D’rash, Shabbat, December 3, 2016
Can HaShem—the One and same God—both love and hate? Yes, both!
The Holy One, blessed be He, offers mercy to all and renders judgment upon all. With great passion and compassion, He loves those who open their hearts to His love, and also love their neighbors, yet He hates those who stubbornly close their hearts to His love and mercy, and show spite and cruelty to their neighbors. V’eemru? (And let us say?)
Here are the verses I chanted from the Torah parasha (portion), Beresheet (Genesis) 25:22-23. “But the children struggled with one another inside her, and she said, “If it’s like this, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of Adonai. [Please notice: Jews ask questions!] Adonai said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from your body will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other people, but the older will serve the younger.””
The prophetic oracle concludes with, “the older will serve the younger.” To human ears, that may seem backwards (shouldn’t the younger serve the older?) or even unfair (why should the older be fore-ordained to serve the younger?).
However, from God’s point of view, serving is a good thing, for His beloved Son Yeshua came into the world to become the servant of all. Then God highly exalted His servant, and He is Lord of all! The kingdom of God turns things upside-down. God brings down the proud, but lifts up the humble.
A case in point is this prophetic oracle, “the older will serve the younger.” Last spring I gave a series of messages based on Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book, Not in God’s Name. Sacks observes: “Here the Bible delivers a masterstroke. At first sight, the words mean what they way.
In retrospect—and only in the original Hebrew—we discover that they contain multiple ambiguities.”
The Hebrew is rav ya’avod tsa’ir—Hebrew is from right to left, so it’s “older will serve younger.” However, the word et, which normally signals the object of the verb, is conspicuously missing. With no et, subject & object may be reversed, like this: ‘the older, the younger will serve.” That’s right, the same sentence could have opposite meanings! Isn’t Hebrew wonderful?
Also, the Hebrew terms rav and tsa’ir are not opposites. Tsa’ir does mean younger, but rav doesn’t mean older; it means great, numerous or chief. So who became the rav—Jacob or Esau?
It depends. Jacob wound up bowing down before Esau, and giving him a lot of gifts, must as a vassal to a lord. On the other hand, Jacob did receive God’s blessing and promise of the seed and the land of Israel.
Though God made Esau and Jacob different, He loved and blessed both of them. Isaac gave them each a blessing, and God fulfilled both. In the end, the brothers both rejoiced in their blessings together. Sibling rivalry ends when we discover that God loves each one of us uniquely for who we are, not for who someone else is. We each have our own blessing. So we do not need to be rivals. V’eemru?
However, this oracle is not actually about the boys but about the nations that will descend from them: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from your body will be separated.”
So this oracle is not necessarily about the brothers, but their descendants: “two peoples… one people will be stronger than the other people.” David and Solomon eventually conquered the Edomites. Over centuries, the descendants of Esau became jealous and bitter rivals of the children of Israel. Eventually, the Edomites cheered the Babylonians on when they destroyed Jerusalem. Obadiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel gave prophetic warnings against the Edomites, e.g., Ezekiel 25-12-13 says, Thus says Adonai Elohim: “Because Edom has taken severe vengeance against the house of Judah and has grievously offended by taking revenge upon them, therefore thus says Adonai Elohim: ‘I will stretch out My hand upon Edom. I will cut off man and beast from it. I will make it desolate.”
When Malachi 1:2 says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” it refers not to the individual brothers but to the nations descended from them, as the following verses make clear.
God loved Jacob because He knew he would be able to fulfill HIs promises to the children of Israel, promises to restore them to the land and to Himself, and to give the Word and the Messiah through them to all humanity. So you will say, “‘May Adonai be magnified beyond the border of Israel!’”
God hated Esau because the Edomites forgot about His grace and became Judah’s rivals and enemies. So God made Edom’s hills a wilderness. God is long-suffering, but there is a day of judgment.
Many commentators reduce God’s love and hate to abstract choice—as if God made arbitrary choices!
But, like David Harwood (who will be here next Shabbat), I interpret both God’s love and hate as more than choosing and rejecting, but His passionate response to how different nations treat Him. God really does love Israel! V’eemru? For all Israel’s flaws (which He reluctantly judged with exile), there has always been a remnant of Israel who turn back to Him and love His word. God loves that!
But the Edomites, like the Pharaoh of Moses, hardened their hearts so that eventually they provoked God’s ire–and real ire it was!
