In turning over today to look at Romans chapter 9, we enter a new section in Paul’s communication. Back at the beginning of this series we spoke of an oft-used simple outline of Romans with five “S” words: Sin, Salvation, Sanctification, Sovereignty, Service. This chapter begins the “Sovereignty” section as Paul presents Israel’s past (chapter 9), present (chapter 10) and future (chapter 11).
These three chapters are among the more difficult passages of Scripture. There is a tremendous amount of detail in them and some complicated reasoning involving many Old Testament texts – a total of 14 just in this 9th chapter.
Paul begins the chapter by expressing his anguish over the nation of Israel and the people of his own race …
9:1 – I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
The sad truth was that the bulk of the nation of Israel had already rejected Christ as Messiah and the gospel message as the channel of truth through which God was working through the ages. This grieved Paul deeply. He acknowledged that Israel had every advantage as God’s chosen and special people.
This raises the difficult question as to how this could possibly be! It would appear that God’s choosing of Israel wasn’t so great, or else the rejection of Christ by the majority of Israel proved that Paul’s gospel message was invalid.
But the fact of the matter is that quite honestly, most of the time in Israel’s history there was a minority who truly believed. Sometimes it was a small remnant. Paul makes the point that being truly an Israelite in the fullest sense meant more than just mere genetics and physical descent, there was also the matter of trusting personally in God’s promise and plan …
9:6 – It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
Let me illustrate it with a story. In my extended family there was a situation where a particular individual was absolutely certain that he was going to be included in what he believed (far beyond factual reality) would be a large estate inheritance. By blood relationship he stood to be in line for this remembrance. However, years and years had gone by with little to no personal effort for connection and relationship with the older generation. When the time came for the execution of the will of the deceased, he was not remembered. Simple genetics was not enough; there was the need for a true relationship.
And so it was with the nation of Israel. Throughout its history, God had chosen one over another to be the line through which his redemptive plan would eventuate. God is God. And He can choose to work through whomever he desires.
So the rest of this chapter rehearses a large swath of Jewish history, recalling both God’s sovereign plan along with accounts of either faithfulness or faithlessness among the nation. Ultimately, God’s plan moved on to include the gentiles.
9:9 – For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.
28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”
29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”
30 – What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”