By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed March 31, 1985)
Rebecca, there are two nations in thy womb. We have learned that one of those nations was Edom. Esau speaks of the nation of Edom and the events spoken regarding Esau are in reference to the nation of Edom and her relationship with Israel. This means the efforts to teach the doctrine of predestination regarding individual salvation from these verses is vain.
The other nation in Rebecca’s womb was Israel and the words spoken in reference to Jacob speak of Israel. Let us demonstrate what we learned about the usage of Esau and Edom is also true of Jacob and Israel. Isaiah 43:1 reads, “But now thus saith the LORD that created, thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee by thy name; thou are mine.” Verse 22 reads, “But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.” Verse 28 says, “Therefore, I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary, and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches.” Again the words of Isaiah, “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen (Isaiah 44:1).”
This usage is not peculiar to Isaiah. Jeremiah writes, “Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he (Jeremiah 31:10,11).” The Psalms read, “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad (Psalms 14:7).” We see such usage is not mysterious or difficult to find in the Bible.
The problem of interpretation in Romans 9 appears to be the backgrounds of the quotations in the Old Testament are never examined. The verses are used without a consideration of the context. The reality that two nations are under consideration is quite clear from the very beginning. Therefore, the effort to make a case for eternal life and eternal condemnation before conception, before birth, before growth, before character, before death from Romans 9 lacks Bible support comparatively and contextually.
The following observation lends strong support to the fact that we are dealing with two nations, and not the lives of two individuals. The events predicted never became a reality in the lifetime of the two boys but in the life of the two nations. We could not say the predictions were found to be true, if we were dealing with the personal relationship of the boys alone. For example, when did the elder serve the younger? The answer must be found in the life of the two nations and their history. Why? Because we cannot find Esau serving Jacob in their lifetime. You do not find Esau shrinking around before his brother nor do you find Esau in desperate need. Jacob is the one that is so very careful in dealing with his brother. The scriptures are quick to reveal this truth. Read the account of events in Genesis 27:41-45. Verse 43 reads, “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran.”
Read the events in Genesis 32,33 and the events certainly reveal Jacob was not without fear of Esau. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, we came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels into two bands; And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.” Listen to Jacob say, “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” Jacob very carefully addresses Esau, notice Genesis 32:18 and 33:8-15.
Esau was prosperous. Genesis 36:6-8 reads, “And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob. For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of cattle. Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.”
The elder serving the younger becomes a reality after the boys have died and is fulfilled in the relationship of Edom and Israel. 2 Samuel 8:14 reads, “And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants…” Read also 1 Chronicles 18:12,13. The matter does not end. We read in the days of Jehoram of the Edom rebellion. It says, “In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves (2 Kings 8:20).” Read also the account in 2 Chronicles 21:8-10.
The reality that we are dealing with two nations does not end our questions. We are now moved to ask what exactly does it mean when it speaks of loving Jacob and hating Esau? The serious Bible student realizes the Bible must be approached literally. But we realize that taking the Bible literally is not just a matter of taking things at apparent first glance. Surely, it can be seen by now it is far too assumptive to say God set the eternal fate of the boys, because it reads Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. The meaning of these words can be answered biblically and directly. But it may be worth our time and attention to become more aware of one of the idioms of the Hebrew language, as we do so. An understanding of this Hebrew idiom affects not only this study, but many other subjects. An idiom is a mode of expression peculiar to a given language.
The words “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” fall under a common, but peculiar Hebrew idiom. The preference of one thing over another is stated like the less preferred object is of no significance or value. The objects are spoken of in a comparative sense and not an absolute sense. The claiming of the absolute sense has been the origin of many alleged contradictions and heated disagreements. The comparative sense is to be understood, but it is not explicitly stated.
Horne writes, “Of all the Oriental languages, the Hebrew bears marks of being the most ancient … (Vol. 1, p. 189).” The construction of the language is very simple. The comparative and superlative degrees of comparison of modern languages is not found in this ancient language. “What we, in English, express comparatively by saying, “Mercy is better than sacrifice,” They express by a positive assertion, qualified by a negative: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice (Hosea 4:6). Now, as sacrifice had been very particularly enjoined by God, the meaning of these words must be, “I value mercy more than sacrifice (T. Spalding, 283).” What do we hear then? The meaning of the words Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated expresses “the fact that God had shown more favour to one than to the other (Spalding, 296).”
Let us notice the unique usage of the words ‘loved more’ and ‘hated’ in Genesis 29:30, 31. “And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but, Rachel was barren.” The usage has hated as the opposite of loved more. The Bible reader is quick to see how this passage helps to understand verses like Luke l4:26.
We may have readers saying the general thrust of this teaching is wrong. One may want to say it is too much language study and not enough Bible study. But we believe such opposition is wrong, because the Bible reveals God did not absolutely hate the Edomites. Deuteronomy 23:7 reads, “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother …” If God hated Esau in the absolute sense that many claim, how would they explain God telling his people not to hate an Edomite? Verse 8 reads, “The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the LORD in their third generation.” The sense of the phrase Esau have I hated is now becoming clear to us and cannot mean what so many claim. Deuteronomy 2:4,5 reads, “And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.”
The words ‘hated Esau’ are to be understood in a comparative sense. Let us also be aware that Edom was hostile and the words regarding the Edom-Israel relationship were not free of actual decisions of right and wrong. Numbers 20:18 reads, “And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” Read verses 19 through 22 to better see the events Jeremiah 49:10 reveals that in spite of the awful judgment poured out upon Edom, God did not despise the descendants of Esau.
The study of the second quotation reaped as many interesting and important truths as the understanding of the first quotation. The idea of love and hate is applied to the nations of Israel and Edom. This language is comparative and not absolute. Jacob’s seed received greater favor than the seed of Esau. The language conveys the idea that one was preferred before the other in terms of blessings.
The study now raises another significant question that cannot be left unanswered. How did God prefer or love Israel more than Edom? What was the nature of the blessings that Israel received, that Edom did not receive? This brings us back to something mentioned in this study so long ago you probably have forgotten about it. We stated men are far too quick to assume the blessing under consideration was eternal life or eternal condemnation. Our next lesson will begin with the manner in which Jacob was given preference and blessed, as revealed in the scriptures. There is no need for speculation, as the Bible speaks.