1 - 5 Paul’s Love for Israel and Israel’s Privileges
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the [temple] service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 9 begins a new subject. This new subject is about Israel. God made all kinds of promises to Israel. Now, after all the things you have discovered in this letter, it looks like these promises could never be fulfilled. You have seen how, to God, there is no difference between Jews and heathen. They are all equally guilty before God. Their only way to salvation is faith in Christ. But then there is an unavoidable question. What about all the promises God made to Israel? Will they come to pass? Does Israel still have a special place in God’s thoughts?
Perhaps you still don’t know much about the prophecies concerning Israel in the Old Testament. If so, then Romans 9-11 is a wonderful portion to help you. In these three chapters Paul treats Israel’s past, present and future. Romans 9 covers the past, Romans 10 the present, and Romans 11 the future. If you are aware of the current events in and around Israel, you will realize the present significance of these chapters for our time. The contents of these chapters are happening before your eyes, as it were. But let’s first have a closer look at the first five verses of Romans 9.
V1. What stands out is the tender love Paul has for his people. So it is completely out of place to claim, as some do, that the people of Israel no longer mattered to Paul. It was his heart’s desire for them to become partakers of the righteousness of God. The plain language of verse 1 clearly shows his attitude towards Israel.
V2. Here you get a look into his heart’s feelings. With these words, his feelings are expressed because he had a great love for this people even while the people continued to reject Christ.
V3. In this verse he had wished to be separated from Christ by a curse if that would lead to Israel’s salvation. This is an example of the divine love he had in his heart for these people. Moses said something similar in demonstrating his love for his people (Exo 32:32). But both Paul and Moses were in themselves sinful and for this reason God could never fulfill their wishes. However, we learn from these men of God that their burning love for the people of God was not a matter of words alone. They would sacrifice themselves for them.
V4-5. Paul was linked to this people with natural ties; after the flesh, physically, they were his brothers. He calls them Israelites, the name God gave to Jacob in Genesis 32 (Gen 32:28). Paul then summarized a list of eight privileges God gave to them.
1. “The adoption as sons.” God had adopted these people as a son. There is an adage that says, ‘A good son is like his father’. God wanted these people to be like Him. This would have been joy to His heart.
2. “The glory.” God’s glory lived in the pillar of cloud with His people. With it, He protected them and led them through the wilderness.
3. “The covenants.” Here I will only mention two of them. God’s covenant with Abraham implied that God obligated Himself to bless Abraham. This was a covenant without conditions on Abraham’s side. You can read about this covenant in Genesis 15 (Gen 15:4-6). Then there is God’s covenant with the people of Israel made near Mount Sinai. With this covenant, the people obligated themselves to meet certain conditions. If they obeyed, they would reap God’s blessing. You can read about this covenant in Deuteronomy 27-28.
4. “The giving of the Law.” With this, God gave righteous laws to the people to make their life as comfortable as possible.
5. “The [temple]service.” God gave instructions for a full divine service to let them know which sacrifices He wanted to receive and on which occasion He wanted to receive them.
6. “The promises.” God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob about the blessings He was going to give them.
7. “The fathers.” In the first place, these are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom God made Himself known in a special and personal way. In addition you may think of great men like Moses, David, etc.
8. “The Christ.” This is the absolute pinnacle in this list of privileges. The Lord Jesus was born of this people. But to guard His honor Paul adds: “Who is over all, God.” This is an important witness concerning the humanity and divinity of the Lord Jesus. Both of these were perfectly and completely present in His Person. In the end, He is the center of everything, forever. He is “blessed forever”.
Now read Romans 9:1-5 again.
Reflection: Is there anyone you know who you would give everything if he or she would thereby be saved? Something to pray about once more!
6 - 13 God’s Election of Israel
6 But [it is] not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are [descended] from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived [twins] by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though [the twins] were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to [His] choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
V6. God wanted to bless His people Israel. This blessing could only come if the people accepted the Lord Jesus. There is not a single blessing for anyone that God can give apart from the Lord Jesus. If God blesses, it is always in connection with Him. Since God’s people have rejected the Lord Jesus, God puts the blessing within the reach of the heathen as well. Currently there is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles. Does this mean that the words God spoke about His people, Israel, will never be fulfilled? Paul says God’s Word has not failed! God will prove to be true in what He said.
