Romans 9:13-18 - A Matter So Important God Saw To It Personally
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13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” - Romans 9:13


This is where people start getting hung up, especially if this verse is taken out of context so if you haven't already please first read through our study on the first twelve verses of Romans 9. Taking things out of context is dangerous. I once saw a picture of a baby done up so angel like with a ribbon and a card hooked to the ribbon that read "all these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me - Matthew 4:9". That may sound nice except that if you read that verse in context it's actually Satan speaking to Jesus when he is tempting Him. Context is important.


This verse in isolation has caused people to conjure up some pretty horrific ideas regarding God. I've heard some explain this as God chose Jacob to save unto eternal life and Esau to be a reprobate destined for eternal punishment and this is simply how God chose it and there's nothing you can do about it, it's a done deal. The problem is this does not line up with the rest of scripture nor the character of God (or we can argue once again that Paul [v1-3] cared more, and even the angels cared more [Luke 15:7]). It doesn't even fit in with the rest of Romans. Romans 1:20 for example shows that men have a responsibility (response-ability) with their knowledge of God. This is why "they are without excuse"as it says. Esau, if he had no responsibility would have a pretty darn good excuse. Remember Paul's heart at the beginning of this chapter and how it reflected that of God's? That hasn't changed. God still takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather they repent and live (Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11). So then what do we make of this verse and those that follow.


First, let me point out that the word "hate" here is Strong's 3404 "misei" and is the same exact word used in Luke 14:26 when Jesus says if anyone does not hate his own father, mother, children, brother's or sisters, and even their own wife, then they are disqualified from being a disciple.


Question: Does God really want us to hate our family and even our wives?


Answer: No, he does not. In fact, in Ephesians 5:25-33 we are instructed to love our wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.


Is God contradicting Himself? Not at all. God is not a god of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). I think it's safe to assume it's not God but rather us who are lacking understanding. Like Peter said, some things that Paul wrote are "hard to understand" and some who are "untaught and unstable distort" them (2 Pet. 3:16).


So what do we make of what Paul is saying here in verse 13 similarly to what Christ is saying in Luke 14:26? The definition of misei used in both instances means to "properly, to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another." Interestingly, the word used for love here in verse 13 is "agapao" which means "properly, to prefer, to love, for the believer, preferring to "live through Christ" i.e. embracing God's will (choosing His choices) and obeying them through His power. Agapao preeminently refers to what God prefers as He "is love"". What Jesus is saying in Luke 14:26 is if anyone picks their family over God then such a person is not worthy to be a disciple. In Romans 9:13 God is saying He preferred or "elected" Jacob over Esau.


Why did God do this with Jacob and Esau? "so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls," (v12). This is good news for us Gentiles and not bad news in any way! If God had made election to be according to lineage or according to works us Gentiles would be sunk. Actually, it's good news for the Jews also. If election had been according to lineage, most of them would be sunk, if it had been according to works all of them would have been sunk, so the fact that the promises come by way of grace (Rom. 4:16) means it's available to Jews and Gentiles alike.


Paul is quoting Mal. 1:2-3 from the old testament and the same Hebrew words for love and hate found in Mal. 1:2-3 are also found in Genesis 29:30-31 where Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Both were loved, but one was preferred over the other. The word for hate then isn't describing Jacob as wanting to utterly destroy Leah and ruin her in every possible way, nor did he want to condemn and torment Leah for all eternity. Rather he loved Leah but his choice was Rachel.


In modern English we don't use the words love and hate in those ways. For us they are opposite ends of the spectrum but it was not this way in these uses of it. If you turn to Malachi chapter 1 which Paul is quoting, Malachi actually defines what is meant here by love and hate in reference to Jacob and Esau as Paul has quoted. In verse 1 we see the message is to Israel, this time it's the last book in the old testament and includes the entire nation of Israel. In verse 2 he says "I have loved you". The Lord is saying to the nation of Israel, that is, the nation of Israel who has descended from Jacob that He has loved them. The nation replies "In what way have You loved us? (v2) So then God replies, ok, I'll show you how I have loved you.


