Did God hate unborn Esau?

Romans 9:11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad ... 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

How does this square with the concept that God loves everyone? How should I know He didn't hate me as a child?

  • 1
    Can you please provide a verse for where God says he loves everyone (mainly for newbs like me)? Also: for this question, it may be helpful if you stated whether this is coming from a pre-destination or a non-predestination perspective.
    – user1694
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 6:19
  • @user1311390 Even if I could I won't. I've put up the question to learn other people's perspectives and thus would refrain from answering it myself. If you think He doesn't love everyone you are free to add that as a rebuttal answer. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 6:22
  • 1
    @user1311390 John 3:16. For God so loved the world, ... Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 14:30
  • I have posted the rare pro Calvinist, pro predestination, but God loves everybody version. This is actually pretty close to Luther's version. It's a brilliant question, apologize in the length of my answer, but I wanted to show historical support in the answer by those who believe in predestination. Also am on holidays with plenty of time. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 16:25

5 Answers 5


Romans 9:13 is quoting one of my favorite verses in all of scripture - Malachi 1:2-5. Here's what it says:

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals. ”

4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

A few things to note about the context:

  1. Even this "hatred" is in the context of love. The whole point is God telling Israel how much He has and does love Israel.
  2. This "hatred" is a comparative preference for Israel over its enemy Edom. If, say, my wife hates Rosie O'Donnell, she would, most likely, expect me to hold her in contempt as well. (Note: I'm not saying what one should do, but rather, what one is likely to do. In any case, with Rosie O'Donnell, it's pretty universal, so the point is moot.) God blessed Jacob, just as he promised he would - and he didn't out and out give up on Edom. But, comparatively speaking, he clearly preferred Israel over its enemy.
  3. This is talking not about unborn children, but about nations. Notice how the text seemlessly moves from Esau to his descendants, the nation of Edom. (Incidentally, Obadiah lists some of the complaints against Esau / Edom.)
  • So in this context "hatred" is a relative, rather than absolute term, have I understood you correctly (point 2)? Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:03
  • @Wikis That is the understanding I have read in several commentaries, yes. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:26

The verbs for love and hate in Hebrew refer to degrees of emotion. In the New Testament, this idea is also carried out in the verses that speak of "hating your father and mother". It is not that we should hate our parents, but that our love for God should supersede all other affections in this life. Indeed, we are also commanded to love our wives, our neighbors, and even our enemies. This makes perfect sense when we understand the Hebrew language and perspective. Attempting to fit it into our language with our own perspective on the words leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

So, no, God did not hate Esau in the way we understand hate in English. God has never hated an unborn child in that way. He did have a special plan and purpose for Jacob, but He still loved Esau in the way we understand love.

  • I love your approach. God's hatred != humans's hatred Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 20:29
  • @tunmisefashipe It's actually the Hebrew language vs. English. God communicated to the Hebrews in Hebrew in a way they could understand.
    – Narnian
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 20:31

The idea that God loves everyone is what we grew up with. It is true that God loves everyone but if you don't love him back you are against him and you cannot expect him to keep loving you. Loving someone who doesn't love you back is very hurtful. This is evident in John 3:16 that most of us are quoting. The verse said "that whoever believes in Him should not perish" and what happen to "whosoever does not believe"?

John 3:18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already

God sees the end from the beginning and he knew those who have the tendency of rejecting him.

If you were God and you have the power to see from the beginning to end of these people before they were born how would you feel, hate or love?

  • Pharaoh - made the children of suffer great pain and blaspheme their God
  • The Jews that influenced people to have Jesus killed
  • Herod killing all the children because of Jesus
  • Judas Iscariot that betrayed Jesus
  • Adolph Hitler

The people I mentioned can only receive God's mercy to be pardoned

Luke 17:1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come

If God decides to hate, it will be justified. It is not justified for humans because God, an higher authority said so. God judges all but he is not judged.


Here is why God can't hate any man or unborn child.

First God is good and infinitely so this means he desires the good all all creatures or he is not good at all. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV John 3:16)

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)

Second, God command us to love his enemies, if he did not love them then He has not commanded us to be like Him.

