Monday, 23 July 2012

Esau have I hated...

I was not sure I could handle this in the brief compass of a blog but my morning readings brought me to Genesis 36 and the long list of the generations of Esau, and I felt I could not let it pass without comment. You may need to read this more than once!

Jacob and Esau were together for Isaac's funeral in the last verse of the previous chapter and then we launch into this long list which ends with the words; These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. Esau was the father of the Edomites. Gen 36:43 NKJV. Esau and his people are the subject of some troubling verses in Paul's epistle to the Romans;
(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. Rom 9:11–13 NKJV.
What does that mean? Does it mean that God predetermined that Esau would be damned, as some have interpreted it and set his predestining approval on Jacob? Is this 'calling' to salvation or to service?

Let's see if we can unpack it a little. First we need to observe that the quotation from Malachi is God's comment on the 'people of Esau' and not on the individual. The context makes this very plain;
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the LORD. “Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness.” Mal 1:1–3 NKJV.
The prophetic words of Malachi came 1000 years after Esau had been laid in his grave. They are a summary of Esau/Edom's history not a predestining of their future.

The contrast between love and hate needs a comment too. Notice how these verses use the ideas of 'love' and 'hate';
And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. Gen 29:30–31 KJV.
This is a Hebrew way of expressing strong preference and was sometimes used in the divorce formula of the day. In Malachi, in the language of the hearers, God is strongly declaring where his heart is fixed… he is not pre-dooming the descendants of Esau to damnation.

In fact neither of the verses quoted by Paul relates to 'salvation' but to life's destiny and experience. When God strengthened Pharaoh's heart to stick to Pharaoh's line, it was God empowering Pharaoh to stick to his choice. (Ex 4:21) And again, it had nothing to do with salvation but with life's experience. The Hebrew word translated 'harden' has a primary meaning of 'to strengthen'. God empowered Pharaoh to make his own choices and to stand by his own convictions.

So how are we to see the 'generations of Esau' chapter? One of Esau's wives was actually a daughter of Ishmael. (Gen 28:9) This is a dangerous mixture of 'blood-lines'. The people of Esau, the Edomites, set themselves against the people of Israel and it brought inevitable retribution upon them. The Edomites serve as a symbol or type of 'the flesh'; they behaved in the same attitude as Esau before them, putting the satisfying of their fleshly appetites before any thought of spiritual progress. (Heb 12:16)

There is one detail in their genealogies that attracted my attention particularly;
Chief Dishon, Chief Ezer, and Chief Dishan. These were the chiefs of the Horites, according to their chiefs in the land of Seir. Now these were the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel: Gen 36:30–31 NKJV.
It is interesting that those who symbolise the flesh opted for kings long before the people of Israel. Israel had no kings until the times of the Judges and even then, at its beginnings, it was symbolic of their refusal to put their trust in the leadings of the Spirit. (1 Sam 8:6–7) Those who reject the leading of God for their own self-centred choices are sowing a dangerous seed.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. Gal 6:8 NKJV.

The old Victorians had a saying; "sow a thought and reap a deed, sow a deed and reap a habit, sow a habit and reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny". Those old Victorians had many faults but sometimes they saw things very clearly.

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