I will be quoting from the English Standard Version of the Bible (the ESV), but I have replaced the English translation, The LORD, with the Hebrew that is behind it: YHWH. Yahweh is the name that God used of himself; see Exodus 3:13-15 (HCSB) and Exodus 6:2-3 (HCSB).
Lev 20:23 (ESV)
And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.
Compare Lev 26:11. Regarding Lev 20:23, note the dictionary entry for the Hebrew word translated “detested” is, “feel a loathing, abhorrence, sickening dread”, as explained in the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.
Leviticus 26:27-31 (ESV)
But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.
Psalm 5:5 (ESV)
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
The Hebrew root for hate and hatred stands behind all the Old Testament “hate” passages we are examining here; see also Eccl 3:8.
Psalm 11:5 (ESV)
Yahweh tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Proverbs 6:16-19 (ESV)
There are six things that Yahweh hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
Hosea 9:15 (ESV)
Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
all their princes are rebels.
Jeremiah 12:8 (ESV)
My heritage has become to me
like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me;
therefore I hate her.
Romans 9:13 ESV
As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3, and the Hebrew word for hate that comes over into the Greek is the same Greek word Jesus uses in such places as John 7:7, 12:25, and 15:18.
I can imagine that someone would read this list and have some questions. I have listed six common objections below, and I deal with each in turn.
1. “Doesn’t God Hate Sin but Love the Sinner?”
In the above verses, the reaction of God to sinners is not aimed at sin in general, but at sinners in particular. Your question is answered: He hates some humans; he does not merely have an abstract hatred for sin and wickedness (Heb 1:9, Ps 45:7), but the objects of his hatred are listed as actual people.
If these verses seem counter-intuitive, that should not cause us to resist their meaning, for the love of God can be counter-intuitive in the same way. He does not merely love the idea of love, nor love the notion of humanity. When God loves a sinner, he actually loves a particular person. His love is personal… but so is his hatred.
2. “God is Love. Are You Using the Bible against the Bible to Teach that God is Hateful?”
When the Bible speaks of his “hate” we need not associate that with an irrational emotion rooted in baseless evil (i.e., the kind of hatred that one sinner has towards Christ, as in John 15:25 or Ps 21:8). God does not react or feel without cause. His hatred is not sinful (not even in his hatred of sinners). He can detest a person and hate them without doing damage to his goodness. Such are the facts about God from Scripture, and we must integrate them into our composite view of Christ and the Trinity.
3. “Are you just Trying to be Shocking?”
It is not shocking that God hates people in particular. Rather, it would be shocking if he did not. If we are shocked by what God is like, then that points back to some residual or living idolatry that operates in us. The above verses destroy such idols. We need not be shocked that God hates. It makes sense that he does. It makes sense because God is not illogical or irrational. God has cause to hate rebel creatures. It also makes sense that he loves some of his creatures. God is not a simpleton. He is not like us. He is good in all his emotions. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) and “his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence,” (Ps 11:5).
4. “Is it True?”
The Bible is a thick book. And here I have only listed a few verses. But I ask you: How many times does the Bible have to say it for it to be true?
We know the answer: Once. But here I have listed a handful of verse. The Bible, indeed, teaches these things. It is true.
5. “But, Is it Still True under the New Covenant?”
Maybe somebody will suggest that God hated people in the Old Covenant but not in the New Covenant.
This objection will require a slightly longer response. To keep this organized, I will letter the different points that should be made.
A. God did not take on a new character in the New Covenant
The newness of the New Covenant was not that the work of Christ changed the character of God. This is probably obvious for anyone who would raise the objection; but if you would indulge me, I would like to point out the obvious. God has not changed in his character (James 1:17).
B. Being Loving was not New
Furthermore, God was not stuck in his hatred–for which Jesus came and fixed what which was a sticking point in God. His ability to hate is never seen as an obstacle. In fact, it was before Christ came that God loved particular people, John 3:16 (HCSB). It is not that God found the basis for love in the Cross; he loved sinners before Christ came in flesh, lived among us, died and rose again.
