Thursday, May 13, 2010

On God Hating Esau

I have recently been involved in an email discussion with an Arminian on the issue of God’s hatred of Esau in Malachi 1:2-3. One of the key issues to resolve is just what the word “hate” meant to the Hebrew people. This is especially relevant in light of the fact that my Arminian correspondent quoted from a pastor who argued that hate was not the opposite of love, but rather apathy was the opposite of love, and further a claim was made that God could both love and hate the same individual at the same time.

Malachi 1:2-3 states:
"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."
In my e-mail exchange, I made the point that God is setting up “love” and “hate” as direct polar opposites in this passage. He loves Jacob, yet He hates Esau. And it is the very existence of that hate the proves His love for Jacob, in this passage. In other words, God says: “I have loved you.” The people then ask God to prove it, by questioning: “How have you loved us?” and God’s proof is, essentially, “I loved Jacob and I hated Esau. Look what I did to Esau. I didn’t do that to you. Therefore, that’s proof I love you.”

What I take away from this is that, since God is using what He did to Esau and saying, “Because I didn’t do that to you, that’s proof I love you” then it seems to almost necessitate the opposite, “Because I did do that to Esau, that’s proof I do not love him.” In other words, God is saying: “You do not lay waste to a person’s hill country and leave his heritage to the jackals of the desert if you love that person.”

That was my main argument. Now I want to further buttress it by showing how the Hebrew word sane’ (hate) in verse 3 is used throughout the Old Testament. I believe that it will clearly show that love and hate are opposites, and further that “hate” is a much stronger word than Arminians are comfortable acknowledging of God.

If you look at the resource I have compiled, you’ll see all the verses where the word sane’ appears in Scripture. In every instance, save one, if the word “love” also appears in the verse, the Hebrew word for “love” is ’ahab (the exception is Hosea 9:15, which uses the obviously related word ’ahabah). Thus, whenever we see “love” and “hate” in the same verse (in the list), it is a comparison between ’ahab and sane’.

And what do we see? We see that the two terms are in contradistinction to each other. They are polar opposites. One of the most obvious examples is found in 2 Samuel 19:6. After David’s son, Absalom, revolted and was killed by David’s general, Joab, David wept bitterly at the death of his son. Joab was angered, and chastised David by saying: “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.”

This passage links the opposites. Love is the opposite of hate. This is why Joab was so mad that David would “love those who hate [him] and hate those who love [him].” (Note that we are not concerned with whether or not David’s behavior was accurately described by Joab, nor are we concerned with whether or not either of them was acting justly. Rather, what matters is what the words mean. And it is clear in this context that love and hate were considered opposites.

To give another example, Proverbs 9:8 says: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” This passage shows a double parallel. There is the parallel between the “scoffer” and the “wise man” and there is a parallel between their reactions. Just as a “scoffer” is the opposite of a “wise man”, so too is “hate” the opposite of “love.”

Proverbs is full of similar contrasts. To take just one more, Proverbs 13:24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Again, the love/hate polarity is displayed.

To give one final example, in Ecclesiastes 3 we are treated to a long list of opposites. The passage states:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
In so much as “born” is the opposite of “die”, “plant” is the opposite of “uproot”, “kill” is the opposite of “heal”, “tear down” is the opposite of “build”, “weep” is the opposite of “laugh”, “mourn” is the opposite of “dance,” “scatter” is the opposite of “gather”, “embrace” is the opposite of “refraining from embracing”, “searching” is the opposite of “giving up”, “keep” is the opposite of “throw away”, “tear” is the opposite of “mend”, “silence” is the opposite of “speak”, and “war” is the opposite of “peace”; so too is “love” the opposite of “hate.”

The second aspect of the word sane’ includes the concept of “enemy.” In fact, there are a couple of passages where the word is translated exactly that way (as either “enemy” or “foe”). A couple of those passages are:

Exodus 1:10 “Come, let us deal shrewedly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies [sane’] and fight against us and escape from the land.”

Deuteronomy 30:7 “And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes [sane’] and enemies who persecute you.”

Proverbs 25:21 “If your enemy [sane’] is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink…”
Additionally, in Scripture “hate” is itself often linked with “enemy” even when a different word for “enemy” is used. Some examples are:

Leviticus 26:17a “I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you…”

Psalm 21:8 “Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you.”

Psalm 44:7 “You have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us.”

Psalm 68:1 “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him!”

Psalm 139:22 “I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
The Psalms are especially interesting in that they often use parallelisms, stating the same thing in different ways. Hence, in Psalm 68:1 (above), we have “his enemies shall be scattered” in parallel with “those who hate him shall flee.” Similar concepts repeated in different ways. The same is also stated in Number 10:35, where Moses says :”Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” One final example from Psalm 21:8 (above) should suffice: “Your hand will find out all your enemies” is coupled with “Your right hand will find out those who hate you.”

So to hate someone is to be their enemy. When we return to Malachi 1:2-3, it is important to note that God is the actor. He is the subject. Jacob and Esau are the objects. So when it says, “Esau I have hated” then, if the term “hate” is linked to being an enemy, then this passage is saying that God is Esau’s enemy; it is not saying that Esau is God’s enemy, although we know from other passages that that is also true.

Finally, let us look at further action that goes along with hatred. That is, many verses deal with hatred and include more concepts of what goes along with hate. So we see in Genesis 26:27, “Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?’” So to hate is to drive someone away. See also Judges 11:7 and Isaiah 66:5

In Genesis 37:4, Joseph’s brothers saw their father loved Joseph more than them, and “they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” So hatred means one cannot speak peaceably.

