Malachi 1:1-3 says: “An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD; but you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ says the LORD: ‘yet I loved Jacob, but hated Esau; I made his mountains a waste, his heritage a desert for jackals.’” Romans 9:13 quotes part of this passage, “As it is written: ‘I loved Jacob but hated Esau.’” Is it true that God hated Esau?
No, God did not hate Esau, but God did prefer Jacob (later known as Israel) over Esau. The Hebrew word used in these passages is translated as hate inThe New American Bible, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) andThe New Jerusalem Bible. If God prefers one person over another, biblical writers may say that God loves the one and hates the other, although God cannot hate any person.
According to The NRSV Concordance Unabridged, the word hate occurs 83 times in the Old Testament and 17 times in the New Testament, not countinghated, hates and similar words. In the Old Testament, 78 of those usages applyhate in the context of one person to God, an individual, a group of people or some type of sin. Only five times do we read that God hates in the sense described above.
The New Testament’s first usage of hate is a challenge to the idea that one person is allowed to hate another. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
In Luke 14:26-27, however, Jesus employs the Hebrew usage described above when he addresses the great crowds following him and says: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The New American Bible‘s footnote for this passage notes the similar saying in Matthew 10:37 and explains, “The disciple’s family must take second place to the absolute dedication involved in following Jesus (see also Luke 9:59-62).”
Other New Testament passages apply hate as happening between one person and someone else or in the Semitic sense of prefer.
God cannot do anything that contradicts what being God means. For example, God cannot be dishonest or unjust because that would contradict God’s truthfulness or justice. The three persons of the Trinity cannot be in competition with one another because that would contradict God’s unity.
Sometimes our language about God is deliberately very selective. Saying that God hates some people the way that humans sometimes hate one another could be interpreted as giving someone permission to do the same.
If we cite a passage such as Malachi 1:1-3 or Romans 9:13 to justify our hatred, we are taking that passage out of context and giving it a meaning contrary to how the faith community has understood it. God might say: “Don’t use me to justify your hatred. Accept responsibility for your actions. Come to your senses and reject hatred!”