In light of our recently essay — Edom In The Old And New Testaments — we thought it would benefit the discussion to add a follow-up piece on the subject of Malachi 1– a passage often quoted by those who identify Edom as literal modern-day Jews.
The passage in question is Malachi 1:1-5,
1 The pronouncement of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi: 2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and given his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; this is what the Lord of armies says: “They may build, but I will tear down; and people will call them the territory of wickedness, and the people with whom the Lord is indignant forever.” 5 And your eyes will see this, and you will say, “The Lord be exalted beyond the border of Israel!”
Those who believe that this refers to modern-day Jews will point out that the Jews have been literally attempting to “build up the ruins” in Palestine since the foundation of the nation-state of Israel in 1948 — and is therefore a fulfillment of that prophesy.
They will also claim that the verse “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau” singles out Esau from among all the nations as a doomed people. In other words, they believe that only Esau is doomed and the rest of the nations are not. Their circular reasoning is that only modern-day Jews are worthy of being doomed, and so it must be them who are doomed in Malachi.
We have already demonstrated that modern-day Jews cannot be literal Edomites — and so Malachi 1 is not referring to Jews ab initio — from the outset. Clearly, Malachi is referring to the land of Edom being rebuilt, not Judea or Palestine. The Jews cannot “return and rebuild” Edom because they had never built there — because they aren’t Edomites. They were not “beaten down” because it was the Edomites who were beaten down, not the Jews.
Those who claim Malachi refers to “Edomite Jews” misinterpret the phrase “return and rebuild” as Edomites returning to Judea to rebuild it — based on their presumption that “Edomite Jews” inhabited Judea in the time of Christ — and they returned to build it up again in the year 1948.
However, this is not at all what the prophecy is saying. Even if Malachi 1 were referring to Jews who are Edomites, that position still faces a glaring inconsistency with the passage. Verse 3 clearly states, “I have made his mountains a desolation.” Edom was given Mount Seir and the surrounding mountainous region as their own land in Deuteronomy 2:4,
do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, not even as much as a footprint, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.
The fundamental premise of Malachi’s prophecy is that the Edomites have been beaten down in their own land — and they are going to return to their own land to rebuild it. This prophecy is referring to an actual and verifiable event in Scripture of Edom being beaten down and rebuilding their own land. 1 Kings 11:14-22 tells us exactly that:
14 Then the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite; he was of the royal line in Edom. 15 For it came about, when David was in Edom and Joab the commander of the army had gone up to bury those killed in battle, and had struck and killed every male in Edom 16 (for Joab and all Israel stayed there for six months, until he had eliminated every male in Edom), 17 that Hadad fled to Egypt, he and certain Edomites of his father’s servants with him, while Hadad was a young boy. 18 They set out from Midian and came to Paran; and they took men with them from Paran and came to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, who gave him a house and assigned him food and gave him land. 19 Now Hadad found great favor in the sight of Pharaoh, so that he gave him in marriage the sister of his own wife, the sister of Tahpenes the queen. 20 And the sister of Tahpenes gave birth to his son Genubath, whom Tahpenes weaned in Pharaoh’s house; and Genubath was in Pharaoh’s house among the sons of Pharaoh. 21 But when Hadad heard in Egypt that David lay down with his fathers and that Joab the commander of the army was dead, Hadad said to Pharaoh, “Let me go, so that I may go to my own country.” 22 However, Pharaoh said to him, “But what have you lacked with me that you are here, requesting to go to your own country?” And he answered, “Nothing; nevertheless you must let me go.”
We can see that there was a period of time when there was not even one male Edomite in all of the land of Edom — and yet they returned later in order to rebuild it. Conversely, there is no point in time in Scripture where the Edomites ever “returned” to Judea to rebuild it.
We have an instance where they returned to rebuild their own land — along with the statement, “I have made his mountains a desolation” — but not a single instance where they returned to rebuild Judea. Why would we presume that this verse could possibly refer to Edomites returning to rebuild the land of Judea?
