By John Greco
Scripture Reading: Malachi 1:1-5, Acts 20:32-35, Romans 9:6-21
I know he really doesn’t mean it. I know he doesn’t understand the weight it holds. And I know he’s just saying it because it’s a provocative word he heard his older brother use. But still, whenever I hear my two-year-old son say “I hate [fill in the blank here with anything from cereal to his fire truck pajamas to the bathtub],” it breaks my heart a little bit. Boys as young as Jude aren’t supposed to know about hate—not yet anyway.
Hate is one of those words that grabs your attention. It’s stronger than dislike, bigger than mere preference. To hate a thing is to place little or no value on it. We reserve our hatred for the worst of the worst—at least what appears to be the worst in our own eyes.
It’s one thing to be hated by another person, whether or not that hatred is deserved, but can there be anything worse than being the object of God’s hatred? Yet, that’s precisely what God says about Esau: “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau” (Malachi 1:2–3). Ouch, right?
Malachi is a book about God’s love for His people. It was written after the exile, when the people of Judah had begun to return to the land of promise. The temple had been rebuilt, but it wasn’t as awe-inspiring as the one Solomon constructed (Ezra 3:12). In addition, enemies surrounded them on every side, and they weren’t really free from the grip of foreign powers. With all this on their minds and before their eyes, the people were beginning to doubt God’s love for them.
And God’s response is to point across the border of Judah into the neighboring country of Edom, where Esau’s descendants live. The Edomites haven’t been taken into exile. They haven’t suffered the losses or known the devastation that God’s people had. To any observer, based on present circumstances, it would seem that God favors Esau over Jacob. But God says that Esau’s day is coming, and when their cities are destroyed, they will not be rebuilt (Malachi 1:4). God’s people, on the other hand, had been chosen to be His vehicle of blessing for the world. He isn’t about to give them up. He loves them.
The use of hate in these verses catches our attention, but it shouldn’t. God’s love should instead. By all rights, God ought to hate all of us. The history of our world is a history of disobedience, of people and nations rejecting the gracious invitations of God. And Israel is, by and large, no different. That’s what the exile was all about, after all. Yet despite their sin and ours, God still chooses to love. He loved Jacob, so that through Jacob the promised Messiah would come and bless the whole world. In this way, God’s love for the people of Israel would extend to people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—even to those of us who smell an awful lot like Esau.
Written by John Greco