And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:10-13).
In this series I have been endeavoring to show that God does not arbitrarily choose some people to go to hell and some to go to heaven by no choice or free will of their own. The above verse certainly seems to be saying otherwise, especially when we add the following verse to it,
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (Rom. 9:14-16).
However, as with all doctrine, we need to see what the Bible says in other places concerning these things. That is when Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination begins to fail, and it seems to be where most commentators fail as well. Strangely, they seem to be totally unaware of what God has shown us about the way he chooses and elects people in other places in the Bible. Before we look at some of those Scriptures, I want to examine the first verse above a little closer.
Verse 12 says, “The older shall serve the younger,” which is a quote from Gen. 25:23. The full verse in context reads,
And the Lord said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb (Gen. 25:23-24).
Notice nothing is said here of the sentence or phrase (depending on how your Bible is punctuated) that Paul tacked on the end of his quote which states, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” This sentence is not found in the entire book of Genesis. In fact, it is a quote from the very last book of the Bible, Malachi, which was written many hundreds of years after the deaths of Isaac and Esau. But, because Paul tacks it on at the end of the quote from Genesis, most have assumed this phrase must go with the main sentence about election in Rom. 9:11. Since the twins died hundreds of years after that, it cannot possibly be modifying the phrases “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls).” Otherwise, it would be both illogical and worse yet—untrue. It rather pertains only to the last phrase in that quote which says the “The older will serve the younger,” because by the time we get to Malachi, both twins had long since died and we now know the history of their respective nations. I am not a grammarian but I do know—for crying out loud—it’s a very basic rule that if you use a phrase, clause, or sentence to modify another phrase, clause or sentence, IT MUST AT LEAST MAKE SENSE! Much of the common doctrines on Predestination hang on the impossibility that the phrase from Malachi is modifying the main clauses of the preceding sentence. Calvinists and many commentators seem to be totally unaware that Paul slipped in a sentence from Malachi, from about 1500 years later that cannot logically go with Paul’s statement about election in verse 11 speaking of “the children not yet being born.”
Moreover, it is also clear in the passage in Malichi that the two boys are not personally in view. Rather the two nations they had produced are the context, Esau’s always being an enemy nation to Israel and the ways of God. Here is the passage from Malachi 1:1-4 in its context,
The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. Notice Paul’s quote is speaking about the nation of Israel, not Jacob personally.
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob's brother?” Says the Lord. “Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.”
Notice that the very next verse makes it clear God is speaking of the nation of Edom that Esau founded, which the verse goes on to explain was a “wicked nation.” The verse is speaking of the wicked history of Edom here and showing us that is why God hated it.
“Even though Edom has said, ‘We have been impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘They may build, but I will throw down; They shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, and the people against whom the Lord will have indignation forever.’”
So while God prophesied in Genesis that the older Esau would serve the younger Israel (that never happened on a personal level, only on a national one), it is because by His foreknowledge He knew Esau would be wicked and produce a wicked nation. He also knew Jacob would follow in the ways of his father Isaac.
Therefore, I assert with absolute certitude, that the sentence, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” cannot pertain to, “for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand.” It would be a lie since it was written hundreds of years after they were born. Rather it must be modifying the prophecy right before it, “The older shall serve the younger.” The free will of the twins was definitely involved in God’s predestination based on foreknowledge here, as Malachi makes clear. The wickedness of Esau disqualified him from the election of the firstborn.
Now lets move on to the “Predestination” passage following 9:10-13, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (9:14-16).
We must ask ourselves a question that apparently not too many Bible commentators ask themselves, “Does the Bible give us any clues about how God decides for whom He will have mercy?” The answer is an empathic YES!
How about if we start first with the King of Doctrine Himself? Jesus said concerning who will receive mercy,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
Whooh! Wait a minute! I have been taught by Calvinists for 30 years in the churches and in commentaries that God just chooses by His own mysterious sovereign will who will be saved without regard to a person’s free will. Jesus is, plain as day, giving us criteria for receiving mercy here. It is the merciful who will be shown mercy!
Mary said in her prophecy, “And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). Fear of God is also a factor in receiving His mercy.
Who are the ones to whom God does not show mercy? According to James they are the unmerciful ones,
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
Since Paul was quoting from the Old Testament, we may think that conditions for receiving mercy were only taught in the New Testament. Does the Old Testament say anything about how to attain God’s mercy? Again, the answer is yes.
For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Deut. 5:9-10).
He shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments, which is why Israel has always had a remnant. Paul has already told us in the book of Romans that those who don’t have the law will not be judged by the law but rather by their consciences (2:11-15). He even begins that passage by saying “For there is no partiality with God” (2:11). Everyone has many opportunities to offer or reject mercy to others—even unsaved people can show mercy and thus affect God’s mercy for their salvation. What I have heard and read of doctrines of Predestination would lead me to believe God was partial, if I didn’t study the Bible for myself.
Following are a few more verses on how to attain God’s mercy from the Old Testament:
He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness and honor (Prov. 21:21).
He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Prov. 28:13).
Do they not go astray who devise evil? But mercy and truth belong to those who devise good (Prov. 14:22).
Mercy and truth preserve the king, and by lovingkindness he upholds his throne (Prov. 20:28).
Then why does Paul say in Rom. 9:16, So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy? This is simply explained by Paul himself. In the context of Rom. 9-11, he is speaking primarily of Israel’s election, rejection, and restoration. He has already told us none of us deserve God’s mercy because we have all been disobedient, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). He goes on to repeat that, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). This last verse shows us that God desires to have mercy on all and thus offers it to all, as Peter says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But that does not stop many from rejecting His mercy as Paul explains. Surprisingly, Paul explains in chapters 9-11 that even though Israel was sovereignly predestined and elected by God, it didn’t do the majority of Israelites any good because they chose to reject Him. Clearly, Paul is not negating the free will of man in Rom. 9-11 since Israel’s free will trumped God election! (Although this is true for many millions of Jews for a couple thousand years, eventually all Israel will receive God’s mercy.) In these chapters, Paul is emphasizing God’s undeserved mercy on all who do attain it. As Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44a). Now we have at least some idea about what kind of people the Father draws to Himself and to whom He shows mercy and whom He hardens, though most common doctrines on election would lead us to believe otherwise.
Paul goes on to explain that Israel, except for a remnant, lost their election because of something they chose to do—not believe. He maintains that the Potter has a right to cast into hell or save whomever He wants. But He also shows that the ones whom He hardens are those who refuse to accept His mercy by faith—even if they try to receive it by works of the law. He ends his argument in chapter nine by saying, What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law (Rom. 9:30-32). Therefore, all have a choice to accept or reject God’s mercy.
Predestination doctrines often teach that God’s election is not based on any free will or any decision of man. This fosters other dangerous doctrines such as “Once Saved, Always Saved,” by-passes responsibility for sins, and thwarts evangelism to the lost. Contrary to this, God Himself shows us some of the qualifications for His mercy that are based on our own choices and free will, and they are not such a mystery. Incidently, did you know Calvin had someone burned at the stake who simply disagreed with him doctrinally? As the story goes, he insisted to use green wood so that it would take longer to kill the man. What a merciful man he was!
In my next blog I will show why God chose Israel and why He will again show them mercy.