Jacob I Loved, but Esau Have I Hated
by Warren Gage
How do we as a community of faith relate to those without faith, to the declared enemies of God? There are no longer any Edomites (descendants of Esau) around today, but clearly there are those who are their spiritual heirs, those communities who are the declared enemies of the people of God. How should we relate to the abortionist, for example, who defends a culture of death, or the homosexual, who promotes a culture at enmity with life?
The Bible frankly teaches that there is an election unto eternal life as well as a community of those who will suffer the eternal wrath of the justice of God (Rom. 9:21–23). The apostle Paul states clearly that God has a purpose according to His sovereign election, whereby it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13). Now clearly Esau hated Jacob, and the murderous enmity of the Edomites against Israel was seen in stark relief when Jerusalem fell to Babylon and the sons of Esau participated in the slaughter of the infant children of Israel (Ps. 137:7–9). Indeed, God’s terrible judgment on Edom was announced through the prophet Obadiah and confirmed by the prophet Malachi (1:2–5). But set against all of these pronouncements of doom for Esau and his descendants, there are a number of wholly unexpected and surprising texts of Scripture regarding these implacable enemies of the covenant people of God.
First, the Lord Himself gave an inheritance to the Edomites, enabling them to dispossess the Horites who dwelt in Seir before them, just as He gave an inheritance by dispossession to Israel (Deut. 2:12). And in spite of God’s statement that He hated Esau, God’s commandment, given through His prophet Moses, forbad Israel from despising an Edomite, for “he is your brother” (Deut. 23:7). In other words, in spite of the spiritual differences between the two communities, Israel was to dwell in peace with Edom according to the respect due a common kinship. And most surprising of all, in spite of the terrible judgments pronounced against Edom, the prophet Amos foresaw the day of Christ when a remnant of Edom would be restored to the tabernacle of David (Amos 9:12; see Acts 15:15–18). In the New Testament we are told that a remnant of the Idumeans (Edomites) sought the mercy of Christ (Mark 3:8) and that Jesus healed Joanna, the wife of Chuza, steward to the Idumean king Herod (Luke 8:3).
Now if a remnant of every tongue and tribe is to celebrate the mercy of Israel’s Messiah in heaven, then surely there is an election unto life among the descendants of Esau, even as there were many in Israel who stumbled at the messianic claim of Christ and so occasioned a remnant even among Israel. Consequently, we should live in respect and dignity with all men, offering the Gospel of mercy to all who will listen, knowing that the remnant according to election, the true Israel, whether Jew or Gentile, will hear and believe. We should remember that we have not been appointed to grace because of our own merits, either by blood or by works. Rather, we have been made partakers of the merits of the true Jacob, even we who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, ourselves justly called “Esau.”
For it is clear that the affirmation of God’s love for Jacob is not national to Israel, but is to the Lord Jesus, the true Jacob. And likewise God’s hatred against Esau is not merely particular to the Edomites, but is addressed to all those outside of Christ, all those who reject the Gospel of peace. Consequently, Jesus teaches us to love all men and so remember that God sends the rain upon the just and the unjust. We are reminded that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. For it was the amazing love of God that rescued us; it was an amazing grace that redeemed us from our own enmity against God. We were, in truth, the spiritual heirs of Esau and deserving of all the judgments against Edom. But we were found by a mercy we did not seek and have been shown a love we did not deserve. For we have a Brother who is better than Jacob, even though our sins made us less deserving than Esau.
We only need to consider Jacob’s guile toward his brother in order to understand better the grace of Jesus, the True Jacob, toward His brethren. In the hour of his brother’s desperate need, Jacob prepared a meal that he might dispossess his brother of his birthright (Gen. 25:29–34). But in our hour of desperate need, Jesus prepared a meal in order to share His birthright with us. Jacob took on the identity of Esau, dressing himself in his brother’s robes (27:15) and covering himself in the skin of a sacrifice (27:16), all in order to steal away his brother’s blessing. But Jesus took on the identity of His brethren, dressing Himself in our rags of unrighteousness in order that we might be dressed in His righteousness (Gal. 3:13–14), and covering Himself as our sacrifice, all in order that He might take away our curse, that we might share in His Father’s blessing (Eph. 4:22–24). Surely Jesus is greater than Jacob, and we have been made to know a Father’s love that is greater than that of Isaac.