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An important question must be asked. “Why did God choose Jacob, not Esau?” Another way to ask this question is “On what basis did God choose Jacob over Esau?”
Answer Is Found In Romans 9
- One of the most important NT commentaries of the Jacob narrative was written by the apostle Paul in Romans 9.
- Romans 9 is the clearest teaching on the doctrine of unconditional election.
- Most Evangelical Christians in the world today do not believe in the doctrine of unconditional election.
- During this episode, I will explain the doctrine of unconditional election and the most common alternative view.
- There are four ways you can misinterpret Romans 9 to deny the doctrine of unconditional election.
Four Ways to Dismiss Unconditional Election
1. Avoid Romans 9 Altogether
- Instead, they will focus on other Bible passages like John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
- Second half of John 3:16 has the following logic
- If A, then not B but C.
- But what does John 3:16 say about who will believe or who has the ability to believe.
- One may think that since John 3:16 states if all who believe will be saved, then it means that everyone has the capacity to believe.
- “whoever believes” implies everyone can believe.
- But this is not necessarily true.
- Earlier in the same chapter, John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that unless you are born again, you cannot even see the kingdom of God - let alone enter the kingdom of God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3-6)
- A person cannot choose or will himself to be born either the first time (physicially) nor the second time (spiritually).
- In John 6, Jesus teaches no one in the flesh can come to God. Left to ourselves, we are so corrupt that unless God the Spirit opens our eyes, we will never believe and choose Jesus.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
Later Jesus reiterated this teaching
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:55-56)
- The word translated “can” in John 6:44 and John 6:55 is the Greek verb dunamai.
- English grammar: Can vs May
- Unlike the English word “can” which sometimes inadvertently used to refer to permission and not ability, the Greek verb dunamai by definition is unequivocal. dunamai refers to both intrinsic and extrinsic ability.
- So Jesus teaches explicitly that no one has the ability to come to Christ without the work of God.
- Accepting this specific teaching given by Jesus was difficult. Many of Jesus’ followers left him in John 6:56.
- So many left that Jesus asked his 12 disciples if they were leaving too. Remember Peter’s answer.
- English grammar: Can vs May
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
2. Deny Romans 9 refers to individuals but talking about nations.
- The Arab nation came from Ishmael, and the Jewish nation came from Isaac.
- Arabs came from Esau, while the Jews came from Jacob.
- So God’s election described here is not talking about individual salvation but God’s sovereign merciful selection of the Jewish nation for a particular blessing.
- Abrahamic covenant blessing is that all nations will be blessed, but chiefly to the Jewish nation.
- But the illustration used here in Romans 9 is the life of two individuals, Jacob and Esau.
- I don’t believe any serious Bible student will argue for this, but some try.
3. Interpret Romans 9 refers to temporal and material blessing.
- It is not referring to election to salvation.
- To make this argument, you must ignore the entire context of Romans 1-8 which is all about salvation by faith appropriated by the individual.
- In fact Romans 8 is where Paul introduces the concept of predestination.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
4. Affirm Romans 9 teaches the doctrine of prescience.
- This appears to me to be is the most common belief amongst today's Christians.
- God does elect individuals to ultimate salvation, but the basis of the election on prior knowledge, foresight (prescience) on future actions.
- God knows and sees in advance who will want to choose him, and those he has this foreknowledge, he predestines.
- But the doctrine of prescience does not explain the doctrine of predestination. It denies it.
- Just to define terms, this doctrine of prescience is also called the Semi-Peligian view.
So On What Basis Did God Choose Jacob?
But let’s read what the apostle Paul, inspired by God, wrote in Romans 9.
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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 will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
Jacob and Esau were full brothers. They were twins. They had identical environmental background. Same mother and father and same birthday.
1. Jacob was chosen before birth.
- the decree of God’s choice chronologically occurred before Jacob and Esau was born.
- God’s choice was made before they did anything good or evil.
- I should point out that the doctrine of prescience or the Semi-Pelagian view upholds this first point.
- Subjunctive clause introduced by “in order that” indicates purpose.
2. Jacob was chosen so that God’s purposes will stand.
- Basis of God’s choice is to make certain that His purposes are established and his purpose alone.
- The doctrine of prescience teaches is that God’s choice is based on man’s will.
- God’s choice is dependent and based on the foreknowledge of man’s will and future decision.
3. Jacob was chosen based not on man’s will.
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)
- The common human notion is that man’s will and inclination is neutral.
- Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will is perhaps the best treatise on man’s will.
- Edwards defines the will as “that by which the mind chooses any thing.”
- John Locke states “the Will signifies nothing but a power or ability to prefer or choose.”
- Edwards further explains that “the determination of the Will supposed an effect which must have a cause.” Edwards argues that free moral agents always act according to the strongest inclination they have at the moment of choice.
- When we sin, our inclination at the moment to sin is greater than our inclination to obey Christ.
- John Calvin says that if we mean by free will that fallen man has the ability to choose what he wants, then man has free will.
- But if we mean free will is fallen man having the power and ability to choose the righteousness of Christ, then “free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to fallen man.”