On the other hand, God’s judgment of nations doesn’t mean that every single person is without hope. Every single person of a nation suffers because of the judgment on the nation, but each person can still respond to the merciful love of God. Hence Rehab of Jericho and Ruth of Moab received mercy through their fear and love of the God of Israel. Hence the good news has gone out to all the nations.
So now let’s turn to Romans 9:10–14, “Rebekah received a promise when she became pregnant by one man, our ancestor Isaac. For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand—not from works but from the One who calls—she was told: ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written: ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’ What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!”
Well, begging your pardon, Paul, but a lot of theologians have concluded from what you just said that God is indeed arbitrary—foreordaining, before they were even born and had done anything good or bad, that He would love Jacob & hate Esau. Does that seem fair or just to you?
How many of you have heard of the doctrine of predestination? How about double predestination? Some theologians—never mind who—derive from this passage this God has foreordained who will be saved and will be condemned, from eternity. So, where’s the justice in that? Shouldn’t justice be in response to our good or bad behavior, rather than all predetermined? If double predestination is true, then Mr. Trump is right, “the system is rigged!”
IMHO (in my humble opinion), inferring double predestination from this passage doesn’t work, because Paul knew that Genesis and Malachi were not primarily prophesying the destiny of individuals, but the nations or peoples who would descend from them—the Israelites and Edomites. Are you with me?
Now, if we step back and look at the context of our passage in Romans 9, whom is Paul talking about? The people of Israel—in Romans 9:3, he intercedes for “my own flesh and blood, who are Israelites.” And also people from all the other nations (the Gentiles)—in Romans 9:24, “Even us He called—not only from the Jewish people, but also from the Gentiles.”
From both Israel and the nations, God has called people ‘beloved’—all who put their trust in Messiah. V’eemru?
IMHO, Paul isn’t saying the fate of most Jews (or anyone else) is foreordained! If that were so, what would be the point of interceding for them? Instead, he is saying that when God judges, He is just, because God has graciously offered mercy to all—through Messiah Yeshua. V’eemru?
So, let’s discuss….
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Breakout Discussion Questions
The prophetic oracle of Genesis 25:23 ends with, “the older will serve the younger.” Did that sound unfair to you? Is it really? Why or why not?
The Hebrew v’rav ya’avod tsa’ir is usually translated as “the older will serve the younger.” Since there is has no et marking the direct object, how else could it be translated?
So did the older brother, Esau, ever wind up serving the younger, Jacob Or did Jacob ever wind up serving Esau? Did God bless Jacob or did he bless Esau?
How many of you have experienced sibling rivalries? Does God our Father really want His children to be rivals? How do we get past such rivalries?
How many of you have noticed that God treats different people differently? When He does, have you ever been jealous? What attitude does God want us to have instead? How can the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit help us get past our tendency to become jealous? Why is it important to do so in our community?
Was Genesis 25:23 primarily a prophecy about Esau and Jacob, or their descendants? How do we know? “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from your body will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other people.” Who were the descendants of Esau and Jacob What happened to their relationship? What were the consequences for them?
Is there a warning here for other nations and people? Thanks be to God, some Arabs and Jews—Arab Christians and Messianic Jews—are heeding the Word of God, and instead of hating each other, loving one another. How should we respond to these remarkable developments?
Malachi 1:2-3 says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Does it really mean God loves and hates? Can God both love and hate?
Or does it really mean God made a sovereign choice that had nothing to do with His feelings about one or the other? Does God love or hate with real passion? (David Harwood will have much more to say about how God loves us next Shabbat. How many of you are looking to hearing more about God’s true love?)
Why would God judge nations? What are the consequences for members of a nation? What if God were to judge America? When God judges a nation, does that mean all the members of that nation are totally doomed? Why or why not?
Romans 9:12-13 quotes Genesis 25:23, “The older shall serve the younger,” and Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Then Paul insists, “There is no injustice with God.” Why is Paul so sure? (Hint: consider the context. Paul intercedes for the Israelites and concludes that some are called from the Jewish people and also the Gentiles.)
What is double predestination? Is that what Paul has in mind here? Why or why not?
Romans 8:29-30. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Whom has God predestined? For what? How is predestination similar to God’s promises?
So is everything that God promises predestined or does our free will have something to do with obtaining God’s good promises?
Is God just? Why or why not? Is God merciful? How has He shown mercy to all people?
Have you trusted in God’s mercy and love?