On August 12, 2017, an event occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, that temporarily rocked the United States. It turned out to be a riot on the campus of the University of Virginia. It was a clash between white supremacists, neo- Nazis, racists, and sundry other groups, either protesting or protecting the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general in the Civil War. The mainstream media was all over it. Our president saw fit to make a number of statements about it, most of which drew sharp criticism. It is not my intention to analyze and critique that riot, or to defend the president. What I do want to address is the confusing rhetoric that surfaced in response to that riot. I refer to much confused talk about love and hatred. Politicians, preachers, and pundits all issued clamorous calls for “love.” We have to love everybody. We need to strive for unity and peace. An equal number shouted out condemnations of hatred. Signs sprouted in many places, proclaiming: HATE IS NOT ALLOWED HERE. Love is the only option! The liberal left preached “love” while they demonstrated radical hatred for the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
My contention is that our society is demonstrating widespread confusion on both subjects. As a culture, we no longer have clear insights into either love or hatred. We operate at wildly emotional levels and refuse to find clarity. Because we live in an increasingly secular society, we no longer look to God’s Word for insight and understanding. Consequently, we tend to walk in darkness and compound confusion by refusing to study the Word of God. Some of our pulpits are afraid to preach about God’s wrath against sin. Many seem to know nothing about the many imprecatory psalms. My objective is to look at Scripture in hopes of finding clarity, which, by God’s grace, we might be able to share with confused neighbors.
We could easily start by reading through John’s epistles. First and Second John have clear teaching about the importance of love. They leave no doubt: God is love, and we are to love our neighbor. True love will demonstrate obedience. Jesus Christ is the perfect model of love. That is true, but that is not the whole message of Scripture. If we confine ourselves to those important truths, we run the risk of becoming half-way Christians. There are enough of those around; we do not need anymore.
In pursuit of understanding, I would refer the reader to Malachi 1:2–3: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” That is God speaking to Israel through his prophet Malachi. Many thousands of people were allowed to come back to Jerusalem and Judea after being held captive first in Babylon and then in Persia. For a variety of reasons, they complained that God no longer loved them. After all, said Ezra, “May God revive us in our slavery, for we are slaves” (Ezra 9:8–9). That same complaint was made by Nehemiah some years later, when he said, “Behold, we are slaves this day in the land that you gave to our fathers. . . . Behold, we are slaves” (Neh. 9:36). The conclusion that the people arrived at was: God does not love us anymore! Here we are, 160 years after being sent into exile, and we are still living under slavery. We have not been set free, as we expected. Obviously, God does not love us.
Malachi’s retort is simple: God does love you, but he hates Esau. Malachi does not confine that hatred to Jacob’s twin brother but extends that to the Edomites, who are the descendants of Esau. Yes, I love you, but I hate the enemies that have been persecuting you. That kind of emphatic statement might trouble many of you. We might be inclined to sympathize with the people living in Judea. But, even more significantly, we are not accustomed to think of God hating someone. In fact, the majority of us might claim that “God loves everyone.” In defense of that, you might quickly appeal to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” But our text is explicit: God loved Jacob, and he hated Esau. The language is clear, but what does it mean? How are we to understand that message?
In pursuit of that, I want to focus briefly on the connection between the books of Malachi and Nehemiah. In our Bibles, they are far apart. Nehemiah is a historical book that deals with the post-exilic period in Israel’s history. It is nicely sandwiched between Ezra and Esther; all three are historical books. Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and is not often studied. It is classified as prophecy and is often considered to be part of the intertestamental period, that is, the period between the two Testaments. That is not true, as the opening line of Malachi will indicate. The name Malachi means “the messenger.” It is not the name of a person but is God’s messenger to the people of Israel living in Judea and Jerusalem who have returned from exile in Babylon and Persia. The time period is roughly 440 B.C.
The book of Malachi is an “oracle” or a “burden” aimed at these Jews living during the same time period as Ezra and Nehemiah. Malachi, in fact, is a commentary on the book of Nehemiah. It is prophetic in much the same way as were Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is prophecy with a bite, or a sting. It is loaded with condemning language. God is expressing his love for his people by sending them Malachi, one of his prophets. In prior history, God had done the same thing by sending Isaiah, Jeremiah, and numerous others. Much of the content in this prophecy is aimed directly at the evil practices going on in Jerusalem. It would not have been delightful reading. It condemned much of their recent behavior.
Some Basic Definitions
If we are to arrive at true insight, we need to start with some basic definitions.
