The Haftarah for parashat Toldot begins: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Mal. 1:1-3; cp. Rom. 9:9-13). Some people may find God’s sovereign choice objectionable, though we know there is no unrighteousness in God’s decrees and ways (Deut. 32:4; Psalm 18:30; James 1:17, etc.). Indeed Yeshua likewise told his followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go forth and bear fruit…” (John 15:16).
Religious pride recoils at these words, thinking, “I don’t want to be chosen by God; I want to be in control; I want to choose God first!” The ego seeks some reason for revelation, some merit that commends the self to God. It’s hidden assumption is, “thank you, God, that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). The choice of God is therefore scandalous because it is based on God’s love, not our own (1 John 4:19). We were spiritually reborn, not as the result of anything in the realm of nature, nor even through our personal decision, but solely on account of God’s sovereign prerogative (John 1:13). This is the message of the choice of Jacob over Esau in our Torah portion this week.
Regarding this the New Testament comments: “Though they (i.e., Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might stand , not because of works but because of the One who calls, Rebekah was told, “the older will serve the younger” (Rom. 9:11-12). Again, the carnal ego looks for reasons that God might choose someone, looking for merit or considering their worldly potential, though it is idolatrous to elevate the self this way. “Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of Hosts” (Zech. 4:6). We don’t seek to please God so that we can be chosen; we are chosen so that we can seek to please him… God’s grace and love for us is always the starting point: “Lord, teach us to pray,” that is, choose words for us, the groaning of your Spirit, in accordance with your perfect will…
Over the years I have repeatedly affirmed the “salvation is of the LORD” (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה), and therefore we are not saved “by works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) that we have done, but solely on account of the mercy given to us in God our Savior (אֱלהִים מוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; Titus 3:4-5). Grace excludes all boasting (Eph. 2:9; Rom. 4:4). We believe that God justifies the ungodly (helpless) by trusting in his heart of compassion (Rom. 4:1-8). God loves you with “an everlasting love” (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws you in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His faithful love and kindness). As it is written: “I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me” (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated “I draw you” comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to “seize” or “drag away” (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (to express the same idea). As Yeshua said, “No one is able to come to me unless he is “dragged away” by the Father (John 6:44). God’s chesed seizes us, scandalizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior… Spiritual rebirth is a divine act, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). In everything – including human reason itself – the LORD God Almighty is preeminent. God loves all people – it is his nature to love – but not everyone responds to God’s love, and therefore “many are called, but few chosen.” Dear friend, if God has chosen you to be in covenant with him, then you are indeed one of the “chosen people.”
Therefore may you affirm the great benediction given in our Scriptures: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Adonai, Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Yeshua the Messiah, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…” (Eph. 1:3-8).
It is the fruit of his Spirit, not the fruit of our own that matters (Gal. 5:22-23). As Yeshua said, “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). We are God’s workmanship, created in the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are able to live for God through the agency of His love and sustaining grace, all for the sake of the glory of His Name. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).