6 It is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants shall be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah will have a son.” 10 And not only that, but there was also Rebekah, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Romans9:6-13)
God’s justice is perfect – He is fair to all and in the Apostle Peter’s words “God is never one to show partiality but in every nation everyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts10:34-35). And that is in spite of what Paul might appear to be indicating above with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys. The apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13 is somewhat unusual – he is taking Malachi slightly out of context. God speaking through the prophet declared that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother He hated Esau (i.e. Edom). But that was because He was indignant at that nation’s wickedness (1:4). Paul asserts that God hated the hairy little infant in Rebecca’s womb even before it was born “and before either had done anything good or bad” (v11). But God will have had foreknowledge of Esau’s character and intended actions – that is why it was foretold that the elder should serve the younger. For the exchange of Esau’s birth-right as firstborn for a plate of lentil stew was an act of sacrilege and treachery within its cultural and spiritual context. It made Jacob rather than Esau and their respective seeds the heirs of the Covenant of Promise initialized through their grandfather Abraham. The context of Malachi from which Paul was quoting 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. Also, it was to explain why although many who were Israelites in terms of being the physical seed of Abraham yet had failed to keep faith, God’s word concerning Israel had not failed. It would be fulfilled by the true Israel of God which now incorporated the Church, who like Isaac and Jacob are also the children of promise (Gal4:28).
In terms of God’s dealings with humanity as a whole**, the rejection of Esau and election of Jacob needs to be understood within His broader selection strategy. For in the preceding verses, Paul referred to Jacob and Esau’s father Isaac who had been preferred over his half-brother Ishmael. That was because Isaac was the result of God’s promise of an heir through Abraham’s wife Sarah. But in this case, Ishmael was not cursed, neither was his offspring. They would become a great nation whilst Ishmael himself was blessed by God and remained in His company and care (Gen17:20; 21:20). Prior to Abraham’s call, Noah’s son Shem was chosen to be the procreative head of God’s elect family line, the firstborn sons of which would lead down to Abraham. Shem’s brother Japheth was not elected to be their patriarch yet was also blessed both by God and Noah. Of the sixteen postdiluvian ancestral lines, one was cursed, stemming from the lastborn son (Canaan) of Ham who had exposed his father’s nakedness, one was the elect patriarchal line stemming from the firstborn son of Noah’s firstborn son leading down through a line of firstborns to Abraham; whilst the remaining 87.5% of Noah’s grandsons (i.e. 14 of the 16 postdiluvian national patriarchs) retained the blessing imparted to Noah and his family on leaving the ark but were not the elective line of firstborns. Whilst these proportions are not intended for extrapolation, they do represent the totality of the immediate post-diluvian world. So, whilst proportionately speaking very few were chosen to become the Israel of God, equally few were cursed, let alone destined to become the “vessels fitted for destruction” that Paul will delineate later in Romans 9.
** The subject matter of “The Little Book of Providence” – free PDF HERE