Your Joy Depends on Election

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Now let’s read the whole unit, Romans 9:9–13, for the Old Testament support. Paul’s going to develop a support from Isaac, not Ishmael is the true Israel, and Jacob, not Esau is Isaac’s son. Jacob, not Esau is the true Israel.

Isaac and Ishmael vs. Jacob and Esau

“This is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah will have a son,’” and that “I will return” is crucial (Romans 9:9). This is God’s doing that she’s pregnant, that the pregnancy succeeds, that she gives birth. “And not only so.” Okay, now right there, the break between Romans 9:9 and Romans 9:10 is a shift from the illustration of Isaac and Ishmael to the illustration of Jacob and Esau.

We should ask: Why does he bring in another illustration, and how is it different, better, weaker, stronger? It’s way stronger, and that’s why he brings it in, I think. So you’d be asking now how does the illustration of Jacob and Esau born to Rebecca and Isaac make the case even stronger that he’s trying to make. “Not only so, in other words, not only in the case of Isaac and Ishmael, but also Rebecca. When Rebecca had conceived children by one man” (Romans 9:10). Come back. Why 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 [stand, endure], 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)

How is Jacob and Esau a better example than Isaac and Ishmael? There are several ways. One is that she conceived these babies as twins, and so they’re both in her womb at once. Now why would that be a better illustration of Paul’s point than Isaac and Ishmael? Well, Ishmael was about twelve or thirteen when Isaac was born, which means that when God made the promise, no, not Ishmael, through Isaac, you might think, “Oh, he watched Isaac for twelve years and found him unacceptable and was basing the choice of Isaac on the unacceptability of Ishmael.”

Could be. Not in this case though. In this case, you got two boys in one womb. So that’s the first superiority. There’s no way that one could have proved himself better or worse than the other because they haven’t been born yet.

A second way is this: one could argue that the reason Ishmael was rejected is that, sure, Isaac and Ishmael have the same dad, but they don’t have the same mom. Ishmael’s mom is not Jewish, so he has to be rejected. If you thought that, Paul’s going to say, “Okay, if that’s what you think is implied there, it’s surely not the case here because there was one man, and she didn’t have two husbands. There’s one man, one woman making two twins.” You can’t say one son is better than another son because he had a different parent. They had the same parents.

The third way this is a better illustration: they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad. When God made his choice, the older will serve the younger, and that’s explicitly the point. The point is to rule out any human distinctive between Jacob and Esau, one having done good, one having done bad. “I’ll choose the good one.” No, that’s not why he chose Jacob. If you ask, “Well, what was motivating him to choose Jacob?”

Well, let me give you the fourth superiority of this. The fourth superiority of this illustration over Isaac and Ishmael is that, if there were any possibility of God bringing his choice into conformity with human tradition, he would choose the older. One is born first a few minutes earlier, and which one is that? Esau.

Esau is born first. Clearly then, put a little mark on his hand here and say primogeniture, “You’re the heir. You’re the one that will be chosen.” And to make sure that we don’t ever think God works that way, he switches it and says the elder, “The older here will serve the younger,” meaning the younger is the one chosen.

So four ways Paul brings in Jacob and Esau as a superior illustration of his point about Isaac and Ishmael. And the point there was God counts whom he will as his offspring apart from any human resourcefulness, and he’s making it more clear here. And how does he make it more clear? Those four ways and now this. What’s moving him, what’s motivating him to choose the younger in order that God’s purpose of election might continue not because of works.

Now you might think he would contrast works with, it’s usually contrasted with faith. Justification is not by works; justification is by faith. Well, these kids haven’t been born yet, and therefore he’s not going to contrast it with faith. They’re not going to be better believers in the womb, one believing and the other not believing. The contrast is with him who calls not by works, but by God calling, naming, counting. She was told the elder will serve the younger. So before they were born, just like Isaac was, Abraham was told before Isaac was born, it’s going to be Isaac, not Ishmael.

Unconditional Election and God’s Purpose

Now she’s told the older will serve the younger. This phrase right here, “not because of works,” is so important. They hadn’t done anything good or evil. They hadn’t proven themselves in any way. One hadn’t believed, and the other hadn’t been an unbeliever. They hadn’t done anything.

I think the right way to understand works here is not simply what you do but what you are by virtue of human distinctives because Jewishness is at stake here. “Is it the children of the flesh who are the children of promise?” (Romans 9:8). And Paul’s saying no. So fleshiness, I think, is included here.

When it comes to works and whether we are elect according to works or elect on the basis of works chosen by God on the basis of anything we do, in this context that works means anything you might say that would commend you to God and obligate God to choose you that is resonant in you. It might be a doing thing or a being thing like I’m male or I’m intelligent or I’m American or I’m white or whatever, and God is saying, none of that is taken into account. I make my choices freely.

Romans 9:11 is probably the closest you get in the New Testament to a statement of the doctrine of unconditional election. Look at that and see if you think that: “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” (Romans 9:11). And he could just go right on and say she was told the elder will serve the younger, but instead it explains what God’s doing in election. Why doesn’t he do it? Why doesn’t he elect according to what he foresees as good or bad or doesn’t he elect according to human distinctives?

So he elects Jews and not Gentiles. Why doesn’t he do it that way? The answer is in order that God’s purpose of election might continue unconditionally. Would that be a fair paraphrase? God’s election, God’s purpose of election, I purpose, I intend to choose a people for myself, not because of works but because of human calls. I’m arguing that in the context works there is not just deeds.