Yet Israel had suffered a similar fate with the Babylonian and Assyrian conquests of the Israelites — and that in combination with the fact that Edom is Israel’s brother, makes them a perfect match for such a comparison.
In Malachi 1, the Lord is trying to make known His love for Israel specifically — and that even though Edom and Israel are “brothers” — and even though they seem to have suffered similar fates — it is Israel that will ultimately be restored and not Edom.
Why is that? It was not because of something Esau did but rather because it was the Lord’s explicit choice: “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau.” Paul emphasizes and expands on this statement in Romans 9:11-13,
11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Paul is saying that the statement “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” is the confirmation of a promise which God made to Rebekah when He said, “The older will serve the younger.” Jacob has been set apart and will be restored as a nation because Jacob is the child of the promise. Esau would not be restored as a nation because Esau was not the child of the promise.
Israel had indeed witnessed Edom being built up again — and in light of Israel’s own recent destruction under the Babylonian and Assyrian invasions, Israel would feel insecure that Edom seemed to be getting preferential treatment — as Malachi 1:2 states,
But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?”
However all the nations are destined for destruction while Israel is destined for restoration. The Lord is telling Israel that no matter how many times Edom rebuilds, they will always be thrown down again, but Israel will be restored forever.
The entire book of Malachi is a promise to Israel that they will indeed inherit the land which was promised to Abraham and more, just as Malachi 1:5 states,
And your eyes will see this, and you will say, “The Lord be exalted beyond the border of Israel!”
Isaiah 52:8-10 covers the exact same promise,
8 Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes when the Lord restores Zion.9 Be cheerful, shout joyfully together, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.10 The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, so that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.
Jerusalem is promised restoration — and the ends of the earth will see the salvation of the Lord. This is yet another reference to the “fullness of the nations” along with those who escape, which is even evident in Malachi 1:5.
Micah 5:4 speaks of the work of the Christ,
And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth.
Therefore, Edom is singled out only insofar as they served as the perfect subject for the love of God in the overall message of the prophecy of Malachi. However, Edom is merely a type for all the nations in the latter days — because those from all nations who do not serve Israel through the Lord Jesus will be destroyed, as Isaiah 60:12 says,
For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, and the nations will be utterly ruined.
Psalm 2:8-12 says of the Lord’s reign,
7 “I will announce the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have fathered You. 8 Ask it of Me, and I will certainly give the nations as Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as Your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, you shall shatter them like earthenware.’” 10 Now then, you kings, use insight; Let yourselves be instructed, you judges of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, that He not be angry and you perish on the way, for His wrath may be kindled quickly. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Jeremiah 12:14-17 says the same thing,
14 This is what the Lord says concerning all My wicked neighbors who do harm [including Edom] to the inheritance with which I have endowed My people Israel: “Behold, I am going to drive them out of their land, and I will drive the house of Judah out from among them. 15 And it will come about that after I have driven them out, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. 16 Then, if they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ just as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they will be built up in the midst of My people. 17 But if they do not listen, then I will drive out that nation, drive it out and destroy it,” declares the Lord.
Through all of these examples, we have confirmation that Edom is used only as a shadow — and that these things are promised for all of the nations.
Summing up then, this prophecy simply does not work when applied to Jews for three reasons:
- Edomites are not Jews.
- Malachi 1 is referring to Edom rebuilding the land of Seir, not the land of Judea.
- Edom is being used only as a shadow for something which applies to all nations.
Hopefully, this perspective provides us with a better interpretation which lines up fully with the rest of prophecy — prophecy interpreting prophecy. We must endeavor to see what the prophecy is saying to us, instead of sifting through prophecy with a preconceived agenda in mind.
Peter warns us that Scripture and prophecy will indeed be misused and distorted by those who do not have a firm commitment to the message of the gospel in 2 Peter 3:11-18,
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him, at peace, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unscrupulous people and lose your own firm commitment [to holiness, spotlessness, blamelessness and the looking for the new heavens and new earth 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.2 Peter 3:11-18