- Using the illustration of Jacob and Esau, Paul in Romans 9 gives a profound explanation of free will.
- There is free will, and God’s choice to grant mercy and salvation is based free will.
- It is not based on the free will of man.
- Our salvation is founded on the free will of God.
- God the creator has the sovereign free will to choose Jacob over Esau.
- Usually the Jewish inheritance goes to the elder son.
- To make it absolutely clear and certain that the blessing received is not due to human works or human will, in order that God’s purposes might stand - he chooses the younger son Jacob who we had studied earlier in Genesis as a liar, deceiver, and supplanter.
How do you explain the sentence in Romans 9 v.13, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
- Is the Bible teaching that God hates people.
- Doesn’t the Bible teach that God loves everyone unconditionally.
There are two ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. Let me read you what Jonathan Edward's wrote in 1785 in The Nature of True Virtue.
“Love is commonly distinguished into love of benevolence, and love of complacence. Love of benevolence is that affection or propensity of the heart to any being, which causes it to incline to its well-being, or disposes it to desire and take pleasure in its happiness...What is commonly called love of complacence, presupposes beauty. For it is no other than delight in beauty; or complacence in the person or being beloved for his beauty.”
- Love of benevolence
- Benevolence means “good will.”
- God has the basic attitude of good will to all his creatures.
- Attitude of good will is directed to all humanity.
- Beneficence can be included in benevolence.
- God’s beneficence refers to His giving of good gifts to people indiscriminately.
- God bestows gifts and benefits to people of all nations.
- In Genesis 36, we see God’s beneficence toward Esau.
There is a special dimension of God’s love that the Bible speaks.
- God’s love of complacence
- Complacency not referring to smugness
- Complacency takes delight in the object of one’s affections because of the object’s virtue and beauty.
- The love that God the Father has for His Beloved Son is a love of complacence.
- While God extends His benevolent love toward all creation, God extends a different love of complacence to all who are in Christ Jesus.
- God imputes the righteousness of Christ Jesus to His elect. (Romans 3)
- Our adoption as children of God means that we are included in this special complacent love.
- Those that are outside that adoption do not share this complacent love of God.
The word “hate” in Romans 9 v.13 is not referring to loathing.
- When we use the English term hate, we think of an attitude that comes from a posture of malice. God forbids us to hate people. We are called to show the love of benevolence even to our enemies (Matt. 5:44).
- But for those who do not experience God’s love of complacency on the basis of Christ, even though they experience God’s love of benevolence, you may categorize this contrast as hate. For God’s love of beneficence is so much lesser than God’s love of complacence.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)
- Compared to our love for Christ, your decreased level of love to your family as can be described by the Greek word miseo which is translated “hate.”
- Remember Leah’s complaint to Jacob. Jacob had his deepest affections for Rachel. Jacob was married first to Leah, and it wasn’t that Jacob was cruel to Leah. But Leah said, “I am hated by my husband.”
- I am second in terms of Jacob’s preference, and compared to his affections for Rachel, it makes me say that my husband hates me.
So to summarize,
- We were chosen by God before we were born.
- We were chosen so God’s purposes will stand.
- We were chosen not based on man’s works or will - but based on God sovereign free will to extend mercy. (Romans 9:16)
Apostle Paul anticipates two common objections. I want to address the first objection summarized in three words. That’s not fair.
Is There Injustice with God?
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9 v.14-15)
- Paul answers this rhetorical question me genoito
- By no means.
- God forbid.
- No, no, a thousand times no.
- May it never be.
Paul then quotes Exodus 33:19
Moses said, “Please pshow me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33 v.18-19)
- Moses, after interceding with God pleading him to spare the nation of Israel after their pagan worship of the golden calf, returns to God a discouraged man.
- Moses asks God to reveal himself and show His face and glory to help Moses persevere in his service to lead God’s people.
- Notice how God responds.
- God restates his name, Yahweh.
- Then Yahweh highlights on of His attributes. It is not his holiness. He does not highlight His love. Rather God affirms His sovereignty and divine prerogative to show mercy.
How does this answer the question, “Is there injustice with God?”
- Logic explanation of justice, nonjustice, injustice, and mercy.
- Because all men are sinful and deserve God’s condemnation, no person is wronged or treated unjustly if God chooses to condemn him. For God to condemn sinners is not injustice. That is justice.
- Justice is good. Mercy is good.
- God choose who gets justice and who gets mercy. With God, no one gets injustice.
One of man’s greatest blasphemies is the accusation that God is not merciful enough.
Back to the original question. “Why did God choose Jacob, not Esau?”
Answer: God chooses to whom He grants mercy not on the basis of man’s will, but based on God’s sovereign free will so that His purposes might stand. And that divine prerogative is what makes Him God.
Resources on God Choosing Jacob over Esau
- Jacob I Loved, but Esau Have I Hated
- God's Love-Hate Relationship (Part 1)
- God's Love-Hate Relationship (Part 2)
- Chosen by God (Video Series by R.C. Sproul)
- Romans 9:6-13 (Sermon by John Piper)
Jonathan Edward, The Nature of True Virtue (1785) ↩︎