Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:11&12
The Bible as a whole can be very confusing. And the most confusing books of the New Testament are certainly the letters that Paul wrote to the churches: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. In other books of the Bible, the whole context is there within the rest of the story. In the letters, however, only half the context is there. It’s like hearing half of a conversation. Paul wrote these letters to the various churches to address the issues and questions they had in each specific church. If we don’t understand what question a certain church has asked, the answer can seem very confusing – like it doesn’t make sense at all.
The passage above, Romans 9:11&12, seems to suggest that God calls some people to salvation but not others. It seems to support the idea of predestination; that humans have no choice in the matter. That it is God who chooses. But this notion doesn’t fit with what the gospels and the other books of the New Testament say. In fact, earlier in Romans, in chapters 3 & 4, Paul himself says that we are justified by faith in Jesus and by trusting God, clearly indicating that it is our choice to do so. So what is the meaning of Romans 9:10&11?!
Paul was a very intelligent and scholarly individual. In his letters, he addressed one question/topic at a time and then moved on to a different issue. Paul answered the question of, “How can a person be saved?” in Romans chapters 3 to 6.
In Romans chapters 9 & 10 he was responding to a different statement by a certain group of Jews. This ‘Circumcision Group’ claimed that you needed to be a Jew and follow Jewish customs to be accepted by God and go to heaven. They believed all Jews would be accepted by God. Paul was responding to a statement something like the following:
All descendents of Abraham are accepted by God. How can you say some Jews will be rejected by God?! The Bible says, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). This means all Jews are accepted by God whether they believe in Jesus or not. – The Circumcision Group
So, Romans chapters 9 & 10 was written to Jews living in Rome at that time. Paul was explaining that, no, not all descendents of Abraham are accepted by God. Paul pointed out that Ishmael and Esau were both descendents of Abraham yet they were rejected by God. Paul’s main point, in these chapters, was to show that not all Jews are accepted by God. Then he goes on to reaffirm the way of salvation is through faith in Christ, not by works (not by obeying the Jewish customs).
Read Romans 9 & 10 with these thoughts in mind and see if it makes more sense.
If you wish to hear more on the subject of Romans chapter 9, listen to this message from Southland Church.