It would be like me now here saying you have chosen me because I’m preaching. I’m trying to be faithful to you. That would be wrong based on something I do. I could also say he chose me because I was born of Bill Piper. “He’s one of your children. You made promises that if you bring a kid up the way he should, it’ll be straight. So you’re obligated to me because I am Bill Piper’s son,” and I’m arguing that the context here verses eight following rules that out too. So “being” statement, claiming any kind of distinctive or pedigree before God and say that makes me qualify, or any kind of deeds you do make you qualify. You don’t.

God’s election, God’s choice is without any human distinctives, without any human conditions, deeds or pedigree statements of being. She was told the elder will serve the younger and then comes this really tough statement as it is written.

Malachi and the Concept of Hate

So he’s now going to go beyond the statements from Genesis about Isaac and Ishmael on the one hand, Jacob and Esau on the other hand, he’s going to go to Malachi. This is Malachi 1:1–5. We’re going to look at that and he says, not only did he say the elder will serve the younger, he also said, according to Malachi: “Jacob I loved, Esau.” “I hated,” meaning “I have chosen the younger and I have not chosen,” and the word hated troubles us.

It would trouble some people just because they don’t think God hates anybody and it troubles all of us because he’s doing it before they were born or had anything good or evil. Let’s read it in context.

So the point of Romans 9:13 is to make the point again here of the older will serve the younger and that God is choosing Jacob. He’s electing him to be a child of promise. Son of Abraham counted a seed while Esau is not. And now he’s using a phrase from Malachi: “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” I think it will be very illuminating, it has been for me, to go back to Malachi and say now why did Paul go to Malachi for goodness sake? He knows he’s going to get himself in big trouble here.

Why would you quote Malachi? You could just stop at Romans 9:12 and you would’ve made your point. Why you make it harder? Unconditional election is hard enough for people to fathom. Why would you do this? So let’s read it. There it is: “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi” (Malachi 1:1).

So one of the minor prophets, and this is the very first thing he said, prophesying. This is the last book in the Old Testament after the exile. “I have loved you, says the Lord.” So he’s talking to Israel. “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2). So there’s pushback. God is protesting his love for Israel and Israel is pushing back and saying how we don’t see any special love for us and God responds: “Declares the Lord, ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’”

Now, what’s the point of that? The point of that is to say, “Weren’t your father and the father of the Edomites, Jacob and Esau, weren’t they both in the womb at the same time and brothers and neither one qualified before me?” In fact, if anybody was qualified, it would’ve been surely the older Esau. “Yet I loved Jacob and Esau I hated.” So the logic is exactly the same as Romans 9. That’s why Paul’s attracted to this verse. The point is the love that God has for Jacob is more manifest because both of them or neither of them qualify for it.

Questions of Implications

That’s the point: Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? Does not one qualify as well as the other from my love? Yes, and I have not loved them both the same. I have loved Jacob and I’ve hated Esau. Now, the reason I think Malachi 1:1–5 is so illuminating is because I ask at this point, I ask several questions.

I ask number one: What does hate mean? I’ve heard people try to weasel on this and say, “Well, it means love less because Jesus said you hate your mother and father. Unless you hate your mother and father, you won’t.” I said, “Well, that’s just special pleading. It does not mean love less, and we’ll see why here.” So that’s my first question is what does hate mean?

Second question: Is an innocent man going to go to hell? Are you just sending a group of people to perdition and another group to heaven, and these are just as worthy of heaven and no more sinful? That’s the kind of question we ask, right? I think that’s normal to ask. I think the rest of the way Romans 9 proceeds, Paul knows exactly what we’re asking. He’s going to argue about the justice of God. He’s going to ask the question, “Why does he still find fault?” Paul knows exactly what you’re all thinking. There’s no surprise here. The Bible’s not naive about what it’s saying.

“But Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Malach 1:3). Hate doesn’t mean love less. It means lay waste. If Edom — that’s the people that came from Esau — if Eden says, we’re shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins. The Lord of hosts says they may rebuild. “They may build, but I will tear down.” That’s what hate means.

So, hate is not love less; hate is opposition. Hate is judgment. Hate is tear down. They will be called the wicked country. That word right there is unbelievably important. The people with whom the Lord is angry forever. You stop and you say, “Oh, you have just introduced something that wasn’t there in Romans 9:11.”

They hadn’t done anything good or evil when you chose them, but as you punish them, you are punishing them as a wicked country. Which means they are wicked. They are wicked. Wicked people deserve to be punished. Wicked people deserve to have God oppose them and in that sense, hate them. Yes they do. Which means, and I say this on the basis of what we’ve seen and many other texts, election is totally unconditional and judgment is never unconditional but deserved.

Say it again. Election is totally unconditional. Before the foundation of the world, God chooses a people for himself, but when it comes to what becomes of the non elect, the judgment is never unconditional. You never hear in the Bible a sentence like you are assigned to punishment without any regard to your evil, without any regard to your wickedness. You never hear that.

It’s always your punishment is only to your sin. And that’s what we have here. So that’s why the context of these five four verses is illuminating about what isn’t said explicitly back in Romans 9.

The Mystery of God’s Choice

Now there is, therefore we’re on the brink here. This is about as hard as it’s going to get, on the brink of a great mystery. So here’s the statement of the mystery, not the solution of the mystery. God chooses who will believe and undeservingly be saved in spite of their sin. Because both these boys go into sin, Jacob big time, and God thus decides who will rebel and deservingly be lost because of their sin.

Let’s meditate on that for a minute because most people read that and say, that can’t be, that makes no sense whatsoever. That’s nonsense. This word deservingly just can’t be. If God chose before the foundation of the world, who would be his and who would not be his, you can’t say that those who are not his deserve to be punished. You just can’t. That’s what a lot of people would say. A lot of you probably have said that and that it’s really because of their sin, when in fact they were not chosen to be made righteous.