Bible Study with Jairus – Romans 9
Referring to the Old Testament, Romans 9:13 says, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” A Christian asked in the meeting, “Why did God hate Esau? Isn’t the word hate too strong in tone? Why did God choose Jacob instead of Esau? How do we understand God’s choice? How do we know that we are chosen by God? How do we know which people are not chosen by God?” There seem to be a lot of questions, and these queries are all connected.
According to STEPBible.org’s literal interpretation of the word “hate,” it is μισέω (miseō), which means “hate.” Based on this translation, the literal definition of hate can be understood to be accurate in Romans 9:13. Why did God hate Esau? The common understanding is God hated because Esau chose the flesh. He sold his birthright for a bowl of red bean soup. God hated him; however, God also loved Esau. When the Israelites came from the land of Egypt and passed through the land of Seir, the Lord especially reminded the Israelites not to contend with Esau’s descendants because the Lord gave Mount Seir to Esau as a possession (Deuteronomy 2).
Did God not choose Esau? Esau is the eldest son. There is no reason for God not to choose him, but Esau’s own choice brought different results. In other words, God choosing us and our willingness to choose him is a dynamic relationship and not rigid or inflexible. This is not to say that only God can choose us, and we are entirely passive in the process. Rather, our subjective and active choice will bring a different result to this dynamic relationship.
Once evangelist D. L. Moody was asked by a student, “Since all the people who are saved are people chosen and are predetermined by God before the creation of the world, what will happen if I have mistakenly preached the gospel to people whom God has not chosen?” Moody replied, “If you preach and the person believes, it means that he is one chosen by God before the creation of the world. Before he enters the door of salvation, he will see the words ‘Anyone who is willing can come’ on the door. Once he enters the door and turns around, he will see ‘You are chosen by God before the creation of the world’ is written inside.”
This story clearly talks about the dynamic relationship between God and His followers. God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (ESV, 1 Timothy 2:4). This is God’s common grace. But God has given us free will, so we have the freedom to choose. God sent the Lamb, His Son Jesus Christ, into the world to take away the sins of the world and bring us back to God. But whether or not a person returns to God is not automatic. It still requires us to make a choice. Although Jesus Christ died for the sins of all, not everyone experiences forgiveness and salvation. You must choose to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior to receive this kind of salvation.
Similarly, in a Christian’s spiritual life, you must also make this choice. You cannot simply believe in the Lord and expect to grow and mature spiritually over time. This is impossible. You must make a choice every day and set your mind on the Spirit to have life and peace. If you set your mind on the flesh, it is death (ESV, Romans 8:6).
Romans 9 is a continuation of Romans 8. It reminds us of the stories of Esau and Jacob, depicting the different results of different choices. We can all choose to be descendants of Isaac. Isaac represents the common grace that God has prepared for you. Choosing to become his descendant enables us to become a person chosen by God. At the same time, you have the freedom to become like Jacob, who possessed God’s riches and inheritance, or you can be like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of red bean soup. Your red bean soup today may be your worldly enjoyment and entertainment or the pleasures of sin. Many Christians today choose the flesh and the world and unknowingly become Esau. We need to be vigilant.
Paul said in Romans 9:6 (ESV), “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” Verse 7 (ESV) says, “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” Verse 8 says (ESV), “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Here God uses the examples of Abraham and Isaac. If God chooses you, you are a descendant of Abraham and Isaac. Yet if you are born of the flesh, you are like Ishmael. And when you choose God in return, you are like Jacob. But as a chosen one of God, if you choose the flesh, you will be like Esau.
This truth is essential to our Christian life today. The reason why God told Rebekah that out of the twins, He chose Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:10-13) was not to declare that Esau couldn’t possess his birthright. Instead, it was because God foresaw that Esau would choose the flesh. Although God knew in advance that Esau would choose flesh, God wasn’t pleased with Esau’s decision. If Esau valued his birthright, God would also bless him. What about Jacob? God would also bless him. A father in this world has only one birthright. But for God, His riches are unending, so He can infinitely bless many different people.
