Romans 9:1-29

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 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. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 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.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”

Observation

  • Paul deeply desired that the nation of Israel would be saved.
  • Paul was willing to go to hell in the place those of Israel who were cut off from Christ.
  • Paul had a great sorrow that there were those, who were children of Israel, and were cut off from God.
  • The Israelites were Paul’s kinsmen biologically.
  • Adoption, glory, covenants, the giving of the law, worship, promises, patriarchs all belong to the Israelites.
  • Christ was biologically an Israelite.
  • Christ is God.
  • Christ is God over all.
  • Christ is blessed forever.
  • God’s promise has not failed.
  • Not everyone who is a descendant of Israel biologically belongs to Israel.
  • Not everyone who is an off spring of Abraham is child of Abraham.
  • Abraham had two sons yet only through Isaac were the offspring of Abraham.
  • Biology does not determine who the children of God are.
  • The children of promise are the offspring of God.
  • God’s promise was a son through Sarah.
  • Rebekah had two sons through Isaac. They were Jacob and Esau.
  • God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born.
  • God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not based on anything either of them did.
  • God chose Jacob over Esau before either one had a chance to do anything, good or bad.
  • God chose Jacob over Esau so that God’s purpose of election would continue.
  • God chose Jacob over Esau because of God.
  • God told Rebekah He loved Jacob but hated Esau.
  • God told Rebekah Esau would serve Jacob.
  • There is no injustice in God.
  • God chooses to whom He will grant mercy.
  • God does not need to explain to us why He chooses as He does.
  • God will have compassion of whomever He chooses.
  • Being chosen by God does not depend on anything we do.
  • Being chosen by God does not depend on anything we desire.
  • Being chosen by God depends on God.
  • God is the one who has mercy.
  • Pharaoh was raised up to show the power of God.
  • Pharaoh was raised up so that God’s name would be proclaimed throughout the earth.
  • God shows mercy on whomever He decides to show mercy.
  • God hardens whomever He decides to harden.
  • The fact that God chooses does not seem fair to us. God should not find fault in us if He is the one who decides who is chosen and who is not.
  • We have no right to talk back to God.
  • God as maker of heaven and earth has the right to make us what He chooses.
  • We have no right to ask God why He made us the way He made us.
  • If God, wanting to demonstrate His wrath and power, made us the object of His wrath and created us simply to destroy us, He would be well within His rights.
  • God has endured us with much patience.
  • If God, wanting to demonstrate the richness of His glory, made us the objects and mercy and created us for glory, He would be well within His rights.
  • God has called from both Jews and Gentiles.
  • The concept of elect was stated in the Old Testament.
  • An example of the concept of election is in Hosea.
  • God will call people His when they were not called His people.
  • God will love those who were not loved.
  • Where it is said “You are not my people” God will make them His sons.
  • Another example of the concept of election is in Isaiah
  • According to Isaiah not all of the Israelite will be saved.
  • There will be a lot of Israelites.
  • God will carry out His sentence upon the earth.
  • God will carry out His sentence upon the earth without delay.
  • If God had not shown mercy to some, we would be like Sodom.
  • If God had not shown mercy to some, we would become like Gomorrah.

Interpretation

In this chapter Paul address head on two objections that occurred commonly. The first is, if God promised Abraham his descendants would be saved, and only some and not all are saved, how can we trust the promise that we will receive glory beyond our imagination? In other words, since it appears God reneged on one promise, how can we be sure He won’t change His mind again? Second, since God is a just God and He predestines some to be conformed to the glory of Christ and not others, how is that just? We must admit on the face of it, they both seem to be valid questions. Since God’s promise came through Abraham and not all of his descendants were saved, one might come to the conclusion that either we cannot rely on God’s promises or Jesus was not the Christ. After all, many who knew the law and the prophets very well, rejected Jesus as the Christ.

Paul knew those Jews who were lost were lost by the providence of God. But that did not keep Him from grieving over their being lost. The Jews long since disavowed Paul but even so his concern and love for them did not waiver.

The Jews were in the line of the fathers of the faith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, as well as the prophets who had delivered the word of God. Additionally, it is from this line that Jesus was born. By saying Jesus was born of the race of Jews, “according to the flesh,” Paul is declaring both Jesus humanity and His divinity. The words, “according to the flesh,” imply that there was something else. Paul connects the two together by declaring that Jesus was descended from the Jew’s according to the flesh and is blessed by God forever.