But God would not give His blessings to those who have turned their back on Him. This is what Paul means in the second part of verse 6. Someone may call himself an Israelite because he belongs to them by birth, but this is not sufficient. Something more is needed. It also must be a matter of the heart. For the majority of the Israelites, to belong to the people was merely an outward matter or name. This, Paul says, is not Israel, even if someone is born an Israelite.
V7-9. In verse 7 the same is repeated in connection with the patriarch Abraham. Not every descendant of Abraham is called a child of Abraham. If this were the case, Ishmael should have been seen as such and he too should have a part in the blessing, but God had determined that the blessing would come through Isaac. Ishmael is the son after the flesh. This son was begotten of Abraham by Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah. At that moment, Abraham wasn’t trusting God because God had promised to give him a son who would be born of Sarah. In God’s time Isaac, the son of promise, was born of Sarah. So, as to the blessing God wants to give, there must always be a connection to Abraham through Isaac because “the children of the promise are regarded as descendants”.
V10-12. Next comes an example of God’s election that’s even clearer. With Abraham, Ishmael was born of a maidservant and Isaac was not. Isaac had two sons by the same wife, Rebekah. While these two sons, Jacob and Esau, were still in the womb, God had already determined their relationship: “The older will serve the younger.”
At that time, nothing was known of how they would behave towards one another. When God spoke of this, they had done neither good nor evil. So apart from their behavior and apart from their works, God had determined the election of Jacob, the younger one. He elected Jacob to receive the blessing. Jacob ranked above Esau. God appointed it before the birth of these two boys.
V13. With this, nothing has been said of Esau’s disadvantage. This is something that you must understand as well, for you will likely come into contact with people who want you to believe that God has appointed people to be lost forever. In the latter part of Romans 9, you will discover that such is not the case, but these people offer verse 13 as proof. They say the text says: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Sure, this is what the text says, but something comes before this: “As it is written.” Where is it written? At the end of the Old Testament in the book of Malachi. At the end of a long history in which the descendants of Jacob and Esau had every opportunity to prove themselves.
The true descendants of Jacob have over the course of time shown their weakness, but at the same time shown their desire for God’s blessing. In the same way, this could be found in Jacob’s life. And this is why God says: “Jacob I loved.” Esau’s descendants have over the course of time shown they were not interested in God’s blessing. In Hebrews 12 you can read about Esau as a profane person who sold his birthright for a meal (Heb 12:16-17). He was rejected because there was no repentance in him. You can find these traits in his posterity. This is why God says: “Esau I hated.”
God wants to show in these verses that, at the origin of the people of Israel, He acted according to His own election. His blessing flows towards certain people, not because they deserve it, but because He has elected them for it. It all stems from “Him who calls” (verse 11). It is important to see that in the past, God acted in this way.
At present, God acts in the same way. If God works according to His own election, He is not restricted to Israel, but He can extend His election to the heathen. You are living proof of this. Although you probably don’t belong to His earthly people, you will admit you don’t deserve God’s blessing. But God has elected you to be blessed. More will follow on this subject.
Now read Romans 9:6-13 again.
Reflection: Let the fact that God has elected you speak to you. How do you react?
14 - 18 God Is Sovereign
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
V14. From the examples of the last portion, it is clear that God works according to election. This immediately brings opposition. You can feel this opposition rise inside yourself, saying: ‘This is not fair. God is not acting righteously when He deals with man in that way.’ We think or say this because our thoughts are centered on man rather than on God. Paul leaves no room for this thought. He writes: “May it never be!”
Paul then cites two more examples from the Old Testament to clarify the reason for saying: “May it never be!” These examples show that God acts according to His own will, also called God’s sovereign will. He is the only One Who can act according to His own pleasure without having to give an account to anyone.
This doesn’t mean God acts without a purpose. He is not a tyrant who makes and executes decisions without restraint. God can always defend everything He does before anyone. But if we think we can judge God, we assume an attitude that is not appropriate for us. As a result of this attitude, we’re not able to understand God’s actions. We must start by recognizing that He is God and has the right to do whatever He deems necessary. Then we will have to recognize that we’re only tiny human beings, creatures completely dependent on our Creator.
V15. God said to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Was this another instance of the unrighteousness and arbitrariness of God? Well, if you try to find out why God said this and what the occasion was, you might change your mind. So, what was the situation?
While Moses was with God on the mountain, the people made a golden calf and then worshiped it. This was sheer idolatry! The result was that God had to judge all the people, but because of the intercession of Moses, there was mercy and compassion. God is so merciful and compassionate! He didn’t wipe out all the people, but had mercy and compassion on some of them.
