One of the most misunderstood verses from the Bible has to be the following:
“I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (Malachi 1.2-3; cf. Romans 9.13).
Our mind cannot help but wonder:
- Did God hate Esau?
- Who else does God hate?
- Does God hate me?
How do we reconcile this verse with other verses that indicate that God is love (1 John 4:8) and even with how loving, kind, and compassionate Jesus proved Himself to be?
Even in the Old Testament God’s character is repeatedly described as “compassionate and gracious… slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” This phrase is found in Exodus 34:6, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Psalm 112:4, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.
Any time we come across Scriptures that seem to go against other Scriptures or even who we expect Jesus to be, we need to consider the context. Always interpret the Scriptures with Scriptures.
God is love, and God is perfect.
We make wicked choices in our minds and commit sinful acts with our attitudes and our actions.
Even still, God loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent His Son to rescue us by dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus took on the punishment we deserve so that we might experience forgiveness and a personal relationship with God through the blood shed on that cross.
Miraculously, love could not be contained in the grave. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and offers the Spirit of God to all who choose to follow Him as Lord.
So, how can God hate Esau?
- Some would say it is because God chooses to condemn some.
- Some would say it is because God is angry and violent and untrustworthy.
Instead, we must look at the context.
Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau was a living miracle. His mother could not seem to have children, and then when she finally did it was just a few years later that Abraham almost sacrificed him. Instead, God intervened and spared Isaac – showing Abraham that the One True God does not require child sacrifices (like all the other “gods” seemed to require). This moment was a foreshadowing of the fact that the One True God would be the One who would sacrifice His Son for us.
Isaac’s wife Rebekah was expecting twins, and God revealed to her that He would do His work through the younger son rather than the oldest as was expected. God knew the hearts of Jacob and Esau. He knew He could work through a repentant deceiver more than he could a rebellious hunter.
In a culture where the oldest male was the only one who received a blessing, God began to show that His love goes beyond what we would think it should.
Jacob, the one literally named “Heel” and the one who would redefine his name as “Deceiver” due to his evil actions became a critical part of the history of Israel.
His older brother Esau became a footnote. He rejected God, and He struggled with anger just as God knew He would.
So what does that passage mean? Does God hate Esau and all those who make evil choices? If so, we are all in trouble!
Dr. William Lane Craig at www.reasonablefaith.org describes the passage this way.
“[This phrase is] religious hyperbole expressing God’s hatred of evil and the wicked acts people commit. It would be a hermeneutical mistake to press them literally as statements of Christian doctrine.
Drawing hyperbolic, black-and-white dichotomies was a common semitic idiom. For example, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (Malachi 1.2-3; cf. Romans 9.13) is a way of saying that God has chosen Jacob and not Esau. When Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14.26), he means that if one prioritizes even one’s most cherished loved ones above Jesus, one’s discipleship is incomplete—a claim which is radical enough without taking it literally!”
In the Scriptures, Isaac blesses Jacob (who he thought was Esau) and then never offered a blessing to the son who had been tricked out of his blessing?
So why didn’t Isaac bless both sons?
Whenever we are reading a part of the Bible that is more historical remember that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. For example, letters from Paul to the churches are prescriptive – guidelines for what to do in their context, so we can apply the same principles in our context.
In this historical book, the author is describing what happened not necessarily what should have happened.
Just because Isaac only blessed one son doesn’t mean that is what we should do. Just because Rebekah had a favorite and helped deceive her husband doesn’t mean that’s what we should do. In fact, part of the beauty of the Scriptures is that we can see the consequences of good and bad decision-making.
Rebekah knew that God was going to do something special for her youngest so she made sure it happened. Now, I believe it could have still happened without her manipulating her husband.
Isaac and Rebekah could have blessed both their children. In fact, later Jacob did bless all his sons.
When we read the Scriptures with the following framework, all starts to make much more sense:
- God is loving.
- God is trustworthy.
- We need God’s love and forgiveness to experience the fullness of life as He intended.