“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring. For this is the statement of the promise: At this time I will come, and Sarah will have a son. And not only that, but also Rebekah received a promise when she became pregnant by one man, our ancestor Isaac. For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand — not from works but from the One who calls — she was told: The older will serve the younger. As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” (Romans 9:6-13 HCSB)
Last week I mentioned my search for my family heritage. Though I was unaware of it at that time, I was looking for a sense of belonging. I wanted to fit into the puzzle we call life. I needed to understand my place in the world and I made a mistake. A BIG one. I was trying to find my place through my family lineage, my name. My mistake wasn’t discovering my family and its place in history but in trying to base my worth, identity and future on those things. Family doesn’t determine my identity, my value or my future, God does and that’s where I needed to reFOCUS my attention. That’s where you need to reFOCUS your attention to discover your identity, your value and your future. They are wrapped up in God’s promises. Let’s take a look…
First, Paul anticipates his reader’s response from his prior comments that we’ve looked at over the last several weeks (Romans 8). Paul’s emphasis has been that those who are “in Christ” can never be separated from God’s love in any way or by anything. Our salvation and relationship with God is safe and secure because of Christ. So, does that leave God’s promises and Old Testament covenants empty, meaningless and broken? Has God’s word failed? No, of course not. God’s Word never fails, but our understanding of it often does.
Paul’s initial response is to point out that not all physical descendants of Israel are true Israelites and not all of Abraham’s children are children of God’s promise. This is a fairly direct and simply illustration. In Genesis 17:16 and 18:10 God promises that Abraham and Sarah would have a son together and that God’s blessings, for Abraham and the world, would come through that promised son. Abraham laughed. Sarah laughed. But, God didn’t. He simply said, name your son Isaac – name him, he who laughs.
So, how did Israel take such a simple and direct promise and misunderstand it? They made the same mistake that Abraham did when God told him that he would have a son. Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promise himself. Abraham questioned God’s ability to fulfill the promise (see Gen. 17:17-18) and offered a substitute, Ishmael. “So Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!’” (Gen. 17:18) Abraham looked in the wrong place for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Not Ishmael, but Isaac. Don’t laugh at my promise, trust me to fulfill it as I said I would. In a similar way, God told Israel that He would send His son, the Messiah, and they misunderstood the promise, too. They wanted a Messiah that fit their expectations and assumptions and that didn’t look anything like Jesus of Nazareth. They looked in the wrong place for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Unfortunately, so do we.
Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac.” Not the physical descendants, but those who are offspring of the promise. Paul’s point is that you don’t inherit the promises of God by being born into the right family or even into the right nationality. You inherit the promises of God through faith, believing God. However, we often misunderstand the fulfillment of God’s promises like Israel did. Israel had a warped view of the Messiah and Jesus didn’t fit their warped view, but He fit and fulfilled God’s perfect plan.
We’ve done something similar in the American church. We often quote II Chronicles 7:14 and apply it to our nation, but that’s a gross misunderstanding of God’s word. If Paul’s statements are correct in our focal passage, “My people” in the Chronicles passage does NOT and CANNOT apply to America in general, but to the people of promise – all people who follow Him by faith. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Do I desire for all of the American people to come to faith in Christ? ABSOLUTELY! Go back and read my words from last week (https://wp.me/p5mod1-8JB). My prayer and heart’s desire is that all of my brothers will come to faith in Christ. But, I pray that prayer for my brothers in Africa, China, South America, Asia and every nation, people, language and tribe on this planet.
“And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9 HCSB)
So, I want to you catch the implications of that statement. God’s people are defined by GRACE and not race. God’s word has not failed, it has achieve precisely what God intended. God said to Abram (before he was Abraham), “I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 HCSB) All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. God didn’t fall short on fulfilling His promises, the people fell short on understanding the breadth of His promises. They were so focused on themselves, their heritage, their circumstances and their desires that they couldn’t see breadth of God’s plan and the depth of His promises. We are so focused on ourselves, our heritage, our circumstances and our desires that we often fail to see the breadth of God’s plans and the depth of His promises.
What’s my point? God’s plan is not focused on my desires, my blessings and my happiness. It is SO much bigger, SO much greater than that. God’s promise to Abram was not made just to satisfy Abram’s desire for a son. God’s promise was made to bless “all peoples on earth” while still fulfilling Abram’s desire for a son and that leads me into the last part of this week’s focal passage, God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty over you, over me and over all of His creation.
