Commentary on Romans 9:11-12

16 May

11 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 him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

Now we have to read this sentence well to understand it. The middle of the verse is commentary on the truth outside the dashes. If we read the outside together we get the details of what happened and if we read inside the dashes we get the reason why things happened as they did.

So we get first, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad she was told, ‘the older will serve the younger.’”
And then we get the purpose, the why . . . “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”

God’s plan for these boys was marked out before they were ever born. Rebekah had this word from God about their destinies before they were ever born. Before they had ever done anything good or bad. The word for bad is a less common word for bad and is actually better translated “evil.” Here the KJV gets it more accurate I think. We just need to remember that what is in view here is not just a generic bad,, like bad handwriting, but a moral falling short. The older would serve the younger because of nothing in them but because of God’s purpose in election.
And when we think about Jacob’s life we see clearly how he would have never been entitled to the promise if we based it on works. He was a really shady character. His name can even be translated “deceiver.” But even if he had been a better man, his works could never have earned the promises. It’s just that Jacob’s life makes it really easy for us to see that being chosen of God is never by works.

The word “purpose” in its verbal form is protithēmi (προτιθημι), “to set before one’s self, to propose to one’s self, to purpose, to determine.” The word speaks of the action of an individual setting before himself a proposed action. Thus, it presupposes deliberation upon a course of conduct, and then the determination to carry it through.

This word is the same one used in Romans 8:28 when Paul says, “And we know in all things God works for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
So what do we see about God’s purpose in the Bible . . .
• His purpose is set, is based on foreknowledge, and included the death of his own Son (Acts 2:23).
• Individuals apparently serve God’s purpose during their lifetimes, as did David (Acts 13:36).
• Believers are called according to God’s purpose, and God causes all things in their lives to meld with his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
• Part of God’s purpose involves displaying his power and proclaiming his name in all the earth (Rom. 9:17).
• God’s purpose requires some noble vessels and some common ones (Rom. 9:21; 2 Tim. 2:20).
• God has a plan by which his purpose is worked out, which includes the choosing of individuals to fulfill certain parts of his purpose through his predestined plan (Eph. 1:11).
• God’s purpose is eternal and is accomplished through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:11).
• God works his will, to include even our actions, in and through us to accomplish his purpose (Phil. 2:13).
• Believers are saved and called to a holy life on the basis of nothing in themselves but because of God’s purpose enacted through grace (2 Tim. 1:9).
• God’s purpose is unchanging in nature (Heb. 6:17).

Here in verse 11, it is God’s purpose in election. The fact that it doesn’t rest in our works or our heritage or anything in us means that God’s purpose in election is to do the choosing. And it has always been so, in Old Testament times to today. God has always been choosing among people. And He does this in order to glorify Himself. So the how of election is choosing without regard to human merit and the why of election is for God’s glory.
And the amazing thing is, God’s purpose is not only without regard to human merit, it is also often contrary to human expectation. So in this case the younger is served by the older.

Not because of works but because of him who calls. Now why does Paul say this again? He has already told us it was before they had done anything good or evil. He has already told us that God’s purpose of election will stand. But now he repeats this. Why? Because we are thick-headed. He just wants to make it really clear, really solid, it doesn’t come from works. I know many people believe the Israelites thought they were saved by works, but most didn’t. They knew they were chosen by grace. Yet the temptation in receiving God’s favor is thinking you deserve it. In both their tradition and their thinking, the Jews did, for all practical purposes, think of themselves as better than others and to some degree, as being worthy of God’s love. . If you are a Christian and you understand these truths, do not think about them in a way that pushes you toward any kind of sense that you are deserving of God’s grace.

The purpose of God is clear. Election is not based on foreseen actions, deeds, or faith. Rather, it is based on God’s sovereign grace.

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