Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated
Romans 9:10 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 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 his call - 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
One of the main reasons why some Christians reject the reformed (biblical) understanding of Divine election is because of traditions associated with the love of God. The strong reaction of some against the doctrine of God's Sovereignty in election is often times due to a desire to defend a concept that they have regarding the love of God. They feel that God's attribute of love is in question or under attack.
Great care is needed to point people to the biblical texts which can clarify the issue. Not everyone seems to be open to examine their assumptions because these traditions are so very strong. The tradition that God loves all people in the exact same way is a strong one. I have to say, for many years, this was exactly the case in my own life. Many see no need to examine the texts at all because in their minds, the concept they have of the love of God = what the Bible teaches. As Dr. James White rightly says, "those most enslaved to their traditions are those who do not believe they have any."
However we understand the phrase "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" in Romans 9, I think we would all have to agree that God's love for Jacob was certainly different or of a different kind than His love for Esau. I think we all have to say this or else the text is meaningless. But if this is indeed the case, then just this one verse would refute the idea that God loves everyone in the exact same way. There must be different dimensions of the love of God.
Some seek to avoid this conclusion by saying that Jacob and Esau refer to nations rather than individuals. Certainly it is true that Jacob and Esau became mighty nations. However, the text itself refers to individual people (Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother) and not nations, and even nations are made up of individuals. For God to set His love on a nation and reject another nation certainly has ramfications for the individuals within those nations - so the conclusion many are wanting to avoid (that God elects some but not all - and that He loves some in a special way that He does not love all) remains inescapable.
Lets remember the context here also. Paul is explaining why not all of the people of Israel have embraced their Messiah and come to salvation, and has just told us that God's word has not failed because not all Israel is truly Israel (Romans 9:6). All who were the true Israel did embrace Christ because they were the ones the promise was made to, and it is just this continued flow of thought from Romans 8 into Romans 9 that brings us to the "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" statement. Paul is explaining why God's word does not fail in any way at all because all the true Israel will be saved, and nothing can separate the true people of God from the love of God (something made clear in Romans 8). "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 his call" one brother was chosen and the other was not.
God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. God's electing purpose to set His electing love on Jacob and not on Esau is an EXPLANATION as to why God's word has not failed in any way at all. God's promise is true and His word always accomplishes its intended purpose. All the elect will receive this mercy. This is what the entire Romans 9 passage is teaching us. God's choice of one brother and not the other was not based on their actions (or works) but based on the powerful effectual call of God (something also made clear in Romans 8, where all the called are justified).
The fact is that God is Sovereign. As such, He reserves the right to have mercy on whom He will and to pass over others, leaving them in their hostile disposition against Him. God revealed Himself to Abraham in a way He did not for his neighbor down the street. His electing love on Israel was not bestowed on the Canaantites or the Philistines. After His resurrection, Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus but not to Pontius Pilate in his bedroom. The whole Bible speaks of a God who is Sovereign in the way He bestows mercy.
And this is just it - many have come to me weeks after hearing me teach on this subject and although they admitted to me that at first, they were inwardly hostile and resistant to the teaching, but after taking a second look and examining it for themselves they have made comments such as, "Its amazing! Now I see this truth everywhere I look in Scripture."
One person just recently told me, "I now see God's electing love in places I never imagined - I am reading my Bible and I am now seeing this in the parables of Jesus, and so many other places. I see that Jesus rejoiced that God's truth was hidden from some but revealed to others.. I had read these kind of passages for years and never seen it. Luke 10:21 says that Jesus "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."" Jesus actually rejoiced that the Father hid truth from some, and rejoiced in His Father's electing love. This has rocked my world, and what was once a loathsome thing, is sweetness and light, now I can see it."
If Jesus rejoices in His Father hiding (which speaks of activity) truth from some that He reveals to others, I think it should at least cause us to ask the question "why?" Why would God hiding some things from some and revealing His truth to others be precious to our Lord? Why does it not excite us the way it excited Jesus? (that's something to think about for sure)
As Romans 9 continues from verse 14, God sees it as perfectly just to dispense His mercy as He sees fit. Mercy, by its very definition, cannot be demanded. No one can demand mercy. The fact that no fallen angel will ever be redeemed causes no intellectual problem for the angels in heaven - God's just character remains in tact, and the angels of God continually sing "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." If God had elected no one to salvation, the songs of worship from the angels would never have missed a beat! God owes nothing to rebel sinners!
What should surprise us about the text "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" is not that God hated Esau. Esau was a sinner and deserved the wrath of God just like the rest of us. What should astound us is not that He hated Esau, but that He set His love on Jacob. This should absolutely shock us! Why would God have anything to do with such a sinner? But sadly, we are not always astounded by this amazing mercy, I think because deep down, we tend to believe that everyone deserves mercy. The truth is, everyone of us is every bit as much a sinner as Jacob, but until we as Christians really "get this" we do not grasp the amazing grace God has bestowed on us.
All people receive some mercy - God was very merciful to Esau, but ultimately Esau did not receive the exact same mercy as his brother Jacob. God sends His rain to all - on the just and the unjust, but He bestows His effectual redeeming love only on some. Not everyone is saved. Some do perish. The fact that even one sinner will be numbered amongst the heavenly host because he was redeemed by the sheer mercy of God should amaze us. The fact is that this number will not be just a few, but will be so vast that no man can count it.
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Hallelujah! What a Savior!