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The Lord says in the Old Testament that he loved Jacob but he hated Esau, and in 1 John, John actually says that if we say we love God but hate our brothers, we're wrong. How can we reconcile these two passages?

God, who created us, has the right to demand of his creatures anything he desires; he certainly has the right to demand that we love others. And how can we, who are sinners, hate other people who are sinners for doing the very same things we are doing? Loving God, others, and ourselves is the great commandment, given first by God and then echoed by Jesus in the New Testament.

But if we're commanded to love everybody, how do we deal with this statement of God: "Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated"?

First of all, we are dealing with a Hebrew idiom. It is the Hebrew form of speech we call antithetical parallelism, whereby the Scriptures speak in terms of direct opposites. To understand it, we have to see that whatever God means by hating Esau it means the exact opposite of what it means to love Jacob.

We use the terms love and hate to express human emotions and human feelings that we have toward people, but in the context in which this particular text occurs, when the Bible says that God loves Jacob, it means that he makes Jacob a recipient of his special grace and mercy. He gives Jacob a gift that he does not give to Esau. He gives mercy to Jacob. He withholds that same mercy from Esau because he doesn't owe Esau the mercy and he reserves the right as he says back then and in the New Testament, "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy." He displays benevolence. He gives an advantage; he gives a blessing to one sinner that he does not choose to give to another. The Jewish person describes that differential by using contradictory terms. One receives love; one receives hate. Now again, we have to remember that the Bible is being written in human terms, the only terms we have, and we can't read into the text the idea of feelings of hostility or of wickedness toward a human being. That's not what the Bible means when it uses that kind of language for God.

Tough Questions with RC Sproul is excerpted from Now, That’s a Good Question! Copyright © 1996 by R. C. Sproul. All rights reserved.

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