C. In the New Covenant, God’s Hate explains what God is like
Jesus shares in all the multifaceted complexities of God’s character. That is why we read in the New Testament itself that the character of God (his ability to hate) explains reality. Paul makes sense of the present situation in Romans 9 by quoting Malachi 1:2-3, making an appeal to what God is like in his ability to hate a particular person (Esau).
D. In the New Covenant, God’s Wrath is Appeased for Particular People Only
As I already stated, the New Covenant does not make God loving. He always has been. By making a New Covenant in his blood, Jesus appeased the wrath of this loving God, and he reconciled particular people to God. Yet, it remains that some people shall bear the wrath of God for themselves in the future Lake of Fire. God is not reconciled to everyone. Some people will yet experience his wrath. The wrath of God has not been appeased in relationship to every particular person (again, this is the testimony of the Lake of Fire), and it remains: God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
E. Reconciliation reconciles those whom God loves, it does not remove his Hate from those whom he does not Love
We must not confuse the doctrine of reconciliation with the character of God in hating. God loves and God hates. Salvific and redemptive reconciliation of particular people is related to his love. The Lake of Fire is in relationship to his hate. The Cross of Christ reconciles sinners to God (his anger towards them has been satisfied; God has been propitiated for them). Jesus removed the wrath of God from the objects of his love. In this, we must not make the Cross more than it is. The Cross did not change God’s hatred towards those whom his soul hates (Psalm 11:5). God was not made loving by the Cross; likewise, he was not made to cease hating. Rather, his wrath was appeased for those whom he loves (this distinction is critical). God did not change in his character at the Cross, rather his wrath was satisfied for those he loves.
F. The New Covenant is not New in being World oriented
God always wanted Israel to mediate God to the world (Exodus 19:6), and he regularly spoke of his name being famous in the world. Israel failed in that mission — indeed, they achieved the opposite (Romans 2:24).
The use of the word “World” in John 3:16 was in regard to the then current Jewish confusion about this expansive passion and mission of God — “world” is not a statement that God no longer has wrath for those whom he hates (again, I appeal to the future Lake of Fire and the character of God), but that Israel does not have a lock on him. In Christ, God was moving out beyond Israel, crossing borders and going to the world.
The apostle John speaks to the church in a way similar to how Christ spoke to Nicodemus in John 3. In 1 John 2:2, the particular churches who first got John’s letter were being instructed not to embody afresh any Jewish errors (thinking of themselves as having locked God up in a new Christian way). The churches founded by the apostles were not somehow the right version of erroneous first century Jewish-thinking (with churches having captured God as a private deity, just by some better method).
G. The Cross of God and the Hate of God are not competing or disjunctive notions
God hating sinners is not incompatible with the Cross and with Jesus being Jesus. Jesus is not a different kind of God than God. He is not unlike God in any sense, but he is very God of very God–God in the flesh (John 14:9). Jesus is the God-Man. That explains why we read in Revelation 14:9-11 of the comprehensive and particularized wrath of God and of the Lamb. The objects of the wrath of Christ are particular humans (cf. Rev 6:16; Rev 20:12-15). Jesus himself is the judge of humans (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus is the Warrior-King who rides out to meet his enemy with a sword (Revelation 19:11-13, Revelation 19:15).
What we know of the character of God in the Old Testament is still true in Christ.
6. “This is Insufficient Evidence. I Still Need more Proof”
For some people, they will read all this and still struggle to believe that God can hate particular people. I fear that one verse won’t convince them, nor will one hundred verses. If this is a case of idolatry — questioning what God is like (finding fault with God and his Word, cf. Romans 9:6, see also Romans 3:4) — then only one answer remains: Romans 9:20. However, if it is a sincere desire to better understand these things, then listing more scripture will help, and I would direct you to Part 2 of this series (another list of verses). Part 2 and 3 are both compelling, but Part 2 is especially relevant to those needing more evidicne.