“Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated”


Malachi 1:2 is a difficult verse to understand. How can we reconcile a God who says He IS love when He also says He hated someone? The answer lies in the ancient Hebrew understanding of hate.

The ancient Hebrew language is unique in how its letters and words communicate. Centuries before the common Hebrew block script used today was formed, the language began as a type of pictographic script. This script communicated in shapes and pictures that were its letters, giving each individual letter its own meaning. As these letters formed root words, the meaning of these letters were often found in the meaning of the root words that they spelled. Then the meaning of the root word is then connected to the meaning of any words that are formed from the root. While researchers admit there is a lot they don’t understand about this, no other language on earth communicates this way. And it’s the original language of two thirds of the Bible.

Today, our western view of hate as defined by Merriam-Webster is a very strong feeling of dislike; intense hostility. Yet the ancient Hebrew suggests something different.“Sane’ “(saw-nay’) is the Hebrew word that is often translated as hate. The ancient pictographic letters for “sane” are a thorn and a seed. The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible explains this: The pictograph is a picture of a thorn, then is a picture of seed. Combined these mean “thorn seed.” The thorn, (the seed of a plant with small sharp points) cause one to turn directions to avoid them.” (“The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible,” by Jeff A. Benner. ISBN 1-58939-776-2.)

In Biblical times, thorns were used as fences to protect flocks from predators or even used as weapons. The idea was that thorns caused pain and the pain made someone avoid whatever caused it. While intense emotions are sometimes involved, the ancient Hebrew view of hate was more about being hurt or wounded by something, then staying away from that pain source. We see this in Isaac’s response to Abimelech:

“Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?” (Genesis 26:26-28)

Hatred was less about an intense confrontational emotion and more about making choices to avoid physical or emotional pain. This understanding can directly affect our view of God’s character. If this true, consider a couple common scriptures in a whole new way:

· And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: (Genesis 29:31; KJV) – some translations use “unloved” here. Jacob mostly stayed away from Leah. This may have been due to his desire for Rachel, or perhaps, because Leah reminded him of Laban’s deceptions (Gen 29:21-25). Yet, out of God’s compassion for Leah’s constant rejection, He gave her children.

· Jacob I loved; Esau I hated – Mal 1:2; Romans 9:13 Esau is the only person that God said He hated. Could it be that the Lord was so wounded by Esau’s rejection of His prized gift of the birthright for some stew that God wanted to stay away from him? God had not rejected Esau, rather Esau rejected God’s plan. In this context, this verse shows God’s broken heart rather than His anger at disobedience.

God character is not aloof to our experiences or angry at one thoughtless act of disobedience. On the contrary, He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger…” (Exodus 34:6). We feel pain and want to withdraw because God does; we are made in His Image. Yet Jesus challenges us to love those that hurt us. Instead of avoiding (hating), return in love.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” – Luke 6:27

This article originally appeared on FIRM and is reposted with permission.