Selection of Jacob: Salvation or Blessing; Malachi 1:1-3, Romans 9-11
We need to look at how the New Testament utilizes the birth of Jacob and Esau in a couple of different passages. The one that is most famous is the one in Romans 9:11 which is used as an example of God's election or selecting sovereign choice in history. This is one of the key verses that many people go to to substantiate the doctrine called unconditional election. Unconditional election is the U in the acronym TULIP which represents the five points of Calvinism (T = total depravity or total inability; U = unconditional election; L = limited atonement: Christ died only for those who are elect; I = irresistible grace: God only extends His efficacious grace to those who are elect, so it is irresistible; P = perseverance of the saints: those who are elect will persevere or continue and not reject Christ or fall back permanently in this life). They don't teach that you won't sin or fall disastrously but they say it won't be a permanent state.
Romans 9:13, "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." The argument is that God has His elective love on specific individuals and He rejects and condemns others. The verse comes out of a passage in the Old Testament, Malachi 1:1-3, "The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, says the LORD. Yet you say, Wherein have you loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? says the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom says, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus says the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD has indignation for ever." This is the Old Testament context.
A basic principle: Whenever we are dealing with an Old Testament quotation in the New we have to understand the context of the original situation in the Old Testament. We can't just understand what Paul is saying in Romans 9 without understanding the backdrop of Genesis 25 and of Malachi.
The overall argument of Romans: Think what Paul is saying. In Romans we have one of the most consistently logical epistles in the New Testament where Paul is arguing for the vindication of God's justice in history. In Romans 1:16 Paul says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." As Paul develops his argument of Romans, which is a defense of the justice of God in relationship to human history he is going to relate it to the Jew and to the Gentile. So he is going to relate God's justice in history to both the Jew, and God's plan for the Jews, and God's plan for the Gentiles. This is further explained in verse 17, "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." So the key idea that flows through the epistle of Romans is a defense of the righteousness of God as it is revealed in human history. Paul constantly relates the Jews and Israel to this theme of God's justice. Chapter 1:18 to 5:21, which is the foundation for the rest of the epistle, Paul relates Israel to the righteousness of God and the doctrine of justification. In chapters two and three he demonstrates that man has fallen, and has violated the righteousness of God. In chapter four he demonstrates that the only way to be consistent with God's righteousness is for God to do it and that happens with the imputation of righteousness at the point of faith alone in Christ alone. In Romans chapter five we get the results of that, which is reconciliation. We have peace with God because we are justified. In chapters six, seven, and eight, Paul talks about the spiritual life of the believer. In 6:1 through 8:17 he relates Israel to the righteousness of God and sanctification through the contrast of grace and law. In 8:18-39 Paul relates Israel to the righteousness of God in glorification. This isn't the main idea of each of these sections but within each of these sections Paul is relating the righteousness of God to God's plan for Israel.
At the end of chapter eight we run into a little conundrum, because after eight chapters of talking about the justice of God and His righteousness, and he is addressing a congregation if Rome that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles, what do we think the Jews are thinking? Wait a minute! Back in the Old Testament, 2000 years ago, God promised Abraham a land, seed and blessing, and now He is going over to the Gentiles, that doesn't seem to be very fair or just to us. How can God's present dealings with Israel be consistent with His justice? He seems to have thrown Israel away and now He is going over to the Gentiles. So how can the present circumstances of Israel be related to the justice of God? That is why Paul takes what appears to be a diversion in Romans 9-11 in order to demonstrate what God is doing in history is perfectly consistent with His justice, and in the end He will fulfill all of His Old Testament promises and all of the covenants to Israel. So that at the end of Romans chapter eleven Paul says in this manner all Israel will be saved and it is based upon the promises given to the fathers in the Old Testament. So we have to see this flow in terms of Paul's argument, otherwise when we get into the details of the middle of Romans 9:10-13, if we don't understand what he is talking about, it is easy to misinterpret it.
In Romans 9:1-11:36 Paul relates Israel to the righteousness of God and the vindication of God's justice in His dealings with rebellious Israel which is in negative volition and has rejected Jesus as Messiah. Then in the last section of the epistle, in 12:1-16:27, Paul relates Israel to the righteousness of God and its practical application. So Israel is in the backdrop of every one of these sections.
This center section, chapters 9-11, deals with God's righteousness in terms of how He is dealing with Israel in the first century, the shift to the Gentiles in he church age, and how that is set up. In Romans 9 there is a demonstration of the righteousness of God in His rejection of natural Israel, that God is perfectly righteous to reject Israel because they rejected the Messiah, that He is going to discipline the nation, they have violated the righteousness of God and are coming under divine discipline, and that God is perfectly within His authority to discipline Israel. In chapter 10 Paul demonstrates that that rejection is based on Israel's corporate neglect of the revelation given to them. Historically he is saying they have rejected God's revelation to them as a nation. Then in chapter 11 he answers the question: Has God permanently cast away His people? The answer is that He has not. The main hermeneutical issue is whether or not Paul's answer to this question reveals a distinctive future in God's plan for ethnic, corporate Israel that is different from the present gospel era.