Up to this point, we’ve looked primarily at the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac. Now Paul introduces us to the promise Rebekah received from God regarding her sons, Jacob and Esau. A few of you might need to go read and refresh yourself on this story (see Genesis 25-27). The story and the promise revolve around these twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, and through them Paul introduces the concept of divine election. This is one of those concepts that is also misunderstood and might cause us to stop, scratch our heads and question God’s love and goodness.
Let me be very straightforward. God is absolutely sovereign. In His sovereignty, He made man in His image and gave us the right and ability to make moral decisions, to choose good or evil, right or wrong, obedience or disobedience. Here’s the hard part, we tend to make decisions that are in our favor or result in benefiting us in some way but God doesn’t. God makes decisions based on His perfect will, divine purpose, redemptive plan and His own glory and they are always, always righteous and just. Paul puts it this way, “so that God’s purpose according to election might stand — not from works but from the One who calls.”
If you read the story of Jacob and Esau, you are familiar with the fact that Esau is the eldest and Jacob was born second but “holding onto” his older brother’s ankle. The competition between these boys appears to have been from birth. Esau was bigger, stronger and more rugged but Jacob was small, quick and smart. The word used to describe Jacob might be translated as “trickster.” God didn’t choose to use Jacob because he was morally superior, he wasn’t. Esau may have sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, but Jacob tricked his father into granting the birthright to him. God didn’t choose Jacob because he was good, God chose Jacob because it fit His purpose and His plan. In fact, Paul makes certain to point out that before either of the boys had done anything good or bad, God told Rebekah which son He had chosen to carry on His covenant promise and redemptive plan, the younger one, Jacob.
God chose to work through Jacob, but not based on Jacob’s moral goodness but based on God’s sovereign will and plan. “Not from works but from the One who calls (v.12).” Then we hit this phrase, “As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” Whoa! God loved Jacob and hated Esau? Now before you go off ranting about God hating someone, this is common hyperbole (and appears to be a Jewish idiom or common phrase) and is found throughout scripture. Jesus uses similar statements regarding “cutting off one’s hand” or “plucking out an eye” to keep men from sinning. Jesus also uses a similar phrase when He says, “unless a man hates his own father and mother… he cannot be my disciple (Luke 18:26).” Wow! That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? Jesus point could not be more clear, in comparison to our love for Him our love for our own parents will seem like hatred. He wasn’t kidding when He said, “Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27).”
However, it must be noted that God’s choice of Jacob brought its own challenges. God chose Jacob and that resulted in an all night wrestling match between Jacob and God or God’s representative. (I believe it was God incarnate, Jesus.) As the sun was coming up, God touched Jacob’s hip joint and Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life – a little daily reminder of his encounter with God. God’s election would stand, but Jacob would bend a little as a reminder of his dependence upon the sovereign Lord.
So, what’s Paul’s point and how does that fit into our walk with God? Paul has given us assurance of God’s enduring love in Christ and then he reminds us that all of this is wrapped up in God’s sovereign purpose and saving grace. We shouldn’t lose sight of God’s purpose and plan, but we must also not grow conceited, arrogant and prideful. Modern listeners need to hear about God’s sovereign purpose and plan, but we must be careful that we don’t grow conceited, arrogant and prideful regarding our place in His purpose and plan. We need the affirmation and security that His enduring love and sovereign grace provide, but we need humility as we remember our dependence upon Him. Like Jacob’s limp, we often need daily reminders of the painful struggles with our sovereign Lord over His authoritative Word and life-altering commands.
Abraham and Jacob faced the challenge of staying focused upon God’s purpose. They were called to follow Him and they faced the daily struggle of keeping themselves aligned with His word and His ways. Neither of them was perfect and that’s part of Paul’s point. God doesn’t choose perfect men to fulfill His divine purpose and plan, He chooses imperfect men and then calls them to walk with Him. He still chooses imperfect men and women to fulfill His perfect plan and He calls us to limp alongside Him and to lean on Him, learn from Him and become more and more like Him, each day. He calls you but He never calls you and then leaves you alone. He comes alongside you. He walks with you and nothing can ever separate us from Him. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.