We are all comfortable with statements regarding the love of God.  Statements such as, “God loves you” and “Jesus loves me this I know” resonate with us on many different levels.  The moment that we hear about God hating someone, we become a bit defensive or uncomfortable.  If Romans 9:13 said, “Jacob I loved” and a period was placed at the end of that statement it would not be a hard truth to accept.  However, when the verse ends by stating, “but Esau I hated” we immediately feel tension.

Is God’s Hatred Fair?

When we read the text in Romans 9 regarding Jacob and Esau, it places us in a very tedious theological crossroads.  It forces us to deal with the big issues and to think honestly and accurately about salvation.  Before we answer the question regarding Esau, we must take a good look at Jacob.  Since he comes first in the text, let’s ask this question – is God’s love for Jacob fair?

Did Jacob deserve the love of God?  The point seems obvious, Jacob didn’t deserve to be loved by God.  Jacob was a liar, a cheat, and as the second born son, he didn’t have the privileges of the firstborn.  Everything he got was backwards.  Jacob didn’t deserve earthly privileges, but when it comes to eternal life, he certainly didn’t deserve it.  If you look at Esau and Jacob in comparison, both were guilty sinners.  In comparison, Esau was the better brother.  However, Jacob was chosen by God and Esau was judged by God.  God gave to Jacob what he did not deserve.

Regarding Esau, he was a sinner.  Although much more honest and upright than his brother Jacob, he was still guilty before God.  So when God chose Jacob to receive the gift of grace while at the same time choosing to judge Esau, it’s not a question of fairness.  The fact is, Esau deserved the judgment of God.  No sinner who dies and goes to hell will ever protest the eternal ruling of God and call Him unjust.  Every sinner who receives judgment will understand that he or she deserved it.  God is not fair, He is merciful and gracious to save guilty sinners like Jacob, but He is likewise just and righteous in not choosing people like Esau.

Consider these words from Paul in Romans 9:14-24:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. [19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—[24] even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Paul anticipated that his audience would wrestle with this idea of God’s choice to love Jacob and to hate Esau.  That’s why he said, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this'” (Rom. 9:20)?

Does God Hate Esau or Esau’s Sin?

Did God hate Esau or is the text simply mistranslated?  The word translated as hate in Malachi 1:3, is “שָׂנֵא” and is almost always rendered hate or hatred.  For instance, in 146 occurrences, it’s translated 136 times as hate.  In the New Testament, Paul describes the historic scene of God’s choice to love Jacob and to hate Esau, and he uses a word in the Greek “μισέω” translated as “hated” and it literally means to have a strong aversion to, hate, detest.  In both the Old and New Testament, the word choice employed to describe God’s relationship with Esau seems to be clear.  God hated Esau.

The statement, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” is a very popular phrase that has infiltrated the teaching of the evangelical church.  That statement, however, is not true.  Is it possible for God to hate the action and not the person who commits the sin?  When God judges sinners, does He send their sin to hell or does He send people to hell?

Any honest study of reprobation will demonstrate that sinners are considered the enemies of God (Psalm 68:21; Romans 5:10).  As God judges sinners, they receive what they deserve and it’s the individual who is punished – not their sin.  Take the scene before the judgment throne of God in Revelation 20:11-15.  The people are pictured as standing before the throne.  The text doesn’t say that God assembled everyone’s sin before His throne.  The sinner who violates God’s law will give an account of his deeds and then he will be judged according to his works.

How is God Glorified in Reprobation?

It’s clear that God gains much glory in the fact that He chose to save Jacob before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1; Romans 9).  However, before the foundation of the world, God likewise chose to judge Esau.  According to Wayne Grudem, reprobation is defined as follows:

Reprobation is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice. [1]

How does God gain glory in choosing to judge sinners?  When you read Malachi 1 regarding Esau, it seems perfectly clear that God’s hatred is accurate and not merely an exaggerated word choice.  Malachi writes the following:

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob [3] but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” [4] If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” [5] Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel” (Malachi 1:2-5)!

If God finds no pleasure in the perishing of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), how does He receive glory from sinners who perish under His judgment?  God receives glory when wicked sinners perish in two specific ways?  First of all, God receives glory in the fact that He is a just and righteous Judge.  His holy justice being executed against law breakers is a good thing.  Paul Washer is right as he states that the most terrifying truth in all of Scripture is that God is good.  Why is this terrifying?  Because this good Judge will actually execute holy justice upon guilty sinners and they will find no backdoor escape or under the table deal to evade the wrath of God.

Be sure of this fact, on the great day of judgment, there will be no picket signs with slogans that slander the justice of God.  There will be no accusations that God is not fair.  There will be no statements suggesting that God is not just.  There will be no person accuse God of injustice.  God is the perfect and holy Judge of all eternity, and we can rest assured that sinners will be judged righteously.

We have all questioned the justice system of our nation at times, but we must have confidence that our God will execute His justice with complete precision and without any error.  God is not slack concerning His promises to His people and likewise concerning His plan to execute judgment upon the wicked.

Did God hate Esau?  Yes, according to the Scriptures, God hated Esau and He loved Jacob.  Both statements are true, but only one of these men got what they deserved.  As we study this truth in Scripture, it should not cause our hearts to swell with delight as we consider the reality of God’s eternal judgment upon guilty sinners.  It should propel us to go and tell the good news that God saves sinners.  Whosoever shall come to God in faith and repentance will receive the mercy of God.


  1. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 685.