Genesis 25:19-23 (ESV)
19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is on display in Genesis 25. Isaac married Rebekah, and God blessed them with sons. But, as many children know from Sunday School, the younger twin would have the blessing.
What we do not often consider is just how strange this is. Every natural pattern would tell us that the older son would be the blessed one. It should be through the line of the older that God carries the promise that he has made to Abraham and Isaac. But in this instance, God is showing us that he is in charge. God declares to us that it shall be this way, that the younger one will carry the promise.
In that concept, we see that God’s sovereignty is on display. Look at how Paul describes God’s sovereign hand at work in this very situation in Romans 9.
10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul has a very clear point he is making in this passage. God did not choose Jacob over Esau because of Jacob’s character. He did not choose Jacob over Esau because of future decisions Esau would make. Instead, Paul is clear that this was about God’s purpose standing.
So, then, if this is all about election, clearly Jacob and Esau have no choices. There is no such thing as human responsibility, right? Not at all.
Reading the remainder of the chapter, we see a clear example of Esau and Jacob living out by their own free will the decree that God had made. Esau makes a ridiculous decision when hungry after a hunt. He chooses to renounce his birthright for a bowl of beans. In that decision, Esau, by his own free choice and lack of character, shows that he is exactly what God had already declared he would be. He is the servant of his younger brother.
Over the coming years, there will be many other decisions that will elevate Jacob to a place above Esau. They all seem to fall naturally into place. Without question, Esau and Jacob bear the proper human responsibility for their decisions. Yet, we cannot escape the fact that God elected Jacob as the bearer of his promise before the two were born, and that election, according to Paul in Romans 9:11, was “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”
So, then, was the election all about God and his will? Yes. Were Jacob and Esau fully responsible, then, for the decisions they made and the actions they took? Yes. Was this choice all of God, by God’s will and for God’s glory? Yes. Does Esau have a complaint against God that he could not do what was right? No.
Sovereignty and responsibility is a touchy issue for many, and I do not expect to solve that issue on a blog. However, I am personally encouraged here. God is in control. His purposes will stand. I cannot thwart them. Yet, I am also responsible to obey him. All the glory will be his. He will accomplish his will. And I joyfully get to play a part in his plan.