Romans (Part 29) - Jacob Have I Loved (9:6–15)
As we discussed last time, the key to understanding Paul’s topic discussion of Chapter 9 lies in the flow from the first few verses of the chapter. If we pluck verses out from the chapter in isolation, it may tend to make us think Paul is talking about election regarding the individual eternal state; however, the context lead-in from both the previous chapters’ discussion and the specific illustration with which Paul begins Romans 9 show us otherwise.
Paul’s grief for the Jews misunderstanding God’s covenantal relationships leads him to wish, or pray, for a Moses-like intervention. However, he quickly recognizes the difference, which he points out by the time he gets to verse 6. Look at this parallel construct:
1. Moses interceded for sinful people (the nation Israel).
2. Moses prayed to be removed from life relationship, if God chose to destroy them.
3. Thus, Moses prayed as he did because he wanted God’s redemptive plan to continue.
1. Christ interceded for sinful people (the world).
2. Christ accepted being removed from life relationship, so God would not have to destroy them.
3. Thus, Christ accepted as he did because he wanted God’s redemptive plan to continue.
1. Paul interceded for sinful people (the Jews).
2. Paul prayed to be removed from life relationship, if God would save them (based on fleshly concern).
3. Thus, Paul prayed as he did because he wanted God’s plan to be changed.
From this comparison that Paul suggests, the important point is, of course, that Moses did what he did because he wanted God’s plan to succeed. Christ did what he did because he wanted God’s plan to succeed. Paul did what he did because he wanted God’s plan to fail. (Of course, not overtly. But failure would be the result if God abandoned his design to save based on faith relationship and chose instead on fleshly relationship.) Verse 6a, then, flows immediately from this specific context with Paul declaring, “No, [and literally word for word from the Greek:] Not such as that has failed the word of God.”
Notice that all our modern translations (e.g., HCSB, NIV, ESV, NASB, and NET) translate the Greek hoti in verse 6 as though. The Greek New Testament has hoti in it about 1300 times. Of those 1300 times, how many times do you think those five modern translations translate the word as though? All those translations translate the word as though only once—right here in Romans 9:6. Most of the time the word is translated that. Is that really a big difference in meaning? Well, maybe not huge, but the subtle difference is, I think, the reason the passage tends toward a faulty understanding.
By translating the word as though, the logic of the passage seems to go like this: Paul wanted all Jews to be saved. All Jews were not saved. Therefore, 9:6a implies that the word of God had failed since all Jews were not saved. And Paul seems to be saying, “Wait, no, it is not as though the word of God has failed. Just because God didn’t choose to save all the nation doesn’t mean that the word of God has failed because (9:6b) “not all who are descended from Israel (the nation) are Israel (the prevailing people of God). Rather, God chooses capriciously be unconditional election.” That subtle use of the word though is able to twist the thought of the passage as if we can feel comfortable that Paul is bringing in the subject of individual eternal election by God without condition. But that’s not how the context actually has the discussion headed.
Here’s the difference. Look again at the word-for-word of 9:6a from the Greek: “Not such as that has failed the word of God.” Putting the Greek in order of modern English usage, we read Paul’s statement as “The word of God has not failed like that.” Therefore, instead of Paul trying to defend the plan of God as if failing because all Jews are not saved, Paul is rather declaring that IF all Jews would be saved, THEN the plan of God would have failed. But, he counters in verse 6: “The word of God has not failed like that.”
Remember again, that Paul’s prayer or wish to be anathema was for God to abandon his plan of redemption by faith to accept all Jews simply because they were Jews—by physical descent (or as Paul puts it “brothers, according to the flesh”) But that cannot be, and Paul declares as much in 9:6a when he argues “The word of God has not failed like that.” So (in opposition to the faulty reasoning of the passage mentioned earlier) Paul’s actual reasoning runs this way: Paul wanted all Jews to be saved. But choosing to save all Jews (based on flesh) was not God’s plan as evidenced by his word. Therefore, if God had saved all the Jews (as Paul had prayed), the word of God would have failed. Thus, 9:6a tells us that precisely because God chose not to save all Jews, the word of God shows itself not to have failed. Paul goes on in 9:6b, then, to show how it would have failed. If God simply accepted all Jews based on their fleshly descent, God’s plan would have failed because (9:6b) “Not all who are descended from Israel (the nation) are Israel (the prevailing people of God).” Therefore, saving all Jews would include those who were not the prevailing people of God (who, based on the plan, must be only those justified by faith). And from that point—that understanding—Paul turns back to show this to be true based on who God chose in bringing about redemption’s plan. He never chose based on flesh. He didn’t choose Isaac based on flesh (9:7–9). He didn’t choose Jacob based on flesh (9:10–13).
