9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed.NIV The Jewish nation as a whole did not respond to the gospel, even though God’s gifts had made them better prepared than any other nation to receive Christ. On the surface, the covenants and promises seem not to have accomplished their purpose, but this does not mean that God’s word had failed. Human beings failed.
Earlier in this letter, Paul clarified that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel—that is, not all Jews are part of spiritual Israel (see 2:28-29; 11:5-6; Galatians 3:7-9). Israel’s history demonstrates that God was fulfilling his promises, apart from human failures and misunderstandings.
Paul illustrates this from three Old Testament events: (1) verses 7-9, the lineage passing from Abraham to Isaac, rather than Ishmael (see Genesis 16-21); (2) verses 10-16, the lineage passing from Isaac to Jacob, rather than Esau (see Genesis 25-28); (3) verses 17-18, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (see Exodus 7-12)
- I. HISTORY HAS MEANING BECAUSE GOD HAS A PURPOSE
God has a purpose. God has always had a purpose. What is the purpose? To build from alienated humanity a group of people who would be His own. He chose in His purpose to make people His own people through Jesus Christ.
Man is a sinner. He can never be right with God on the basis of merit. He needs somebody else to take his place, to pay his sin-debt. God sent Jesus into the world for that purpose. Jesus lived perfectly. Never did He disappoint God. He was qualified to be the Savior of alienated men. Through His cross and, ultimately, His resurrection and glorification, He opened the way so that men could be reconciled to God.
9:7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.NIV Paul’s first illustration of God’s sovereign choice is Abraham and his children. Just being Abraham’s physical descendants did not guarantee an inheritance. The line of natural descent was not the same as the line of promise. Abraham had children by three different women (Isaac, by Sarah—see Genesis 21:1-7; Ishmael, by Hagar—see Genesis 16; and six sons by Keturah—see Genesis 25:1-4). But God made it clear that the line of promise would be through Isaac only: “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12 niv). God made a sovereign choice regarding who among Abraham’s physical descendants would carry the line of promise, the line that would result in the Messiah. God did not choose Isaac because he was better than his half brothers; the choice was made before Isaac was even born. Instead, it was simply God’s sovereign choice.
The Jews were chosen as special recipients and emissaries of God’s grace. Their opportunity to participate in that plan arrived with the coming of Christ. As John puts it, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:11-13 niv). That gracious opportunity to receive Christ and become a child of God is still producing offspring today!
9:8 Not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.NIV Paul repeats the statement of verse 7 in other words. The “children of promise” are the spiritual offspring of Abraham, including all true believers. It is not by being natural children, born in the line of Abraham and Isaac, that the Jews can be saved and considered God’s children and children of the promise (notice the distinction between “natural children” and “God’s children”). Instead, it is by believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
9:9 This is what the promise said.NRSV God made a promise to Abraham when he and Sarah were childless and very old. The promise said, “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son”NIV (see Genesis 18:10). Abraham believed this promise. As Paul has already explained in chapter 4, it was Abraham’s faith—his belief in God’s promise—that justified him before God. Abraham is a helpful model of faith in two ways: (1) he believed the specific promise that God gave to him and his descendants (Genesis 12:1-7); (2) more significant, he trusted in the God who keeps promises. Between Abraham and God there was an agreement, but there was also a personal relationship.
Trusting God will also push us beyond our comfort zone. Abraham trusted God when the covenant was made, but his trust grew when he packed his bags and traveled into the unknown. How often do you act simply out of trust that your action is what God wants you to do?
9:10 Rebekah’s children had one and the same father . . . Isaac.NIV Paul’s second illustration of God’s sovereign choice focuses on Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau. God chose to continue the line of blessing through the younger son, Jacob, rather than Esau (Genesis 25:23). This was quite unusual in the Hebrew culture, where the firstborn son was highly honored. In Abraham’s case, Isaac and Ishmael were sons of different women—each was a firstborn, so a choice had to be made. But Isaac and Rebekah were the parents of children over whom God had a sovereign purpose. Again, this had nothing to do with either son’s character, because the choice had already been made.
9:11 Before they had been born or had done anything good or bad.NRSV Jacob was not chosen because he was “better” than Esau; he was chosen not by works but by him [God] who callsNIV (see 9:12). Jacob’s future conduct does not even enter into the discussion because it was unrelated to God’s choice.
