God is love.
This basic truth is one of the first things that we learn as Christians. Even some unbelievers would agree with this truth.
That’s what makes the two hard parts of the book of Malachi not just hard to understand, but jarring to our core.
Both passages mention God’s hate.
In Malachi chapter 1, God says, “Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated.”
In Malachi chapter 2, God says, “I hate divorce.”
What do these verses about God’s hate really mean?
Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated.
In English we use “hate” as an emotional term. When we hear “God hates,” the picture in our mind is God the Father, clenched fists, gritted teeth, red faced, letting loose by screaming at us at the top of His lungs. Is this what Malachi means when he says God hates?
The Hebrew word for hate used in Malachi 1 carries a different meaning than the volcano of explosive anger that first comes to mind. Even in English, when we stop to think about it, we would have to admit that we use hate in different ways. My mother hates peas. Does that mean when I serve them she will stand up, kick over her chair, and stomp away from the table deeply offended that I put a bowl of peas on the table? No. She simply hates peas in the sense that she strongly dislikes the taste.
But even that illustration doesn’t match the idea of the word “hate” in the Malachi chapter 1.
The book of Malachi was written to the Jewish people who returned from exile. Now they were living in a rebuilt Jerusalem which was a mere shadow of the glory days. They had lived through hard times and they were starting to question what they believed about God’s love.
They ask God in Malachi 1:2: “You said that you loved us. How have you loved us?”
The Lord answers by reminding them He has chosen them. He didn’t choose Esau. He chose Jacob. God “hating” Esau is a description of the lack of covenant relationship between him and God. The word does not refer to God’s emotions at all. It’s simply a positional statement. I am here. You are there.
God didn’t choose Esau to make into a great nation. He didn’t give Esau and his descendants special promises. But He did choose Jacob.
God choosing one person and not the other is a hard part of Scripture in itself. Paul realized how “Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated” would raise questions about God’s fairness. This can be a separate discussion on readthehardparts.com for another day. But the short answer to God’s seeming unfairness is given in Romans 9:20: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”
God hates divorce
The next mention of “hate” in Malachi is in chapter 2. Some of the men of Israel in Malachi’s day had married young. Later they were bored of their wives and simply sent them away. This disposible view of marriage is not God’s design.
This verse is a hard part of Scripture because of the grammar in the original Hebrew. The question is who is the one doing the hating in the original text? And what does he or He hate?
The NIV (New International Version) 2011 translates Malachi 2:16 this way:
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
In this translation, God is not the hater. The one doing the hating is the man who decides he is bored with the wife of his youth and wants to move on.
Not only does this translation make more sense grammatically, but it also prevents people from using the phrase “God hates divorce” inappropriately. David W. Baker in his NIV Application Commentary on the book of Malachi laments the fact that too often this verse has been used to keep an abused spouse (usually a wife) in a marriage because this verse has been misapplied. Too many spouses in the church, when they are courageous enough to tell about their abuse are told, “God hates divorce. There has been no adultery in your marriage, so just stick it out!”
God’s heart breaks when He sees domestic violence. God designed marriage as a protection like Malachi 2:16 says. Domestic violence and abuse are against God’s design for marriage.
What the Hard Parts in Malachi Mean for Me
In every hard part of Scripture, there are truths for believers to apply to their lives today. Here’s what these hard parts of Malachi taught me:
- Continue to pray for the unbelievers in your life. God is patient while waiting for unbelievers to repent. Join God in prayerful patience. If you have a friend or a family member who is not chosen by God, God does not hate him. God loves him and has sent His son to die for him. Besides, how do you know if he is chosen or not? No one is beyond God’s reach. We do not know God’s plan for each person.
- Do not treat marriage as disposable. This goes for your marriage, someone else’s marriage, or the idea of marriage. What is your attitude towards marriage? How do you talk about your spouse? Do you flippantly use the word divorce? Do you encourage others to consider divorce as an option just because they are bored with the marriage? That’s not God’s heart for marriage.
- Although there are other examples in Scripture of God feeling emotional anger, that is not the picture in these Malachi passages. If you are divorced, God does not hate you. He loves you. God grieves with you for the loss of your marriage.
- Protect those who are in abusive situations. Abuse and domestic violence happen inside the church. In my short fifteen years as a pastor’s wife, I have been surprised who experiences it. Couples who look like they have it all together sometimes have a different story behind closed doors. Too often the church has used the Malachi 2 passage to send spouses, especially women, back into abusive situations because “God hates divorce” so they should just stick it out. God does not want wives to be stuck in abuse. Abuse in a marriage is completely against God’s design for protection. If you are being abused in your marriage, get yourself to a safe place. Then you can work on the marriage and see what is best. Work with a Christian counselor or a pastor who has God’s heart of protection.
by Leslie Vernick is a great book for further insight and practical steps.
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