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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Reconciling the Righteousness of Faith and the Promise of God

In the first eight chapters of Romans, it appears Paul has entirely exhausted the theme with which he begins in Romans 1:17: "The just shall live by faith." Nygren succinctly outlines the first two sections of the book, which cover chapters one through eight in one sentence: "He who through faith is righteous shall live" (353). In chapters one through four, Paul explains how a man through faith may be justified, that is, declared to be righteous. Then in the second major division of the book (Romans 5-8), he reveals how the man made righteous on the basis of his faith shall live. He shall live free from wrath (5), free from sin (6), free from the law (7), and free from death (8). Having closely reasoned through his thesis, Paul seems to have no further issues; however, instead of bringing the book to a close and rather than proceeding directly to the practical matters raised in chapters twelve through sixteen, he now enters upon another significant argument consisting of the weighty material in chapters nine through eleven. The rejection of Israel is the focus of this section. Immediately the question arises as to how one can integrate this section into the unity of the epistle as a whole.

Three common answers to this question all miss the mark. It is often suggested that in these chapters Paul sets forth his doctrine of predestination; however, the central passage setting forth the doctrine of predestination is in Romans 8:28-30. If one uses chapters nine through eleven for the basis of Paul’s understanding of predestination, he will develop a false view of it. A second view is that in these chapters Paul presents his theodicy (a theodicy is an explanation or a defense of God’s way of dealing with man). This view is not correct. It would never have occurred to Paul that any of God’s actions needed defense—"To defend the action of God before the bar of human reason is utterly alien to him [Paul—AWB]" (Nygren 354). Such a view of these chapters would close tightly the door of understanding. A third view is that these chapters are a presentation of Paul’s philosophy of history; however, the issues discussed here are of much more vital significance than a mere speculation about how historically God controls the world and leads events in the direction of His goals.

To understand this section, we need to see how it fits into the total message of the book. Earlier Paul has shown that God has given Christ to mankind; and, as the writer of Hebrews reveals, "the new and living way" has come through Him (Hebrews 10:20). The Christian Age is the time of fulfillment, for all God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). In light of all that has gone before, however, a new question arises concerning God’s promises to Israel: How is it possible that Israel, to whom God has given such great advantages, now stands rejected? Even harder to comprehend is that Israel’s rejection occurred at the time when God was fulfilling His promises in Christ. At first glance it seems to be more than a matter of human unfaithfulness. Is it possible that God’s promise has lost some of its validity? Once before Paul raised a similar question: "For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect?" (3:3). There the answer was a resounding: "God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar" (3:4). Even in the face of man’s unbelief, God’s faithfulness is glorified.

Our question is: Is the answer in chapters nine through eleven the same answer as Paul gives in these verses in chapter three? Has God kept His word of promise to Israel? The answer is another resounding Yes.

The explanation is clear: Paul speaks of Israel’s rejection because of her faithlessness. Does that mean that God has revoked the promises He made to the fathers? The dilemma to be resolved is an apparent choice between alternatives: either Paul must stand by the gospel he has preached—the righteousness of faith revealed through Christ—or he must stand by God’s truthfulness and faithfulness. Can it be that the righteousness of faith is contrary to the promises of God so that God takes back the promises He has previously made? Such a position, if established, would completely overthrow all of Paul’s preaching. As long as these issues remain unresolved, all that has preceded in Romans one through eight hangs in the balance; therefore, Paul’s argument in chapters nine through eleven is to demonstrate beyond doubt that there is no contradiction between the righteousness of faith and the promises of God. It should also be noted that while this discussion is essential to reconcile this apparent contradiction it is also an issue close to Paul’s heart. He is deeply grieved that almost all in his own nation have rejected the Savior of the world. He would give anything for them to come to Christ in obedient, submissive faith. His argument is anything but clinical. His earnest intensity infuses his argument with an urgency unsatisfied by anything less than an open penitent confession of obedient faith and immersion in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 26:29).

These chapters divide readily into three sections: 9:1-29; 9:30- 10:21; 11:1-32. Each section has a unity within itself and, at the same time, paves the way for the next. The entire discussion closes with the majestic doxology of Romans 11:33-36.

Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida provide an excellent outline in their Translator’s Handbook:

The first section (9:1-29) describes the absolute freedom of the divine choice, and unites the themes of God’s mercy and of his hardening of those who reject him. The second section (9:30- 10:21) speaks of the freedom and responsibility of men within the divine purpose, and shows how Israel rejected the call to faith by attempting to establish its own righteousness. The third section (chapter 11) shows how God accomplishes his act of salvation, despite the rebellion of men (A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans 176).

The whole section closes with a hymn of praise to God, extolling His surpassing knowledge of man, of history, of life itself. God has kept His promises, and men are made righteous by their faith in Christ; and those who are righteous by faith shall indeed live free from wrath, from sin, from the law, and from death. The way of God and the promises of God are reconciled.

Verses 1-2

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

One notes immediately Paul’s intensity and his heartfelt pain at Israel’s rejection. Lenski observes that Paul’s opening here:

…indicates far more than a new section. It is unlikely that a night intervened before the dictation of this letter was continued. Hard upon the exalted climax of 8:31-39 which rises to triumphant assurance in vv. 38, 39 comes this sad, tragic subject of Paul’s fellow nationals, and as he enters upon it, his heart is wrung anew with the pain that has wrenched it all these years. Emotion produced this asyndeton [a figure of speech meaning "without conjunction"—AWB]. But why so strong an assurance that Paul is speaking the truth when he tells about his sorrow and his pain? Because this is a matter of Paul’s inner personal life with which the Romans had had no contact. Again, because, when one forsakes a connection he usually turns severely against it, and Paul wants to exclude such an impression when he now tells the Romans, as he is compelled to do, that the Jews as a nation are rejected by God (581).

The combination of "I say the truth" and "I lie not" is extremely emphatic (an "asseveration"—a mild form of an oath). For similarly impressive "asseverations" by Paul to substantiate the truth of what only he himself knows, see these passages (1:9; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Philippians 1:8; 1 Timothy 2:7). Numerous writers seek to avoid saying that Paul takes an oath here by using the word "asseveration" instead; however, there is little difference between the two words; and as Macknight comments, "This being an appeal to Christ and to the Holy Ghost, as knowing the apostle’s heart, it is of the nature of an oath" (Vol. 1 364).

At any rate, Paul endeavors to establish, in the strongest terms possible, both the depth of his own anguish over Israel’s rejection and the utmost urgency that each and every Israelite turn in penitent faith to obey the gospel.

Paul seems to make a distinction between his own witness—I say the truth—and the witness of his conscience. Perhaps he has in mind the Old Testament law of evidence (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). In addition, he supports the testimony of these two witnesses by appealing to Christ and the Holy Spirit for further corroboration. It is not simply Paul who says the truth and lies not. It is Paul, the Christian, who is in Christ who says the truth and does not lie. It is also Paul’s conscience, as directed by the Holy Spirit, which corroborates. Cranfield notes:

Paul knows that the value of the testimony of a man’s good conscience depends on the moral sensitivity of the man. Where the moral sense is dull…the testimony of the conscience is of little value. But where the mind is bound to God’s law…, where it is being renewed, there the testimony of the conscience is of great worth. So Paul adds "in the Holy Spirit"; for he knows that his conscience is that of one whose mind is being renewed … by the Holy Spirit (218).

