Romans 9-11 contains some difficult teaching. Here is what I shared on this subject in a recent sermon on Romans 9….
Why has Israel not believed in Jesus as their Messiah? The first part of Paul’s answer is that: It is not because God is unfaithful. Paul says it is not as though God’s word has failed. Yes, God promised to save a particular people called Israel. However, Paul says, not all physical Israel is the true spiritual Israel. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael. Not only that, Paul says, after God chose Isaac, he did not choose all of Isaac’s children. Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. However, before the twins were born, God chose Jacob. Paul says God did it this way so that his own purpose in election might stand, so that God’s choice was not based on Jacob or Esau’s works.
Then Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3, some verses that most people have a violent reaction against: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What does this mean? The love/hate language here is a Hebrew idiom for preference. Jesus used this idiom when he said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus did not mean that we should literally hate our family members. What he meant was that we should prefer him so highly above our family members that our love for them should seem like hate compared to our love for him.
C. S. Lewis makes a very important point about this passage. He writes:
How is the thing called God’s “hatred” of Esau displayed in the actual story? Not at all as we might expect. There is of course no ground for assuming that Esau made a bad end and was a lost soul; the Old Testament, here as elsewhere, has nothing to say about such matters. And, from all we are told, Esau’s earthly life was, in every ordinary sense, a good deal more blessed than Jacob’s. It is Jacob who has all the disappointments, humiliations, terrors, and bereavements. But he has something which Esau has not. He is a patriarch. He hands on the Hebraic tradition, transmits the vocation and the blessing, becomes an ancestor of Our Lord. The “loving” of Jacob seems to mean the acceptance of Jacob for a high (and painful) vocation.
I know this is not the only problematic bit in Romans 9-11. If you want to listen to the rest of what I had to share about these chapters of this letter, click here: http://willvaus.com/romans.