So then, Paul’s discussion right here in this passage of God’s choosing (his election) is not at all about election to heaven or hell. God’s choosing is about how his plan of redemption was fashioned, and that plan was not by works of the flesh but rather by his calling. And even in his working and calling to ensure his plan of redemption, God didn’t choose capriciously. The point that he chose Jacob over Esau before they were born was not to say God chooses by blindfolding himself and conducting a divine eenie-meenie-minie-mo game. It is an emphasis that God coordinates the events of the world by his intricate and infinite knowledge of all people and how their responses will play out to bizillions of events and interactions to work all things for good—his redemptive plan embracing all who will come to him.
Paul concludes his point that the determinative for God’s blessing is not the flesh but rather in his coordinative calling to work his redemptive plan by showcasing the difference between Jacob and Esau. God loved Jacob, Paul quotes, but hated Esau. It is a quote, so we have seen its OT context before. But it still is a shocking statement. Our God, who is Love (I John 4:8), can hate without cause? Isn’t that the opposite of love? Why did God love Jacob but hate Esau? Did our God of reason and order simply love to heaven and hate to hell for no reason? That description does not correspond with the rest of Scripture. The point here again is that we are not discussing God’s choice for salvation. We are discussing God’s plan through a line from Abraham onward that would lead to the Messiah and God’s redemptive fulfillment. So then, how and why did God love Jacob? He loved him by choosing him through whom to display his redemptive design and through whom to bring the Messiah Savior. Why did God choose Jacob and not Esau? Well, first, it was not because of the moral activity of Jacob. Not only does Paul stress that he was chosen prior to birth—before any moral activity was performed—but we know also that Jacob was not a particularly moral person. Jacob, like Esau and like every other human, was sinful based on his corrupted flesh influencing him to embrace sin. God was not interested in giving rewards for sinful behavior to Jacob, Esau, or anyone else. But God was interested in his plan succeeding. And God, knowing both Jacob and Esau infinitely well, knew that his plan would succeed best through Jacob. Therefore, God brought certain blessings to bear on Jacob. God loved Jacob (provided to Jacob his TGB for benefit of the whole of his plan). God hated Esau (did not provide him with his TGB for benefit of the whole—precisely because it would not best fulfill his plan).
I am not simply picking this definition for love because it fits my interpretive structure. Paul is quoting Malachi. In Malachi 1:1–3, God emphasizes that he loves Jacob over Esau. In Malachi 1:6–7, God shows that Jacob did evil. In Malachi 4:1, God says he will judge most of Jacob by destroying those who sin. Thus, the loving-Jacob idea of the passage again has nothing to do with choosing for everlasting love relationship. The love spoken of in Malachi is the giving of blessing for the purpose of bringing about God’s redemptive plan for the world. It would not have worked right through Esau, so God chose Jacob.
That God hated Esau follows the same pattern. God’s hate was not an eternal hatred to hell, but rather a putting aside his interests. Note that the Bible uses this word for hate on multiple occasions. Let’s look at three examples. Jesus speaks in each.
(1) Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters––yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.” How many Christians would say they qualify for eternal life with God based on this verse? I think most would explain that by hate, the Bible means to put aside the interests of the relative in favor of the interest of God. And they would be right.
(2) Luke 16:13: “No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.” Likewise in this verse, the hating is not a wildly deep loathing. It speaks of the slighting of the interests of one master to pursue the interests of the other. (The Greek word for despise in this verse is a different one, but one of its definitions (uses) is also “think little or nothing of.” Therefore, the point still remains.)
(3) Luke 6:27: “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you.” Is Jesus limiting our love for others to only those who particularly loath us? But those who slight us and run roughshod over us at work or in whatever other experience—are we to react in kind or other evil to them because, after all, they don’t fall in the group of those who really loath us to death; they are merely slighting us? Of course not, the doing good to those who hate us also means doing good to those who are merely disinterested in us.