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.” - Malachi 1:2b-4


So all that to show that God's selection here in Romans 9:13 is a corporate selection to the nation of Israel in contrast to the nation of Edom. It's not a salvific selection between the individuals of Jacob and Esau, but as we can see here in Mal. 1:1-5 as well as the actual verses Paul is referring to (Gen. 25:23) it's in reference to the two nations, not the individuals themselves. Here is the OT verse Paul is referencing:


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.” - Genesis 25:23 (emphasis mine)


Paul often quotes just the pivotal part of these stories as if the reader need not be caught up on them in their entirety but just needing their focus drawn to a specific point. It would encourage you to take a look at Romans 9:11-13 in other translations such as MSG or TLB which expound on this section in Romans well.


In short, God picked one over the other. It's not a salvific issue nor does it contend with the character of God as seen in Jesus (Matt. 11:29, Heb. 1:3, John 14:9), creation (Rom. 1:20), and the rest of scripture. 1 John 4:8,16 both testify that "God is love", it's a core characteristic of who He is. God loves naturally; love comes naturally to Him. This is attested to earlier by Paul in Romans 5:8 when He says that God demonstrated His love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Jesus commands us to love God, love our families, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even our enemies.


Question: Would God command you to love someone He does not?


Answer: No. But rather when God calls you to love your enemy in Luke 6:35 he states in doing so you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. If God didn't love His enemies then none of us would have had a chance for it was while we were enemies we were reconciled through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10).


But wait Ryan, Psalms 7:11 says God is righteously indignant every day and Psalm 5:5 state He hates all who do iniquity. I would ask then can you both love your child and hate your child at the same time? If you have two children and one murders the other, can you not feel a mix of complex feelings? This may fall into what we would call a "love-hate relationship". God is quite complex, if our feelings can be complex it should be no surprise that His can be too. Mark 3:5 records Jesus in the same verse feeling both angry at the Pharisees and grieved at their hardness of heart, so yes God can have complex feelings.


Along those lines I would argue that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. Hate I believe actually testifies to the presence of love because hate is invoked when something loved is adversely affected.


14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! - Romans 9:14


Does the boss not have a right to micromanage the employees? See the previous study on the first part of Romans 9 in regards to God exercising His "Throne Rights" in order to see to it His purpose was not thwarted. Now Paul is arguing the right of God to intervene with His creation any way He wants too. Few people will argue God's right to intervene, quarrels start when we debate God's purpose for intervening which we'll get into later. Paul here is showing that God in no way violates what is just by intervening however He pleases. In the previous study we used the boss/employee relationship to describe this. If an owner hires employees to run his store, and some work the produce department, some work the dairy, and some work the register, does not the boss have a right over who works where? Does not the boss have a right to intervene in whatever you are doing? If you are stacking apples and normally you only go 4 apples high which isn't easy as apples like to roll off of tables, but then the boss comes by and tells you to stack them 20 high or your fired, does he not have the right? Yes we can argue if that was nice or not and we can argue if the boss is mean or not, but is the boss being unjust? No he is perfectly within his rights to make that request and he has every right to fire you with or without reason so the fact he gave you a ridiculous reason is irrelevant to whether or not it was just.


15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” - Romans 9:15


God is completely free and justified to have mercy and compassion on whomever He wants, being under no obligation either way. This is a half-empty/half-full type of verse. If you feel God is wrathful (Matt. 25:24) this may be a terrifying verse. If you feel God is one who loves to give grace (John 1:14, 3:17, Luke 12:32) this may be a cause of joy in your heart. Jonah, knowing God was "gracious and compassionate", "slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness", "and one who relents concerning calamity" fled to Tarshish in order to not deliver God's invitation to Nineveh to repent and receive His mercy (Jonah 1:2-3, 4:2) because Jonah didn't want God to forgive them (Jonah 4:1). The fact God is free to have mercy and compassion is good news because He wants too (Isa. 30:18, 53:10, Heb. 12:2).


