“In response to Isaac’s prayer, the Lord gave twins to him and his wife Rebekah (Gen. 25:21-22). When the babies moved violently within her womb, she asked the Lord for an explanation. He replied: ‘Two NATIONS are in your womb, and two PEOPLES within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:23)” (Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” pages 43-44).
In today’s post I am discussing Jacob’s “election.” Robert Peterson is at it again in his book “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” and his evidence (first coming from Abraham) now includes Jacob being chosen over his twin brother, Esau. But look back at the reference from Genesis 25:23. Rebekah knew that she was pregnant with two babies (maybe not twins), but she wondered why the children were fighting so if she was to have children. It seemed to Rebekah that the odds were against her having children if they were fighting. But after consulting the Lord, He told her that the two children represented two NATIONS, two PEOPLES within her. He also tells her that the two nations will differ in strength.
However, he mentions something else: “and the older will serve the younger.” The context of Genesis 25 concerns the two children becoming two nations (two peoples). Here, the Lord has mentioned nothing of the individuals themselves—but what they represent!
But the following lines from Peterson are disturbing:
“Jacob and Esau represented NATIONS, even while within their mother’s womb, as the citation of Genesis 25:23 confirms. But God also dealt with the twins as INDIVIDUALS, as Paul explains:
‘ Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—IN ORDER THAT GOD’S PURPOSE IN ELECTION MIGHT STAND: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ (Rom. 9:10-13, italics added)
God dealt with Jacob and Esau BOTH as INDIVIDUALS and as NATIONS. He chose Jacob as an individual to be a special recipient of his love AND to be heir of the covenant promises to the nation” (44).
Peterson does not elaborate here on the Jacob (as an individual) being elected by God. Clearly, we have seen the corporate election of a people coming from the loins of Jacob—but we haven’t seen where Jacob is elected SOLELY on the basis of Jacob’s life or Jacob’s walk with the Lord. He hints at this possibility when he quotes from Romans 9 where it says “the older will serve the younger,” but he appears to be wrong about this as well. The reference refers to more than just Esau serving Jacob:
“But Isaac replied to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, AND ALL HIS RELATIVES I HAVE GIVEN TO HIM AS SERVANTS…’” (Gen. 27:37, NASB).
To see this in even more detail, look back at Isaac’s words in his blessing to Jacob:
“May PEOPLES serve you, and NATIONS bow down to you; BE MASTER OF YOUR BROTHERS, and may your MOTHER’S SONS bow down to you” (Gen. 27:29, NASB).
Notice that Isaac tells Jacob, “Be master OF YOUR BROTHERS.” If this were just referring to Jacob and Esau, then Isaac would have said “be master of your BROTHER” (brother being singular, not plural), for Jacob and Esau were the only children born to Isaac and Rebekah. But for Isaac to tell him to rule over his BROTHERS implied that the nations that would come forth from Jacob and Esau would be in relationship with one another, even after the death of Isaac. The line of Jacob, Jacob’s sons becoming the twelve tribes, would rule over ALL their relatives, not just Edom, but the other countries maintain blood ties to the Israelites. Once again, the blessing is CORPORATE, or national, not individual.
This might not seem to be conclusive evidence. Someone might say, “Well, what’s all this talk about the two sons becoming two nations? Can it really be that the blessing conferred on Jacob was not so much about him as it was descendants of Abraham?" Yes.
My proof? Look at Genesis 25:30—
“and Esau said to Jacob, ‘please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ THEREFORE HIS NAME WAS CALLED EDOM.” (Gen. 25:30, NASB)
Esau became known as “Edom,” which means “red,” because he asked for some of Jacob’s lentil stew. Look with me further in Genesis:
“Now these are the records of the generations of Esau (THAT IS, EDOM)” (Gen. 36:1, NASB).
“So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; ESAU IS EDOM” (Gen. 36:8, NASB).
