The Purpose of Election

Genesis 25:19-28
Mankind is desperate to feel good about itself. Just look at the world of advertising. The message always goes something like this: “if you only had this great tire for your car, then you would be a complete person.” The implication is that you can never be satisfied with what you have. And yet, the corresponding message in advertising goes like this: “You deserve every bit of self-indulgence that you could possibly lavish on yourself.” This kind of thinking runs up against a brick wall in the doctrine of election. The idea that God, out of His own good will, should choose one and not another is absolutely hateful to sinful Man. Sinful Man wants nothing to do with a God Who wants all the glory for salvation for Himself. Man has to have at least a smidgen of glory for himself. The irony is that when we come to a realization of God’s great mercy, and see how He has worked to bring about our salvation, the doctrine of election becomes one of the most comforting of Christian doctrines. That our salvation depends on God’s mercy, and not our own striving is an inestimable comfort to believers. How does this purpose of election show itself from our passage? Let’s look and see.

The passage starts out telling us about Isaac. He was forty years old when he married Rebekah. But there was one small problem: Rebekah was barren! Now this is ironic, since the family of Laban had told her in chapter 24 that she should become thousands and tens of thousands. God also had given His promise that Isac would carry on the promise that had been given to Abraham. But here she is barren. Verse 26 tells us that Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born. In other words, Rebekah was barren for about twenty years! Sarah, of course, was barren for even longer than that. The text says that Isaac prayed for his wife Rebekah. This is probably an understatement. Twenty years, and no sign of offspring! I would think that Isaac would be pounding on the doors of heaven for an answer. But notice that instead of trying to fulfill the promise the human way that Abraham and Sarah tried (and failed!) by getting a surrogate mother, instead Isaac and Rebekah prayed to the Lord. They knew that it is the Lord who opens and closes the womb. The Lord granted his twenty-year long request by giving a child to Rebekah.

But wait, it’s twins! And these twins have a serious case of sibling rivalry. In my family (of course, I am a twin myself), we have taken competitiveness to a very high level. In fact, my brother Adrian and I would often compete so hard at something that we had to coin a new name for what we were doing: sibling squashery! But in Jacob and Esau’s case, it was literal! The word translated “jostle” in the NIV in verse 22 is actually a much stronger word. It usually means “crush.” They were trying to crush each other, to squash each other. This was not your average fetal movement inside the womb. No, this was something beyond nature. That is why Rebekah says, “Why is this happening to me?” She says, “If the promise has been fulfilled, then why is it such a dangerous fulfillment?” So, she does the logical thing: she goes to inquire of the Lord. If we are perplexed, that is always where we should go, to God’s Word. We will not get a direct revelation from God like Rebekah gets, but we can go to God’s Word, and He will show us His will.

The Lord answers Rebekah with a direct revelation. The gist of the answer is that God’s election has separated them from each other, and that the older will serve the younger. God says that there are two entire nations in the womb of Rebekah, and that the older will be weaker than the younger. This reminds us of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians: God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God did the very same thing with Cain and Seth, Isaac and Ishmael, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, and the list goes on. At the very least, we can never say that God loved us because we are so lovable. There is nothing to distinguish between Jacob and Esau except God’s sovereign election. They do the things they do, because God has elected Jacob and not Esau.

Paul has the very best commentary on this passage in Romans 9:10-18: “And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Paul goes on to say, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” What is Paul saying? He says that being saved does not depend on anything, and I mean ANYTHING, in the person. God did not choose anyone based on the fact that He foresaw their faith. If it depended on human will or exertion, then many who seem holy would be elect because of their efforts. Paul explicitly says that it does not depend on human will or exertion. It is simply not true that God helps those who help themselves. God does the helping first, as it were.

We have this view in the Christian world that God votes for you, Satan votes against you, and you cast the tie-breaking vote. This is a terrible understanding of God’s Word. The truth is far from this. The fact is that we have already cast our vote for Satan and Hell, but God changes our vote. Some people think that heaven is on one side, and hell on the other, and that all humanity lies in-between. If that were true, then God would seem arbitrary in choosing some to go to heaven and not others. But the fact is that ALL were in hell, all were headed toward hell, all had chosen hell. For God to pass by some that had already chosen hell is evidence of strict justice on God’s part. What is true is that when God chooses some of those destined for hell and transforms them and their path, that is evidence of God’s great mercy.

So, getting back to Genesis, we’re going to see that Esau wants no part of the kingdom of God. He despises his birthright. He wants to kill Jacob. But Jacob is deceptive when he steals both the birthright and the blessing later on. There isn’t much to choose from. Without God’s sovereign election, both will go to hell. But because of God’s great mercy and promise, Jacob is chosen.

Now Rebekah was not supposed to keep this oracle to herself. She probably told everyone in the family, including the young ones themselves, when they came of an age to understand it. That is important to remember, since Isaac will seem to deny this revelation later, when he favors Esau and wants to give him the blessing.
The time comes for them to be born, and Esau is a redneck, literally. His pickup truck goes up and down in blue-book value, depending on how much gas it has in it. He’s got a ring on his back pocket where the tobacco tin usually resides. And he’s got more guns in his tent than Scheel’s has in its entire store. In fact, he’s got guns that he can’t even find. Yep, that’s Esau. A real redneck.

His brother Jacob, on the other hand, is a Momma’s boy. He likes to stay in the tent, where it is quiet. The word “quiet” here actually means something more like “single-minded,” or “single-hearted.” he had one purpose in life, and that was supplanting his brother. He has ambition and drive. After all, he comes out of the womb holding on to the heel of Esau, trying to prevent Esau from being born first, as it were. His name means “Heel.” So you could say that the two brothers are called “Hairy and the Heel.”

Again, there was nothing to say that one of them deserved more of God’s favor than the other. Paul says that neither of them had done anything, and yet God’s purpose would stand. So, the use that we can make of this doctrine has nothing to do with how worthy we were of God’s favor. In the Gospels, it is constantly the lowest class of society that benefits most from Jesus’ work on earth. He associated with IRS agents, hookers, and Gentiles (read “outsiders”). Those people receive God’s grace, because, of course, God has made them recognize their unworthiness. It is much harder to convince a rich person that he has need of a Savior. So how do we treat those around us who are “outsiders?” Do we treat them as obviously less deserving of God’s grace than we are? We should not, knowing that God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. All too often, we are the ones who are supposedly wise. We think we know who are good candidates for God’s mercy. And yet, God will always surprise us.

What about Jesus Christ? We can think of Jesus as supplanting the work of Satan on earth, even as Jacob supplants Esau, as one early church father puts it. Satan goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Satan is a bit like the hunter Esau. And yet, Jesus is able to hoodwink him, as it were. Satan thought that he had Jesus by the heel, as Moses would say in Genesis 3. But it turns out that Jesus crushed Satan’s head, when He was resurrected from the dead.

The doctrine of election does not mean that we are puppets on a string. When the Gospel is presented to us, it appears as a choice to make, and that is how the Bible presents the Gospel, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” However, once a person has come to Christ, that person finds out that they were elected from all eternity to make that choice, which is a choice they could never have made unless God had first worked in their heart. Donald Grey Barnhouse describes it best: the door of salvation has written on the front of it this inscription: “Repent, be baptized, come to faith.” When you walk through the door, the back side has this inscribed on it: “Elect from all eternity.” Will you walk through that door?

1 Comment

  1. Owolabi Samuel said,

    October 11, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Thank God such a wonderful passage like this can still be found on the net, carry the work, God will help you,than and remain blessed.

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