Line By Line Through Romans 9 | Part One
Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University
**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.
I. THE CONDITION OF ISRAEL (1-3)
The Apostle’s focus shifts to begin the 9th Chapter.
- In the previous eight chapters, Paul made man’s need and God’s gracious provision through Christ abundantly clear.
- Paul ends chapter 8 on such a high note in reflection of the endless, inseparable love God has for those who are in an abiding, loving relationship with Him (8:9,28). Why does the tone shift so dramatically to the topic of Paul’s great sorrow and continual grief in chapter 9?
Paul’s Christ-like, self-sacrificial plea for hardened Israel.
- “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit:” This is not merely an emotional appeal from the heart of a Jew who desires to see more of his own kind saved. Instead, it is a witness of the Spirit Himself inspiring the apostle’s deep conviction and desire for all lost souls.
- “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart:”
Paul shifts from celebrating the relationship of the believer, those grafted in by faith, to reflecting on the overwhelming number of those cut off for their unbelief from his own country of Israel, a topic that continues into the following chapters (11:20). Here, the apostle deals with his feelings about the current condition of Israel, who has rejected their own Messiah. How does that reflect on God’s promise made to Israel (Gen. 12:3)? Has God failed to keep that promise? If God will not keep His promise to Israel, then how can we know He will keep His promise to us?
- “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”
This is a self-sacrificial, Christ-like love for those who have become his enemies. Paul again expresses this desire for unbelieving Israel in 10:1, which is repeated with a quote from God’s own lips in 10:21. This likewise reflects the same heart of Moses referenced by the apostle in 9:15: “Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin; but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:31-32). Most importantly, Paul reflects the very desire of Jesus, who was willing to be accursed for his enemies that they might be saved (Gal. 3:13).
II. THE WORD ENTRUSTED TO ISRAEL (4-5)
- Given that any nationality may be saved through faith and many from Israel do not believe, then what benefit is there in being a Jew? “…who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
As first mentioned in 3:1-2, the apostle here reminds the reader the benefit or blessing of being a natural descendent of Israel. The very Word of God was entrusted to Israel (Rom. 3:2), which included the MESSIAH and His redemptive MESSAGE.
- The special revelation of God, which all served to testify and prepare the way for the Messiah and His gospel, came by way of this elect nation.
- Israel’s unfaithfulness and their being cut off for unbelief does not negate this blessing, or the promise that first brought that blessing to this elect nation of God (Gen. 12:3; Rom. 3:3-4).
III. WHY THAT WORD HAS NOT FAILED (6-8)
- Since the very people entrusted to bring the Word are standing in opposition to it, then has His Word failed? “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect.”
The ones entrusted with the Word are opposing the Word, so then, has the Word failed? God’s word has not failed despite how things may appear from our human perspective. The fulfillment of God’s Word, as promised to Abraham, is not dependent upon the faithfulness of Israelites (Rom. 3:3-4).
- “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel”
Not every descendant of Israel is chosen to carry out the purpose for which God elected Israel. Not every descendant of Israel is blessed to be in the lineage of the Messiah or to be an inspired messenger of God’s word. Not every descendant of Israel is guaranteed salvation on the basis of being of Israel (vs. 7). So, the many descendants of Israel you are seeing stand in opposition to the Word, were not chosen by God to carry the Word, thus it cannot be concluded that God’s Word has failed.
“nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.”
Abraham’s two sons, by two different mothers, is used allegorically by Paul to represent the two covenants of Law and Faith, as Paul’s own self-commentary explains in Gal. 4:21-25: “Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (Gal. 4:21-25, NASB, emphasis added).
This is the apostle’s way of using a history lesson to remind his audience that being a seed of Abraham does not mean one is guaranteed the blessings listed in verses 4 and 5, which were specific to the seed of Isaac. Nor does it guarantee the eternal blessing of being a child of God, which comes by faith in God’s promise (symbolized by Isaac, whose birth came by grace) to whosoever believes, not by works of the law (symbolized by Ishmael, whose birth came by works).
