For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I Hated.”
Much of the Book of Romans is a dialogue with the unbelieving Jew for why they need Jesus. Of course, Paul engages the Church (Romans 1:8) and specifically addresses the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), but you will notice that in much of Romans, Paul engages the unbelieving Jews in order to convince them of their need for Christ, by breaking down Jewish strongholds of resistance, which resistance, includes the mistaken notion that all sons of Abraham are saved (Romans 9:8), and that merely possessing the Law is evidence of salvation, when yet the Law was actually instead the evidence for the need of salvation. However, Calvinists seem to think that the purpose of Romans chapter 9 is not to correct errant Jewish thinking, on why they should abandon traditional Jewish assurance and turn to Christ, but rather to rebuke proto-Arminians, and thus that one flaw forms a systemic error.
Notice some of the Jewish dialogue in Romans: “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and [you] rely upon the Law and [you] boast in God, and [you] know His will and [you] approve the things that are essential, [you] being instructed out of the Law, and [you] are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Romans 2:17-21) Romans 9:1-5 sets the tone that Paul, as a fellow Jew, has their best interests at heart for what he is about to say regarding the forewarned Jewish hardening. (Romans 11:25) Mentioning God as a Potter invokes Jeremiah 18:1-13, and notice that at Romans 9:19-20, the word “you” reappears: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” That’s the Jewish dialogue again.
Calvinist, James White, comments: “No matter how one understands ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED’ (Romans 9:13), this verse alone should be enough to refute such an errant view of God’s love.” (Debating Calvinism, p.268, emphasis mine)
Indeed, James White has taken the verse “alone,” without respect for the dialogue.
Norman Geisler comments: “…God’s ‘love’ for Jacob and ‘hate’ for Esau is not speaking of those men before they were born, but long after they lived. The citation in Romans 9:13 is not from Genesis when they were alive (c. 2000 B.C.) but from Malachi 1:2-3 (c. 400 B.C.), long after they died! The evil deeds done by the Edomites to the Israelites are well documented in the Old Testament (e.g., Num. 20). And it is for these that God is said to have hated them as a country. Here again, this did not mean that no individuals from that country would be saved. In fact, there were believers from both Edom (Amos 9:12) and the neighboring country of Moab (Ruth 1), just as there will be people in heaven from every tribe, kindred, nation, and tongue (Rev. 7:9).” (Chosen But Free, p.85, emphasis mine)
Geisler adds: “John Piper, widely held by extreme Calvinists to have the best treatment on Romans 9, makes this mistake. Piper claims that ‘the divine decision to “hate” Esau was made “before they were born or had done anything good or evil” (9:11).’ But, as shown on the previous page, the reference here is not to something said in Genesis about the individuals Jacob and Esau before they were born. What Genesis 25 says is simply that the older would serve the younger. What is said in Malachi 1:2-3 about the nations of Jacob and Esau (Edom) is not only centuries after their progenitors had died, but it is also in regard to what the nation of Edom had done to the chosen nation of Israel….” (Chosen But Free, p.85, emphasis mine)
Romans 9:12 states: “It was said to her, ‘The Older will serve the Younger.’” When the Calvinist admits that this is speaking of the Edomites serving the Israelites, the controversy is settled. The matter becomes such a slam dunk that it’s just as if the Calvinist was in a dunking booth...the bell rings and the Calvinist goes in the water. Simply have the Calvinist turn to the portion of Romans 9:13 just preceding, namely, “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I Hated.’” “Just as” means that there is a correlation between the two quoted passages, in that both refer to the same subject, Israel and the Edomites, and in fact, at Malachi 1:2, God applies the statement of “Jacob I loved, but Esau I Hated” directly to the Israelites when God states: “I have loved you,” and the Israelites respond, “How hast Thou loved us?” Then at Malachi 1:4, God describes His indignation toward...the Edomites. Ding!
John Calvin agrees: “It is taken from Mal. 1, where the Lord declares His kindness to the Jews, before reproaching them for their ingratitude. … And now I had adopted you to be my people, so that I might show the same kindness towards the seed of Jacob. But I had rejected the Edomites, the descendants of Esau.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.202, emphasis mine)
Malachi 1:2-4: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.”
