The “Spiritual” Israel within “Ethnic” Israel Part 2 – Romans 9:10-13
Pastor Mark Hardy March 17, 2013
The story of Jacob and Esau is fascinating. We read about their conception and birth in Genesis 25:19-26 which says: Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.” It is God’s sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau that we are going to be looking at in our passage this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 9.
As we continue on in our study of Romans 9:6-13, we are looking at one of the most difficult theological portions of Romans that deals with the sovereignty of God, which William Newell rightly said, “…perplexes many, disturbs others, and some take occasion to stumble at it.” (pg. 362)
Now last time I began this passage by saying that in Romans 9:6-13, after Paul presents his thesis, he then gives two historical examples to prove it. Thus far, we have seen: Paul’s thesis stated and explained, and the first historical example: Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac. This morning we are going to see the second historical example, which is about:
I. Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau
A. Look at v. 10: And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;
1. The introductory words “And not only this” show that vv. 10-13 is a more conclusive argument than the previous one in vv. 6-9. Remember that Paul had just demonstrated from the first generation of Jewish ancestry, God’s sovereign choice of Isaac over Ishmael the firstborn, to prove that God’s saving promises to Israel have not failed due to Israel’s unbelief and rejection of the Messiah because He never promised that every ethnic Israelite would be saved (v. 6b).
2. But knowing that someone might object since Ishmael was not “fully Jew” because he was not born to Sarah, like Isaac, but to Sarah’s Egyptian maid Hagar, Paul now turns to the second generation Jewish ancestry, Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau, to make an even clearer and more convincing case for the principle of sovereign election.
3. Concerning Rebekah, Douglas Moo states, “Since Paul highlighted Sarah’s role in giving birth to the heir of the covenant promises in v. 9b, it is natural that the next step of this argument focuses on the matriarch of the next generation: Rebekah. Paul sees an important similarity between Sarah and Rebekah. The point of comparison is obvious: Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren; Rebekah’s barrenness, like Sarah’s, was overcome by divine intervention (Gen. 25:21); and, especially important for Paul’s argument, Rebekah’s son, like Sarah’s, was called by God to become the heir of the covenant promises.” (pg. 579)
4. Now Rebekah also received a promise from God about how He sovereignly choose Jacob over Esau, and therefore, the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob), but Paul doesn’t state this promise until the end of v. 12. But before he gets there he discusses various features about God’s sovereign choice.
5. In vv. 10-13 we see four features that powerfully demonstrate God sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau. But as we go through this passage an important question that I would like you to think about and answer is this: When Paul speaks about God’s sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau, is he talking about individual election to eternal salvation or merely corporate election to temporal blessing, which means God’s choosing the nation of Israel to have a special place in salvation history?
B. Let’s look at these four features. The first feature is this: The Circumstances surrounding God’s sovereign choice. Look again at v. 10: And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;
1. Right from the start Paul makes it clear that the circumstances surrounding Jacob and Esau were much different than that of Ishmael and Isaac. Notice that the twins, Jacob and Esau, had the same father (Isaac) and the same mother (Rebekah), who in one act of sexual intimacy with “one man” (Isaac) conceived them at the same moment in time.
2. This automatically silenced the objection concerning Ishmael who had a different mother than Isaac. Here both Jacob and Esau were fully Jews from the same mother. Nothing in the least was lacking in their parentage.
3. Therefore, according to ordinary human expectation, they should stand on equal terms before God in His dealings with them. And yet, God sovereignly chose Jacob over Esau to once again show that God’s saving promises were never guaranteed to all ethnic Israelites (6b).
4. Notice that Paul calls Isaac “our father,” which he does to associate himself with his Jewish kinsmen according to the flesh (v. 3). Whereas Abraham is usually called “our father,” not Isaac, since the lineage of God’s covenant promises ran from Abraham through Isaac, the expression is fine.
C. Paul then goes on to give more circumstances surrounding God’s choice of Jacob over Esau in v. 11: for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, (Stop there)
1. Here we see that God’s promise to Rebekah of His choice of Jacob over Esau did not depend on human beings because it was given before the twins were even born. And it was also done before the boys had ever “…done anything good or bad.”
2. In other words, God’s choice had absolutely nothing to do with their character or conduct because they hadn’t had a chance to do anything yet.
D. The second feature is this: The Reason for God’s sovereign Choice. Look again at v. 11: for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, (Stop there)
1. The word “purpose” (prosthesis) here denotes the determined plan and will of God. And notice that God’s purpose is characterized as “according to His choice.”
2. The word “choice” (eklogen) or election means “to pick or choose out from some kind of mass” (Mk. 13:20; Rom. 11:5, 7, 28; Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:4).
3. Jesus taught this same thing, for in John 15:16 He said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you…” (Jn. 13:18; 17:6)
4. Therefore, biblical election is God’s sovereign choice. No one debates whether election is biblical; the debate has to do with whether it is individual election to eternal salvation or corporate election to temporal blessing.
