We like to joke about who is the favorite in my family. Well, I guess that depends upon whom you ask.
My mom (known as Mema by everyone) does an excellent job of making all four of her grandchildren believe they are her favorite. (And each of them honestly believes it. Just ask them).
Truth be told, we can be drawn toward a child with whom we have more in common. Not to mention, when there is both a son and a daughter, it is sometimes natural for mama’s-boy and daddy’s-girl relationships to evolve.
Those relationships can actually be beautiful and rich. But when we begin to show favoritism to one child over another, dysfunction and destruction are the end result.
favoritism: the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of anotherNew Oxford American Dictionary
No other biblical woman can testify to that pain more than Rebekah.
She had a whirlwind romance with Isaac, spent twenty years barren, and finally became pregnant with twins. When those babies began to jostle within her, she cried out to the Lord.
“Then the LORD said to her, ‘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 (NIV 84)
In ancient Israel, the older son received the birthright, which included the authority as head of the family and a double portion of the inheritance. But God said those roles would be reversed.
Maybe right then Rebekah’s heart was drawn to the younger child. Who knows? For whatever reason, as the boys grew, she began to show favoritism to Jacob.
“The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful 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.”Genesis 25:27-28
We aren’t letting Isaac off the hook; he clearly favored the older son Esau who was a real man’s man. But Rebekah is the object of our lesson today, because she took her affection for Jacob too far.
Impulsive Esau ended up selling his birthright for a bowl of stew, demonstrating that he didn’t value the promise of God (Hebrews 12:16). That birthright included the covenant promises his father Isaac had inherited from Abraham.
But when Isaac began to age and thought his life was coming to an end, he still wanted to give his blessing to Esau.
The blessing, which was usually an oral statement given by the father on his deathbed, had more to do with future blessing or curse spoken over the sons (Genesis 49).
Although the birthright and blessing were usually tied together, Isaac wanted something to go to Esau since he had sold his birthright. But Rebekah overheard Isaac’s wishes and made plans to deceive him.
“Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, “Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.” Now, my son, listen carefully to what I tell you: Go out to the flocks and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.'”Genesis 27:6-10
Rebekah encouraged Jacob to deceive his father and manipulate Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to him. In ancient Near Eastern law, oral statements, especially on one’s deathbed, could be legally binding (NIV Study Bible, 46).
Because of her favoritism and deception, Rebekah caused such division between her two sons, that Jacob had to flee for fear that Esau would kill him. Isaac and Esau were both devastated by the deception.
“When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me–me too, my father!'”Genesis 27:34
Despite the fact that Esau wasn’t completely innocent since he didn’t initially value the birthright, one can’t help but feel the pain in those words. How often do children cry out for the blessing of their parents?
As mothers, we have the opportunity to pour out blessing on our children through unconditional love and acceptance shown through our words, our actions, and our prayers over them.
We should never show favoritism to one child over another. The damage to their hearts is overwhelming and oftentimes devastating.
Rebekah had to send Jacob away because Esau wanted to kill him. Her hope was that it would be a temporary situation until Esau cooled off.
“‘When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?'”Genesis 27:45
But Jacob’s story was one of heartbreak, deception, and wrestling with God. When he finally returned home twenty years later and was restored to his brother, Rebekah was no longer present. Most commentators believe she had already died. She never saw her favorite son again.
Not only can our favoritism lead to damaged relationships between our children, but it will also bring pain and suffering to our own hearts. As mamas, we will never be perfect, but we can learn from the wisdom of the Bible, which clearly teaches us the damage caused by showing favoritism.
Rebekah’s choices also put enmity between her and Isaac, which is another fallout of showing favoritism to one child. It led to her deception towards Isaac, which will always end in destruction.
Our children are different, with different personalities, temperaments, gifts, and abilities. We may have different relationships with each of them based on their uniqueness as individuals, but the love we show them should be equal.
God Doesn’t Play Favorites
God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, 1 Timothy 5:21), and we are supposed to reflect His heart in how we love others. He doesn’t play favorites, and He warns us not to either.
If you have a child that you favor for whatever reason, remember the pain caused by showing favoritism. Ask God to show you the uniqueness of each individual, and then commit to showing the same attention, affection, and affirmation to each one.
Pray words of blessing aloud over each of your children so they hear your heart for them. Look for ways to connect with each one of them. If you have shown favoritism in the past, ask God to forgive you. Make amends with any relationships that may be affected.
God can redeem our mistakes and make us into the parents He wants us to be. No relationship is without hope. So, thank God for His Word that corrects us and teaches us how to live (2 Timothy 3:16).
Lord, may we grow in our love for others so that it reflects your heart. And may our love for our children be so deeply and sincerely expressed that each of them could say without a doubt: “I’m the favorite!”
For more in our series, Biblical Women Just Like Us, click here.
To study more Old Testament truths for our lives, check out this 6-week Bible study Let’s Run: Running the Race with Faith and Perseverance.