In order that God’s purpose in election might stand.NIV God’s sovereignty, not people’s works or character, is the basis for election. The Jews were proud of the fact that their lineage came from Isaac, whose mother was Sarah (Abraham’s legitimate wife), rather than from Ishmael, whose mother was Hagar (Sarah’s maidservant). Paul asserts that no one can claim to be chosen by God because of his or her heritage or good deeds. God freely chooses to save whomever he wills. The doctrine of election teaches that it is God’s sovereign choice to save us by his goodness and mercy, and not by our own merit.
The word election actually takes on a technical sense within the letter to the Romans. The fact of God’s choice was important to Paul, but the words he uses (eklektos, ekloge) are the natural expressions for “choice.” We find them in this letter in the following sequence: 8:33; 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 16:13. The doctrine of election emerges when we use the entire Bible as a source. But, assuming that the original readers did not have other Pauline letters to consult for corroboration, what would they have learned from this letter about the ways that God chooses?
- Once God chooses, no charges against that person will hold (8:33).
- God’s choices are not based on the character or actions of the one chosen, but on his own merciful purposes (9:11; 11:5).
- God’s chosen ones will be faithful, while others, with the same evidence, will turn away (11:7).
- God’s love for his original chosen ones (Israel) is based on his promises to the patriarchs (11:28).
- God’s choosing is personal and specific, not general (16:13).
Election is like receiving an invitation for a banquet that we know will be wonderful. But the invitation comes unearned. No friendship or effort has created an expectation that we ought to be on the invitation list. The choice to invite is purely the host’s. After all, it is his banquet. The invitation comes with the traditional R.S.V.P. God’s gracious invitation does request our response and attendance.
9:12 By him who calls.NIV When Paul uses call, the context often indicates that he also has response in mind (see 8:28ff.), emphasizing the effectiveness of the call. The source of the call is God, and the vehicle of the call is the gospel that sets into motion a life of faith. Salvation and sanctification make the call effective. Jesus explained the other side of this concept when he differentiated between the “called” (“those who hear”) and the “chosen” (“those who respond”) (Matthew 22:14).
She was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.”NRSV God told Rebekah, while the twin boys were still in her womb, that Esau (the elder twin) would serve Jacob. Esau himself did not serve Jacob, but Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, (did serve Jacob’s descendants, the Israelites (see 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 2 Kings 14:7).
Was it right for God to choose Jacob, the younger, to be over Esau? God chose Jacob to continue the family line of the faithful because he knew that Jacob was teachable. But he did not exclude Esau from knowing and loving him. We must remember what God is like: he is sovereign; he is not arbitrary; in all things he works for our good; he is trustworthy; he will save all who believe in him. When we understand these qualities of God, we will know that his choices are good even if we don’t understand all his reasons.
9:13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”NKJV These words refer to the nations of Israel and Edom rather than to the individual brothers (see Malachi 1:2-3). God chose Jacob to continue the family line of the faithful. Esau I have hated refers only to God choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau for continuing the line of promise. The choice of Jacob for such a great privilege made the rejection of Esau seem like hatred by comparison. God did not exclude Esau from knowing and loving him. God was not rejecting Esau’s eternal salvation; he was choosing Jacob to lead the nation. (Other such uses for hate and hatred are found in Luke 14:26 and John 12:25.)
Paul answers the concern voiced in verse 6 and shows that God’s Word has not failed. The Jews have simply misunderstood it. They missed the truth that God’s election never has anything to do with works of the law, rituals, even family or community ties. They misunderstood their own election as God’s people. They settled on enjoying the benefits of God’s promises, rather than fulfilling their role as emissaries for sharing God’s promises with the world. While we enjoy the gracious benefits of our salvation, we must not ignore the others whom God wants to reach through us.
- II. HISTORY HAS MEANING BECAUSE GOD IS MERCIFUL
God is merciful in the working of His purpose in the world. In 9:14 the apostle speaks of God’s mercy:
“What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” God is just in choosing Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, and men who are in Christ. For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God is merciful. He shows His mercy upon whomsoever He wills.
