In this text of Romans 9:13 Paul uses this as support for his discussion on the mystery of Israel in chapters 9-11. But this part of the text of Scripture is to serve as a comfort for the Church. They are reminded that they were chosen not because of their works but because God has had mercy. This text is a reference to Malachi 1 where God is telling Israel of his love for them and he has to remind them that he chose them over Esau:Mal 1:1 The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. Mal 1:2 “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 Mal 1:3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
What was special about Jacob over Esau? Nothing. This is a comfort to Israel, they are chosen because of God’s free electing love not because of something have done or are doing. They are the seed of Jacob while Edom (the seed of Esau) is rejected.
We need to understand a couple of things, first that God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham. This promise was an outward symbol or figure of a “better inheritance”. And God had given it to Abraham’s posterity for a possession so that He might there collect them together as a peculiar people unto Himself. And that He might there erect a sanctuary of His presence to dwell among His people. This is in the background of the mind of Malachi as he writes this oracle from the Lord. In the prophet’s mind, Canaan is to be a sacred habitation of God and his people.
Esau of course was deprived of the promised land. His posterity would never inherit the promised land while those of Jacob would. Esau who was deprived of this land was described as hated by God because he was rejected by God from the elect family. It is this family, holy and elect, that the love of God perpetually rests.
Back to Romans 9. Paul writes that the free love of God was shown in his election of Jacob over Esau. Jacob who was not yet born, was appointed, ordained and chosen to enjoy an inheritance that he had never deserved. Not only did he not deserve it, as if he were neutral, but in spite of his demerit, he was blessed by God. This inheritance for Jacob was not received by his works, as if he could earn it because he was fallen. All his efforts would be tarnished by sin and therefore unworthy outside of a mediator. Nor was this blessing given to Jacob because of works he would do outside of life, as in a sort of after life. That is why Paul makes note that this was done (v 11) before either had done something good or bad. The difference between Jacob and Esau was not a work that either had done to earn or lose it but because it was the will of God. It was the will of Him who calls.