Continuing in our look at Romans 9 today. If you’ve missed the Intro to Romans 9, or my previous post on Romans 9:1-5, please feel free to check them out as today’s passages build upon what we’ve already studied.
So today I want to take a closer look at Romans 9:6-13. As you read it with me, keep in mind that Paul makes the point in verses 6-7 that God’s faithfulness to Israel and His covenant promises to them would be kept…God wasn’t done with Israel–true Israel. And Paul then goes on to illustrate those points made, in verses 8-13. Let’s read.
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they [are] not all Israel, which are of Israel: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: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
For this [is] the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.
And not only [this]; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac;
(For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
An important thing to remember, is that we are talking about the nation of Israel here. That this is a national election to a specific purpose, not a personal election to individual salvation, is seen by Paul’s references to Israel in verses 1-5 as: Israelites, kinsmen, brethren…to whom God elected to receive the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, national promises given to the Jewish people “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (vs 5). The Israelites were the chosen race through which Jesus Christ, our Savior, Himself came in the flesh. Israel was blessed with many privileges, but all Israel did not accept these advantages. Paul is laying a foundation here for a great truth.
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Romans 9:6b-7
What’s he saying here? That even though Ishmael and Isaac were both physically of Abraham, it would be through Isaac’s seed that the covenant promises would come. Isaac’s seed received blessings not given to Ishmael’s, through no merit of his own. God chose to bestow the incredible advantages mentioned in Romans 9:4-5 upon this nation of people.
Let’s check out the original story in Genesis 21:12-13.
And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he [is] thy seed.
It’s important to go back and check these references…because here we see, it was always about nations. Don’t misunderstand me, not “national salvation” but national service for God’s purposes. Both Isaac and Ishmael represented nations. And from Isaac came Jacob, whose name eventually changed to Israel–very fitting for the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. So these men are being referenced here not only as individuals, but as heads of nations.
In verses 10-11, Paul gives yet another example of God’s unconditional election of two nations. We know he is further expounding on these points by his wording at the beginning of verse 10, “And not only this;” This time it’s Rebekah and Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau, who are chosen for heads of nations. God told Rebekah this in Genesis 25:23,
And the LORD said unto her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
So we see Paul is quoting Genesis 25:23 in Romans 9:12: “The elder shall serve the younger.” We gain even further light on Romans 9:12-13, by checking out Malachi 1:2-4, which says,
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, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.
Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build 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 for ever.
Key point here–notice at the beginning, “you” is plural “ye” is always plural (which is super helpful, and one reason I find the KJV easier to study), and “hast loved us”. All plural references, even though Jacob and Esau are primarily referenced, as they were the heads of these nations. Then lastly, Esau is equated with the Edomites…and the end of Malachi 1:4 says it all: “The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.”
So Romans 9:12-13 is talking about God’s choosing nations for service, just as it plainly states. The election here deals with Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau. Romans 9:12 does not say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, rather it says, “the elder shall serve the younger.”
Paul is writing at a pivotal time for the Jews. After centuries of being under the law and their exclusive claim to the promises, grace has come through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and things have changed to include the Gentiles. The Jews needed to understand that true spiritual Israel would see fulfillment of these promises, and that just being of pure Jewish lineage did not automatically guarantee individual salvation. True spiritual Israel are those who do not reject the advantages God’s given (Romans 9:4-5). Not only this, but true, spiritual Israel now has expanded to include Gentiles, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as children of the promise, even those who have no physical claim as descendants of Abraham.
Galatians 4:22-31 is a great passage shedding more light on how Ishmael and Isaac represent two covenants, one for bond and one for free, typifying the same struggle the Jews and Gentile converts were facing thousands of years later. That being, shall we rest in Christ alone for our salvation and the liberty of the gospel as sons of the “freewoman” (Sarah) and partakers of the promise, or are we to still be under the law, sons of the bondwoman (Hagar)? The answer for the Jews is the same answer for the Gentiles, as we’ve been “grafted” into their promises today (Romans 11:17):
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of the promise.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
I’m so thankful that God had a plan for the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, aren’t you? In Romans 9, Paul helps us distinguish between personal and national election, and spiritual and physical Israel. Whom will God save? If you have personally accepted Christ’s sacrificial death for your sins, and in faith confessed Him as your Savior, you have met the conditions necessary to be one of God’s elect.
Jesus’ did it all, and all to Him I owe…won’t you surrender all to Him right now, if you haven’t already?