02 March, 2016

Esau: “Hated” by God Or “Loved Less”?



Rev. Angus Stewart


[The following is a partial transcript of a sermon preached by Rev. Angus Stewart, entitled “God’s Doubted Love Demonstrated”—the first in a fine series of sermons covering the book of Malachi: http://www.cprf.co.uk/audio/OTseries.htm]


The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel (Mal. 1:1–5 KJV).

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”(Rom. 9:13 KJV).


When God says in verse 3, “I hated Esau,” we run up against the common misinterpretation of that word of God. The majority in the professing Christian church at large think that “hated” here means “loved less”—that it means merely that God loves Esau “less” than He loves Jacob. In other words, God’s love for Jacob is so great that the little love that He has for Esau, in comparison to it, is as nothing—it’s as if God really “hates” Esau.

Now I’m not going to argue that this doesn’t obtain in certain places of the Bible—this is not the issue—but I’m saying that it certainly does not obtain here.

There are various ways of proving this.

When God says “I hated Esau,” it means that God abhorred Esau and willed Esau’s destruction because of his sins. “Hated,” here, means “hated,” and that’s indicated by the strong word in the Hebrew original (שָׂנֵ֑אתִי—saneti) which simply means “hatred.”

It’s indicated too when the apostle Paul quotes this text in Romans 9:13. He doesn’t quote it as “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I loved less.” He sticks with the exact same words that Malachi used 400-500 years ago: the word “hated.”

Moreover, we learn that the word “hated,” here, does indeed mean “hated” by the use of synonyms (words that mean approximately the same thing) in the text. The text speaks of God showing indignation towards Edom (v. 4)—Edom is “the people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.” Indignation means burning anger. They are the people against whom God has a burning anger forever. That’s certainly not “loved less.”

That God’s hatred is indeed hatred is also shown by the result of this hatred. God, we’re told in verse 4, lays Edom desolate. That means He makes Edom an appalling sight, something you would look at and become aghast. God has done that to Edom. You don’t do that to someone whom you merely “love less” or just even “dislike.” You do that to someone whom you “hate.”

Moreover, God “hates” Edom because our text speaks of wickedness. And the question then comes (and everyone who wants to go with the idea that “hatred means love less” has to face this), “Does God merely love wickedness less? Is that God’s attitude towards sin, that He just loves it less than He loves righteousness? or even that He is just “displeased” with it? The answer of every Christian must be that God “hates” wickedness with all that it within His divine being.

From a further consideration, if Esau was not rejected, how do you know that Jacob was chosen? Or, to put it slightly differently, if Esau is not hated, how do you know that Jacob is loved? Those two things in the Bible hang together—“Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” If He didn’t hate Esau, then He really didn’t love Jacob. And if He didn’t hate Esau, this word of God in Malachi 1 explaining to the Israelites that God loved Israel because He destroyed Edom doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a fool’s comfort that Malachi would then be bringing.

Conclusively, therefore, “hated” here means “hated”—God hates Esau.

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