“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)
The portion of the Book of Romans in which we now find ourselves has historically been a controversial and difficult area of Scripture. Passages such as these separate and divide congregations and denominations as differing interpretations are made and conclusions reached. Whence comes the favor of God and by what means is it obtained? Is Salvation wholly the result of God’s Divine election or must the efforts and works of man be included? And if election alone determines a man’s fate, why is one person chosen and another not?
What exactly is it that causes God to choose one thing over another? Why, of all the nations of the Earth, did the Lord choose Israel as the nation through whom He would accomplish His purposes? Or why, of all the tribes of Israel, was Judah selected to be the tribe of the Messiah? We could go on and on but the answers to any of these questions are simply beyond our knowing. God has reasons of which He has not enlightened us.
Two Men, Two Destinies
In verses 7-9 of Romans 9, we were shown the contrast between Ishmael and Isaac; how the one was chosen and the other not. We know, however, that Isaac was born of Sarah and Ishmael was born of Hagar the concubine. A reasonable explanation can thus be offered as to why Isaac, whose mother was the legitimate wife of his father, was the seed of blessing. But what about Isaac’s two sons? Jacob and Esau were twins, born of the same mother at the same time! How could Jacob be the chosen one over Esau? God declared to Rebecca, while she was still pregnant with the boys, that the elder son would be subject to the younger (v. 12, Gen. 25:23).
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
Whom God chooses to show mercy to is solely at His discretion. It is not the will and determination of man nor is it our works and deeds which purchase the compassion of God. Verse 11 shows us that Jacob was chosen by the Lord before the twins were even born! They had not done any works, good or bad, at all. Neither had Jacob decided that he would make himself presentable to God in order to be blessed and prospered accordingly. In fact, when Jacob fled the wrath of his brother after deceiving Issac into giving him the blessings of the firstborn, Jacob wasn’t running toward God — he was heading toward Haran (Gen. 28:10). God came to Jacob at Bethel, giving him the dream of the Ladder, Jacob did not choose to come to God. Even after the dream, Jacob had a few conditions that he enumerated to the Lord before he would agree to submit to Him:
“And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:” (Genesis 28:20-21)
It certainly wasn’t Jacob’s will and desire to follow the Lord that caused Him to have mercy upon him. I won’t go into detail here, but a quick examination of Jacob’s life will also make it clear that it wasn’t his works that endeared him to God either. Jacob was a liar, a cheater, and a deceiver when God came to him at Bethel. Good works weren’t the reason for God’s mercy to Jacob because Jacob didn’t have any good works to offer!
In light of all that we know of Jacob, the real question is not why God rejected Esau, but why He ever blessed Jacob. The fact that a Holy God can look upon any sinful flesh and show mercy upon us rather than the judgment we so richly deserve is the true mystery of God’s election; not that He can reject those who willfully rebel against Him.
Whose Fault Is It?
“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Romans 9:18-19)
Nevertheless, the question is asked with regards to God’s election: If God chooses some and not others, then is it not God’s fault that sinners reject Him since He has not chosen them? If God has chosen to not show mercy on some, are they then to blame for their actions? In addition to the illustration of Esau we are given the example of the Pharaoh of Exodus, whom “God hardened” against Himself and the Hebrews. Since God “hardened his heart”, how can we blame Pharaoh for his actions? First of all, God never changes a person’s heart for the worse, He merely compels the wicked to do what is already in their heart to do in order to fulfill His purposes (for further reading on who really hardened Pharaoh’s heart, click here).
When Jesus told Judas, “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27), it wasn’t Jesus who planted the idea into an innocent man’s heart to betray Him. Judas had already decided to do that. But that the purposes and timing of God might be fulfilled, the Lord forced the hand of Judas to do what he had already decided to do. God did not influence Pharaoh’s decision to resist Moses’ demands, Pharaoh had already decided to do so. God merely moved upon his heart to do the evil that was already present.
Esau was not a good and righteous man who got a bad deal and neither was Pharaoh. Esau cared very little for the things of God and that was his own choosing, not the Lord’s (cf. Heb. 12:16). Pharaoh was a cruel and merciless tyrant who kept the Hebrews enslaved long before God confronted him. Man bears full responsibility for the choices he makes and the actions he takes. The sovereignty of God in no way alleviates that responsibility. God can use even the sin and rebellion of man to fulfill His purposes but that in no way exonerates the sinner.
Lord willing, we will pick up here next time. Until then,
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,