Q: #33. Did God really hate Esau?
A: (Mal 1:3) And I hated Esau, And laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.
Did God hate Esau, and if so, can’t we say God hates a lot of other people too? First, I believe the Bible makes it quite clear that God loves everyone (Jn 3:16)(Rom 5:8)(Titus 3:4)(1 Jn 4:8-9)(Deut 10:17-18). In addition, the Bible commands us to love our neighbors (Mt 5:43)(Mt 19:19)(Mt 22:39)(Mk 12:31,33)(Rom 13:9)(Gal 5:14) (James 2:8), love our enemies (Mt 5:44-47)(Lk 6:27-28,35), and love everyone (1 Jn 3:11,23)(1 Jn 4:11)(2 Jn1:5)(1 Th 3:12)(Rom 13:8). Wouldn’t it be kind of ridiculous for the Bible and Jesus to command us to love everyone, including our neighbors and enemies, if God Himself was going to choose to hate people? Would God hold us to a higher standard than He holds Himself to?
So what does the Bible mean when it says God “hated” Esau? I believe the clearest way to explain this is to go to the book of Romans in the New Testament. In (Rom 9:13), the verse in Malachi is repeated saying, “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The Greek word that is used for “hated” is “miseo.” According to Strong’s, “miseo basically means having a relative preference for one thing over another, by way of expressing either aversion from, or disregard for, the claims of one person or thing relatively to those of another.”
There is another verse that also uses “miseo” that can clear this up a little more. In (Lk 14:26) Jesus says, “If any man come to me, and HATE not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (caps emphasis mine) Did Jesus mean we have to “hate” all of these people to be His disciple? No… What Jesus was saying is that we should love Him more than any of them. He MUST be first. (See: Mt 10:37)
I believe this is exactly what God was saying when He loved Jacob and hated Esau. It was not that He literally hated Esau, but rather, that he chose Jacob over Esau as the person through which the Israelites and the Messianic line would come.
One other example I would point to in the Old Testament is found in (Gen 29:30-33). In verse 30 it says, “and he (Jacob) loved also Rachel more than Leah… (31) And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.” I believe this shows us Jacob didn’t literally “hate” Leah, but he put Rachel ahead of Leah. Isaac and Rebekah also did this same thing in (Gen 25:28) where it says Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Some would teach that Esau certainly lived an ungodly life, and God was justified in choosing Jacob over Esau. However, if you study Jacob’s life, you will see Jacob certainly didn’t live a very godly life either many times. That God chose either is amazing!
Some also see this as a picture of God’s election (i.e. choosing some for Heaven and some for Hell). I do not hold to this view. Even though God chose to work through Jacob, the Bible shows us that God blessed Esau as well, promising Rebekah a nation would come from him (Gen 25:23), and fulfilling that promise by giving Esau Mt. Seir and the country of Edom (Num 20:14-21)(Gen 32:3)(Deut 2:5)(Josh 24:4). God also blessed Esau with much livestock and descendents (Gen 36:6-8)(Gen 33:9), and told the Israelites not to detest the Edomites because they were brothers (Deut 23:7), and He would not give the Israelites any of their land (Deut 2:5).