As we move into Chapters Nine, Ten and Eleven, we will watch Paul deal with the question of Israel, as it relates to this glorious reality of Christ being equally afforded to Jew and Gentiles, but also their shared opportunity to share this with the world.
To be honest, these chapters can be a bit difficult and I’m not convinced I fully understand all that is happening nor that I am the best to explain it. As with any of my posts, simply use it as a means to drive you into thought and study of the scriptures.
Recall from Chapter Two that whether it were a Jew, who was given the law, or a Gentile, who just naturally did the same things – neither group could sufficiently merit righteousness to God’s standard. Furthermore, if the circumcision (Jews) break the law but the uncircumcision (Gentiles) do by nature the things of the law, then does it give circumcision any ground to stand on, where one’s righteousness is concerned? No – never has and never will. As Paul wrote of Abraham in Romans 4, he was justified by faith PRIOR to his circumcision.
Paul then rolls into chapter 3 with a question – if this is the case, (that the law and physical circumcision do not give them a leg up on the Gentiles) then what advantage is there to being a Jew? What’s the point? Paul reminds them quickly that the Jew has the advantage in every way because unto them were committed the Oracles of God.
The Oracles of God are the SPOKEN words of God. It is the plan, purpose and message of God, ultimately personified in the Word of God Himself, Jesus Christ. We should distinguish the fact that Oracles are not tables of stone. Israel was not given the duty of bearing scrolls or tablets, which are a WRITTEN record. This by no means diminishes the scrolls or tablets (scriptures), for they thoroughly reflect their Author and are the means by which we can be pointed to the Author Himself (John 5:39). But, this wasn’t the duty of Israel – they were to be proclaiming a message to the world, which was to ultimately be fulfilled in their testifying of the Oracle of God Himself, Jesus Christ.
Romans 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 9:2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 9:5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul opens the chapter by affirming the truthfulness of his burden for his people after the flesh (Israel). Remember, Paul was a citizen of Israel (which he describes in Philippians 3 and Romans 11). Paul, having come into the Body of Christ by faith, did not lose his citizenship in Israel no more than you or I, having come into the Body of Christ, lose our citizenship in the United States (or, whatever country you might be a citizen of).
Paul was burdened deeply for his kinsmen – so much so, that if it were possible, Paul says, he would be accursed from Christ if it meant the entirety of his kinsmen would be saved. A “burden for the lost” is not something that you can organically produce. We do not wake up each day “trying to be burdened.” Someone who is in-tune with God and the leading of His Spirit will naturally exhibit a burden because no one is more burdened for creation than the Creator Himself. The Spirit will also help to give that burden focus. Instead of haphazardly attempting to open the world’s eyes to the wonderful grace of Jesus, the Spirit, who is already at work, will open your eyes to the burden HE HAS FOR YOU.
He goes on to describe what is special about Israel in verses 4 and 5, which culminated in the coming of Christ.
Romans 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9:9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 9:10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Now, he begins to qualify what Israel is. He makes the statement that not all Israel are of Israel. Paul goes back to Abraham and demonstrates that there are two people who can claim Abraham as their father – Ishmael and Isaac. However, it is through Isaac that the blessing of God would cascade. Note in Galatians 4:
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 4:22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Ishmael is called the son of the BONDwoman (slave), while Isaac was the son of the FREEwoman. Ishmael is likewise referred to as the child of the FLESH, while Isaac, as the opposite, is the child of the Spirit (the child of promise, of faith).
Paul wants them to know that there may be some of Israel who claim to be of Israel who are not really of Israel, just like someone can claim Abraham to be their father, but yet it is only through Isaac that the proper seed is called.
Paul takes it a step further and demonstrates this to be true of Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau. In verse 11, Paul says that God made a clear choice, before either of them were born, that the elder would serve the younger. God had already decided that Jacob would be the next step in the passing of the blessing. Paul records that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau.
To love is to provide.
To hate is to not provide.
Ignore all of the emotional nonsense we attach to these words in modern culture. It is expressing nothing more than God choosing to make provision (the blessing) through Jacob and not through Esau. This was a divine choice of God and had nothing to do with how good or bad Jacob or Esau was – for as Paul records, before they had a chance to do good or evil, God had already determined His course.
Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 9:15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 9:18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Paul reaffirms that this provision of God is not a matter of God being unrighteous. God did not make the choice through unrighteous means, but based on the pure fact that He is God. As God said to Moses, He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on the same. It isn’t a matter of the person who desires the mercy and compassion; it isn’t a matter of the person who runs after His mercy like running for a prize, but rather it is of God’s own volition that He shows mercy and compassion upon those He will.
Pharaoh serves as a perfect example of this reality. Pharaoh was raised up by God to be the vehicle by which God would manifest His power. Pharaoh had a chance to respond favorably to God’s power and after a few plagues fell, Pharaoh still refused and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and continued to exercise His power so that His name would be known throughout the earth.
Paul is describing the rightful choices of God to demonstrate God’s choice about Israel and the blessing that would pass through them.
Romans 9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 9:22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
Paul anticipates that some may conclude that it would be improper for God to find fault with anyone if God’s will was for these things to happen in the first place. However, Paul quickly swats down that kind of thinking. Paul asks if it is the creation that questions its Creator? Does the pot demand of the Potter why it was made such? Does not the Potter determine how the vessel is to be fashioned and for what purpose? Of course he does.
Romans 9:23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 9:24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
What if God endured, with much longsuffering, these vessels of wrath in order to make known the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy? And, what if these vessels of mercy are not limited to just Jews, but also of the Gentiles? What if there were specific instances where God set a course in action in order to bring mercy to the greater whole? I think these are fair questions and these seem to echo what Paul is describing in Chapter Nine thus far.
Romans 9:25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. 9:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. 9:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 9:28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. 9:29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
Paul goes on to quote the Old Testament, from Hosea and Isaiah, demonstrating how that God was always poised to call out a people for His name – even a people who were formerly not His people. And, even though, as Isaiah said, all of Israel was numbered as the sands of the sea, yet there remained a remnant, that had this remnant not existed, Israel would have suffered the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah.
There were Gentiles, who were no people, yet became His people and there was a remnant of Jews, upon whom the favor of God was found. (This favor, by the way, was by faith). This is the remnant according to the election of grace that Paul mentions in Chapter Eleven. But, why did the nation of Israel at large not fulfill their intended duty as a vessel of mercy?
Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 9:31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Israel at large did not attain unto the very righteousness they were trying to attain because they did not seek that righteousness by faith but as it were by the works of the law. For those who would suggest that Jews were justified by works, let these verses correct that thinking. The righteousness of God is never a matter of one’s performance, but is a matter of faith, and faith alone.
Here we have this ONE vessel of mercy being comprised of Jew and Gentile, equally. The people who were no people and the remnant of Israel, both of faith, have been fashioned together, as a people. This seems to be a new nation that God has formed, which we’ll see more of towards the end of Chapter Ten.
Our story continues…