Why did God prefer Jacob over Esau?


By BibleAsk Team

The biblical narrative of Jacob and Esau, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, provides rich material for theological reflection on divine preference and human response. The distinction between these brothers is stark: while Jacob emerges as the recipient of divine blessing, Esau seems to forfeit his birthright through his disregard for spiritual matters and worldly pursuits. In this exploration, we delve into the reasons underlying God’s preference for Jacob over Esau, examining their respective character traits, choices, and attitudes toward God, as depicted in the biblical text.

Romans 9:13

This question often comes up after reading Romans 9:13: “As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Romans 9:13). This strong expression does not imply real hatred, as the term is used today, but that God had preferred Jacob above Esau in His choice of the progenitor of the chosen race (verses 10, 11).

It was common in Biblical times to use the term “hate” to express preference. For example Jacob preference for Rachel is compared with his “hatred” for Leah (Genesis 29:30, 31). And in the New Testament, Jesus speaks about “hating” one’s father and mother (Luke 14:26) and “hating” one’s life (John 12:25). This simply means that a person prefers someone or something over another.

Esau’s Disregard for Spiritual Blessings:

A critical aspect of God’s preference for Jacob stems from Esau’s attitude toward spiritual blessings and divine inheritance. Esau’s actions and choices reveal a lack of appreciation for the sacredness of his birthright and a prioritization of immediate gratification over long-term spiritual values as seen in the following passage:

Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called [a]Edom. But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Then Jacob said, [b]“Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:29-34).

Jacob’s Desire for God’s Blessings:

In contrast to Esau, Jacob demonstrates a hunger and thirst for God’s blessings and a willingness to pursue divine favor through faith and obedience. Despite his flaws and shortcomings, Jacob’s heart is inclined toward God, as evidenced by his desire to inherit the promises given to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 27:27-29).

His encounter with God at Bethel marks a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey, where he vows to serve God faithfully and acknowledges the presence of the Lord in his life. At that time, “Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You” (Genesis 28:20-22).

Esau’s Lack of Self-Control:

Esau’s disregard for spiritual blessings is further compounded by his lack of self-control and discipline over his physical passions. His impulsive decision to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew reflects a failure to prioritize spiritual values over immediate gratification (Genesis 25:29-34). Moreover, his marriage to Hittite women, contrary to his faith and parents’ wishes, underscores his inability to exercise discernment and obedience in matters of faith and family (Genesis 26:34).

Jacob’s Growth and Transformation:

While Jacob certainly has his faults and weaknesses, his character flaws are more indicative of immaturity and youthful indiscretion than of fundamental moral depravity. His deceitful actions, such as deceiving his father Isaac to obtain the blessing, are motivated by a desire for divine favor rather than malicious intent (Genesis 27:18-29).

Moreover, Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel reveals a deeper level of spiritual maturity and dependence on God, as he wrestles with the divine presence and receives a new name and identity. “And He (the Lord) said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but [a]Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there” (Genesis 32:26-29).

The Importance of Spiritual Discernment:

The story of Jacob and Esau serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of prioritizing worldly pursuits over spiritual values and the importance of exercising spiritual discernment in making life choices. Esau’s example highlights the dangers of yielding to the desires of the flesh and neglecting the eternal significance of God’s promises (Hebrews 12:16-17). In contrast, Jacob’s journey underscores the transformative power of encountering God and the possibility of redemption for those who seek Him with sincerity and humility (Genesis 32:26-29).


In conclusion, the biblical narrative of Jacob and Esau offers profound insights into the dynamics of divine preference and human response within the context of God’s redemptive purposes. While Esau’s disregard for spiritual blessings and lack of self-control lead to his forfeiture of divine favor, Jacob’s desire for God’s blessings and willingness to pursue divine favor through faith and obedience distinguish him as the chosen recipient of divine blessing. Through their story, we are reminded of the importance of prioritizing spiritual values over worldly pursuits and cultivating a heart that is inclined toward God’s purposes and promises.


  1. Genesis 25:29-34 (NKJV)
  2. Genesis 26:34 (NKJV)
  3. Genesis 27:27-29 (NKJV)
  4. Genesis 28:20-22 (NKJV)
  5. Genesis 32:26-29 (NKJV)
  6. Genesis 27:18-29 (NKJV)
  7. Romans 9:10-13 (NKJV)
  8. Hebrews 12:16-17 (NKJV)

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories God

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