Romans 9:13, Esau have I hated. Is Elohim hateful when the Scriptures reveal that he is love (1 John 4:8, 16)? A misunderstanding of the word hate from a biblical perspective may lead one to the wrong conclusion. The concept of hate has added nuances in Eastern culture that don’t exist from a Western viewpoint. Understanding this will help us to understand the nature of Elohim’s “hatred” for Esau in this verse as well in other NT passages where the term hatred seems too strong for our Western sensitivities.
Defining the Greek behind the word hate in this verse will clear up any misconceptions about the character of Elohim. In fact, it’s unfortunate that the translators have chosen to use the word hate here, since it calls into question the Elohim’s character, which is characterized as love. The word hated is the Greek word miseo meaning “to hate, persecute in hatred, abhor or despise, to show hostility toward or, by extension, to love one thing less (than something else).” Miseo basically means “having a relative preference for one thing over another” (see Strong’s, Thayers, Vine’s and TDNT). To these definitions, in the context of the Testimony of Yeshua, the TDNT sees miseo as taking on the added meaning of “disowning, renunciation and rejection.”
According to Strong’s Expanded Concordance and Vine’s, miseo can refer to “malicious and unjustifiable feelings towards others, whether towards the innocent or by mutual animosity (e.g. Matt 10:22; 24:10; Luke 6:22, 27; 19:14). It can also refer to one hating concepts such as spiritual light (John 3:20); or of those who hate Yeshua (John 7:7; 15:18). Additionally, the world hates the saints (Matt 10:22; 24:10; Luke 6:22, 27; 1 John 3:13). Hate is a general characteristic of the spiritually unregenerate (Tit 3:3). Demonic spirits are full of hate (Rev 18:2). Those who hate their brothers aren’t walking in the spiritual light, but in darkness and are spiritually blind (1 John 2, 11).
But miseo has another nuanced meaning as well, which we can obtain from the context in which the word is used. Thayer’s explains that the Oriental mindset views the concept of hatred differently than that of the Occidental. What the Easterners being more passionate and excitable view as hatred, those of the West being of cooler temperament view as nothing more than “to love less, to postpone love or esteem or to slight.” For the Orientals, hatred can simply be — to the Western viewpoint — “a cursory interest in or disregard or indifference toward a thing.” Therefore miseo can be “a feelings of aversion from what is evil” (Rom 7:15; Heb 1:9; Jude 23; Rev 2:6, 15; Ibid.). Miseo can also express a relative preference of one thing over another, by way of expressing either aversion from, or disregard for, the claims of one person or thing relative to those of another. In this sense, miseo (according to Strong’s and Vine’s) means “to love less” or “prefer one thing over another” (e.g., Matt 6:24 and Luke 16:13 with regard to preferring one master over another; Luke 14:26 with regard to preferring Yeshua over one’s parents; John 12:25 with regard to loving one’s spiritual life over one’s physical life; Eph 5:29 with regard to a man not loving himself more than his wife; Rom 9:13 with regard to YHVH preferring Jacob over Esau). In this same vein, the TDNT says that “those who become disciples of Jesus must be committed exclusively to Him; they cannot be bound to anyone or anything else. The term hate demands the separation of the disciple and the warning not to love anyone or anything more is the test.”