Romans 9 (NRSV)
God’s Election of Israel
Chapter 9 brings a slight shift in focus to the Book of Romans.
In Romans chapters one through eight, Paul thoroughly convinced us about man’s need and God’s glorious provision in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.
Now, in Romans 9 through 11, Paul deals with the problem associated with the condition of Israel. What does it mean that Israel has missed its Messiah? What does this say about God? What does it say about Israel? What does it say about our present position in God?
The question goes something like this: How can I be secure in God’s love and salvation to me when it seems that Israel was once loved and saved, but now seems to be rejected and cursed? Will God also reject and curse me one day?
“If God cannot bring his ancient people into salvation, how do Christians know that he can save them? Paul is not here proceeding to a new and unrelated subject. These three chapters are part of the way he makes plain how God in fact saves people.” (Leon Morris)
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
6It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 8This 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 descendants.
This is the point. The physical children do not have an advantage, as such, with God. It is no guarantee of inheritance; “not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants.” Rather, God is looking for children who look to God with faith. And remember, also, what Jesus told the crowd in Mark 3: “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.”
Here again, in the story of Jacob and Esau, simply being a physical descendant is not sufficient. God chooses. Let us not think that God’s choices are arbitrary, as if he carelessly tosses a coin to pick who gets to go first. We may not understand God’s reasons for choosing, but God’s choices are not capricious. He has a plan and a reason. We agree with Abraham, who said to the Lord in Genesis 18 — “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
14What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.
God’s Wrath and Mercy
19You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?
22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As 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.’” 26“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God.”
1 John 3:1 (NIV)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I love being reminded that I am a child of God! So I sing this little hymn to myself almost every day, I love it so. HERE is Marie Pooler’s arrangement, sung by the University Choir of the California State University at Long Beach: “Children of the Heavenly Father.”
27And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” 29And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.”
It is difficult for any religious system to comprehend grace, much less to welcome its dismantling force. Religion thrives upon predictability, rank, and manipulation. It rewards those who read the instructions. It is a ladder of achievement, a web of meritocracy that is available even to those whose intellect does not advance them and whose charms—innate or cultivated—are not outstanding. Not for nothing did the aspiring young man for many years choose his options from a conventional menu: government service, business, the military. Or the church.
The apostle Paul turns his attention to the particular grace-less web that was the Judaism of his time. It was not the only religion that was preshaped to resist the persistent intrusions of grace. It was merely Paul’s own and the matrix from which messianic faith—in this case the expanding shared life of those who followed Jesus as messiah—was to emerge. It was at once the root and source of this new faith and its most potent adversary, a paradox whose torment Paul bore to his grave.
–Dr. David Baer
30What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written, “See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.