Romans 9:13 “Jacob I have loved…Esau I hated”

Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Romans 9:13

This verse is used as a proof text to show that God has mercy on some by pre-ordaining them to salvation (Jacob I loved) and not saving others (Esau I hated). In fact, all of Romans chapter 9 appears to be saying this. How are we to understand this verse?

Here’s a typical misunderstanding of this verse as taught by many to say God loved the one and hated the other before they were even born…

Let us all take a deep breath and start with those final words. Here were twin boys, and before they were born God said of the younger son, ‘I love you,’ and he said of the firstborn boy, ‘I hate you.’ – Thomas Geoff @ Banner of Truth

It’s difficult to understand this whole portion of Scripture unless we understand the context. Romans 8 finishes by saying nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Messiah). Paul is trying to explain God’s choice of a nation to show himself among the nations. A nation chosen by God by which to preserve the Scriptures and bring forth the Messiah. Even though that nation was chosen by God in the past ( Rom 9) they are rejecting God in the present (Rom 10). The point is, God keeps his promises with Israel and one day all Israel (as a nation) will be saved (Rom 11).

Look at what the Text actually says to see what this verse means.

First, let’s look for a second at the previous verse….

it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Romans 9:12-13

Paul quotes Genesis:

The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25:23

God said this to Rebekah before the twins were born and did anything good or bad. They were both sons of Isaac. Paul refers to the nations of Israel and Edom as Jacob and Esau. This was God’s elective program of two nations. Also, notice God’s choice here… ‘the older shall serve the younger..‘ God chose the nation of Esau (Edomites) to serve the younger nation of Jacob (Israelites) for God’s purposes and plans, but not to save Jacob and condemn Esau.

Paul quotes Malachi

it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

Romans 9:12-13

Though Paul quotes two different instances of God speaking about Jacob and Esau (the nations they represent). God said these words at different times and to two different people regarding two different issues. Paul says it is written, referencing a conversation between God and Malachi and no longer Rebekah.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How hast Thou loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation, and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.”

Malachi 1:2-4

We see (about 400 years later) Malachi writes down a conversation between God and Israel. The Israelites questioned the way God dealt with them, ‘How has thou loved us?”. His answer to them showed that He had not treated them as He did to the Edomites (which the Israelites deserved). God appointed the Edomites’ inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness. The Edomites were proud and insisted they would build themselves up from their ruins, yet God shows He would show them indignation. On the other hand, God had prepared a great inheritance for Israel. God had remarkably been with Israel throughout everything. Great love for Jacob’s people throughout their wanderings and despite their lack of faith and murmurings.

God hated Esau (the Edomites) for their arrogance and treatment of Israel (the chosen nation to bear Messiah). The Edomites had not blessed Israel, rather, they cursed Israel. This placed the Edomites in bad standing with God. A nation that blessed Israel would be blessed, on the other hand, the opposite is true.

Because of violence to your brother Jacob, You will be covered with shame, And you will be cut off forever.

Obadiah 1:10

Therefore, as a result of Esau’s actions, God expresses His hatred.

“Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You are greatly despised.

Obadiah 1:2

Isaac blessed both of his sons. Yet, each blessing was different in reference to God’s program.

Isaac’s blesses Jacob…

Now may God give you [Jacob] of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.”

Genesis 27:28-29

Isaac blesses Esau…

Then Isaac his father answered and said to him [Esau], “Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, And away from the dew of heaven from above. “And by your sword you shall live, And your brother you shall serve; But it shall come about when you become restless, That you shall break his yoke from your neck.”

Genesis 27:39-40

So, we see Isaac blesses both sons but in different ways, directly connected to God’s purposes…

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.

Hebrews 11:20

This shows God’s sovereignty is about God’s program and carrying out His promises regarding a nation, regarding the Savior and who He would descend from, the oracles of God and much more. God’s sovereign choice cannot contradict in any way with his will that none should perish (2 Pet 3:9)! He has made it available that all men could believe (therefore they should), but they must choose to! Man believes as a response to God’s calling. God is not in the business of saving individuals based on a whim as if that was an expression of His mercy (that’s dis-grace!). This is not consistent with His character. You see God is desirous that none should perish (1 Tim 2:4-6)…

In Conclusion

This verse is regarding two heads of nations, not two individuals. C.H. Spurgeon argued this was invalid since nations are comprised of individuals. Let us not forget there will be one of every tongue and tribe as Revelation states (Rev 7:9). In accordance with this Amos also states…

That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the LORD who does this.

Amos 9:12

God sovereignly chose Jacob’s line to bring in the Savior (Rom 9). What God did not do here is preordain Jacob for salvation. God in a way chose both nations for His plans and purposes.

God had loved the Israelites (because of his choice) and hated the Edomites since they were against God’s program and were down on the Israelites. This has a direct fulfillment to I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. (Gen 27:28-29)

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