“And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” (Romans 9:10–12, KJV 1900)
When I was in the military, especially before receiving my commission as an officer, I remember the way the superiors often got people to do various duties. They would say, without telling you what was needed, I need some volunteers. Then without allowing time for a response they would point and say you, you and you. Believe you me, we did not argue if we were chosen. Sometimes we might be chosen for a good duty and sometimes for a less than good one, but it was the superior’s choice not ours. Most often there seemed no rhyme nor reason to the selection either.
Here, Paul is speaking about God’s sovereign call or election. In some ways it is similar to the call to duty that I experienced in the military. Paul uses the example of the birth of Esau and Jacob to Isaac and Rebekah. God tells Rebekah that the older will serve the younger, even before they were born and even before they had done anything either good or bad.
Now, without going into a great theological debate, let me just say that neither Jacob or Esau were good. Why do I say this? It is because all are born sinners and all sin. So, the choice of Jacob as the one to carry on the promise and become the father of the nation Israel through which the Messiah would come, was purely through the Sovereign choice of God. It was not based on anything that Jacob had desired or had yet done, since he was not yet born.
Now while we will get into this deeper in the rest of Chapter 9, we need only to consider this right now. Paul indicates that this is so the purpose of God’s election might continue. The word election, ekloge, refers to the act of choosing. God chooses in accordance with His own will alone. And who else in all the universe is better qualified to make these choices? God is omniscient and infinitely Holy, good, just, and true. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Be grateful that God is sovereign and that we are not, for His ways are perfect ours are not.