Genesis 36: God Didn’t Hate Esau
Reading for Sunday, January 25, 2009
While a student in college, a professor for a class that I took on Romans had us write our own little commentary on a single chapter in that great book. At that time I was on my own Calvin kick and I chose Romans 9 as the chapter I would focus on. Not only would I focus on chapter 9 but also verses 10-13 which says,
“10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Looking back, I was not really interested in entertaining any other position other than the one that appeared to be obvious to me in the text, God hated Esau and he loved Jacob even before they were born. What confused me greatly though, was that so many Calvinistic writers did not take this verse the way I wanted to take it. In fact, I remember reading an article by Walt Kaiser, then Old Testament scholar and Academic Dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (following this became the very distinguished president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) in which he disagreed that the idea of “hate” was intended in Romans 9:13. Essentially, the Greek word μισέω has two basic meanings. The first means to hate or detest something and the second is defined this way, ② to be disinclined to, disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment  Kaiser, along with many scholars, argues that Romans 9 ought to be translated in accordance with the second definition. NT Scholar Robert Mounce writes this about this subject in his commentary on Romans,
“Neither national heritage nor personal merit has anything to do with the sovereign freedom of God in assigning priority. This accords with the testimony of Scripture, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Mal 1:2–3). This should not be interpreted to mean that God actually hated Esau.” 
So, it is clear that there is some disagreement about the meaning of the word μισέω and its application to the book of Romans. Again, some say that we ought to translate it as “hate” and others argue that we should translate it “did not prefer,” or “disinclined to.” So which should it be? Both words could be used, but as interpreters of the Word of God to look at the overall context of a word and in this case, the background from which it springs.
I believe that this story and the preceding one give us a good indication. In chapter 36 of the book of Genesis, the author goes out of his way to show us that Esau experienced the blessing of God. While he did not receive the blessing of Isaac or the birthright of Abraham, he did receive God’s blessing in his life. Like Lot and Ishmael, he did not receive the promise and did not settle in the Promised Land as the heirs of the royal line had (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, et. al.,). Yet, it is also clear that God did bless Esau as one he loved,
“Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir” (Genesis 6:6-8, NIV 84) 
Throughout the rest of the account of Esau and his descendants we get the strong impression that God had been good to him. We also get the impression from this narrative and the one in which Jacob returned from Laban’s house that he had also become a better man in terms of real character than his brother.
Because of these factors, it seems to me much better to understand the meaning of the word “hate” in reference to Esau ought to be translated, as many scholars have pointed out, “did not prefer.” God preferred to give Jacob, not Esau, the blessing of being one of the patriarchs of the Messiah’s line before the boys were born. Based on these factors, it seems to me that while God chose Jacob as his preferred vessel to carry forth His redemptive plan, He also really did love Esau.
Arndt, William ; Danker, Frederick W. ; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2000, S. 653
Mounce, Robert H.: Romans. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 27), S. 198
 The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ge 36:6–8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.