Why did God bless Jacob, the deceiver?

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In the story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob, the younger twin, uses fraud and cunning to take Esau’s birthright from him. The significance of the birthright in Old Testament times cannot be overemphasised. The end result was Jacob becoming the ancestor of the Israelite people, blessed by God and Esau becoming the ancestor of some of their mortal enemies, rejected by God. On the face of it, this preferential treatment might seem unjust, if it derives from Jacob’s use of subterfuge.

But perhaps therein lies the mistake, assuming that the blessing flows from the deceitful act, rather than from a prior or independent choice of God’s. If we look back in the story, even before the birth, God had said to the boys’ mother, Rebekah:

23 …Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.

Genesis 25:23 (New International Version – UK)

And why did God choose Jacob over Esau? We may never know the full reasons, but here are a few thoughts:

  • God’s decision to bless Jacob is made prior to the children’s birth and prior to their ability to commit a sinful act. In this way, God provides an early demonstration of the principle that his favour is not based on our works.
  • God foreknew the events that would unfold. Remember that prior to Jacob deceiving his father, it is said of Esau that he “despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34). He had sold it to his brother for some stew (probably not realising that Jacob was in earnest about taking the birthright).
  • It is possibly implied that Esau would not have honoured his bargain pertaining to the transfer of the birthright, hence Jacob’s need to take it by deception.

Whatever the real reason behind God’s choice, there are a few scriptures that cast light on his mode of operation. Firstly, the divine right of God to dispense special grace as He sees fit:

19 … I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Exodus 33:19 (New International Version – UK)

Secondly, the attitude we are expected to maintain with respect to God’s grace:

21 … The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.

Job 1:21 (New International Version – UK)

Amd thirdly, lest we be in any doubt, our position in respect of deserving God’s favour:

10 … There is no-one righteous, not even one;

Romans 3:10 (New International Version – UK)

In short, Jacob could not have earned God’s blessing. Furthermore, we can take some comfort from the fact that God blessed him despite his behaviour. And finally, we can see that in His glorious timescale, God’s purposes will be fulfilled, even though we and our enemy try our hardest at times to defeat those purposes.


Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Biblica.

Isaac – Brancoveanu Monastery image copyright © Fergal of Claddagh, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

22 Replies to “Why did God bless Jacob, the deceiver?”

  1. But Why? Was it because he knew that Esau would despise his birthright, or did he created him to despise it therefore, predetermining his downfall. I am really struggling with this notion of divine Reprobation. That our Loving, merciful God would create those who would suffer in hell for eternity. That seems neither merciful nor loving and in contrast to his character and the basic definition of those notions. I have done a good amount of reading and research online, and the only defense that seams to come up regarding this notion is that “You mind simply cannot understand the complexities an plan of God.” However, that just doesn’t seem good enough. Why would God provide the Cannon of scripture to us if we could not understand it.?

    1. Dearest liveforone1012,
      I think it remarkable that this article was written almost 5 years ago and you became the first to comment upon it and in less than 24 hours someone is going to comment to you. May God relieve you of any anxieties such thoughts can cause. I’ve been relieved in issues such as these. I know not the answer to these deep mysteries but am simply revisiting answers I read in a Charles Spurgeon sermon. Here’s the link to that. http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/sermons/0239.html Because we know that God doesn’t act in opposition to His own character, we know the fault lies not in Him but in us. Let us run the race well. God bless.

      1. It’s not really 10:34 in my time zone. If so, the 24 hour thing isn’t true. However, it’s still untrue because it’s 5:34 in my time zone.

    2. I also struggled with this, but what ive seem to understand is, God didn’t create Esau to be in a life of wrongdoing leading to damnation, But he already knew that Esau would sell his birthright. He didn’t make him do it, we have free will. Also, both Jacob AND Esau would be punished. Esau sold his birthright for a measly bowl of soup, so his blessing was taken away. However, Jacob and Rebekah still deceived Esau and Isaac. If you continue reading in genesis, Jacob goes to meet Laban (Rebekah’s brother) and is told that if he works for him for 7 years, he can have his youngest daughter Rachel. But Laban deceives Jacob over a period of 20 years. I believe Jacob was handed more hardship than he ever would have encountered if he was not deceitful. It’s also noteworthy that he never sees his mother Rebekah again. I hope this helps some man. I’m still learning a lot myself, and it is difficult. Good luck!

    3. I also wanted to add, God did know that Esau would sell his birthright, but he didn’t predetermine that he would do that, he just already knew he would. Think about it this way, if God did predetermine our fates, actions, etc. it would be like we’re puppets by his hands and nothing we did mattered because it had already been mapped out. God doesn’t map out our futures, he just knows what decisions we make and where we’ll end up. Basically I’m trying to say God didn’t make Esau do it, he just knew he would, because it says in the bible we do have free will

    4. My other concern is the possible implication of this biblical story. It seems to support the idea that “The end justifies the means.” Just imagine the countless daily application of this. It becomes acceptable therefore for anyone to acquire whatever is needed to further the ministry of God, even if the method was through deceit. Then, some attributes that are often associated or even defining evil, such as deceit, can be considered ‘not evil,’ which any Christian can be justified to use?

    5. Do not forget Esau also received a blessing. Gen 28:39-40. Much like Cain Esau was prone to bitterness from the beginning, not trust. I think that has a lot to do with it. But the yoke can be broken. . .