Thus, Paul opens this section with poignant dramatic effect. Accountable to Christ and his conscience directed by the Holy Spirit, Paul insists that what he is about to reveal is the absolute truth and no lie. Immediately he captures our attention. After the triumphant doxology closing chapter eight, we wonder what can possibly warrant such a cry. What can possibly be the cause of such great sorrow and ceaseless pain? The magnitude of Paul’s emotion reminds one of Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (Matthew 23:37-38).

Paul wants the Romans to know with absolute certainty that the tale of woe to be told in the next three chapters, revealing the rejection of all of those Jews who remain in unbelief, is one surcharged with pain for him—not only because they are his own countrymen, neighbors, and kinsmen but also because their destiny is a devil’s hell as long as they remain in unbelief.

Verse 3

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ: "Accursed" (a)na/qema) means:

That which has been cursed, cursed, accursed….what is "devoted to the divinity" can be either consecrated or accursed. The meaning of the word in the other N. T. passages moves definitely in the direction of the latter…object of a curse…I could wish that I myself would be accursed (and therefore separated) from Christ Romans 9:3 (BDAG 63).

This technical definition is necessary because many seek to escape Paul’s obvious meaning. The matter before him is so serious and causes such great heartrending pain that Paul would be willing to forfeit his own communion with Christ on behalf of his countrymen if they could be persuaded to believe and obey the gospel of Christ. We are reminded of the plea of Moses:

And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written (Exodus 32:31-32).

Clearly, Paul was willing to suffer the loss of his soul’s salvation if thereby he could prevent the terrible destruction impending upon the Jewish nation as a whole and even worse upon each unbelieving Jew as an individual. For not only was the fate of the nation sealed because of her unbelief, that is, the destruction of Jerusalem and even the Temple (Matthew 24:1-51), but also the eternal destiny of every Jew who failed to believe in Jesus as the Messiah was determined (John 8:24; John 12:44-50).

It is critically important, however, to preserve the imperfect tense of the verb—"could wish (hu)xo/mhn – a first person singular imperfect middle deponent indicative of eu&xomai – AGLP 198)." The idea expressed is "if I could help them I would wish" or "in order to help them I would be glad to." Ernest Burton in his book, Syntax Of The Moods And Tenses In New Testament Greek, says, " ’I could pray’ expresses the meaning with approximate accuracy" (16). Paul did not actually wish or pray for himself to be accursed and separated from Christ because his giving up Christ would not have, in fact, brought his brethren to Christ. His anguish is so great, however, that if it would have done any good toward saving Israel he could have wished to sacrifice his own salvation. Cranfield says:

Of the various grammatically possible explanations the most probable is surely that which takes Paul to mean that he would pray in the way indicated, were it permissible for him so to do and if the fulfillment of such a prayer could benefit his fellow- Jews, but does not do so, because he realizes it would be wrong and fruitless (219).

for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: By naming them as "my brethren," Paul points out the personal bond existent between himself and his fellow nationals. They are his countrymen, even his blood relatives. Paul’s patriotic feeling for his nation is evident; however, he hastens to add that they are his brethren and kinsmen in the flesh. Oh, how he wishes he could call them his brethren and kinsmen also according to the spirit. As Lenski says, "So much had God thought of them, such high prerogatives he had bestowed on them. Therefore, Paul still thinks of them with such devotion and, alas, with such grief" (584).

Jesus, himself, bears this same relationship to Israel. According to the flesh, He belongs to Israel; but according to the Spirit, He is God who is over all, blessed forever—as we shall see (9:4-5).

Verse 4

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Who are Israelites: Those over whom Paul is experiencing such great sorrow and pain are Israelites—they are God’s distinct people to whom belonged each of the cherished blessings in the following litany. With reference to their language, they were Hebrews. With reference to their nationality, they were Jews and had been since their return from Babylonian captivity—though their number included the smaller tribe of Benjamin (11:1) and a few isolated members of the other ten tribes (Luke 2:36; Acts 4:36). But the name Israelites harks back to Jacob whose name God changed to Israel (contender with God) in honor of Jacob’s prevailing faith, which would not let God go until God had blessed him. This was the nation’s theocratic covenant name.

to whom pertaineth the adoption: This blessing refers to Israel’s sonship—their selection as God’s own peculiar people. "Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Exodus 19:5; Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 31:20).

and the glory: The reference here is the visible sign of the presence of God. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, which led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 40:34-38), was one manifestation of God’s glory. So also was the glory of the Lord that rested in a cloud over the tabernacle and shone from between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 40:34; Leviticus 16:2). The glory of God on the mercy seat was called the Shekinah by the Jews (Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:21-22; 1 Kings 8:11; Psalms 63:2; Psalms 78:61; Psalms 90:16; Isaiah 60:19).

and the covenants: The term is plural but the reference is rather to the progressive repetitions of the covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the patriarchs, in addition to which was added the covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Galatians 3:19).

and the giving of the law: Probably the law given to Moses on the tables of stone written by the finger of God is the object here in addition to the further declarations of the law given to Moses on Sinai. In Romans 3:1-2, Paul lists the written law of God as Israel’s chief advantage over the Gentiles.

and the service of God: The entirety of the Levitical system is meant. The Old Testament system of worship was the worship of the true and living God in the true way under that dispensation— both in its connection to the tabernacle and later to the Temple in Jerusalem.

and the promises: This is the last of the blessings in Paul’s first list. The reference here is undoubtedly to the promises concerning the Messiah, His kingdom, and the new and living way by which He would rule it. Lenski observes that "this term is vital here, we shall hear more about ’the promise,’ for its correlative is faith and the Israelites refused to come to faith" (585).

Macknight adds:

The apostle enumerated the privileges of the Jews not only to show that he respected them on account of these privileges, but to make them sensible of the loss they were about to sustain, by God’s casting them off. They were to be excluded from the better privileges of the gospel church of which their ancient privileges were but the types. For their relation to God as His people, signified by the name Israelite prefigured the more honorable relation which believers, the true Israel, stand in to God (Vol.1 367).

Macknight needs only the modification that God cast Israel off only because she refused to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God (see 11:1, 15, 20-24).

Verse 5

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Whose are the fathers: The word "Whose" refers, of course, to the Israelites. The fathers were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from whom the nation of Israel descended (Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 4:5; Acts 3:13; Acts 7:32).

and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came: Capping the list is Israel’s crown of glory: namely, that Jesus Christ the Messiah descended from the nation so far as His flesh was concerned. In his defining use of the term gospel in chapter one, Paul says it was "concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (1:3). It is important to note the pregnant phrase "as concerning the flesh," which implies Christ has another nature according to which He did not descend from the fathers, and that other nature is revealed in the next phrase.

who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen: There is great controversy among commentators as to whether this expression comprises a doxology glorifying God on account of His gracious blessings to Israel or a statement affirming Christ’s Lordship and Deity.

