As I continue to prepare and study to preach on Romans 9, I find myself wrestling with the straight forward statement of Paul in Romans 9.13, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” That statement alone is enough to shock your spiritual sensitivity. I like what C.H. Spurgeon said about it,
So, when we are talking about election, the best thing is to say, “Put aside the doctrine for a moment, let us see what is the fact?” We walk abroad; we open our eyes; we see, there is the fact. What, then, is the use of our discussing any longer? We had better believe it, since it is an undeniable truth. You may alter an opinion, but you cannot alter a fact. You may change a mere doctrine, but you cannot possibly change a thing which actually exists. There it is—God does certainly deal with some men better than he does with others. I will not offer an apology for God; he can explain his own dealings; he needs no defense from me, “God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain;” but there stands the fact. Before you begin to argue upon the doctrine, just recollect, that whatever you may think about it, you cannot alter it; and however much you may object to it, it is actually true that God did love Jacob, and did not love Esau.
Whether we like it or not, God did love Jacob and not Esau. God’s abundant grace and favor was upon Jacob from the beginning of his life to the very end. God gave Jacob an amazing vision of a ladder reaching up into heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it (see Genesis 28). God showed Jacob favor in his dealings with the treacherous Laban as he sought to marry his daughter, Rachel (see Genesis 31). God wrestled with Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok river and changed his name to Israel (see Genesis 32). And at the end of his life, God used Jacob’s son Joseph to rescue the entire clan from the famine of Palestine. Not only was Joseph brought to live in the most fertile area of Egypt, but he actually blessed the Pharaoh when he arrived in Egypt (see Genesis 47.10). It is true, God loved Jacob.
And it is equally true that God did not love Esau. Or to be more biblically correct, that God hated Esau. Esau gave away his birthright for a bowl of stew, and when he tried to force his father to bless him anyway, he received the following prophecy:
Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him (Genesis 27.39-41 ESV)
The pages of Scripture tell little more about Esau. His descendants were the Edomintes, who disappeared from the story of history hundreds of years before Christ was born. Paul quotes from Malachi, but the fuller quotes paints an even darker picture,
Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1.3-5 ESV)
Whether we like it or not, God did display great love to Jacob and God was angry with Esau.
But the next question is “Why?” Why did God love Jacob and hate Esau? To answer that question, we have to break it down into two parts. God loved Jacob for no other reason than by grace. Jacob was definitely not more deserving of God’s love than Esau; they were both rotten. Jacob was a cheater before he was even born (his name means “he takes by the heel” or “cheater”). He took advantage of his brother’s hunger and cheated him out of his birthright. While we wish that God chose Jacob because he knew that Jacob would be a better person, it didn’t play out that way. The only reason God loved Jacob was because of His grace.
So why did God hate Esau? The simple answer is because Esau deserved it. To answer any other way is to deny the gospel. Paul has already said in the book of Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1.18). Esau was dead in his sins and was by nature an object of God’s wrath (see Ephesians 2.1-3). He was not more of a sinner than Jacob, but he was worthy of the wrath of God because he was a sinner.
So we have seen very plainly that God loved Jacob because He chose to pour out His mercy and grace upon him, but God hated Esau because he was a rightful object of His divine wrath. Do those two answers seem in conflict with each other? Consider the words of C.H. Spurgeon,
Now, have I not answered these two questions honestly? I have endeavored to give a scriptural reason for the dealings of God with man. He saves man by grace, and if men perish they perish justly by their own fault. “How,” says someone, “do you reconcile these two doctrines?” My dear brethren, I never reconcile two friends, never. These two doctrines are friends with one another; for they are both in God’s Word, and I shall not attempt to reconcile them.
But why has God dealt with Jacob and Esau differently? The answer is plainly stated by the apostle Paul: in order that God’s purpose in election might stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls. More on that tomorrow.