Jacob have I loved

by Nov 14, 2019Debates, Romans0 comments

- ...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17 NRS) -

“Jacob have I loved”

In the discussion of predestination, you will quickly hear the oft quoted verse from Romans 9:13.

As it is written, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.”

This text is used to suggest that God had particularly chosen the man Jacob for salvation, while rejecting Esau for the same.

Recently, I saw the following attributed to Spurgeon, which says to the effect (paraphrased):

“We should not be surprised at the statement ‘Esau have I hated.’ What should surprise us is the statement, ‘Jacob have I loved.’”

For purposes of this discussion, I will simply refer to this as the Spurgeon quote.

I hear this frequently from our more deterministic kindred of the faith. In fact, a popular Calvinist debater used it a few years ago in a debate with a Traditionalist theologian.

This is very ironic.  In discussions of election we generally see two views – particular election (of individuals) and corporate-election (of groups or collectives).  Reformers and classical Arminians generally hold to particular election.  Most other groups hold to corporate election.  That is, we are elect when we are in the body of Christ, or in Israel.

Advocates of particular election use this passage as evidence that God chooses individuals. For example Spurgeon reads Romans 9:10-14 as a statement about the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, with God saving Jacob, but not saving Esau based on Paul’s quotes from Genesis and Malachi. Spurgeon says we need to take the text as it stands and argues from Jacob’s past that there was nothing in him that would compel God to save him. It is purely by God’s mercy. However, Spurgeon also notes that we cannot use the same kind of logic to suggest that God reprobates Esau arbitrarily. Rather, he states that no one in hell can state that they do not deserve the punishment.

(As a note, had Spurgeon read the Genesis and Malachi texts in full, he would see that both texts are about nations or peoples, not individuals.)

Advocates of corporate election lean toward an interpretation of Romans 9 that states that the argument is about Israel/Jacob, and God’s continual grace towards them. This has taken various forms over the years, but, in general, scholars who hold to this position see it as an overall argument based on charges by Gentile followers of Jesus that God has abandoned Israel, that they have been “cut off” (Romans 11:19).  Romans 9 is only a part of the larger argument that encompasses Romans 9-11.

What Paul is arguing is that God’s love for Israel (Jacob) has not ceased – has never ceased – and that God still has plans to redeem them (11:26ff) and that the plan involves the salvation of the Gentiles. Israel fully understood that the unfaithful would be cut off. We hear it repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and strongly in the prophets. So it should not surprise us that there is a narrowing of the faithful. Yet it is still Israel that is chosen. In Romans 9, the examples of God’s choice in the patriarchs are all Israel! It is Israel’s ancestry that is in view, not the election of the Gentiles.

While Spurgeon was understanding Paul’s quotes in Romans 9:10-13 as examples of particular election of the individuals, had he simply referenced the context of these quotes, he would see that they are both about Israel and Esau, which are nations or people groups, and they actually support what advocates of corporate election have been saying all along – that Romans 9 is about Israel.  Broadening the context of the Genesis quote a bit we have the following:

21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.  The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.  And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21-23 ESV)

Likewise, when we broaden the context of Malachi 1, a text written centuries after Genesis during the return from exile, we see that this second quote is also about Israel and Edom, the two nations that descended from Jacob and Esau respectively.

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.  But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'”
Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5 ESV)

In both cases, the prophecy is about nations, not individuals.  A question that has been raised is whether

The rhetorical question that follows must be read from the perspective of the Gentiles who see the unfaithfulness of Israel and fail to understand God’s covenantal commitment towards them.

“What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (Romans 9:14)

There would be no perceived injustice in God’s rejection of the unfaithful. Israel own Scriptures fully acknowledged that repeatedly in the prophets. So the question is not being asked from a Jewish perspective. From a Gentile perspective, the injustice is found in the application of mercy to the unrighteous, which in this case is Israel, and is being asked rhetorically by Paul for the Gentile audience as a support for God’s faithfulness to the covenant.

So we must say that Spurgeon and our deterministic debaters are absolutely right when they says, “What should surprise us is the statement, ‘Jacob have I loved.’” It is the same thing that astonished the audience of Romans. With respect to the covenant, God still loves Israel, in spite of its unbelief.

We will discuss the purpose of God’s faithfulness to Israel in another post.