So the point is that if Romans 11 is talking about God's plan for a future for ethnic, corporate Israel, then that establishes the fact that what Paul is talking about in 9-11 is corporate Israel and God's plan for corporate Israel, and he is not talking about individual selection, he is talking about corporate selection. He is talking about God's choice of Israel as a nation, he is not talking about the selection of Israel individually for salvation. That fits the flow of what Paul is saying in a much better way.
That brings us to the key question that we must address: Is Paul talking about individual selection to salvation? Is he talking about individual selection to justification? When Paul talks about "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated," is he saying, "Jacob I chose for individual justification/salvation and Esau I rejected for individual justification/salvation?" or is he talking about them as representative heads of the national groups that come from them? If he is talking about corporate selection then none of this has anything to do with entry into the body of Christ and receiving eternal life, it has to do with God's plan to bless one group over and above another group in time. That is the governing question that we have to deal with.
Sometimes it is a good idea to read the last chapter in the book before the first chapter so we know where the author is going. In 11:28 we have the use of the word "election," and there Paul says, "As concerning the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies for your sakes: but concerning the election, they [Israel] are beloved for the sake of their fathers." One of the questions we have to answer as we get into this is: Is this talking about an election to justification, to individual justification salvation, or is this talking about a corporate election of the nation to a position of blessing in human history?
The first thing we should note is that the phrase "sake of their fathers." This tells us that his understanding is directly related to the Abrahamic covenant. That is "the fathers" that he is talking about—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What did God do with the fathers? He promised a covenant to Abraham, it was reconfirmed to Isaac, and it was reconfirmed to Jacob. That is the foundation for understanding the analogy that we see a little earlier in Romans 11:16, 17, "For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree." So we start of with the olive tree, which represents Israel. The root of that olive three represents the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant. Then we come along with the olive tree [Israel] and it is not producing fruit, so some of the branches are removed [discipline] and in their place we have Gentiles grafted into the place of blessing. It is not talking about salvation. The point in the analogy of the olive tree is who is receiving the nourishment from the root, which is the Abrahamic covenant. So God brings in and grafts in the wild olive branches, the Gentiles, who receive the blessing and benefit of the root. That is the promise in the Abrahamic covenant that God would bless all nations through Abraham.
Romans 11:18, "Boast not against the branches [those that were broken off]. But if you boast, you bear [support] not the root, but the root you." It all comes from the grace of God in giving this covenant to Abraham. So that is the foundation: the Abrahamic covenant as it was laid out to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers/patriarchs of Israel. So therefore we note that in Romans 11:28 "the sake of the fathers" indicates that the basis for the election is the Abrahamic covenant. Was the Abrahamic covenant a covenant given to Abraham in order to get him justified, or was he already justified. He was already justified—Genesis 15:6. The "they" in the passage (they [Israel] are enemies for your sakes) doesn't refer to individual justification or individual condemnation but to selection of the line of Abraham for special blessing.
When it says "concerning the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies," if we were going to take this as individual election, then this would have to refer to every single individual Jew. So what about Paul? What about Peter? What about the 3000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost. What about the 4000 who were saved a few days later? They were all Jews. So this doesn't refer to individuals, it refers to the corporate group. It was Israel as a corporate group under the leadership of the Pharisees that rejected Jesus as their Messiah. Even thought thousands of Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah, corporately they rejected Him. This is Paul's argument back at the beginning of Romans 11: "I say, then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Paul recognizes that not all Jews are enemies. But corporately they are in a position of rejection of Christ in following their leadership in rejecting Jesus' claims as the Messiah.
We need also to note is when it says that the election was on the basis of the fathers it can't be thought of as unconditional, because he was saying that it was on the basis of the covenant; there is a condition stated. So Romans 11:28 cannot be used to substantiate individual selection for salvation.
Romans 11:25, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinions; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in." God has a plan, and temporarily He has set aside Israel because they made real decisions in time. There was a true contingency in the kingdom offer. Jesus came, and said: "The kingdom is at hand." They said He wasn't the Messiah, so the kingdom was postponed. That was real contingency indicating real freedom in human history. As a result of their rejection God grafts in the Gentiles. He goes to the plan where He brings in the church which is a new corporate entity made up of both Jew and Gentile, but within the body of Christ ethnicity no longer matters because the old Mosaic law is no longer in effect. "Blindness in part" means that there is a part of Israel that is not blind. There will be individual Jews that are saved in this dispensation but corporately the nation has been set aside. God is no longer focused on Israel. He will go back to Israel when the Tribulation comes, when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Romans 11:5, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." That sounds like he is talking about individual salvation. Actually, he is not. He is talking about a group, a corporate entity; in fact, two groups. There is a large group of ethnic Israel, and within that larger group there is a another corporate group that makes up real Israel which is those who have put their faith in the Lord for salvation.
Romans 11:6, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." They don't merit a position in the remnant, it is because of faith alone in Christ alone.
