Q.

Romans 9 gives examples of God’s sovereign will in making choices. I wonder about God’s selection when neither child had done any good or bad. Also, is this like Luke 14:26? Then, the Romans passage also mentions Pharaoh. A friend of another member of our church has the idea that God atoned for the “sheep” but not the “goats.” That is, some are predestined to eternal life; others are not.

A.
The amazing thing about Jacob and Esau is not that God rejected Esau but that He chose Jacob! This is the way we should look at this whole matter of election. Almost always we tend to look at it the other way. The Scriptures describe Esau as a profane man, a person who couldn’t have cared less about spiritual things. His descendants were the same way. When we look at it this way, it is not difficult to see why God did not choose him. In fact, it’s amazing that God chose any of us poor sinners.

And Jacob wasn’t so good either. It was by God’s grace that he was chosen. He, too, was a sinner, a deceiver, a person who thought a lot of himself.

We need to see your question in the context. The apostle Paul started out in Romans 9 by outlining some of the great privileges the nation of Israel had. Verse 4 mentions the adoption of Israel as the nation God had made His own; the glory of Israel at the giving of the law; the covenants God had established with them; the service of God, which referred to the tabernacle; the many promises given to Israel, including the promise of the Messiah; the “fathers,” those patriarchs chosen and led by God (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David); and the very Christ Who came as their Messiah. Yes, they were a privileged people, to say the least.

Now, because of the new dispensation of the Church, Paul was teaching that the Jews and Gentiles were equal (Paul was the great missionary to the Gentiles). Naturally the Jews had these questions in response: Are these special privileges of Israel valueless? Was Israel abandoned by God? If God did not keep his promises to Israel, how would a believer in Christ know that he could rest in the salvation promises given to him?

The answer is inverse 6 of Romans 9: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” This, of course, indicated that in God’s sight the true Jew is one who is right with God, one who has experienced the new birth. This is pictured in Abraham and his children. God did not choose all of them, even though they were Abraham’s children. Ishmael wasn’t, but Isaac was.

Looking ahead at chapter 10, Paul said that if Israel as a nation had been set aside (as it had), it was not God’s fault. God rejected Israel because Israel had rejected the gospel. Then in chapter 11, Paul went on to point out that the rejection of Israel applies only to the Church Age. After God’s purposes in this Church dispensation are completed, He will again take up His program for Israel.

We cannot, and dare not, fault God with anything! Paul’s message was, Who are we as puny, finite human beings to even try to question God’s purposes? How ridiculous it is to challenge God with the idea that He is unfair in His dealings with individuals or nations. We may not understand His decisions or His sovereignty, but we must by faith believe that He knows all, and that His decrees and actions are absolutely just. As one person wrote, “If you do not like what He does, perhaps you should move out of His universe and start one of your own so you can make your own rules.” That is blunt, perhaps; but it certainly points out the foolishness of a human to accuse God of being unfair or unjust.

Paul went on to prove that God was righteous in choosing certain ones by using Moses and Pharaoh (you mentioned the latter in your question) as examples. Moses had asked God the favor of showing him His glory (Exod. 33:18). The Lord did, but it wasn’t anything Moses or the Israelites deserved. It was God’s mercy. See the previous chapter. There we have the account of how the Israelites had made and worshiped the golden calf. The Lord could have snuffed them out at that point, but in His mercy He did not.

In contrast to the mercy shown Moses, God didn’t show mercy to Pharaoh. Instead, the Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 7:13; 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:8). If that seems unjust, just remember that the Bible also records that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exod. 8:15; 32; 9:34).

You asked about Luke 14:26, which reads: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” The word “hate” here doesn’t mean the usual use of the word. Rather it is a matter of degree. We are to love the Lord above all others. This would be the same idea in Romans 9:13: “As it i written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Esau was held in relative disregard in comparison to God’s feeling for Jacob. Incidentally, God did not say that about Jacob and Esau until centuries later, at the time of Malachi. The New Testament “As it is written” refers to Malachi 1:2 and 3.

With regard to your acquaintance’s confusion over predestination, always point out that predestination is not election. Predestination always refers to believers only, not to unbelievers. It is God’s designing and planning something beforehand, and the two principal passages on predestination are Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-6, which are written to believers. Perhaps you have heard it said that unbelievers are not predestined, to Hell. That is true, but it is also true that when predestination is used in the Bible, it does not in the strictest sense refer to believers predestinated to Heaven either, although that is a part of it. Predestination is a plan, a goal, that God has for the believer— and the certainty that the believer is going to arrive at that goal. If you are a believer, you can rejoice that God has a goal for you and that you are definitely going to reach it!

What are these goals? The Romans passage tells us that we are predestined “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Since we as believers are united with Christ, we can become like Him. We are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who produces the character of Christ. So we will reach this goal.

Second, the Ephesians passage tells us that we are predestined to “the adoption of children;” Adoption is not the new birth per se but the fact that a believer has been placed into God’s family as an adult son. We are immature, but we have certain privileges—and we will reach that goal and receive an inheritance (Eph. 1:11).

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (October 1990).
© 1990 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.