Esau I have hated

I have referenced several articles here. That is not an endorsement of the websites, but simply pointing out some well-reserched material on Esau.


Some of the statements in the Bible have led a number of people to feel that Esau is a good example of what is referred to as predestination, or the idea that before men were ever created, God had already chosen who He would save and who He would not save. This is one of the primary doctrines of Calvinism, also known as Reformed Theology.

Let’s take a closer look at Esau and see if this is something that his story really does demonstrate.

The first time we have any indication of anything about him is before he was born. His mother, Rebekah, was somewhat alarmed about the amount of activity going on inside her and inquired of God about it.

The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
(Genesis 25:23)

There are a few things to note about this response from God:

1. There is no indication of anything good or bad about either of the children.
2. The nations arising from each will be separated, but the timing is not given.
3. One of these nations will be stronger than the other, at least at some point.
4. The nation arising from the older of the two children will either at some point, or eventually, end up serving the nation arising from the younger of the two children.
5. We don’t even know that the children are boys for sure yet!

The children are, as is well known, Jacob and Esau. Esau was born first. The boys were clearly not identical twins, as their difference in appearance is noted from the first. So there is certainly no confusion about who is who there.

We then read, about the boys,

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 25:27-28)

The word for “loved” there is ‘ahab, which can mean “love or loved”, but also, “have affection for” or “be allied with.” It does not indicate in either case that the parent hated the other child. It does indicate favoritism, though.

They are young men in the next passage. Verses 29-34 tell the famous story of Esau, very hungry, trading his birthright for some of the stew or soup that Jacob is cooking. Some comments must be made here to correct some misconceptions. First of all, the birthright was literally something that was Esau’s right by birth. It was the double possession of all his father’s material wealth, but also, along with it, the responsibility for the family as, when Isaac died, Esau would then become head of the family group. The fact that Esau was born first showed to the people that he was God’s choice to receive the double portion and take control of the family affairs in the future.

But we are told that Esau sold this birthright to Jacob for stew! And the Bible then tells us that ‘thus, Esau despised his birthright.’

The word used for ‘despised’ means ‘disdain’ as well. Thus we have the indication that Esau considered his birthright of no value! This, because he was hungry?

Perhaps not.

The following has nothing to do with Calvinism or any other doctrine, but with what might have happened historically. Keeping in mind that the first four generations after the Flood lived until about an average of 400 years, we can see there is quite an overlapping of generations here. There are a number of extra-biblical stories that have come down through the millennia in not only Hebrew culture, but other Middle Eastern cultures as well. We know from the Bible that Nimrod was a mighty hunter. We know that Esau was a hunter. The extra-biblical, but ancient, book of Jasher, has the following:

"And Esau at that time, after the death of Abraham, frequently went into the field to hunt. And Nimrod king of Babel, the same was Amraphel, also frequently went with his mighty men to hunt in the field, and to walk about in the cool of the day. And Nimrod was observing Esau all the days, for a jealousy was formed in the heart of Nimrod against Esau all the days.

"And on a certain day Esau went into the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men. And all his mighty men and his people were with him in the wilderness, but they removed at a distance from him, and they went from him in different directions to hunt, and Esau concealed himself for Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness. . . .

"And Nimrod and two of his men that were with him came to the place where they were when Esau started suddenly from his lurking place, and drew his sword, and hastened, and ran to Nimrod and cut off his head.

"And Esau fought a desperate fight with the two men that were with Nimrod, and when they called out to him, Esau turned to them and smote them to death with his sword. . . . And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod's father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house.

"And Esau took those garments and ran into the city on account of Nimrod's men,> and he came into his father's house weary and exhausted from fight, and he was ready to die through grief when he approached his brother Jacob and sat before him. And he said to his brother Jacob, Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright? And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord" (Jasher 27:1-15).

Although the identity of Nimrod is disputable, which will be explained in a moment, there is a consistent theme in the stories about Esau and his sold birthright which are connected with both Abraham’s funeral and a murderous rampage by Esau afterwards. If, for some reason, something Esau did made him think he now had access to much wider power than Isaac’s birthright could give him, then we do have an understanding as to why he may have despised his birthright: he may have been thinking of it as a much lesser value than what he could get for himself. We should also note that Esau said to Jacob, “I am about to die!” Was this from hunger? Doubtful, or he would have been too weak to move. There is a strong indication there that he was being hunted down himself and was on the move.

