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It is rather common for an enemy of the Bible to attack its veracity by citing alleged discrepancies or appealing to supposed scientific and historical “errors.” On the other hand, when a Christian encounters an assumed “error,” or an unsettling passage that challenges his faith, what is he to do? The answer is quite simple – allow Scripture to explain Scripture. This basic principle was understood by the inspired writer of Psalm 119:160, “The sum of your word is truth, …” [emphasis added]. A diligent Bible student always considers everything the Scriptures have to say in order to discern the truth of a doctrinal question, a confusing word, a strange custom, or even a difficult passage. The Bible is truly its own best commentary. One such challenging passage is Malachi 1:2-3 where God states, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” If we bear in mind that 1 John 4:7-10 says God is love and He first loved us, then how can a God of love hate someone? Is that not a contradiction of His character? One must admit this passage presents some troubling implications for the faith of a Christian. However, by simply considering more of what the Bible has to say in relation to this passage, it is not difficult to deduce a reasonable explanation for the manner in which it is worded.
Perusing the immediate context, notice that in the very next verse (v4), the prophet transitions to using the name “Edom” as a continuation of the discourse. Taking into consideration the historical context, that Edom is the nation which grew from Esau’s descendants, an attentive Bible student can quickly determine that Malachi is using the words “Esau” to refer to the nation of Edom and “Jacob” to refer to the nation of Israel (2:10-12). The words proceeding verse four could have been written as,“I have loved the nation of Israel, but the nation of Edom I have hated.” Therefore, the focus is not on the individuals being named but rather, on God’s chosen people as a whole. Furthermore, the overall context of the prophecy reveals that the nation of Israel had sinned against God just as Edom had (2:11), thus, they would be punished – because that which God really hates is sin (Proverbs 6:16-19). Despite all this, a remnant of His people would be preserved in order to fulfill His promise of the coming Messiah (4:2-6), attesting to the fact that the passage has everything to do with the sovereign choice of God, desiring to bless Israel as the genetic source of the Christ (3:1,4), and nothing to do with hating an individual.
Consider also that in verse two God anticipates Israel’s complaint against their imminent punishment and the accusation that He did not love them, so essentially, He responds by reminding them that not only had He selected them over all nations, He had selected their lineage from among their own family’s ancestors. He reminds them, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” (v2). Certainly, the children of Israel must have reflected upon how the providence of God had been working throughout their entire history and it had all been the result of His love for them.
In summary, the context alone teaches that God does not hate anyone. Considering other verses throughout Scripture also, one can easily resolve that while God certainly abhors an individual’s sinful actions and will punish those who practice evil (2 Corinthians 5:10; Isaiah 13:11), the Bible never paints Him in the unflattering light of hating His own creation. Just because man was made in God’s image, does not mean he can or should assume emotions for God. His character is not so limitedly defined.