“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” – Romans 9:13
The Bible says twice that God hated Esau.
God never hates without a cause. There must be a reason that God hated Esau and it was not because of some eternal decree of reprobation.
The key to understanding this verse is found in the many prophetic references that deal with Esau and his house.
Before They Were Born
A slipshod reading of Romans 9:10-13 has confused many into thinking that God always hated Esau. Not true.
Romans 9:11 says that God’s purpose through Israel was declared before the children were born, not his hatred.
“(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
God did not hate Esau before he was born. It was God’s choice to keep his promise to Abraham through Jacob that was before their birth.
Not only so, but his purpose was not kept secret in some mysterious eternal decree, but revealed to Rebecca. Read Romans 9:10 and 11 in conjunction without the intervening explanation of God’s choice.
“…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, Rom9:12
This revelation from God was given verbally to Rebecca in Gen 25:22-23. She knew before they were born that the elder would serve the younger.
This was not a prophecy of hate or a curse. If Esau would bless Jacob, then Esau would be blessed according to the promise (Gen 12:3).
When God Hated Esau
God did not hate Esau at his birth.
Neither did God say he hated Esau while he was yet alive. It was not until both Jacob and Esau were both dead that the house of Esau (not the head) invoked God’s hatred.
Obadiah is the longest prophecy against Edom (which is the house of Esau Gen 36:1, 43). It gives a prophecy of God’s curse against Edom and explains why God hated the house of Esau.
“For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.” – Obadiah 1:10
This refers not to any violence Esau did to Jacob personally while they were alive, but to the violence done to Jacob’s house, Israel, by Esau’s house, Edom, after both Jacob and Esau were long dead.
“In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them.” – Obadiah 1:11
Rom 9:13 is a direct quote of Malachi 1:2-3.
“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 was the last prophet before John the Baptist came to Israel. Malachi prophesied hundreds of years after the lives of Jacob and Esau.
Both Obadiah and Malachi look back at the multiple times Edom led the confederate attack against Israel to totally destroy them. They could not destroy them entirely, because of God’s protective hand over his people, but there was no mercy promised to Edom.
God hated Esau because Esau (in the Edomites) hated God and his divine purposes through Israel.
God Loved Jacob
However, despite their sins against Him, God had already given Jacob a promise that he would be blessed (Gen 26:2-5). Consequently, God could not subject Israel to the same perpetual curse as Esau for their sins.
When Israel opposed God who had blessed them, Malachi prophesies a stern rebuke and warning, but God could never destroy them from the earth if he was to be true to his promise.
For this reason, God chose to love Jacob’s house because of his promise and extended mercy after mercy to them. Psalm 136 praises God’s mercy to Israel because he keeps his promises.
It is not unrighteous for God to show more mercy to one nation than another (Rom 9:14-15).
God’s love is always manifested by His own righteous choices, but His hatred is always in response to our sinful choices.
God loved Jacob (Israel) by promise, and hated Edom (which is Esau) for their violent opposition to God’s purposes on the earth.
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Learn more about Edom’s curse in our 4 week study of Obadiah.