Are you the type who peeks at the ending of a novel ahead of time? If you have never read the Old Testament—that chronicle of the rocky two-millennial marriage between the Lord and Israel—today we are going to sneak to the back and see how it turns out. After being together through thick and thin, how do the Israelite people feel about God? How does God feel about his people? Has the marriage mellowed with age? Has there been “character development” or a “resolution” of the tensions in the story?
The last chapter of that novel would be Malachi. After him, heaven falls silent in the affairs of men for 450 years, a silence that will not be broken until we read: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But if you are looking for a traditional American Hollywood happy ending, you had better think more in terms of French cinematic ambivalence. For what I glean from 55 terse verses of this closing of an epoch is this: Israel doesn’t like God very much.
Note the following testy exchange as the aging couple rock side-by-side on the old front porch, the Husband still wooing, tight-lipped Israel gazing stiffly ahead:
God: “I have loved you.”
Israel: “How have you loved us?”
(Parents will relate to the scene on the day when a child who has lived in their house 18 years comes to them and says, “What have you ever done for me?”)
I am shocked that the conversation between God and Israel doesn’t end right there. Why the Husband doesn’t get up, walk off the veranda into the house, pack His belongings, and drive out of Dodge is beyond human understanding.
But between you and me, for an answer to the snide and accusatory question, “How have you loved us?” I refer you to the previous 38 books of the Torah. Where does one begin to recount it?
God first finds His bride-to-be kicking around in her own blood (Ezekiel 16:6), and takes her in. She is grateful for about five minutes, and then starts grumbling about the food and accommodations (Exodus 16-17). He brings her into exclusive covenant with Him (Exodus 6:7), and sets a hedge of protection around her from all would-be attackers (Jeremiah 2:2-3). But she has roving eyes, and thinks the grass greener on the other side (1 Samuel 8:19-20). She commits multiple adulteries; there is not a tree or hill where she hasn’t played the harlot (Jeremiah 2:20). In the end, used up and despised by her lovers, she is auctioned off cheap, and God goes down to the auction block to buy her back, to redeem her (the book of Hosea).
It is more than touching to me that even as “gray hairs are sprinkled upon” Israel, God is pursuing her still. Who would ever do such a thing? Only One. And He tells us the reason in this last book of the Prophets:
“For I the LORD do not change …” (Malachi 3:6).
This is the kind of God we have.