Romans 9, Part 4
Nov 30, 2010
Paul's discussion about who is a "son" is not about physical genealogy. The term obviously refers to being the particular son who is the heir of the Birthright. There could be just one heir in each generation, and all the other brothers were excluded, regardless of their genealogy. The other brothers participated in the blessings of the Birthright only if they were in unity with the heir.
Jesus Christ was the final Heir, and His brethren are co-heirs with Him only because of their relationship with Him. If they reject Him and are separated from Him, they are not heirs. Therefore, such people are neither chosen nor are they even Israelites insofar as God views them.
Paul says that the sovereignty of God alone determines who is the one chosen to receive the Birthright. Jesus Christ was the "Anointed One" from the beginning, called to inherit all things. One must be in unity with Him and in agreement with Him to have any part of the Birthright or to be one of the "chosen people."
Secondarily, God is sovereign not only in choosing the Heir but also in those chosen to be heirs with Him. Those who are chosen will experience the same training that Jacob received. Jacob was a believer virtually all of his life, but it was not until he had been fully trained that he became an Israelite. He was a Jacobite for 98 years (two Jubilee cycles), and an Israelite for the final 49 years (one Jubilee), dying at the age of 147 (Gen. 47:28).
On an individual level, then, one can have faith as a believer without being an overcomer (Israelite). We all follow the pattern of Jacob, who is the main pattern for all overcomers.
The pattern in Scripture shows us that the Birthright was divided among Jacob's children. Judah received the Scepter, and Joseph was given the rest of the Birthright (1 Chron. 5:1, 2). The brothers all received benefit from the callings of both Judah and Joseph as long as they were in unity. But centuries later, when the kingdom was divided, the Scepter remained with Judah in the south, while the Birthright remained with the tribes of Joseph in the north.
This breach ensured that Jesus Christ--the Heir of all things--would have to come twice. So He came the first time of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David to secure His right to receive the Scepter; and He must return again--this time of Joseph with His robe dipped in blood--in order to secure the Birthright.
This division was tragic as far as the will of God was concerned; but it was in accordance with the divine plan from the beginning through His sovereignty. This division allowed believers the same time of training that Jacob received. Those who believe in Christ and in His work of death and resurrection are true believers. It makes them Jacobites, for they have faith in God but are still in need of training.
Those who complete their training, as Jacob did, become Israelites (that is, overcomers). These are co-heirs with Christ insofar as the Birthright is concerned.
Another way to look at it is this: Being a believer in Christ's work on the cross allows us to participate in the fulfillment of the feast of Passover, for His crucifixion was a Passover work. Completing our training brings us to that final biblical feast--Tabernacles. The path from Passover to Tabernacles runs through Pentecost. Pentecost celebrates the writing of the Law upon our hearts, and the time of Pentecost is our training period.
If we are truly "chosen" as overcomer and Israelites, we ought to see evidence of God's training in our lives. Such training is greatly assisted by knowing the Scriptures, particularly the divine plan as revealed in the feasts. Ultimately, the choices of God rest in His hands alone, but the earthly evidence revealing His choices are seen by the fact that He is training us.
God trained Jacob. We have no evidence that God trained Esau.
Paul speaks of Jacob and Esau this way in Romans 9:13 and 14,
(13) Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
How can there be no injustice with God, if God sovereignly loved Jacob but hated Esau? Keep in mind that Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected before the children were even born (vs. 11). The answer lies first in the fact that Paul has already established in chapter 5 that God intends to save all mankind. That includes Esau. God's sovereign choices are not about salvation, as most modern theologians have assumed. God is choosing certain ones known as "the elect" (i.e., "chosen") as agents of salvation to the rest of the world.
Historically, there was a heated debate between Calvin and Arminius. Calvin argued that God was totally sovereign in His choices; Arminius argued that man had total free will to make his own choices. Both of them assumed that the debate had to do with men's salvation. They made little or no distinction between "the saved" and "the elect." Neither of them understood the difference between Jacob and Israel, or between the Scepter and the Birthright. The only relevant issue was whether or not a man had received Justification by faith, and they argued over the source of that faith--whether it was purely a gift from a sovereign God, or sprang from the heart of man by his own free will.
Not many are endowed with Calvin's iron stomach. Not many can endure the teaching that God sovereignly chooses a few and then consigns the vast majority to their perpetual doom in the fires of hell. To most people, such a viewpoint is extremely unjust, and to ask "who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" (Rom. 9:20) is insufficient.
The alternative normally presented to us is the idea of "free will," which attempts to remove the injustice at the expense of His sovereignty. The argument is that sovereignty brings with it an equal level of responsibility for the outcome, and so if men are doomed to perpetual torture in hell, God must be held responsible. So the alternative is free will, which removes both sovereignty and responsibility from God and places both upon man.
The problem with the alternative is that no one really believes that God could be God without retaining some sovereignty. Virtually all true believers, if they have any experience with God, know that God has led them and has directed their steps in ways that are far beyond their own ability or will. Furthermore, how can one speak of free will to a man who lived in a far country and who never had opportunity to hear of Jesus Christ? What free will did he have in regard to salvation?
Hence, free will does not accomplish the goal of its theologians. It may succeed in reducing God's level of responsibility, but it can never remove all responsibility from God's shoulders. The fact is that God has always had the power to manifest Himself to all men in the same way that He converted Saul on the Damascus Road. He could have put us all back on the right path like He did with Jonah by sending a storm and a great fish to turn him around.
Half of the injustice problem is resolved when we realize that Paul, in Romans 5, has already set forth the divine plan to save all mankind. God has not doomed the majority of humanity. He will not lose anyone in the end. Yet insofar as the method of salvation is concerned, God has chosen a few to bring His blessing to the rest of humanity. This is clearly set forth in the story of Abraham, where God chose one man to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). God's blessings were for all, but God sovereignly chose one man exclusively to dispense those blessings to all.
It is about a calling, not about salvation itself.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "Romans 9." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones