Romans Chapter 9

Israel, the chosen people. Born of flesh / Born of the promise. The sovereignty of God through Jacob and Esau. The sovereignty of God through Pharaoh. The sovereignty of God shown through the clay and the potter illustration. God’s sovereign choice in wrath or mercy. Many are chosen but few are saved. God’s righteousness is only available through faith.

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1I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit -  2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  3For I could wish that I myself were accursed - cut off from Christ - for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen,  4who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.  5To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 9:1-5)

Just like the pearl of great price in one of Jesus' parables as told in Matthew 13:45-46, which causes its finder to become so willing to let go of everything else in order to come into the possession of it. That pearl of great price must be the gospel of salvation that Paul found and is now trying to tell his own people. So strong is the desire that upon their unbelief, or that they believe but not to the point of fully understanding what they believe, Paul felt such pain and anguish that he wished he would be able to take their place of damnation so that they may be able to receive what he's been trying to convey to them. This was also the sentiment of Moses when he uttered the following words in Exodus 32:32: "But now, if you will forgive their sin..., but if not, wipe me out from your book that you have written." But of course, we should understand that this is just a way for Paul and Moses to express strongly their love for their countrymen, and more than such love is the treasure of what they knew were in store for the people but they rejected it nonetheless.

The Jews were a people chosen by God from people of all the earth, to be an instrument through which He will show the plan of their salvation. They were given a covenant with God (Old Covenant), they were given the law of God through the 10 commandments and the law of Moses, they were shown a way to worship directly from God whom they worship (what other religions whose gods show their worshippers how to worship them?), they were given a promise concerning the coming Messiah. They’re also descendants of the patriarchs whose God is not ashamed to call Himself the God of Abraham, Isaach, and Jacob. Concerning the flesh, Jesus Christ whose name is above all names, and is Almighty God, chose them to be the people from whom He came.

Born of flesh / Born of promise

6It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather “through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. (Romans 9:6-8)

If God made a promise concerning the salvation of Israel, then why some of them are not saved? Did the word of God fail? Here Paul is trying to present the principle and condition of salvation.

God gave Abraham a promise that his descendants will be as numerous as stars in the sky and as sand in the ocean. Though Abraham believed in God, he lacked patience, so he and his wife Sarah used the maid servant Hagar to bear them a child named Ismael. However when the time comes according to the plan that God had predetermined, He gave them a child named Isaac born by wife Sarah. Therefore this passage talks of the two sons of Abraham, Ismael born by human desire, and Isaac born by the promise of God. Isaac represents those that rely on nothing but Christ to achieve the righteousness of God.

To demonstrate His power, God let them wait until Abraham turned 100, while Sarah became about 90 years old, when the human flesh can no longer conceive children. Therefore the true children of God are those born by the promise. And the only means by which they receive it is through faith.

The sovereignty of God through Esau and Jacob

10Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac - 11even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling) - 12it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” 13just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! 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 then, it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

To continue the train of thought from a preceding passage about how God makes his choices, Paul is now leading us to a situation in the Bible about Rebecca’s twin birth of Jacob and Esau. The main concept is Paul’s quote of the Old Testament when God said: “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated,” where Paul drew a conclusion of God’s sovereignty concerning salvation when he wrote in verse 16 that it does not depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

This has caused much doubt in the hearts of many, from the righteousness of God, to how He choose some from the world. Concerning God’s righteousness, we must believe that the Lord who demands righteousness from fallen flesh, must be Himself righteous, and his choices are based on the foundation that God’s wisedom is above human understanding. Concerning choices, or election, there are two issues, one is “Does God choose to save only some from the world?,” and two is “Are all who are chosen also saved?” There is so much debate concerning God’s choice or election, but this reminds me two situations in the Bible.

The first situation involves how God chose the Jews from people of the world. But not all who were chosen came to trust in Christ when he took the cross, in the same manner as not all who came from Abraham were his true descendants. The second situation involves God’s salvation plan that includes all of mankind. Examples of this truth is found in verses John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:36, and roughly 70 other verses.

Therefore we can base on these facts in the Bible to conclude that election and salvation are two separate things. Election has to do with God’s choice of Israel to be the model of His salvation plan, and to speak of God’s sovereignty, while salvation involves the giving of righteousness to those who place their trust in Christ, and it is available to all of mankind, which is not what Paul is speaking of here.

The sovereignty of God through Pharaoh

17For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden. 19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” (Romans 9:17-19)

Paul continues in the vein of thought concerning God’s sovereignty, citing from Exodus when God was preparing the way to deliver His people from Egypt. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so much that in the face of such terrifying plagues the prideful king continued to challenge God. But it was through the hardening that God’s power was demonstrated.

The sovereignty of God illustrated in clay/potter relationship

20But who indeed are you - a mere human being - to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use? (Romans 9:20-21)

Paul gave one more example using the relationship between the clay jar and its molder to expand his argument for the sovereignty of God.

In summary, the emphasis on God’s sovereignty as an essential element which cannot be separated from the truth expressing that salvation is by grace alone that Paul has used as the main goal in all letters he wrote to the churches. The sovereignty of God demands that God’s salvation does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.

The sovereignty of God in expressing wrath or mercy

22But what if God, willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And what if he is willing to make known the wealth of his glory on the objects of mercy that he has prepared beforehand for glory - 24even us, whom he has called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25As he also says in Hosea: “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and I will call her who was unloved, ‘My beloved.’” 26“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.’” (Romans 9:22:26)

This passage continues the line of thought on verse 18, in which God is sovereign in hardening the heart, or showing mercy, to a certain person or nation. It is this truth of God’s sovereignty that cannot help but confirm the accompanying truth of salvation by grace, and through faith alone.

Many are called but not all are saved

27And Isaiah cries out on behalf of Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, 28for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” 29Just as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have resembled Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:27-29)

This passage shows us more clearly the difference between “election” and “salvation.” The entire nation of Israel was chosen, or elected, but only a part of them is saved. God chose them to be an instrument through which He brings about the salvation plan for the whole world. But why were only some of them saved? Verse 32 explains the reason that caused them to miss the grace of God: because they did not seek Him through faith, but through works. We will dig deeper the meaning of this verse in the following part when we reach verse 32.

Paul then quotes from Isaiah to show them that if anyone in Israel is saved, it is because of God’s grace and mercies. Because in reality, being Jews or Gentiles, they deserve no more than the people of Sodom or Gomorrah.

Righteousness is only available through faith

30What shall we say then? - that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33)

Now at this closing passage, Paul once again concludes with the same main theme: God’s sovereignty in salvation. The Gentiles, not having been given the law, dead in sin and trespasses, never having sought God, yet now being called by Him to an opportunity to receive righteousness. On the other hand, God’s chosen people of Israel, who have sought this righteousness through obedience to the law, many of whom never found it.

The main element that prevents the Jews from realizing this grace is their reliance on works, where works are dictated by the requirements of the law in order to achieve righteousness. God opened for them a new and living way that is through the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:20), but they insist on placing themselves under the slavery to the law. The Gentiles, not having anything to rely on, leaving only faith, which they place it wholly on Christ.

The rock that causes the nation of Israel to stumble is Christ. His coming to earth put before them an important decision, either to continue to use their own strength to satisfy the demands of the law, or to place their faith solely on the One who alone can satisfy them all on the cross. Jesus became the stumbling block for them. The perfect sacrifice of the Son of God had rendered obsolete all burnt sacrifices that they were so familiar with (Hebrews 10:26).

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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