Hard Sayings… Malachi – “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated”

I recently had the privilege of opening up God’s Word and teaching from Malachi 1:1-5. This short passage, and the whole book, is wonderful but what we read in v2-3a can make some people feel uncomfortable. How do we tackle such difficult passages? Let’s have a very brief look at it together. This is not a comprehensive study, but just the ramblings of a servant trying to glorify the Lord.

The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. “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 Jacobbut Esau I have hated.” 
Malachi 1:1-3a

This is one of those passages that many people struggle with. Nobody likes the idea that we read there; that God loves one but hates another. Hate is a very strong word that we would very rarely use and mean. But we aren’t to think that God is in Heaven rejoicing over the destruction of Esau’s descendants the Edomites, or that he’s been eagerly planning how to destroy them and be done with them. God is using these twin brothers from Genesis 25 to show how His love is unconditional, but by its very nature is exclusive. 

God chose to love Jacob and his descendants the Israelites, not because there was anything special about them, but because He wanted to display His glory. Paul uses this verse in Romans 9 to explain God’s elective love, that through love, God chooses His people. God has chosen, set apart, his people with whom he will enter into a binding agreement, a covenant. 

God loved Jacob, but then we get to the bit that we find tricky; Esau I have hated.

Again, we need to see this in light of the context of Malachi and in light of the covenant. In that context we can see that God’s hatred for Esau and his descendants the Edomites, is not what we call hatred, but we would probably describe it more as rejection. God is saying I have chosen Jacob and made a covenant with him, but sovereignly I have rejected Esau and not made a covenant with Him. 

Many people really struggle with this idea, but who are we to say who God should choose to love because the reality is that this is the starting point of every human being, naturally under the wrath of God, naturally outside of God’s covenant, and none of us deserve the love of God!
It is only by a work of Almighty God that we are set apart and saved, and under his elective love. If we think God’s choices are unfair, are we really trusting in His good and sovereign plan?

The Israelites should be blown away the the Lord’s declaration of love that we see in the opening verses of the book of Malachi. This declaration of love is the foundation of the rest of the book and it is the reason that the disputes, or covenant lawsuit, takes place. Out of His amazing Mercy, out of His abundant Grace and out of His unbelievable Love for a wayward, rebellious and spiritually declining people, God chose to identify with them, for them to be His people and for Him to be their God.

That is God’s declaration of Love, that He chose to be in covenant with Israel. That might still leave you with the thought “that’s unfair” but the reality is that everyones starting place is Esau, we all deserve rejection but out of His abundant grace and love God pours his love onto Jacob and gives the nation of Israel this wonderful declaration of love!

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