Question: What does hate mean in the Bible?

What does hate mean in Scripture?

Here are a few thoughts.

Most people think of hate as the opposite of love and it is.1   Hate is often expressed by opposition, or the actions of detesting and despising toward another with whom you have no desire for contact.  Love draws in, while hate separates.  Amnon hated Tamar with a greater hate than the phony love he expressed to her and drove her away from him (2 Sam. 13:15).

We read of how God hated Israel’s festivals, because they were mixed with sin and human glory.  God hates any action of worship from sinful, unholy people (Is. 1:13-15; cf. Zech 8:17).  God hates the wicked (Ps. 11:5).  God hated idols (Deut. 16:22) and those who love God will also hate idolators (Ps. 31:6).   That hatred is acceptable to God.   

However it is not always a violent separation or opposition.  It can be a passive action as when David hated his friends who stood with him against his rebellious son Absalom.  Joab rebuked David, “…you love your enemies and hate your friends”  (2 Sam 19:6) when he showed mournful love toward his rebellious son Absalom.  That kind of hate is a passive indifference of not caring about those who loyally stood with him.

We can hate someone by not loving the one to whom love is expected (Gen. 29:31-33).  Jacob was not showing love to Leah (unloved, saneh, i.e. hated)  and God blessed her in spite of his indifference.

If a man had two wives, and one was unloved (saneh, hated), the man could not give firstborn status on the son of the loved wife.  He must give firstborn status to the firstborn, even if the son was from the unloved (hated) wife (Deut. 21:15-16).

            The word, therefore, expressed a choice of one over the other.  How that choice is manifested can be expressed in different ways. 


1Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. by Harris, Arch and Waltke, Vol. 2, p. 880

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