Jacob is Israel and Esau is Edom. Genesis 36:8 states: “So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom.” Thus, the famous quote, “Jacob I Loved, but Esau I Hated,” might as well be paraphrased: “Israel I Loved, but Edom I Hated.” Furthermore, by His omniscient foreknowledge, God had loved the Jews with an “everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3 states: “The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.’”
One member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians writes: “I actually believe that God hates sinners. Scripture is pretty explicit about that too. It says it a number of times. But I have no problem at all believing that He both hates sinners, and loves them even more. He hates them in that He is set against them for harm and judgment and condemnation and wrath. But He loves them in that He does not desire to destroy them etc., but wants that they repent and be saved, and He has even sacrificed His own Son to make that possible (incredible love! oh, amazing grace and love!), and He works to bring them to repentance. But I don’t think this means He is not angry at them for their sin while they continue in unrepentance. The Bible tells us over and over again about God being angry and having wrath against people for their sin. It is the plain reading of the text over and over again in Scripture, and it seems to take exegetical gymnastics to try and explain how Scripture does not mean God is angry at people for sin when it says repeatedly that He is angry at people for their sin. I think it’s actually coherent to say God both hates and loves them. Technically, hate is not the opposite of love, non-love is. In fact we talk about love/hate relationships all the time. God hates them because of their sinful qualities and actions, but loves them in that He desires repentance and died for them when they were enemies!” (SEA)
Hosea 9:15: “All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.”
Jeremiah 12:8: “My inheritance has become to Me Like a lion in the forest; She has roared against Me; Therefore I have come to hate her.”
Another member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians writes: “I agree, and I think it’s actually coherent to say God both hates and loves them. Technically, hate is not the opposite of love, non-love is. In fact we talk about love/hate relationships all the time. God hates them because of their sinful qualities and actions, but loves them in that He desires repentance and died for them when they were enemies!” (SEA)
However, John Calvin explained that God’s hatred had nothing to do with anything Esau did “good or bad” (Romans 9:11), but rather was just unconditional. However, whereas the basis for Jacob’s election and Esau’s non-election was unconditional, that is, not for any deed or misdeed they did, the basis for God’s love of Jacob [Israel] and hatred of Esau [Edom] certainly did have a basis, and that was on account of loving and hating the respective lineages, whom He had foreknown. (Jeremiah 31:1-3)
Obadiah 1:1-16: The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom-- We have heard a report from the LORD, and an envoy has been sent among the nations saying, “Arise and let us go against her for battle”--“Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You are greatly despised. “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in the loftiness of your dwelling place, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to earth?’ “Though you build high like the eagle, Though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD. “If thieves came to you, if robbers by night-- O how you will be ruined!-- Would they not steal only until they had enough? If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave some gleanings? “O how Esau will be ransacked, and his hidden treasures searched out! “All the men allied with you will send you forth to the border, and the men at peace with you will deceive you and overpower you. They who eat your bread will set an ambush for you. (There is no understanding in him.) “Will I not on that day,” declares the LORD, “Destroy wise men from Edom and understanding from the mountain of Esau? “Then your mighty men will be dismayed, O Teman, so that everyone may be cut off from the mountain of Esau by slaughter. “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever. “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem-- You too were as one of them. “Do not gloat over your brother’s day, the day of his misfortune. And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction; Yes, do not boast in the day of their distress. “Do not enter the gate of My people in the day of their disaster. Yes, you, do not gloat over their calamity in the day of their disaster. And do not loot their wealth in the day of their disaster. “Do not stand at the fork of the road to cut down their fugitives; and do not imprison their survivors in the day of their distress. “For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head. “Because just as you drank on My holy mountain, all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and swallow and become as if they had never existed.”
Those are strong words of condemnation against the Edomites, the descendents of Esau, and serves as the context for the phrase: “Esau I hated.” However, to Calvin, predictably, this means that God had predestined them to “eternal condemnation.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.200) However, predestination had nothing to do with it. Rather, God’s verdict upon Edom’s betrayal against Israel was the election of Jacob over Esau. When Edom cursed Israel (Psalm 137:7), it cursed itself. For God had stated at Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
One Calvinist cautions: “Let’s then assume that God is speaking of the nation of Edom, then you will have to admit that God hated an entire nation, as he says not for anything that they did good or evil, but because of His will to hate them.”
