earlier, he told the people of Israel not to despise the people of Edom. And we all know that John 3:16 tells us that God loved the whole world so much that he gave up his son. And so, God cannot be thought of apart from his great love for the world even when we read the words, “Esau I have hated.”


  1. Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi, New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 202.
  2. Andrew E. Hill, Malachi (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 167.
  3. Hill, 167.
  4. Richard A. Taylor and E. Ray Clendenen, Haggai, Malachi, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 21A of The New American Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 252.
  5. Taylor and Clendenen, 258.
  6. Taylor and Clendenen, , 253–254.
  7. Hill, 168.
  8. Taylor and Clendenen, 253.
  9. Taylor and Clendenen, 251.
  10. Hill, 166.

A Method for Praying/Journaling the Psalms

I ran across an interesting method of journaling the Psalms today from Vic Black with the Navigators. The method he describes is basically taking individual psalms and rewriting them in the first person—as if God himself were speaking them to you. It is no secret to those who have been around me that I have a great love for the Psalms (Thank you Dr. Allen Ross). And it is also no secret that I do my best to get others to love them as well. I hope this approach to praying/journaling the Psalms will do that for someone. Here is what Vic Black says about this:

After the experience of Psalm 23, I began to experiment receiving other Psalms in the first person. Several principles soon fell into place. First, this is much more a listening exercise than a writing exercise. There is harm in forcing yourself to write something. There is freedom and peace in waiting and soaking in a Psalm. Allow God to speak. Give yourself freedom to experiment. This is for enjoyment and relationship. This is not about doing it right or wrong. It is about intimacy with the Lord. This is a meditative exercise in which you are asking God, “What would it sound like if You, Lord spoke this Psalm to me right now, in the first person? I don’t want to put words in Your mouth. I don’t want my imagination to run away with me. But I do want to use my imagination, as well as my heart, my soul, my mind, all of my faculties. What I want more than anything is to truly hear Your voice. Would You give me ears to hear and block out all distractions? Please engage with my heart through David’s Journal, the Psalms.” I would encourage you to have several translations available and open. Observe the footnotes, definitions and cross references that expand the meaning of the passage. Live in one Psalm for a period of time. The objective is not speed. You are not trying to do one Psalm a day. The Psalms flowed out of David’s life (as well as Moses, Asaph, Solomon, and the sons of Korah…). Now you want the Psalms to flow out of your life and into your life. You may spend hours or even days reflecting, meditating, soaking, marinating in a favorite Psalm. Let the Psalm live. Let it breathe. Let it live in you. Let God speak.

  • Relax. Enjoy the exercise. Pray, “Lord, what would it sound like if you spoke this Psalm to me?”
  • Soak in the Psalm. Read it meditatively in several translations. Allow fresh, new phrases to form.
  • Allow the footnotes and cross references to add color and meaning to the Psalm.
  • Allow your sanctified imagination to soar and expand the Psalm.
  • Work on one complete thought at a time. Don’t force it.
  • Allow God to take your pen and add His personalized phrases.
  • Listen to the Lord speak these thoughts to your heart.
  • This is much more a heart exercise than a head exercise.
  • Once you have finished the Psalm, read it over and over and receive it as the Lord’s blessing to you.
  • Suggested Psalms: 1, 15, 24, 27, 34, 40, 42, 51, 57, 63, 84, 91, 96, 97, 98, 139

Original article here: http://www.navigators.org/Tools/Prayer%20Resources/PageItems/How%20to%20Journal%20Psalms%20in%20the%20First%20Person