The reason the identity of Nimrod is disputable where the book of Jasher is concerned is because there is also a consistent mention in ALL the Middle Eastern stories dating back to the post-flood years that Nimrod was killed and dismembered by either Shem or some of his cohorts. The only way these legends could be successfully combined is if Esau was actively engaged in the Semite struggle against the Hamites at that point. Even so, it is more probable, if the Jasher account is true in any way, that the man Esau killed was Nimrod’s widow’s son or, if Hislop’s analysis of the Nimrod story is correct in “Two Babylons”, then Esau may have killed the man who was claimed by his mother (Nimrod’s widow) to be Nimrod reincarnated. However it works, or even if the person identified by the book of Jasher is simply the one on Nimrod’s throne, we have a consistent connection that seems to hold throughout the ancient stories in this account.

Because the Bible is primarily concerned with man’s relationship to God, we read only the briefest of accounts regarding this incident. There is, however, an interesting Jewish analysis of Esau’s frame of mind concerning this incident written by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, which has some interesting applications to our hearts today.

The fact that, in the Hebrew, Esau’s blessing paralleled in form and language so closely to Jacob’s is very interesting. The following rather long quote is from a fascinating article by David Richter which discusses the reasons there are different translations of the blessing given Esau:


"The blind patriarch Isaac has sent his firstborn and favorite son Esau to hunt for venison and to make his favorite savory stew before he gives his ancestral blessing; hearing this, Rebecca incites her own favorite twin, Jacob, to masquerade as his brother, dressing him in Esau's best clothing, with animal skin to mimic Esau's hairy hands and neck, and making her own version of the delicacy out of kid. Isaac is a bit suspicious ("the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau"), but he is also hungry, and despite his doubts he gives Jacob the blessing. No sooner has he done so when Esau comes back with the real venison stew. As soon as Isaac hears the voice of Esau, he trembles violently, realizing what has happened. And then the passage focuses on the other recognition--Esau's realization that his brother has purloined the blessing meant for him---after swindling him out of his birthright. The pathos swells as Esau asks Isaac if his father has only one blessing to bestow, whether there cannot still be a blessing for him too. But Isaac has already given Jacob everything: he has made Jacob lord over his brethren and given him all the material things of life besides: what is left to give Esau? Esau persists: Bless me too, my father, and bitterly bursts into tears. And Isaac relents and blesses Esau too."

"... In Hebrew the first part of it goes

mi-shmanei ha-aretz yihiyeh moshavekha u-mi-tal ha-shamayim me'al.

"Literally the morphemes run "from the fat of the land shall be your encampments and from the dew of the heavens thereon." What exactly does this mean? Comparing a King James and a Revised Standard Version of the bible, you can see that this is an interpretive crux: the two translations give the blessing opposite meanings. KJV translates it as follows: "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above." RSV has quite a different blessing: "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high." The source of the discrepancy is grammatical ambiguity, .... It is caused by the particle mi which is used twice, the first syllable of mi-shmanei and the second of u-mi-tal. It is the connective form of min which means "from." Like the French "de" and the Latin "ex," min can operate as a partitive ("some of the fat places of the land") or it can express a direction ("away from the fat places of the land"). Which it is depends on the context.

"... the context is set primarily by the adjacent narrative and the surrounding structure of plot and values in which it plays out. The first consideration is that Isaac has told Esau that he has already given Jacob the jackpot and there is nothing left for him. In that case, the blessing cannot be a duplicate of Jacob's. And Esau's blessing goes on "And by thy sword shalt thou live and shalt serve thy brother, and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from thy neck." If Esau is to live by the sword then he is to be a raider, not a farmer, who has no use for the dew of the heavens. Furthermore, after the blessing the narrator continues, "And Esau hated Jacob his brother on account of the blessing with which his father had blessed him and he said in his heart, when the days of mourning for my father are come I shall kill Jacob my brother." Why would Esau want to kill Jacob if he had just been given some of the fat places of the land?

"What clarified the situation and intensified the pathos was going back to the blessing Isaac had given the disguised Jacob. In the Hebrew that blessing begins V'yiten l'kha ha-Elohim mital ha-shamayim umishmanei ha-aretz.