5. Now although God’s purpose is technically the subject here, God’s purpose and His choice (or election) inform one another. In other words, this is an election with a determinative purpose.
6. Therefore, this can be called God’s electing purpose, which is absolutely free from and not determined by the will and actions of men. This is exactly what happened when God sovereignly chose Jacob over Esau before they were even born and had done anything good or bad.
7. Notice again that Paul says, “…God’s purpose according to His choice would stand.” The word “stand” is the exact opposite of the word “failed” back in v. 6a.
8. The term “stand” (mene) here means “to remain, persist, abide, and continue.” And it is in the present tense, indicating that God’s electing purpose keeps on continuing, no matter what!
9. In other words, it cannot be thwarted by anyone, since it is not based on peoples’ actions, but on God’s will and intention.
10. Therefore, the reason why Israel’s rejection of the Messiah does not nullify God’s saving promises is because God’s electing purpose guaranteed that there would be a spiritual Israel from within ethnic Israel.
11. Don’t forget that the substance of Paul’s argument is that salvation was never promised to every ethnic Israelite (v. 6b). For from the very beginning there has always been a winnowing process: Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael; Jacob was chosen, not Esau.
E. Paul further stresses the divine initiative in the third feature, which is: The Basis of God’s sovereign choice. Look at the last part of v. 11: not because of works but because of Him who calls,
1. Since the Jews had perverted God’s revelation into a works-righteousness system of salvation, notice the contrast between human “works” and God’s “call.”
2. God’s sovereign choice or election is “not because of works.” No one can truly claim to be chosen by God because of his or her heritage or good deeds.
3. Not only did we see that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was prior to their birth, character and conduct (v. 11a), but here we see that it is also completely independent from and not based on their works. There are no works whatsoever that are the impetus of God choosing anyone, including human faith.
4. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
5. And Titus 3:5 states, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
6. Douglas Moo correctly observes, “Surely, if Paul had assumed that faith was the basis for God’s election, he would have pointed this out when he raised the question in v. 14 about the fairness of God’s election. All he would have needed to say at that point was “of course God is not unjust in choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau, for his choosing took into account the faith of one and the unbelief of the other.” Paul’s silence on this point is telling.” (pg. 583)
7. Augustine, who at one point in his life said that foreseen faith was the basis for God’s election, later denied that God’s election was based on anything in the human being. He then said, “God does not choose us because we believe, but that we may believe.”
8. Now please remember what I’ve continually stated since I began chapter 9, Paul’s primary focus in chapter 9 is on the sovereignty of God as the ultimate reason for the existence of a spiritual remnant among Israel. But God’s sovereignty does not negate our human responsibility, which Paul will clearly lay out in chapter 10.
9. Now since God’s sovereign choice or election is “not because of works,” notice that Paul goes on to say that the true basis is God Himself— “…but because of Him who calls.”
10. This is why v. 16 states, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
11. As we already saw in 8:28 and 30, the word “calls” (kalountos) here is not the general, external call or invitation to everyone to believe the gospel. It is the special (or particular), inward call or summons, known as God’s “effectual call to salvation,” by which a person is actually brought into relationship with God and becomes a Christian.
12. God’s election is based solely on His own free and sovereign call. John MacArthur describes well the principle we learn here when he says, “Unconditionally, and completely apart from any consideration of human merit, God elects those who will become His heirs of promise.” (pg. 26)
F. Paul then describes the fourth feature, which is: The Support for God’s sovereign choice. He does this by referring to two Old Testament passages that were very familiar to the Jews. Look at the first Old Testament passage in v. 12: it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.”
1. Now we come to the actual promise that God gave to Rebekah in Genesis 25:23 after the twins were conceived and before they were born. In this passage we read: The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.”
2. Although Jacob and Esau were twins, technically Esau was born slightly ahead of Jacob, for v. 26 says that Jacob’s “hand (was) holding on to Esau’s heel.” Therefore, as the firstborn in the ancient Near Eastern culture, Esau should have been the natural heir since the firstborn gets it all, by what is known as “primogeniture.”
3. However, here we see that God purposely disregarded that fact and told Rebekah that “…the older (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob).” And how this actually got worked out is described in Genesis 25:29-34 and 27:18-29.
4. In the first passage Esau “despised his birthright” (v. 34) and sold it to Jacob for a bowl of pottage. In the second passage, listening to the deceptive plan of his mother, Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn—a blessing which included the words, “Be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you” (27:29).
5. Therefore, in the lives of Jacob and Esau the conditions were met for the fulfillment of the promise concerning their descendants, which became the nations of Israel and Edom, respectively (1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:14; 1 Kgs. 11:15-16; 22:47; 2 Kgs. 14:7; Amos 1:11-12; Obad. 10).
