10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13 (ESV)
“In order that God’s purpose of election might continue.” God has his reasons, and his reason is you. You he has loved. We know this from so many areas of scripture, not the least 1 Tim. 2:4 which must always be kept in mind when considering the topic of predestination, and God’s election. Apart from his love for you, God’s reasons are hidden. They may seem capricious to us, but they are not. God operates that his purpose of election might continue, that he would save even you.
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Paul quotes from the prophet Malachi, the opening verses that would set the tone for all of Malachi’s ministry. It is worth reading the entire book when a person comes to this passage in Paul. Paul has this in mind as he writes this chapter and all of what he has to say about election.
Esau I hated. It draws our attention. That God loved Jacob is easy enough to understand. God is love. Love is of his nature. But that he has hated Esau, this is bothersome enough for our souls that it can keep us up at night, and in fear our whole lives. That God is capable of hate is terrifying. Immediately, we begin to ask, what if I am Esau? Perhaps we begin to examine our lives to see if perhaps we are not the redheaded stepchild who sold his inheritance for a pot of porridge. We should find ample evidence that this is true. But then Jacob, examining his own misspent life would find the same evidence. And that is part of the point. There really wasn’t anything to distinguish Esau from Jacob. Neither of them was particularly virtuous. Jacob was a momma’s boy who swindled his father and stole from his brother. That’s the face of it. He also got so drunk on his wedding night he failed to realize he bedded the wrong sister until he woke, presumably somewhere around midday, with a massive hangover. That was a hangover that would last his entire life as now he would have to live with the squabbling sisters for the rest of his life. God tried to spare the rest of the men of Israel the same fate later by codifying in the Law of Moses that a man could not take the sister of his wife as a rival wife. That’s like one of those warnings you read with the thought that the only reason it was written is that someone was stupid enough to have done it before. But then, Jacob would not be the last man to find out he had taken home the more homely sister. And men being pigs, they let things like that overrule common sense. But Jacob he loved, and Esau he hated.
In the context of which Malachi writes this, the continuation of election is apparent. The text goes on to speak of how God has destroyed the enemies of Israel, the opposition to Jacob, despite the unfaithfulness of Israel, or more properly speaking, Judah. Judah is unhappy, and they are feeling the wrath of God when Malachi speaks. They are not at all certain that God loves them, and they are even so bold as to question the justice of God. Malachi spends some time showing them that they are not in position to be questioning God. If they feel his wrath, it is the discipline of the Father. What he describes in his explication of the law is as apropos today as it ever was then. Whiney ingratitude that leads to half-hearted offerings that are not even worth giving to secular rulers, much less the King of kings, divorce, oppression, stealing, the laundry list paints a picture of your local congregation. It paints a picture of you. I know it shaves a little too close for my comfort as if the razor has cut my soul. Esau I hated, God says. Despite the fact that you do everything that the children of Esau do, I have loved you, and I have kept Esau at bay. The enemies of God do not prevail over his promise, they do not prevail over the children of God.
It was through Jacob that God would carry out his plan of salvation, through Jacob and his children. That plan of salvation culminates in Jesus Christ and continues through even today, that the purpose of God’s election would continue. Esau he has hated, because he has loved you. You he has chosen, you has he loved and continues to love. And we know this, not because we were able to bring home the pretty sister, but because even amidst the sad wreck of our lives, the divorces, the greed, the apathy towards the things of God, the messed up family lives and sibling rivalries, God has sent us a brother, and this brother died on the cross for our sins. We know God has loved us because he has made this promise to us in baptism, because he has sent us his word, because he has forgiven our sins and continues to do so as we partake in the cup that is the New Testament in his blood. We know that we are Jacob, not because of anything in our life, but because of the life of Christ who was risen from the dead for our justification.