v.1 Essentially the title to the book, making clear who the author is (the LORD) and who the intended audience is (God’s People – nb Israel as a nation had ceased to exist centuries earlier.)
v.2 The pattern that is repeated throughout the book is clear here: God makes an assertion, which is then questioned by the people, and then God responds.
The assertion: it is striking that a book that warns so frequently of judgment should begin with a declaration of love. It gives the context for God’s message to his people, and for their sinful unbelief.
The question: it may be that the question wasn’t actually expressed or voiced, but the people’s underlying cynicism and unbelief is being exposed.
The response: the great truth God tells them to remember and ponder is the fact of their election. Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, sons of Isaac, and the founders of two rival nations – Edom and Israel.
v.3 The language of “hate” is not that of personal animosity but of choice; it is the flip side of election. The value and privilege of election is now made plain. God’s choice of Israel and against Edom in the distant past is the reason that, in the recent past, Edom has been laid waste (by Nabatean invaders, the people who built the city of Petra) and Israel has been rescued from exile. Edom’s future and land has been removed, Israel’s have been restored. God’s choice still stands and can be clearly seen to make a significant difference.
v.4 Those under God’s judgement may try to throw it off and assume it is of no consequence, but God reaffirms that his judgement is absolute; his choice is eternal. If God has not chosen you that is terminal.
v.5 When Israel sees the effect of God’s choice on Edom then they will more fully appreciate the value of his choosing them and the reality of His love. His judgement on Edom will also demonstrate his universal sovereignty. The love of a universal sovereign whose choice means life not death is worth having; such a God is not to be cynically or apathetically fobbed off, but is to be served, trusted and feared.
You will need give people some kind of introduction to the book – but please resist the temptation to say too much. You may be able to get others in the group to do some of the work (eg – does anyone know where Malachi fits in to Israel’s history? What had happened in last 150 years?….) It’s perhaps worth saying something about the general spiritual state of the people – discouraged, apathetic, wondering whether it is really worth bothering to serve God (cf. 3:14) etc.