An illustration is given in Romans 9. It is a most interesting point that Paul makes. When Moses went into Pharaoh’s court and demanded that he let Israel go, Pharaoh would not agree. Even though he would say on occasions they could go, he would change his mind. Ten devas- tating plagues were brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. How was God merciful to Pha- raoh when He brought ten plagues upon him? The ten plagues were not the point. God was saying, “Pharaoh, I am working out a purpose in the world, and I want you to let My people go. I want your heart to be changed so that your heart will be in tune with My will.” Pharaoh said no. So God brought the first plague. Pharaoh changed his mind; he decided he would do God’s will. But when the plague was stayed, he said, “No, I will not.” God brought a second plague. The same thing happened. A third plague came. God was saying to Pharaoh after each of those plagues, “Pharaoh, why will you not repent? Why will you not change your mind? Why will you not bring your will into subjection to My will? Pha- raoh, you are not dealing with just another king. You are dealing with almighty God.” God was giving Pharaoh an opportunity to repent, but Pharaoh hardened his heart.
God did not make Pharaoh into a tyrant and then destroy him for being a tyrant. God had a will for Pharaoh, and Pharaoh said no to that will. The Bible says God hardened him. How did God harden Pharaoh? He hardened Pharaoh by making a demand of Pharaoh. The demand of God hardened Pharaoh. God did not make him rebel. Pharaoh chose to rebel. God had a will for Moses too. Moses said yes. The will of God softened one man and hardened another. It all depends on how a man responds to God’s will. The same thing is still happening. God has a will for you and me. We can exercise our freedom of choice. God is not going to force us to do His will. We choose. When we choose by saying yes or no to the will of God, we are either softened or hardened by His will. Paul is saying God declared His mercy through Pharaoh.
9:14 Is God unjust?NIV God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, not because of their character or their actions, but simply because that was his choice. “Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair?” we might ask. “Surely those Jews who are working so hard to follow all of God’s laws should be chosen. Isn’t it rather arbitrary of God to just choose some and reject others?”
Paul’s wording of the question in Greek expects a negative answer, which he emphatically supplies: Not at all!NIV If God gave anyone exactly what they deserved the results would be disastrous! Both Isaac and Jacob were scoundrels. God demonstrated unexpected grace when he chose these men in spite of their weaknesses and failures. That same grace is available to us in God’s offer of salvation. If we were to receive what we deserve, we would have no hope. We should come to God for mercy, not for justice.
9:15 He says to Moses. God is absolutely sovereign. He had explained to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”NRSV (see Exodus 33:19). We might still be tempted to say, “Doesn’t that seem a bit unfair?” But by asking such a question we are claiming a higher understanding of fairness than God himself. We must remember that God has no obligation to show mercy or compassion to any of us—not one of us deserves his slightest concern. For God to even choose anyone is evidence of his great mercy. These words of God reveal that he does show mercy and compassion, but they are by his sovereign choice.
We tend to read God’s statement to Moses (which was a response to Moses’ request to see God’s glory) as if it were an expression of God’s withholding mercy rather than a statement of his merciful generosity. In the context of this statement in Exodus, God was not justifying himself, but saying in effect, “I will have mercy on people you would not expect, and I will have compassion in ways that will surprise you, especially when I am compassionate with you!” No one can know the heart of a person in the way that God knows. No individual, court of law, or group can perfectly assess the righteousness of a person. So we must leave the choosing and judging to God.
9:16 It does not . . . depend on man’s desire or effort.NIV God chose Israel out of mercy, and he will keep his promises to them regardless of their works. God chose them, but they still held on to the belief that their strict adherence to the law was a condition for them to maintain their “chosen” status. Paul makes it clear that God’s mercy and compassion have nothing to do with what people want or try to achieve.
In working out His purpose, God chose Abraham out of all the men who lived in the world of that day. God chose Abraham to be the head of a nation through whom the Savior would come. Did God have the right to choose Abraham? Of course He did.
Of Abraham’s two sons, God chose Isaac to do this special work in the development of a nation that would produce the Savior. Of Isaac’s two boys, God chose Jacob. Through Jacob came those boys who became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
You will remember in your studies of the Old Testament that God changed the name of Jacob to Israel. That nation that developed through Jacob—the nation of Israel—God chose from all other na- tions to be the nation to bring the Savior into the world. Did God have the right to choose Israel? Out of all the nations that existed, did He have the right to choose Israel? Of course He did.
What about all the other nations? All the other nations were responsible to God to respond to the light that He gave them. Did God have the right to choose Israel to do a special work for Him?
