Why did God choose to love Jacob and hate Esau?
Some say that because God is Sovereign He had the right to chose to love Jacob and hate Esau. But does God act upon His Sovereignty alone? And how would this demonstrate a reasonable and loving God?
(See also: Why should God get all the glory?)
Paul says that before the twins were born, or had done anything good or bad, God made His choice and picked Jacob. Now he says specifically that God did this by choice. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision, nor was it a choice made beyond the understanding of man.
for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,
God demonstrates His reasoning for His choice
Paul reflects the reason and method God uses in determining His choice of the two:
Even though the twins were still in the womb, God reveals His foreknowledge, knowing how they would live their lives to the end, and based on this, He made His choice. This choice based on foreknowledge does not make God unjust, as Paul reiterates in Rom 9:14; but reveals Him to be omniscient, which includes being all-knowing in time – past, present and future!
And God chooses to show mercy and compassion on whom He desires through foreknowledge (Rom 9:15). But this does not mean that God’s manifold will depends on what man wills or does. If God wants to bring about His purpose He will do so (Rom 9:16) despite man’s intentions and amidst his actions. Nevertheless, He will always do so by foreknowledge and within the bounds of righteousness and justice, borne by benevolence (for the greater good of all) in infinite love.
For more on how God uses foreknowledge to predestine, see how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
But how can scripture say that God hated Esau when it also says “God is love” (1Jn 4:8)?
God hates sin with infinite hatred. For sin opposes the very essence of God, which is all good. But even though scripture says “The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works” (Ps 145:9), it doesn’t mean that He does not hate the sinner for his sin.
God loves all of mankind as His cherished species (John 3:16), but He hates the sinner for his treachery against infinite good, which is God and His righteousness (Ps 5:5; 11:5). The fallacy that God loves the sinner but hates his sin is unreasonable and found nowhere in scripture. Sin is inanimate. Without the sinner there is no sin. And God hates the source and cause of all sin.
God is justified in loving Jacob and hating Esau
Jacob and Esau were the patriarchal heads of two nations (Gen. 25:23). And God considers the actions of both as individuals and as the nations that would develop from them.
Jacob, even though he faulted during his early part of life, always acknowledged God. He greatly valued the birth right, knowing that it possessed the cherished blessing of God. Whereas Esau was a “godless man” who despised his birth right, selling it for a single meal (Heb12:16). And even though God commanded Israel (Jacob) not to detest the Edomites (Esau) “because they are your brother” (Deut. 23:7); yet, the Edomites (descendants of Esau) attacked Israel, which was God’s chosen nation, many times (Obad. 1:9-10). These were a godless nation after their patriarchal father.
A difference of 1500 years
Let’s look again at the portion of scripture to see what Paul was saying:
it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” (Rom 9:12)
(Then 1500 years later)
Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” (Rom 9:13)
The two verses explain what Paul is trying to convey in the method God uses to make His choice, and it is not difficult to understand.
Verse 12 is taken from Gen. 25:23 when the twins were in the womb. But verse 13 is taken from Mal.1:2-3, which occurs 1500 years later. Paul, in verse 12, demonstrates the foreknowledge of God regarding how the two will live their lives, and consequently makes His choice. Then God proclaims His blessing and cursing (condemning) as a result of their lives as individuals, and as the resulting nations. God blesses Jacob and later the nation of Israel not only because of the promise to faithful Abraham, but also because Jacob remembered God throughout his life; and curses Esau and the Edomites that stemmed from him because of his godlessness, and the Edomites godless way of life and their actions against Israel (See Gen. 12: 2-3).
For one to say that God cursed Esau from birth and without cause accuses God of gross evil. We should remember that both children were immensely blessed in their lives with great wealth. For when Jacob tried to buy favor from Esau by sending caravans of livestock ahead of him, Esau refused the offer at first saying that he too had plenty (Gen. 33:9).
Now, if God had made His choice the other way round; i.e. hating Jacob and loving Esau, then predestinarians would have a case that God does indeed choose beyond our understanding. But God is righteous, thus reasonable, and He always reveals His reason to those who will seek Him for truth.
We need to note:
- God does all things within the bounds of universally understood reasoning.
- God does not have one standard of reasoning for Himself and another one for all of His moral agents; otherwise how would we know God’s will for man. We are made in His image but also in His likeness. His standards of thinking are higher than man’s because man has chosen to be depraved in mind.
- God is not a respecter of persons, so He would never arbitrarily choose one for salvation and another for depravity and final condemnation without any regard to their chosen way of life.
- God is omnipotent. He has the knowledge and foreknowledge of all things, and can and does work all His good will within and in spite of man’s freedom of choice.
- Scripture is also reasonable, being God’s inspired Word. Therefore, if a portion of scripture seems contrary to the rest of scripture, then we haven’t understood it. All scripture flows congruently with the rest of scripture in essence.
If God’s word says that God is not a respecter of persons (many times) then why do some say that God predestines us apart from one’s choice of actions?
Our God is trustworthy because He acts with common & universally understood reasoning borne by love. His nature is love and He performs all things after the counsel of His good will. He does not make man in His own image and likeness, only to abandon his soul to hell just because He is Sovereign, or because it glorifies Him. (See why God deserves His glory here).
People going to hell do not glorify God, as many suppose. Those that die irreconciled to God remain an eternal offense to Him. But those who free-willingly seek to be reconciled to Him through repentance and loving obedience, cover their sin through accepting the atonement wrought by Christ. These He welcomes into His benevolent kingdom.
God elects people’s destiny through His foreknowledge of their freely chosen conduct of life (1Pet 1:2). So make certain of your calling and learn how to conduct your life appropriately (2 Pet 1:10).
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