16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. - Romans 9:16


I would argue that the crux of the many debates regarding Romans 9 rests on what is defined as "it" here. Some see "it" being an individual case-by-case salvation issue thus reading these verses as God unconditionally electing some for salvation and therefore also doing what's called double-predestination in that by electing some for salvation He's equally (deliberately or by omission) electing some for condemnation. The theology of Calvinism rests on this very notion. The problem is this creates a conflict of paramount importance that would describe God contrary to how He's been made known in the rest of scripture. Even well known Calvinists haven't been able to reconcile this conflict often citing Romans 9:20 as a cop-out. While I agree that God is never required to explain Himself, that often He meets us on our level like He did with Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11) and invites us to come and reason together (Isa. 1:18, Prov. 20:25). I believe the Bible is God meeting us on our level.


If "it" means God elects every individual apart from their response and therefore whomever He chooses is unconditionally, irresistibly saved and whomever He doesn't choose, or chooses for hell is unconditionally, irresistibly condemned then much of scripture is found to be in conflict with "it". Men many times have thwarted the will of God in regards to salvation. John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Rom. 10:21,  Acts 7:51, 2 Peter 2:1, Luke 7:30, to name a few.


Let me rabbit trail on this for a moment,


If "it" is in reference to individual salvation you would have to conclude God doesn't want to save everyone which is contrary to scripture (Gen. 12:3, Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 4:10, Titus 2:11, John 1:7, Heb. 2:9, Acts 3:26, 15:17, Luke 2:10, 6:35, 15:7, 19:10). You would have to conclude that God doesn't love everyone which is contrary to scripture (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 4:10). You would have to conclude that God wants to condemn people which is contrary to scripture (John 3:17, Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11), you would have to conclude that God is only putting on a show by drawing all men to Himself (John 1:9, 12:32, 16:8), given they don't have any real option. You would have to conclude that man has no responsibility, literally that man has no response-ability, as in man cannot respond to the gospel which is contrary to scripture (John 1:12, John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Luke 11:9-13, Acts 7:51, Rev. 3:20, John 4:10, Rom. 1:18-20, 10:12-13, 10:21). You would have to conclude that God is double-tongued (1 Tim. 3:8) on one hand, inviting men to repentance (Acts 17:30, 1 Cor. 14:21), but on the other secretly preventing them from doing so. You would have to conclude that God always gets His way among men which is contrary to scripture (John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Rom. 10:21,  Acts 7:51, 2 Peter 2:1, Luke 7:30).


And these are just primary points. If you were willing to make the above conclusions then there are a bunch of secondary points you have to manipulate to fit into you theology. You would have to diminish God's love and explain God's motivation to be for another reason such as His glory as to why He gives people life that He may condemn them. You would have to argue that man doesn't have freewill which is contrary to scripture (1 Cor. 7:37, 7:39, John 7:17, 2 Cor. 8:3, Phile. 1:14, Deut. 30:19, Gen. 2:16-17). You would have to conclude that Christ didn't die for the sins of all men but only for those whom God chose to pay the penalty for which is contrary to scripture (1 John 2:2, 1 Tim. 4:10, 2:5-6, John 1:29, 3:16-17, 6:33, 6:51, Heb. 2:9, Rom. 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:18-19). You would have to conclude that God wanted man to sin, not only in the garden with Adam and Eve but with each individual today which again is contrary to scripture (Ecc. 7:29, Jam. 1:13-15, 1 John 2:16, Rom. 1:30, Gen. 1:27, Matt. 25:41). You would have to conclude that the enemy, Satan, hasn't been given an allotted measure of freedom (Job 1:7) but rather he is just doing God's bidding (Matt. 13:19). You would have to conclude that Hell was designed for man per God's plan from the beginning which is contrary to scripture (Matt. 25:41).


For "it" to refer to individual salvation there are many more disturbing conclusions, manipulations, and distortions of scripture that would have to be made as well but I feel we've hammered this pretty good.