In Romans 1 Paul spoke of those other nations. They did not have a written law like Israel, but God had given them an inner consciousness that they were not mere beasts. There is a longing for God within every man. God gave them the created world as a testimony of His existence. God expected them to accept that testimony and respond to Him according to the light they had.
God today chooses to accept men who are in Christ. Does God have that right? There might have been those in ancient Israel who said, “No, God does not have the right to limit who He will accept.” If He had the right to choose Abraham instead of other men, if He had the right to choose Isaac rather than Ishmael, if He had the right to choose Jacob over Esau, if He had the right to choose Israel over the other nations, why does He not have the right in His purpose to say, “Those who accept Christ upon the condition of obedient faith I will accept as my own people”? He does have that right. That is Paul’s argument in 9:6-13. He concludes that section by saying, “‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” He does not mean that He despised Esau; he just loved Jacob more. He chose to do a work through Jacob and Israel. God has that right in His purpose.
Does history have a meaning? Yes, first of all, God in history has a purpose.
9:17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh.NKJV For a third illustration of God’s sovereign choices, Paul recalls Pharaoh. Through Moses, God told 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”NIV (see Exodus 9:16). God had purposely placed that particular Pharaoh in that particular position at that particular time in history so God’s great power would be displayed (through the miracles witnessed in Egypt and by the incredible release of the Hebrew slaves), and so his name would be known over all the world. God put up with Pharaoh’s fickleness and defiance for quite some time, but all for the same purposes. Pharaoh became mired in his own rebelliousness. In fact, part of God’s judgment on Egypt was the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Eventually, those nations who heard what God had done for his people in Egypt greatly feared the Israelites and their God (see Joshua 2:10-11; 9:9; 1 Samuel 4:8).
|THE TRAGEDY OF A HARDENED HEART|
|God gave Pharaoh many opportunities to heed Moses’ warnings. But finally God seemed to say, “All right, Pharaoh, have it your way,” and Pharaoh’s heart became permanently hardened. Did God intentionally harden Pharaoh’s heart and overrule his free will? No, he simply confirmed that Pharaoh freely chose a life of resisting God. Similarly, after a lifetime of resisting God, we may find it impossible to turn to him. We can’t wait until just the right time before turning to God, because we won’t see it when it comes. The right time is now. If you continually ignore God’s voice, eventually you will be unable to hear it at all.|
9:18 God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.NIV Again someone might ask, “Doesn’t it seem a bit unfair that God would just use somebody to glorify himself?” But Paul answers the implicit question as before: God has mercy on whomever he chooses; and conversely, he hardens whom he wants to harden.NIV God’s judgment on Pharaoh’s great sinfulness was to “harden” his heart, to confirm his disobedience so that the consequences of his rebellion would be his own punishment. “Hardening” occurs when a person has a track record of disobedience and rebellion. From the human perspective, it is difficult to know exactly at what point God confirms our own resistance as hardness. Paul’s implicit warning is to avoid attitudes that lead to hardness of heart (see 1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 3:8).
STAGES IN THE HARDENING PROCESS
|Abandoning God’s guidance from his Word or believers||“I don’t read the Bible or attend church.”
“Who are they to tell me what to do?”
|Willfully disobeying God, based on desire for sin or unresolved conflict with God||“I know it’s wrong, but I want it.”
“Where was God when I needed him?”
“How could he do this to me?”
|Justifying sin as not really being sin, but as being essential for the person’s welfare||“I’m not sure this is really wrong.”
“I’m not as bad as others.”
“I’ll feel better.”
|Rejecting the Holy Spirit’s conviction||“I know I’ll feel guilty, but I don’t care.”
“I’ll just ignore it.”
|Becoming entrenched in the sinful behavior||“I’m in too deep to get out.”
“I might as well finish what I started.”
9:19 Why then does he still find fault?NRSV Paul probably had countless discussions with fellow Jews about these issues. So he can anticipate their questions. If God simply chooses those on whom he will have mercy and those whom he will harden, why would he punish those whom he has hardened? They were acting in accordance with his will, right? How can God hold people responsible for his choices—for who has resisted His will?NKJV
Occasionally these questions are asked by those who are genuinely seeking to understand God and his ways with people. Usually, however, they are used to excuse certain behavior—”It’s not my fault, God; it’s your fault!” In either case, as Paul explains, the answer is the same. We ourselves are to blame because we are guilty of trying to reject or resist God. And even this questioning of God is an attempt to bring him down to our level. It is impossible for finite beings to totally understand an infinite God and how he works. We do know, however, that we have made choices to do what we know is wrong, to disobey God. Therefore, we are guilty. In fact, our consciousness of blame is practically an admission of blame. We ask why God blames us, while inside our consciences are blaming us. We may sincerely wonder just how much freedom we have to act within God’s sovereignty, but there is little doubt that we use the freedom we do have to sin.