IV. GOD’S PLAN TO BRING THE WORD THROUGH ISRAEL (9-13)
- “For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’”
This is the way in which the word of promise given to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) is to be fulfilled. Isaac will be the lineage through whom the Word would come: The Messiah and His message come through Isaac’s seed, not Ishmael’s. Sarah is a free woman and represents the covenant of faith, as opposed to the covenant of law represented by the slave woman (Gal. 4:21-25).
- “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
The apostle is taking this one step further by not only seeking to prove his claims about the descendants of Abraham are true, but to even more specifically show that all the descents of Isaac are not:
- Guaranteed salvation on the basis they are a descendant.
- Chosen for the noble purpose of bringing the Word to the rest of the world.
God’s choice of Jacob, the lesser of the two brothers in age and physical prowess, was for the noble purpose of bringing the Word to the rest of the world. God’s choice to fulfill His promise is not based upon the impressiveness of the nation (Deut. 7:7) or the morality of its representative head (Gen. 25:23). The fulfillment of God’s Word has never relied upon the faithfulness or morality of the individuals chosen to carry it out (Rom. 3:3-4). Neither brother would be justified apart from grace through faith in God, even though they are direct descendants of both Abraham and Isaac. Salvation is by the covenant of grace through faith in the call of God, not the covenant of law through works.
The expressed hatred toward Esau’s household reflected in the quote from Malachi reveals:
- Even direct descendants of Isaac himself (Edom) are not chosen for the noble purposes that God elected Israel, thus one should not assume that the opposition of direct descendants to God’s Word is an indication of its failure.
- Even direct descendants of Isaac himself (Edom) are not guaranteed salvation, especially if they remain in opposition to those who are chosen to bring the Word of God. As conditioned upon the original promise… “I will curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3).
Many examples in scripture are given to show the concept of “hate” referring to simply rejecting (without disdain) one over another for a noble task (Genesis 29:31, 33; Deuteronomy 21:15; Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). Esau was also blessed and protected by God (Deut. 23:7, Gen. 33:8-16, Gen. 36), so the “hatred” was either (1) conditioned upon the Edomites attack upon Israel and/or (2) in reference to God’s selection of Jacob and his lineage for the noble purpose over Esau and his lineage.
V. WHY GOD IS JUST IN SHOWING MERCY TO UNFAITHFUL ISRAELITES TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PROMISE IN BRINGING THE WORD (14-16)
- Does God’s choosing to bless one descendant over another descendant make God unrighteous? What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
The descendants of Abraham in Paul’s day had two false perceptions:
Every descendant deserves the benefit of bringing God’s Word. However, the truth is that God has only selected a remnant through whom to bring His Word. Every descendant deserves eternal life on the basis of their being of Israel. However, no one is saved based on nationality but only upon grace through faith. Those nations, and the individuals therein, who oppose God’s Word remain under the curse (hatred), as illustrated by Edom (direct descendants of Isaac himself). There is no unrighteousness with God for choosing some descendants for a noble cause and not others, nor is it unjust to condemn a descendant of Abraham who stands in opposition to the Word of God.
- For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
Paul’s reference to Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 32-33 gives a perfect historical example of when God was merciful to Israel when they deserved to be destroyed for their unfaithfulness (worshipping a golden calf). This example also parallels Moses’ self-sacrificial Christ-like love for Israel as reflected by Paul in the opening verses of this chapter… “forgive their sin—and if not blot me out…” (Ex. 32:31-32). Certainly God may choose to save whosoever He is pleased to save (scripture teaches He chooses to save those who humble themselves and repent in faith – 1 Pt. 5:5-6), but this passage is in reference to God showing mercy to unfaithful Israel so as to fulfill His original promise through them even though they deserve condemnation.
- So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
“It” refers to the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring His Word despite Israel’s unfaithfulness (Rom. 3:3-4). The promise depends on our merciful God, not on the faithfulness (“willing and running”) of Abraham or his descendants. Abraham “willed and ran” in the flesh to produce a son through Hagar (who Paul used symbolically to represent the covenant of law and works, Gal. 4:24). God, by his mercy, provided Isaac through the free woman, Sarah (who Paul used symbolically to represent the covenant of grace by faith in the call of God, Gal. 4:21-26).
Part Two Coming Soon!