By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed February 28, 1985)
We closed our last lesson with Paul teaching that being of Abraham’s seed did not necessarily mean all were Abraham’s children. Paul was showing that the rejection of many of Israel did not mean God was unfaithful to his promises. The truth that all of Abraham’s seed were not his children reminds us of the words of Jesus. John 8:37, 39 reads, “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you … They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.”
What does fleshly Israel mean when God told Abraham, “…In Isaac shall thy seed be called?” We do know there were other children of Abraham’s seed. You will agree with this for in Genesis 21:13 it reads, “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” Israel, what about Ishmael? Does your allegation that God must include all of fleshly Israel include Ishmael and his descendants? Israel, we both know your answer. Your allegation proves too much for even you. Yes, all of Israel is not Israel. Romans 9:8 reads, “That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
A parenthetical question is in order here. Did you receive the impression that God and Abraham were discussing the eternal salvation or condemnation of Ishmael? We are confident all would answer no. Notice Genesis 21:13 again. “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” The statement is; I will make of him a nation, because he is your seed. The previous question will help us to focus on a forthcoming issue that will be discussed in Romans 9:11.
God chose by his sovereignty, whosever he willed to bring forth his revelation, his glory, the seed of the Messiah, and the way of salvation for all of mankind. We have seen that not all of fleshly Israel (Abraham’s seed) was involved. Really, this should not surprise us. Recall Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians l:29-31, “That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Israel, you have tried to make the flesh the only factor involved, but there is more. Isaiah wrote, “In the LORD shall all of the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” Justification comes in the Lord and not in the flesh. Israel, do not think too highly of yourself. Israel, please read Deuteronomy 9:4-6. Did you notice your righteousness was not the source of God’s promises to you? (Reader, remember to ask yourself, is Paul speaking of the blessings of Romans 9:4,5 or individual salvation?)
Paul appears to begin to warm to his subject in Romans 9:9,10. “For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac.” Many probably were inclined to raise a question about Ishmael due to the questionable practices surrounding his birth by the bondwoman, but let us look at Rebecca. Remember, Paul is working on the fact that all Israel is not Israel.
Rebecca had two sons by our father Isaac. They were Jacob and Esau. We all know their history. Did the blessing come through both of the boys? No. The blessing did not come by both boys, even though they both qualified according to the flesh. Paul refutes fully the claim of flesh alone. The Jews did not endorse Esau and the hostility of Edom was historically documented. Furthermore, God in his sovereignty settled this issue before the birth of the boys and before their characters were manifested or formed. Obviously, no claim of merit shall be forthcoming.
Romans 9:11 reads, “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.” There are far too many that assume far too much after reading this verse. It is assumed immediately without examination that the discussion is the eternal life or condemnation of the individual lads. But several things attempt to raise a hand of caution regarding such a hasty conclusion.
1) The Roman letter and its theme.
2) The blessings relate to the law, the prophets, and the Messianic seed. Read again Romans 9:4, 5. Peter speaking in Acts 3:24, 25 said, “Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham. And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”
3) The real crux of the issue is that the quotations Paul refers to in Romans 9:12,13 will not support the premise that God has predetermined one’s individual destiny before birth.
Men have taught, are teaching, and it appears will continue to present these verses as proof God distinctly declared the one boy had eternal life and the other boy had eternal condemnation facing them prior to their birth without any reflection on character. We constantly find people quoting Romans 9:12,13 to prove salvation of the individual is fixed by God without any concern for character. Frankly, these verses do not nor do any other verses teach such a doctrine. Let us present Bible reasons to show no such doctrine is found here.
The first observation of primary importance is that Romans 9:12,13 involves not one, but two quotations. The first quotation is found in Genesis 25:21-23 and was before the birth of Jacob and Esau. The second quotation is found in Malachi 1:1-4 and was after the death of Jacob and Esau. Consider the number of centuries and the vast number of events that lie between the quotations. You have probably heard people say the Bible says before Jacob and Esau were ever born that God said he loved Jacob and he hated Esau. Many times the statement seems to be made in almost a boastful fashion. Dear friend, the Bible does not say that God said before the birth of the boys Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. It is not there.
Let us read the quotations. Romans 9:12 reads, “It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” (Now that statement was made before the birth of the boys). Paul is quoting from Genesis 25:21-23. “And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” Let us list the specific things said before the birth of the two boys in Genesis 25. They are:
- There are two nations in thy womb.
- Two manner of people shall come from thee.
- The one manner of people shall be stronger than the other.
- The elder shall serve the younger.
Let us read the other quotation. Romans 9:13 reads, “As, it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Now this statement was made after the death of the boys). Paul is quoting, from Malachi 1:1-4. “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” This quotation is after the death of the boys and speaks of the desolation of the land of Edom. The emphasis placed on Romans 9:13 by false teachers quickly disappears when it is realized the statement was made after the death of the boys.
The second observation of primary importance is the references are obviously dealing with two nations. The boys represent nations and it is not their individual fate that is under consideration. What did God tell Rebecca when she inquired of the struggle in her womb? “… Two nations are in thy womb…”
Esau is Edom. We will not hasten here, but let our reader note more verses than necessary to document the point. Genesis 36:1 reads, “Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom.” Verse 8 reads, “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir; Esau is Edom. And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir.” Read also verses 19 and 43. Jeremiah 49:7-10 declares of Edom. Verse 10 reads, “But I have made Esau bare, I have uncovered his secret places, and he shall not be able to hide himself: his seed is spoiled, and his brethren, and his neighbours, and he is not.” Obadiah in verse 1 considers Edom and in verse 6 says, “How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his hidden things sought up!” Esau is used to speak of Edom. Verse 10 reads, “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever.”
When did Esau commit personal acts of violence against his brother? It is speaking of the nation of Edom and their actions toward Israel. The prophecy given to Rebecca was regarding the actions of the two nations and was not speaking of the personal salvation of the boys.
Why not read Obadiah 11-18; Amos l:11; Joel 3:19 and Psalms 137:7? The Bible gives a complete picture regarding this matter of two nations in Rebecca’s womb and traces the relationship. But all of this is ignored in the misuse of Romans 9 being applied to individual salvation. The next lesson will begin by showing that Jacob is Israel.