Jacob I loved, but Esau I have hated

How can we reconcile a God who says He is love when He also says He hated someone? It sounds unfathomable, that a Good Father would turn His heart against someone. We see this clash in the first chapter of Malachi:

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?”
Says the LORD.
“Yet Jacob I have loved;
But Esau I have hated…”
(Malachi 1:1-3a)

In Malachi, God mentions Jacob and Esau, two brothers, sons of Isaac. God’s feelings for these two brothers seem vastly different. We need to turn back to the ancient Hebrew, in order to understand this passage and the meaning of hate.

Ancient Hebrew Word Formation

The ancient Hebrew language is unique in how its letters and words communicate. Centuries before the common Hebrew block script used today was formed, the language began as a type of pictographic script. This script communicated in shapes and pictures that were its letters, giving each individual letter its own meaning.

As these letters formed root words, the meaning of these letters were often found in the meaning of the root words that they spelled. Then, the meaning of the root word is then connected to the meaning of any words that are formed from the root.

While researchers admit there is a lot they don’t understand about this, no other language on earth communicates this way. How special is this! And it is the original language of two thirds of the Bible.

Hate in Contrast with Love

Today, our western view of hate is compatible with the definition by Merriam-Webster‘s Dictionary. Hate is defined as a very strong feeling of dislike; intense hostility.

Yet the ancient Hebrew suggests something different.

Hebrew Word for Hate

“Sane’ ” (saw-nay’) is the Hebrew word that is often translated as hate. The ancient pictographic letters for “sane” are a thorn and a seed. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible explains this:

The pictograph is a picture of a thorn, then is a picture of seed. Combined these mean “thorn seed.” The thorn, (the seed of a plant with small sharp points) cause one to turn directions to avoid them.” (“The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible,” by Jeff A. Benner. ISBN 1-58939-776-2.)

Hate – Avoiding of Pain

In Biblical times, thorns were used as fences to protect flocks from predators or even used as weapons. The idea was that thorns caused pain and the pain made someone avoid whatever caused it. Thorns created a shield, hedge of protection. 

While intense emotions are sometimes involved, the ancient Hebrew view of hate was more about being hurt or wounded by something, because of love being involved. Opening oneself to love meant opening to hurt. Hate then meant staying away from that source of pain. We see this in Isaac’s response to Abimelech:

“Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?” (Genesis 26:26-28)

Hatred was less about an intense confrontational emotion and inflicting pain. Instead, it was more about making choices to avoid that pain – physical or emotional. 

God’s Character

This understanding can directly affect our view of God’s character. If this true, consider a couple common scriptures in a whole new way:

And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb (Genesis 29:31; KJV)

Some translations use “un-loved” here instead of hated. There is nothing in the Scriptures that would suggest that Jacob was aggressive towards her. From what we can read, he mostly stayed away from Leah. This may have been due to his desire for Rachel. Or perhaps because Leah reminded him of Laban’s deceptions (Gen 29:21-25).

Jacob possibly avoided Leah, since their relationship was complicated to say the least. Yet, out of God’s compassion for Leah’s constant rejection, He gave her children.

Jacob I loved; Esau I hated (Mal 1:2; Romans 9:13)

Esau is the only person that God said He hated. Could it be that the Lord was so wounded by Esau’s rejection of His prized gift of the birthright for some stew that God wanted to stay away from him?

There is a very specific order of events here. God had not rejected Esau, rather Esau rejected God’s plan. It causes the Father a great amount of pain. In this context, this verse shows God’s broken heart rather than His anger at disobedience.

Love Your Enemies

God character is not aloof to our experiences and He is not angry at one thoughtless act of disobedience. On the contrary, He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger…” (Exodus 34:6). When we feel pain, we want to withdraw; we are made in His Image. Yet Jesus challenges us to love those that hurt us. Instead of avoiding (hating), return in love.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” – Luke 6:27

7 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know: Free PDF Download

With the use of the Hebrew language God revealed Himself to mankind. This ancient tongue held the greatest spiritual truths that guided our lives through the ages. And in each generation, they are discovered anew.

We know the Bible can be hard to understand and you want to get more out of it. Which is why we want to teach you seven Hebrew words that will transform the way you read the Bible.

Doug Hershey
Doug Hershey shares from a perspective of historian and storyteller. He is the author of the best-selling book ISRAEL RISING. His new online video course, "10 Prophecies Fulfilled in Our Lifetime" connects bible prophecy with its fulfillments in Israel today. Doug is the founder of Ezra Adventures, a travel and education company, specializing in exclusive customized small group travel throughout Israel and the Middle East. For more info, go to DougHershey.co or keep up with Doug Hershey, Author on FB, IG and Youtube.
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