And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
Here God provides an oracle declaring that Jacob would usurp Esau’s firstborn place. God chooses Jacob over Esau, while they are still in the womb. If that is not enough, Malachi 1:2-5 speaks about God loving Jacob and hating Esau:
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”
As we will see in the next section of text, Esau becomes known as Edom; therefore, the nation of Edom came from Esau and Israel from Jacob. God declares that he loves Israel but hates Edom because He also loved Jacob and hated Esau. In case we try to lessen God’s words by thinking that God did not really mean hate, notice that God goes into detail about how He is actively against Edom. Of course, he does not mean the sort of emotional blind hatred that comes so naturally to us, but still God has a just and righteous hatred for Esau.
We should also note that this message of Malachi is not exclusively within the Old Testament. Paul quotes Malachi directly in Romans 9. Before providing a brief overview of Romans 9, it is important to avoid two extreme views that are both equally destructive.
First is the tendency to avoid the chapter like the plague. This happens because of the controversial nature of the text and its blatant proclamation of views that many Christians reject, such as predestination and election.
The second tendency to avoid is exalting the chapter above other Scripture, making it the centerpiece of the Bible. This is the opposite of the first, yet it is equally harmful.
In reading Romans 9, we can note Paul’s reluctance to write about the topic because it weighed so heavily on his heart. We cannot avoid Romans 9, nor should we gleefully run to it. Paul’s words possess great gravity because he is speaking about God’s sovereignty and the salvation or damnation of humans, both being thoughts that should be handled with great care and sobriety.
The message of Romans 9 is the sovereignty of God, particularly in His election of whom to save. Paul begins the letter by languishing over the thought that many of his fellow Jews were refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah. He even goes so far as to wish that he could be cut off from Christ in their place! But in verse 6, Paul begins to explain that God’s word has not failed because of their refusal of salvation. Instead, Paul argues that even in the Old Testament not all children of Abraham were brought into God’s divine covenant. Of all the children of Abraham, only Isaac was the son of promise. And the same happens with Jacob and Esau.
But in verse 6, Paul begins to explain that God’s word has not failed because of their refusal of salvation. Instead, Paul argues that even in the Old Testament not all children of Abraham were brought into God’s divine covenant. Of all the children of Abraham, only Isaac was the son of promise. And the same happens with Jacob and Esau.
Verses 11-13 tell us:
though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older shall serve the young.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” God elected some of Abraham’s descendants to be participants in the covenantal blessing, while rejecting others.
If this is the case, how then can God simply choose whom to save, while still being good and loving? Well, Paul aims to address these concerns in verses 14-29. He asks if God commits injustice by choosing some to save and not others, and he then answers by citing God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. “So then he has mercy on whomever he will, and he hardens whomever he will.”(v. 18)
Next comes the question of human responsibility. Why does God find fault, if He is the one who chooses? Paul’s answer is simply, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”(v. 20) Just as a potter has the complete right over his creations of clay, so God has total authority over His creation, which includes us. Though some may not see it as such, this divine election is truly a blessing.
Nick Ostermann preached a sermon on Genesis 25, in which he describes four views of salvation. First is a view called Pelagianism. This thought is named after a monk named Pelagius, who lived in the latter portion of the fourth century. He argued that people were inherently good and could save themselves by doing good works. So Pelagianism is unashamedly salvation by works.
Next, the Catholic view is more or less a fifty-fifty effort. No, humans cannot save themselves, but we still must essentially meet God halfway by our works.
Arminianism is third, which claims that God does all the work of salvation, but we must still choose for God to save us.
Finally, the Reformed view holds that God chooses to save by His mercy alone, with no works on our part needed.
It might be helpful to use the same analogy of these four views that Ostermann uses: drowning in a pool. Pelagianism would dictate that you have the ability to save yourself from drowning, so you should work hard to reach the pool’s ladder and live. The Catholic view would be the lifeguard diving into the pool but only going so far. You must swim your way to the lifeguard or work with the lifeguard at swimming in order to be saved. We could picture the Arminian view of salvation as the lifeguard coming out to you, but you must choose to whether to hold onto him until you reach the ladder or not. For the Reformed view, we must imagine that you have already drowned. You are at the bottom of the pool, lungs full of water with your consciousness gone, but the lifeguard swan dives to the bottom, swimming your limp body to the surface, where he pounds the water from your lungs until you can breathe again.
The Reformed view is that we have been saved one hundred percent by the effort and work of God because we could do nothing. As Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in trespasses and sins.”(Eph. 2:1) We were dead, but Christ made us alive. Dead men can provide no effort for anything. I have heard it said that if even one percent of salvation is our doing, then one in every one hundred worship songs should be sung to us. Though our first moment of salvation appears to be our choosing to follow Christ, we begin to see as we study the Scriptures that we could only choose because God first chose us.