When the Scripture says, “‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ says the Lord. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated'” (Malachi 1:2, 3), it is not necessarily teaching us that God “hates” anybody. This is an instance of what we sometimes refer to as hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggerated language which is used to make a very strong and specific rhetorical point. Another example is found in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Christ is not telling us here that we must literally “hate” our parents. That should be obvious. Instead, He is saying that our love for Him must be so overpowering and all-consuming that, in comparison with it, our love for our families almost looks like “hate.”
But let’s get back to Jacob and Esau. The point of Malachi 1:2, 3 seems to be that the Lord “preferred” Jacob and his descendants and “rejected” his brother Esau and his offspring. Why did He do this? He alone knows. The apostle Paul refers to this passage as an example of divine electing love (Romans 9:13). Election, of course, is a profound and highly controversial theological subject. Different Christian denominations understand it in a variety of ways. If you want help understanding this rather difficult aspect of biblical doctrine, we’d suggest that you talk with your pastor or an elder at your church.
Meanwhile, the important thing to bear in mind is that God cannot possibly “hate” you. He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. He would have done so if you were the only person who had ever lived. God, says the apostle Peter, “is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If He had “rejected” you or declined to “elect” you to live with Him in eternity, you wouldn’t be wrestling with this issue. On the contrary, your mind would be so blind and your heart so hardened that you’d never even give Him a passing thought.
On a more general level, the Bible does make several references to God’s hatred, not of individuals, but of sin and unrighteousness: “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19); “All their wickedness is in Gilgal, for there I hated them. Because of the evil of their deeds I will drive them from My house” (Hosea 9:15); “‘Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor, and do not love a false oath, for all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 8:17).
Why do we mention this? Because we think it’s important to balance John’s declaration that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) with Hebrews’ assertion that “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). As we all know, a fire can be both comforting and destructive. It all depends on how you approach it and where you stand in relation to it. In this sense, it’s fair to say that love and hate are really two sides of the same coin: you can’t “love” a specific quality or attribute without “hating” its opposite.
If you need additional help understanding these concepts, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
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