In Deuteronomy 12:31 we see “every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods”, showing that to hate something is to consider it an abomination. See also Proverbs 6:16 (“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him”) and Jeremiah 44:4.

Psalm 41:7 says “All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.” So to hate someone is to plot the worst outcome for that person.

Amos 5:21 says, “I hate, I despise your feasts” showing that to despise something is to hate it. See also Isaiah 1:14.

Amos 6:8 says, “I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds” linking hatred and abhorrence.

So putting these together, we see that hatred encompasses driving someone away, not speaking peaceably to them, considering them an abomination, despising them, considering them abhorrent, and wishing the worst for them. And it is this word, that contains these shades of meaning, that God uses of Esau.

So we’ve seen that the Old Testament clearly used “hate” as an opposite of “love”, and we’ve seen that to hate someone is to be their enemy, and further we’ve seen that “hate” holds all of the negative connotations one would expect. And we’ve further seen that God uses this very word to describe His attitude toward Esau.


  1. Peter,

    How do you think these verses hold in tension with other verses like:

    "The Lord has compassion on all He has made..." Psalms
    "For God so loved the world..." John
    "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they turn from their ways and live..." Ezekiel

    etc etc...

    Does two wills in God apply here? Does God both love and hate the sinner? How does that work?

  2. God loves some sinners, and He hates other sinners, based on His election (which is why Paul quotes this passage in Romans 9).

    We've addressed your passages many times before in the archives, so I'll be brief. Psalm 145:9 deals with the fact that God does have mercy on all (though not salvific mercy), and there's nothing illogical with having mercy even on someone you hate. Especially when you consider means-end issues.

    John 3:16 uses the word "world" generally. To give a similar expression, I could say: "I love the Colorado Avalanche." But that doesn't mean I don't want a few players traded.

    Finally, no one claims that God takes pleasure in killing the wicked. God's hate is pure. He doesn't hate the sinner just so he can take pleasure in the sinner's destruction. He hates the sinner because the sinner is worthy of hatred and He is a just God.

    The issue is not why God hates any particular sinner, but rather why He loves any particular sinner to save that sinner.

  3. Peter,

    what I find remarkable about this Jacob/Esau story is the fact that Malachi's words exist so we can truly understand the "hatred" God is talking about.

    On the surface, find a description of what Malachi speaks about in his writings so many years later with the words of Genesis?

    It isn't there. Look see the "prosperity" that came upon Esau in his day relative to the rest of humanity. At the time of Jacob's return, though God made Jacob wealthy and great in many respects, you get the same sense about Esau, that he too was wealthy and great in many respects.

    It just goes to show me that one can gain the whole world and lose their soul, referring to the phrase:

    Luk 9:23 And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
    Luk 9:24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
    Luk 9:25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

    I guess we can agree that Esau despised his birthright which squares with the rest of the verses:::>

    Luk 9:26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

    What seems difficult to grasp is the "Faith" necessary to bring about forgiveness, the salvation of the soul by overcoming the world, is a "Gift" from God and is not in man? God elects. God calls. God appoints.

    Psa 135:4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
    Psa 135:5 For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
    Psa 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

    Another remarkable aspect of this story is their mother. She was the one, remember, who, while having a hard pregnancy, went and got a word from God. It was basis that Word of Faith she received from God that she stood upon when she convinced Jacob to deceive his father. She was operating in the Gift of Faith and Jacob was operating in that Gift of Faith and it opened the floodgates to the Divine prosperity of the salvation of the souls of mankind, those elected and appointed to Eternal Life!

  4. Peter,

    thanks for that.

    Re. you having covered this before, I think it is good to go over old ground from time to time especially for people like me who are newer to the blogging world. (1Pet1:12-13).


  5. Natamllc said:
    On the surface, find a description of what Malachi speaks about in his writings so many years later with the words of Genesis?

    It isn't there. Look see the "prosperity" that came upon Esau in his day relative to the rest of humanity. At the time of Jacob's return, though God made Jacob wealthy and great in many respects, you get the same sense about Esau, that he too was wealthy and great in many respects.

    Without re-reading all of Genesis right now ( :-D ), as far I recall the only thing mentioned in Genesis is the promise to Rebekah that her eldest would serve the younger. Actually, at that same time she was promised they'd both become nations ("two nations are in your womb" and all that). And in that regard, what Malachi says was foreshadowed by God's promise to Rebekah, because it meant that one nation would be stronger than the other, and the stronger nation would be Jacob (Israel) with the weaker nation being Esau (Edom). So even though Esau was fairly strong throughout all of Genesis--indeed, the Edomites plagued Israel for centuries, far after the time Moses penned Genesis--in the end there are no Edomites now, even though there are lots of Jews.

  6. Halo said:
    Re. you having covered this before, I think it is good to go over old ground from time to time especially for people like me who are newer to the blogging world.

    It is good to touch on old ground, so long as you progress beyond it too. That's why I still gave you some brief answers instead of just telling you to search the archives :-) (You can also do a Google advanced search using and find information that way too, if you weren't aware of that avenue.)

    Please note that in general I don't mind answering questions. It's just that I like answering new questions more than I like answering the same question for the tenth time :-)

  7. ah thankyou, didn't know of that search avenue for blogs.