Esau, then, becomes known as “Edom.” He is not singled out with just his original name; he goes on to become the head of a nation of people (Gen. 36:9). The same happens with Jacob:
“God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; YOU SHALL NO LONGER BE CALLED JACOB, but ISRAEL SHALL BE YOUR NAME” (Gen. 35:10, NASB).
When the Lord enters this covenant with Jacob, He tells him the following:
“I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A NATION AND A COMPANY OF NATIONS shall come forth from you…” (Gen. 35:11, NASB).
Not only will the Israelites come forth from Jacob, but other separate nations as well. As we can see, when Isaac blessed Jacob, he was telling Jacob that Israel would rule over “his mother’s sons,” that being all the descendants of Esau (the Edomites), as well as the other nations that would come from the loins of Jacob and Esau. It was always the corporate election that the Lord had in mind, NEVER an individual election. This is why with Abraham, the Lord told him to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 17:6); with Isaac the Lord told him that He would multiply Isaac’s seed (Gen. 26:24); and with Jacob, as we saw a minute ago, the Lord told him the same thing (Gen. 35:11). The goal was always to bring forth the nations of the earth, NEVER to elect one nation as the only nation to receive salvation—or even a few individuals.
Now look at Romans 9. The idea asserted by Peterson is that people are elected on the basis of God’s random decision to do so. However, to interpret Romans 9 (vv.10-13 above) the way he does is to take the passage out of context. Why? because here’s what Paul writes after his argument in chapters 9 and 10:
“What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;…” (Romans 11:7, NASB).
Israel was the chosen seed, right? Yes—the nation itself was elected. Paul tells us the corporate blessings of the nation:
“who are Israelites, to whom belongs THE ADOPTION AS SONS, and the GLORY and the COVENANTS and the GIVING OF THE LAW and the TEMPLE SERVICE and THE PROMISES, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. FOR THEY ARE NOT ALL ISRAEL WHO ARE DESCENDED FROM ISRAEL;” (Rom. 9:4-7, NASB)
In verse 4, we see that Israel has received a ton of material blessings along with the promises. However, she has not obtained the promises for herself—why? because she has not come to Christ by faith:
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, PURSUING A LW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, DID NOT ARRIVE AT THAT LAW. Why? Because they DID NOT PURSUE IT BY FAITH, BUT AS THOUGH IT WERE BY WORKS” (Rom. 9:30-32, NASB).
So, back to Romans 9:10-13… what does Paul mean when he quotes the Lord telling Rebekah that “the older will serve the younger”? here, Paul is saying that when the Lord told her this, He was going against the Jewish way of thinking. As written above, in Romans 9 Paul expounds all the blessings of the Israelites. Nevertheless, Israel has not obtained the promises because of works. So, Esau represents the Law; the Law promised Esau, by virtue of being the oldest, that he would receive the inheritance (concept of primogeniture). However, the Lord tells Rebekah that her youngest son (Jacob) would receive the inheritance; and this was a test of faith because the youngest receiving the inheritance was not found in the Law. It was APART FROM THE LAW (Romans 3:21-22).
The same thing can be said for Romans 9:7-8. Isaac was the promised son, although the second-born (Abraham and Hagar conceived Ishmael). Ishmael as the oldest of Abraham’s sons, represented the Law. The Law also entitled Ishmael to the inheritance; but God, while promising to bless Ishmael because he was Abraham’s son, DID NOT choose Ishmael, but stuck with His original promise—that Isaac would be the chosen (Genesis 17:18-21).
Peterson and those who would seek to look at arbitrary election of persons disregard context. If they looked at the end of Romans 9 and not just pick out a few verses, they would see that the Gentiles receive faith APART FROM THE LAW. Despite the blessings of Israel, despite the fact that she is “first” (Romans 1:16), she has not received it because of unbelief. Jacob’s election then, instead of Isaac’s, is to show that those who believe are made righteous by faith, over those who still seek righteousness by the Law (Israel).