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Romans 9, Part 3

Nov 29, 2010

Paul gives us examples from the book of Genesis, proving that not all of Israel are truly Israel, nor are all of Abraham's descendants actually "children" (sons of God). It requires more than a genealogical connection.

Some have argued that Ishmael was not a son because his mother was not Sarah, and hence, his genealogy was tainted. But Paul's second example brings up Jacob and Esau, both of whom had the exact genealogy, since they were twins (Gen. 25:24). In this case, Jacob was the "son" and Esau was not. Obviously, the biblical idea of sonship is something that goes beyond physical genealogy.

Romans 9:10-12 says,

(10) And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, 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, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, (12) it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger."

Verse 11 is a parenthetical clause, designed to introduce the idea of the sovereignty of God that he develops in his example of Pharaoh later. But if we focus upon verses 10 and 12, we are able to see that Rebekah's twin sons, Jacob and Esau, were similar to Isaac and Ishmael, in that they were examples of God's sovereign choices as to who would be considered the "son" (heir).

Though Isaac and Ishmael had different mothers, Jacob and Esau came from the same mother. Hence, we can see that God's rejection of Esau had nothing to do with tainted genealogy. In fact, God made His choice before they had done either good or bad. Recall that the boys seemed to be fighting in Rebekah's womb even before they were born (Gen. 25:22). So she inquired of the Lord.

(23) And the Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger."

In the example of Jacob and Esau, Paul moved quickly from the spiritual nature of sonship to its basis in the sovereignty of God. The fact that God had made His choice before the twins had done good or evil shows that this was not a matter of divine judgment for sin. Some have said that God judged Esau because He knew ahead of time that he would turn out bad; but God's Law does not judge men for future sins.

Paul was pointing out that because Jacob was chosen, God then trained Jacob and arranged the circumstances in his life to bring him to the place where he could become an heir worthy of the promise. When he reached that point, his name was changed to Israel as a testimony of his matured character and recognition of the sovereignty of God.

Esau was not trained in this way. In fact, God used Esau to train Jacob. Esau was an integral part of the divine plan. Because of their sibling rivalry, Jacob had been a "heel-catcher," as his name indicated (Gen. 25:26). Thayer's Lexicon gives us the meaning of Jacob's name: to supplant, circumvent, take by the heel, follow at the heel, assail insidiously, overreach.

It was a prophecy that Jacob would supplant Esau in the matter of the Birthright. The word had a negative connotation, because it showed that he would supplant Esau by manipulation and cunning, or "assail insidiously," as the Lexicon puts it. And so, as long as he was named Jacob, he was trying to supplant Esau by manipulation, thinking that God needed help from the flesh to make the prophecy come true.

It was only after Jacob finally lost the wrestling match with the angel in Gen. 32:24-28 that he "prevailed" (became an overcomer). He won, not by overcoming the angel, but by recognizing the weakness of his flesh. He persisted because he finally came to recognize the sovereignty of God.

Jacob had wrestled with his brother since the womb. He struggled against Esau and managed to obtain the Birthright. He struggled again and obtained the blessing of the Dominion Mandate. He then struggled against Laban and won again. Then he came to the place where he knew that Esau was coming with 400 men to kill him (Gen. 32:6). He had no defense. So he divided up his family into two camps, and then went out alone to pray.

Suddenly, he came upon a man in the dark, and they began to fight. I have no doubt that the angel had taken the appearance of Esau and that Jacob really thought he was fighting his brother. Toward morning, however, the angel did something supernatural, which identified him as an angel. That was the moment of truth, when Jacob realized that all of his life, he thought he had been fighting Esau, when, in fact, he had been fighting God.

When Jacob recognized the sovereignty of God and understood that all of his manipulation and scheming to obtain the Birthright was not a manifestation of faith but of flesh, he became a new man. He was reborn and came into a position of rest. He no longer wrestled with the angel but simply hung on to him and asked for the real blessing.

The next day, when Jacob met Esau, he saw his brother in a whole new light: "I see your face as one sees the face of God" (Gen. 33:10). In other words, he was finally able to see God in Esau. When we are able to see the face of God in our enemies, then we know the sovereignty of God. When we understand that God needs no help from our flesh to fulfill His word, His promises, and His prophecies, then we "prevail" as overcomers and are worthy to carry the name Israel.

Genesis 32:29-31 says,

(29) Then Jacob asked him [the angel] and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there. (30) So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."

The angel was not trying to be secretive about his name. He expected Jacob to know, because it was obvious. "So Jacob named the place Peniel," because that was the name of the angel. The term means "God's face" or "God's presence." It was the same angel that brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt many years later (Isaiah 63:9).

Jacob had a face-to-face encounter with Peniel, the angel of God's "face," but during most of the night, he thought he was fighting Esau. He wrestled until he finally saw the face of God in the one he thought was Esau. So the next morning, when he actually saw Esau, he said, "I see your face as one sees the face of God."

This is the revelation that transformed Jacob into an Israelite. He had not been born an Israelite. He had been born Jacob, not Israel. In the flesh, he was a mere supplanter, a heel-catcher. But finally at the age of 98, he became an overcomer, a son, a true heir of the Birthright.

Jacob was like Ishmael--a child of the flesh. But Israel was like Isaac, a child of promise. This shows us that the heirs of the promise are not chosen on account of genealogy, but on account of their relationship with God. Though one might argue that Ishmael was rejected on account of his mother's genealogy, one cannot make the same argument with Jacob and Esau, who were twins from the same mother. And this same story is true with Jacob and Israel. They were of the same genealogy (being the same physical person), but yet they were two different men. Jacob was the fleshly usurper; Israel was the heir of the promise.

So in Paul's discussion of Sonship, he shows by three examples that it is not based upon the flesh: (1) Ishmael vs. Isaac, (2) Esau vs. Jacob, and (3) Jacob vs. Israel. All three examples teach us a different aspect of the story. In understanding all three stories, we have a complete view.


This is the third part of a series titled "Romans 9." To view all parts, click the link below.

Romans 9


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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