And when Rebekah’s days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. (Gen25:24-30)
I am in the process of working through the Old Testament and highlighting the areas where God’s broader providence is indicated but not generally perceived. In doing so I must not fall into the typical proof-texting trap of being selective – drawing on the passages that support the emphasis I am endeavoring to put across whilst ignoring narratives that might appear to contradict the fundamental principles I wish to impart, being that God is Love personified and is impartial and fair to all. In Paul’s language, when it comes to judgement, God is “no respecter of persons” in spite of what he might appear to be writing in Romans 9 with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys, in particular that Esau was hated by God.
The apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13 is somewhat inventive – he is taking Malachi slightly out of context. [If the apostle actually understood himself to be “composing scripture” rather than preparing pastoral letters, no doubt he would have given more consideration to how his words were likely to be interpreted centuries later]. In Romans 9, Paul had quoted from Malachi where God speaking through the prophet declares that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother. Esau was hated by God because He was indignant at the nation of Edom’s wickedness (1:4). But Paul uses that quote to imply that Esau was hated by God even before the hairy little infant in Rebekah’s womb was born. That indeed may have been the case in view of God’s foreknowledge of his character, but the context of Malachi was actually the wickedness of the nation that would be Esau’s inheritance as the prophet makes clear. The point Paul wished to impart was that God’s choice, i.e. His elective grace was not based on a person’s virtuous standing or otherwise but His own sovereign will. That is absolutely the case, but as I say that was not the aspect that God wished to get across to His people through His prophet in Malachi 1.
Reflecting on Jacob and Esau, the undeniable principle of election by grace alone does not in the least impugn God’s impartiality or equity providing the nature and purpose of such election is properly understood. God’s choice is not referring to who is arbitrarily to be delivered from eternal punishment (which as His Son makes quite clear is determined by faith evinced by works of compassion – Mt25); election or predestination pertains to who in Jacob and Esau’s case should be the chosen seed, nation and royal priesthood for the world, the faithful of whom are destined for corporate betrothal to the Son of God, no less (Rev19:7). Confusion also arises from Paul’s references in this context to God “showing mercy” to whom He so chooses. Again, that is not referring to final judgement (the same general criteria will apply to all albeit allowance is made for ignorance and incapacity); rather the mercy refers to deliverance in the present from “the body of this death” which the Christian alone can experience through the purging of his sin, empowerment to live a holy life and a restored relationship with His Creator that provides joy and hope for the future.
That is mercy indeed and it is quite underserved on the recipient’s part. It also can pertain (as in Paul’s example of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9) to how God chooses to deal with the profoundly wicked or seriously misguided (Saul of Tarsus had been the latter). He may show mercy as in Paul’s case or harden the heart further as with the Pharaoh. But even here, Paul makes the point that God had shown mercy towards him because he did what he did in ignorance (1Tim1:13).
Reviewing the lives and destinies of Jacob and Esau as individuals, the former was something of a crafty, cheating deceiver whilst the latter had despised his birth-right and gone on to choose Canaanite brides in defiance of his parents’ wishes. Yet these two flawed brothers are finally depicted together (illustration) showing an extraordinary degree of mutual respect and deference to each other and later to their father Isaac (who actually favoured Esau), attending to his burial together as Isaac and Ishmael had done with their father Abraham. These matters are considered in detail in The Little Book of Providence:
The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]
Related post: Jacob and Esau
[Illustration: Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation – Rubens (1624) courtesy Wikipedia]