"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « God's Discriminating Love (Q&A) | Main | Images of the Savior (41 -- Balaam's Prophecy) »

    Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated

    Romans 9:10 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call - 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

    One of the main reasons why some Christians reject the reformed (biblical) understanding of Divine election is because of traditions associated with the love of God. The strong reaction of some against the doctrine of God's Sovereignty in election is often times due to a desire to defend a concept that they have regarding the love of God. They feel that God's attribute of love is in question or under attack.

    Great care is needed to point people to the biblical texts which can clarify the issue. Not everyone seems to be open to examine their assumptions because these traditions are so very strong. The tradition that God loves all people in the exact same way is a strong one. I have to say, for many years, this was exactly the case in my own life. Many see no need to examine the texts at all because in their minds, the concept they have of the love of God = what the Bible teaches. As Dr. James White rightly says, "those most enslaved to their traditions are those who do not believe they have any."

    However we understand the phrase "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" in Romans 9, I think we would all have to agree that God's love for Jacob was certainly different or of a different kind than His love for Esau. I think we all have to say this or else the text is meaningless. But if this is indeed the case, then just this one verse would refute the idea that God loves everyone in the exact same way. There must be different dimensions of the love of God.

    Some seek to avoid this conclusion by saying that Jacob and Esau refer to nations rather than individuals. Certainly it is true that Jacob and Esau became mighty nations. However, the text itself refers to individual people (Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother) and not nations, and even nations are made up of individuals. For God to set His love on a nation and reject another nation certainly has ramfications for the individuals within those nations - so the conclusion many are wanting to avoid (that God elects some but not all - and that He loves some in a special way that He does not love all) remains inescapable.

    Lets remember the context here also. Paul is explaining why not all of the people of Israel have embraced their Messiah and come to salvation, and has just told us that God's word has not failed because not all Israel is truly Israel (Romans 9:6). All who were the true Israel did embrace Christ because they were the ones the promise was made to, and it is just this continued flow of thought from Romans 8 into Romans 9 that brings us to the "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" statement. Paul is explaining why God's word does not fail in any way at all because all the true Israel will be saved, and nothing can separate the true people of God from the love of God (something made clear in Romans 8). "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call" one brother was chosen and the other was not.

    God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. God's electing purpose to set His electing love on Jacob and not on Esau is an EXPLANATION as to why God's word has not failed in any way at all. God's promise is true and His word always accomplishes its intended purpose. All the elect will receive this mercy. This is what the entire Romans 9 passage is teaching us. God's choice of one brother and not the other was not based on their actions (or works) but based on the powerful effectual call of God (something also made clear in Romans 8, where all the called are justified).

    The fact is that God is Sovereign. As such, He reserves the right to have mercy on whom He will and to pass over others, leaving them in their hostile disposition against Him. God revealed Himself to Abraham in a way He did not for his neighbor down the street. His electing love on Israel was not bestowed on the Canaantites or the Philistines. After His resurrection, Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus but not to Pontius Pilate in his bedroom. The whole Bible speaks of a God who is Sovereign in the way He bestows mercy.

    And this is just it - many have come to me weeks after hearing me teach on this subject and although they admitted to me that at first, they were inwardly hostile and resistant to the teaching, but after taking a second look and examining it for themselves they have made comments such as, "Its amazing! Now I see this truth everywhere I look in Scripture."

    One person just recently told me, "I now see God's electing love in places I never imagined - I am reading my Bible and I am now seeing this in the parables of Jesus, and so many other places. I see that Jesus rejoiced that God's truth was hidden from some but revealed to others.. I had read these kind of passages for years and never seen it. Luke 10:21 says that Jesus "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."" Jesus actually rejoiced that the Father hid truth from some, and rejoiced in His Father's electing love. This has rocked my world, and what was once a loathsome thing, is sweetness and light, now I can see it."

    If Jesus rejoices in His Father hiding (which speaks of activity) truth from some that He reveals to others, I think it should at least cause us to ask the question "why?" Why would God hiding some things from some and revealing His truth to others be precious to our Lord? Why does it not excite us the way it excited Jesus? (that's something to think about for sure)

    As Romans 9 continues from verse 14, God sees it as perfectly just to dispense His mercy as He sees fit. Mercy, by its very definition, cannot be demanded. No one can demand mercy. The fact that no fallen angel will ever be redeemed causes no intellectual problem for the angels in heaven - God's just character remains in tact, and the angels of God continually sing "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." If God had elected no one to salvation, the songs of worship from the angels would never have missed a beat! God owes nothing to rebel sinners!

    What should surprise us about the text "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" is not that God hated Esau. Esau was a sinner and deserved the wrath of God just like the rest of us. What should astound us is not that He hated Esau, but that He set His love on Jacob. This should absolutely shock us! Why would God have anything to do with such a sinner? But sadly, we are not always astounded by this amazing mercy, I think because deep down, we tend to believe that everyone deserves mercy. The truth is, everyone of us is every bit as much a sinner as Jacob, but until we as Christians really "get this" we do not grasp the amazing grace God has bestowed on us.