“Love” has many different meanings, all of them essentially positive. To love is to have strong affection for someone or something. It is to be attracted to that person or that thing. It means to have a positive relationship with that person or thing. The ultimate model or example of love is Jesus Christ. He loved his chosen people so much that he willingly gave his life on the cross to save us from our sins. He cared enough to die for us. God the Father cared enough to send his prophets to warn his people about the consequences of their sins. He cared enough to send King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy their temple, their city, and their homes. God did that because he loved his people so much. He cared enough to send his Son to earth, to take on our human form so that he could become our substitute. That is the epitome of love. None of us have problems with that. We love to talk about “the love of God” and to sing songs of praise. Love is good. But true love sometimes has a cutting edge to it. God loved his people so much that he inflicted heavy punishments on them. Our children, after being spanked, are quick to proclaim: “You don’t love me anymore!” But we punish because we love.
When you go to a dictionary, you find that “hate” means to feel extreme enmity toward someone or something. It means to have a strong aversion to, or to find something very distasteful. We human beings tend to be fearful of hate and hatred. Both in ourselves and in others, it tends to become a dominating emotion that robs one of judgement and of compassion. We often connect hatred to violent action. We connect hate to lies and falsehood. At this juncture in our nation’s history there is a cacophony of complaints against hate and hatred. In response to that horrific riot at Charlottesville on August 12, there are all kinds of calls for love and unity. Hate is not allowed. In fact, many cities and states have passed legislation disallowing “hate speech.” In some jurisdictions, if the judge thinks that a crime was committed because of “hate speech,” the penalty is increased. You may not hate anyone. You have to love everyone! If you express hatred toward anyone, you are immediately labeled as Islamaphobic or racist or bigoted.
We tend to think of hatred as evil, and we even go so far as to refuse to think of God being connected to hatred. But the Bible often connects God with hatred. However, God’s hatred is different. His hatred is always appropriate, focused on evil and the evildoer. God hates sin and the sinner.
Some Examples of Divine Hatred
God’s hatred of sin is found in hundreds of places in the Bible. God hates evil of every sort. He hates idolatry. He hates divorce. He hates falsehood. God hates pornography. He hates gambling. He hates white supremacy. He hates abortion. He hates disobedience of every sort. None of us, most likely, have problems accepting that. But there are still many who refuse to call such sin. Many churches refuse to preach against sin. Instead, they insist that all these things are sicknesses. Some things, like homosexuality, they call “alternative lifestyles.”
What we have problems with is connecting God with sinners. We want to insist that “God loves everyone,” and, therefore, by logical deduction, God cannot hate anyone. We tend to think of hate and love in antithetical terms. You cannot hate what you love, and you cannot love what you hate. For many people, that is how they think. But that is not what the Bible teaches. God is love, but God is also holy. He is also perfectly righteous. He cannot love evil. It is completely contrary to his being. He cannot have evil in his presence, for being holy means to be set apart. You and I cannot come into God’s presence if we are evil. There are many passages in the Old Testament that teach that. You and I need to be washed; we need to have our sins taken away in order to come into his presence. We need to be cleansed. We need to be refined. Until that happens, we are objects of God’s wrath. God hates sin and sinners. Let me call attention to some passages:
• Psalm 1:6: “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
• Psalm 2:4: “The Lord holds them in derision.”
• Psalm 5:5: “You hate all evildoers, you destroy those who speak lies.”
• Psalm 7:11: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.”
• Psalm 11:5: “His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”
• Psalm 31:17: “O Lord, let the wicked be put to shame, let them go silently to Sheol.”
• Psalm 58:3: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth.”
• Psalm 139:21: “Do I not hate those that hate You?”
• Revelation 16:1: “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of God’s wrath.”
If we ignore or refuse to consider such passages, we are becoming possessed by false doctrine. At best, such theology must be called neo-orthodoxy. It is shutting our ears to the full message of what the Bible teaches. When that happens, we will quickly display some consequences that will diminish our witness and weaken the church. If we fail to comprehend the wrath of God against sin,
• we will fail to call sinners to repentance. We will treat their behavior as “sickness.”
• we will engage in sundry types of lawless behavior, because there is no fear of God in the land. For example, we will condone abortion.
• we will fail to see the need for evangelism in our neighborhoods and communities.
• we will see hatred and violent behavior abound.
• we will treat our children as innocent little creatures, whom original sin never met.
How do we prevent such behaviors from occurring? How do we strive for pure orthodoxy? By studying the Word in all of its fullness. By listening less to the television and more to the Spirit. By asking the right questions and by refusing the world’s answers. That is our calling as believers.
Dr. Norman De Jong is a semi-retired pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.