God is Love vs. God Hates (Esau)


Challenge #8: God is Love vs God Hates Esau

Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13 both say that God “hated” Esau. We thought that God did not hate anybody because Jesus says that “God so loved the world.” Additionally, 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. Of all the people that God could hate, why does He focus on Esau? Wasn’t Esau another person made in His image? Wasn’t Esau just an innocent boy when God had already decided to hate him? If we couldn’t get away with such blanket hatred, why does God?

The two big things that I think should be examined here are the words for “love” and “hate” and the contribution that Jacob and Esau make to the entire story of the Bible.

In Romans 9:13, “Loved” is the Greek word αγαπησα, which is God’s all-in, self-sacrificial, enduring love. It’s in the aorist, so “have loved” is not an appropriate translation; it’s a general past verb, implying the action may or may not have stopped. If it was a continual love of this sort, I would expect a different verb tense. The word for “hate” is εμισησα, from the root μισεω. It’s used 40 times in the New Testament. Though we commonly hear that this word can mean “love less,” that seems to just be a way to try to soften the intensity of the word. It seems quite certain that it means hate. But that doesn’t imply that it means some out of control, violent vitriol. In fact, though it’s not right to translate the word that way, certain instances may show that a lesser love—or the rejected out of a choice of two—may be an appropriate way to consider the term (see Matt. 26:4). “Love less” is never a term used. This is what appears to be the case: whenever opposing choices are being presented, the one that is not selected is not said to be loved, and is therefore said to be hated—there simply aren’t lesser terms for this.

There are other verses that indicate that there are things that the Lord “hates”: devising evil (Zech. 8:17), divorce (Mal. 2:16),  (half-hearted) festivals (Amos 5:21, Is. 1:14), people of wickedness/ evil (Hosea 9:15), those that “roar” against God (Jer. 12:8), robbery (Is. 61:8), pride, arrogance, evil, perverse words (Pro 8:13), arrogant eyes, lying, hurting/killing the innocent, hearts with wicked plans,  people’s pursuit of evil, stirring strife (Pro. 6:17-19), and others. It is ok that God hates certain things, even if those things are represented by people.

Now, what can we discern from the story of the Bible about Esau that explains why God would hate him (or at least not prefer him). Esau is mentioned 101 times in the Bible—quite a bit for someone that is so unknown. 64 of the verses are in Genesis (all in chapters 25-36). 19 of the verses are in the Old Testament outside of Genesis: 10 in the prophets’ writings. Three of the references are in the New Testament. Jeremiah 49:10 makes it evident that the name Esau began to represent a people group, not just the singular person.

So Esau is a nation, or people group (nation is a little generous). Who is always the contrary to Esau? Jacob. There always seems to be a comparison between the two. “Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”[1] It would be reasonable to assume that Isaac also loved Jacob, and Rebekah also loved Esau. But there is a specific preference given to the one over the other. Who was Jacob? He was called Israel after God renamed him. Israel is the chosen nation of God—those that strive (wrestle) with God. Jacob gave birth to 12 sons who would divide into the 12 tribes. God had orchestrated that Jacob would receive the birthright and blessing from the father. Jacob was master over Esau, meaning that the older would serve the younger.

God opposes that which opposes the nation He chose. It’s not because they were so much greater people (neither was Jacob), but because this was the way He chose to make His goodness and mercy known. The promise to Jacob was an extension of the promise to Abraham: And I will make you a great nation,

And I will bless you,

And make your name great;

And so cyou shall be a blessing;

And I will bless those who bless you,

And the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.[2]

If Jacob was Israel, and representing the lineage and ushering people of Christ, then what was Esau? Esau co-mingled with, and added settlements to Canaan. But Esau himself is known for establishing Edom. Obadiah goes into detail about the demise of this nation that followed Esau: “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you[3]”… “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, You will be covered with shame, And you will be cut off forever.”[4] Edom was one of the nations that tried to take over Jerusalem.

In summary, God had always determined that the love of God would go out into the entire world. For a time, God specified a particular people to show His preference, presence, and mercy to. The other nations, if they set themselves against God and against Israel, God is said to have hatred toward them. This hatred was in faithfulness toward the people to whom He made His promises. He did this for a time with the intent of opening such depth of love to the people of all nations. Esau represents the nations that stood opposed to God’s chosen people. God’s hatred toward them eventually turned into grace, mercy, and love, especially through the repentance and faith of people. This integrated non-Israel into Israel and enacted the love and promises that God had made to Jacobs grandpa Abraham.


*Another difficult passage that is similar to this is when Jesus tells a crowd that they must hate their own family members in order to pursue him (Luke 14:26). The word here is also μισεω. This is obviously a widely used term, spanning the despising spectrum. But since Jesus has to this point in the gospels already taught so much about doing good to even those that do harsh acts against us, it’s safe to say that the level of hate that he’s referring to here is one of intense non-preference in light of the choice presented.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ge 25:28). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ge 12:2–3). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ob 3). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ob 10). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.


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