The arguments in favor of a doxology to the Father and against Christ’s being referred to here as God are chiefly these:

1) That though Paul regards Jesus as the Son of God and as equal with God he never expressly calls Christ qeo$ but always carefully distinguishes Him as the Kuvrios from qeo$.

2) That the reference here would not merely refer to Christ as God but rather as God over all, which is completely incompatible with the entire view of the New Testament as to the dependence of the Son on the Father.

3) That "in the properly apostolical writings … we never meet with a doxology to Christ in the form that is usual in doxologies to God."

Barmby gives these arguments in The Pulpit Commentary as being derived from Meyer (263).

Each of these arguments fails to sustain the point being made; and in addition several arguments can be adduced on the other side, indicating the reference is to Christ who is over all and who is God. First, the answers to Meyer and his school of interpreters:

1. Paul clearly recognizes the divine nature of Christ as qeo$ in Philippians 2:5-6 and Colossians 1:15. The fact that Paul usually distinguishes God the Father from Christ the Mediator by no means precludes his reference in this place to Christ as God. As already noted, the phrase "as concerning the flesh" suggests a contrasting comment is going to follow. It should also be observed that even John whom all acknowledge to have peculiarly set forth the Deity of Christ only once calls Jesus qeo$ (John 1:1).

2. Barmby says that in answer to Meyer’s second argument it may be replied:

That Christ is "over all" is what is distinctly declared elsewhere by St. Paul and qeo$ may be appended predicatively to denote His Divine essence (263).

Thus, Christ is said to have received all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). He is also said to be God (John 1:1); however, Paul does not declare that He is in a superior position to the Father.

3. To sustain Meyer’s third argument, it must be assumed contrary to all evidence that 2 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 13:21, and 2 Timothy 4:18 are all interpolations added to the apostolic writings. Such is not worthy of serious consideration. Furthermore, Paul’s sentence here does not take the form of a doxology but rather that of a statement. Cranfield notes that with only one Old Testament exception doxologies throughout God’s Word begin with the word "Blessed…," which, of course, is not the case here (223). Barmby adds:

The sentence before us is not a doxology but an assertion: it is according to the ancient interpretation, not "Blessed beChrist as God forever"; but "Christ, who is God blessed for ever" (263-264).

To these negatives of Meyer’s position, these positive arguments sustain the ancient interpretation that Paul refers to Jesus who is over all and who is "the eternally blessed God" (NKJV).

1. This view gives the most obvious meanings to the words themselves.

2. While a doxology to God the Father does not seem to be called for in the text, some statement of contrast to Jesus "as concerning the flesh" is expected to complete the crowning privilege to the Israelite race (1:3-4).

3. If a doxology had been intended, the first word of the sentence would be "blessed" (Luke 1:68; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3).

4. In those cases where the word "blessed" follows the subject of the sentence, it is a simple statement—not a doxology (1:25; 2 Corinthians 11:31).

5. The whole objection to this view is based on modern criticism whose interpretation is based on what Paul meant to say rather than what he did say—such a process of interpretation is very unsafe.

Cranfield makes this concluding observation to his list of arguments supporting the view above:

Verse 5b affirms first the Christ’s lordship over all things (compare, for example, 14.9; Philippians 2:10) and secondly His divine nature…We take it then that in verse 5 Paul is affirming that Christ, who, in so far as His human nature is concerned, is of the Jewish race, is also Lord over all things and by nature God blessed forever (224).

Verse 6

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect: In Paul’s mind two facts are unassailable: (1) God gave His promises to Israel and He never breaks His word; and (2) these promises of God have been fulfilled in Christ. Reconciling these two facts, however, with the evident fact that Israel in large measure has rejected Christ and, consequently, has been rejected by God is complex. On the surface, it looks as if God has taken back His promises to Israel; however, Paul emphatically rejects such a notion. His expression of heart-wrenching sorrow on behalf of his fellow Jews who are lost because of their unbelief is not to be understood as an indication that God’s word to Israel has failed. Lard observes Paul as saying:

I do not mean in what I imply that God’s word respecting Israel has failed. For such is not the case. "God’s word" must here be taken comprehensively for all his promises relative to the salvation of Israel. That word has not failed; because it never contemplated the whole of Israel and the whole are not accursed. It contemplated a "remnant" only; and a remnant are already saved. Therefore, God’s word has not failed (298).

In other words, the present exclusion of the vast majority of Jews from the privileges of Christianity from Paul’s day even to this day does not imply any unfaithfulness on God’s part respecting His Old Testament promises. Their exclusion is no proof that the gospel age is not the true fulfillment of those promises. In fact, it is the fulfillment of those promises.

For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Paul here clears up a difficulty for earnest Christians. Looking at the Old Testament and the place of prominence assigned to Israel and seeing before their eyes that most of Israel was lost, Christians might conclude that God’s word had failed and that the outcome regarding Israel proved God’s word to be unreliable; however, such a conclusion would be in grave error on both sides of the issue. It would be wrong with regard to Israel because true Israel never included all of the physical descendants of Jacob (2:28-29). It would be wrong with regard to God’s word because the promises of salvation to Israel were always predicated on faithful obedience. Unbelievers were always excluded and only believers were promised acceptance. Simply put: true Israel is not composed of all the Israelites—that is, all who came from Jacob. Lard explains:

All the offspring of Jacob are not Israel in the sense which the word is used in the promise. The word is there used of those only who are so sincere and true as to receive the Messiah. As to these God’s word has not failed. The true Israel, Israel within the meaning of the promise, have accepted Christ; and as the promise embraced no others, it has therefore been strictly kept. It never comprehended the whole unassorted mass of Israel, but those only who should prove themselves true to the gospel. The ultimate rejection of the rest, it has always contemplated (298).

Verse 7

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

Paul’s argument here runs from the physical relationship (which they could all see) to the spiritual relationship (which was not as evident). His point is that the rejection of Israel at large and as a nation does not impugn the promise of God. The children of Ishmael are as much the children of Abraham as the children of Isaac are. Yet God, by His sovereign decree, chose only the descendants of Abraham through the line of Isaac as His peculiar people. The children of Ishmael God rejected. The argument is that God’s word of promise no more includes all of Abraham’s offspring now than it did in Old Testament times. Then, in a physical sense, it included only the descendants of Isaac. In a spiritual sense, not even all of Isaac’s seed were chosen because God’s promise was only to those faithful Israelites who were like Simeon (Luke 2:25): "…the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel…."

Paul says it is the same now. God’s word of promise includes only those who believe and obey the gospel and live faithfully. God’s rejection of all who reject the salvation offered in Christ in no way gives rise to questions about God’s faithfulness to His promise because those who reject Christ were never embraced by God’s promise—no matter from whom they descended.

