I think the best way to dig into these texts (and chapters 9-11 specifically)…
- Is simply to parse out what Paul seems to be saying on a plain reading.
- The reason for this is to try and leave the baggage of our various traditions behind.
- Keeping in mind, of course, that baggage has a way of creeping in anyway.
So having just expressed his lament for his fellow Jews in verses 1-5…
- Jews who were connected to God’s promises and the Messiah…
- Yet missed out on the fruit of these promises.
Paul now wants to address the elephant in the room – a potential huge problem.
- If Israel was God’s elect, why do so many reject their Messiah?
- This fact is problematic.
- And it seems to impugn the character of Paul’s God.
There appear to be two answers to this question revealed in our text.
- One is an affirmation of a negative.
- The other is more drawn out, and centers on Paul’s interjection in verse 11.
Specifically Paul’s answers are:
- (1) “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (vs. 6)
- (2) “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (vs. 11)
Paul’s First Answer:
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” (vs. 6)
- This is straightforward enough.
Paul wants to be clear that the ways God has acted in history on Israel’s behalf were not hollow.
- God’s promises, His covenant faithfulness, etc. haven’t failed.
- His character is not in jeopardy.
It’s debatable whether he is extending “the word” forward to include the Gospel.
- The Gospel is certainly a continuation of God’s action in history on behalf of Israel.
- The Gospel comes out of His promises and covenant faithfulness.
- And Paul, after all, does mention Jesus in his lament.
So then, if “the word of God” wasn’t to blame…
- How does Paul account for the glaring problem of Jewish unbelief in their Messiah?
Paul’s Second Answer:
“in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (vs. 11)
- A paraphrase of this is – “so that God’s plan of choosing might continue”.
- And this answer is where it gets complicated.
To liken Paul’s answer to a house, we might say that…
- In chapters 9-11, Paul is building a house – one with many necessary rooms.
- But like any house, it needs a foundation.
- And our text today is where Paul is laying the foundation.
So it is only the beginning of his second answer.
- The complete answer will come when we apprehend the entire house and all its rooms.
The House Foundation:
6b For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad…12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
The foundation is, textually, pretty basic.
- The history of Israel is a history of God acting and choosing.
- God called out ethnic Israel generally – “children of the flesh” (beginning in Gen. 12).
- God chose through whom the promise to ethnic Israel would flow specifically – “children of the promise”.
- Isaac and Jacob – not Ishmael or Esau.
Importantly, this choosing on God’s part had nothing to do with merit.
- His point is God’s prerogative to choose, not the spiritual state of an individual.
He presses this point with the Jacob and Esau illustration.
- Before they even had, what we might call “a spiritual status” – “done nothing either good or bad”…
- God made his choice.
In fact, this leads to the foundation Paul is laying:
- God chose and chooses…
- “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (vs. 11).
Before we unpack how Paul teases all this out…
- I think it will be useful to pack it all in a helpful proposition.
God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau – and this was God’s choice, and it suited his purpose/plan of election/choosing.
The Flesh and The Promise:
Paul builds his foundation with two distinctions – children of the flesh, and the promise…
- He does so using a number of different ideas.
Verse 6b – He says in verse 6b, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”.
- Here he is making an important distinction.
- There is a difference between ethnic Israel – “descended from Israel”.
- And those that “belong to Israel”.
Importantly, we need to notice…
- All those who “belong to Israel” are “descended from Israel”…
- But not all those who are “descended from Israel” actually “belong to Israel”.
Verse 7 – Paul then builds on this distinction.
- He says, in verse 7…
- “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
Paul nuances the distinction made in verse 6.
- He says that just because your are Abraham’s “offspring”…
- Meaning just because you are an ethnic Jew, in the line of Abraham…
- And thus “descended from Israel”…
Doesn’t mean that you are…
- “children of Abraham”.
This means Paul is layering the distinction from verse 6.
- It is the “children of Abraham” that “belong to Israel”.
So who are the “children of Abraham”?
- Paul’s answer, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
What is this supposed to convey?
Verse 8 – He explains it this way:
- “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
So using yet another phrase that connected back to verse 6’s “descended form Israel”…
- Paul says that these folks – the “children of the flesh” – are not really “the children of God”.
- So, they are not really the “children of Abraham”.
The real “children of Abraham”…
- Those that are truly “counted as offspring” are the “children of the promise”…
- Not the “children of the flesh”, not the “descended from Israel”.
- That’s a lot of layers.
So why bring Isaac into the picture?
Isaac is the archetype of the “children of the promise”.
- How so?
- Paul thought you might ask.
