So we have in mind this one surety from last time: “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a). Despite all Israel’s privileges (9:4,5) and the nation’s inexplicable rejection of Messiah, “It is not as though the word of God had failed.”
How can you make such a claim, Paul? God’s promises to the nation unkept! Israel accursed and cut off from Christ (Messiah)! And you say God’s word hadn’t failed? Why?
“For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you’” (9:6b,7).
There is, Paul explains, an Israel within Israel—a spiritually chosen remnant within the Jewish nation. Not every ethnic Israelite is a true Israelite. Douglas Moo (New Testament Professor, Wheaton College Graduate school) comments . . .
“If the OT teaches that belonging to physical Israel in itself makes a person a member of God’s true spiritual people, then Paul’s gospel is in jeopardy. For were this the case, the gospel, proclaiming that only those who believe in Jesus Christ can be saved (cf. 3:20-26), would contradict the OT and be cut off from its indispensable historical roots. Paul therefore argues in vv. 6b-29 that belonging to God’s true spiritual people has always been based on God’s gracious and sovereign call and not on ethnic identity. Therefore, God is free to ‘narrow’ the apparent boundaries of election by choosing only some Jews to be saved (vv. 6-13; 27-29). He is also free to ‘expand’ the dimensions of his people by choosing Gentiles (vv. 24-26)”.
In the verses above, Paul distinguished between “Abraham’s children” and “his true descendants”. In the verses below, Paul distinguishes between “the children of the flesh” and “the children of God” . . .
“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. For this is what the promise said, ‘About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son’” (9:8,9).
“Sarah shall have a son”. That was God’s promise. He would be born by God’s miraculous intervention. And that son’s descendants are “not the children of the flesh” but “children of the promise” and, thus, “children of God.”
Paul also cites Rebecca . . .
“Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau’” (9:10-13).
One husband: Isaac. Before the twins’ birth or behavior: God told her “The elder (Esau) shall serve the younger.” Why? For what purpose? “ . . . so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by (their) works but by his call . . . “
Again, Paul explains, it’s not children of the flesh who are God’s children, but children of God’s election and call. A God-chosen, God-called Israel lives within ethnic Israel. So ethnic Israel rejected her Messiah, but “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Romans 9:6a).
What, though, are we to make of Paul’s reference to Malachi 1, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau”?
Commentators suggest various solutions. Some, for example, suggest “hated” only means that God loved Jacob so much his feeling toward Esau seemed like hatred. Here is Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) . . .
Perhaps hate does indeed have a positive force. God not only did not savingly and redemptively love Esau, as he did Jacob, but he actively rejected him and manifested his displeasure and disfavor by means of retributive justice. It is not merely the absence of blessing that Esau suffers, but the presence of judgment (see Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16; 8:13; Isa. 1:14; 61:8; Jer. 44:4; Hos. 9:15; Amos 5:21; Zech. 8:17; Mal. 2:16).
I agree. But, if we buy Storms’ interpretation, we should remember God hates without malice, revenge or bitterness. Unlike the hate of sinful humans, God’s hatred is holy. It’s a rejection of Esau.
Therefore, God’s word hadn’t failed, because God was keeping his promises to Israelites whom he sovereignly chose, not to ethnic Israel for whom his promises were never meant.
* * *
Romans 9-11 may be the most controversial section of the Bible, because we balk at God’s sovereignty, captured succinctly in the uncomfortable statement, “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau.” Paul will unfold more about God’s sovereign choices in the coming verses. We’ll have to face them head-on.
But, for today, I wish to downplay “I have hated Esau” and turn the spotlight on “I have loved Jacob”. God loved a cheat, a hypocrite, a con-man! In many ways, Esau is easier to love. But the Lord loved Jacob. This was the Lord’s sovereign choice of grace, as it was his choice of Isaac over Ishmael (God told Abraham, “Do not be so distressed about the boy (Ishmael) and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned”–Genesis 21:12). It was a choice of sovereign grace and love for an undeserving liar.
So God has loved and chosen me. I’m as crooked as Jacob, as deceitful as Isaac. Yet the Lord set his love on me. (I know, because I believe in Jesus Christ. Such faith is not mine; it’s God’s gift–a sign of being chosen.) So, for today, I erase from my thinking, “I have hated Esau”. In boldface I write, “I have loved Jacob”.
And I gratefully write next to it, “I have loved Allan”.
Our “right-to-choose” mind naturally erupts that God would choose Isaac, not Ishmael, and Jacob, not Esau. I have no answer for God’s sovereign choice. But, instead of trying to solve an unsolvable mystery, I choose to marvel that God chooses some sinners at all. Instead of stumbling over “Esau I hated”, I’ll stand in awe that “Jacob I loved”.
Why should God love a con-man? Why should God love me? But, if I believe in Jesus, then I can be sure God has chosen me. He’s set his love upon me. Sent his Son for me. It doesn’t solve the dilemma. But it leaves me in wonder of why he should love me at all.