"Here the morphemes go: "The Lord shall give you from the dew of the heavens and from the fat places of the land." With the verb "to give" the mi is unambiguously partitive, as the French "de" is with "donner" or the Latin "ex" with "dare." And by contrast, the mi then seemed unambiguously privative in Esau's blessing. The click of intelligibility came when I realized that Isaac, looking for a way to bless Esau, had chosen language that almost precisely duplicated the language with which he had meant to bless him, even though with the change of the verbs (yihiyeh instead of yiten; the verb "to be" instead of "to give") it actually meant the opposite. What was the motive for this play on words? Was Isaac trying to pull the wool over the eyes of ... Adonai? Was he trying to reassure Esau? Conceivably a little of both.... I rather thought, though, that it was primarily a gesture meant for his own ears, trying to pretend a little that everything was still all right and the blessing had been given as planned.

"Isaac is not the only member of his family given to rueful wordplay and ironic punning at times of high emotion. Esau himself asks within this passage "Is not he rightly named Jacob (ya'akov) for has he not now tricked me (ya'akveni) twice?--- had not Jacob taken his birthright (bikhorati) and now his blessing (birkhati)? Those two words look almost exactly the same, with just two consonants reversed, particularly in a torah scroll without the vowels."


What we do know for sure is that Jacob received the blessing by deception, and yet God honored it. We can see there was some animosity between the brothers quite early on, or Jacob would not have asked for the birthright in return for food. Had his mother told him he would be the more powerful one, according to prophecy? We don’t know.

With Jacob a deceiver and Esau possibly a murderer, we have a couple of young men that probably none of us would want for neighbors! And yet, it is not these sins which determine their final destinies, but rather their responses to correction from God. If we go far ahead in the Bible to Hebrews 12, we will see the warning:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.

And we read in Malachi 1 that God hated Esau. Paul repeats this in Romans 9.

The question then becomes, did Esau behave the way he did because God hated him from the beginning, or did God hate him because of the way Esau chose to behave? Essentially, the first position is Calvinist and the second non-Calvinist.

It is imperative that we allow Bible to explain Bible.

Esau was also known as Edom. Right before the book of Jonah in the Bible is a tiny little book of one chapter, Obadiah. The focus of Obadiah is on Edom/Esau. And the reason God hated Esau is stated clearly here:

Pride of heart, v. 3
Because of the violence against Jacob, v. 10
For not intervening on behalf of Jacob when that people was under attack, v. 11
For looking down on his brother in the day of his misfortune, v. 12
For entering the destroyed city and participating in the ransacking, v. 13
For ambushing their fugitives, v. 14

But wait, this is no longer talking about two brothers, but about the two nations that came from them!

And this is precisely what Malachi is also referring to: look at the first five verses of the book say:

An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

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

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

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. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord – even beyond the borders of Israel!'”

“They….” The entire people that came from Esau are being spoken of as being hated. Whether or not Esau personally was is not even being discussed here, but the people as a group are.

Thus, when Paul quotes Malachi in Romans 9, he is referring to what happened to the people, not to the individual sons. And in Obadiah the reasons for this hatred from God are clearly delineated. In other words, there is no evidence biblically for the Calvinist position where Esau is concerned. There is no evidence at all that he was somehow hated by God from before birth. We do not even know about the man personally, as even a surface examination of the Scriptures involved indicate that it is not the individuals God is indicating hate for, but one of the nations that came from the two of them.

Going back into the old legends, there seems to be an incredible depth to the history of the two brothers that we are missing. However, all that aside, the Bible does give us everything we need to know about them as pictures of man’s relationship with God, which is what the Bible is about. We do know that Esau accepted a good part of the results of the patriarchal blessing from Jacob with the gift of the livestock. We know that he helped bury their father, which indicates that the two brothers worked together in at least some things in later life.

Did God hate Esau personally? He very well may have, and the despising of the birthright is used in Hebrews as evidence of his godlessness. This godlessness, and his marriage to pagan wives, would have affected not only his children, but their children and the children after them as well, in agreement with what we read in Exodus 20:5 – ”Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them [idols], nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…”

The quote from Malachi 1, “Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated” has nothing to do with the two brothers themselves but, as a reading will show and Obadiah explains quite clearly, has to do with the nations that came from the brothers. And since the reasons are given for God’s hate of Esau, we cannot then accept the use this man as an example of predestination in the Calvinist argument.

Helen Setterfield, 2005; some revision and links checked February, 2015