    All people receive some mercy - God was very merciful to Esau, but ultimately Esau did not receive the exact same mercy as his brother Jacob. God sends His rain to all - on the just and the unjust, but He bestows His effectual redeeming love only on some. Not everyone is saved. Some do perish. The fact that even one sinner will be numbered amongst the heavenly host because he was redeemed by the sheer mercy of God should amaze us. The fact is that this number will not be just a few, but will be so vast that no man can count it.

    Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

    Hallelujah! What a Savior!

    Posted by John Samson on January 22, 2009 11:40 AM


    Great post! Very comforting to know that God has chosen me and that I don't have to have faith in faith...but rather faith in God and His will for me.

    Thanks very much!

    - Steve Martin San Clemente, CA


    This is a very good article indeed, sounding powerful. You must be pumped up launching the Work for the Glory of God in Phoenix?

    I leaped when I read these words of yours:::>

    "....Some seek to avoid this conclusion by saying that Jacob and Esau refer to nations rather than individuals. Certainly it is true that Jacob and Esau became mighty nations."

    I was always struck with how great a nation Esau's life grew into. It can be clearly seen in those verses in Genesis 32 when Jacob comes back to the homeland.

    Also this word about "making nations":

    Psa 86:7 In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.
    Psa 86:8 Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works.
    Psa 86:9 All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.
    Psa 86:10 For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.

    "....All nations whom thou hast made....".

    As I read your article and think about how powerful Esau's nation became and those Scriptures there in Psalms 86 about God making nations, I also think about this from Genesis and Deuteronomy and the story of Lot; obviously Lot was one of God's Elect and God sent the Angels out to save him just as Hebrews 1:14 teaches:

    Heb 1:14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

    God does the electing. The Elect Heirs are those Whom God elects not man. You make it so clear in your article above.

    I would offer these verses to underscore what you are teaching and that God makes nations and God elects those who shall be heirs of salvation. We read in the Scriptures these words:

    Gen 18:17 And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;
    Gen 18:18 Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
    Gen 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
    Gen 18:20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
    Gen 18:21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.


    Gen 19:12 And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides a son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters? and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place:
    Gen 19:13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

    And these verses:

    Deu 32:30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?
    Deu 32:31 For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.
    Deu 32:32 For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:
    Deu 32:33 Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
    Deu 32:34 Is not this laid up in store with me and sealed up among my treasures?

    I add these verses from Psalms as well to put a capstone on it to show the opposites of the poisonous vine of Sodom and the True Vine of Christ:

    Psa 80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
    Psa 80:9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
    Psa 80:10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.
    Psa 80:11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.

    Again, thank you for your timely word!

    I was wondering if you think there is any significance to the fact that the text doesn't use the word "hate" (at least in english) until Malachi. Is it possible that the word hate is used after Esau and Edom proved to be godless because it is based on their actions? Certainly, God sovereignly chose Jacob over Esau at birth for his special blessing. I am just wondering why "hate" wasn't used in Genesis.
    Thank you for considering.

    Hey John, great post. I had a question about some of your post:

    "If God had elected no one to salvation, the songs of worship from the angels would never have missed a beat! God owes nothing to rebel sinners!

    What should surprise us about the text "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" is not that God hated Esau. Esau was a sinner and deserved the wrath of God just like the rest of us."

    I don't know where you stand on the doctrine of reprobation (passive, active, whatever), but in my mind it seems we as reformed make the same mistake Arminians do when talking about God hating Esau/sinners. We do so by saying, the hate is conditional upon future sin, kinda like they do when talking about election (i.e. God looked down in time and saw people receiving the gospel and elected them on that). But the text says that before they had been born, or done any evil to merit God hated some Esau unconditionally, right?

    I'm still a bit stuck about where exactly I stand on reprobation...If anyone has any good resources on it I would love a point in the right direction. Thanks guys,


    Thanks for posting this article, it is an extreme encouragement.

    Concerning Justin's questions on reprobation...
    I am definitely no scholar, nor has it been long since The LORD opened my heart to these truths, but something that helps me understand it is that we are not sinners because we sin, but sin because we're sinners. God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they had committed good or evil; yet it doesn't change the fact that both men were born God-hating sinners. We are children of wrath by our very nature. The evil Jacob didn't commit was only by the grace of God. God made the difference between Jacob and Esau.

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for your kind words about the article. I am so glad it was an encouragement to you.

    I do not know how far along you are in your studies along this line but I believe that a good starting point is this article here by Dr. R. C. Sproul:

    How does all this differ from the Islamic doctrine that God hates us unless we become Muslim? Is it only in the fact that God's love appears random to Reformed Christians, while Islam says it is earned by following the mandates of the Koran? Do we all (Reformed Christians and Muslims) believe that God's fundamental approach to humanity is hatred?

