“…I have loved Jacob, but Esau have I hated…” –Malachi 1:2-3
Question: Was God`s choice of Jacob unfair to Esau? How can a just and impartial God do this?
Answer: It is clear that God chose one, but not the other. The difficulty here is much greater than just these two men. In context, Jacob refers to the entire nation of Israel and Esau refers to the entire nation of Edom. When referencing this verse in Romans 9, Paul makes it clear that this verse is even the pattern of the entire world. There are some that God has chosen and others that God has not.
Theologically, this difficulty is referred to as double-predestination. Predestination is the doctrine that before the foundations of the earth God chose certain people on which he would show grace through no merit of their own (Eph. 1:3-5). Double-predestination makes the logical inference that because God chose some to be saved, then by not choosing to save the rest he was effectively choosing them for damnation. And that by doing this God is (as you stated) unfair. To solve this problem, first let’s see if God is positively choosing damnation for some in the same way that he is positively choosing salvation for others. Next, we’ll see if God is required to show mercy to everyone when he has the ability.
The Bible never teaches that God positively chooses people for the sake of damnation. Damnation is always a choice people make of their own accord. James teaches us that God does not tempt people to sin, but people sin of their own desires even though they know it results in death (James 1:13-15). Paul further clarifies that man intuitively knows the eternal consequences of his actions yet chooses and encourages sin nonetheless (Rom. 1:32). Therefor, when man (such as Esau) is damned it isn’t because God chose it; it is because man chose it. And this is the choice all men have made (Rom. 3:23). God’s choice to intervene on behalf of some doesn’t somehow make him culpable for everyone’s sinful actions. For example, imagine a mass court hearing for 100 people who were all going to be thrown in debtor’s prison. They all made foolish financial decisions and because they can’t pay back the hundreds of thousands they owe, they will go to jail. Now, Bill Gates walks in to the courtroom and chooses 15 people. He says, “I am going to pay what each of these 15 people owe.” The judge accepts it and those people are set free. The other 85, however, are sent to prison. Mr. Gates had enough money to pay for everyone, but the reason those 85 went to jail wasn’t because Bill sent them there. They went to jail because of the crime they committed. Here’s a second example. My neighbor puts a large amount of stuff by the curb on bulk trash day and I see an old table in his trash that I think I can refurbish. If I take it out and save it from the dump, am I somehow responsible for sending everything else to the dump? No. My neighbor is. I simply chose to intervene on behalf of the table.
Now, some will say, “But it is wicked for God to have the ability to show mercy to all and yet withhold it from some.” This accusation is made without a clear understanding of mercy. Mercy is never required. Mercy is always voluntary. The moment mercy becomes required, it ceases to be mercy and instead becomes justice. Justice is a necessary moral response. God’s justice towards us doesn’t demand mercy. It demands that sin be punished. And God does act justly (fairly) by punishing every ounce of sin. For those who choose damnation, their punishment is Hell and for those whom God has chosen for salvation, their punishment was endured by Jesus Christ on the cross. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful by voluntarily choosing to save some (Rom. 9:13-18).
God’s justice and impartiality was shown when he didn’t choose Esau and his mercy was shown when he chose Jacob. I hope this helps. Thank you for asking!