In Malachi 1:2-3, God says he loved Jacob, and hated Esau . Why?


This is a fairly common question. We need to look at the context, both of Malachi and of the whole Old Testament in order to understand what God is talking about when he speaks to his people in this way in Malachi.  Also, we should be aware that this passage is famously quoted in Romans 9, which will be helpful as well.

First of all, God definitely did not hate Esau!  Not at all.  He tremendously blessed Esau, making him the father of and the ruler of Edom, and blessing him with many children, much land, cattle, camels, sheep and more.  God tremendously blessed Esau and loved him greatly.

However, in fulfillment of prophecy and also as a prefigure of what he did in Jesus Christ, God chose Jacob/Israel, the second son, over Esau as the one through whom to send the blessing.  Jacob became the father of the nation of Israel.  Like Isaac, the second son of Abraham, who was chosen over Ishmael, Jacob/Israel was the child of promise and the one through whom the Messiah was to come.  It is not that God hated Esau (although I understand that this is what is said literally in both Malachi 1:2 and in Romans 9:13).  The point is that God has chosen Jacob. God has chosen Isaac.  God has chosen the Jews, and God has chosen the Christians, who are the real children of Abraham (read all of Romans 4 for that).

Let us consider Malachi.  What is going on here is that Israel is complaining to God, saying that he no longer loves them because he is not blessing them as they feel he should.  God tells them, “Jacob I have loved.”  In other words, the Jews had always been God’s chosen people.  The problem was not that God stopped loving the Jews.  The problem is that they had not been faithful to him. This becomes clear as you read Malachi chapters 1 and 3.   The point of “but Esau I have hated” is not actually that God actually hated Esau (although I will completely admit that it appears this way if we do not interpret the Bible correctly in its context!).  The point of Malachi 1:1-3 is that God always has and still does love Israel as his chosen people.  The problem is not that God stopped loving them, but that they have not been faithful.  God wants to bless his chosen people, who he has always loved, but their lack of faithfulness prevents his blessing them.

The situation in Romans 8-11, especially in Romans 9:13 is very similar.  In this case, Jewish Christians are complaining that God is making it too easy for Gentiles to come into the Kingdom.  They are jealous and even resentful of God giving so much grace to the Gentiles. So, God reminds them of what he had said on Malachi.  “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.”  In this case, Jacob is, symbolically, the Jews and Esau is the Gentiles (as was the case in Malachi, but in a slightly different context).  God is reassuring the Jews that they have always had a special place in his heart, but by the time Romans was written, salvation was now offered to the Gentiles.  But as Paul said more than once in Romans, salvation was “first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles.”  Believe it or not, when Paul said “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”  he is repeating what had been said earlier, which is that salvation is first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles.  If you read further, Paul tells them that if the jealously of the Jews leads them to put their faith in Jesus, that is fine with him.  Anyone who walks in the footsteps of Abraham is a true child of Abraham.  Again, it is not that God ever literally “hated” Esau, or the Gentiles for that matter, but that he has always had a chosen people.  In the Christian age, his favored people is anyone who will put their faith in Jesus and therefore become a spiritual child of Abraham.  Please read Galatians 3:7 as a cross-reference.

John Oakes

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