Does Romans 9, particularly the passage on the election of Jacob over Esau, support the Calvinistic doctrines of predestination and election unto salvation of men? The answer is no. To understand why, we need to see that there are two types of calls that God extends to men. These are
- The call to fellowship, and
- The call to service or ministry.
The Call to Fellowship (Salvation)
The call for fellowship is the call to know God, and included in the call to know God, is the call to salvation. We find the call to fellowship in many different scriptures:
1 Cor 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Chris our Lord.
God has always desired fellowship with man. Indeed this is the reason God created man in the first place. Acts 17:26, 27 tells us that God made all nations of men in all places of the earth so that they might seek God and have fellowship with him. Indeed the reason for Jesus dying so that we could have eternal life is so we could come to know God and have fellowship with Him. The Lord Jesus himself, speaking to the disciples just prior to his crucifixion, said the purpose and essence of eternal life was so we could come to know God:
John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
The apostle John in his first epistle tells us that the purpose of preaching is so others can receive eternal life and have fellowship with us, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ:
1 John 1:2-3 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
There are multitudes of scriptures that show plainly that the call to fellowship and to know God is extended to all men, although not all men choose to respond. Here we will mention just three such passages.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 7:37, 38 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
The third passage, which we shall not reproduce here, is Proverbs 8:1-8 and 9:1-6. We are told in the New Testament (1 Cor 1:24) that Christ is the wisdom of God. In Proverbs 8 and 9, we see that Christ is calling to all men to come to him, although it is clear that not all choose to respond to the call of God.
To sum up, there are two types of calls. The first call is a call to fellowship with God. This call entails a call to repentance and faith, and is actually the call to salvation. God extends this call to all men, although only those who respond in repentance and faith are saved.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
These scriptures plainly show that God so wanted all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (Jesus, or God himself, is the truth) that he had his son pay the ransom for all men. It is in this sense that God is the Saviour of all men. However, this salvation that God provided is only effective for those that respond in repentance and faith: it is in this sense that He is especially the saviour of those that believe.
We could add many more scriptures, but these will suffice. Let us move on to consider God’s call to ministry or service.
The Call To Ministry (Service)
The desire of God’s heart is to fellowship with men. Indeed, this is the reason he created man in the first place, and is the reason he sent Jesus to ransom men from the fall. This is also the reason that God calls all men to fellowship.
Most often, God will use men in his dealings with men. When God wanted to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, He did not choose to deal directly with Pharaoh, or with the children of Israel. Instead, He came down and spoke to one man, Moses, and sent him both to Pharaoh and to the Israelites. When God has a job to be done, he will often call men to do it. Often the jobs that God wants done are related to calling men to fellowship with, or to a closer walk with God. This is the call to ministry.
Because there are different types of jobs that God may want done, there are different types of ministries, or offices of ministry. In the old testament, God called, and raised up men (and sometimes women) to be judges, prophets, priests, and kings. Likewise, there are different ministries in the new testament that God calls men (and women) to. The ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelists, pastors and teachers are mentioned in the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians. Additional ministries and ministry gifts are mentioned in I Corithians 12, I Corithians 14, Romans 12:1-8, and in other parts of the new Testament.
While the call of God to salvation and fellowship is extended to everyone (we showed this in our discussion of the call to salvation), God exercises his sovereign will in who he calls to fill which office of ministry. In other words, God chooses, or elects, who he wants to fill a service or ministry office. While everyone is chosen for salvation, only certain people are chosen by God to fill certain offices. In fact, God goes to great lengths in the bible to make clear that only certain people are chosen to fill certain ministries. We will list many of these scriptures here to underscore this point, because it is of the utmost importance in understanding the part of Romans 9 that deals with the doctrine of election. We will return to this point later, but for now, let’s say that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel were chosen by God so he could use them to bring Christ into the world. That is, God was using them, in a sense, to reach all the nations of the world. The relationship of Jacob, and the nation of Israel with God, involved a call to ministry.
In calling people to ministry, God exercises his sovereignty and chooses whoever He wants, and in this, He brushes aside any objection that any man might have as to the choosing of God’s instrument. This is in stark contrast to the call to salvation, which goes out to everybody. Consider these scriptures:
Mark 3:13-14 (KJV) And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.
And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
Mark 3:13-14 (Youngs)
And he goeth up to the mountain, and doth call near whom he willed, and they went away to him;
and he appointed twelve, that they may be with him, and that he may send them forth to preach,
Mark 3:13-14 Then Jesus went up on a mountain and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Jesus chose twelve and called them apostles. He wanted them to be with him, and he wanted to send them out to preach.
