Read: Romans 9:1-13
Just as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. Romans 9:13
Many have struggled over those words. But all the apostle is saying is that it is clear from this story that: First, ancestry does not make any difference (these boys had the same father), and second, what they will do in their lives — including the choices they will make — ultimately will not make any difference. Before they were able to make choices — either good or bad — God had said to their mother, The elder shall serve the younger. By that he implied, not only that there would be a difference in the nations that followed (the descendants of these two men) and that one would be in the place of honor and the other wouldn’t, but, also, that the personal destinies of these two men were involved as well. That is clear from the record of history. Jacob forevermore stands for all the things in men that God honors and wants them to have. Jacob was a scheming, rather weak character — not very lovable. Esau, on the other hand, was a rugged individualist — much more admirable when he was growing up than was his brother Jacob. But through the course of their lives, Jacob was the one who was brought to faith, and Esau was not. God uses this as a symbol of how he works.
I remember hearing of a man who said to a noted Bible teacher, I’m having trouble with this verse, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. How could God ever say, Esau have I hated? The Bible teacher said, I have trouble with that verse, too, but my problem is not quite the same. I have no trouble in understanding the words Esau have I hated. What bothers me is how God could ever say, Jacob have I loved! Read the life of Jacob and you will see why.
I admit that we must not read this word hated as though God actually disliked Esau and would have nothing to do with him and treated him with contempt. That is what we often mean when we say we hate someone. Jesus used this same word when he said, Except a man hate his father and mother and brother and sister and wife and children and houses and land, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple, (Luke 14:26). Clearly he is not saying that we have to treat our mothers and fathers and wives and children and our own lives with contempt and disrespect. He clearly means that he is to have pre-eminence. Hatred, in that sense, means to love less. We are to love these less than we love him.
God didn’t hate Esau, in the sense we usually employ that word. In fact, he blessed him. He made of him a great nation. He gave him promises which he fulfilled to the letter. What these verses imply is that God set his heart on Jacob, to bring him to redemption, and all Jacob’s followers would reflect the possibilities of that. As Paul has argued already, those followers were not all necessarily saved by that, by any means, but Jacob would forever stand for what God wants men to be, and Esau would forever stand as a symbol of what he does not like.
What Paul is teaching us here is that God has a sovereign, elective principle that he carries out, on his terms. Here are those terms: Salvation is never based on natural advantages. What you are by nature does not enter into the picture of whether you are going to be redeemed or not. Second, salvation is always based on a promise that God gives. This is why we are exhorted in the Scriptures to believe the promises of God. It includes, in some mysterious way, our necessity to be confronted with those promises, and to give a willing and voluntary submission to them. The third principle is that salvation never takes any notice of whether we are good or bad. Never! That is what was established here. These children were neither good nor bad, yet God chose Jacob and passed over Esau.
Father, again I must admit I don’t understand very much. I am a finite creature, and I cannot fully understand how you act. But I believe you are faithful. Help me to be open and teachable in spirit, that I might recognize the marvelous grace that has reached out and found me.
What are three sovereign elective principles in God’s plan of redemption? Does our finite understanding serve us sufficiently to question God’s sovereign choices?