So back on track to Romans 9:16 and what does "it" mean if it's not a salvific issue. I believe what fits best as "it" both in what Paul has been speaking of thus far as well as in the verses to come (not to mention the rest of scripture we just covered) is that "it" refers to the fulfillment of God's promise. "It" refers to something much larger than our individual salvation and that's God seeing to it that His purpose, which will be elaborated on in the next two chapters, is not thwarted based on man's zeal, efforts (Rom. 10:2), or lack thereof. The promise depends on our merciful God, not on the faithfulness ("willing and running") of man. Abraham "willed and ran" in the flesh to produce a son through Hagar and pleaded with God that God would recognize Ishmael as the promised one (Gen. 17:18), but God chose to not allow His promise to hinge on Abraham's willing and running but maintained it according to His mercy and continued as He elected to (Gen. 17:19), thus providing Isaac through Sarah.


So what is the promise? This is something the Jews would have already been familiar with but us Gentiles not as readily. The promise is God's word (God's word and God's promise are synonymous [Rom. 3:4]). This promise was first given to Abraham (Gen. 22:16-18, Rom. 9:9) and continued to Rebekah (Gen. 25:23, Rom. 9:10), and the Substance of this promise was to Abraham's Seed which Paul makes very clear in Galatians is Jesus Christ.


14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. - Galatians 3:14-18


What Paul wrote above to the Galatians He has been walking through more in depth here in Romans, citing specifics, walking through more in detail how God did it, and meeting us in the OT truths many of the Jews would have already been familiar with (and therefore often leaving out lengthy back story).


How does one partake in this promise? Paul continues later in that same chapter of Galatians:


26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. - Galatians 3:26-29 (emphasis mine)


How does one belong to Christ and therefore become a true descendant of Abraham? "through faith in Christ Jesus." But I am getting ahead of our study; Paul is getting to that near the end of this chapter.


17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” - Romans 9:17


Pharaoh was raised up for what purpose? To demonstrate God's power and that God's name would be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. Paul is showing us how God intervened in order to ensure His purpose stands, in this case, using Pharaoh in order to further the word of God throughout the whole earth (bringing about the Passover and even Rahab, a gentile, was evangelized by the plagues sent against Pharoah [Josh. 2:9-13] Rahab who later we discover in the genealogy of Jesus ([Matt. 1:5]). This isn't an individual salvific issue but rather God seeing to it His word does not fail even if the Israelites enter into unbelief. Before Moses went to Pharaoh he first went to the Israelites and proclaimed good news, but the Israelites did not believe him (Exo. 6:9).


"Raised you up". Many with presuppositions take this to mean God created (gave life to) Pharaoh with this intent but that term does not mean that. In fact, if you read this verse in other versions of the bible it states "Made you king" (TLB, ERV, etc). Paul tells us later that God is the one who establishes governing authorities (Rom. 13:1).


18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:18


Jews would have likely agreed with Paul when he spoke of God hardening Pharaoh, what's clever here is that If the Jews agree that God hardened Pharaoh for His purpose, couldn't He also harden the Jews for His purpose? They would have to agree, or at least they have no solid argument. This is why I believe Paul follows up with what He said of Pharaoh with verse 18 above that God can do whatever He wants to whomever He wants. Jews were okay when God chose Pharaoh for His purpose, but now, in understanding that God did that with Pharaoh they must come to terms that God is allowed to do that with anyone which means to them too.


The Hebrew word for hardened regarding Pharaoh in Exodus 7:22 & 9:12 means "made firm" (Strong's 2388). If you look at the OT accounts of Pharaoh you will see that Pharaoh was already rebellious and with him God had much patience, but ultimately as Pharaoh didn't want to yield to God, therefore God "made firm" his position and used Pharaoh in another way that furthered the knowledge of God throughout the whole world (and we're still reading that account today, so it worked). Pharaoh wasn't created for rebellion (Ecc. 7:29, 1 John 2:16, Jam. 1:13-15, Gen. 1:27, Matt. 25:41) but after Pharaoh, many times hardening his own heart (cf. Exo. 7:3 where God had not yet hardened Pharaoh's heart but Pharaoh's heart already, through the natural consequences of sin was hardening [Exo. 7:22], until Pharaoh ended up intentionally hardening his own heart [Exo. 8:15]). Therefore God made firm him in his desired state and raised him up for another purpose. God had much patience with Pharaoh as amazingly he does with vessels of wrath as we'll cover in verses 22-23 to come.