6. Concerning the deceit of Rabekah and Jacob, John MacArthur accurately states, “God used Rebekah and Jacob’s deception in order to receive the blessing of the firstborn to fulfill His own divine purposes—which He would have accomplished perfectly in any case, without sinful human intervention. Jacob’s sin did not abrogate God’s promise in the least degree, but it brought many painful and unnecessary problems to Jacob and others.” (pg. 26)
7. The same is true in our own lives as well, for God is always working out His sovereign plan. Our disobedience will not stop Him, but it will make things a whole lot harder on us and others.
G. Paul then confirms God’s promise to Rebekah in a second Old Testament passage in v. 13, which is a quote from Malachi 1:2-3: Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”
1. Here Paul uses the familiar introductory formula “Just as it is written.” This means just as it was when it originally written, it continues to have the same binding authority now.
2. Then he quotes a portion from Malachi 1:2-3. Listen as I read vv.1-4 to get the context: The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins;” thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.”
3. Confirming that “The older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)” (v. 12), here Paul quotes God as saying, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” This statement is so shocking that many Christians say it cannot possibly be taken literally.
4. A woman once said to Charles Spurgeon, “I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.” To which Spurgeon replied, “That is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob!” If you read their stories both of them were scoundrels!
5. Now God saying that He “hated Esau” has precipitated a huge amount of controversy. To soften this, some say that the term “hated” (emisesa) means “to love less” (Gen. 29:31, 33; Deut. 21:15-17; 22:13, 16; 24:3; Judg. 14:16; Isa. 60:15; Matt. 6:24; 10:37; Lk. 14:26; Jn. 12:25). Thus making it read, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I loved less.”
6. However, “love” and “hate” here are not emotions that God feels but actions that He carries out. And since in God’s hatred there is no sin, this should be seen as a holy hatred that cannot be defined in terms of loving less.
7. Also, the mere lessening of love can hardly explain the righteous judgment that Malachi describes in v. 3 where God “made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” And in v. 4 where God will “tear down” their buildings and is “indignant” toward them “forever.”
8. Therefore, I agree with those who say that love and hate are better translated the election of Jacob, by its connection with v. 12, to continue the fulfillment of God’s saving promises, and the rejection of Esau, although he did receive some blessings from the general love of God.
H. Now remember the important question that I asked you to think about and answer as we went through this passage. It was this: When Paul speaks about God’s sovereign choice or election of Jacob over Esau, is he talking about individual election to eternal salvation or merely corporate election to temporal blessing, which means God’s choosing the nation of Israel to have a special place in salvation history.
1. Although many see Romans 9-11 as talking about corporate election to temporal blessing, this view does not adequately satisfy the data given in these chapters. Here are just six quick reasons why I believe that Paul is talking about individual election to eternal salvation:
2. First, we must remember that what is foremost in Paul’s mind in chapters 9-11 is the salvation of individual Israelites (1:1-3; 10:1; 11:14) not the temporal blessing of the nations, since Jacob and Esau represent two peoples.
3. Second, since the election of Jacob over Esau took place after the twins were conceived and before they were born and had done anything good or bad, as we saw in vv. 10-11, Paul was certainly thinking of two individuals here.
4. Third, several of Paul’s key words and phrases in this passage refer to individual salvation. When he contrasts “works” (4:2-8; 11:6) with God’s “call” (8:28, 20), and uses the words “purpose” (8:28; Eph. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9) and “choice” or election (11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Pet. 1:10).
5. Fourth, while these two Old Testament supporting passages have corporate or national implications, since Jacob’s descendants is Israel and Esau’s descendants is Edom, we should not be surprised that Paul applies these in the New Testament to the individuals who founded and, in a sense embodied them.
6. Thomas Schreiner said about God’s judgment of Edom in Malachi, “This is not to suggest that every individual Edomite was cursed. The text relates what is generally true regarding the Edomites as a nation. This does not contradict my earlier point that the text relates to individuals and not simply to corporate entities, for I do not deny that corporate entities are in view, only that one can sever the logical connection between corporate entities and individuals.” (pg. 503) This is because you cannot have one without the other.
7. Fifth, the promise to Rebekah in Genesis 25:23 speaks of individuals, since Jacob (the younger) was chosen over Esau (the older), though it also applies corporately. Paul’s whole argument turns on this very point.
8. Sixth, the other texts in chapters 9 and 11 that speak about individual election instead of corporate election, which we will look at later (9:14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24; 11:1, 4, 5).
9. Now Paul knew full well the implications and ramifications of what he has just said and the violent thunderstorm of questions and objections that this has created. The first being in v. 14 “God isn’t fair!”
10. This is why he immediately presents in vv. 14-29 his defense against these objections concerning the sovereign calling of God. We will begin to look at them next time.
In closing, as we wrestle with this difficult issue of the sovereign election of God may we not do so merely theologically, but allow the reality of it to deeply impact our hearts. May we recognize that it is only by God’s sovereign grace that we who deserve God’s wrath have come to personally know the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. May this marvelous reality fill our hearts with humble gratitude and praise to the glory of God for all that He had done for us!