Did God Hate Esau?

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

One of the questions that I am often asked by fellow students of the Bible deals with something which the Apostle stated in his letter to the Romans. He declared:

Romans 9:13-As it is written, “JACOB I HAVE LOVED, BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED.”

What does this passage mean? Doesn’t the Lord love everyone and wish everyone to be saved?

Let’s study.

The Context

The most common mistake people make in studying Scripture seems to be failing to take into account the context of a passage. When we lift a passage out of its’ intended context, it becomes the basis for misunderstanding. Sadly, I have seen this take place with this passage. Many of religious friends are believers in the philosophies of a man named John Calvin. Calvin (following the teachings of a third century Gnostic named Augustine) held to the notion that God actually hates the majority of mankind and wants them to be dammed in Hell for all eternity. As such, Calvin delighted in this passage, believing that it teaches God hated Esau even before he was born, and had predestined him to an eternity in Hell.

Yes is that what the Apostle Paul is teaching?

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle addresses the church in Rome which had some serious problems and issues. Among others, there was a group of Christians in the church who were claiming that Christians should keep the Old Testament Law in order to be saved from sin. In fact, they were going so far as to claim that the Jewish people should have a saved relationship with God for the simple reason that they are the physical descendants of Abraham. So (it was argued), the nation of Israel was still in some ways the chosen people of the Lord, even though they had rejected Jesus Christ.

Paul addresses all of these charges.

He begins by showing in Romans 1-3:23 that all mankind (Jewish and Gentile) are condemned before God because of self-chosen sin and rebellion. The Lord had revealed Himself to every person in a general way through the Creation itself (Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15). He had further revealed Himself in a special way to the Jewish people through, through the Old Testament Scriptures (Romans 3:1-2). The Jewish people could not look down upon Gentiles for the simple reason that the Law of Moses condemned the Jews, just like the law written in the heart condemned the Gentiles. The result? The Law of God had not been able to save anyone; instead, it had shown mankind’s sin and condemnation!

Romans 3:19-20 (ERV)-What the law says is for those who are under the law. It stops anyone from making excuses. And it brings the whole world under God’s judgment, because no one can be made right with God by following the law. The law only shows us our sin.

Thus, the Law of Moses could not justify anyone! Indeed, the Law itself served to show us that God would one day bring about redemption of mankind through the Savior-Jesus Christ. The Law and the Prophets testify of this.

Romans 3:21 (ERV)-But God has a way to make people right, and it has nothing to do with the law. He has now shown us that new way, which the law and the prophets told us about.

Paul then goes to show us that God had demonstrated how people be saved by faith, by noticing that Abraham was a perfect example for us in this regard. Abraham lived nearly four hundred years before Moses (hence, before the Law of Moses), and he had been greatly esteemed by the Jewish people for centuries. How had he been justified? Was his justification through the Law of Moses? Certainly not! Instead:

Romans 4:3 (ERV)-That’s why the Scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and because of this he was accepted as one who is right with God.”

Paul gives other examples in Romans 4 about how Abraham (as well as David) was justified through faith. Their justification was not in trying to keep the Law of Moses perfectly and earning their way to Heaven; it was by having a biblical faith that involved learning God’s Word, trusting Gol’s Word, and obeying God’s Word. All of Paul’s opponents in Rome who were claiming that we need to keep the Law of Moses to be saved would have been clearly refuted by his logic.

Throughout chapters 5-8, Paul continues his discussion by pointing out that we are saved through an obedient faith (Romans 5:1-2; 6:17-18) that is bestowed when we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4). He shows us that the Law of Moses could point out our sin, but because of the weakness of our flesh, the Law had pointed to the perfect Savior Who would save and redeem us from sin, even as it showed our sins to us (Romans 7). The result is that now, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1ff).

The Apostle then points out that God’s people (the church), who were being persecuted by unbelievers, needed to keep their faith and focus on the Lord. He points out that God was allowing these sufferings in the lives of HIs people, in order that they could be made like unto Jesus (Romans 8:29). Indeed, Paul points out that God had known beforehand and had predestined that His people would undergo hardship-not to destroy them-but to prepare them for eternity (Romans 8:29-30). They needed to remember and focus on God’s magnificent love (Romans 8:31-39).

This brings Paul to Romans 9-11, where he will more fully address the objections of his accusers. Having demonstrated that mankind is condemned before God because of its’ sinfulness, and that this is made clear from both God’s revelation in nature and in Scripture, the Apostle continues on with his argument that we are not saved based on our bloodlines or the Law of Moses. Indeed, it is in understanding this context that we first truly begin to understand the meaning of the Lord’s statement that He has “hated” Esau and loved Jacob.