Lenski suggests that the first clause of verse 7 "neither because they are the seed of Abraham" really should be connected to the last clause of verse 6. In other words, just as it is true that not everyone who descended from Israel (Jacob) was a true Israelite, so it is true that not everyone who descended from Abraham is a true Israelite. Then the next phrase should read, "They are all children," that is, they are all descendants of Abraham. But the scripture plainly says that when it comes to seed, it is "in Isaac" (Genesis 21:12). He argues that the word "seed" here is to be taken in a spiritual sense. Consider these words:

All this is simple when we remember a few things. Abraham is to have seed in connection with Isaac. How so? Because God would establish the covenant made with Abraham also with Isaac and with his spiritual seed after him, Genesis 17:19. This seed was to be as numerous as the stars in heaven, Genesis 15:5. These promises speak of all coming believers as being "seed of Abraham." Many of this seed will be Abraham’s physical descendants but not for this reason "seed for him"; and many more will not be physical descendants of Abraham. See 4:11, 12 on the double fatherhood of Abraham.

This makes "in Isaac" fully clear. He was to be the next representative bearer of the covenant after Abraham even as Jacob was to be the third. In connection with these three and then finally in connection with the twelve patriarchs, sons of Jacob, the covenant would be open to others who, entering it by faith, would be acknowledged by God as "seed for Abraham." God so arranged the covenant line. He did not arrange it to run through Ishmael nor through Esau. When we come to the twelve patriarchs, strictly speaking, the line ran through Juda and then on and on until we reach David and eventually Jesus, the Seed. With him the old covenant and its line of bearers ends because it has attained its goal.

This is a line of individuals but not in the sense that these individuals alone were in the covenant. The covenant was always open to others, to all who entered it by faith (592-593).

Lenski’s point is well taken. God’s covenant was anchored in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but they were only the representative bearers of the covenant. This process, however, did not exclude anyone from being of the "seed of Abraham." No one has ever been excluded from salvation or from the covenant because of physical descent.

Essentially the process for entering the kingdom of God was the same for the Jews then as it is for us today: hear, believe, and obey. The process of God by which Christ, the Seed (Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:19), was brought into the world through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob opened the door of grace to all men. Entrance was for them, as it was for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob themselves, by faith in Christ (Luke 2:25). In the New Testament age what is required of all to enter the kingdom is enough faith to prompt one to obey the gospel. In Old Testament times people had to have enough faith to live just, devout lives "waiting for the consolation of Israel," as Simeon did (Luke 2:25), in order to be regarded as in God’s spiritual kingdom. In both time periods the requirements for salvation were essentially the same: hear, believe and obey God’s word.

Verse 8

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

Paul continues to argue from the physical to the spiritual throughout the succeeding verses. The point is that just as physical descent from Abraham did not necessarily qualify one to be in the chosen line of descent through whom the Seed should come (Jesus Christ—Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:19), neither did being of the Israelites necessarily qualify one to receive the promise of God for salvation. The "children of the flesh" included Ishmael as well as the sons of Keturah. These were not the "children of God"— that is, they were not those adopted by God. God says, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). In the line of physical descent through whom Christ came, it was the "children of the promise"—that is, Isaac’s children—who were "counted for the seed" (Genesis 21:12). In the same manner, in the Christian Age, only those who respond to the gospel of Christ in faithful obedience are counted for Abraham’s spiritual seed. Elsewhere Paul says: "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7).

As far as Abraham’s spiritual seed is concerned in Old Testament times, it included any who were justified, devoutly kept the law under which they lived, and earnestly looked forward to the Messiah’s coming. Paul stresses in these and the succeeding verses that those whom God recognizes as Abraham’s seed (whether for the purpose of physical descent to the "Seed" or for the purpose of spiritual seed for salvation) depends not on the will of man but on the sovereign will of God (4:11-16; Galatians 4:22-31; John 1:13; Matthew 3:9; John 8:31-47; Galatians 3:26-29; Galatians 4:28; 1 John 3:1-2).

Verse 9

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

Paul now supplies two examples demonstrating that man’s blessing, whether physical or spiritual, depends on God’s promise and not on man’s will, his deeds, or his personal worthiness. The first of these examples concerns God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:8-14. The angel promises Abraham that by the same time next year Sarah would bear a child (Genesis 18:10). Lenski makes these observations:

What makes Paul’s grief so poignant are the high prerogatives that had been bestowed on Israel. Paul lists them. They consisted of promises and of what was connected with these promises, their crown being the promised Christ. Now the Word containing this entire blessed volume of promise did not fall by the way. The difficulty did not lie on God’s side, it did not lie with his Word and his promise. Christ came as had been promised. The whole difficulty lay with the Israelites who would not allow themselves to be made "the children of the promise." They banked on their physical descent and not on the covenant promise made to Abraham that in connection with Isaac…seed should be called for Abraham by God. This was what made Paul’s grief so great for these Israelites who were so faithless to the promise (596-597).

Verses 10-13

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

And not only this: Paul quickly reveals that the example he has just cited concerning the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah is not the only example that proves the descent of Christ was the result of God’s choice and not man’s will. He does so, for some might misconstrue God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael as the bearer of the promised seed. They might argue that God chose Isaac over Ishmael because Isaac was the son of the freewoman whereas Ishmael was the son of the bondwoman (Galatians 4:22-31). To prove that such was not the basis of God’s choice, Paul introduces the following example concerning Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac’s wife Rebecca.

but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac: This example for Paul’s purpose is even clearer than the previous one. In this one, both children have the same mother. They have the same father. They were even conceived at the same moment. Cranfield notes the Greek implies that Jacob and Esau were conceived as identical twins and not simply that Rebecca had intercourse with only one man (230).

(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil: This parenthesis emphasizes the fact that God’s choice of Jacob as the third representative bearer of the Seed did not depend in any degree upon man. Jacob and Esau were not born when God elected Jacob to continue the line of physical descent to the "Seed," Jesus Christ. Furthermore, God’s choice was not based upon any behavior of either of the twins—or of the boys had done any evil nor any good. The choice of physical descent was independent of all human merit.

In the previous case (that of Isaac and Ishmael), it could be legitimately argued that Isaac was the son of Abraham’s real wife while Ishmael was only the son of Abraham’s wife’s handmaid. This was not the basis of God’s selection of Isaac, but one could be excused for thinking it might have been. In the second example, God could as readily have selected Esau as He did Jacob. Yet He chose Jacob. Human merit had no place in His decision.

that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;): The declaration in verse 12 was made to Rebecca in answer to her query about the struggle being waged in her womb (Genesis 25:23). The point, God says, was that His purpose, accomplished by "election," might stand. God’s election, however, is not based on human works. Instead it is rooted in Him who calls, that is, God. Cranfield remarks:

The divine distinguishing between Jacob and Esau preceded their birth, so that God’s electing purpose might be fulfilled in its complete independence of human merit and dependence on God alone, whose call, by which He gives effect to His election, is altogether His free act (230).