Why does God establish such a dynamic relationship? First, God wants to bless all the descendants of Abraham. But God also said that the descendants of Isaac are the descendants of Abraham. God wants to bless all the descendants of Isaac too. But we must choose the birthright, like Jacob, before we can be blessed. In other words, God wants all people to be saved, but He absolutely does not want anyone to abuse this grace and indulge in the flesh. If we see this relationship clearly, we can understand why God allows such contradictions here. This is the difference between God’s election and man’s choice. On the one hand, God chose you. But on the other hand, your own choice will bring different results. God is the God of the living (Luke 20:38). He is a living God and decides who will receive life and blessings. It is not our theology that determines the results. We can’t twist God’s arm because He is living, His word is alive, and God has the final say.
Verses 14-18 (ESV) say that God has mercy on whomever he wills, and it doesn’t depend on human will or exertion. His mercy depends only on Him. God hardened pharaoh’s heart to show His power. This doesn’t give us an excuse to be hard-hearted. If we already have a hard heart toward God, God will harden it also. But if we repent and have a soft heart towards God, He will show mercy to us.
In recent years, controversy has surrounded the Hyper-Grace Gospel because it doesn’t line up with the truth that we have a dynamic relationship with God. Legalism in the church has propelled some toward the opposite extreme of Hyper-Grace. People hurt by legalism try to receive God’s mercy through personal efforts or rules and regulations. There are various levels of legalistic teaching that cause people to stumble. Alternatively, the Hyper-Grace Gospel advocates that individual efforts or actions don’t matter because God’s mercy is always readily available. They believe that God can continuously forgive even those who repeatedly sin after salvation. Ultimately, both extremes lead people to abuse God’s grace.
Romans 9:22-23 (ESV) says, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”
This verse is challenging to explain. A man in our study asked, “What does this verse mean?” Why is it that to show His wrath and make His power known, God tolerated some people, did not interfere with them and let them walk towards destruction? Interestingly, this verse raises the same points as Psalm 73 of the Old Testament. The psalmist had also asked such questions.
The psalmist says:
73:12 (ESV) “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
73:13 (ESV) All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
73:14 (ESV) For all the day long, I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
73:15 (ESV) If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
73:16 (ESV) But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
73:17 (ESV) until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
73:18 (ESV) Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
73:19 (ESV) How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
73:20 (ESV) Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.”
These wicked people seemed to live a good life and were not disciplined; so, the psalmist was perplexed. He felt it was unfair. But it was not until he went into the sanctuary of God and looked at this issue from a different height and angle that he realized that God had really abandoned them, allowed them to stumble, and to have eternal destruction in the end. Those of us who are saved will have eternal life. If you look at it from an eternal perspective, the temporary suffering in this life is God’s mercy and discipline in love because God disciplines the people He loves.
On the one hand, God chose the Jews. On the other hand, God gave salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 9:24). These are God’s sovereign decisions that no one can change. But as an individual Israelite or Gentile, we have the freedom to choose whether or not to accept this salvation. The price of the Israelites’ hardened heart was that God temporarily abandoned them. But God still had mercy on them. The Gentiles originally were not God’s people, but God’s mercy came to them. So, the Gentiles “who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith.” (ESV, Romans 9:30) But the Israelites who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness failed in reaching that law (ESV, Romans 9:31). Why is this? Because the Israelites, who had gone to extreme legalism, had overlooked the fact that God’s grace is through faith.
Romans 9:32-33 (ESV) says, “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Actually, this is still a matter of choice. When we choose to obey the law through our natural strength, we cannot get what the law promises. But when we choose to trust God’s grace and mercy, we can receive the salvation promised by Him through faith. Why is it that Jesus Christ, the promise, and the way of salvation, had instead become a stumbling block for many Jews? It was not that God did not choose the Jews. God did choose them. It was that these Jews made a mistake in not choosing Jesus. Jesus Christ, who has become wisdom for us from God, has given us salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30). No one can receive God’s salvation except through Jesus Christ.
Similarly, in the New Testament today, God’s word also explains that setting our mind on the Spirit is life and peace while setting our mind on the flesh is death. We must set our minds on the Spirit and choose life. What went wrong with the Israelite’s choice? There was no problem with the law itself. The law was there to introduce Christ. But why was it that the Israelites who pursued the law did not know Christ? We will continue to discuss this in the next chapter, Romans 10. There was nothing wrong with the law; instead, the Israelites had a veil on their hearts.