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The Problem with Favouritism: Of Jacob and Esau

A sermon I heard recently left a strong impression on me, and I wanted to blog about it, so that I can remember the lesson learnt from it. 

I’ve read the story of Jacob and Esau before on many occasions, but never quite saw the significance of it, as highlighted by my pastor.

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Genesis 25:19-34

 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are within 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.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

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What are the potential problems of favouritism? 

1. Favouritism causes conflict and disunity within the family. Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Gen 25:28 ) – Before he died, Isaac wanted to bless Esau, his firstborn, but because his wife, Rebekah, loved her younger son more, she helped Jacob to trick Isaac into blessing him instead. Jacob had to flee from his home after that, and Rebekah never saw him again.

2. Favouritism causes resentment. Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Gen 27:41) – The conflict that arises from the favouritism, will lead to resentment. The child who is not favoured will resent the child who is, and there will be disunity.

3.Favouritism may cause egotistical ideals, especially in the favoured child.  – The child may think that the world adores him, just like how his father/mother/family does, and therefore may think he can get away with anything and everything. – He expects the same favour to be shown to him everywhere he goes, be it his school or workplace.

4. Favouritism may cause low self-esteem in the siblings.  – They might start to think and believe that they are never good enough. – In a family with only one son and many daughters, the son may be the favoured child, causing the daughters to feel like lesser beings, even after they are grown up.

5. Favouritism may cause an unhealthy state of mind, in terms of goals and dreams.  – According to psychologists, favouritism may cause unrealistic goals and dreams, because he has never had to deal with the hard knocks in life. – Some believe that values are taught and imparted to a child, up to the age of six, and these will remain with him for life. There is no such thing as ‘he is too young’, as whatever treatment you give to him in those six years, will last.


As parents, how do we ensure that this does not happen, if we have more than one child? 

1. Spend time with each child individually.  – You may find that when you are with all your children, you might focus on one child more than the others, no matter how slight the difference might be. You might not notice it, but your children will.

2. Affirm their talents and interests. – Don’t compare one child with another, as your child will pick up on it.

3. Model the way to celebrate when others succeed. – Show the child how to celebrate when his sibling does well.

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Personally, I believe that favouritism is human nature. I admit that I had favourites when I was teaching, and I’m sure most, if not all, of my colleagues did too. Some children ARE more loveable than others, no matter how hard we try to deny it. The challenge, therefore, is to not let the children know or feel it. Better yet, make each child feel like he is the special and favoured one.

Right now, we only have one child, so all our attention and love is focused on him. We’ve been praying for more children of our own, and even though I’m not keen on going down the IVF route again, (the drugs and stress were not fun at all), it’s beginning to look more and more like our only option left. I’ve somehow always felt judged by some fellow Christians, for not “leaving it to God”, but during the sharing by another church member after the sermon, something he said comforted me.

“Medical science is also the wisdom of God.” 

Of course, he wasn’t talking about IVF, and I’m sure that there are many others who will dispute that statement, but for me, I want to believe that it was God’s plan for us to conceive Noah via IVF. If you don’t believe that, please keep your opinions to yourself, okay? Instead, please pray with us for a natural pregnancy, as that would be more helpful. Thank you!

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PS. I’ve been shortlisted as one of the ten finalists in this year’s Singapore Blog Awards, and would really appreciate it if you could take some time to vote for me at the Singapore Blog Awards website. You can vote once daily, until 3pm on 31st July 2014. Thanks!

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