We come now to the central lesson of all evangelical religion. We come now to the glorious revelation of the sovereign grace of God, as revealed in the gospel, and only through the gospel. We come now to the promises, which are great and precious.
“Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God . . .” (Rom. 9:7-13).
Summary of the Text
We have seen that not everyone who is of Israel is to be counted as Israel. This answers the objection God’s word has somehow failed (v. 6). But how does this work out in the course of scriptural history? For example, in order to be a “child of Abraham” it is necessary to be more than a child of Abraham. The promise was given to the line of Isaac (v. 7). Paul quotes Gen. 21:12 here. He then says that Abraham had two kinds of children—children of the flesh and children of the promise. The children of the promise are the ones who are considered to be his seed (v. 8). Quoting Gen. 18:10,14, Paul quotes the promise directly. Not only that, but the same thing is repeated over again in the next generation. Rebecca conceived twins by one man, the patriarch Isaac (v. 10). And then Paul says that before these twins were born, and so that God’s prerogatives in election would stand unchallenged (v. 11), God declared through a prophecy that the elder would serve the younger (v. 12). This is found in Gen. 25:23. And finishing the thought, the apostle quotes from Mal. 1:2-3. Jacob was loved by God, and Esau was hated and rejected by Him (v. 13).
In debates between Calvinists and Arminians, a point is often made about that inflammatory quote—”Esau I hated”—and it is a point we should readily grant, but only to a point. The quotation is not from the book of Genesis, like the others here, and is rather from the last book of the Old Testament (Mal. 1:2-3). Malachi in context is talking about the nations of Israel and Edom. It is the word of the Lord to Israel (Mal. 1:1), and His hatred of Esau is why Edom is referred to as judged (v. 4). If we are following Paul’s argument here in Romans, the corporate love that God showed to Israel did not mean that every Israelite was saved. Neither did His hatred of Esau mean that every Edomite was lost (Job 1:1). At the same time, it does mean something. If God’s sovereign dispensing of grace apart from works extends to entire nations, why would be balk in applying it to individuals?
Ishmaelites and Edomites
The unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day drew themselves up to their full height. “We are children of Abraham,” they said. “Oh,” he replied, “Ishmaelites then?” “No,” they retorted. “We are descended from Isaac.” “Oh,” he replied. “Edomites then?” They had the generations of the patriarchs to learn the lesson, but their unbelief had blinded them. Every generation has to learn the same lesson over again, and it can only be learned by the sovereign grace of God. Learning this lesson is the gift of God.
Sovereign Authority in the Promise
The unbelieving heart always wants to trap God in the fine print. Paul’s point here is that we are not nearly so adept at reading that fine print as we think we are. We say that God promised salvation to the seed of Abraham, and there, we have Him. Paul points out, in the fine print, that Ishmael is the seed of Abraham in a certain sense. Right? We retreat—God promised salvation to the seed of Isaac. Surely He can’t wriggle out of t hat. Paul points to the next paragraph down. What about Esau? Is he part of this salvation? The point is that when God reveals, at the culmination of history, that the seed of Abraham are all those who share the faith of Abraham (Gal. 3:28-29), this is not moving the goalposts. This is not a fourth quarter rule change. God has been doing this from the very beginning. It has always been for the children of the promise, and never for the children of the flesh alone.
Not of Works
Related to this, the fundamental contrast for Paul is always between grace and works, and note that the allure of “works” here is centuries before the Torah was given. Jacob had the position he did by grace, and it was not of works (v. 11). Jacob was given something apart from works long before his great, great grandson Moses, giver of the Torah, was born (Ex. 6:16-20). The Torah wasn’t around but works were. Works always are, whispering in your ear.
The Elder Serves the Younger
We know that God draws straight with crooked lines, but we sometimes rush to assign blame where the Bible does not. While she was pregnant, Rebecca inquired of the Lord and was told by God that the older twin would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23). Contrary to this word, Isaac favored Esau (Gen. 25:28), despite the fact that Jacob was a perfect man (Gen. 25:27). Rebecca believed in the word of the Lord, and she favored her righteous son while Isaac favored the son who gave him the kind of food he liked (Gen. 25:28). Isaac was willing to give the blessing for the sake of food, and Esau was willing to sell his birthright for the sake of food. The deception of Rebecca and Jacob saved Isaac from a spiritual disaster. Isaac tried to reject the word of the Lord, but was graciously prevented.
Not the Children of God
Now we need to embrace both sides of what Paul is saying. The children of the flesh are of the children of God in one sense (v. 6) but, as he says in v. 8, they are not the children of God in another. We are the children of God by faith (Gal. 3:26). Evangelists of Christ must never be shy about telling Christians that they aren’t, or telling evangelicals that they need to be born again. And pastors of Christ must never tire of telling Christians that they are accepted in the Beloved.