Birth or Jacob; Election Gen. 25:19 – 26
Genesis 25:19, "And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son." Or, literally: "This is what happens to Isaac and to his descendants." This section begins the explanation of how God continues the outworking of His promise to Abraham through Isaac and his descendants. We have to recognize that these are not simply interesting stories, not just bizarre stories, not just myths or religious parables, they are actual historical events, that they are not biography as such, they are best to be classified as a theologized history. That is what the Old Testament is, it is God's viewpoint, His interpretation of the events of history, to demonstrate His plan and purposes. It is an editorialized view of history from the divine viewpoint to demonstrate what God is doing as He is working out His promise from Genesis 3:15 that He would provide a savior. Genesis 3:15 is embedded within what we normally call the curse. It is the last statement that God made to the serpent but it is the first statement in the Bible that is related to God's plan of redemption. Therefore it is called the protoevangelion, or the first mention of the good news/the gospel. This is the first introduction of the promise of a seed and the seed of the woman. The next significant mention of that seed comes in he Abrahamic covenant. According to the apostle Paul in Galatians three is that the seed would refer to the Lord Jesus Christ because in the third section of the Abrahamic covenant, the blessing, God said that through Abraham He would bless all of the human race. God was calling out Abraham for a specific purpose and that through him He would bless all the nations. This is done through the seed that is the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the ultimate fulfillment of that promise and that is is through the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross that every human being is blessed. We are blessed with salvation, we are blessed with the spiritual life, and blessed with eternal life.
That seed promised to Abraham is expanded through his son and then through his grandson. What we learn in this section is the human side of the acquisition of the blessing. On the human side we learn how the human beings and all of their flaws and failures, their sin nature attempts to manipulate God and manipulate the blessing, try to get the blessing. But on the divine side we discover that the blessing is guaranteed to Jacob in this opening prophecy that is given in verse 23 of chapter 25.
Before we go very far into this study we have to recognize that one of the key principles we learn in in this section is that God does not work in history apart from human volition and responsibility. God doesn't abrogate individual decision-making, volition and responsibility. In His sovereignty He oversees human decisions and responsibility to guide and direct human history along the course that He intends. So as we approach this passage we have to remember the principle that is laid down in Isaiah 55:8, 9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." The reason to bring this up is that we have to understand that there is a radical distinction between how the creator operates, how He thinks, how He knows, how He operates in moving history along in terms of all of the various dimensions, specifically in terms of causation and how He works out His purposes while at the same time not manipulating the decision-making of mankind. So we have to understand that at the very core, when we attempt to address some of these very complicated issues related to God's sovereignty and human responsibility, that we must not try to deal with God's decision-making process and the way he causes history to move forward in the same way that we view creaturely causation.
This opening section is one that is picked up by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter nine to be an illustration of the doctrine of election. If we don't do proper thought and do the ground work ahead of time when we approach this then we either end up in some sort of fatalism on the one hand where God so controls every details and every thought in human history that there is no room for human volition whatsoever and man just becomes another cog in the machine, or we end up at the other extreme where God is not God at all , and everything that God does is simply in response to human decision-making. Both situations destroy the biblical view of God. If we don't understand that God is categorically different, that we can't interpret God within our creaturely categories, then we end up in one of those two extremes.
As we approach this we learn the background on Isaac, that he is forty years old when he marries Rebekah who is a cousin of his from the family line back in Padanaram in Syria, and we are reminded that Rebekah is the sister of Laban. All of this foreshadows where we are going to go in this next toledot. Jacob is going to be back in Syria with the in-laws for about 20 years before he finally returns to the land.
We come to the first couple of verses where the focus is on God's sovereignty in providing the next heir to the Abrahamic covenant. It is in response to Isaac's prayer. We have to understand that by God's sovereignty we emphasize the fact that God is the ruler of the universe. He is the creator, the ultimate authority. How that sovereignty works in human history is the subject of a lot of debate. But God in His sovereignty and His omnipotence is so great and so powerful that He is able to work in history and oversee the developments of human history in such a way that He brings about what He wants to bring about without violating human responsibility.