In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul points out several arguments to show that a person cannot be saved based upon their bloodlines and ancestry. This had been, for many generations, the slogan of the Jewish people: it was their belief that they were the chosen people of God simply because of their genes. They were, after all, the descendants of Abraham: so they should have special prerogative and status with God! To their way of thinking, it didn’t matter that they had killed the Messiah: all that mattered was that they were Jews and had the blood of Abraham flowing their veins!

Paul points out immediately that this is not accurate:

Romans 9:6 (ERV)-I don’t mean that God failed to keep his promise to the Jewish people. But only some of the people of Israel are really God’s people.

Paul reminds us that Abraham had other children. For example, he had Ishmael (Genesis 16:11), as well as other sons (Genesis 25:1-5). However, God had chosen that it was through Isaac that the Messiah would eventually be born (Romans 9:7). Just because these other children had the blood of Abraham did not give them special status with God! Instead, God had the right to choose through whom the Savior of mankind would be born.

By what had God made His determination? Had Isaac somehow earned God’s favor by keeping the Law? Of course not! Instead, God had made the decision based upon His foreknowledge:

Romans 9:11 (ERV)-But before the two sons were born, God told Rebecca, “The older son will serve the younger.” This was before the boys had done anything good or bad. God said this before they were born so that the boy he wanted would be chosen because of God’s own plan. He was chosen because he was the one God wanted to call, not because of anything the boys did.

So Paul points out another example, well-known to the Jewish people: that of Jacob and Esau. The two sons of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, both had the blood of Abraham: yet God had chosen that the Messiah would come through Jacob. This leads us down to our statement:

Romans 9:13-Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.

So, the first thing to notice from the context of this passage is that Paul is simply showing us that God has the right to decide how, through whom, and by what means people are saved. It doesn’t matter if they have the blood of Abraham or not: what matters is if they obey the Gospel.

However, there is something else that Paul shows us in this passage. The ones at Rome who were leading the Christians astray were very idealistic about the notion that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. With that in mind, Paul quotes this passage about God “hating” Esau and “loving” Jacob to establish the first point in his refutation of this idea.

You see, the only time in the Old Testament that we are told that God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau is in the Book of Malachi. This quote by Paul is from Malachi 1:2-3, and here it is not talking about Jacob and Esau personally; rather, it is discussing the nations that came from them (i.e., Israel and Edom, who are the descendants of Esau). Paul is going to show that just as God has the right to decide through whom people are saved, He has the right to declare that His people today are Christians (i.e., the church of Christ, His “nation” in the world today). God had made it clear from the very beginning that He was able to see two different “nations” in Jacob and Esau. Rebekah was told:

Genesis 25:23-And the LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.”

The Lord had the right to decide how people would be saved. The Lord had the right to decide which “nation” to accept and reject. The Lord had the right to choose these things, and He still has that right today!

Paul is therefore setting up his argument that God had the right to remove the physical descendants of Abraham from being His chosen people; and He has the right to set up and establish the church as being His chosen people today! He was certainly not trying to say that Esau and his descendants (the nation of Edom) were condemned eternally to Hell because had predetermined it before they were born!

Looking At The Grammar Of The Passage.

Let’s notice something else very important about the grammar of this passage. The word “hate” as used in the Bible is often misunderstood, due to the way that we use this word in English.

In Malachi 1, when God was saying that He “hated” Esau (i.e., the Edomites), what did He mean? How had He “loved” Israel? Was He sayin that He had predestined them to be dammed? Not at all!

Malachi 1:3-But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.”.

God “hated” Esau (a nation who had the blood of Abraham) in the sense that He was punishing them.

Now, why were they being punished? Was it because He had decided to make them the recipients of His wrath before they were even born? Certainly not!

Malachi 1:4-Even though Edom has said, “We have been impoverished, But we will return and build the desolate places,” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “They may build, but I will throw down; They shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, And the people against whom the LORD will have indignation forever.

It was because of their continual wickedness and sin that the people of Edom were “hated” by God.

Yet what does it mean that God “hated” them? This is where many people get lost on this point, because of how the word “hate” is used in our language today. You see, there is a very real sense in which God HATES every sinner!

Psalm 5:5-The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.

If you have ever been a “worker of iniquity,” then there is a sense in which God hated you!

Friends, this means that there is a sense in which God “hates” every sinner!

So, what are we talking about here?

