Predestination or Freewill Part 3: The Case of Jacob & Esau

Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:11-13
       Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels…and the elder shall serve the younger.
       (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): The doctrine of unconditional predestination to eternal life and eternal death cannot be supported by the example of God’s dealings with Esau and Jacob, or with the Edomites and Israelites.

THOMAS NEWTON (1704-1782): We have in the prophecies delivered respecting the sons of Isaac, ample proof that these prophecies were not meant so much of single persons as of whole nations descended from them; for what was predicted concerning Esau and Jacob was not verified in themselves, but in their posterity.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Some of the Wesleyan brethren say, that there is [only] a national election; God has chosen one nation and not another.

R. L. DABNEY (1820-1898): This is their evasion: that by the names Esau and Jacob the individual patriarchs are not meant, but the two nations, Edom and Israel, and that the predestination was only unto the privation or enjoyment of the means of grace.

ADAM CLARKE: “This passage [of Genesis 25],” says Dr. Dodd,* “serves for a key to explain the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where the words are quoted; for it proves to a demonstration that this cannot be meant of God’s arbitrary predestination of particular persons to eternal happiness or misery, without any regard to their merit or demerit―a doctrine which some have most impiously fathered on God, who is the best of beings, and who cannot possibly hate, far less absolutely doom to misery, any creature that He has made―but that it means only His bestowing greater external favours, or, if you please, higher opportunities for knowing and doing their duty, upon some men, than He does upon others; and that merely according to His own wise purpose, without any regard to their merits or demerits, as having a right to confer greater or smaller degrees or perfection on whom He pleases.”

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): I have loved Jacob, Romans 9:13. With a peculiar love; that is, the Israelites, the posterity of Jacob. And I have, comparatively, hated Esau. That is, the Edomites, the posterity of Esau. But observe, This does not relate to the person of Jacob or Esau. Nor does it relate to the eternal state either of them or their posterity.

R. L. DABNEY: But this is utterly futile. First, because certainly the individual patriarchs went along with the two posterities whom they represented. Second, because Paul’s discussion in this ninth chapter all relates to individuals and not to races, and to salvation or perdition, and not to mere church privileges.

ADAM CLARKE: These words Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated, are cited [from Malachi] by the apostle to prove, according to their typical signification, that the purpose of God, according to election, does and will stand, not of works, but of him that calleth…That these words are used in a national and not in a personal sense, is evident from this: that, taken in the latter sense they are not true, for Jacob never did exercise any power over Esau, nor was Esau ever subject to him. Jacob, on the contrary, was rather subject to Esau, and was sorely afraid of him; and, first, by his messengers, and afterwards personally, acknowledged his brother to be his lord, and himself to be his servant.

C. H. SPURGEON: Of course the threatening was afterwards fulfilled in the position of the two nations; Edom was made to serve Israel. But this text [Romans 9:13] means just what it says; it does not mean nations, but it means the persons mentioned.

R. L. DABNEY: Now the Arminian himself admits an election of races or nations [to the means of grace], which is sovereign. Does not this imply a similar disposal of the fate of individuals?

C. H. SPURGEON: They tell us it is unjust in God to choose one man and not another. Now, we ask them by everything reasonable, is it not equally unjust of God to choose one nation and leave another? The argument which they imagine overthrows us overthrows them also. There never was a more foolish subterfuge than that of trying to bring out national election. What is the election of a nation but the election of so many [individual] units, of so many people? and it is tantamount to the same thing as the particular election of individuals―If there be any injustice in God choosing one man and not another, how much more must there be injustice in His choosing one nation and not another? No! the difficulty cannot be got rid of thus, but is greatly increased by this foolish wresting of God’s Word. Besides, here is the proof that it is not correct…it does not say anything at all about nations, it says, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth”—referring to the children, not to the nations.

ADAM CLARKE: As the word children is not in the [original Greek] text, the word nations would be more proper.

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU (1825-1898): Let it be admitted that Jacob and Esau were the respective heads of different nations, and it cannot be denied that they were also individuals. The language of Scripture in regard to them cannot, without violence, be confined to them [only] as national heads. It refers to them chiefly as persons in relation to the divine purpose…That Esau and Jacob are declared to have done neither good nor evil cannot be proved to refer to their election apart from their being contemplated as [individual] sinners.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): Not yet born. As there was nothing in the birth of those twins, so neither [was there anything] in their works, that occasioned the difference that God made betwixt them; for when God spake of what should happen to them, they were unborn, and had done neither good nor evil…As for original sin, they were both alike tainted therewith.

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU: The meaning clearly is, if we judge from the analogy of the passage, that God’s preference of one to the other was not conditioned upon His knowledge of a distinction of their characters. Regarding them both as belonging to a sinful race, and, consequently, both as condemned, He elected Jacob and passed by Esau [before they were born].

C. H. SPURGEON: “Jacob,”—that is, the man whose name was Jacob—“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU: The Arminian objects to an unconditional election to eternal life. Now he must admit that Jacob’s election, whatever may have been its [typical] end, was unconditional.

JOHN WESLEY: “As touching the election”—the unconditional election of the Jewish nation—“they are beloved for the fathers’ sake,” for the sake of their forefathers, Romans 11:28. It follows that God has still blessings in store for the Jewish nation.
*Editor’s Note: Adam Clarke quotes from William Dodd’s Bible Commentary (1770) as one authority for his interpretation. However, the repentant thief on the cross must be the Biblical grounds for any hope that Dodd is presently in heaven. Dodd was an Anglican clergyman, but also a spendthrift who lived very extravagantly; in 1774, after offering a bribe to obtain a more lucrative office in the Church of England, he was dismissed from his existing church offices. In 1777, to clear his debts, Dodd forged a bond to obtain a bank loan of ₤4,200 (about 700,000 US dollars in today’s money). When his forgery was discovered, Dodd confessed immediately and begged for time to make amends. But after being convicted of his financial fraud, he was publicly hanged at Tyburn. If William Dodd had lived in 2008, and worked on Wall Street, he probably would have got a government bailout, a financial bonus, and a golden parachute.


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