Verse 9 – Paul lifts up Isaac as the archetype of the promise because…
- “For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’”
This text is an allusion to and quote of an awesome story.
- Genesis 18:10–14 (ESV) — 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
God made a promise to Abraham.
- Old Abraham and barren Sarah would have a descendant.
- And Isaac was the fulfillment of that promise.
This is why Paul cites Isaac as the archetype or representative of the “children of the promise”.
- Though Isaac certainly was “descended from Israel” and a child “of the flesh”…
- He was more than that.
Isaac was the fulfillment of a God-made promise to Abraham.
- And Isaac’s unique status as the promised offspring was his…
- Only by God’s choice.
This is why Paul began the Isaac bit in verse 7 with:
- “through Isaac shall your offspring be named”.
God decreed with these words…
- That Isaac, not Ishmael (the son of Hagar)…
- Would be the one through whom His promise would be borne out.
So Isaac was born from the barren Sarah by God’s choice and promise…
- And he was set apart from Ishmael by Gods’ choice and promise.
- So Isaac is the archetype or representative of the “children of the promise”.
But just in case additional objections are raised about Paul’s layered distinctions.
- Distinctions between the “children of the flesh” and “children of the promise”…
- Paul brings in another archetype or representative of the promise – Jacob.
Verses 10-13 – And this example is more emphatic than the first.
- And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad… 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
In these verses Paul quotes and alludes to both Genesis and Malachi.
- Genesis 25:21–23 (ESV) — 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
- Malachi 1:3–5 (ESV) — 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’ ” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
Here Paul introduces another promise story.
- Rebekah learns that she is pregnant with twins – Jacob and Esau.
- And God tells her (promises her) that, “the older shall serve the younger”.
This is an odd promise.
- Typically, it is the older son who is in the driver’s seat.
- Not so this time.
Paul also points out a peculiar feature of an already odd promise.
- Just in case one thinks the Esau has committed an unrighteous act in the womb…
- Like was thought of the blind man in John 9.
- And so deserved to loose his birthright…
Paul wants us to know that God declared that Esau would serve Jacob even…
- “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad”
In other words:
- The relationship between the two was to be so…
- Because God had determined to promise Rebekah it would be so.
It was a decision that had nothing to do with the actions of Esau and Jacob.
- Their righteousness or lack thereof was irrelevant.
- Their spiritual status was irrelevant – or non-existent – at the time of the promise.
But just in case we are still hesitant to embrace Jacob as an archetype of the “children of the promise”…
- Paul busts out a brutal sounding verse from Malachi.
- As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
These words are chillingly clear.
- God chose/promised Jacob – He “loved” Jacob.
- And he “hated” Esau.
Strong words – what does “hated” actually mean?
- “Hated” means – “to decrease in status” or to “disfavor or disregard”.
The point here is that…
- God chose to elevate Jacob’s status – a promise he made to Rebekah…
- But in so doing he chose to decrease the status of Esau.
So as a result of God’s choice and promise…
- It would be Jacob that would obtain the birthright that belonged to Esau.
- Jacob would be the progenitor of Isaac’s line.
So like Isaac…
- Jacob is a representative or archetype of the “children of the promise”.
- Those that “belong to Israel”, are “counted as offspring”, and are “children of God”.
Verse 11b – But why would God choose and promise with such specificity?
- As we said at the beginning…
- “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls”
But there is a big picture principle behind all this specificity – thus the archetype language.
- In other words, Isaac and Jacob weren’t chosen simply as individuals.
- They were chosen to suit the much bigger, corporate in scope, purposes of God – the status of the “children”.
- All of which suited His “purpose of election” or “plan of choosing”.
So the explanation for why Paul’s “kinsman according to the flesh” (vs. 3)…
- Are cut off from Christ…
- Is not found in a deficiency in God or His promises.
- It is so that God’s “purpose of election [plan of choosing] might continue”.
- The same purposes or plan that Isaac and Jacob were caught up within.
What exactly is God’s “purpose of election” [plan of choosing] that must “continue”?
- As we said, the answer to this takes 3 chapters for Paul to develop.
What we have today is only the foundation for the answer.
- The entire answer will be found in the rooms that Paul builds on this foundation.
- Rooms we will explore over the coming weeks.
Paul’s citation of Malachi 1 does give us a clue.
- “Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’” (vs. 5)
- God’s disfavor of Esau and judgment of Esau’s Edom seemed to have a certain desired affect.
And what was the foundation Paul just built?
- God is a God who chooses to suit his purposes.
- His choices are not arbitrary.
- God chose to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau.
And the results of His choices are corporate in scope:
- There are children of the flesh.
- And within them are children of the promise.