Something has been made very clear to me during my reading and study of Biblical Theology:
A denial of particular election is a denial of God’s grace in the story of redemption.
After God created all things “good” and man “very good” – man subverted the goodness by wanting to be like God in the possession and determining of truth. “Did God really say…?” became the door into the house of idolatry. The Word of God was no longer the standard of self-evident truth, but had been reduced to the status of the word of the creature. From that point forward, truth would be tested by human standards instead of God’s. Judgment came upon man and earth, but the story does not end there.
God has a plan; a plan of redemption and restoration (consummation) for both man and earth. This plan of ultimate salvation, for a Christian theist, is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But before we get to the Messiah, history takes its course. God begins His work, showing His commitment to His creation. He does not scrap it, though He was perfectly justified to do so. Instead, as Creator, He commits Himself to displaying His glory through sovereign actions in redemption and restoration.
Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-2). God chooses Abel’s offering over that of Cain’s (Gen 4:3-5); but we are never told why. Speculation from other passages like Hebrews 11:4, 1 John 3:12, and Jude v.11 can lend a hand as for a “reason,” but the fact is the Scripture never tells us why God liked Abel’s offering over that of Cain’s. This is the first sign we see of God’s sovereign choice.
Cain becomes angry to the point of murder and kills his brother (Gen 4:8). God judges Cain by cursing him and his line of descendents (Gen 4:11, 17-24), and eventually destroys them in the coming flood. Their wickedness and violence would be wiped out (Gen 6:5,11). So now with Abel dead and Cain cursed, where is hope found in this story of redemption?
God “appoints” Seth (Gen 4:25) as an offspring to Adam and Eve (Seth means “he appointed”); and his line began to “call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). [Note the connecting themes of calling on the name of the LORD with God keeping a remnant for Himself for redemption and salvation in Joel 2:32.]
Seth is now the legitimate blessed line of Adam. Note the contrasting genealogies of Cain and Seth. Cain’s is not linked to Adam and ends with a cry of violence (Gen 4:23-24). Seth’s, on the other hand, begins with Adam, and flows down to a man named Noah. God establishes a particular line to bless. Note that Adam had “fathered other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:4); as did Seth (Gen 5:7) and each of the proceeding names down the line (Gen 5:10,13,16,19,22,26,30). But even with all these sons and daughters, there was a particular line of blessing from Adam, to Seth, down to Noah. These are explicit signs of particular election based upon the blessing and grace of God and not because of anything found in man.
We see here two particular lines of people. One line is cursed through Cain and another is blessed through Seth. Genealogies matter (note Luke 3:38).
So we have come to Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen 6:8). Another way to say this is: “God liked him.” Only after this declaration of God, this stamp of blessing, do we read that Noah “was a righteous man” who “walked with God” (Gen 6:9). Certainly this identity of Noah is based solely on God’s own choosing of the blessed line; the line of grace. Remember, he came particularly down the line from Seth, the “appointed one.” It was nothing in Noah that earned God’s grace and blessing. This was God’s plan of redemption through a particular people in action.
So the flood comes and wipes out mankind and other living creatures (Gen 7). Note that this is the end of the line of Cain. They have been destroyed. Their violence is gone. Now only the line of Seth remains, through Noah. God’s revelation of redemption continues. But even after the flood, the hearts of men (this includes Noah’s) have not changed (Gen 8:21). They are still evil. God yet still restates the Adamic order (Gen 9:1-3), and establishes a covenant with both man and creation (Gen 9:8-17). It is forever clear that God will save and restore a people and He will save and restore the earth He created. He is committed.
A new race of people begins (Gen 9:18-19), but the evils of men’s hearts are revealed yet again. Like a coed in college, Noah gets drunk, takes off his clothes, and passes out (Gen 9:21). His son Ham sees his dad and tells his brothers about him (perhaps jokingly and for shame, Gen 9:22). And what follows is yet another separation of curse and blessing. Ham and his line is cursed, but Shem is blessed (Gen 9:24-27).
Again, we see here two particular lines of people. One line is cursed through Ham and another is blessed through Shem. Genealogies matter (now note Luke 3:36).
And so we see contrasting lines of people. Ham’s cursed line (Gen 10:6-20), which includes those who settled in Babel (Gen 10:10); is contrasted with the blessed line of Shem (Gen 11:10-26), which leads us to none other than Terah, the father of Abram (Gen 11:26).
This is God’s particular election, based solely upon His grace and the story of redemption He is authoring.
Sidenote: The name Shem means, “name.” God is writing this story with a “name.” But what do we see with the line of Ham? Some end up in Babel and they begin to build a great city. In this great city they want to build a tower “with its top in the heavens.” And why do they want to do all of this? To “make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth,” (Gen 11:4). Interestingly, the Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB) translates this text: “let us make a shem, otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of kol HaAretz.”
So here we have the two lines of people. The people of the curse want to make a name (“shem”) for themselves and not be dispersed, while the people of God’s blessing have a name through Shem, the blessed son of Noah.
God’s curse and judgment upon the line of Ham prevails, and not only do they fail to make a name for themselves, “the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth,” (Gen 11:8).
And so through Adam-Seth-Noah-Shem we come to Abram, son of Terah. Again, this is a particular election of a particular people for a particular redemption. All of those from Shem to Terah had other sons (see Gen 11:10-26); but it was Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, to Abram who received the blessing. Again: look familiar (Luke 3:34-36)?
This is God’s doing. This is God’s choosing. This is God’s story of redemption.
And so God calls Abram, and not coincidentally from the previous point, God declares “…I will bless you and make your name great…” (Gen 12:2). [Note: The OJB translates this: “…I will bless thee, and make thy shem great…”].
