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 ESV)
The main idea in this passage comes out of the later part of verse 11. “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.” This is the main idea of the passage and it is linked to verse 6a, when Paul began his argument proving that the word of God had not failed because there were those within ethnic Israel who didn’t believe in Messiah Jesus. Paul was heartbroken over the reality that there were those within ethnic Israel that didn’t believe in Messiah Jesus (1-3) even though they had been given so many blessings leading them to do so (4-5). He then answered the question as to whether the Word of God had failed them with a passionate NO, followed by a detailed illustration explaining and defending the righteousness of God and his unfailing Word. The point of last week’s message was that God never intended to save all of ethnic Israel and indeed had always been a God of election. We saw last week that while Ishmael and Isaac were both physical children of Abraham, they were not both children of the promise. This week we will see in greater detail that the purpose of God’s election remains or continues to stand as illustrated in the lives of Jacob and Esau.
The purpose of God’s election remains. Remember, Paul is answering the theoretical dilemma posed in v6a. “But, it is not as though the word of God has failed.” The other end of that statement is found here in verse 11, that the purpose of God’s election remains, or continues. The idea is simple: God has always been a God of election and always will be a God of election.
Election Defined: The act of God before creation in which he chooses specific individuals to be saved, not based on any foreseen merit in them, but because of his sovereign grace alone.
Election Described: First, election is not based on your family birthright (10).
And not only so: pointing back to the previous context, where we learned that while Ishmael and Isaac were physical children of Abraham, only Isaac was a child of the promise. It is only children of the promise who experience salvation.
But also (same argument, second point), when Rebekah had conceived children: This is a special point. In the previous argument, people could argue with Paul’s logic about election on the grounds that Hagar wasn’t Abraham’s wife. “Well of course God chose Isaac, because Ishmael wasn’t the son of Sarah. So Paul points to Rebekah, the one who conceived children…By one man, our forefather, Isaac. Paul says Isaac three times. The one man Rebekah had children with was Isaac, who was our forefather. Paul wants the reader to be certain they know who he’s talking about so that there can be no argument.
Paul points out that God’s election extends past human presuppositions as to who should and shouldn’t be blessed. Look at Genesis 25: 21-26. The Lord told her that the older would serve the younger. Is that what happened? Yes. Is that what should have happened according to human understanding and early Near Eastern birthright tradition? No. Esau was the firstborn and should have received the birthright and the blessing, but he did not. Calvin rightly points out, “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelite nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condemnation.”
Second, election is not based on your future behavior (11): Election is independent from human actions. The statement in v12 that we just read from Genesis was made while the children were still in her womb, before they had done anything, before they had performed any action either good (beneficial) or bad (evil). This is not a new concept if we are familiar with our Bibles: the prophet Jeremiah was told by God, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). David says in Psalm 139:14-15, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Calvin again, “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces who he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works. Election is not based on your future behavior.