Saturday, 17 August 2013
…(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), Romans 9:11
Without jumping ahead to verse 12 (to which this verse is pointing), we can still discern several key concepts. There were two children, twins, in the womb of Rebekah – Jacob and Esau. They were physically formed and fashioned by God before they were born, and God knew how this would affect their development as people (see Jeremiah 1:5, for example). Their physical development will have a bearing on their character as much as their upbringing after their birth does. Therefore, God’s purposes will be revealed even through these things. A description of the two is found in Genesis 25:24-28 –
“So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
These two children, before they had “done any good or evil,” were known to God. Their physical traits were fashioned by Him and these physical traits certainly were translated into their demeanor as well, Esau being a hunter and Jacob being mild and dwelling in tents. However, while in the womb, these traits hadn’t yet been a part of their development as post-birth humans. They had done nothing to merit the bestowing of physical traits which would shape them.
In fact, they had done nothing at all to merit anything. Where they were born, when they were born, to whom they were born, etc. were all solely at the will and predetermined choice of God. Every aspect of who they were or would be came by the foreknowledge of God “that the purpose of God according to election might stand.”
This is an immensely important concept for all people, not just Jacob and Esau. We have no right to call into question God’s sovereign choices. We are bestowed life, time, and place according to His will. Paul will use this logic later in chapter 9 to explain to each of us that what God wills is right, whether we like it or not. Whether Esau liked or didn’t like being born with hypertrichosis is irrelevant; he was. God made the choice and he came out like a hairy red garment.
The reason for his birth in this manner is long and detailed, but it points directly to the work of Christ. God was using these two boys’ physical attributes (which would lead to their lifelong development and demeanor) to demonstrate spiritual truths and also to develop pictures of the coming Messiah. These things were purposed by God and His election firmly established His will in the plan of redemption. And because they occurred prior to any volitional choices of Jacob and Esau, they were “not of works, but of Him who calls.”
Every aspect of who these two were or would be was determined by God from before the creation of the world. How do we know this? Because Jacob leads directly to Jesus, being His ancestor. And speaking of Jesus in Revelation 13:8 it says that He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Before the world was created, Jesus’ death was predetermined. If this is so, then everything leading to that death was also predetermined. Any minute diversion – whether in the animate or even the inanimate creation could change all of history. Therefore, all things were known from eternity past by God.
Understanding this, we can look at our own lives, and the lives of all people who have ever lived, and see that works have absolutely no part in what our eternal destiny will be. How can we work for that which is granted by God’s election? We can only receive it as work already accomplished by Him.
Knowing this though may lead us to view life as fatalistic, but this isn’t the intent of these verses. There is nothing in them, or in any biblical passage or concept, which negates free will in accepting the work of Jesus. In fact, the concept of free will is actually upheld by knowing these things. Just because God knows what the choice will be in no way means that the choice we make isn’t valid. It merely shows the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God who even knows what we will choose to do before we do it.
Vincent’s word studies, quoting Godet, have the following thought on the matter – “Eternal salvation is not contemplated. ‘The matter in question is the part they play regarded from the theocratic stand-point.'” Paul is speaking of the election and choices of Jacob and Esau from God’s perspective and in accord with the will of God. But what needs to be noted when considering this is Paul’s statement of the boys as not yet “having done any good or evil.”
If these babies will eventually do evil, which in fact they will, then to deny free will in them would be to ascribe the doing of the evil to God. This is why the concept of free will is actually upheld by what is being discussed. We are free moral beings who make our own choices. God merely knows what those choices will be. He is not the Author of evil, but He is able to use our evil towards a good end.
To understand this better, an example may help. God gave the directive to Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1).” Explicit in this verse is that there is a God. Implicit in this verse is that in the bearing of children in order to fill the earth there is a responsibility to this God. If someone has children and they don’t train the child in the way of the Lord, then they are not fulfilling God’s will for the children. If such a person procreates and claims they are fulfilling God’s mandate while at the same time denying God through their actions, then they are not truly fulfilling God’s mandate. The condemnation of those children came through the free will choice of not acknowledging the very God that they claim they are acknowledging through the procreation. Free will must be, and in fact is, a central part of our relationship with God.
Life application: To deny free will in man ultimately leads to ascribing the evil in the world to God. Calvinist (and other) doctrine will deny this, but it is the logical result of verses such as Romans 9:11. God’s formation of us, which ultimately helps determine who we are, doesn’t lessen our responsibility to act in a morally right manner.
Wise and glorious God, I know that even before I was born You already knew everything about me. You knew what I would look like, the joys and trials I would encounter, the number of my days, and everything else that is connected to my life. As I know this is true, then why should I worry as my life unfolds? Instead, through the good and the bad I will praise You more! Amen.