If you were to ask the average person to pick one word to describe the character of God, which word do you think would likely be the most common?
- Holy? Maybe.
- Powerful? Perhaps.
- Loving? Likely.
When most people think of the God of the Bible, the first verse that comes to mind is 1 John 4:8 which says, “God is love.”
Not surprisingly, there is a verse in Malachi that is among the most confusing and controversial in the entire Bible. Speaking of twin brothers born to Isaac, God says in Malachi 1:2-3, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”
Words are like colors in that they have differing degrees of shading and intensity. Just as the color blue can be so soft that it appears nearly white or so dark that it appears nearly black, so too words can have a range of meaning. The academic types with more degrees than Fahrenheit have spent a lot of hours debating the meaning of the original Hebrew word that we translate into English as “hate”. It is commonly said that the word can mean things like pass over, not to choose, work through one person and not the other, prefer one over the other, or have one hold priority over the other. Here are some ways that various English translations state Malachi 1:3:
- “rejected” (The Living Bible, Contemporary English Bible, Jubilee Bible, New American Bible Revised Edition, New English Translation, New Living Translation)
- “did not accept” (Easy to Read Version)
- “chose Jacob instead of Esau” (New International Readers Version)
If this is the case, then the point made in Malachi is not that God has capricious, unwarranted, emotionally-intense hostility toward someone much like a raging, violent thug. Instead, God promised that Jesus Christ would be born through the family line of either Jacob or Esau. God chose Jacob and not Esau.
Perhaps another Scripture will help clarify the best way to maintain the integrity of Malachi’s words without making God into an ogre. Jesus, the most loving person in the history of the world, also used the word hate. In Luke 14:26, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not 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.”
We know that Jesus loved his mother, as well as his siblings and godly dad. We know that the Bible says that a husband should love His wife like Christ does the church. The Bible also says that we should honor our mother and father. So, in context, Jesus’ words regarding hatred are about preference. We are to value our relationship with Jesus above every other relationship and hold our loyalty to Him above all else. In this regard, Jesus uses the word “hate” to speak of priority and preference much like Malachi did.
What would your life be like, honestly, if God had not chosen to save you and bless you?