Jacob I loved but Esau I hated

I have been confronted with this seemingly unjust quote and have found it hard to answer apart from saying, God is God and His ways are not our ways. Can anyone help shed light on this?


As a starting point, this might be a good article to consider. It’s more about God expressing his Sovereign choice to use the nation of Israel (represented by Jacob), vs the nation of Edomites (represented by Esau) , rather than love vs hate as an emotion. A basic example might be I say I love pizza, and by comparison I hate brussel sprouts. :slight_smile: very rudimentary I know.

(https://www.gotquestions.org/Jacob-Esau-love-hate.html) :

When you start to explore it, this then starts to get into a discussion of Sovereignty of God vs a free will of man, which is a huge topic and there are many threads on the forum regarding this already.

We did do a book study (in the Book Studies category) not long ago by John Lennox: Determined to Believe? The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility and he has a chapter regarding the election of Israel and addresses these verses in chapter 12 ‘Israel and the Gentiles’, and chapter 13 ‘Why Doesn’t Israel Believe’. My current understanding is that election is for the fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan through nations and individuals within those nations, not a pre-determination from eternity past as to ones final destiny, thus eliminating any actual free will (among other issues).

Here’s a little taste from the two chapters to whet your appetite without violating copyright. :slight_smile:

Chapter 12: Some of the strongest assertions of theistic determinism are based on Romans 9, where Paul gives examples of God’s sovereignty in history. He speaks, for instance, of Jacob and Esau: Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11–13.) Paul then refers to Pharaoh: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:17–18.) From these statements and others that follow, the conclusion is drawn that God has selected some individuals for salvation and all others for reprobation (condemnation), without any reference to those individuals or their attitudes, foreseen or otherwise. This is called unconditional election. Before we examine the validity of these arguments, let us step back a bit and recall once more that there is an unwavering emphasis on the sovereign initiative of God throughout the Bible. God is the Creator – there would not be a universe or human beings without him. God is the sovereign upholder of the universe – none of its history is outside his control. Christ is the Saviour and Redeemer – apart from him there would be no salvation. Furthermore, we have seen that God’s initiative is expressed in Scripture in terms like election, foreknowledge, predestination, and calling, all of which occur together at the climax of one of the major sections of the letter to the Romans in chapter 8. By this stage Paul has already argued universal human guilt and the consequent need of salvation. He has explained that salvation is by faith in Christ and not of works. He has developed the theme of human responsibility to live a holy life in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He has described the inner battle against our human nature…


Chapter 13:
But we must get back to Romans 9. Having established the principle that not all of Abraham’s descendants are counted as his children, in the special sense of being the seed through whom the Messiah will be born, Paul turns to the generation after Abraham – that of his son Isaac. This second example differs from the first in that the children involved not only have the same father but the same mother. Even more than that, they were
twins. This deflects any possible comeback on the first example, that the significant differences resided in the fact that Isaac and Ishmael had different mothers. Here, then, is the record of the births of the twin boys, Jacob and Esau: Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same time father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10–13.) This passage is one of the principal texts quoted to defend the idea that God has chosen some for salvation and the rest for reprobation, without any reference to the individuals involved.

Theistic determinists point to the use of the word “election” in this passage, and claim that these verses refer to the individual salvation or condemnation of Jacob and Esau. However, we need to ask: chosen for what? What was the goal of the election? The answer is given: the older will serve the younger. The Genesis account of Rebekah’s pregnancy runs as follows: Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to enquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21–23.)

The text has nothing to do with salvation or reprobation but with God’s sovereign choice for different roles in history; and not even the roles of the individuals involved but of the nations to which they gave rise. As an individual, Esau never did serve Jacob, and Rebekah was told explicitly that it was nations and not individuals in view: Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated. Later in the history of Israel, when David had become king, the Edomites (descended from Esau) came and paid homage to him and served him. It is easy to forget that Isaac blessed Esau, and in the later history God told Israel: Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother (Deuteronomy 23:7). The second quotation in Romans 9, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated, comes from the prophet Malachi (1:2–3). It was written centuries after the events recorded in Genesis, and in its context it clearly refers once more to the nations and not to individuals. The passage of time had shown that

Edom was a nation deserving God’s judgment. Paul may well be hinting here that his fellow Israelites were exhibiting the same features as the Edomites. Malachi also warned Judah that, in spite of God’s love for them in giving them a unique role in history, they would be devastated by God’s judgment if they did not repent of the evil that they allowed to run rampant among them.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 248). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

The book is well worth the read, and starts out discussing secular determinism in the first few chapters, and then moves through a discussion of theistic determinism, and I think presents a balanced view of the definite existence of God’s sovereign control over world history and the free will of man.

