Romans 9 is filled with hard and divisive texts, and there perhaps are none more hard than Paul’s quotation from Malachi 1:2, 3: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” But before we begin to explore the actual meaning of this text, let me preface this study by laying my hermeneutic before you. First, I believe that every word of Scripture is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit and therefore every hard saying and every doctrine that we encounter are divinely placed in Scripture for a particular end. Second, which is contingent upon the first, I do not water down texts, and I will not water down today’s text. God inspired the Prophet to write, “Esau I have hated,” and inspired the Apostle to quote from that text, and he did both without apology, and I will humbly do the same. If you disagree with my hermeneutic, please do not bother to attempt to argue with me on this subject, or any subject for that matter. I do believe that discussion and argument are edifying when done in love and truth, but if we have different hermeneutics (e.g. I believe Scripture is all Inspired revelation, and you believe that Scripture and tradition are equal revelation, et al.) discussion and argument are at most times futile and destructive.
With that said, in the present text we see that God loves one person and he hates another. Before we raise our hands to object, we must understand that God is not like us. He loves perfectly, and he loves differently than we love. We recognize this in Scripture, and we apply it to other actions and attributes of God. God judges perfectly, whereas we do not; God vindicates perfectly, he condemns perfectly, and he gives mercy and grace perfectly. Therefore, when we see in Scripture that God hates, we must recognize that his hate is as comparable to our hate as his love is to our love. He hates perfectly and without unjust malice, whereas we never hate rightly and never apart from perceived injustice or prejudice.
In our present text, we see first that God loves without merit and he hates without merit. The Apostle writes, “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’” (vv. 9:11, 12). Second, we must observe that in the present text, God’s hate is spoken of in the context of the Promise. This is not to say that God does not hate outside of the light of the Promise, but that is not our subject today. Therefore before the two children of the son of the Promise (viz. Isaac) were born having done neither good nor evil, God loved one, and he hated the other.
One might object at this point, “But God foresaw that Esau would sell his birthright, and God chose Jacob over Esau because of that” (cf. Heb. 12:16). From the present text, this is clearly not the case. God is said to have loved one and hated the other without respect to their deeds, even before they were born. This predetermination of God to love Jacob and to hate Esau was done first out of his good pleasure and ultimately to demonstrate that it is God who elects, it is God who calls, and no human deed can sway his heart. Therefore, when we look at Esau selling his birthright, we must look at it as resulting from God’s hate not God’s hate resulting from Esau’s selling his birthright. God loves without merit, and he hates without merit.
As we said earlier, God’s hatred of Esau is here with regards to the Promise. In his life on earth, Esau was a rich and materially blessed man, yet with regards to the promise he was desolate. We see this desolation in the Prophet Malachi after the text the Apostle had quoted:
I have laid waste [Esau’s] hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.'” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” (Mal. 1:3-5).
Thus it can be said that as Jacob and his descendants were the prefiguring of the Church, i.e. the elect, so Esau and his descendents were the prefiguring of Edom, i.e. the reprobate.
This hatred of Esau and his descendents, in the book of Romans, is the opposite of God’s foreknowledge of Jacob and his descendents according to the Promise. We see God’s active foreknowing of his people in Romans 8:29 and that this is done before the foundation of the world—before anyone has done either good or evil (cf. Eph.1:5). This love, this foreknowledge of God’s people clearly is tied to salvation and the Promise in Romans 11, where the Apostle writes:
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (vv. 11:2-5).
Therefore God’s foreknowledge always results in men loving God and not, as it were, bowing the knee to Baal. To be foreknown is to be accepted unmeritoriously and to be regenerated to love God.
To be continued: III. Jacob I Loved; Esau I Hated, Pt. 2
Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study