God is going to sovereignly provide the next heir to the Abrahamic covenant but He does so in response to Isaac's prayer. Genesis 25:21, "And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived." The theme in this verse is Rebekah's barrenness and that God sovereignly made her barren and kept her from having children, but in response to Isaac's prayer God is going to bring life where there has been death. This is the key theme in Genesis. In Genesis 1:2 we see that the earth is a bleak, dark, barren, lifeless place; that darkness covers the earth. There is no life, no light. But throughout the Svcripture we see that God is the one who brings life, and He brings light where there is darkness, and where there is death. John1:3, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men." There is this integral connection in the Scriptures between life and light. Light is truth and is related to illumination, to the understanding of truth as well as to righteousness. John 1:5, "And the light [the Lord Jesus Christ and His incarnation] shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Later in John 3 John writes that men loved darkness rather than the light, and this is the natural orientation to the sin nature. John 1:9, "That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him [believed on Him], to them gave he authority to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood [genetics: not because they were born a Jew], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The cause of regeneration is not our free will. This is the sovereign creator side of the equation. Man exercises non-meritorious faith at salvation. That faith is directed toward the Lord Jesus Christ but it is not meritorious, faith is something that anyone can exercise. God, then, is the one who brings life where there was no life. This is what we see in the dynamic of Genesis 25:21. It is God that brings life into the womb, no apart from the normal human means of production and fertility, but He does it in response to Isaac's prayer. So Isaac prays on the human side of the equation and God in His sovereignty is the one who brings life into the womb. God was waiting for Isaac to demonstrate his faith dependence upon Him before He began to fulfill the promise.
This is a major theme throughout the Old Testament to demonstrate that He is the one who brings life where there is darkness, and this is the doctrine of the barren woman.
1) We have to recognize that the first three barren women of the Scripture are the three matriarchs of the new Hebrew people, the chosen race, called out by God. There is a theological emphasis here. They are the wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is not a coincidence. Their barrenness is designed to teach that the nation Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, did not come into existence by chance. It wasn't simply something that was the product of human will. The call and the choice of Abraham is not related to his salvation but to a new work that God is doing in history. He is calling out a new people through whom He is going to reveal His Word and bring the savior into history.
2) The significance of barrenness is not some sin on the part of any of these women. There were certainly many other barren women in the Scripture that are not mentioned, so we have to answer the question: Why these? And there are only six that are mentioned in all of Scripture. The first is Sarah in Genesis 11:30, the second is Rebekah in Genesis 25:21, the third Rachel is Genesis 29:31. Then we have the unnamed mother of Samson in Judges 13, then Hannah, the mother of Samuel in 1 Samuel 1. It is another 1000 years before there is a mention of a barren woman, and that will be Elizabeth who will be the mother of John the Baptist. Notice something significant about the children that each of these barren women have. They are foundational to something that God is doing in history. The first three are the mothers of the nation Israel. Then there is the mother of Samson, and Samson is the judge who doesn't deliver the nation. He was a Nazirite from birth and from the time he was old enough to make decisions he violates that Nazirite vow again and again and again. He is a picture of the complete decadence of the nation, the paganization at the time of the Judges, and at the time of his death he is blinded and though he takes out a lot of Philistines he doesn't deliver the nation. At almost the same time in history there is another barren woman, Hannah. Hannah and the mother of Samson are about the same age, and while God is working through one mother to bring about a judge who is a picture of the depravity of the nation He is working through another mother to bring about the man who will be the last judge and also a prophet in Israel. That is Samuel. It is through him that the nation will be judged and he is the one who will anoint Saul the first king, and then David the second king. It is through David that the Philistines are finally destroyed as a military power. So we have this theme running through these pregnancies that God is bringing life where there has been spiritual death and barrenness. Then we have Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and again there is a miraculous birth, and he is the forerunner who is to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
3) The absence of barren women was also an indication of something about Israel's spirituality, according to the Mosaic law in Exodus 23:26, that of they obeyed the law God promised that there would be no one miscarrying or barren in the land. There was also the warning that if there was disobedience there would be barren women and miscarriages in the land as an indication of their carnality. So the absence of barren women indicates Israel's spirituality and divine blessing, the presence of barren women in the Mosaic period indicated Israel's carnality and divine judgment. But that only applies to the time of the Mosaic law up to the time of Christ. It was not in effect at the time of the Patriarchs.
4) Conclusion: The barren womb in these women pictures the spiritual emptiness and lifelessness of mankind, that mankind is spiritually dead. Only God can bring life where there is death.
5) In each case God miraculously brings forth life where there is death. It is a picture of regeneration. Only God can solve the problem of spiritual death by spiritual birth. Ultimately each one of those women is in some way a type of what happens with Mary in the virgin conception and birth, because where there was no means of production God brought life into the world. Jesus Christ is the life and the light of the world.
