Among the most provocative and enigmatic statements in the Bible is Romans 9:13: “As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Such strong language naturally prompts questions among believers and skeptics alike.
Let’s embark on a Christian exploration to understand this sentiment.
Why Did God Hate Esau? (Religious Intepretations)
The assertion that God “hated” Esau comes from a passage in the Bible, specifically from the book of Malachi and Paul’s letter to the Romans.
In Malachi 1:2-3, it states: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
Paul refers to this passage in Romans 9:13: “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”
The phrase is challenging for many because it seems contrary to the nature of a loving God. Some interpretations and context that have been provided include:
- Cultural Semantics: In Hebrew idiomatic language, “love” and “hate” can sometimes be ways to express preference rather than literal love and hatred. In this sense, it can be interpreted that God preferred Jacob’s line for the continuation of the Abrahamic covenant, rather than actually having hatred for Esau.
- God’s Sovereign Choice: In the context of Romans 9, Paul is discussing God’s sovereign right to choose and have mercy on whom He wills. The choice between Jacob and Esau illustrates that it is not by human works but by God’s will. In other words, the choosing is less about personal feelings towards individuals and more about God’s overarching plan for redemption.
- Esau’s Choices: Esau made choices during his life that had significant consequences. He sold his birthright for a bowl of stew and later married Canaanite women, which grieved his parents. These actions showed a disregard for his spiritual heritage and God’s covenant promises.
- National Context: Some scholars believe the Malachi passage refers to the nations that descended from Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). The “love” and “hate” might reflect God’s favor on Israel and judgment on Edom, rather than personal feelings towards the individuals.
Who Were Jacob and Esau in the Bible?
Esau and Jacob were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. According to Genesis 25:21-34, even before they were born, they struggled in their mother’s womb. This foreshadowed their tumultuous relationship in life.
The importance of the birthright in the Ancient Near East cannot be understated. It provided not only a double portion of the inheritance but also the responsibility of becoming the spiritual leader of the family. Esau, being the eldest, was naturally entitled to it.
However, in a moment of vulnerability, Esau came back from the field famished. Jacob, ever the opportunist, offered him a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau, valuing his immediate needs over future blessings, sold it.
Later on, Esau took two Hittite women as wives, causing great grief to his parents (Genesis 26:34-35). This was not just a cultural difference; it was an alignment with peoples who did not worship the God of Abraham and Isaac.
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What Does “Hate” Mean in the Biblical Context?
Language and its interpretation can change over time. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated as “hate” can mean different things based on context. In many biblical instances, it’s more about preference than animosity.
For instance, in Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Does this mean we should harbor negative feelings toward our family? Absolutely not. Jesus employs hyperbolic language to emphasize our prioritization of Him above all else.
How Do We Understand God’s Election and Sovereignty?
Romans 9 delves deep into the theme of God’s sovereign choices. The election of Jacob over Esau isn’t necessarily a commentary on their individual behaviors but a demonstration of God’s purposeful plan.
As Christians, we understand that God operates on a plane of knowledge and wisdom we can scarcely fathom. His choices, while sometimes puzzling to us, always serve a divine purpose.
It’s also noteworthy to consider the symbolic nature of these characters. Esau, representing the flesh or human will, contrasts with Jacob, who, though flawed, represents God’s grace and promises. Esau’s impulsivity and choices led him away from divine destiny, whereas Jacob, even through deceit and trickery, was molded by God into Israel, the father of twelve tribes.
What Can We Learn from Esau’s Life?
Esau’s story is not just an ancient tale; it’s a lesson for all of us. His impulsive decision to sell his birthright is a stark reminder of the dangers of prioritizing immediate gratification over long-term blessings (Hebrews 12:16).
His decision to marry outside his faith demonstrates the complications that can arise from forming alliances without considering God’s direction.
However, Esau’s life wasn’t one of complete estrangement from God. He too was blessed with wealth and prosperity (Genesis 33:9). Furthermore, his eventual reconciliation with Jacob (Genesis 33:4) showcases the themes of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.
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Bible verses about Esau
“The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.”
Esau is introduced in the Bible as the eldest son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob. This verse describes Esau’s physical appearance as being red and hairy at birth. This physical description is significant because it sets Esau apart from his brother Jacob, who is later known for his smooth skin. The birth of Esau and Jacob marks the beginning of a sibling rivalry that will have significant consequences throughout their lives.
“Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
In this verse, we see a contrast in parental favoritism towards Esau and Jacob. Isaac’s love for Esau was based on the fact that he enjoyed the game that Esau hunted, while Rebekah favored Jacob. This favoritism would eventually lead to tension and strife between the brothers, as well as manipulation and deception within the family.
“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.'”
At this point in the biblical narrative, Isaac is nearing the end of his life and wants to bless his eldest son before he dies. This verse highlights the deep relationship between Isaac and Esau, as Isaac calls for his beloved son and Esau responds with obedience. These events set the stage for the subsequent deception that would take place involving the blessings meant for Esau.
“Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.'”
After Jacob deceitfully receives the blessing meant for Esau, this verse reveals the intense hatred that Esau develops towards his brother. Esau’s anger is driven by a sense of betrayal and a desire for revenge. It demonstrates the destructive power of unresolved conflicts and the consequences of deception within families.
“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
In this verse, we witness a significant moment of reconciliation between Esau and Jacob. After years of separation and animosity, Esau displays unexpected forgiveness and love towards his brother. This encounter showcases the transformative power of forgiveness and the possibility of restoration in strained relationships.
“Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob.”
This verse marks a turning point in Esau’s story. Driven by his desire to distance himself from Jacob, Esau moves away from his brother and establishes his own family in the land of Canaan. This separation emphasizes the consequences of choices made in the face of conflict, as well as the divergent paths taken by Esau and Jacob.
“And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.”
In this verse, Joshua recounts the history of the Israelite people, reminding them that God chose both Jacob and Esau and gave Esau the land of Seir as his inheritance. This verse highlights God’s sovereignty and the fulfillment of His promise to bless the descendants of both Jacob and Esau.
“Will I not on that day, declares the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of Mount Esau?”
The book of Obadiah focuses on the judgment of the nation of Edom, which descended from Esau. This verse speaks of God’s intention to bring destruction upon the wise men of Edom and remove understanding from Mount Esau. It serves as a reminder that no human wisdom or earthly power can stand against the ultimate judgment and authority of God.
“but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
In this verse, God declares His hatred for Esau and brings judgment upon him and his descendants. This passage highlights the divine freedom and sovereignty in choosing and dealing with individuals and nations. It serves as a reminder that God’s love and favor are not based solely on human lineage or accomplishments, but on His perfect will and purpose.
The story of Jacob and Esau is more than just an account of sibling rivalry; it’s a deep dive into God’s sovereignty, human choices, and the consequences that follow. While the phrase “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” might seem jarring at first, a deeper understanding reveals the intricate tapestry of God’s plan for humanity.