In all these cases, the hating specified means not giving deference. In our Romans 9:13 instance, I believe it is speaking of the same attitude. After all, if God meant loathing to the infinite, the actual blessings that Esau (and Edom) did receive would be inexplicable. Esau continued to live. Esau had the blessings of marriage. Esau had the blessings of children. The nation of Edom was established from the sons of Esau. What does God mention when speaking of hating Esau? In Malachi 1 we see that God “turned his mountains into a wasteland” (opposed to the blessing of land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob); he “gave his inheritance to the desert jackals” (opposed to the blessing of inheritance of children to the patriarchs); and he kept Edom from rebuilding (as opposed to the continued blessing through the patriarchs to succeeding generations). What God discusses in Malachi 1 show the exact opposite of the blessings given to Abraham, et al., precisely based on God working his redemptive plan. God chose to do so through Jacob and not through Esau based on God’s calling for his purpose. Therefore, we are still not talking about choosing for eternal love relationship. We are talking about the blessing and bypass of humans in this life so that God can work all things together for good. And that’s how God loved (blessed) Jacob but hated (put aside) Esau.
In verses 14 through 18, Paul will support the justice of God in choosing for his own purposes rather than the moral character of the individuals involved. And he does so by appealing again to Moses. Paul quotes God from Exodus 33 in which Moses and God have a conversation shortly following the golden calf episode. If we are to understand how and why Paul is using the quotation, we must first understand how God meant it in Exodus 33.
Exodus 33 begins with God telling Moses that he would send an angel to guide them into the Promised Land because God does not want to go with them. This statement bothers Moses, and the point of chapter 33 (especially from verse 12 on) shows Moses’s personal desire for relationship with God and his intercessory concern for the people’s relationship with God.
So Moses begins in verse 12 asking, “Who will go with us?” In other words, he is asking who this messenger (angel) is that God is going to send with them. Moses doesn’t know him. Moses has no relationship with him. Moses goes on in verse 12 to say (in paraphrase), “You, Lord, know me intricately well. You have revealed yourself to me, and I have responded in faith and hope so that I have found favor with you.” Continuing in verse 13, Moses says, “If you know me so well and are happy with me, teach me more about you. In the revelation-response interchange, I’ll know you better so that I will follow you better in faith and hope to grow our relationship. But that can happen only if you are with me (and not if you send me off to the Promised Land led by some messenger I don’t know).” In other words, Moses appeals to God so that he will accompany him, teach him, and secure greater relationship.
And Moses ends verse 13 in an intercessory appeal for the people. He says, “Consider that this nation is your people.” In other words, Moses is arguing that if the way God became pleased with Moses was through providing revelation and Moses responding in faith and hope, the only way for God to be pleased with his people is for the same thing to happen—God must go with them, reveal himself to them, and allow them to also respond to him in faith and hope.
Moses succeeds in his argument. (Of course, God knew about this discussion and had so orchestrated events for this to happen. But the discussion itself reveals God’s purpose and plan for relationship.)
So God agrees in verse 14, literally saying that “his faces,” or his guiding presence, will go with them. Moses, overjoyed, reiterates in verses 15 and 16 the blessing of God going with them. And God follows that with his own confirmation in favor of relationship in verse 17.
Not as a change of subject, but flowing in with the relationship theme, Moses asks, in verse 18, for God to show him his glory. Glory is the manifestation of worth. God’s worth is in his essence—his truth, goodness, and beauty. So Moses wants to experience the feeling of fully intimate relationship. And God does do that (to the extent Moses as a finite being can handle) in verses 20 through 23.
But as God is agreeing in verse 19, he gives us the purpose for how he acts and how he chooses. God will show Moses his TGB because of the favor he has for Moses because of Moses’s response in faith and hope. But God also says, “I will have compassion on whom I will.” In other words, he is going to have compassion on the children of Israel even though they acted wickedly in order that they have the opportunity to also grow in faith and hope. Some will not. And because some will not, it does not mean that God’s goodness to them was wasted. God’s mercy will be shown on even evil ones in order for him to ensure his plan of redemption comes about as he designed. That’s the thought we will take back to Romans 9.