Paul declares that the word of God has not failed. Not every descendant of Abraham was a recipient of the promise. As obvious examples of this Paul points out that Ishmael was not a recipient but Isaac was. Esau was not a recipient, Jacob was. If Isaac was the son of promise, and not Ishmael, since both were Abraham’s sons, it must be that all biological sons are not to be regarded as the seed, but that the promise is specially fulfilled only in some. It does not belong commonly and equally to all sons. Some might argue that Ishmael and Isaac were not on equal footing since one was the son of a handmaiden and the other the son of the wife. So Paul also points out Esau and Jacob who not only had the same father and mother, they were twins. In fact Esau was on stronger footing since he was the first born. Yet it was Jacob who was chosen.

Therefore, it is clear from the very beginning that even while the promise was to Abraham and his descendants, not every descendant was to be included in the promise. God chose Abraham out of all the people in the world and not others. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael God chose Jacob and not Esau. Why did God choose one over the other? Paul gives the reason very clearly. So “that God’s purpose of election might continue.” It does not depend on our works anything we have done or will do. But it depends on the will of God.

Paul illustrates the providential will of God will be fulfilled, by pointing out God’s election occurred before either Jacob or Esau had been born. God’s election occurred before either one had an opportunity to do good or evil. God loved Jacob and hated Esau. There is a line of reasoning that goes like this. Since God knows all things He knows who will accept Him and who will not. God looked down the corridors of time and saw that Jacob would accept Him and Esau would not. That sounds very reasonable except for one very important thing. That is not what the scriptures say. God chose Jacob “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” and it does not depend on “human will or exertion.” (v16) That is it does not depend on what we want any more than our works. It depends on the grace of God.

In stating that God chooses to save some and not others, Paul run head long in to obvious objection, if God chooses some and not others how can he condemn those he did not choose? How is it just that we are condemned for something we had no choice in? We want to scream THAT’S NOT FAIR! We question the justice of God. We question the righteousness of God. I find it interesting the Paul does not give a direct answer to this question.

Paul replies by reminding us who God is. God is the creator of all things. We do not get a direct answer to the question, “Why are we still condemned when it is all up the God and we have no say?” Instead we get the same answer Job got when Job asked God why he was suffering. Job had lived a righteous life and from a human stand point did not deserve any of what he suffered. God’s response was who are you to question Me? We have no right to demand an answer from God. Paul reminds us that as the creator God has the right to make us anyway He desires. Paul does not say God makes some for destruction and some for glory. But he says that God has the right to make some for destruction and others for glory. Does God actually make some for destruction? It is evident from this section of scripture and from Job we have no right to the answer. We do not even have a right to ask the question. But we do know that God has the right to exercise His will.

Application

Paul grieved that many Jews were to be lost. Even though he fully understood that for some unknown reason that was God’s will. Therefore we understand that our obedience to God’s providential will does not prevent us from grieving at the destruction of those who are lost. Even though they are doomed because of God’s just judgment.

In writing the interpretation I did a lot of research. While it is clear that Paul makes no apologies for God’s sovereign election. Not everyone agrees with the doctrine of election or predestination. In fact, I use to be member of the Church of the Nazarene. I still have many friends who are in that denomination. I met my wife at a Nazarene College. My college roommate is a pastor of a Nazarene Church in Seattle. My roots run deep in the Wesleyan/Arminianism tradition. It was not until I changed my approach to reading the scripture that I had to reject what I had been taught from childhood.

I decided that I was going to accept what the scriptures said regardless whether or not I liked it. That changed my doctrinal stance. It was not easy and I fought it all the way. But eventually I had no choice. If I were to believe the word of God was true I had to accept predestination was true. This chapter is one of the reasons.

In writing the interpretation section I searched out several Arminian commentators. Even though I was trained in Arminian theology and understood it, I did not what to misrepresent the word of God. The Arminian understanding is this; Paul is referring only to nations not individuals. There is a corporate election and predestination not an individual one. This reading seems stranded to me. It appeared that a prejudice that predestination could not be true was assumed. Therefore this chapter has to refer to something else other than God’s sovereign election.

The primary reason this seemed stranded is because each example Paul uses involves individuals not nations or groups of people. One individual is chosen and the other rejected. In re-reading the Arminian view a couple of thoughts kept reoccurring in nearly every article or book. The thought was this: this is a very complicated chapter. The second thought was the reformed view oversimplifies the chapter. For me, both of these ideas were warning signs of probable error.

I will freely admit that my basic approach to scripture is this: Most of our assumptions are correct. However, some of our assumptions are wrong. We just do not know which ones are wrong because if we did we would change them. Secondly, the scripture is mostly simple and clear. Scripture becomes complex when it bumps up against an incorrect assumption and we refuse to change that assumption. Therefore, if I can make a passage simple to understand by changing my assumptions, I will change my assumptions.

Rather than jumping through hoops trying to make this chapter fit my Arminian assumptions I changed my assumptions to fit the clearest, simplest, plainest meaning of the text. I hope you will too. Because the core reason we reject God predestinating grace is we deny His Lordship over us.

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