NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XI)
Verses 10-13: And that is not all. Rebecca also had sons, and they had the same father. He is our father Isaac. But before the two sons were born, God told Rebecca, “The older son will serve the younger.”1 This was before the boys had done anything good or bad. God said this before they were born so that the boy he wanted would be chosen because of God’s own plan. He was chosen because he was the one God was going to call, not because of anything the boys did. As the Scriptures say, “I loved Jacob, but I despised Esau.”2
And now, the underlying purpose of Paul’s narrative on generations past comes to the surface. He wanted to show who was promised to become the true children of God and how they would be chosen. It was his desire that the Jewish leaders of the church in Rome would know that this was not by chance or good fortune. God had it all planned from the beginning. As part of his argument, Paul tells how God chose Jacob, the younger twin, over Esau, the older twin, to carry out His plan. Even though there were no ultrasounds in those days, according to the prophet Hosea: “In the womb he [Jacob] took his brother [Esau] by the heel.”3
Even though these infants were born in innocence, yet they developed the attitudes and character that God planned to use for His purpose. We can see this clearly in the words of Isaiah: “Adonai-Tzva’ot [LORD of heaven’s armies] has sworn, ‘Just as I thought it, it will occur; just as I planned it, so it will be.’”4 Later we read: “This is my plan for the whole earth—I will do it by my mighty power that reaches everywhere around the world… who can change His plans? When His hand moves, who can stop Him?”5
No wonder then that Paul could tell the Ephesians: “God has told us His secret reason for sending Christ, a plan of mercy He decided on long ago; and this was His purpose: that when the time is ripe He will gather us all together from wherever we are – in heaven or on earth – to be with Him in Christ forever.”6 So, God not only had a plan, but He had a purpose for that plan. And this is what Paul is repeating here: “To show to all the rulers in heaven how perfectly wise He is when all of His family – Jews and Gentiles alike – are seen joined together in His Church just the way He always planned it to be through Jesus Christ our Lord.”7
And the plan God drew up and the purpose for which it was designed was outlined in detail. Paul also told the Ephesians: “Long ago, even before He made the world, God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes… His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And He did this because He wanted to!”8 So none of this was a last-minute decision by God, nor was it something He threw together when things didn’t go the way He planned. Just as the universe was aligned the way it was so that the earth was the only wet planet orbiting the sun sustaining life, so God planned for those who would be part of His spiritual creation to have Jesus Christ the Son of God as the center of their universe.
So when it comes to the plan of salvation and believers acquiring their positions as sons and daughters of God by adoption, they can make no claims of having contributed anything in putting it together or making it work the way it does. As Paul told the Ephesians: “Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God Himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives through Christ Jesus, and long ages ago He planned that we should spend our lives helping others.”9 That’s why Paul told Titus: “When the time came for the kindness and love of God our Savior to appear, He saved us – not because we were good enough to be saved but because His kindness and mercy was good enough to save us.”10
Instead of bragging or feeling proud of being called children of God, Paul states that it should make each believer feel humble and grateful that they were even noticed, let alone chosen for such an honor. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “Your daily lives should not embarrass God but bring joy to Him who invited you into His Kingdom to share His glory.”11 That is why Paul writes them again and says: “We have to keep thanking God for you always, brothers and sisters whom the Lord loves, because God chose you as firstfruits for deliverance by giving you the holiness that has its origin in the Spirit and the faithfulness that has its origin in the truth.”12 So everything we read and have experienced in God’s kingdom is part of His sovereign plan formulated before the world began.
