Thursday, December 10, 2009

Romans 9-11 (Part 3)

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

Paul strengthens the argument he explained through Isaac and Ishmael with the example of Jacob and Esau. He also confirms his identity with Israel nationally. The phrase “and not only this” indicates Paul continuation of his previous point.

11 (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;)

Paul’s argument crescendos.

God’s purpose was the reason He said to Rebecca, “the older will serve the younger”. Paul says this comment to Rebecca was made in order for God’s purpose to stand. Might stand (or remain) is the subjunctive of meno. Here the subjunctive indicates God’s intention. Thus a hyper-literal translation might be God’s purpose was to make His purpose stand. In other words, there are two purposes or intentions. The first is God’s purpose for telling Rebecca the older will serve the younger. The second is God’s purpose for promising Abraham that all the nations of the world will be blessed through him. God’s promise to Abraham is the foundation for His statement to Rebecca.

This tying back to God’s original purpose is similar to verses 7, 8 and 9. In 7 we see that through Isaac, Abraham’s seed will be named. This of course relates back to God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation. In verse 8 we see that the children of the flesh are counted for the seed. This also points back to God’s original promise to give Abraham descendents. Likewise, in verse 9 we have the word of the promise or the promise’s word. The declaration to Sarah was made based on God’s original promise to Abraham. Here in verses 11 and 12, it’s no different. God’s purpose for telling Rebecca the older will serve the younger was to establish His original promise to Abraham. The purpose according to election then, is God’s choice to make Abraham a promise.

While the direct subject is God’s choice to promise blessings to Abraham, it’s also true that implicitly God is choosing Jacob. In fact, we have three sets of pairs: two choices, two declarations/promises, and two fulfillments. These pairs are of course related, but they are also distinct. God’s promise to Abraham is primary and the source His promise to Rebecca. His promise to Rebecca is secondary and dependent on His promise to Abraham. The relation between God’s promise to Abraham and His declaration to Rebecca is one of reaffirmation and additional revelation.

Just as the two promises are related, so also the two choices are related. The relation between’s God’s choosing to bless Abraham and His choice to bless Jacob is that of fulfillment. God choose to make Abraham a great nation and His choice of Jacob was in fulfillment of the purpose. What fulfilled God’s promise to Rebecca? God’s blessing Jacob by giving him the birthright, making him the father of the nation of Israel, and passing the line of Christ through him fulfilled both God’s original promise to Abraham and His reaffirmation of that promise to Rebecca.

Paul claims God’s declaration to Rebecca that the older will serve the younger established His promise to Abraham not of works, but of Him that calls. Three questions remain for us to fully understand this text. First, what does not of works, but of Him that calls mean? Second, how does God’s declaration to Rebecca establish God’s promise to Abraham not of works but of Him that calls? Third, how does this whole argument answer the Jewish rejection?

Paul’s statement not of works, but of Him that calls is both a negation and an affirmation. Not of works means not via the works of the law. Him that calls is God, who calls us through the Gospel to faith in Christ. God names those that believe His children.

How does God’s declaration to Rebecca establish God’s promise to Abraham not of works but of Him that calls? By showing the insufficiency of national lineage for entrance into the covenant and works for remaining in the covenant, Paul shows the promise to Abraham was not of works. By showing God was reaffirming His promise to Abraham, which was the call of the Gospel, Paul was showing it is of Him that calls.

Paul is denying that national lineage is sufficient for entrance into God’s covenant with Abraham. This much is clear from the fact that Ishmael is rejected, despite being Abraham’s son. But Paul further clarifies this point using the declaration to Rebecca. Ishmael was Abraham’s son, but not Sarah’s. So perhaps there was not enough purity in his blood for God to use him. But in the case of Rebecca, the children had the same father and mother. Not only that, Esau was older then Jacob and the rightful heir. Yet he still didn’t receive the birthright. This firmly demonstrates the insufficiency of national lineage.

Having demonstrated the insufficiency of national lineage for entrance into the covenant, Paul also shows that the works of the law do not keep people in the covenant. God’s declaration to Rebecca was before the children had done good or evil. This shows God was not establishing His promise to Abraham based on Abraham’s descendents keeping the law. God was establishing His promise to Abraham in another way, by reaffirming His promise, which is the call of the Gospel.

So how does this whole argument answer the Jewish rejection? Paul’s argument denies and disproves their assertion regarding God’s word and also explains what God’s word is really all about. The Jews were claiming that national lineage brought people into the covenant and the works of the law kept people in the covenant. Paul disproves that paternity brings people into the covenant, through the examples of Ishmael and Esau. Paul further proves that works don’t keep people in the covenant, because the declaration to Rebecca was given in order to establish God’s promise to Abraham before the children were born and did anything good or evil. So what the Jews are saying is God’s word is not in fact God’s word. So God’s word can’t be failing in the way the Jews think it has failed.

Having dispatched the Jews’ false notion, which was Paul’s principle aim, he also sets forward the truth regarding God’s word. God’s word has established a spiritual Israel, those He named Abraham’s descended, the children of the promise. This establishment is through His promising blessings and calling through the Gospel. This was God’s intention all along, so God’s word has not failed.

12 It was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger.

God’s declaration to Rebecca makes His promise to Abraham stand.

Here Paul quotes from Genesis 25:23:

The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger."

The context of which is Rebecca’s asking the Lord about the struggle she felt in her womb. She was informed that she would have twins who would father two different nations. The declaration that the older will serve the younger actually was not fulfilled during Jacob and Esau’s lifetime. Rather it was fulfilled in the nations that each man fathered.

