In trying to win back the people to loyalty and devotion to God, the author uses a lively form of disputation with them. This style is illustrated at the outset when the prophet says:
“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” (1:2-3).
This pattern of question and answer is repeated several times within this short book.
Scholars disagree in their evaluation of the literary quality of the book, ranging from those who give it slight praise (Smith, ICC, 4) to those who appreciate its lively dialogue and freshness of expression (cf. Bewer, Literature of the Old Testament, 258; Verhoef, 166-67).