9:20 Who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?NRSV Paul has little patience for such questions, and he supposes that God doesn’t either. When it comes down to it, we cannot question God. He is absolutely sovereign. We are extremely privileged to have any relationship with him at all. His dealings with all the world are not to be judged by us. Quoting from Scripture, Paul illustrates the absurdity of such questions: “Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”NKJV This passage was taken from Isaiah 29:16 and/or Isaiah 45:9; in context it expresses God’s response to his rebellious people. Isaiah 64:8 conveys the correct attitude, “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (niv).
While God welcomes our sincere questions and concerns (see for example, John the Baptist in Matthew 11:1-6, and Thomas in John 20:24-29) and patiently answers us, he will not allow sinners to question his sovereignty. The creature has no right to sit in judgment on the Creator.
9:21 The potter. To further illustrate God’s sovereignty, Paul compares God to a potter (a very common and necessary vocation in ancient times, since most cooking and storage was done in various types of clay pots). The potter has every right to take one large lump of clay and use part of it to make a delicate vase (one object for special use) and another part of it to make a pot for cooking (and another for ordinary use)NRSV. Neither vase nor pot has any fight to complain and ask why the potter did what he did. The potter has every right to do what he pleases with the clay; and God has every right to do what he pleases with people, who are his creation. The lesson of the potter points to equal worth among lumps of clay, while the artist’s purpose and design may differ. The proper attitude for clay is to be pliable rather than stiff, receptive rather than rebellious, and grateful for the potter’s touch rather than resentful of the potter’s purpose for us.
|Jeremiah 18:1-10 also refers to a potter and clay. In this case, the potter began making a pot, but it “was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (Jeremiah 18:4 niv). Not only does the potter make||Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation.
William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)
whatever he wants; he may also change and reform the clay as needed. Paul points out that all people must humbly submit to their Creator, performing the tasks for which they have been made. God wants all his creation to be flawless—for some that means being remade. We should look to God to discern his ultimate purpose for our life instead of comparing ourselves with others.
9:22 What if God . . . bore with great patience the objects of his wrath.NIV The two “what if” questions in verses 22 and 23 again focus on God’s sovereignty. What if God does these things? Who has the right to question him? The Creator can do as he chooses with his creation.
The objects of his wrath are unbelievers, and especially, in context, Jewish unbelievers (1:18). God has been patient with their antagonism, rebellion, blasphemy, and hatred because he is giving them time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). But those who refuse to repent are prepared for destruction.NKJV Their doom is coming. They had rebelled and refused to turn to God for salvation, and thus they took responsibility for their own destruction. So God has prepared the punishment for their sin. They will experience his wrath for their sins and his power that they had constantly refused to acknowledge.
Without God’s mercy and great patience, shown to us completely apart from our performance, we would have no hope at all. If God did not do this for his own purposes, we would be instantly destroyed.
9:23 What if he did this to make . . . his glory known to the objects of his mercy.NIV In contrast, the objects of his mercy are Gentile believers whom he prepared in advance for glory.NIV The objects of his mercy are true believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, so no one can claim God by right of birth. Three of God’s purposes are mentioned in verses 22-23: (1) to show his wrath; (2) to make his power known; and (3) to make . . . his glory known.NIV But what is the this to which Paul is referring? This is God’s sovereign choosing when he works with “pots” prepared for destruction (9:22) or with “pots” prepared for glory. The key point to remember is that all this has been in God’s plan from the beginning. When God’s dealings with his creation have been summed up, there will not be a shred of doubt about his wrath, power, and glory. God did not change his plans just because his people were disobedient. Instead, God knew all that would happen to both Jews and Gentiles, and God does everything to display his great mercy.