“The difficulty arises when we wrongly assume that God hates in the same way men hate. Hatred in human beings is generally thought of in terms of strong emotional distaste or dislike for someone or something. However, in God, hate is a judicial act on the part of the righteous Judge who separates the sinner from Himself. This is not contradictory to God’s love, for in His love for sinners, God has made it possible for sin to be forgiven so that all can be reconciled to God. Ultimately, the sinner will reap the harvest of God’s hatred in eternal separation from God, or the harvest of God’s love by being with Him for all eternity. But, God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” ( 2 Peter 3:9 ). God’s justice demands that sin be punished. God’s love carried that punishment for every man in the person of His Son ( 2 Cor. 5:21 ).” (Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties, 3528-3531 (Kindle Edition); Scripture Press Publications, Inc.)

God “hated” Esau in the sense that He had justly punished the Edomite nation for their sins. Even though they had the blood of Abraham flowing through their veins, they had been punished by God for their wickedness! Thus, the arguments of Paul’s opponents in Rome would have been squelched very easily when a person studied the Law of God which they themselves claimed to know.

Objection!

Paul now anticipates the words of his opponents:

Romans 9:14-What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

The Judaizers at Rome would quickly declare, “Well, I just don’t think that it is fair that God can reject the Jewish nation! In fact, that would be unrighteousness, so I’m not buying your argument Paul.”

To which the Apostle replies: of course God isn’t unrighteous! Instead, God had told the people all along that He has the right to decide these things!

It is here that Paul introduces an excellent illustration that makes his point, one which (again) the readers would have been well aware of: the Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. After all, hadn’t God told Moses that He would have mercy on whom He chose, and He would have compassion on whomever He chose to have compassion (Romans 9:15)? Indeed, He had (Exodus 33:19)! This leads Paul to declare:

Romans 9:16-So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

What does this mean?

Just use the context!

It didn’t matter that Ishmael, and Esau, and all the nations descended from them had the blood of Abraham; what mattered was the the choice that God had made in deciding through whom to bring the Messiah.

The Pharaoh

The Pharaoh who had been in power during the Exodus served as a perfect example

for Paul’s point here. God had declared:

Exodus 4:21-And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

God said that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh. How does this tie in with Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11? Notice three things with me about this event.

First, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only after Pharaoh hardened his own heart first. Consider:

Exodus 7:3-And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.

By the time of this passage, God had still not hardened the heart of Pharaoh. It was still in the future.

Later, we are told:

Exodus 7:13-And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 7:22-Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:15-But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:19-Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:32-But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

Exodus 9:7-Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go.

We see the fact repeated several times that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart in the Exodus account. It is only after this is emphasized several times that we then are told:

Exodus 9:12-But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

Even after God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we see that Pharaoh still continued to harden his own heart as well:

Exodus 9:34-35-And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants.

35  So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

So God hardens the hearts of those who first harden (and who continue to harden) their own hearts. This ties in powerfully with Paul’s point in Romans. Later in the chapter, Paul talks about those who will be dammed as vessels “prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22). The phrase translated “prepared for destruction” is in the middle voice in the Greek, indicating that the vessels had literally prepared themselves to be destroyed! As Vine emphasizes:

“metaphorically of men persistent in evil, Rom. 9: 22, where “fitted” is in the middle voice, indicating that the vessels of wrath fitted themselves for “destruction”, of the adversaries of the Lord’s people, Phil. 1: 28 (“ perdition”)” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 23622 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Like the Pharaoh, these “vessels of wrath” had prepared themselves for destruction by their own Freewill and actions.

God hardens the hearts of those who first harden-and who continue to harden-their own hearts.

Second, the way that Pharaoh’s heart had been hardened is extremely important to consider. Paul’s readers-who would be well-versed in the Old Testament-certainly knew the importance of the way in which Pharaoh’s heart ` had been hardened. It was through the rejection of the truth of God and by witnessing the goodness of God that the Egyptian’s heart` was hardened:

Exodus 7:11-13-But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12  For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. 13  And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 7:22-Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:15-But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:31-32-And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained. 32  But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

Exodus 9:34-35-And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35  So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses.

As Geisler has pointed out:

“However, even if the word is taken with the strong meaning of hardening, the sense in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart could be likened to the way the sun hardens clay and also melts wax. If Pharaoh had been receptive to God’s warnings, his heart would not have been “hardened” by God. When God gave Pharaoh a reprieve from the plagues, he took advantage of the situation. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them [Moses and Aaron], as the LORD had said” (Ex. 8:15). So there is a sense in which God hardens hearts, and a sense in which He does not.103 This same reasoning applies to other texts that speak of God hardening a person in their unbelief (cf. John 12:37ff.).” (Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View Of Divine Election, 90-91 (Kindle Edition); Bloomington, Minnesota; Bethany House Publishers)

Now this was especially relevant to Paul’s situation because he is going to point out that it is brought the goodness of God that the unbelieving Jews had been hardened in their own sin.

