Why Does the Bible Say, “Jacob I Loved and Esau I Hated”?

            As we read the Bible, there are moments when we read a verse and not totally understand it. One of these difficult verses is found in Romans 9:13, it reads “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”Before we tackle this question, remember this was written in around 557-525 B.C., thousands of years after Jacob and Esau were born. Was God saying that before Esau was born, He disliked Esau? No God actually showed love to Esau in many ways. As we read the Bible, we must remember that it was not written in English like we know. The translators are doing their best to communicate the words of the original authors.

            It is important to ask some questions. First, is this love and hate as we typically think of it? Or is this love and hate in another way? Jesus spoke in Luke 14:26 saying,  “If anyone comes to Me, and does not [n]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.” The NASB has a footnote which says, “by comparison for his love for me.” Jesus’ great two commands are to love God and love others as we love ourselves. So we are not called to hate anyone. This is used as an illustration for us to understand that we are to love God the most.

            Genesis 29:31 tells us, “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, H8130 he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.” (KJV). The NASB translates this word for hated as, “unloved”. The next Scripture reads, “So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with [i]Laban for another seven years.” (Genesis 29:31). This passage in Genesis uses the same word for hate that Romans uses because Romans is quoting the Hebrew book of Malachi. Pastor Mike Winger brings this us by saying, “This is not saying that Jacob despised and hated in the sense that he wanted to ruin her life and mess her up in every possible case. This was simply a selection of one over the other. In the modern English language, we do not use love and hate in the same way that they may have used it during this time.” 

            Remember Jesus died for the descendants of Esau. He loves them. If you are a descendant of Esau, God does not hate you. He loves you. In fact, through Christ we are all now chosen to be saved. Romans 9:25-26 tells us, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”What is Paul’s conclusion? His point was that the Gentiles who were chosen also for salvation. Paul wants us to know that God can choose whom he wants. If he wants all to be saved, that is His heart. Not everyone will be saved, but that is the heart of God. 

            Why does it say that God loved Jacob and Hated Esau? Our use of the word hated can mean something different than what the author intended. It could be better to translate the phrase; God choose Jacob and did not choose Esau. It also shows us that God is going to what He wants. He can choose whom He wants to choose, and He can love whom He loves. What is Paul’s conclusion? God loved the Gentiles. Thankfully He loves us all. Did God choose some to be saved and others to be condemned? No, God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). God choose Jacob to bring the savior of the world, into this world and show God’s ultimate love to all creation, including the descendants of Esau.

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