The statement where God says he hates Esau is among the most controversial scripture statements and has ignited many questions among Christians. This is because God is consistently seen in the scripture as one who loves everyone. In the book of John 3:16, we see Him in his selfless nature and love giving His only son to die for our sins. So, by Him hating Esau, has he gone against His word? Or why did He choose to do so? Why did God hate Esau?
Many Bible scholars believe that the descriptions of “hate” and “love” used when God said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hate,” are hyperbolic. They argue that God was referring to the descendants of Jacob and Esau; he loved the Israelites and hated Edom, who were the descendants of Esau.
So, how do religious scholars interpret God’s hate for Esau? Did God hate Esau or Esau’s sins? Was God’s hate for Esau justified? Is it fair? Why does Malachi refer to Edom as the nation God is forever angry with? Continue reading to get the answers to these questions and more.
How do religious scholars interpret God’s hate for Esau?
Bible scholars and theologians have different interpretations of what God meant when he said he hated Esau. Malachi 1:2-3 says, “I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, how have you loved us? Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? Declares the Lord. Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” The book of Romans 9:13 also reinforces the words of God that he loves Esau.
These verses in the scripture continue to be debated upon, as no one can say for sure what God meant when he said he hated Esau. It is essential to know the nature and the relationship between Jacob and Esau; they were twin brothers. The story of the birth of Jacob and Esau is written in the book of Genesis 25:24-26. The book clearly shows that Esau was the firstborn of the two twins and was named Esau because his body was hairy. According to the Old Testament, the oldest son was supposed to receive the blessings of his father, but how come Esau did not and even ended up being hated by God?
Some scholars argue that the phrase means that God hates Esau; literally, others believe that God meant he hated the descendants of Esau. Most scholars hold onto the second view that Jacob stood for the Israelites while Esau was for the Edomites. Those who hold to this view argue that the context of Romans 9 talks about Israelites, and there is no possible way that Paul, the author of this book, shifted drastically to start talking about Jacob and Esau. Romans 9:12, “Not by works but by him who calls, she was told, the older will serve the younger.”
As mentioned above, other theologians and bible scholars argue that God hated Esau. Those who argue by this perspective note that the verses in the book of Romans and Malachi mention Jacob and Esau with their names, not Israel or Edom. Malachi 1:3 says, “But Esau I hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert of jackals.” Additionally, they link the hatred of God toward Esau to the fact that though Esau was the firstborn, God allowed Jacob to receive his blessings and blessed the descendants of Jacob rather than those of Esau (the firstborn rite).
Lastly, other scholars believe that the words “hate” and “love” were just idioms and that God meant He preferred Jacob to Esau. Those who believe in this view argue that God is against hate and cannot contradict himself. In the book of Luke 14:26, Jesus says that whoever comes to him and does not hate his life, siblings, and parents is not ready to be his follower. We all know that Jesus could not advise us to hate our lives. Thus the term hate had a hidden meaning.
When Jesus used the word hate, he did not refer to the literal meaning of hatred but meant that one should be willing to let go of whatever it is to follow him. Therefore, it might be true that the word hate used with Esau did not stand for the literal meaning of hate.
Additionally, in the book of Mathew 10:37, Jesus says that whoever loves their parents more than him is not worthy of him. Clearly, Jesus did not mean the literal meaning of love. Because God is love and tells us to love others as we love ourselves. Therefore, just like it is possible Jesus did not mean the literal meaning of love, it is also possible that God also didn’t mean the literal meaning of hate when he said he hates Esau.
Did God hate Esau or Esau’s sins?
Whether God hated Esau or Esau’s sins is debatable, with people having different views and thoughts about it. Many Christians are familiar with the statement, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” While the credibility of this statement cannot be affirmed, is it possible? Some scholars argue the statement is not true as when God punishes one for sin, he does not punish the sin only but also the one who sinned. And on judgment day, will he send the sin to hell or the sinner?
Additionally, other books in the scripture portray sinners as the enemies of God. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” The book of proverbs 68:21 reads, “Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.” Therefore, it is possible that God hates Esau and not Esau’s sin.
Just like on judgment day, it is people who will be judged for their sins and not their sins alone. The book of Revelation 20:11-15 pictures people standing before God on judgment day, not just their sins. Those who argue this way note that in the end, sinners will be punished for their sins, not only their sins.
However, some theologians argue that the phrase that God hates our sins and not sinners is true. They quote the verse in the Bible, which notes that “even when we were sinners, Christ loved us.” Those who hold this view note that Christ will punish sinners in the end because he gave them an opportunity to change, and they did not, and not because he hates sinners.
Therefore, no one can read God’s mind and determine for sure if he hated the sins of Esau or hated Esau as a person. However, if his words are anything to go by, he specifically said that he hates Esau and did not mention any of his sins in the statement. On the other hand, if we go with the New Testament, we know God loves sinners and hates sin.
Was God’s hate for Esau justified? Is it fair?
It is important to analyze if God’s love for Jacob was fair before concluding if the hate for Esau is fair because Jacob comes before Esau in the context. Scholars argue that God’s love for Jacob was not fair because Jacob was a liar and took Esau’s privileges despite being the second-born son. They argue that Jacob did not deserve the earthly privileges he received because both he and his brother were sinners, but God chose him.
Therefore, those who argue that Jacob was not loved fairly also stand that the hate for Esau was not fair, even if he deserved it. However, the book of Romans 9:14-19 reminds us that by no means is God unfair, nor does he uphold injustice. However, in the book of Romans is also clear that God shows his mercy on whomever he wills and also chooses who he hardens. Therefore, we can only say from our view that he was unfair, but from His, he knows whom to show his mercy to and whom not to.
Why does Malachi refer to Edom as the nation God is forever angry with?
God declares his wrath to the people of Edom in Malachi 1:4, “Edom may say, though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins. But this is what the Lord Almighty says, they may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the wicked land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.” In the Old Testament, any nation that sinned against God and rose against him saw the wrath of God. He destroyed the nation and ensured they lost every other battle.
Scholars unanimously agree that God is forever angry with Edom because of their sins and the pride in their hearts. All this was recorded in the book of Obadiah 1:1-4, where God appeared to Obadiah through a vision and expressed his anger towards Edom. In this verse, God tells Obadiah that he will make Edom small and ensure that he loses every battle and is utterly despised. God went ahead and promised to bring Edom down because of their pride. The Bible is clear that God hates those who are proud, and he uplifts the humble.
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They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.