Third Jesus loved everyone, and Jesus was God.

Fourth, God command us not to show partiality, that is favor one man over another, because God does not show partiality, that is he does not love one man more than another. (1 Timothy 5:21)

Now the meaning of a verse like 'God loved Jacob but hated Esau' as used in Romans, simply means that before Jacob or Esau had any chance to 'will anything' or perform any 'good work' that could obtain favor, their fates were sealed and predetermined.  Therefore, this hatred is not sinful hatred but showing God's absolute preference for Jacob according to election.  For although God loves all men, only those who believe in Christ enter into God's grace and become objects of that love. Love that is allowed to be applied and made real is a higher love according to election and comparably without it, it is like the strong disfavor of even hate. The same strong difference of emotion is called hate in Luke 14:26 where he are told to 'hate'. Therefore, to speculate that this hatred is the evil hatred of 'wishing bad things towards another', is to imagine God is sinful?! What is strange is that many very strong Christians put their brains into ptrezels and actually suppose this theologically!?

In reality, I do not think this idea of God only loving the elect rises more than a meaningless philosophical conjecture. A human can't really believe God hates people without having an emotional breakdown.  There is a difference between philosophical conjectures and real beliefs even when there are strenuously defended. Calvin over speculated this way and even my favorite theologian argued this way in the 1700s. I forgive them because they were fighting against vile Arminianism and good men often over-reach when defending the truth, in this case, of God's election.

My fellow Calvinists may accuse me of being non Calvinistic and shocked at my fully support God's boundless love for all men, but I say just because I am a Calvinist does not mean I follow every single thought and conjecture of Calvin as though he was a God.  God forbid that I would deny God's love, no matter who speculated against it.  What I beleive is absolute eternal election of those to salvation and those to hell, yet at the same time beleive in God's love for all men and think it is unbiblical to deny it.  It appears that I contradict myself but so did Luther so I am in good company.

Luther had a more mature view about predestination than Calvin did, simply put. Calvin was less humble in my view and could not resist being a precocious school man and speculating to far. Luther was more humble and knew when not to speculate.

Here is Luther's typical attitude about it:

He [Martin Luther] spoke at length about the idle people who occupy themselves with disputation about predestination beyond the limits of Scripture. It is most ungodly and dangerous business to abandon the certain and revealed will of God in order to search into the hidden mysteries of God. (Luther's Works Vol 54, P249)

In fact Luther argues  that the phrases used by the Bible oppose speculations about it and insists that we believe in contradictions allowing them to be resolved in a mystery beyond our comprehension:

The Hebrew reads this way: “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Ex. 33:19). This is said in an indefinite sense as it were and as if He were offering mercy by chance, without reference to predestination. In the same way He also says in Ex. 3:14: “I am who I am,” or “I shall be who I shall be.” He seems by these words to be rebuffing those who are anxious and curious about the predestination of themselves or of others, as if to drive them away from thoughts and questions about predestination. As the common saying goes: to whom it comes it comes, and whom it hits it hits. It is as if He were saying: “No one will know to whom I will be merciful and to whom I will be gracious, nor can anyone be certain about it because of his merits or his works or anything else.”   (He [Martin Luther] spoke at length about the idle people who occupy themselves with disputation about predestination beyond the limits of Scripture. It is most ungodly and dangerous business to abandon the certain and revealed will of God in order to search into the hidden mysteries of God. (Luther's Works Vol 25, p386)

In Luther's work on the will, where he argues we do not have free will in terms of our being saved, but that only God's grace can save a man, the introduction says:

Yet Luther acknowledges that man possesses a capacity for response to God’s grace which other creatures do not (see p. 67); and elsewhere he can explain why God elects this man and not that by saying: “This difference is to be ascribed to man, not to the will of God, for the promises of God are universal. He will have all men to be saved. Hence it is not the fault of our Lord God, who promises salvation, but it is our fault if we are unwilling to believe it”. (Introduction to Luther's Work 'The Bondage of the Will', LW Volume 33)

To confirm Luther's view against God's love for only some:

He tells us to pray for all men, because such a prayer for men is acceptable, even if they are wicked. The grace of God is one and the same, even for the faithless. We must therefore pray not only for the faithful but for all men. That prayer offered for them is both heard and pleasing, because He wants it so and desires to save all men. (Luther's Works Vol 28, p261)

Just to show not every Calvinist sided with Calvin on this point, but rather was more along the lines of Luther, here is another famous Calvinist.