Another interesting direction might be thebibleproject.com recent 5 part series on Generosity (a new video is coming out soon), where they discuss this mystery of election in the Cain/Abel story and the Abraham story. They had this really unusual but intriguing analogy of a party, where God is the generous host and gives to all generously, and then there are some people at the party who start hoarding all the food and storing it away just in case they run out. They do mention this ‘mystery of election’ where God’s plan includes individuals and nations. It’s an interesting listen. (https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/series/generosity/)

It’s a big topic and I certainly don’t have the answers and can only share where I’m at. Hopefully that’s a helpful starting point? :slight_smile:


Hey @randylevangie,

In addition to God choosing Israel for His own purposes (Deut. 7:6-8), there is a bit of history in the context to the quoted text in Malachi:

Malachi 1:2-4 NASB
[2] “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; [3] but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” [4] Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.”

The references are more than just these two characters, but the identification of the nations that followed. Israel had acted disobediently, likened to an adulterous woman (Hos. 3:1). Nevertheless, the nation was blessed and God maintained His covenant with a chosen remnant. Edom on the other hand had sinned greatly and God was not going to relent:

Ezekiel 25:12-14 NASB
[12] 'Thus says the Lord GOD, “Because Edom has acted against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has incurred grievous guilt, and avenged themselves upon them,” [13] therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “I will also stretch out My hand against Edom and cut off man and beast from it. And I will lay it waste; from Teman even to Dedan they will fall by the sword. [14] I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel. Therefore, they will act in Edom according to My anger and according to My wrath; thus they will know My vengeance,” declares the Lord GOD.

Obadiah 1:10-14 NASB
[10] "Because of violence to your brother Jacob, You will be covered with shame, And you will be cut off forever. [11] "On the day that you stood aloof, On the day that strangers carried off his wealth, And foreigners entered his gate And cast lots for Jerusalem- You too were as one of them. [12] "Do not gloat over your brother’s day, The day of his misfortune. And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah In the day of their destruction; Yes, do not boast In the day of their distress. [13] "Do not enter the gate of My people In the day of their disaster. Yes, you, do not gloat over their calamity In the day of their disaster. And do not loot their wealth In the day of their disaster. [14] "Do not stand at the fork of the road To cut down their fugitives; And do not imprison their survivors In the day of their distress.

In the text of Malachi, there is a series of statements, questions, and expounded answers (about 10 I believe). In the quoted text, the Lord states through the prophet Malachi that He loved them, the nation of Israel (v. 2a). Israel challenges the Lord with the question, “How have you loved us (v. 2b)?” Remember that around this time they were near or in exile, greatly afflicted by oppressing nations, and God was not finished with them. They believed God was no longer near and yet despite all their offenses, He would not laid them to waste utterly like Esau’s descendants, as the Lord described in reply (vv. 2c - 5).

The book of Malachi is quite interesting, and would make a fun project or study to go through in detail all the series of statements/questions/answers/expositions. Anyhow, I hope this helps to add to the answers here. :slight_smile:


Hi Randall,

“God’s use of the word hate, simply means to put in second position. It is the opposite of love, which is to put first. שׂנא hate - compare to שׁני second.” This is what I’ve heard regarding this verse. So, from my understanding, it’s more of saying " I chose Jacob over Esau." Just like when Jesus talked about hating mother, father, etc… Jesus is not saying go be mean and hateful to your family. He is saying “choose me over your family and friends”.
Hope this sheds some light!



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I agree with everything that has been said already, but would point out something that I find rather obvious about God “hating” Esau…

God chose to bless Esau by making him into a nation of his own.

If you “hate” someone the way that we typically understand the word, you’re not going to go out of your way to prosper them. Quite the opposite. So for God to grow Esau, the brother He “hated”, into a nation that lasted for over a thousand years stands as evidence that this brand of “hate” is something OTHER than opposition for opposition’s sake.

From my point of view, these last two comments (Jeremy and John) give an excellent answer to the topic, which often is used to make God appear arbitrary and fickle.
Rather than saying God decided to hate Esau as a person can hate another person, before he was even born, the statement shows something else, instead:

Since God knows all the future choices each individual will make, in advance, He knows which people will choose to love and serve Him, freely (yet with His inspiration and guidance, but without coercion); and also those people who will reject Him persistently, in spite of His kindness and love toward them.

So those He “hates” are those whom He knows do not/will not want to live with Him in intimate union forever, but would rather be fully separated from Him forever – and that attitude will persist through the person’s final time in this life.

Likewise, those whom He loves are those who will come to want to be fully with Him, returning His love, before they die (or possibly are raptured). So God is not being merely hostile, or arbitrary, or unfair, at all, just stating who will be His kids, and who will not be, ultimately.

This allows for both free will (within limits) and determinism (based on a foreknowledge of our choices throughout our lives). Still, He treats those who will reject Him, persistently to their end, with respect and care for their welfare. (Examples are His treatment of Cain and Esau.)

Mighty praiseworthy, wouldn’t you say!!