Have you ever hated someone? Or something? Have you ever said, “I hate that guy because of what he did.” Or even, “I hate asparagus!” (that one’s for my daughter). We use the word as a catch-all term to announce disapproval or distaste or rejection.
The word ‘hate’ in English means “to strongly dislike someone or something.” In the strictest sense, it appears that this could even apply to things we need or people we love. “I hate my Uncle Tom; he’s such a jerk!” Or “I hate going to the doctor.” Or even “I hate it that I ate that entire blueberry pie in one sitting.” (true story…)
Yet when we talk about the Judeo-Christian God hating something or someone, our English paradigms fail us when we try to discern what the Bible means when it uses the word ‘hate.’ Are we talking about God being disgusted? Are we talking God loathing an action because of filthiness? Do we mean God just doesn’t prefer someone or something (like broccoli or an annoying cousin)?
When people ask if God hates someone, they are probably referring to a strongly negative, opposite-of-love kind of hate and are probably implying that, if the answer is “Yes,” then that is not the kind of God they want to be around, let alone worship or serve. To this observation, I’d like to point out two things before I dig in: (1) Biblical hate is not the opposite of love (e.g., you can hate your father for things that he’s done and still love him), and (2) hate itself is not always morally wrong since there are clear instances where disliking someone is morally justifiable (e.g., one’s hate of a murderer of a family member).
Now, let’s look at “hate” in the Bible.
The Hebrew Word: Sane
Sane is the most common and useful Hebrew term that equates to the English word “hate” that we have. It appears 147 in the Hebrew Old Testament according to Strong’s Concordance. The meaning of sane is summed up by Wildbranch Ministries nicely here: it is to ‘distance oneself’ or to ‘not prefer’. It is the same as the Greek word miseo, which is discussed later. It describes the relationship between two entities (human or object), and does not imply the kind of angry, illogical rejection that most of our culture means when we use the word ‘hate.’ For instance, in the Bible sane is only translated “unloved” seven (7) times and is never referring to God (for instance, in Genesis 29:31, Leah was unloved by others, so God stepped in and blessed her with a son).
Of those 147 occurrences, the vast majority are applied to people or people groups, not God. Only seventeen (17) are attributed to YHWH directly (i.e., God hates). Of those, only five (5) are directed at people. Let’s look at them (all in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)):
Psalm 5:5 – The boastful cannot stand in Your presence; You hate all evildoers.
Psalm 11:5 – The LORD examines the righteous and the wicked. He hates the lover of violence.
It is interesting to me that God’s hate here is directed at “evildoers” and “lovers of violence,” so they had done something to earn God’s distancing, or non-preference. In Psalm 5:5, the term ‘evildoers’ comes from the terms pa’al aven, which can also be translated “habitual workers of wickedness.” Aven‘s root also implies strenuously exerting oneself in vain, which differentiates itself from other words for “sin” like resha (things that are morally wrong) or ra’ah (bad or evil, usually associated with sorrow, misery, etc.). Aven is often associated with idols or idolatry. So, to get the full effect of the Hebrew you could frame it like “God hates people who strenuously exert themselves in the vain effort of pursuing idols or idolatry.”
The second example, Psalm 11:5, describes “the lover of violence” as the object of God’s hate. The phrase in Hebrew is ahab chamas. The terms ahab, or “to have affection for or love of,” and chamas, which is implicitly an immoral kind of violence, linked with cruelty, unjust gain or causing damage or harm, describe a person who literally loves cruelly harming others.
These two psalms serve as a warning to wicked and cruel people not to continue sinning and thus distance themselves from God. The next two verses describing God’s hate are as follows:
Jeremiah 12:8 – My inheritance has acted toward Me like a lion in the forest. She has roared against Me. Therefore, I hate her.
Hosea 9:15 – All their evil appears at Gilgal, for there I came to hate them. I will drive them from My house because of their evil, wicked actions. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious.
These two are directed at Israel. I find it fascinating that of all the verses in all the Bible, YHWH only expresses personal hatred for one nation: Israel! Not Egypt, not Babylon, not the Assyrians who committed terrible atrocities against His people. No, just His beloved “inheritance”, His beloved people!