V16. This history makes it clear that the main point is not what man does and works, “it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs”, but that “God … had mercy”.
V17-18. After the example of God’s mercy comes another example regarding the judgment of God. Verse 17 starts: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh.” When you look this quotation up in Exodus 9, you see it is God Himself who said this to Pharaoh. So if here in Romans 9 we find that “the Scripture” says it, this means God and the Scripture are in absolute harmony. This emphasizes strongly the importance of knowing what the Bible says. Then you will learn to know God and to be guarded from going astray. Pharaoh was raised up by God with a twofold object. God wanted to show His power in him, and to declare His own name to all the earth. Pharaoh could be used to this end by God.
But don’t think that Pharaoh was a will-less instrument! Pharaoh remained fully responsible to God for his attitude and actions. Thus, it was only after Pharaoh had hardened his heart several times that God hardened his heart. Only then did God use him as an example of the judgment He would bring over people who continue to resist Him. God has mercy on whomever He wills (as with some of Israel when all of Israel were under judgment) and He hardens whomever He wills (like Pharaoh who was likewise under judgment).
Maybe you are still wondering about the phrase: ‘I have raised you up.’ Does this mean God had him born for this purpose? No! ‘To raise up’ here means that God led Pharaoh’s life in such a way that Pharaoh would show by his actions what was in his heart towards God. Those actions clearly were a history of rebellion against God, and it became clear there was no desire to listen to the warnings God sent in the different plagues that hit the country. In the next section I will say more about this.
Now read Romans 9:14-18 again.
Reflection: Do you sometimes think God is unrighteous? How do you cope with this thought?
19 - 23 Vessels of Wrath and Vessels of Mercy
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
V19. Do you know what so often hinders us? Our human logic, our natural and darkened mind! We reason within ourselves saying, ‘Out of all human beings, God has elected a certain number to bless them. All others would not be blessed, so therefore they have been appointed by God to be lost. Who could resist His will? Isn’t everything fixed at our birth? Can anyone change this in any way?’
This kind of reasoning shows we are judging God. But the first thing we must keep in mind is that God is sovereign in all He does. He determines everything without having to answer to man. God judges and condemns man, not the other way around. The competence to judge is with God alone.
V20-21. Paul wants to bring home to us the idea that God has the power to do all things without anyone having a right to say anything about it. God possesses absolute power and the absolute right to execute His will. What right do we have to call God to account by asking why He made us this way and not different? God’s sovereignty is compared with a potter’s sovereignty. A potter clearly has the power to make either an ugly vessel or a beautiful one out of the same lump of clay. Once more God’s sovereignty is stressed here, which doesn’t mean God acted in a similar way.
V22-23. The way God acts is demonstrated by Paul in the following verses. To understand this, you must compare verse 22 and verse 23. You see two kinds of vessels here, vessels of wrath (verse 22) and vessels of mercy (verse 23). Notice the way these vessels are spoken of.
Of the vessels of wrath the following is said:
1. God wanted to show His wrath and to make His power known;
2. He has endured them with much longsuffering;
3. They were prepared for destruction.
The greatest difficulty is given by the last point. Who prepared these vessels for destruction? Did God do that? If you say this, you declare God to be a maker of evil as if He really urges man to do deeds that will bring destruction upon himself. But it is God’s longsuffering we are reading about here. What sense would it make to speak about God’s longsuffering if He was preparing these vessels for destruction? 2 Peter 3 tells us it is because of God’s longsuffering that the judgment has not yet come (2Pet 3:9).
No, these vessels prepare themselves for destruction. You understand that “vessels” refer to people (see e.g. Acts 9:15). As you have seen in verse 17, Pharaoh is an example of such a vessel preparing himself for destruction.
Then of the vessels of mercy, the following is said:
1. God wanted to make known the riches of His glory on them and
2. God had prepared them beforehand for glory.
Here the big difference between the vessels of wrath and mercy becomes clear. God, not the vessels themselves, has prepared them for glory. And God has done this beforehand. He has not made it dependent on their behavior in this life.
So in these two vessels the following is presented – on the one hand man’s responsibility and on the other hand the counsels, the plans and the intentions of God.
You will find these two truths throughout the Bible. We as human beings are not able to connect them. Only God can do that. They have been compared to two rails of a railroad track that always run parallel. If you look far away, it seems as if the two meet. In a similar way, the lines of man’s responsibility and God’s counsels run parallel through the Bible.