So how can we mere mortals question the will and purpose of our divine God’s creation? No more than we should question the parts that hold it together and make it function. There is purpose in all of God’s decisions, even though they may seem without reason for us. Just as God said to Rebecca that the older twin she would bear would serve the younger one.13 It is important to notice that in the Hebrew where this is promised, instead of the older serving the younger, the words can mean the greater will serve the lesser. It is best to understand that greater means “stronger in number,” and lesser to indicate “fewer in number.” When viewed from history, we can see that when Jacob met Esau, after he had wrestled with God, it appears that the clan of Esau had grown very large while Jacob’s tribe was very small. Yet, Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him as they wept together.14
This would come as no surprise to Paul, because God made it clear as to who He preferred. In His message to Israel through Malachi, God said: “I have loved you very deeply,” says the Lord. But you retort, ‘Really? When was this?’ And the Lord replies, ‘I showed my love for you by loving your father, Jacob.’”15 But then God goes on to say that He hated Esau enough to turn his territory into a desert fit only for jackals. So in Paul’s mind, Esau’s willingness to sell his birthright for a bowl of oatmeal in order to satisfy his hunger, turned God off. But Jacob’s desire to have that birthright impressed God enough that He gave him the privilege to be the son through whom the Messiah would come. Likewise, the Jews, like Esau, had the birthright to receive the Messiah’s blessing as their king. But they gave it away to please the Roman emperor. And so, God has placed His favor on the Gentiles, and allowed them to become His children.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster gives us an interesting exegesis here. He points out that Paul says Sarah was not the only one to give birth in a typological manner. Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, did the same. However, in a different way. Isaac was born as a type of the Savior, while Jacob and Esau would be born as types of two peoples, believers and unbelievers. Although they came from the same source they were nevertheless different in character. Esau can be taken as representing the world’s population. Not because they all bear a physical resemblance to him, but because he shares their estranged relationship with God. Likewise, Jacob is seen as the the sole heir of Isaac who fathered the children who became known as Israel, the children of God. Furthermore, just because Esau sold his birthright and was rejected as the rightful heir, not all who descended from him were condemned. This is proven by the example of Job, who was a descendant of Esau,16 five generations away from Abraham and, therefore, Esau’s grandson. In the same way, Jacob got the birthright by deception and had unbelieving children. There is also no doubt that there are many children of Jacob who became unbelievers. This remains true even though the believers and unbelievers still trace their origin to him.17
Then Pelagius adds his thinking by noting that not only were Ishmael and Isaac brothers, although they were born of different mothers they still had the same father. Yet in God’s eyes they were not equal. Jacob and Esau were not only brothers, they were twins. They had the same mother and father. Yet before they were born they were not equal in God’s sight. But because of God’s foreknowledge, eternal plan, and selective choice, He knew ahead of time who would choose good and who would choose evil.18 Using the same principle and procedure, God is now choosing from among the Gentiles those whom He foreknew would believe to replace those in Israel who would not believe. To debate or deny God’s foreknowledge is to question His omniscience. But at the same time, to suggest that He thereby took away all of man’s free will so that some are going to be saved whether they want to or not, is to doubt the necessity of preaching the Gospel and the forgiving power of grace.19
Paul illustrates how Rebecca was informed before her twins were born that the older one would be subservient to the younger one. It was not because of their own talent or abilities, but because it was part of God’s plan, So Augustine says that this causes some scholars to surmise that the Apostle Paul dismissed the freedom of man’s will. It is because of mankind’s will that they can either please God by faith and faithfulness, or offend Him by the unfaithfulness and rebellion. Some people question how God could have loved one and hated the other before either one was born or committed any good or evil deeds? Augustine says that God did this by foreknowledge, by which He knows what even the unborn will be like in the future. But no one can say with any authority that God chooses the methods by which they will love Him or hate Him. If God elected good works, why does the Apostle say that election is not according to works? In Augustine’s mind we should understand that what good works we do are done in love. Besides, we have love as a gift by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle says himself: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.20”21
1 Genesis 18:14
2 Malachi 1:2-3
3 Hosea 12:4 – Peshitta Targum of First Covenant
4 Isaiah 14:24 – Complete Jewish Bible
5 Ibid. 14:26-27; 46:10
6 Ephesians 1:9-10
7 Ibid. 3:10-11
8 Ibid. 1:4-5
9 Ibid. 2:9-10
10 Titus 3:4-5a
11 1 Thessalonians 2:12
12 2 Thessalonians 2:13
13 Genesis 25:22-23
14 Ibid. 33:1-4
15 Malachi 1:2
16 See Genesis 36:28; (Also see 1 Chronicles 1:42) However, many Bible scholars believe there were two different people named Job, one of which was from Uz. See also Ezekiel 14:14, 20
17 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 See Genesis 25:21-26
19 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Romans 5:5
21 Augustine: On Romans 60