Romans 11:7, "What then? Israel [corporate Israel] hath not obtained that which it seeks; but the elect [the saved remnant within corporate Israel] has obtained it, and the rest were blinded." They were blinded because of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.
As we look at these two different groups we have to pull together two verses, one at the beginning of this section, Romans 9:6, and one at the end of this section, Romans 11:26. First, Romans 9:6, "Not as though the word of God hath taken no effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." In other words, there are two groups: an ethnic group and an ethnic group plus regeneration group. At the end of the section on Romans 11:26 Paul says, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." Is that "all Israel" ethnic Israel or "not Israel is Israel"? It is the smaller group, the group of believers. There are two groups. The larger group is ethnic Israel, all those who are ethnic Jews. They are related to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by birth. Then there is a sub-group of regenerate Jews—true Israel. True Israel are the Jews who pay attention to Jesus' warning in Matthew 24 when He said, "When you see these signs taking place you will drop what you are doing and head for the hills." When the Antichrist and all the armies are converging on Jerusalem, and Jerusalem and Israel are about to be wiped from the face of the planet, these Jews who flee to Basra are going to cry out, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Jesus said on Matthew 23 that unless they say Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord he won't come. They are finally going to recognize Him as Messiah and call upon Him to deliver them, and that is when Jesus Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation and He comes down to rescue Israel at the last possible moment, and thus all Israel is saved. Why is Israel all saved? Because the rest of them are dead! They didn't follow Jesus' command to go to the hills. So all Israel, the remnant, is saved at that point, that is, ethnic Israel plus regeneration.
Romans 11 tells us that Paul is clearly talking about corporate Israel and that God's choice of corporate Israel in the Old Testament has not been abrogated by the rejection of Christ, that God is still faithful to them and God will eventually save and deliver them in a future time and fulfill all His promises which He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Romans 9:1-5, Paul expresses his sorrow over the Jews' corporate rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Because they have corporately rejected Him there are individuals who are lost, but he is expressing his sorrow over the Jews' corporate rejection of Christ because it is a corporate offer. That means that Jesus Christ came and offered Himself as Messiah to bring in the kingdom to the entire corporate entity of the nation. The leaders rejected Him and as a result He was crucified.
"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." So he is grieved because as a corporate entity Israel has rejected Christ and as a result a vast majority are lost. Look at who he is talking about. Is he talking about every single Jew? No. Jews were saved every place Paul went on his missionary journeys. He went to the Jews first sand then the Gentiles. There are lots of Jews that are saved. So he is not talking about individuals, he is talking about a corporate group: "who are Israelites; to whom pertain the adoption." Israel was adopted as God's firstborn. Is this corporate or individual? It is corporate, the whole nation; "and the glory." The nation had the Shekinah glory of God in the tabernacle and in the temple. The whole nation had the glory of the presence, the Shekinah, of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ; "the covenants." Who were the covenants given to? They were given to the nation as a whole; "the giving of the law." Who was the law given to? The corporate nation again; "the service of God, and the promises." All of this focuses on a group of people, a corporate entity. Who are the fathers? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Romans 9:6-13. What Paul is saying that it wasn't that the Word of God failed or that His integrity or justice failed but that not all Israel is Israel, not all Israel has responded to the grace of God. In God's sovereignty He is temporarily setting aside the nation and putting them under divine discipline during the times of the Gentiles. "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise [land, seed, blessing] are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Again we have to ask the question: Is this corporate selection to blessing or individual selection to justification and eternal life? He is not talking about the individuals, he is talking about corporate selection to special place of blessing in time. That was what the issue was all about. The question is: When we have the statement, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," is this talking about them as individuals or as representing the groups that come from them?
Genesis 25:22-23, "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. 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." Notice: "two nations," two peoples; "and the elder shall serve the younger." The older nation shall serve the younger, and this is how it worked out in history. Note that nothing is said in this context about justification salvation. No one knows if Esau was saved or not. The verse that people go to to argue that Esau was not saved is Hebrews 12:15ff, "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance [change], though he sought it carefully with tears." The context is the writer is addressing believers and warning them that if they fall into carnality and let mental attitude sins, such as bitterness, dominate their thinking, that it is not only going to put them out of fellowship for the time being and create other problems, but it is going to jeopardize their eternal inheritance. Esau's birthright was his future blessing, inheritance. Is that saying that he lost salvation or didn't have salvation? Not at all. In fact, if the analogy is going to hold true Esau was saved, and what he did was, because he lived for the moment for his own fleshly appetites and didn't care about the future, he was willing to give up his birthright just to satisfy his present hunger.
That brings us to Malachi. The setting is that the people are hardened. They are on negative volition, they have rejected the provision of God, they are ignoring the temple and the Levites, and as a result God is disciplining the nation. Before Malachi lowers the boom on them in the book of Malachi the first thing he reminds them of is God has made an unconditional covenant with them, and that is the point that God is making when He says, "I loved Jacob and hated Esau." In other words, He chose Jacob to receive the greater blessing, not Esau, and I haven't gone back on my word."