Today in the English Speaking Fellowship, we did the first 5 verses of Malachi, which follows up last week of studies on Obadiah. We used the Matthias Media's Burning Desire book, written by a formal-FOCUS guy. From the how God chose Jacob over Esau, we went on to talk about Paul's concerns in Romans 9, and that leads to some interesting discussions.
Orginally I just want to note down what I've learnt from the Malachi study that we did with ESF on 11th Jan 2002. But as I started hitting random keystrokes from my keyboard, the result turns out to be some thoughts on Romans 9:1-16 (which was also part of the study). Anyway, feel free to correct my spelling and gramar mistakes or to contribute your thoughts or comments at the end of the page.
In the Romans 9:1-16 passages, Paul has concerns for the Israelites/Jews/people of the same race as Paul. Down the centuries, Israelites took for granted that they are the people who will receive God's promise. They took Abraham as their biological father, and even Jesus was born in the house of Israelites. However, in Romans 9:6
It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. (Romans 9:6)
God has promised people, land and blessing to Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob cheated the birth right and inheritance from his twin brother Esau. Down the generations, Israelites grew more enormous, and has acquired Canaan, the promise land. At the peak of their glory, the kingdom splitted into two, and they got defeated by the Assyrians and Babyloanias. They might have returned to the land afterwards, but they were still under the rules of the Romans Empire when Paul wrote the letter. So, did the promise I made to Israelites fulfilled? Are they still looking for the fulfillment of the promise?
From my understanding of the Biblical theology, the promise has either:
- partially fulfulled - see the number of Israelites, the land and cites they have, etc. But not everything God has said has happened, or.
- never fulfilled until Jesus.
One thing caught my eye was in Romans 9:7-8 - the reason the descendents are named not because of their DNA is closer to Issac's, but because they are promised. Usually I'll think that when Abraham and Isaac were promised, their descendents shared the same blessing as well - at least to some extend. However, we saw the promised got passed down the generations without being truely fulfilled, until Jesus came into the picture. All the drama and excitements throughout the history of Israel were just shadows pointing to the reality - hey! something real is coming! Therefore, the promise seems to be partially fulfilled from the surface, but from another view (God's big picture), it actually did not until the time of Jesus.
Not only God has his promise, he also predestined, from 9:9. God has chose Jacob over Esau even before they were born. When you think about it, the reason God punished Edom in Obadiah and Malachi was because of their wickedness. But when you think beyond the scope of time, their wickedness was their own, but was also determinated by God from the beginning. Even if we don't have the picture of what's happening afterwards, we saw from Genesis 25 that the descendents of Jacob will be promised. That brings to a more difficult topic - God's election of his own people.
Romans 9 stated that God has choosen Jacob over Esau even before the two were born.
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 (Romans 9:11-12)
God has made the choice even before Rebekah's children have born. But why choosing the quiet home boy than the red hairy hunter? Because of his soverign freedom, which Paul further explained using Exodus 33:19 -
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. (Romans 9:15)
Basically what God says is this - I choose because of the freedom I have. He chooses because he is the I AM. He chose Jacob because of his free will, and he also chose us as Christians because of his free will, as it is stated in Ephesians 1:11+
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will... (Ephesians 1:11)
I guess the problem comes when people started asking questions about predestination - if Christians are elected from the beginning, do we have a choice? Sometimes people don't think what God has done is fair - why God chose some but not the others?
Robin has made a nice point about it last Friday. The problem of our sinful nature is - we think that we can out smart God. We think that God's choice is silly, and we can make a better choice. Moreover, we think that we ought to be saved, therefore we think that it is unfair for someone not to be saved. However, the situation described in the Bible is different from what we normally think. From God's pespective, we ought to be condemned. We ought to be punished to hell forever since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Instead of feeling unfair, we should be glad that God has even given us a chance... God is not unjust, because if he has exercised his justice, all of us will be bathing lava right now. But God chose to delay his punishment (2 Peter 3:9), and he has even graciously chosen to forgive some of us - a kind of forgiveness that we never deserve.
Are Christians predestined to go to heaven? Yes. Are some of us then predestined to go to hell? Yes. But we are heading to hell anyway, and we don't need any help to get there. We are bad and sinful enough to deserve this punishment, and God does not need to give a hand for us to get condamned. However, we do need God's work in us to repent and turn back to him.