At the cross, you see the two lines meet, as it were. In Acts 2 you can read about this (Acts 2:22-23). It says the Lord Jesus was:
1. given up by the counsel and foreknowledge of God (God wanted it to be that way) and
2. crucified and slain by the Jews, by the hands of lawless men (that is what man did, for which he is responsible).
Apart from God, who can connect these two sides of the cross?
Don’t try to comprehend the incomprehensible. This comprehension has not been given to us human beings. Thank Him that you can see both sides of the truth. It is important for you to gain insight into your responsibilities as a creature in regard to God. In your practical life you will take this into account, and the new insights into His counsels and plans will not fail to have their effects in your life. In this way, your life will be a very rich life. The things God asks from you may be difficult, but if you see what His plans and intentions are, it will motivate you to honor Him in your life.
Now read Romans 9:19-23 again.
Reflection: Think of God’s greatness.
24 - 33 The Nations and Israel
24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 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.”
V24. The starting point of God’s acts has been clearly demonstrated. He is God and He has the right to act as it pleases Him. God is sovereign even when showing mercy. God is not obliged to restrict His mercy to the Jews. He has the right to call people from the nations or the non-Jews.
V25. This can be seen even in the Old Testament. Paul quotes examples from Hosea and Isaiah which show that God let His unrestricted grace go out to the non-Jews as well. The first quotation occurs in verse 25 and is taken from Hosea 2 (Hos 2:23). There the people of Israel are the subject, but since they showed their unfaithfulness to God, God had to call them “not My people” and “not beloved”. God no longer recognizes the connection with His people.
But now, Paul applies this verse to make it mean that God will in the future again speak about them as ‘His people’ and Israel as His ‘beloved’. This can only mean there will be those from the people of Israel who will believe on the Lord Jesus. They are the people who are recognized by God as ‘My people’. Maybe it can even be applied to the nations surrounding Israel. They had always been “not My people” and “not beloved” because God hadn’t formed a special tie with them. But if from out of these nations, people accept the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord, they may consider themselves as part of ‘My people’.
V26. The next quotation from Hosea 1 (Hos 1:10) speaks about the calling of the heathen. The “sons of the living God” are mentioned. This is typically an expression for the relationship the Christian has with respect to God. God could no longer have contact with either Jews or heathen. Of both groups it had been said: “You are not My people.” To the Jews, this was true since God had to break His connection with them as a consequence of their unfaithfulness. The captivity has been the sad result of this. God had always let the heathen go their way. And now Paul, the apostle to the heathen, quotes this verse as proof that all those who have been called by God from among the Jews and the nations are called “sons of the living God” by Him.
V27. Likewise, Isaiah the prophet is quoted by Paul to support his discourse about God’s sovereign grace (Isa 1:9). However numerous Israel might be, if God’s righteousness would follow its course, judgment would have to come over all of it. Nothing would be left of Israel, but God’s unlimited grace provides salvation for a remnant.
V28-29. The work that God will finish on the earth (verse 28) is the judgment which will strike the unbelieving people of Israel in righteousness. This will only take place after the rapture of the church. That there will be a remnant at all, will be due to God’s sovereign mercy. While it may seem all His plans are failing, He will still be the Lord of a great nation that will develop out of this remnant in the millennium. It is all due to the fact that, for this remnant, the righteousness of God has been fully exercised upon the Lord Jesus. This will be recognized by the remnant. Other prophets also speak of this.
V30-33. In these verses the conclusion comes. The nations have participated in the righteousness on the principle of faith. Earlier in Romans you saw that faith is the only way to be justified before God. Israel failed in obtaining its righteousness before God. Why did they fail? Because they thought God would give His righteousness to them based on keeping the law. But when Christ came they were offended by Him. He revealed their attempts at keeping the law only served themselves by making them feel more important.
Their evil state of mind was made evident by His coming “in Zion” (verse 33; Isa 8:14; 28:16) – in Israel – and by His appearance among them. This was what they couldn’t bear and therefore they rejected Him. When they were offended by Him, they stumbled. This is how they put themselves outside the blessing.
Romans 9 concludes by pointing out one more time that the heart of God goes out to ‘whoever’, without difference between Jew and Gentile. The only condition to partake of the blessing is to believe on Him! In doing this, you will never be ashamed.
Now read Romans 9:24-33 again.
Reflection: Why is it important to know the Old as well as the New Testament?