    Glyndon, somehow I think you have missed the point entirely. IN Ephsians 1:4,5 the Holy Spirit through Paul declares, "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved."

    In other words, before time God already loved those He predestined for adoption in Jesus Christ. Even prior to creating us God set his great affection upon us, for his own glory. This is what the Scripture teaches not some system or idea outside the Text.

    You appear to be saying that the Reformed tradition subordinates the love of God to the will of God ... But this is not what distinguishes our tradition from other traditions. The distinction is between intensive and extensive love, between an intensive love that saves its loved ones, and an extensive love that loves everyone in general and saves no one in particular.

    The question is, does God will the salvation of everyone with a weak-willed, ineffectual love, or does God love his loved ones with a resolute will that gets the job done? The God of the Bible is the Good Shepherd, who names and numbers his sheep, who saves the lost sheep and fends off the wolf. The God of the synergist is the hireling, who knows not the flock by name and number, who lets the sheep go astray and be eaten by the wolf.

    If two parents watch their children run out in the street and one stands by the curb calling out to the child about to be hit by a car - but the other parent risks his life to run out in the street to scoop up his child, which parent is more loving, I ask?

    Next, it is impossible for God to be random. He knows all things and does all for his own Sovereign good purpose. There is no better reason for something to take place than if God wills it. If you think there is a higher reason than that then there would be something greater than God. God is not arbitrary. Read Ezekiel 36. He saves the Israelites in their rebellion for His own names sake, not because they believed or were obedient. Those are the result of God's work in us, not the cause.

    John H.


    If I might I would follow on to what JH just posted to Glyndon?

    Glyndon, I would also commend your reading "Psalm 89". It is lengthy. In it you get a sense of what John H. is addressing.

    I quote just a portion, but highly recommend the entire Psalm as it gives you a sense of the "steadfast Love" of His Majesty and the Purity of God's justice when dealing with His Elect:

    "....Psa 89:30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules,
    Psa 89:31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
    Psa 89:32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes,
    Psa 89:33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.
    Psa 89:34 I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips...."

    Malachi 1

    1 A prophecy: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.[a]
    Israel Doubts God’s Love
    2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.

    “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

    “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

    4 Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

    But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

    *** Esau is also known as Edom

    I read your article with interest but it just doesn't add up when these words come to mind..."FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD..."
    These words ALWAYS astound me!!

    In Him,

    Hi Mary,

    I am John H, not the author of this article, but I am not sure I see your point. We all believe the words of John 3:16 ... but you need to read them in context. Just after Jesus uttered these words he also said, "but men love darkness and hate the light and will not come into the light." Fact is, only those who God grants faith will come. Left to themselves, apart from the Holy Spirit, not man would ever come. (1 Cor 2:14, John 6:63-65).

    God holds his hands out to all men calling them to come to him... but no one does ... yet he still has mercy on many. If he saved no one, no injustice would have been done. God wold have been perfectly just if he left us all to die in our sins. But he does not do that. He saves some. But Jesus does say, "no one can come to me unless God grants it." Man needs a new heart to believe (Ezek 26:36). Without the new heart men will continue in their sins.

    Not to mention that your post hardly answers all the other scripture texts that were raised in the article. A right understanding of the Bible takes into consideration all Scripture not just one verse out of context.

    John H,
    You dodge Mary's question by turning it to the unlove for God from man than the love of God for men.I agree that their is a speacial kind of love for Gods children(believers in Christ) but none the last love for all men.This reform theology is not a reformation its an era in Theology to justify not evangelizing,Most people that hold this thought that God hates anyone need to go back to the origanal word in this verse ,which is greek to get a clear understanding of our english word that is used.I find that most who hold to the thought that God hates some but not others are not growing in their local church(the harvest is ripe) and have mainly become tasteless and becoming legalistic in action.

    I have read the article. I do not agree with it. It shows me a god who has lacks love. I find this theology lacking in the expression of true love of the father to the lost and the saved alike. Based upon what you wrote I don't know how I could want to serve a god who creates some to be created to bring i
    Him glory by a destiny of torment and spending life apart from the love of god for eternity, while others live in peace and experience the love of god daily. I understand some will reject god.
    This is not a theology I could embrace. I love god and believe he wants all to come to him, thus the need for the work the cross has accomplished. With the theology you propose to me it to me makes the sacrifice a little less needed. I love god and serve him and long to know the truth of his word but every time I read this type of info I feel grieved. God bless you.

    Hi Sandy,

    Perhaps this video might help explain:

    What if I'm Esau? I read this as what if God hates me. What's the point? If God is just going to show his grace on whoever he wants, then why should I try to do anything with God. Esau was a pretty good guy. He probably made his sacrifices and worshipped The Lord. In most ways he was a better person than Jacob. I understand we're all sinners. God can give grace to whoever he wants,but the question I have is what if I'm rejected.

    And there are a lot of people who will read this as God must hate them or God has rejected them.

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