My kids like to ask, “If you guys had to pick a favorite child, which one would you pick.” I think it’s more a of a game because of my husband’s famous answer, ” I don’t have a favorite. I equally dislike all of you.” He, of course, is just kidding and its good for a laugh. But, having a favorite child is no joke and can come with some serious consequences.

Nothing makes me sadder than to see favoritism in families. Even worse is when you hear stories from adults who have trauma or are dealing with the consequences of favoring one child over the other. The Bible has several stories where we see this same scenario played out. I want to take a look at a few and for us to see some of the lessons.

favoritism in famlies

Biblical Examples of Favoritism in the Family

It’s important that we look at these examples of favoritism and how they played out because even though there is consequences to having a favorite child, God can reconcile and redeem anything. So, if you are reading this and have been affected by favoritism in your family or know you are showing favoritism, I hope you find encouragement in how God can change hearts, mend relationships, and work everything out for good.

Jacob and Esau

Mom and Dad have a his and hers in this story. Esau was Isaac’s favorite son and Jacob was Rebekah’s. It’s a sad tale, really. Rebekah was barren and Isaac prayed to God on her behalf. God answers and she gave birth to twins. The Bible says:

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.  Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:27-28 NIV

What happens as a result is that Jacob scams his brother Esau out of his birthright (v. 29-34) and then conspires with his mother to trick Esau out of his father’s blessing as well. This leads Esau into a murderous rage and Jacob runs away to live with Rebekah‘s family. (Gen. 27:1-45)

Jacob ran away with intention. His mother encouraged him to go back to Haran and look for her brother Laban. Once he arrived, he set his sights on Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel. But, if you are familiar with this story, you know that the trickster gets tricked. Laban tricks Jacob into marrying his older daughter, Leah, first and then working seven more years to marry Rachel.

Obviously, Jacob did not learn his lesson from his own family but continued the unhealthy view of playing favorites. Once he married both sisters, Leah and Rachel, he favored Rachel. This left Leah vying for his attention and her sons feeling sorely mistreated because, naturally, he favored Rachel’s sons over all of his other sons.

There isn’t time to go into all the details but these women’s competitiveness with each other over having Jacob’s attention and baring his children leads to the maidservants being offering up as his concubines and more children in the mix of an unhealthy family.

Joseph and His Brothers

The consequences of having a favorite child are about to get real!

Remember, Jacob’s favorite wife was Rachel, who sadly died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. So, it makes sense that her sons are the favored ones. We don’t hear much about Benjamin at this point since he is a baby, but Joseph is old enough to know that he is special. This favoritism brought out jealousy, hatred, and violence among the brothers.

Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

Genesis 37:3-4 ESV

Joseph not only had this beautiful, colorful robe that had been lovingly handcrafted by his father, but he also had some prophetic dreams that made his brothers hate him even more. At this point, I’m pretty sure no matter what Joseph did, they would find a reason to despise him.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”  His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Genesis 37:5-8 ESV

What happens next is very sad, but not surprising considering the amount of animosity that had been building for years. Families are torn apart over much less at times, but it does make it worse contemplating the fact that favoritism in the family for two generations contributed to the tragedy.

They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.  They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 

Genesis 37:18-20 ESV

Thankfully, the oldest brother Reuben heard and persuaded the brothers to throw Joseph into the pit alive. His intent was to come back and rescue him, but before he could carry out his plan, the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians traveling by. (Gen. 37:25-36)

God Can Redeem All!

Just like Paul Harvey use to say, “And now for the rest of the story.” With God, there is always victory.

Sibling Reconciliation-Jacob and Esau

Remember, Esau vows to kill Jacob after he stole his blessing and birthright. This is why Jacob ran away to Haran. After Joseph is born, Jacob loads up his family and heads to make his own way far from Leah and Rachel’s father.

As he prepares to pass through Esau’s lands, he decides to protect his family by offering to give gifts and dividing his family into groups (with Rachel and Joseph last, of course). He also cries out to God in one of the most humble prayers in scripture:

 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’  I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.  But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

Genesis 32:9-12 ESV

God heard Jacob’s prayer and he and his brother are reconciled. God does bless him. And, we are reminded that God gives grace to the humble. Once we reconcile ourselves to God, He can help us reconcile with others.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept

Genesis 33:4 ESV

Redemption-Joseph and His Brothers

Joseph’s story is hard to swallow. A young man hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and later unjustly imprisoned. His brothers dipped his famous coat of many colors in goat blood and told his father that he was dead so there was no one to look for him.

Joseph wasn’t in the pit alone, he wasn’t a servant in Potipher’s house alone, and he wasn’t in prison alone. God was with him and God was working it all out. He is always watching over His children.

God took a bad situation and redeemed it for good. Joseph’s dreams came true. He was able, with God’s help, to interpret some of Pharoah’s troubling dreams which gave him the position of vizier, second in command. Not only this, but Joseph helped the country prepare and sustain during a famine.

This same famine brought his brothers to Egypt where they were able to unite, reconcile, and God was able to redeem His nation for His glory.

  His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Genesis 50:18-21 ESV

Only a person fully loved and redeemed by the Lord can be this forgiving and at peace with the past. Remember, Jesus suffered in order to redeem us and we can too forgive and move forward in peace.

Genesis 50:20 ESV

Scriptures on Treating Everyone Equally

Romans 2:11 (ESV) states that with God, there is no partiality. God views people on the merit of their heart. His judgement considers whether or not they follow His commands. So, since we are not God, we have no right to judge or treat others differently. Here are so scriptures that encourage us to view all people equally.

  • Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 ESV
  • My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4 ESV
  • So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35 ESV
  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 ESV
  • If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. James 2:8-9 ESV

Good News for God’s Children

The good news about God not playing favorites with His children is that the offer of salvation is for all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Even if you have been hurt by favoritism in the past, believe that reconciliation and redemption are possible.

Most of all, remember that you have a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and equally!