Two facts demonstrate that the literal sense of this election was national not individual. First, Jacob and Esau are spoken of as the heads of nations in the passage in Genesis, not individually. Second, the service was not performed by Esau, but by the nation that descended from him. So the literal sense of the choice of God is clearly seen as the election of Nations. This proves that physical lineage does not guarantee blessings.

The spiritual sense of the passage, which Paul uses to further disprove the Jew’s objection that the plan of God failed if they are rejected because of unbelief, is that God chose to save through the gospel, not the law. The elder is Esau who represents the law which was given before Christ. The younger is Jacob who represents the promise of the gospel. Those who follow the gospel will be stronger and will rule over those who follow the law.

Here a question comes up as to how the election of Jacob as a nation answers the question the Jews posed of their rights to salvation through nationality? Wasn’t Jacob and the nation of Israel blessed with divine love and didn’t Esau have to serve him? Jacob in representing the Gospel answers the Jewish objection, but does Jacob in representing the nation of Israel answer the Jewish argument? Yes. Because Jacob and Esau were brothers, natural birth is not the differentiator. Rather God’s promise is the difference maker. So both the literal and allegorical examples of Jacob address the Jewish argument.

The election is first and foremost about the condition of salvation, faith. Only secondarily is individual included in membership. In the choice of Jacob, he was considered as a nation, not an individual. In the spiritual choice, the Gospel as a means is first included, then those individuals who believe.

Another question that arises is how can we have a “bi-level” meaning to the text? In other words, if the example itself deals with national blessings, and what it represents deals with spiritual blessings Paul is simultaneously communicating two truths through the same vehicle. But this approach opens up a can of worms to biblical interpretation. It would be simpler to look for ether the literal or the symbolic interpretation to the text, but not both.

Normally, if the literal meaning makes sense, there is no need to look for a figurative sense. But in this case we have Paul introducing another sense when he said not all Israel is of Israel. Also, we have Paul in Galatians 4 revealing to us that in the Old Testament texts, God was teaching a spiritual truth. So we cannot add our own spiritual meaning to a text wherever we like, but if God’s adds a spiritual meaning, we need to learn from it.

So can we throw out the literal sense and understand Romans 9 with the spiritual meaning? No. God was also teaching the election of Ishmael and Jacob for national blessings in the Old Testament texts. God’s choice conferred both blessings and both blessings deal with the Jewish argument.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Here Paul quotes from: Malachi 1:2-5:

"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."
Your eyes will see this and you will say, "The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!"

The context is Malachi’s prophesy against the sins Israel lapsed into after rebuilding the temple. Israel had fallen into sin, so God permitted their captivity. Israel was not the only nation God had judged with captivity. God also permitted the Edomites to fall. (Ezekiel 25:12-14, Jeremiah 49:7-22) However, the Persians had allowed Zerubbabel to return to Jerusalem and rebuild and had allowed Ezra to return and reinstitute temple worship. Nehemiah had also been allowed to return as a leader of the nation of Israel. So there had been significant rebuilding by this point. Yet Israel fell into sin once again, which Nehemiah and Malachi were addressing. Malachi reminds Israel of God’s favor towards them as a nation over and above the Edomites, in that God blessed Israel’s reconstruction efforts, but did not bless the Edomites reconstruction efforts. This all goes back to God’s choice make Jacob not Esau the father of Israel.

Paul’s quotation of Malachi confirms that God did in fact establish His promise to Abraham through Jacob, not Esau. Jacob’s children became Israel and received God’s national blessings. Spiritual Israel also receives God’s spiritual blessings.

The statements, “the elder shall serve the younger” and “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” are parallel. The hatred of Esau was not demonstrated in him personally, but his posterity as a nation. The hatred is a matter of relative amount blessings Jacob received from God compared to Esau, not an emotion on God’s part.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I am very happy and excited that you decided to tackle this subject. I have enjoyed this series so far.

I had a sort of 'revelation' as I was reading this, and it was sparked by your pointing out that "works" here refer most naturally (no pun intended) to "works of the Law."

When it comes to "the elder will serve the younger" I realized something profound. This statement is the ultimate 'middle-finger' in the ancient mindset, it's an insult to firstborn status. Esau threw away this status, giving it to Jacob...but Paul is saying Jacob now did this! In the Jew-Gentile scheme, the Jews were the firstborn, and now they were throwing it away! When it says the elder will serve the younger, it means the Gentiles would now be God's 'favorite' and the Jews were pushed to the back seat. This is precisely what Romans 11B is saying as well!

It all connects! The story of Jacob and Esau is actually the story of how the Jews would throw away their 'Messianic status' (Rom 9:4-5), not wanting any part of Jesus, and thus telling the Gentiles they could have Him. The key here is not that God is sending one to hell and the other to Heaven, but rather "the elder will SERVE the younger" meaning status was lost, roles were reversed: Rom 11:28-32.

Now the question of whether 'not done good or bad' refers to 'works of the law' or not remains. But I believe it's safer to use overall context when interpreting, rather than zeroing in on one verse and missing Paul's argument. I don't believe "works of the Law" refer so much to "staying in the covenant," but rather a broad term encompassing Lineage itself and circumcision (which is a one time act, not a 'staying in act').

When you said: "The elder is Esau who represents the law which was given before Christ. The younger is Jacob who represents the promise of the gospel." That is very profound and I will have to ponder that as well.

God's purpose from the very start must have been a desire for the elder to serve, just as Jesus did, but God's plans wont be ruined by sin, and so elder will serve whether elder does so with a good heart or forced (e.g. sinfully selling birthright for soup).

The theme of Romans 9-11 is clearly that of how the chosen people Israel lost their status and the 'second class citizen' Gentiles became the chosen ones. Such a notion is very profound in itself, and the Reformed tendency to reduce this section to a matter of God saving/damning just to show His power is an insult to just how serious and significant it meant for Israel to be the "chosen race."