One should keep in mind that the election under consideration has nothing whatever to do with salvation. In Paul’s explanation to Israel that God has not reneged on His promise, even though most of Israel stands rejected before God, two arguments run side by side like two ribbons. The first concerns God’s election of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel as the line of physical descent through whom the Seed, Jesus Christ, should come. This argument is easily recognized because it is about physical descent. The other argument running alongside concerns those whom God elects to salvation. Paul’s purpose is to demonstrate that just as the line of descent was independent of human merit—a point all Israel recognized—so also the election of God to salvation is independent of human merit. That is not to say that election for salvation has no conditions, for it does. Neither is it to say that election for salvation sets aside man’s freewill, for it does not. It is to say that the process of election, together with the conditions under which it will be applied, depends upon God alone. It comes by virtue of God’s choice and not on the basis of human merit. The first argument concerning the physical line of descent through which Christ came as a result of God’s election and not men’s work is illustrative of the second argument: that is, that salvation comes only to those who accept the conditions upon which God elects men to salvation. The election discussed here in verse 11, however, has nothing directly to do with salvation but rather with the birth of Jesus.

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger: The passage cited is Genesis 25:23, which in its entirety says:

And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

The context clearly indicates an ellipsis in the last clause, which should be understood as "the elder nation shall serve the younger nation." Not only does the immediate context of Genesis 25 demand such an understanding but also the following quotation in Romans 9 insists on it. Cranfield notes:

The interest of this Genesis verse as a whole is clearly in Jacob and Esau not just as individuals but also, and particularly, as the ancestors of two nations…It is important to stress that neither as they occur in Genesis nor as they are used by Paul do these words refer to the eternal destinies either of the two persons or of the individual members of the nations sprung from them; the reference is rather to the mutual relations of the two nations in history (231).

Corroborating this view is the fact that in the Old Testament history Esau did not serve Jacob at any time. If anything, the reverse was true; however, the nation of Edom, which descended from Esau, did serve Israel and was finally assimilated by Israel (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 22:47).

In quoting this passage from Genesis, Paul establishes that the line of Jesus’ physical descent came through the nation descended from Jacob purely as a result of God’s election or choice. In accord with that line of descent, the elder nation deriving from Esau was made subject to and finally absorbed by Israel.

As it is written: It is important always to note passages that say, "it is written." A casual reading of Romans 9 might lead one to conclude that this prophecy was also said to Rebecca. That would be a grievous error, however, for this was not written until some twelve hundred years later. This prophecy was written in the time of Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet.

Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated: Again, as in Paul’s earlier reference, the entire context is helpful to understanding:

The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel (Malachi 1:1-5).

Obviously, Paul references nations in both of these quotations and not individuals. The point in the Malachi passage is the same as that in Genesis, but it expresses it even more clearly. God loved Jacob in the sense that He chose Jacob and his descendants to be the nation through whom Christ would come. He hated Esau in the sense that He rejected Esau: He left him outside of His relationship with Israel. We must recognize, however, that this selection had nothing to do with the salvation or condemnation of either Jacob or Esau as individuals or the representatives of their descendant nations. As in the case of Ishmael, Esau still was an object of God’s merciful care (Genesis 27:39; Genesis 36; 1 Chronicles 1:35-54; Deuteronomy 23:7; Amos 2:1-3). Barmby says:

The strong expression, "Esau I hated" (applicable as shown above, not to the individual Esau, but to the race of Edom) is capable of being explained as meaning, "I excluded him from the love I showed Israel." The evidence of such alleged hatred the prophet expressed thus: "and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness;" whereas Israel, it is implied, had been protected from such desolation (265).

Verse 14

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

What shall we say then: Paul’s question here is rhetorical. Rather than anticipating some objector, as he frequently does, Paul frames his own question in order to accomplish three things:

1. He draws the conclusion that God by His own sovereign authority has the right to choose whomever He will to be the progenitors of Christ.

2. He sets up his next argument in which he asserts and defends God’s equal right to reject whomever He will.

3. He establishes both of these points to lay the groundwork for demonstrating God’s sovereign authority in electing some men to salvation and rejecting others.

Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid: In the foregoing examples, detailing God’s choices (election) of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau as the representative bearers of the Seed, Who is Christ, is there any room for objection by anyone? Absolutely not. Since God’s distinguishing choices between men depends, and has always depended, solely upon His choice without reference to men’s works, can the charge of

injustice not be leveled at God? Emphatically, Paul replies, "God forbid." In the next verse, he proceeds to offer support for such a strong negative; hence, the conjunction with which verse 15 begins.

Verse 15

For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

In support of his emphatic denial of unrighteousness with God on account of His choices of Isaac and Jacob, Paul inserts God’s statement to Moses in Exodus 33:19. God’s mercy can neither be earned nor controlled by man. God is free to extend His mercy to whomever He will within the limits of His own divine personality. God’s mercy, however, cannot be extended capriciously, for His justice prohibits such a distribution. God alone has the sovereign right to extend His mercy to man. Man and his deeds can lay no claim against God either compelling or prohibiting His extension of mercy. Whiteside agrees:

No one can keep God from showing mercy to whom He will. But to whom will He show mercy? "He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13) (201).

Whiteside has articulated the central truth to be established. The key question to keep in the forefront of one’s mind is not whether God can show mercy. Of course, He can. Man cannot control that. The key question is: "But to whom will He show mercy?" The answer is found in the revelation of God’s will contained in His word.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that in connection with this immediate context the mercy under reference is not an eternal pardon granted to individuals. The reference is to God’s choice of the nation of Israel as recipients of His favor even after Israel’s sin in the matter of the golden calf. The argument about Israel as the nation through whom Christ should come runs through verse 23. Only later does Paul turn the discussion to address God’s choice of believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews for eternal salvation and His rejection of unbelieving Israel to eternal condemnation.

Verse 16

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

God’s choice of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the founders of the line through whom Christ would come did not occur on the basis of the wills of those men or any others. It did not occur on the basis of their earnest striving (running) either. It came to pass purely on the basis of God’s decision to extend His mercy to them and their successors. Lenski observes:

This whole matter is not one of a man willing or not willing as though, unless a man first put forth a certain amount of volition, God would not extend his mercy and pity to him; nor one of a man running or not running as though, unless a man first ran and put forth all his exertion like a runner in a race, the prize of God’s mercy and pity would not be accorded him. The idea that mercy and pity are ever thus obtained is self-contradictory. They are directed toward the wretched and lost who have no power to run or even to will. Far removed, too, is the thought of restriction as though if men will ever so earnestly, run ever so strenuously, all is in vain if they are not among the elect: they remain under God’s merciless, pitiless judgment of damnation.

No; it is as plain as day: according to God’s own statement to Moses this is solely a matter "of him that has or extends the mercy," namely of "God" (610).