Before this calling, Abram was a pagan, and it is highly probable that he was a worshiper of the moon-god ‘sin’ in the land of Ur (Joshua 24:2). So there was nothing in Abram that made God choose him. So the only choice was God’s free choice to carry on His plan of redemption through this one man, Abram. Out of all others. Particular election. He could have chosen Lot, but He didn’t. And Lot, through incest, became the father of the Moabites and Ammonites.
There are many factors that show evermore that this redemption is the work of God. The story of Abraham is set against a background of impossibilities: his age (75 at the time of the call), Sarah’s age (10 years younger than Abraham), the Promised Land filled with Canaanites (descendents of Ham, by the way), and Abraham trying to pimp out his wife out not once, but twice (Gen 12:11-20; 20:1-18).
Yet still, God makes His covenant with Abraham unilaterally (Gen 15:17; 17:3-8): Abraham will have many descendants, his people will possess the Promised Land, God will be their God, and through him all nations will be blessed (also Gen 12:1-3). For Paul, this is the Gospel (Gal 3:8). It is clear that against the backdrop of impossibilities in the above paragraph, this will be a supernatural elective work of God, not man.
Abraham and Sarah don’t believe in full. They try to help God out and Abraham sleeps with Hagar; begetting Ishmael (Gen 16:1-16). There you go God, your promise is fulfilled!
Nope. Remember. This is God’s work, not man’s. Abraham deserves none of this, nor can he change or force God’s plan. His sins against the plan of God are multiple; but God’s grace and plan of redemption continues. God has chosen Abraham. He is blessed.
Twenty-five years after the call, Isaac, the promised son, is born. Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90 (Gen 17:17; 21:2-3). All obstacles have been overcome. Isaac is a gift of grace.
A key point here is Abraham’s faulty faith; and it reminds us that it is not our faith that saves us, but the object of that faith that saves us. God accounts Abraham as righteous (justified) only on that basis of his faith in Him (Gen 15:6). Again, this is the Gospel (Gal 3:9); and those with faith are blessed by God; not cursed. This is God’s doing.
Abraham dies, and God continues his electing grace by blessing Isaac, (Gen 25:11). Of all the sons of Abraham, whether by Sarah, Hagar, or Keturah (Gen 25:1-2), it was Isaac who God had chosen. Isaac marries, and Rebekah is pregnant with twins.
What is God to do now? There are two sons in the womb. Certainly the older will be the chosen one; or perhaps God will wait and see which one of Jacob and Esau live a good enough life to bless and carry on His plan of redemption.
Neither of those two things happen.
In one of the most clear and blatant examples of God’s elective grace, the LORD tells Rebekah, “the older shall serve the younger.” Paul expounds upon this act of electing grace in Romans 9:10-13.
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”“In order that God’s purpose in election might continue…”
What is that purpose? It is to show God’s sovereignty in the story of redemption.
“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring…so then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy,” (Rom 9:8,16).
It is clear that Jacob had no merit of his own, for he was a deceiver and cunning in his behavior to receive the blessing from Isaac (Gen 27). But this is what God wanted. This is God’s story. Jacob was his man for blessing. By grace.
The story of Jacob again threatens the promises of God. But God remains with Jacob through it all. He has promised Jacob the gifts of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 28:3,13-15), and no matter of Labanic trickery will stop the fulfillment (Gen 29-31). And Jacob knew that only God’s promise would save him from his brother Esau (Gen 32:9-12).
Jacob struggles with God (Gen 32:22-23) and is later renamed Israel (Gen 35:9-15); a new name (recall Shem and Abraham). Given by God. Jacob goes from cunning deceiver to covenant patriarch (Gen 35:11-12), all by the grace of God. This is God’s story of redemption. The living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt 22:32).
Abraham is chosen over Lot. Isaac of Sarah is blessed over Ishmael of Hagar. Jacob is blessed over Esau. The non-elect are given some advantages (note how Lot's and Esau's descenents are protected in Deut 2:4-5,9,19), but they still end up in conflict with the elected group, and not all receive blessing. As Paul tells us, even within Israel not all Israel is Israel. Not all are elect (Rom 9:6). There is a national election, and there is an election unto blessing and salvation.
This is God’s story of redemption.
Election continues with Joseph (Gen 37-50), the son of Rachel sold into slavery by his brothers. What a horrific thing. But it is exactly what God wanted. It was God’s design (Gen 45:5-8). God’s remnant would be kept. Man’s evil was God’s good (Gen 50:20).
Why didn’t God just send rain and crops for the people during the famine? We learn why in Exodus. God still had a story to write.
But before we get there, Jacob blesses his sons, two of which are adopted from Joseph (Gen 48:5). Jacob’s sons are only alive because of Joseph in Egypt; and the son of note for Jacob now is a son of election and blessing. His name is Judah.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples,” (Gen 49:10).
This blessed line of Judah gives rise to a kingdom ruled by someone in the same blessed line. His name is David, and his line rules Judah. This while some 13 ruling families rule Israel, which itself ceases to exist in 722BC. But the scepter shall not depart from Judah(!); and it is the blessed line of Judah and David that ends at Jesus of Nazareth. Genealogies matter (Luke 3:23-33).
This is God’s Sovereignty in Particular Election in the Story of Redemption.
And it continues today:
“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace,” (Rom 11:5-6).
Let us rid ourselves of all man-centered idolatrous presuppositions and traditions, including those that say particular election is not how God works. Instead, let us adopt what the Scriptures actually teach.
Let us never rob God of His glory in His acts of sovereign grace in the story of redemption. This is God’s story to author, not ours.