6) The barren womb is is a type of the virgin womb of Mary. There the solution to the barren womb was the new life in the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Note that both Isaac and Rebekah are going to pray. God responds to both. Principle: Prayer is this established as the means by which God chose to grant the promised blessing. Prayer is a function of the faith-dependency of man. We trust God and in our claiming of the promises that God has made to us we go to Him in prayer. That is exactly what Isaac is doing. The word that is used here is a very specific word for prayer, the Hebrew word athar, which means not simply to pray but to entreat. It is an intense form of prayer. The KKJV translates is "pleaded." In the Arabic cognate the word means to slaughter for sacrifice, so that it is not just the idea of praying, but that there was a sacrifice that was associated with this prayer. Something was going on here to intensify his prayer. Zephaniah 3:10 describes worshippers or prayer warriors who are bringing sacrifices and offerings to God along with the prayer. So this pictures the fact that Isaac is coming to God with a sacrifice and a special plea that God will finally fulfill the promise that He has made to Abraham and to Isaac that the line would continue. It is this that God has been waiting for because it is a demonstration of the fact that Isaac has reached a level of spiritual maturity and recognizes that he must be completely dependent upon the Lord. So he expresses his faith-dependency upon God and it results in God opening Rebekah's womb so that she becomes pregnant. God once again brings life where there was no life. This is to emphasize to the Jewish reader that God is the author of life in Israel and that they were the specific result of God's miraculous activity in bringing life into a barren womb.
In verses 22 & 23 we see that there is a struggle that is going on inside the womb of Rebekah. This is more than the standard fetal movement, it is something that is extreme; so much so that she knows that something radical is going on inside of her, so she is then motivated to go to the Lord with an enquiry. The result is that God answers her prayer and He gives a divine interpretation that what is taking place is a symbol of what will take place in the future between the descendants of these two sons.
In verse 25 we read that God will choose the recipient of the promises by His choice. He is going to make a selection. This is what is known as election, it just simply means basically to make a choice. God in His sovereignty as the creator and ruler of the universe has the right to select people for different functions and different roles. He does this all the time. He selected the apostle Paul for a specific role in the body of Christ; He selected Peter for a specific role in the body of Christ. God is totally within His right as the sovereign to select different human beings to fulfill different roles in history.
Genesis 25:22, "And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD." She sought a prophecy, an oracle.
Genesis 25:23, "And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your body; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." God is causing this action to take place in her womb for the specific reason of being able to give this forecast related to these two sons, to show ahead of time that He has already made a decision as to who will be in the line of the seed, who will be the recipient of the divine blessing, and which one will not. It doesn't have anything to do with their individual justification. We are not talking about salvation in this passage. There is no indication here that God is choosing one here for a heavenly destiny and causing the other to go to eternal damnation. That is not the context of Genesis 25. This is the outworking of the Abrahamic plan. So the principles are laid down that there will be a future rivalry between the descendants of these two men. The normal human procedure was that the eldest was in charge—the law of primogeniture, that the firstborn son was the one who received the double portion, the one who received the primary inheritance; the others received a lesser inheritance. But God reverses the human procedure with His procedure and all the way through this we see that the older serves the younger.
When Rebekah comes to enquire of the Lord we have a different word for her enquiry than what we had earlier with Isaac's entreaty. This is the Hebrew word which means to seek with care, to enquire, to require something of somebody. It is a diligent effort to get information from God. This leads to the core revelation that is at the very center of this narrative and which becomes a crucial element in future passages—Malachi 1:1-5; Roman 9:11.
That brings us to the whole issue of God's sovereign choice. We are not told why God made this choice, only that He did.
The doctrine of election
1) Basic definition: Election mean selection, choice. It depends on the subject of the verb as to who is making the choice. Just because God makes a choice doesn't mean there are not factors that go into making the choice. He is not making just arbitrary, whimsical choices. We must assume that God being a God of order is going to make decisions based on His knowledge, understanding of all things that are and basis them on his omniscience.