Lenski’s comment relative to the fact that mercy is no more mercy if the will or effort of the recipient controls or merits the favor is excellent, but it must be tempered in one point. He mentions "the wretched and lost who have no power to run or even to will." As far as eliciting God’s extension of mercy, this is a true statement. Once God, however, extends His mercy by giving men the plan whereby they can be saved, He expects them to obey. The will and effort of mankind cannot cause God to extend mercy. But once He does, men must submit their will and their deeds in obedience to His plan. Lenski’s implication that without a divine experience men cannot obey God is a basic building block of Calvinism. Nevertheless, in general, his comment here is excellent.

God’s choice depends neither on human volition nor human action. It is independent of both. God determines within Himself His own reasons for His choice. Macknight makes an interesting comment as to why Paul has delayed making this statement in verse 16 until now rather than making it immediately after verse 13:

The apostle reserved it to this place, that he might have God’s answer to Moses as its foundation likewise. For as in electing the Israelites to be his church and people, so in pardoning them as a nation for worshipping the golden calf. God acted from his mere good pleasure. But if God, from mere good pleasure, elected them at the first, and afterward continued (sic.) them his people, notwithstanding they deserved to have been cast off for their idolatry, why might he not, under the gospel, make the Gentiles his people, although formerly idolaters (Vol. 1 374).

The principle stated here is best illustrated by the story of Rebekah and Jacob and their chicanery in Jacob’s receiving the blessing Isaac intended for Esau. The whole matter was beyond the will and effort of all of them (Genesis 27:1-37). In the New Testament, it is pointed out that, even though he pleaded with strong crying, Esau found no way to change his father’s mind (Hebrews 12:16-17). The whole matter was fixed in the mind of God before any of this happened; and after they were all finished. God’s extension of mercy to Israel had nothing to do with the will or effort of men. In the same way, God’s gracious provision for the salvation of man is not subject either to man’s thinking or his doing. Instead salvation is grounded in God’s mercy and compassion as expressed in His will—the New Testament.

In the verses that follow (17-18), it is shown by the same kind of argument that just as God declares He will have mercy on whomever He will have mercy, irrespective of men’s wills or actions, so also He will reject whomever He wills. God’s power is absolute. He alone is sovereign. His justice is unimpeachable— both in His determination to show mercy and in His determination to reject. Paul supports his assertion of God’s right to harden or reject according to His own will and not man’s by referencing the matter concerning the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:16).

Verse 17

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh: Paul obviously has a high view of the nature of the scriptures. When God Himself speaks to Pharaoh through His servant Moses (Exodus 9:16), Paul records it as "the scripture says." For Paul, "the scripture says" is essentially the same as "God says." Scripture here is personified as interchangeable with God Himself. A similar personification is used in Galatians 3:8-22.

Paul’s use of the subordinating conjunction gar ("For") determines how verses 17 and 18 relate to the preceding verses. Some writers say gar ties this verse sequentially to verse 16, making verses 17 and 18 an example of the principle cited in verse 16 (Cottrell cites Achtemeier and Dunn as holding this view, Vol. 2 97); however, it is more in concert with Paul’s argument to take gar as parallel to the gar in verse 15. Both of these introduce clauses subordinate to the point made in verse 14. The overarching point of Paul’s argument is that God has not been unjust to the Jews, even though most stand rejected by Him. The conclusion of the argument comes in verse 18: God is sovereign and just, and He will extend mercy to whomsoever He desires and He will harden whomsoever He desires. God will always act in accord with every facet of His own character, but it must be recognized that He is absolutely sovereign. Numerous scholars support this view (Lenski 613; Cranfield 234; Cottrell Vol. 2 97; Lard 305).

Even for this purpose have I raised thee up: Considerable consternation has resulted from the fact that the Septuagint uses one word to translate the Hebrew, Paul uses a different word, and none of the three words agree closely with each other. The Hebrew word means "to stand" (Wilson 339). The Septuagint uses a word meaning "preserved" and says "on this account art thou preserved" (Clarke Vol. 1 335). The word Paul uses is e)ch/geirav. Perschbacher defines it as "to raise up into existence, or into a certain condition" (AGLP 148). BDAG gives "cause to appear, bring into being" (347). Sanday and Headlam present an interesting discussion of these words and their relationship to one another, but they conclude that the correct interpretation is that of "God calling up the actors on the stage of history" (256). This understanding is correct. Paul, speaking by inspiration, slightly changes the Old Testament language and generalizes the statement of Exodus 9:16, applying the words to the appearance of Pharaoh on the field of history.

that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth: Pharaoh was brought upon the field of history for two reasons: (1) that through him God might make known His sovereign power; and (2) that as a result of this display of divine power, God’s name would be declared throughout all the world. God raised up Pharaoh for these purposes, and He intended to accomplish His will regardless of the direction Pharoah went with his life. Whether Pharaoh chose to be good or bad, obedient or disobedient, did not alter God’s purposes and use of him: God would be glorified regardless of how Pharaoh lived.

Note carefully the progression of Paul’s argument in these verses (14-18). The typical Jew, against whom Paul is arguing, contended that God was unjust in His treatment of the Jews because He had rejected most of them. He reasoned that if God were going to use the Jews to accomplish His desires, He was obligated to save them. Paul denies both that God was unjust and that He was obligated to save the Jews simply because He used them to accomplish His purposes.

First, God is not unjust in His treatment of the Jews because He exercises absolute sovereignty in the way He chooses those who will serve His purposes. His choice of Jacob and rejection of Esau demonstrate this idea by example (verses 7-13). This fact is further substantiated by the citation from Moses (Exodus 33:19 b) in verses 14 through 16. God is free to choose whomsoever He pleases to serve His purposes.

Furthermore, God is not only just in His selection of Israel for His service, even though most Jews stand currently condemned, but also He is under no obligation to save them as a consequence of His choosing them for service. This is the thrust of Paul’s argument in verses 17 and 18. God’s sovereignty includes His prerogative to choose and use someone without saving him. Pharaoh is a classic example of this prerogative.

Paul is not saying, however, that God is arbitrary in His choices and rejections nor that He is capricious in His actions.

Furthermore, Paul is not speaking here of salvation in heaven and condemnation in hell. Sanday and Headlam summarize these facts succinctly:

We must not soften the passage. On the other hand, we must not read into it more than it contains: as, for example, Calvin does. He imports various extraneous ideas, that St. Paul speaks of election to salvation and of reprobation to death, that men were created that they might perish, that God’s action not only might be but was arbitrary…

The Apostle says nothing about eternal life or death. He says nothing about the principles upon which God does act; he never says that His action is arbitrary (he will prove eventually that it is not so), but only that if it be arbitrary, then no Jew who accepts the Scripture has any right to complain. He never says or implies that God has created man for the purpose of his damnation. What he does say is that in His government of the world God reserves to Himself perfect freedom of dealing with man on His own conditions and not on man’s. So Gore…sums up the argument: "God always revealed Himself as retaining His liberty of choice, as refusing to tie Himself, as selecting the historic examples of His hardening judgment and His compassionate good will, so as to baffle all attempts on our part to create His vocations by our own efforts, or anticipate the persons whom He will use for His purposes of mercy or of judgment" (258).