Romans 10:19-But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I WILL PROVOKE YOU TO JEALOUSY BY THOSE WHO ARE NOT A NATION, I WILL MOVE YOU TO ANGER BY A FOOLISH NATION.”

Romans 11:11-I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Romans 11:14-if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.

God did not work on the heart of the Pharaoh in such a way that He miraculously kept the Pharaoh from heeding Him. Instead, the Pharaoh’s heart was hardened when he witnessed the goodness of God and freely chose to reject the truth. In the same way, the unbelieving Israelites in Paul’s day had hardened their hearts against God when they rejected the Messiah and witnessed His goodness. Like Pharaoh, they would be justly punished.

Finally, notice that the hardening Of Pharaoh’s heart was not to such a degree that he could not have repented if he had chosen to! Did God not say that Pharaoh could still choose to do the right thing and repent?

Exodus 8:2-But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all your territory with frogs.

Exodus 9:2-For if you refuse to let them go, and still hold them,

Exodus 10:4-Or else, if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory.

Furthermore, we are specifically told that some of Pharaoh’s servants whose hearts God had hardened, later repented!

Exodus 10:1, 7-Now the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him,…Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?”

As one author has pointed out regarding these facts:

“The chapters that follow show how the God of Israel sought, through the plagues, to get Pharaoh to “know” him (Ex 7:5, 17; 8:10). The Hebrew word for “know” here carries with it the idea of relational and redemptive knowledge. Yahweh, the God of Israel, wanted Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to experience his truth and life-giving grace. The plagues were designed to show the uselessness of the Egyptian deities.’ By demonstrating the impotence of the Egyptian gods, Yahweh sought to free Pharaoh and the Egyptians from this burden and grant them the opportunity to turn to him, the Creator and Redeemer. In other words, God was trying to evangelize Pharaoh and the Egyptians!’ This is quite different from what I want God to do, since I do not desire the salvation of such a sinner. I think a better idea would be to send in the angel of death to assassinate him. But the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus is different: he patiently seeks Pharaoh’s salvation. Moreover, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart does not overturn this view of things, since the hardening does not automatically determine what will happen. The Hebrew word for “hardening” means to strengthen, so hardening does not render a person unable to repent. This is easily seen by the fact that God hardens the hearts of Pharaoh’s servants (Ex 10:1), yet they understand what God is doing and implore their master to release the Israelites (10:7). Furthermore, God several times uses conditional language regarding ing Pharaoh (8:2; 9:2; 10:4). Such “if” language makes no sense if only a negative decision by Pharaoh is possible. Evidently the divine strengthening of Pharaoh did not override Pharaoh’s decision-making powers. The plagues were for redemptive and not merely retributive purposes. Truly God has never delighted in the death of the wicked. Punishment came to the Egyptians, but not before God did all he could to bring redemption into the situation.” (Gabriel Fackre, Ronald H. Nash & John Sanders (edited by John Sanders), -What About Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views On The Destiny Of The Unevangelized, 27 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)

Now, the fact that Pharaoh could have repented is important for Paul’s entire line of thought in Romans 9-11: because he points out that these unbelieving Jews (the “vessels who had prepared themselves for destruction”) could still repent and be saved!

Romans 11:23-And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

How could the unbelieving Hebrews be saved?

Romans 11:26-And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “THE DELIVERER WILL COME OUT OF ZION, AND HE WILL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB;

The word “so” in verse 26 literally means “in this manner” (Thayer).

Romans 11:26 (CEV)-In this way all of Israel will be saved, as the Scriptures say, “From Zion someone will come to rescue us. Then Jacob’s descendants will stop being evil.

If the unbelieving Hebrews would “continue not in unbelief”-if they would turn to the Deliverer-then they could also be saved.

Conclusion

In Romans 9:13, God is not saying that He literally “hated” Esau. Instead, He is simply pointing out that He had not “chosen” the descendants of Esau to bring forth the Messiah. In the same way, He teaches us that each and every person may be saved-if they will turn to the Messiah.

Will you not turn to Him today? The Son Of God, Jesus Christ, died for your sins on the cross of Calvary. He was buried, and three days later He arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Why not today, as a believer, repent of your sins and be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38)? Allow the blood of Christ to wash away your sins in baptism (Acts 22:16) as your join the Lord in the watery grave and arise to walk in newness is life (Romans 6:3-4).

If you are a Christian who has turned from the Lord, come back to Him in repentance and prayer (1 John 1:9).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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