God not only harden Pharaoh's heart but He did so in that of Pharaoh's servants (Exo. 10:1). This is what is known as a "judicial hardening" which could be defined as "God's sinless use of sinful actions." Pharaoh and the Egyptions had already hardened their hearts (1 Sam. 6:6). Judicial hardening is often blinding an already rebellious person in their rebellion (Matt. 4:11-12, Rom. 11:8, Acts 28:26-27, 1 Sam. 6:6) so as to prevent their repentance for a time. We'll see in the coming chapters/studies that God does likewise in part to Israel. As God took opportunity with Pharaoh to spread His word, God likewise hardens the Israelites (Rom. 11:7-10) so that Gentiles could be grafted in (Rom. 11:11). Did God intentionally break off the Israelites from the Vine so that Gentiles could be grafted in? Absurd! Read what Paul concludes later in Romans 11:


19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. - Romans 11:19-23 (emphasis mine).


God made firm their standpoint of unbelief so that the Gentiles could be grafted in. If He hadn't done so, Christ would not have been crucified by them and the gentiles would remain lost.


22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. - Acts 2:22-23


Understanding Romans 9 within it's context of the entire letter of Romans is crucial in both the previous chapters and those that follow. This is no small task for Paul to explain, yet he desires us to be informed of God's plan in this mystery (Rom. 11:25). God has allowed Israel to be partially hardened "made firm" in their rebellion with a greater redemptive purpose in mind, even with the view of redemption for those once judicially hardened (Rom. 11:11, 23, 26, 32).


Consider Professor Leighton Flowers analogies of judicial hardening1:


Analogy #1: "When a police officer sets up a speed trap he has one ultimate desire: to stop speeders for the safety of all. However, by hiding the truth of his presence he is ensuring that those who want to speed will continue to do so. Thus, in one sense he wants the speeders to continue to speed so as to catch them speeding, but his ultimate purpose is the same: to stop speeders for the safety of all. The police officer does not determine the speeders desire to speed in any way, he simply hides the truth so as to ensure the speeder will continue to speed, something they have contra-causally chosen to do."


Analogy #2: "Suppose my 4 year old daughter was told that she is not to take cookies from the cookie jar. In another room, out of sight, I see into the kitchen that my daughter is looking at the cookie jar. She looks around the room to see if anyone is watching. As a parent, I can tell what she is thinking. She is about to steal a cookie and she knows she is not supposed to. Now, I could step into the room so that she sees me prior to her committing this sin. Upon seeing me she would forego her evil plot and give up the idea of getting the cookie (at least until the next time she was alone). However, suppose I decide to not step into the room. I remain out of sight to allow her to be tempted and then pounce into action to catch her with her hand in the cookie jar. Now, by not stepping in at the moment I saw she was being tempted did I cause the temptation? No. I allowed it to continue, but I did not cause it. I did not determine for her to desire to steal. I could have prevented the action by simply showing myself, but I chose not to do so." This is like judicial hardening. By simply hiding the truth (i.e. that I was present and watching) I allowed my daughter to be tempted and to act in sin. Am I in any way culpable for that sin? No. I merely allowed it though I could have stopped it.


God's motive behind judicial hardening has always been to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose. Israel, through their unbelief and rebellious acts, crucified our Lord. If God hadn't orchestrated events like this, they would have not crucified Jesus and we would all be doomed.


but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; - 1 Corinthians 2:7-8


Though what they did was evil, it resulted in mercy for us. Because it resulted in mercy for us, they may also now be shown mercy. God could have intervened at Christ first coming and given everyone a "Damascus road experience" (Acts 9) with all the Jews if He wanted too, fortunately for all of us He didn't want to (Rom. 11:31-32).


28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. - Romans 11:28-32






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