Meditating on the Will of God: 16: Why God Chooses
Rom 9:13,14 it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust?
In chapter 9 of Romans the apostle Paul embarks on a line of argument that appears at first sight to portray God as hard and harsh and so we need to consider the truth of this as we think on the will of God. Our verse above comes, of course, some way into Paul’s argument. Seen overall he is speaking about Israel and God’s workings with them.
It starts by him denying that God’s workings with Israel have been a failure (v.6). The question has to arise, why might anyone think that is so, and the answer has to be because for so much of the time Israel got it wrong, ended up in exile about 587BC and then again in AD70. No, it’s a matter of perspective Paul implies, because not everyone born in Israel is a real child of God (v.7) in the same way that not everyone descended from Abraham is a child of faith (v.7-9). It is then that he moves into the contentious area of what happened in Isaac and Rebekah’s family (v.10-13). Before they were born, God said of Esau and Jacob, the older will serve the younger, and scripture testifies that He said He hated Esau and loved Jacob.
Now we need to be clear on something here: Paul is defending God’s right to make decisions as sovereign God, but he does not look at WHY God might make those decisions. It is not heretical to say that with the whole of Scripture before us we may now be in a better position to see the whole than Paul was, and thus he wrote correctly with the knowledge that he had, but it was limited. His conclusions are right.
Jesus taught us that it is what goes on inside us that is all important, not so much the outward actions, although they will flow from what is inside. When God told Rebekah that the older will serve the younger (Gen 25:23), was He declaring what He would make happen or was He merely foretelling the outworking of the two personalities and where it would take them – with God’s interventions? Oh yes, never see it as just the outworking of a human being alone, because God does work into all human circumstances, even if we are not aware of Him doing that.
If we observe Esau and Jacob we learn the following things about them. From the outset, Jacob was a twister, a schemer. As the second-born he was not going to inherit everything but he took advantage of the circumstances and got Esau to give him the birthright that was rightly Esau’s (see Gen 25:29-34). The other side of that coin was the from early on Esau showed that he did not care anything about his birthright and who he was – part of God’s chosen family. He despised his background and was more concerned for his present pleasures. Jacob went on to get old man Isaac to give him the family blessing and afterwards Esau determined he would kill Jacob as soon as Isaac passed away (Gen 27:41). After Jacob had left the family home with instructions from Isaac not to marry a Canaanite woman, Esau went out and purposely married one (Gen 28:8,9)
Now please note that in those accounts we simply see the bad attitudes of both sons coming through. However Jacob, despite his tendencies does eventually obey his father and eventually becomes a man of God. Esau simply despises everything about his background. Esau’s family eventually grows and becomes the nation of Edom which was always against Israel (Jacob’s family) and continually sought to bring them down. It was in the national context that Malachi (1:2-3) spoke God’s words, about loving Jacob and hating Esau. God’s reaction to them both was in response to what they had become.
But there is a bigger issue here that Paul now goes on to speak about when he refers to Moses (9:15-18) and to Pharaoh, who we have already considered. The issue is about mercy, and this is where this all hinges. Listen to a dictionary definition of mercy: “compassionate rather than severe behaviour towards someone in one’s power” or as another puts it, “a refraining from harming or punishing offenders, enemies, persons in one’s power, etc.; kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion.” Mercy is not earned; it is just given because a heart of compassion prevails over a heart of judgment.
The truth is that we are all in God’s power and we all deserve His judgment. If you add up all the individuals thoughts, words and deeds throughout our life that fall short of goodness, there is no question about it; we deserve judgment! But then we find this incredible thing – God is looking for reasons and ways to bless us. In Pharaoh that was just not there. Despite being given opportunity after opportunity to repent, he still challenged God and still sought to destroy God’s people. He dug his own grave! When it came to Esau he set his heart on rejecting his birthright and God’s plans to bless and set himself, and the nation that came from him against God’s people. Edom became a thing to be hated by any lover of goodness. So then there is Jacob who to all intents and purposes appears a self-centred schemer and yet in the fullness of time we find a man of God who recognizes and honours his birthright AND God’s plans for his people and the promised Land. Yes, was God working with both men? Assuredly but it was only Jacob who responded.
Yes, God chose Jacob over Esau but, we would suggest, it was on the basis of Hs sovereign knowledge: He knew how these two would work out and how they would respond to Him. It is that simple.