Returning to Paul’s main argument, we must remember that God brought Pharaoh on the scene to display His power and to cause His name to be proclaimed in all the world. God accomplished His purposes irrespective of Pharaoh’s rejection of God. It seems likely that God foreknew Pharaoh would harden his heart at the revelation of God’s power demonstrated through Moses. But whether or not He did is not important. If Pharaoh had at some point relented and obeyed God, then God would have been glorified and His power established. As it turned out, Pharaoh hardened his heart; but in spite of his recalcitrant stubbornness, God was still glorified, for He led Israel out on an outstretched arm, and Pharaoh was finally slain by his own rashness (Deuteronomy 26:8; Exodus 14:17). As Cottrell observes:

Thanks to the way God used Pharaoh through the whole episode of the Exodus, God’s name and power were magnified in all the nations. The Song of Moses included these words: "The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away," (Exodus 15:14-15; see vv 16-17). See Joshua 2:9-11; Joshua 9:9; Joshua 11:1-4 for the fulfillment of these words.

The display of power in Egypt was a continuing testimony to God’s omnipotence for the Israelites themselves (Deuteronomy 6:22; Deuteronomy 7:18-19; Deuteronomy 11:1-4), and it continued to be celebrated throughout their history (Psalms 78:12-13; Psalms 105:26-38; Psalms 135:9; Psalms 136:10-15; Acts 7:36).

The main point is that God is free to use as his instruments even hardened unbelievers; this is not contrary to his justice (v. 14). That God was justified in using Pharaoh thus was something any Jew would have granted. Paul simply wanted the Jews to see that the same principle applied to them as a nation. They could serve God’s purposes, whether as individuals they were believers or not (Vol. 2 100).

Verse 18

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy: Once more, God is sovereign. God will decide on His own with no input from man on whom He will have mercy. God will decide on His own whom He will harden without any advice from man. The key question to be asked is not whether or not God is absolutely sovereign or whether He is just in exercising His sovereignty. The question is: On whom does God have mercy? Whom does God harden? Is God fickle or capricious in such decisions? Are there some people God "takes a shine to" and others whom He arbitrarily and unilaterally rejects? Of course, God is not fickle; neither is He arbitrary. Relative to salvation, God has mercy on all men—whether Jew or Gentile—who accept His system of righteousness declared on the basis of faith in Christ Jesus. He hardens all who reject Jesus Christ and who fail to obey the gospel. The same sun that softens butter hardens clay. The difference is not in the sunlight but in the response of the object it strikes.

and whom he will he hardeneth: The process by which Pharaoh’s heart was hardened is interesting. By the time "the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth" (verse 17; Exodus 9:16), the sixth plague has already broken out upon Egypt. Fully half of the plagues have already occurred. Notice carefully the following interesting patterns concerning scriptural references to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Twenty times in the Old Testament, the scriptures speak of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. Ten times Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart. Ten times God is said to harden Pharaoh’s heart. In the first two references, God, foreknowing Pharaoh’s heart, said, "I will (that is, in the future—AWB) harden Pharaoh’s heart" (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3). In the next seven references covering the first five plagues, Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart (Exodus 7:13-14; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7). Only during the sixth plague does the Bible finally say that God overtly hardens Pharaoh’s heart (9:12). After that, Pharaoh twice more hardens his own heart (Exodus 9:34-35). Then seven times God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). Finally, once more after many, many years, this process is mentioned. The Philistines recall the fact that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (1 Samuel 6:6). Notice the repeated but inverse pattern:

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

2 times God hardens2 times Pharaoh hardens
7 times Pharaoh hardens7 times God hardens
1 time God hardens1 time Pharaoh hardens

The last Old Testament reference to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart demonstrates that God’s name was indeed declared throughout the earth concerning this matter. In 1 Samuel 6:6, the Philistines rebuke their own people for hardening their hearts as Pharaoh had in Egypt—some 350 years earlier!

Obviously, God gave Pharaoh numerous opportunities to relinquish before He actively hardened him Himself. But the question is: How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Did God force Pharaoh against his own will to oppose God’s will? Did God cause Pharaoh to be hardened in some way beyond Pharaoh’s control? The answer to these last two questions is a resounding NO. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in five ways—none of which arbitrarily forced Pharaoh to become hardened. Pharaoh was in control of his own will and maintained his complete free moral agency throughout the ordeal. At any time he could have chosen to obey God, but he stubbornly refused until he finally was killed when the walls of the Red Sea collapsed on him.

1. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by the way he spoke to Pharaoh. God commanded Pharaoh, who was the ruler of all the civilized world, to let Israel go. He did not ask or beg or in any way cater to Pharaoh. He demanded that he let Israel go.

2. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by what He demanded of Pharaoh. Egypt’s economy depended on the cheap slave labor of Israel. The price was too much for Pharaoh. What would life in Egypt be like without millions of Hebrew slaves to fuel the economy and provide every want of the Egyptians?

3. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by the messenger He used. Moses was eighty years old. He was a renegade murderer who had rejected the beneficence of Pharaoh himself. Instead he had become an odious sheepherder. He was so halting in his speech that he could not even speak for himself. His eighty-three year old brother was his spokesman. His brother was nothing but a common slave. To cap it all, these wretched rebellious ingrates threatened Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world.

4. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by the mercies He continued to show to Pharaoh. Every time Pharaoh asked, God relented and lifted the plague.

5. Finally, God hardened Pharaoh by repeated demonstrations of overwhelming miraculous power. The first two plagues Pharaoh’s magicians were able to imitate, but the third plague, the one of lice, they could not imitate. In fact, they said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:18-19). From that point on to the death of Pharaoh’s own firstborn son, the Egyptians and Pharaoh were helpless against God’s overwhelming miraculous power.

In all of these ways God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But in none of them did God act capriciously. Not once did He force Pharaoh to do anything against his own will. Lard provides the final note: "Faultless justice remains with God" (308).

Verse 19

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

In verse 14, Paul’s question is rhetorical. Rather than anticipating an objector, he uses that question to frame three salient points:

1. God, by His own sovereign authority, has the right to choose whomsoever He so desires to be the progenitors of Christ.

2. By the same token, He has the sovereign right to reject whomsoever He will from that service.

3. He establishes that both of these points lay the groundwork for demonstrating God’s sovereign authority to elect some men to salvation and some to condemnation. Read carefully the explanation of how this process occurs (see verses 20 and 21 for details).

As the argument turns in this verse from God’s choice of servants to bring Christ into the world to God’s choice of servants for eternal salvation, Paul now anticipates an objector in this question. Likely he is a typical first century Jew. Cottrell cites Forster and Marston, calling him "Paul’s Pharisee Critic" (Vol. 2 110). In verse 20, Paul addresses him as "O man" just as he does in Romans 2:1.

