Last time we ended with verse 9 which had Paul stating the promise YHWH had given to Abram and Sari – He would give them a son, through whom all nations would be blessed. The apostle is pressing the point that divine blessings come through divine means; mortal man is incapable of conferring God’s favor on one another. And so Abram and Sari had to wait on God 13 years after they delivered what they were able. But Paul is concerned that his audience get the message – as he has been in this entire letter. So he repeats his message, from another familiar part of Israel’s history.
Romans 9:10-12 (HCSB) And not only that, but also 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. In order to build a solid identity for national Israel that would not be able to deny was due to YHWH’s will, He determined who would be the patriarchs of that faith – contrary to the norms in that culture, which always rested on the first-born male. Recall how the Lord worked with Gideon to reduce the number of soldiers going into battle? God kept sending men home until there were only 300 – so when they won the victory, everybody would know Who had given them the day.
And there’s another aspect, just as important, that our apostle is bringing to our ears: God’s doctrine of election. John Wesley taught that God looks down the corridors of time to see who will choose Jesus and then He selects those to save. Here we see yet again how wrong he and his disciples are. Paul has already built the case of our depravity and inability to seek after God (chapter 3). Here he shows us that He chose the younger to rule before either was born, so that nobody could deny His hand in making this determination. Many passages tell us that God is jealous of His name, will not share His glory, will do what He declares. This one short passage is in complete agreement with those others – He elects whoever He wanted to, without regard for anything the elect may end up doing of their own volition. This order of brothers was turned on its head so Rebekah and all Israel would know YHWH rules!