As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
I used to struggle with this passage. God chose Jacob before birth to be one of the forefathers of the Israelites. Before Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel, God said that he was the one. In spite of the deception earlier in his life that granted him the blessing instead of Esau, God had already chosen Jacob. That’s not fair. If you say the same thing, then you’re right. It’s not fair.
Of course, we should look at the whole context of the chapter to get a better grasp on the subject.
9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, 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 his call—
12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
1. God has a purpose in election.
Make a note, I didn’t say that first. God did in v11. He has a greater purpose in mind than we can even begin to imagine. And God’s elective decisions aren’t just illustrated in the NT. Obviously not, this is a NT passage about God’s actions in the OT, and the only Scriptures that Paul is discussing is the OT. Put plainly: a former member of the Jewish religious council and teacher of the OT attests to the election of God under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Denying election at this point is to deny the authority and historicity of the Scriptures as God’s Holy Word.
2. God’s not fair, but He is just.
How can the two coexist? This lack of fairness that you and I perceive tends to be from an extremely man-centered, tainted by sin, and prideful mindset. How so? You and I are getting caught up on the choosing of Jacob over Esau and feeling upset because it’s not fair to Esau in all of this. But the Scriptures are plain, this is fair to Jacob in all this. God chose a thief and liar. He chose a trickster and deceiver. He chose Jacob. Why Jacob?! He didn’t deserve this chosen status. It’s not fair that Jacob was chosen because Jacob nor Esau deserved to be chosen.
And this isn’t even about them. Did you catch v15-16? Creator God, to whom ultimate authority belongs, said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” And then follows that declaration of unconditional election with how this choice of God “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” God Himself basically says, “I am the only one able to dispense mercy, because it’s my mercy. And I will give it to whom I give it. After all, I’m the only perfect being who can never be corrupted nor do anything wrong. So I can’t mess this up.”
He isn’t being fair because Jacob nor Esau deserved to be chosen. But the greatest earthly injustice that shows how He remains just is Jesus’ death on the cross. John 14:30 says that Satan, the ruler of this world, “has no claim on me”. Jesus testified that Satan had no legal claim on Jesus for sin, yet Jesus paid it in an ultimate act of cosmic unfairness so that His people could be called by His name, and God still be just. v18: “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” It isn’t fair that Jesus died in the place of His church. It isn’t fair at all. And that is exactly the point. God wasn’t being fair, and that’s ok. If He was fair, we would have no mercy and no redemption. You don’t want God to be fair. But God is perfectly just, and because of that justice in Christ, we can be forgiven and freed of that fairly deserved wrath of God and slavery to sin.
3. We are not freed from responsibility.
There are only two men to have walked this earth with perfectly free will: Adam and Jesus. These were the only two men to be born without a sin nature. The first man, Adam, disobeyed God and enslaved the will of all mankind subjecting us and creation to futility. The second Adam, Jesus, has set us free from the curse placed on sinful man by being the curse for us. He undid it all and is setting us apart to join Him for the marriage feast of the Lamb on the new earth for all eternity.
Because we are then in bondage to sin, we sin. We also are very fond of our rebellion. The whole earth delights in taking good gifts of God, like sex, marriage, and alcohol, and abusing them into intimacy-lacking sexual encounters, intimacy-lacking marriages, and drunkenness which is celebrated with selfies and “funny” pictures of girls passed out with names written all over her in permanent ink. The atrocities don’t stop there. And we are held responsible still. The Spirit through Paul doesn’t even humor an answer to the question “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”. Instead, God says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?” The truth of it is that we are responsible whether we feel like we deserve some theological reconciliation or not doesn’t matter. Who are you to question God just because your finite human brain can’t make it all make sense?
Having said that, God’s Word says this: He chooses (Eph 1:4-6) us because we are lifeless in sin (Eph 2:1) and hostile towards God, unwilling to submit, unable to submit on our own (Romans 8:7). If He does not draw us to Himself then we will not be with Him in eternity (John 6:44, 64-65). We will pay for our sins because we have sinned (Rom 6:23). We are guilty of sin in Adam and responsible for this sin (Rom 5:12-21). This is God’s Word for us.
4. God is faithful to His plan.
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
Whoa! God endures the sinful mess of humanity that deserves immediate destruction so that He can display His faithfulness, mercy, and glory. How amazing is our God! God’s plan has always been that Jesus should die for His people. Adam didn’t throw God off. Adam did exactly what God allowed and ordained him to do so that God’s glory would be on full display in Jesus’ conquering of sin and death. Yes, God could have stopped Adam by killing the serpent or shutting his mouth, but He allowed this to happen as an outworking of His will.
[the God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
His plan, His glory, His love, His justice, His Son, His mercy, His choice – because anything else would make Him less than the one true God.