When Israel would fall away from their God, He’d discipline them with marauders, invaders, famines (as seen in Judges, 1-2 Chronicles, 1-2 Kings) and would twice actually allow empires to uproot and disperse the entire nation of Israel (Babylon in 598 BC for 70 years and the Romans in 70 AD until 1948). Yet here they are, after at least 3,000 years of history, still a nation hanging out in the Levant on the Mediterranean Sea. It is clear that even though God expressed hatred for the nation He most loves above all others, He still never abandoned them. This should be a source of hope for all of us, that God treats His people like a good father, disciplining them when they need it yet staying lovingly faithful forever.
Malachi 1:3 – …but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.
And now we come to the one verse in the entire Bible where God calls out a single person toward whom He expresses hatred. And if you know about Esau, it is not difficult to see why. Esau wasn’t the most odious character in the Bible, but it could be argued that He was in a position to snub God the most. Esau was the oldest son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, heir to the promise that God would create a mighty nation through his bloodline that would number like the sands of the deserts and blessing beyond measure. He even had the witness of his grandfather and father to bolster his faith in God’s promise. Yet he threw it all away because he was hungry and wanted some soup. (Read Genesis 25-33 for the whole story)
If I were to offer someone unlimited blessings and untold millions of descendants, as well as promises of a future Messiah to come through their bloodline that would save all of mankind, and they said, “Nah, just give me a bowl of soup”… I’d be furious! And hurt! And insulted! I might even make it known that I indeed hated him. That didn’t mean He stopped loving Esau, as we’ll see.
The Greek Word: Miseo
As I pointed out earlier, the equivalent of the Hebrew word for ‘hate’ is the Greek word miseō. It is used in the New Testament 42 times, and only three of those are attributed to the Father or Jesus:
Romans 9:13 – [Quote from the Old Testament:] As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Hebrews 1:9 – [Author speaking to God:] Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated
Revelation 2:6 – [Jesus speaking:] But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Notice that the last two of these specifically discuss hating sinful deeds (which is also called iniquity). This is a similar pattern to what we find in the Old Testament. God hates sin, and by far this is the focus of the Bible.
So the only person in the ENTIRE BIBLE whom God hated is Esau. The quotation of the Hebrew word sane is a non-preference or rejection, not necessarily the kind of hateful, angry hate that you and I associate with the English word. Esau had rejected God first; if we are rejected and hurt by someone, we are obviously justified in developing a preference not to be around them, and additionally this kind of hate does preclude a loss of love for them.
So What Happens to Esau? What About Us?
This type of personal hatred is not an automatic nomination for God’s wrath and judgment. In Genesis chapter 33 Esau finds redemption, reconciling with his brother Jacob and serving as a blessing from God to him. God ceremonially ‘hating’ someone does not guarantee wrath or judgment if they repent. However, we are told in Hebrews 12:15-17 (check out this article for more detail) that Esau later wanted Jacob’s blessing back, but it was too late, he’d given it up, and he wept bitterly. If you think about what he gave up for a bowl of soup, that in and of itself is judgment enough.
After all, Esau did have the blessing at the beginning! It was his birthright! Yet he prized physical, temporary ease and comfort over spiritual blessing. God loved Esau, yet he rejected God’s offer.
As for us, we also have the blessing from the start… the question is, will we choose to give it up for the momentary pleasures of this world? Frank Turek uses this analogy to explain God’s offer of salvation to us. It goes like this:
Imagine this… If you love someone so much that for years you send them flowers, cards, gifts and even offer to take care of them for the rest of their life, and yet they refuse, you would honor their wish and leave them alone, right? It’s not that you’d stop loving them. This is the same way with God’s pursuit of humanity. God loves people so much that if they are not willing to join Him in Heaven for eternity for free, He is not willing to force them to be there. (That’s what Hell is, by the way… a quarantine from God’s presence.)