Believers still may wonder why they would be chosen while others were rejected. Paul’s point is that God is sovereign and that no one has any claim on his mercy. He prepared us in advance by his gift of salvation, and he will reveal his glory when we are finally with him for eternity. Instead of focusing on God choosing some and rejecting others, we should stand in awe at God’s offer of grace to any of us. Thus, no one can demand that God explain why he does what he does. He makes all the rules. But he loves to show mercy to us—what an amazing God he is!
|MAKING GLORY KNOWN|
|To what lengths will our sovereign God go to make his glory known? We may assume that God will show his anger before his mercy. Consequently, when unexpected hardships come, we may think that God is punishing us for something. We find it difficult to believe that God would allow us to experience pain in order that we might grow in our understanding of his mercy and himself.|
|That was certainly the disciples’ problem in John 9. They assumed that the man born blind was suffering the consequences of some sin that he or his parents had committed. Jesus surprised them with the true explanation: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned . . . but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3 niv). Jesus used a healing touch to demonstrate the mercy of God. When you are experiencing difficulties, remember that your response to your problems and God’s work in your life can glorify God.|
9:24 Including us whom he has called.NRSV Paul and the Roman Christians were a part of that group of objects of mercy whom God had called and was preparing for glory. This group obviously was made up not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.NIV God’s choices are always sovereign. He sovereignly chose a messianic line from Abraham, and he sovereignly chose many Gentiles to receive salvation. Only those who respond to God’s call receive the gift of salvation; it is “by invitation only.” It comes to us completely undeserved so that we might have no basis for pride. When we understand God’s mercy, we respond with humility and gratitude that God would be merciful to even us.
9:25-26 He says in Hosea.NRSV To back up the statement that God also calls the Gentiles, Paul quoted two verses from the prophet Hosea. Several hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Hosea told of God’s intention to bring Gentiles into his family after the Jews would reject his plan. God was not surprised by Israel’s rejection. Israel thought that they alone were God’s chosen because of their lineage and their laws. But God’s plan never was to save only the Jews. His call was for people from all nations. Verse 25 is a quotation from Hosea 2:23, and verse 26 is from Hosea 1:10.
Hosea had married Gomer. Hosea named their firstborn child Jezreel. But the next two children were not his, so he obeyed God and named them Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi, meaning, as the words of verse 25 indicate, not my people and not my loved one.NIV
Hosea’s situation and his children’s names pictured God’s attitude toward Israel—they had turned away from him and were no longer called his people or his loved ones. But God would not let this situation remain forever; one day he would call Israel back to himself God would also turn to the Gentiles, those who are outside his chosen nation. Some day, many Gentiles would be considered God’s people, his loved ones, his children. Paul saw that while God’s plan had always made room for the Gentiles, with the advent of Christ, the doors to the kingdom were opened wide. Those not known as God’s people were becoming his people by God’s mercy and grace, shown through Christ.
9:27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel.NKJV But the Jews, the people who were in number like the sand of the sea in number (niv; see Genesis 32:12; Isaiah 10:22), will not be forgotten. God’s sovereign choice always includes some Jews, but his promises were not a blanket guarantee for all Israel. Isaiah prophesied that only a small number—a remnant—of God’s original people, the Jews, will be saved. Paul saw this happening in every city where he preached. Even though he went first to the Jews, relatively few ever accepted the gospel message. Quoting from Isaiah 10:22-23 and 1:9, Paul explained that the majority of Israel had turned away from God. But God always preserves a remnant for himself, “a remnant chosen by grace” (11:5). The remnant are those people who remain faithful to God whenever the majority doesn’t (see Micah 5:7-8).
9:28-29 Carry out his sentence.NIV Continuing the quote from Isaiah (Isaiah 10:23), God will punish his people for turning away from him. In the captivity and the exile, much punishment had been meted out.
Had left us descendants.NIV If God had not spared a remnant of faithful believers, all of Israel would have been destroyed. But God always saved a remnant. Having chosen Israel, God remained faithful to her. If he had not Israel would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, the ancient cities that were completely destroyed by God for their horrible wickedness (see Genesis 19:24-29; Isaiah 1:9). Nothing was left of Sodom and Gomorrah. But God never completely destroyed his people. Today the Gentiles are the, majority in the church, but one day, many Jews too will come to their Savior. There is a final judgment to come, and God will carry it out. There is no time to delay. A remnant will be saved—who of God’s people, the Jews, will become part of that remnant? Paul explores this further in chapter 11.
ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF OF THE GOSPEL / 9:30-10:21
This section provides a summary in the middle of Paul’s exposition on God’s sovereign plan and an expanded explanation of the present position of the Jews. He realized that his teaching was creating a paradox, especially for his Jewish audience. How could it be that the acknowledged experts in righteousness would find their way to God barred, while those who were ignorant of righteousness were welcomed by God as long-lost children? Paul here contrasts the way of faith with the way of the law. Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not attain it—while the Gentiles, not seeking righteousness by the law, found it by faith in Christ.
III. HISTORY HAS MEANING BECAUSE GOD IS SOVEREIGN
God is sovereign. In 9:30-33 Paul says, What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at the law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Paul is saying God is sovereign. God reigns. He has the right to offer to all—Jew and Gentile— redemption through Christ by faith.
9:30 Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [i.e., a law that produces righteousness], have attained to righteousness.NKJV The gospel was preached to both Jews and Gentiles, but it was being accepted by far more Gentiles than Jews. The Gentiles did not have God’s law, did not even know God, and were not even “trying to be righteous,” yet they were obtaining righteousness. Why? Because they were coming in faith to God.
9:31 Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness,NIV has not attained it. In contrast to the Gentiles, the Jews tried to obtain righteousness by obeying the law, only to never attain it. They had incorrectly understood righteousness in terms of works. They could not keep the law perfectly, therefore they could not keep it at all. Thus God could not accept them.
9:32 They pursued it not by faith.NIV Instead of admitting that they could not keep God’s law and pursuing righteousness by faith in God, the Jews kept trying to pursue righteousness by their works. They had a worthy goal to “obtain” God’s righteousness. But they tried to achieve it the wrong way—by rigid and painstaking obedience to the law. Thus some of them became more dedicated to the law than to God. They thought that if they kept the law, God would have to accept them as his people. But God cannot be obligated by us. The Jews did not see that their Scriptures, the Old Testament, taught salvation by faith and not by human effort—the point Paul made in the first part of this letter. As a result they stumbled over the stumbling stoneNRSV—the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Peter 2:4-8). Jesus was not what they expected, so they missed him. In so doing they missed their only way of salvation. Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who by pride would rather have recognition for doing it on their own than for trusting Christ and his goodness.
Some people still stumble over Christ because salvation by faith doesn’t make sense to them. They would rather try to work their way to God, or else they expect him simply to overlook their sins. Others stumble over Christ because his values are the opposite of the world’s. Christ asks for humility, and many are unwilling to humble themselves before him. He requires obedience and many refuse to put their will at his disposal. The “stone” has caused them to stumble. They heard about Christ and misunderstood, so they tripped over the one thing that could have saved them.
|NEVER GOOD ENOUGH|
|Sometimes we are like those people who try to achieve God’s approval by keeping his laws. We may think that going to church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice will be enough. After all, we’ve played by the rules, haven’t we? But Paul’s words sting—this approach never succeeds. Paul explained that God’s plan is not for those who try to earn his favor by being good; it is for those who realize they can never be good enough and so must depend on Christ. Only by putting our faith in what Jesus Christ has done will we be saved. If we do that, we will never be “put to shame” or disappointed.|
9:33 As it is written. Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Isaiah declared God’s warning of destruction to Israel by Assyria. Then he said, “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”NIV This stone refers to the righteous remnant and to Christ.
“The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”NIV When we put our trust in Christ, we need never fear that we have put it in the wrong place. When we have placed our feet on the Rock of Zion, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, we can be confident of our salvation.
|THE STUMBLING OR HUMBLING STONE|
|Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who would rather have the satisfaction of gaining God’s acceptance on their own than admit their inability and then submit to God’s grace. When we are presented with Christ, we have only two possible responses, to reject or accept. Any form of rejection will result in our stumbling over him, resulting in judgment. But trusting submission to him will gain for us what we could never hope to gain by ourselves—a righteous standing with God. Isaiah showed the way by personally applying the phrase he used above, “I will put my trust in him” (Isaiah 8:17 niv). Are you stumbled or humbled by Jesus?|
CONCLUSION. That is the meaning of history. God is working out a purpose. That purpose reflects His
mercy. He wants to save everybody. He will not force it on you. You have to decide. Remember God is sovereign. He rules in this world. He has the right to make the plan and reveal the plan. You and I have the privilege of responding to the plan.