The prophet starts his message to his people by reminding them of God's love for them. This is the message against which the rest of the book must be seen. The dialectical style begins here. God's claim that he loves Israel is disputed by the people in their retort, How have you loved us? They imply that the promises made to their ancestors and reinforced by such prophets as Hosea (11:1) and in Dt 7:8 are not operating on their behalf in the present. After the chastisement of the Babylonian captivity and the hope generated by the return of the exiles, poverty and hardship led to discouragement. However, the prophet uses a verb tense that emphasizes God's continuous love that was actively demonstrated in their past and continues into the present.
The choice of Jacob over Esau is the historical proof that Malachi brings to their attention. This “election” is not to be understood as evidence of predestination as found in Calvin's interpretation. The prophet has no such thought in mind. Rather, the choice is a free expression of God's gracious love. The history of the two brothers and their posterity is clear proof of God's continued love for the descendants of Jacob.
The exact historical reference to the destruction of Edom is difficult to ascertain. It may reflect animosity that went back for centuries. It may refer to the time of the Babylonian conquest of the territory as a whole. However, the feelings expressed by Malachi may reflect a more immediate situation, perhaps as a result of the Persian conquest. At any rate, God attests to the desolation of Edom through the centuries by one group after another. Even though Judah was similarly attacked by enemy armies, their fate was not, in the long view, so serious as that of Edom. No matter how much Edomites try to rebuild their ruins, the Lord Almighty will always be against them and will thwart their efforts.
The love-hate designation used here in Malachi is a difficult concept for modern Christians as they contemplate the nature of God and his relationship to the peoples of the earth. Can God really show favoritism? (Cf. Acts 10:34.) Many commentators contend that “hate” should be read as meaning “loves less.” To support such an interpretation they point to Jacob's loving Rachel more than Leah (Ge 29:30), asserting that the meaning of the statement amounts to hatred of Leah (lit. meaning). However, this issue is not Malachi's concern. That which he emphasizes is that God's free choice is Jacob over Esau (cf. Snaith, 133-34). The subsequent welfare of the descendants of these two brothers demonstrates God's continued love for Israel. Recognizing the divine judgment upon Edom should cause Israel to recognize the ways in which the Lord has blessed them.