**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.
Jacob I loved and Esau I hated:
The term “hate” is sometimes an expression of choosing one over another, and does not literally mean “hatred.” For instance, Jesus told Peter, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
No commentator worth his salt would suggest the term “hate” in Luke 14 is literal, otherwise he would be hard pressed to explain scripture’s other teachings about loving and honor our parents. Instead, this passage is understood to mean that man must choose following God’s will over the will of even the most beloved in one’s life. Could the same hermeneutical principle be applied toward understanding God choice of Jacob over Esau? Certainly, it could. God clearly chose one over the other for a noble purpose (Jacob became the lineage through whom the Christ would come).
Secondly, even if we were to accept that God literally hated Esau wouldn’t it be nice to know why? God has a purpose for everything He does and though He certainly is not obligated to explain Himself to any of us, He does typically reveal His motives through Scripture. He wants His friends to be aware of His work and the purposes behind His decisions (John 15:15). So, what do we know about God’s motive for “hating” Esau? Is there a cause or a purpose behind this decision that is revealed in Scripture? Does God arbitrarily decide to hate some people and love others? Is that Paul’s meaning in this text?
The answer to these questions can be found by unpacking the scriptures Paul refers to in Romans 9. Let’s take a look at each one:
A hasty reading of Romans 9 could lead some to think God always hated Esau leaving the impression God’s hatred has no evident cause. This is simply untrue. In verses 10-12 Paul quotes from the first book of the bible in reflecting on Jacob’s choice to carry the lineage of the Messiah and then in verse 13, Paul quotes from the last book of the Old Testament to reflect on the Edomite’s (Esau’s lineage) opposition to Israel. Verse 11 clearly states that God had a purpose for Israel before the twins were born, but not hatred for an unborn child.
“For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth” – Rom 9:11
Nowhere does it state that God hated Esau before he was born. God chose to keep his promise to Abraham through Jacob, not Esau, before they were born, but hatred is never spoken of as being present before their birth. That is presumed, or read into the text, by some, but the Scripture simply never states this.
Also, God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not kept as a part of “God’s secret counsel,” as many Calvinists teach regarding individual election. Calvinists argue that one of the reasons we must evangelize all men is because we do not know who God has individually selected, yet are we to believe God told the twin’s mother that He hated her son before he was even born? God told Rebecca of His elective purpose in an audible voice (Gen. 25:22-23), but nothing is mentioned regarding God’s hating her son.
How horrible would that be? Imagine God telling you that he hated your son before he was even born! It is unthinkable. Upon reading the text carefully it is easily discerned that God only told her that the older will serve the younger:
“When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” – Rom 9:10-12
Clearly, the prophecy was not about hatred or a curse, it was about God’s elective purpose for Israel. Like anyone else, if Esau had chosen to bless Jacob then he too would have been blessed. God promises to bless those who bless the nation selected to bring the promised One (Gen. 12:3). [For example, we know that Lot was declared righteous, though not chosen to carry the lineage. Lot, like Esau after him, produced a linage that ended up attacking Israel and invoking God’s wrath (hatred), yet Lot (the individual) was saved through faith. The choice (election) being addressed is God’s choice of the nation and individuals from that nation through which the promise would be fulfilled. It is not about God effectually choosing to save some and damn others. ]
When and Why Did God Express Hatred for Esau?
Not only did God not express his hatred for Esau prior to his birth, He did not reveal this until after Esau was dead. Both of the twins were long gone before the house of Esau invoked God’s declaration of hate. The prophecy against Edom, known to be the house of Esau (Gen 36:1, 43), is found in the book of Obadiah. Here we find the true cause of God’s hatred toward these people:
“For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.” – Obadiah 1:10
Malachi 1:2-3 is the passage Paul references in the hotly contested ninth chapter of Romans. The original passage states:
“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.” – Mal 1:2-3
Malachi wrote his prophecy hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau lived on earth. Both prophets, Malachi and Obadiah, reflect on Edom’s attacks against Israel throughout their writings giving a very clear cause for God’s declared hatred for Esau, which was really reflective of his posterity the Edomites.
So, it is clear that in Romans 9 Paul was simply summarizing this historical account by first speaking of God’s prophecy for the twins and the nations they represent and then revealing the final outcome of Edom’s rebellion and God’s subsequent declaration of hatred. Never once is God’s hatred expressed toward an unborn individual or even against someone who was still living.
Please think about this objectively. Is the concept of God hating people before they are born even reflective of the God revealed in scripture? Does it sound like something Jesus would do or teach? Are we to believe that the God who calls us to love our enemies hates the unborn?
I John 4:8 teaches, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Does not your heart stir with righteous anger toward people like those from the Westboro Baptist Church who declare God’s hatred for everyone? Yet, how is that much different from making the claim that God hates an unborn baby–and then deriving a theological system from such teachings which suggests He also hates most of humanity prior to their even being born? Does the spirit inside you resonate at all with such abhorrent claims?
What is Paul attempting to demonstrate by quoting from these ancient texts? He is proving that God’s purpose in electing Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6) by showing that even twin brothers are not both selected to fulfill the promise of bringing the blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). Paul is illustrating how there have always been people within the natural lineage (such as the Edomites) who have opposed God’s purposes. Therefore, it should be no surprise that there would be natural born Israelites who oppose Paul, just as the Edomites opposed Israel throughout history.