More importantly in this discussion, God hates sin. Psalm 45:7a says: “You love righteousness, and hate wickedness…” Sin is what separates us from Him even though He created mankind to be with Him. He wants us to join Him, and the way we do that is through His Son, Jesus Christ. How is this possible? I’ll do another article about Christian doctrine and how it all works another time, but for you, here, now, I’ll share J. D. Farag’s easy to understand ABC’s of Salvation:
- Admit that you sin (or broken God’s Law),
- “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
- Believe that Jesus is Lord, and
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
- Call upon His name.
- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever calls upon His name shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
If you do these things and mean them in your heart, you’ll be freely forgiven of your sins by God! “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) But it’ll just be the beginning of an amazing walk. Get to a good, Bible-believing church and start living YHWH’s will for your life! 🙂
Love you guys!
When you say “He’d discipline them with marauders,…” How did He do that exactly? Was a message sent to them? Or did He affect the weather in some way to get them to go closer towards Israel? If He did send a message directly to one of them like the leader of a marauder group, and they obeyed, would that be considered a commanded sin or something of that nature, and would that put them in a higher standing than the ones who just sinned for their own personal reasons? I’m sure the words, “Go and kill for Me.” isn’t what was said if that’s the case. I’m not too familiar with The Bible, so I’m unsure about His tactics for this type of thing. Would the sin be overridden since it was a command from God? Or would it still be a sin because there could be a way for them to punish the Israelites without sinning?
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! You rock! Awesome question, btw! I had a hard time with this very thing when I became a Christian… here’s how I understand it now:
Israel has always been surrounded by enemies constantly wanting to kill and destroy them. These people groups were chomping at the bit, constantly looking for openings to attack the Israelites (similar to today in the Middle East…). So God never needs to cause anyone to sin in that regard; all He has to do is lift His protection off of the nation of Israel and almost instantly someone’s going to rush in and attack. In this way, God uses a bad thing for the good purpose of giving Israel a reason to turn back to Him willingly. God doesn’t force or even prompt people to do evil things; He just allows people to follow through on their own evil desires if it serves His purposes.
Take the book of Job, for instance. At the beginning, a spiritual entity accuses God of treating a righteous man too generously… basically saying “Of COURSE Job loves you! Look at all the stuff you do for him! If you took away his health, his family, and his wealth, he’d curse you to your face!” So God allowed this entity to do everything in its power to make Job miserable… except take his life. And yet, God was vindicated… Job, though naked, covered in boils, with not a penny to his name, and most of his family dead, continues to bless the name of God. I believe God would NOT have let that happen if He knew Job wasn’t strong enough in his faith to handle all that happened to him. Also, notice two things: (1) God did NOT do the bad things… He just gave permission and that spiritual entity did it all, and (2) at the end of the book, God gave back to Job double what he’d lost (except for some of his family… you can’t replace family).
Also, it’s not like the Israelites weren’t told these terrible things would happen if they didn’t follow God’s Law. In Leviticus 26:14-39 (right after crossed the Red Sea with Moses), and reminded again in Deuteronomy 28:15-67 (right before they cross into the promised land), God spells out exactly what would happen if they broke their covenant with Him… in detail! Each time, beforehand God explains how they’ll be blessed if they DO follow His law and show love to Him, and afterward both times explains exactly how they can get OUT of these punishments, so the whole process is clear and fair. The Israelites had no one to blame for their troubles but themselves.
In fact, the only time (that I am aware of) that God actually comes close to saying “Go and kill for Me”, like you said, is in the case of Joshua leading the Israelites against the Canaanites. Yet even here, it is the Canaanites who have earned God’s judgment… as just one example of the kind of evil that was going on, the Canaanites would place babies live on burning hot statues of the god Molech and would stand by while the babies screamed and thrashed around until they died. And they’d been doing this for 400 years! That’s a long time for a nation to ignore their collective conscience. So the Israelites were not being sinful in this way, just as it’s not sinful for a doctor to administer the drugs needed for a lethal injection. There’d been a trial, the person was convicted, and the punishment was just and sanctioned by the government. Even if the person was wrongly convicted, the doctor could still have a clean conscience for doing his/her duty.
Also, here’s a more in depth article I found on that particular question: https://bible.org/article/god-and-canaanities
I hope this helps and let me know what you think! Sorry it took so long to respond. God bless you, napuc!
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I really appreciated this study and commentary. Thanks.
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