2) We have to recognize that there is a historical debate that goes on. This is usually classified as a debate between Calvinists and Arminian. Within this historical debate the U in TULIP, unconditional election, "unconditional" emphasizes that election is not conditioned on foreknowledge that certain ones will believe in Christ [Moody Handbook of Theology]. In other words, God's foreknowledge is not the basis for His decision. He makes His decision and that determines His foreknowledge. Election, therefore, according to the Calvinist view, is not conditioned on man's ability or response because that would be saying that man's ability or his response is meritorious. The issue here is how we understand faith. In five-point supralapsarianism Calvinism faith is viewed as a gift of God. That is how they interpret Ephesians 2:8, 9. So because man is totally depraved God gives him saving faith. This leads to the false view that there are different kinds of faith, i.e. a faith in Christ that is not saving and a faith in Christ that is saving. (If you don't have genuine fruit, then you didn't have the right kind of saving faith) So it produces "fruit inspectors," and everyone starts examining fruit in their lives. The unconditional part of unconditional election emphasizes that God alone initiates the process. That is true. God is the one who initiated the process with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the one who calls. But He doesn't do it in such a way that it abrogates or walks over human volition. Conditional election, which is the view of Arminian theology is the view that God foresaw who would believe and repent, and He therefore elected those who would believe and repent for adoption. But in Arminian theology faith is meritorious, just as it is in hyper-Calvinism and Lordship salvation.
3) We have to recognize that the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign in history, that there is only one ultimately authority in the universe, and that is God. God determines things according to His will. Man is not the ultimate cause in history.
4) But we have to recognize that divine causation at the creator level is not the same as causation at the human level.
5) The fact that no condition is mentioned in Scripture does not mean a condition does not exist. The Calvinist argues that election is unconditional, meaning that there is no condition, no meritorious condition on man's part. But the fact that no condition is mentioned in Scripture does not mean that God does not make His decisions based upon certain knowledge and certain conditions. The preferable term is the term "unmerited." God's election is unmerited; it is not based on any merit that He sees in us. Just because the Bible doesn't clearly state what the factors were that went into God's selection process doesn't mean that there weren't factors that went into the selection process. The Bible just doesn't tell us what they were.
6) Whatever that condition is it can't be based on something meritorious in the object of divine choice. He is not looking down the corridors of time and choosing people because they believe. That is really important because if we exegete and analyze the grammar of Ephesians 2:8, 9, "By grace you have been saved through faith," the Greek there is the preposition DIA [dia] plus a genitive noun for PISTIS [pistij]. DIA plus the accusative form of the noun PISTIS would be translated "because of faith," but the genitive means it is through faith. We are saved through faith, not because of faith. So we can't say God looks down the corridors of time and chooses us because of faith. If we do that, which is the Arminian view, we have just made faith meritorious and said that is the cause of our salvation. The cause of our salvation has to be the love of God which is shed abroad in our hearts through Christ Jesus.
7) Divine selection, therefore, is not based on foreseen merit in the object of selection. It is based on factors in God's omniscience but it is not based on foreseen merit.
8) Faith is non-meritorious. Saving faith is not based on the merit of the one believing but on the merit of the object of faith. In other words, saving faith is not meritorious in itself, it is the work of Christ that is meritorious. It is the object of faith, what you believe, that has merit.
9) Divine omniscience knows all that is knowable—all the possibilities.
10) Divine omniscience is direct, complete and intuitive. So His knowledge is radically different from our knowledge.
11) God makes specific choices in history that are related to His knowledge. There are only two choices: either He makes decisions based on His knowledge or He makes them apart from His knowledge—apart from His knowledge would seem to make His choices arbitrary. If He makes them in relation to His knowledge that doesn't mean that human decisions are the ultimate determiner in history because God chooses which of any hundreds of possible scenarios become accurate. Thus from the basis of His knowledge and all actual and possible events God chooses through an act of history that which will being about a) His greatest glory, and b) demonstrate His integrity and love to the fullest extent. His choices do not abrogate human responsibility or decision making.
12) Thus God chooses in concordance with His knowledge, which includes knowledge of all possible decisions man could make. God does not make random choices or choices that are arbitrary.
13) However, in reviewing these choices to man God does not reveal His rationale or the conditions for those decisions. He does not explain why He chose to work through Abraham and not another.
14) Romans 9:11 is consistently cited as the passage to indicate how God chooses some to be saved and others to be lost. Romans 9:11 doesn't fit the context though. Romans 9:13, "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." These are figures of speech for "Jacob I chose and Esau I rejected." In terms of what? In terms of salvation, or in terms of Israel's destiny? Romans 9 has nothing to do with salvation. The theme of Romans is answering the question of God's justice in history. When we get to Romans 9 after eight chapters defending the justice and the integrity of God, Paul answers the question: "Well if all this is true how can God be just and have integrity in relation to Israel? Because it looked as though Israel was going out under divine discipline. How is that fair in the light of the promises? So what Romans 9 is explaining is not justification salvation but how God is demonstrating His righteousness in the history of Israel.