What did Paul Mean When He Wrote that God Loved Jacob and Hated Esau?

In Romans 9:13, we read that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. Some people think this means that God actively chose Jacob to go to heaven and Esau to go to hell.

The word hated didn’t have the same meaning to the biblical writer as it does to us. To the biblical writer, you “hated” someone when you chose another person for a position of more favor or honor. For example, in Genesis 29:31, we are told that God saw that Leah was hated by Jacob, so He opened her womb. Yet we have every indication that Jacob was fond of Leah. He loved Rachel more, but he treated Leah with kindness. (Before Jacob died he asked to be buried with Leah.) Luke 14:26 gives another example of the biblical use of the term hated. Jesus said that we should “hate” our parents for His sake. He certainly wasn’t telling us to dislike them or to wish them evil. He only asked that we regard them as less important than Him, which is completely reasonable given who He is.

When the apostle Paul declared that God “loved” Jacob but hated Esau, he was affirming that the Lord had chosen Jacob, not Esau, to be the channel through whom He would carry out His covenant promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). God’s choosing had nothing to do with election to heaven or hell.

The election of Esau and Jacob as described in Romans 9:13 had to do with privilege and covenant blessing, not with individual salvation. The door of salvation was open for both of these men and to all of their descendants. God offers salvation to all.

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