Why does God hate any man? I defy anyone to give any answer but this, because that man deserves it; no reply but that can ever be true. There are some who answer, divine sovereignty; but I challenge them to look that doctrine in the face. Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly—it is the same thing—created that man, with no other intention, than that of damning him? Made him, and yet, for no other reason than that of destroying him for ever? Well, if you can believe it, I pity you, that is all I can say: you deserve pity, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth for ever.  (A Sermon (No. 241)  January 16th, 1859, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon)

So does God hate an unborn child, as in wish them harm, of course God alone could NEVER as He LOVES all unborn children with infinite love.

  • 1
    +1 for extensive research and citations -- even while I do not agree with parts of your interpretation. Thanks for putting forth the effort to craft a thorough response that seeks to answer the OP's question and substantiate your views. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 18:56
  • I think I'm misunderstanding points points (2) & (3). In particular, 1 Samuel 15:18 seems to contract point (2). Since Jesus is God, a counter example to (2) would also be a counter example to (3). What am I reading wrong?
    – user1694
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 12:00
  • @Matthew7.7 - God utterly destroying his enemies implies that they have rejected his love. Hatred=sin and is very sinful so that when sinners love hatred, instead of God/love -- love must consume them. (God is love). God loves the sinners that he turns into flaming coals of infinite wrath. These two positions seem to contradict each other but faith (like Luther's faith) does not have to believe in one extreme, or another, but in 'both opposing extremes at once'. This is also related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8904/…
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 12:22
  • @Matthew7.7 - I imagine if I was a Jew at the time to destroy a wicked Gentile army that defied God, I would have sorrow for the man I was slaying and wish he would rather believe, yet as an instrument of God's literal justice I would draw the sword and slay, man, women, or child as God commanded. When he caused fire to burn Sodom he was executing his justice, using an army of Jews was just a different fire. The fire was not to ‘personally wishing evil’ on the person burned; it was God's justice not man's hatred. Not to love those that the army was killing and mourn for their sin – is sin.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 12:27

The Bible clearly says that there are people that God does not love, such as the verse you cite, the Pharoah of the Exodus, God rejecting Saul, etc. I don't know any place in the Bible that says that God loves everyone in the world. There is, of course, the well-known John 3:16, "For God so loved the world ...", but in the broader context this apparently does not mean every individual. Like if I say, "I love Michigan", that doesn't necessarily imply that I love every single person in Michigan.

The idea that God loves everyone is a very popular religious belief in America today, but is not a Christian idea, or at least not a Biblical idea. (Rather like the idea that the way to get to Heaven is if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds.)

A believer in predestination would answer simply that the verse you cite is not compatible with the idea that God loves everyone: The Bible says that he chose some and not others.

A believer in free will would say that God knows in advance who will come to him and who will not, and so he loves those whom he knows will come to him.

  • Now I'm interested in seeing how a non-Calvinist would respond to it. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 7:38
  • @MonikaMichael: Then ask another question directed specifically at them.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 8:05
  • @Caleb Wouldn't that be a close duplicate? Perhaps I should just wait until one of them comes around this one. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 8:09
  • @MonikaMichael: Using answers as a way to collect unique perspectives is a bad use of the SE format and strongly discouraged. This particular answer is ok because it provides an overview of what different doctrinal perspectives would do with this without going into too much detail or trying to support one as right and the other wrong. If you want to get answers FROM a particular perspective, ask for it specifically. That provides a framework by which to objectively judge which answers are good/bad without the votes being based on whether someone agrees with the doctrine or not.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 8:14
  • 1
    @Eric John 3:16 Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 18:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .