Election of Jacob in Malachi; Romans 9:1-5
Romans 9:10-13, "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."
It is those verses that are taken by almost every reformed theologian and given as a proof text for the doctrine of election for salvation, and with more extreme Calvinists or hyper-Calvinists it is taken to support the doctrine of double predestination, which is the doctrine that God chose some for salvation and He chose others for damnation. Many Christians reading through Romans come to this passage and they thing that is what it is talking about. Here are two individuals, Jacob and Esau, and doesn't the text clearly say that before they were born, before they had done anything good or evil, before they had made any decisions about anything, that God chose one and He rejected the other? That seems to be what it is saying on the surface. But this has to be taken in terms of the context of what Paul is saying in Romans 9-11, and it must be understood in the light of how Paul is interpreting Genesis 25. We have to understand what Genesis 25 is saying. The Bible must be understood as a consistent whole, so that if the writer of Genesis (Moses) says one thing, and means one thing, then Paul isn't going to come along and change the meaning or reinterpret it into a new meaning. That is a problem with what we have in what is called Reformed theology, that branch of theology that came out of the Reformation and was primarily influenced by John Calvin in the French-Swiss Reformation. It is other wise known as Calvinism. Within Reformed theology there later developed what is known as Covenant theology. The word "covenant" in Covenant theology is not what we normally think of as the biblical covenants.
In Covenant theology the covenants are theologically extrapolated covenants: that God made a covenant of works with Adam in the garden, so that if Adam was obedient he would be saved, and if he was disobedient then he was under condemnation. Then after Adam failed God entered into a second covenant with man which is this theologically extrapolated covenant called the covenant of grace. Some Reformed theologians have a third covenant called the covenant of redemption. That is what they are talking about when they use the word "covenant" in Covenant theology. Covenant theology does not distinguish between Israel and the church, so that in Covenant theology when Israel rejects Jesus as their Messiah God then disciplines them and takes away from them the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant, Land covenant, Davidic covenant, and the New covenant. These prophecies, these blessings, are then spiritualized/allegorized to the church. In Covenant theology Israel in the Old Testament is the church and the church in the New Testament is spiritual Israel. So they do not distinguish between Israel and the church, and that means that in Covenant theology there is no future for Israel in God's plan because the blessing that God originally promised to Israel have now been given to the church. So their interpretation of Romans 9-11 is completely different from the way we who come from a Dispensational background would interpret this since we believe in a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture which leads us to an understanding of the distinction between God's plan for Israel and God's plan for the church. It is important to understand these things because they set the framework for how many different people interpret Scripture.
All the way through Romans 9-11 Paul is arguing for a future for ethnic Israel, and when he talks about Israel in this chapters he is talking about the corporate ethnic nation. Even though there are numerous Jews that are saved the nation itself as a whole refused to accept Jesus as Messiah and rejected His offer to bring in the kingdom. As a consequence Israel was temporarily set aside in God's plan. So the answer to the question, What about God's justice in relationship to Israel? The answer that Paul is giving in Romans 9-11 is that God has not ultimately set aside Israel, there will be a restoration and God will ultimately fulfill the promises that He made to the fathers. The point that we are interested in is that what Paul is saying related to Israel has to do with Israel as a corporate body and he is not addressing the issue of justification in these chapters. Therefore we can't come in and say that this selection of Jacob over Esau has to do with justification. That is where Covenant theology and Reformed theology goes in their doctrine of election, that this choice of Jacob over Esau was for justification. But what we have seen is that this has to do with God's choice to bless the descendants of Abraham and to use them in communicating His Word to the nations, and in blessing all the nations, ultimately which came through the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is a choice for blessing within the historical plan of God, not a choice related to justification by faith.
Malachi 1:1-3, "The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you [Israel], says the LORD. Yet you say, In what way have you loved us? [Then God replies] 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 jackals of the wilderness." God is addressing the nation. This is a prophecy given to Malachi [Malachi means My messenger]. "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" is the statement that Paul quotes in Romans 9:13. Is Malachi talking about individual justification for salvation? Or is he talking about God's plan for the nations that came forth from Jacob and Esau? It is clear that he is talking about the nations, not the individual. God begins here by reaffirming His unconditional love for the nation Israel, and then He is just going to blast them in one paragraph after another because of their negative volition, because of their degeneracy, because they have just gone right back into assimilation with the pagans living around them, and there is just one abuse after another all the way through Malachi. But this is just the introduction, and before God hits them on the head with a 2 x 4 He first reaffirms His unconditional love for the nation, as exemplified in the Abrahamic covenant promises.
What is the setting here in Malachi? The Persian king is Cyrus who in 538 BC, after the Persians had defeated the Chaldeans, issued an edict to the Jews to return to the land. In 536 they returned under Zerubbabel to build the temple. They rebuild the temple and the altar and this is done under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah. The temple is completed in about 515 BC. Then there is a second return that takes place some 50 years later under Ezra, and at this time they are to beautify the temple and to reform the people because they are on negative volition. They had let the temple fall into disrepair, they didn't care about God or what God said to them, and it reflected their spiritual condition. Then there is a third return that comes under Nehemiah in 444 BC.
At this time the Gentile nations are still dominating in Jerusalem. It is the time of the Gentiles which began in 586 BC and extends to the end of the Tribulation. It is during the times of the Gentiles that Jerusalem is under the domination of Gentile powers.
So there have been three returns but the nation is in a state of spiritual decadence. There are all kinds of problems and that is what is outlined in the book of Malachi. As we go through the book of Malachi one of the things to be noted is that there are numerous statements made by the Lord. Some twenty-five times in four chapters there is the statement, "Thus says the Lord of hosts." The foundation is given in 1:2, God's love for Israel, and there is the first rhetorical question: "Yet you say, In what way have you loved us?" God is going to demonstrate at the beginning how He has loved Israel. Jacob and Esau were twins, and the statement "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" is not a statement of personal love and personal hate. First of all, God does not hate. Secondly, when there is a statement like this in the Hebrew idiom it is a statement of acceptance and rejection, that he has chosen Jacob is the one through whom He has chosen to bless the world through the Abrahamic covenant, and Esau is not the one He is not going to work through historically. It doesn't mean that Esau was under condemnation. In fact, there were many ways in which God personally blessed Esau during Esau's life. However, the descendants of Esau are the Edmomites, and the Edomites did come under condemnation from God because of the way they treated Israel. God judged them before the Jews went out under the Babylonian captivity, and He notes in verse 3, "[I] laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the jackals of the wilderness." Verse 4, "Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith 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 hath indignation for ever." In other words, no matter how much they try to establish themselves and make something fore themselves it is not going to happen. This is because the Lord's plan for history is to bless Israel and it is not going to be blessing for Edom as a nation. So we have the first question which establishes God's covenant love for Israel, that that is not going to change.
Then He begins to lower the boom. The first indictment is given in vv. 6-15, and He basically says that they are bringing cheap offerings and sacrifices to Him because they ultimately despise and hold God in contempt. "A son honors his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is my honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, that despise my name. And you say, Wherein have we despised thy name? You offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and you say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that you say, The table of the LORD is contemptible. And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? says the LORD of hosts. And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this has been by your means: will he regard your persons? says the LORD of hosts."
As we go through this chapter it will be noted that there are numerous words related to the law. But the focal point here is that Israel has violated God's covenant. This is the main idea in chapter two, but that must be understood in terms of what God is saying from the very beginning. They violated the covenant but God's love for them is established by His covenant and He is not going to go back on that. So there is a warning of divine justice: 2:1-2, "And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not lay it to heart." Then he is going to demonstrate His condemnation, verse 3: "Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it." This is how God is expressing His disdain for them because they have treated Him in such a contemptible manner. Furthermore He is going to demonstrate that the priesthood has been corrupt in Israel in this whole matter, and He uses seven synonyms for the law throughout this section to demonstrate the unfaithfulness of the nation.
He uses the word "commandment." They have violated His commandments—2:1, 4. The second word that is used is "covenant," and this word is used six times in this section—2:4, 5, 8, 10, 10; 3:1. The repetition of this word throughout this section under girds the fact that the problem is that they have failed to fulfill the terms of the Mosaic covenant. This is exemplified by the way the priesthood has become corrupt on the one hand, and on the other hand has been mistreated and abused by the people. 2:7, "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you are departed out of the way [the law]; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi [Mosaic covenant that established the Levitical priesthood], says the LORD of hosts."
So chapter two is an indictment that the nation has violated the standard set forth in the Mosaic law. This is brought out in the third question which is in Malachi 2:10, the last part of the verse: "…why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" So they have violated the Mosaic covenant. The fourth question is brought out in Malachi 2:17, "You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, Wherein have we wearied him? When you say, Every one that does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?" They have engaged in a campaign of rationalization and justification of sins, so that what is good is called bad and what is bad is called good. They are rationalizing and justifying their disobedience to the law.
In Malachi 3:7 a fifth rhetorical question is raised: "Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, says the LORD of hosts. But you said, In what way shall we return?" There again we have God's gracious offer to Israel. No matter how disobedient they are He is offering them salvation and recovery. But they are establishing their doubt of God.
In 3:8 there is another indictment. "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, In what way have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings." They were not bringing the proper taxes as laid out in the Mosaic law into the temple. So they were, in effect, stealing from God.
But God is faithful to that opening statement that is made about His choice of Jacob and in verse 16 He holds forth the promise of future glory: "Then they that feared the LORD spoke often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him." This looks forward to the second coming of Christ when the covenants will be fulfilled and God will establish the nation again. This is where Malachi heads in chapter four. It is a look ahead: "For, behold, the day is coming, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that is coming shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." This is the judgment of God that will come at the end of the Tribulation and the great day of the Lord. That is when the kingdom will be established.
So Malachi is all about a nation that is under divine discipline for its carnality and disobedience. They have intermarried with the Gentiles, they have absorbed and assimilated with paganism, they have failed to support the Levites, the Levites themselves have become corrupted, they have oppressed the poor, the people didn't trust God; but Malachi comes along at the very beginning and says, "God loves you." So that no matter how unfaithful they are as a nation God is going to be faithful to His covenants, and ultimately He is going to fulfill that promise. When we come to this statement that "Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated" the question we need to address again is, Is this talking about individual justification, or is it about God's choice for blessing Israel within time in terms of specific historical blessing? The answer is the latter. God is selecting Israel for specific blessings in time, and it has to do with God's plan and purposes. He is not talking about justification salvation.
Our conclusion is that God has the sovereign right to raise up certain nations and to tear down certain nations in order to fit His historical plan. But God is always going to be faithful to His covenant promises to Israel, and in the same way God is always going to be faithful to His promises to us, so that no matter how disobedient we are and no matter how we fail, God is never going to leave us, for sake us or desert us. So the conclusion is that if we are still alive God sill has a plan for our life. There is always a basis for recovery, and when there is recovery there will be consequent blessing.