  2. Some helpful thoughts – thanks all. liveforone1012, your opening comment strikes at the heart of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism dichotomy. We know God is sovereign and yet we also experience free will (in the sense that we can make genuine choices).

    I’ve long since given up trying to reconcile those two (apparently opposing) positions. As Steven says, we know that the character of God is good – and therefore we can trust him. If he seems to me to be acting in a way that is not good, I can be certain that the fault lies in my perception, not in his act.

    Maybe I disappointed by not fully answering the question why did God bless Jacob. Ultimately I am satisfied that God, with perfect knowledge of past, present and future, and insight into the hearts of all concerned, knew this was the right/good/just thing to do. I don’t always understand that, but I don’t know what he knows.

    Remember what Joseph said to his brothers: you meant it for harm, but God intended it for good. I suppose in part, the “good” here is God raising up a priestly nation to glorify him, through which, ultimately, all nations would be blessed.

    That sounds like a fairly good thing to me.

    1. Hmmmmmm……

      Just a thought though. How are we to know that Esau would not have changed his ways? That as it seems, the whole line of Abraham so far to this point has used deception (Abraham’s distrust and impatience in God, Isaac’ distrust in God by also using deception) yet God kept his promise to the Israelites. So why was deception allowed in the first place when the rightful heir to the blessing and birthright was Esau? Especially when Jacob, like Abraham and Isaac before him, has to use deception to receive the “blessing”. Abraham’s mistrust and at times unfaithfulness seem to be a far greater sin then the simple unwanting of birthright that Esau so called displayed(which seems very unrealistic, what kid or person doesn’t want their birthright a promise of bigger claim?). I don’t know what the answer maybe to questions or these human discrepancies of the bible is. Instances like this really makes me distrust the fully human (we all make mistakes, I don’t hate anyone) authors of the bible.

      1. I like your reply. It seems today we have a better concept of fairness than they did back then. Women were trivialized and blamed in bible days. Kings David and Solomon had women on the side called concubines. Hard to compare today with those days.

        1. What I find interesting is in Genesis people were viewed as being married by simply showing their partner commitment and loyalty, which was not the case, because many people had multiple partners and wives. However, this is why God gave the people of the time the Commandments, because people and things were becoming a free for all. Glory to God.

    2. Very good submission! There is the hidden mystery just been revealed. The whole world is blessed despite all. I think whatever we do can’t change the purpose & will of God for man. Nothing can shake it.

  3. Liveforone I’m also trying to figure out why GOD choose Jacob instead of Esau, and this is my conclusion. We naturally think Esau should have been chosen because that was tradition, birthright to the eldest son in wedlock, however im realizing this is human tradition. GOD never said this is how it is to be.(at least yet–?) He makes his plans clear, He wanted Abraham and Sarah’s son to be the lineage even though Abraham did marry Hagar and have a first born son through her. First born doesn’t mean anything evidently to God, its his plan and his choice. He told Rebecca ” the older will serve the younger” Jacob didn’t need Isaac’s blessing, he already had it from the womb when Rebecca inquired of him, even before that actually. It seems Rebekah had a moment of faith struggle and led Jacob into deceiving his father for something he already had. God knew that this was their tradition however and made a righteous fix for it, there was a famine and Esau was on the brink of death, God had given Jacob blessing, favor, life. Jacob had sustenance from God. When faced with death what good is the family birthright if your dead? Esau even says that himself. God gave the life and blessing to Jacob and rightfully “bought” the title (even though he already had it but did this so there wouldn’t be strife to traditional thinking) It was Esau that was dishonest first, it was Esau that sinned when he didn’t tell Isaac on his deathbed that the blessing belonged to Jacob. If Jacob hadn’t gone along with the mothers plan, God would have worked it out, quicker and easier. But Jacob did sin, and like Andrew in the previous comments points out very keenly(Thank you!), Jacob got ten fold back on his sin, but God still worked it out, and Jacob saw it through.

    In short, he didn’t get blessed through sinning and deceiving his father, he was already blessed, what he got was trouble, that he made it through victoriously because he held onto God.

    1. Quite. We may never fully understand God’s sovereign choices. One thing’s for sure: he’s not bound by any human ideas or traditions. He is God.

  4. Maybe some explanation or understanding is in part of the symbolism of: The elder, first born is Adam, under the curse.
    The younger, second born is Jesus, the blessed.

    Also the prophecy of scripture: two nations maybe referring to only two types of people on the earth: believers in God and rejecters of God. God knows our hearts, which we are and will be.

  5. From my own perception, since God is a Holy God, in whom righteousness comes forth: if He had blessed Esau, maybe Esau will keep all his commandment and not crucifying our Lord Jesus Christ thereby not allowing God’s plan of salvation to mankind through our Lord Jesus Christ come to fulfillment. But He chose to bless Jacob knowing fully well that they would be very difficult people to obey Him and execute his plan and promise to father Abraham to be father of many nations through our Lord Jesus Christ whom the Jews persecuted. Even if the descendant of Esau, Amalek, Philistines, etc believe and accept the Savior of the world or mankind, the LORD God will welcome them and not consider them as the enemies of His people Israel. The LORD God declared from the very beginning that “I will put an enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”(Gen.3:15). God is perfect and His plans are perfect,only Him gives understanding to all things, being secret or open. In conclusion, the LORD God was able to achieve His plan of salvation, by allowing Jacob to be blessed instead of Esau.

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