Have you mixed the basis of the election with the basis of the hatred? While God indeed hated the nation of Edom, it was not on account of an alleged, unconditional will to hate, but on account of what Edom committed, as recorded in the book of Obadiah. The election of Jacob over Esau, on the other hand, was in fact unconditional, insomuch at it was not based upon what they themselves did, that is, the twins, but on account of what their descendants did, the nations of Edom and Israel. Hence, Edom was given to “serve” Israel (older serves younger). To summarize, in a passage on the twins and their associated nations, God elected the twins on account of their descendants, just as Romans 9:13 references Malachi 1:1-4. You cannot lose sight of the fact that you are dealing with both the twins and also the “two nations” that God mentioned to Rebekah.
Calvinist, John MacArthur, comments: “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ But just as God’s prediction that the elder Esau would serve the younger Jacob did not directly apply to those two individuals but rather to their descendants, so the Lord’s declaration here seems to apply in the same way. The book of Genesis mentions no divine hatred of Esau himself. Obadiah’s declaration that God hated Esau was written over a thousand years after Esau lived, and the most reasonable interpretation of the prophet’s statement would seem to indicate that the Lord’s hatred is against Esau’s idolatrous descendants, who, although often rebellious and sometimes idolatrous, were His sovereignly elected people through whom the world’s Redeemer would come.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, pp.26-27, emphasis mine)
Agreed. The most reasonable interpretation of “Esau I hated” was in reference to Edom.
MacArthur continues: “But Paul has already declared unambiguously that God’s justification for choosing Jacob over Esau was not based on their personal characteristics or works but solely on the basis of His divine and infallible prerogative (v.13)--a mystery that our finite human minds cannot fathom.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, p.27, emphasis mine)
Speak for yourself, since non-Calvinists can easily fathom it. God told Rebekah that in her womb were not merely two babies, but also two competing nations. While God’s justification for choosing Jacob over Esau was not based upon Jacob and Esau personally, non-Calvinists contend that the basis of God’s sovereign prerogative of Jacob over Esau was His foreknowledge of their descendants, namely, the nations of Israel and Edom, which you’ve already agreed was the “most reasonable interpretation” of “Esau I hated.”
Jeremiah 31:1-3: “‘At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Thus says the LORD, ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness--Israel, when it went to find its rest.’ The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.’”
That is the perfect expression of, “Jacob I loved.” (Romans 9:13)
Malachi 1:2: “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob.’” (Malachi 1:2)
Having foreknown the people of Israel, God foreloved them with an “everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Calvinist, William MacDonald, comments concerning Romans 9:11: “The purpose of God according to election means His determination to distribute His favors according to His sovereign will and good pleasure. This verse, incidentally, disproves the idea that God’s choice of Jacob was based upon His foreknowledge of what Jacob would do. It specifically says that it was not made on the basis of works!” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.1717, emphasis mine)
Agreed. God’s choice was not on the basis of what the individuals, Jacob or Esau, would do.
John Calvin comments: “If the purpose of God according to election is established because, before the brothers were born and had done either good or evil, one is rejected and the other chosen, therefore to desire to attribute the cause of the difference between them to their works is to subvert the purpose of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.201, emphasis mine)
Agreed. It is agreed that God’s decision for the inheritance to pass through Jacob, rather than Esau, had nothing to do Jacob’s or Esau’s own personal works. God’s choice of passing the inheritance to Jacob was based solely upon His love for the people of Israel vs. His contempt for the people of Edom. In other words, God didn’t arbitrarily pick one baby and say, “I will love this one,” and arbitrarily pick the other and say, “I will hate this one.” God loved both babies, and God loved both nations, but Edom fell upon His righteous indignation, for the evil that they had committed, and even at that, God’s wrath is cooled by repentance, just as the Ninevites experienced when the prophet Jonah warned of God’s impending judgment.
Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, writes: “The fact is, God loved Jacob, and he did not love Esau; he did choose Jacob, but he did not choose Esau; he did bless Jacob, but he never blessed Esau; his mercy followed Jacob all the way of his life, even to the last, but his mercy never followed Esau; he permitted him still to go on in his sins, and to prove that dreadful truth, ‘Esau have I hated.’ Others, in order to get rid of this ugly text, say, it does not mean Esau and Jacob; it means the nation; it means Jacob’s children and Esau’s children; it means the children of Israel and Edom. I should like to know where the difference lies. Is the difficulty removed by extending it? Some of the Wesleyan brethren say, that there is a national election; God has chosen one nation and not another. They turn round and tell us it is unjust in God to choose one man and not another. Now, we ask them by everything reasonable, is it not equally unjust of God to choose one nation and leave another?” (Jacob and Esau, emphasis mine)
First of all, it’s not being extended. It’s being transferred. Second, I ask, “by everything reasonable,” how did God “leave” Edom? He didn’t leave them. Rather, God judged them. When God told Rebekah that in her womb were “two nations” (Genesis 25:21-24), God simultaneously saw in her womb, every single person in both nations, and God made His choice accordingly. On that day, Edom was judged, not “passed by” like the priest and Levite at Luke 10:31-32. However, Calvinists seek to focus this election entirely on the individuals, and not their descendants to whom God had spoken this at Malachi 1:1-4. To do so, does something rather interesting. It would mean that God hated Esau, apart from his works, and entirely on God’s choice to hate, and what should we understand from that, that God hated Esau without cause? Absurd! Calvinists will want to say, “no, He hated him because of his sin.” But to do so, misses the other aspect of what Paul said, and Calvin highlights, which is that God’s choice had nothing to do with what the children did, good or bad. Ultimately, then, you have hatred without cause, which is especially interesting in light of John 15:25, in which Jesus quotes the Scriptures: “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’” (John 15:25)
Spurgeon continues: “Besides, here is the proof that that is not correct; read the verse preceding it. It does not say anything at all about nations, it says, ‘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 calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger,’—referring to the children, not to the nations. Of course the threatening was afterwards fulfilled in the position of the two nations; Edom was made to serve Israel. But this text means just what it says; it does not mean nations, but it means the persons mentioned.” (Jacob and Esau, emphasis mine)
“But,” Spurgeon says, sounds like Special Pleading, rather than sound hermeneutics. Spurgeon blew his own point by admitting that the prophecy in which the older will serve the younger was fulfilled “in the position of the two nations.” For him to then turn around and demand special pleadings that it does not mean nations, stems not from ethical hermeneutics, but from plain stubbornness.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians writes: “Paul is arguing that the promise to Abraham and the covenant has not failed. Paul has given an example from the beginning the promise, an example found in the Law, with the preference of Jacob over Esau to carry the promise, and an example from the post-exilic period, from the prophets, to show God’s sustained promise to Israel (Jacob). Both the law and the prophets testify to God’s fulfillment of the covenant. His word to Israel and the promise to Abraham has not failed. Calvinists try to focus your attention on Esau (Edom) to demonstrate that Romans 9 is about double-election. But that is not what Paul is doing here. The prophecy is focused on God’s sustained love for Israel. Again, the promise will not fail. Edom’s (or the successors to Edom in that region) had fallen out of God’s favor, but Malachi’s prophecy is not about a pretemporal or eternal condition. It is answering the question of whether God’s promise to Israel has failed. The clause ‘it is written’ is critical to understanding this. The Calvinist interpretation of this text assumes that ‘the word of God’ is a pretemporal decree. But it is not. What Paul is arguing is that the promise, WRITTEN in the law and the prophets has been sustained by God. They also like to point to the word ‘election’ in this text as a proof that the text about Jacob and Esau is about election to salvation or damnation. But the text does not talk about this kind of choosing. It is stating that ‘the purpose of election might stand.’ This clause in referencing only the Genesis quote. The point is that the choosing (election) of Abraham to carry the promise (‘the purpose of the choosing’) is continued through Jacob, not through Esau. That is really all that his being said here. Finally, Paul’s definition of the promise is given in Romans 4, with a focus that Abraham would bless the world. Romans 9 depends on this, with understanding that the covenant has been sustained for this purpose.” (SEA)
To reiterate, God’s decreed purpose in salvation is this: “...that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It will no doubt be asked, “So what, then, is the causation of faith in Christ?” In other words, why does one believe in Christ, and not another? Jesus is “willing” to save all (Matthew 23:37), but those who perish were those who were “unwilling” to repent and come to Him. (John 5:40) So why isn’t everyone willing? Better yet: Why are any willing? A hardened heart is the reason why some do not believe, but any who are “willing” are those who have submitted themselves to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their divine appointment to be presented with the supernatural power of the Gospel in which Christ “knocks.” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus doesn’t kick in doors; He gives you a choice, and without faith, it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 1:6) By no means, does this give a man grounds to boast before God. Rather, it is specifically “excluded.” (Romans 3:27)