Notice the stark distinction between the calls to ministry and the call to salvation. In the call to salvation, God puts out the invitation to all, and the choice is man’s to make (If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink), . In the call to ministry, the choice of who is called is made by God (and doth call to near whom he willed). Here are some references to the call of Paul to ministry:
Acts 9:15 (ESV) But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Galations 1:1 (NCV) From Paul, an apostle. I was not chosen to be an apostle by human beings, nor was I sent from human beings. I was made an apostle through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.
Ephesians 1:1 (ESV) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,…
Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, ..
1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Saviour, and Christ Jesus our hope;
Nowhere in the New Testament does Paul ever say that he, Paul, was called to salvation by the will of God. But he does say over and over that he was appointed an apostle by the will of God. They are other scriptures we could quote, but let’s move on and look at ministries in the old testament. Concerning the ministry of the priest in the old testament, the book of Hebrews has this to say:
Hebrews 5:4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
In the Old Testament we have a story of Uzziah, who in his pride, although called by God to be King, overstepped the boundaries of the office God had called him to and tried to minister in the office of the priest.
2 Chronicles 26:16-20
But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction; for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, who were valiant men. And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, “It pertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the Lord God.” Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense; and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked upon him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence. Yea, he himself hastened also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.
These scriptures serve to underscore that while God extends the call to salvation and receives all who respond to that call in faith without turning any away (John 6:37), he exercises his sovereign will with regard to who he calls to certain tasks of service.
There is an important point that we have not mentioned. This has to do with the extent that the calls to ministry on one hand, and the call to fellowship on the other, interact with each other in the life of an individual. In the case of Cyrus the great, we see that God can use a person in ministry regardless of the state of that person’s fellowship with God. But this is not always the case. In reality, the call on a person’s life to ministry will have a great impact on other aspects of his life. For example, when the Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, the stated purpose was to
call him to the ministry:
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
We read later in the book of Galatians:
Galations 1:15-16 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen, I conferred not immediately with flesh and blood,
We see from this that it was God’s will, even before Paul was born, that Paul should be a minister of the gospel. To bring this about,the Lord sovereignly appears to Paul and calls him to the ministry. Note that the purpose stated by the Lord for appearing to Paul was not so he could get saved and come to know God, it was so Jesus would be revealed to Paul so Paul could preach Jesus.
Often a person’s call to the ministry, and the type of ministry God has called him to, will cause God to treat the person differently than other people, and sometimes, to preserve that person’s life when his life might otherwise be preserved. Knowing this helps us understand this part of Romans 9:
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,
4 who are Israelites and to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 of whom are the fathers, and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
6 It is not as though the Word of God hath taken no effect. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel;
7 neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children; but, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
8 That is, they who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; rather, the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not by works, but by Him that calleth),
12 it was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.”
13 As it is written: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!
15 For He saith to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy.
Note the context here: Paul is talking about the ministry of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in being stewards of the law and oracles of God and in providing the natural line through which Christ, the seed of Abraham would be (verses 3 – 5). Both Ishmael and Isaac where sons of Abraham, and both were invited to know God, but God chose Isaac to serve in the lineage of Christ. (verse 7) Both Esau and Jacob were invited to know God and walk with Him, but God chose Jacob over Esau to serve in the lineage of Christ. This choice was sovereign, was made by God before they were born, and did not depend on anything the children had done (verse 10-11). The elder would serve the younger, in that the line of Jacob, being chosen by God to bring forth Christ, would be greate than that of Esau.
Verse 13 is actually a quote from the book of Malachi, and verses 13-16 can best be understood by referring back to the old testament quote in its context:
1 The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by the hand of Malachi.
2 “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,
3 and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
4 Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and rebuild the desolate places,” thus saith the Lord of Hosts: “They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them the Border of Wickedness and the people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.
5 And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, ‘The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel.’
The point is this. Israel had descended from Jacob, while Edom had descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother. Both nations sinned grievously before God and were judged by Him. Israel was sent into captivity, but was preserved as a nation because Israel had the called to minister to God in serving as the lineage of Christ. Edom, whose sin was perhaps no worse than that of Israel, was obliterated as a nation. It is in this sense that God loved Jacob, but “hated” Esau. Because of the call and purpose of God for the nation of Israel, God had mercy upon them in a way that He did not Edom. Hence the scripture in verse 15: I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy. That is, while God is merciful to all, He is completely within his rights if he shows additional mercy to instruments that he is using. Moreover, in treating a chosen instrument differently when it is necessary to accomplish his purpose, God is not being unrighteous or unfair
Actually the verse “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” also has application in the case of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. We will treat this later. For now, let us draw a connection in the case of Paul’s call to the ministy. There are perhaps many people who do not believe in Jesus, but who might if Jesus were to appear to them in the way that He did Paul. Is it unfair, or is there unrighteousness with God, that Jesus appeared to Paul (resulting in the salvation of Paul), but He does not appear to everybody? The answer is no, for the reasons we have just been describing.
To summarize the main point of this post: The election of Jacob over Esau relates to ministry and service, not salvation.