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 him who calls—
12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul continues to argue that God’s sovereign grace is the only basis for his election. Isaac was Paul’s first example, but one aspect of Isaac’s birth could suggest why God might have chosen him over Ishmael. Isaac was born to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, whereas Ishmael was born to Sarah’s handmaid. It could be argued, therefore, that Isaac was the more worthy choice. So Paul takes his argument a step further, as indicated by the opening phrase, “And not only so.”
For his second example, Paul points to the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau. Paul wants to remove even the slightest hint of human merit or worthiness as the basis for God’s election of Isaac, of Jacob, of the nation of Israel, and by extension, of all people everywhere who call on the name of the Lord for salvation.Same father, same mother, same act of conception
The circumstances of the twins’ birth wipe out any charge of human worthiness. Not only do they share the same parents, but also they were conceived at the same moment in a single act of sexual intercourse. Charles Cranfield points out that the Greek word translated “conceived” is kŏitē, from which we get the word coitus, and it also can denote the actual semen. Paul’s point seems to be that Rebecca conceived both boys by a single emission of semen.
In verse 11 Paul makes explicit the fact God chose Jacob before the twins were born and before they had a chance to either commend or discredit themselves by their actions. After God chose Isaac to fulfill his purpose, he continued to fulfill it through his choice of Jacob. Human works had nothing to do with either choice, and neither did the social custom of giving priority to the firstborn, because Jacob came out of the womb second. “The older will serve the younger.”God’s purpose of election
Paul referred to “God’s elect” in 8:33 where I noted the close connection between God’s purpose of election and his calling of people to faith. See 8:30 for the significance of God’s call. Cranfield states, “The divine call is that which gives effect to the divine election. It is the call to a positive relationship to God’s gracious purpose, and so, characteristically, the call to faith and obedience.”
God chose Jacob for the same reason he chose Isaac. They are God’s choice to fulfill his promise (verse 8). Jesus Christ stands at the center of God’s purpose in human history and is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise (see 8:28 and 8:29; Ephesians 1:3–6).“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”
In trying to figure out the meaning of this statement in verse 13, which Paul took from Malachi 1:2–3, we can rule out the idea that God “hated” Esau in an emotional or temperamental sense. Cranfield points to God’s merciful care for Esau: Isaac’s blessing of Esau in the eloquent setting of Genesis 27; the detailed genealogies of Edom (the name given Esau, his descendants, and the land they occupied) in Genesis 36 and 1 Chronicles 1; and the precept in Deuteronomy 23:7, “You shall not abhor an Edomite; for he is your brother.”
By not returning the favor, however, Edomites forfeited God’s blessing, turning it into a curse. You can consult a Bible dictionary for a history of their obstinate disobedience of God and bitter hatred of Israel. Malachi goes on to pronounce God’s judgment of Esau: “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” They are “the wicked country” and “the people with whom the Lord is angry forever” (1:4).
One thing to notice in the context of Malachi is the reference to nations, not individuals. Esau is a “country” and “people” in verse 4 and Israel is “us” in verse 2. Likewise Paul in chapter 9 has nations in view. Notably, the quotation in verse 12 comes from God’s prophecy to Rebecca in Genesis 25:23: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated: one people shall be stronger than the other, the older will serve the younger.”
God’s “love” for Jacob therefore likely denotes his decision to build from Jacob and his descendants the nation that would become a blessing for all the nations (Genesis 22:18, Isaiah 49:6). God could have had that nation come through Esau, but instead he chose to establish it through Jacob. Thus God’s corresponding “hate” for Esau denotes his rejection of Esau for that purpose. Douglas Moo suggests “hate” might best be translated “reject.” “Love” and “hate,” Moo says, “are not here, then, emotions that God feels but actions that he carries out.”
Certainly we should not read into God’s choice of Jacob the implication that he surpassed Esau in nobility of character. In discounting that idea, Ted Cabal and his colleagues point to another divine decision: “For Messiah’s line, God chose the tribe of Judah (not the most noble of characters), rather than the descendants of Joseph (a true believer).” In that sense, they say, God “hated” Joseph but “loved” Judah.Not about salvation
God’s “hatred” of Esau does not mean that God rejected him or his descendants from salvation. The door of salvation has always been open to anyone who takes hold of God’s promises by faith. It is indeed a great irony that Gentiles both in Paul’s time and ours have been attaining righteousness by faith, thus joining the ranks of “God’s elect” (8:33), whereas Israel—God’s elect people—are failing to attain righteousness because they reject their Messiah.
In other words, multitudes of Gentiles are being added to “Israel within Israel” (see verse 6), whereas Israelites by their lack of faith remain outside that inner circle, as Cranfield observes. Paul will expand on this irony as the chapter unfolds, and in chapter 11 he will also explain how Israel’s present rejection of the gospel ultimately helps to fulfill God’s purpose of election.