The objection emerges from what has been said in the previous verses, especially verses 15–18. The issue is the status of the Jewish nation, most of whom now stand under condemnation, cursed, and cut off from Christ because of their determined rejection of the gospel. Assuming (contrary to fact) that God’s decisions regarding mercy and hardening are unconditional, the question arises in the words of Pendleton:

Paul, if God shows mercy to whom he will, and if he hardens whom he will, then it is he who has hardened us Jews in unbelief against the gospel. Why, then, does he still find fault with us, since he himself, according to your argument has excluded us from blessedness, and made us unfit for mercy? (402)

Critics ask: How can God hold us responsible for our unbelief and, therefore, condemn us to hell, if our hardening and, therefore, our unbelief are His own doing? Does this not suggest that after all He is unjust?

For who hath resisted his will: Paul’s objector attempts to bolster his first question by pointing out that no one can resist God’s sovereign will. Such resistance is impossible. If God hardens whomever He wants to harden, then our sin and rebellion are actually His will, are they not? So why is He punishing us as if we were resisting His will when in reality we are not because we cannot—no one can.

Paul’s objector has made a fatal flaw in his assumption that God is capricious in extending His mercy and in hardening whomever He so desires. It is true that in choosing Israel for service in bringing the Christ into the world, God’s election was unconditional; however, God’s choices for salvation and condemnation in eternity are neither capricious nor unconditional. As Lard correctly observes: "God does not make the human family just what they are and then find fault with them for being what he makes them. Morally men make themselves what they are" (309).

The real question is: Upon whom does God shower mercy and whom does He harden? The answer is twofold:

1. God is absolutely sovereign.

2. God extends mercy to all men who submit in obedience to His will as it is expressed in the gospel and who live faithfully thereto. By the same token, He hardens all men who reject the gospel of Christ and refuse to submit in obedience and refuse to walk in faithfulness. In the section following this one (9:29–10:21), Paul establishes these facts beyond question. Before that, however, the audacity of this objector in questioning God’s sovereign right and authority must be hammered.

Verse 20

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God: Three words in the original bring out clearly the strength of Paul’s rebuke to his Jewish objector:

1. Menou=nge rendered "Nay but" in the KJV implies a strong rebuke. BDAG defines it as "on the contrary" (630), which is how the NASB renders it. This expression signals Paul’s stern correction to the erroneous thinking of this objector who seeks to justify himself in his unbelief.

2. W@ a&nqrwpe rendered "O man." Cranfield observes:

The literal rendering "O man" (not Barrett’s ’my dear sir’ or the NEB ’sir’) is demanded here by the contrast with "God." In the original "O man" begins the sentence and "God" is the last word of it. By thus setting man over against God Paul is certainly putting man in his place. It puts man in his place, not by contrasting creaturely weakness with arbitrary almightiness, but by reminding him of what "man" is according to Holy Scripture—the creature created in the image of God, the sinner for whose sin Christ died and for whose justification He has been raised from the dead (237).

Paul thus reminds his typical Jewish objector that not only has he, the created, no right to complain against God, the Creator, but also God has the Creator’s right to do what He will with those He has Himself shaped and fashioned.

3. A)ntapokrino/meno$, rendered "repliest against" in the KJV, is a very strong rebuke. LN say this word means "to express disapproval in return—to criticize in return" and should be translated "but who then are you to criticize God in return" (1:436). Weymouth translates, "Nay but who are you a mere man to cavil against God." Lamsa: "Who are you to question God." Goodspeed: "to answer back to God"; Moffatt: "to speak back"; the NIV: "talk back" (26 Translations of the Holy Bible. Vol. 3 691)

Paul’s first words to the objector attack the audacious and presumptuous attitude of the carping critic. This man has not simply raised a sincere question designed to clear up confusion. Rather he has arrogantly assumed a debater’s stance against God. As Pendleton rephrases the question, Who are you, a mere human being, a "feeble morsel of sinful dust, wilt thou wrangle with

God!" (403). It is amazing that many writers say Paul does not dispute the objector’s logic in his understanding of verse 18 but rather only attacks his audacity in talking back to God. It is patently obvious that Paul not only severely rebukes the man but also answers his cavil. The rest of chapter nine and all of chapter ten reveal his answer.

Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus: This is familiar imagery to the Jews. The Old Testament imagery of the potter and the clay appears in many passages in a variety of connections (Job 10:9; Psalms 2:9; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-12). It also appears several times in apocryphal books (Wisdom of Solomon 15:7-17; Sirach 27:5; Sirach 33:13; Sirach 38:29-30). These words are obviously reminiscent of Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9, but they are probably not an intended quotation as such. The substance of Paul’s question is formed rather by what he is about to express in the next verse and probably only coincidentally appears to be a citation from Isaiah. Cottrell describes well the scene conjured in the reader’s mind at this juncture:

As Paul uses the metaphor in verse 20b the complaint comes not from the clay as such but from the piece of pottery formed from it. The scene is almost comical: a finished pot is lifted from the potter’s wheel and, personified, looks upon itself with disappointment. It then glares accusingly at the potter and reprimands him thus: "Why did you make me to look like this? I’m a mess! Is this the best you could do? Haven’t you made some sort of mistake?" (Vol. 2 115).

The potter-clay analogy is used to teach several different lessons (Job 10:8-9; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-12); therefore, it is important that the point of its usage here be understood and applied narrowly rather than indiscriminately across all such potter-clay references. Paul’s point here is that the potter is the one who decides how to use the clay. It is not the other way around. It is absurd to consider the potter’s creation criticizing the potter for the shape it has been given. Specifically, Paul uses this metaphor to describe God’s relationship with His creation—the nation of Israel. This is the same way Jeremiah employed the analogy (18:1-12). Notice verses 5 and 6 of Jeremiah 18 : "Then the word of the Lord came to me saying: ’O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ’Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel!’" (NKJV).

Paul rebukes his objector not as a creature in God’s creation and not as a particular condemned sinner, but as a representative of the nation of Israel. Through this objector, Israel is complaining that God has been treating the nation unfairly because, by and large, most of the nation stands rejected by God.

Verse 21

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

In tragic irony to the Gentiles, Israel who had been running after righteousness had not attained it. Israel here refers to the nation as a whole—the vast majority of whom were lost. Although they vigorously sought the righteousness of Moses’ law, they failed miserably to attain it. The "law of righteousness" stands here for the law of Moses. The Jews sought justification upon the basis of the meritorious works of the law rather than on the basis of faith. While such a justification was, theoretically, possible for anyone who lived his entire life in sinless perfection, the law could not justify anyone who had sinned even one time. Consequently, from the day the law was given, the Jews, who sought right standing before God on the basis of their own works, all failed to attain the righteousness of the law. It should be remembered, however, that there were Jews throughout Israel’s history who kept the law and sought justification on the basis of faith (Hebrews 11:1-40; Luke 2:25). These attained what their brethren and nation as a whole did not. The next verse explains this fact. All Jews who were men of faith and who lived in the gospel age obeyed the gospel when it was preached to them. But Paul explains in the next verse why most of them failed so tragically.

Verse 22

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Why had Israel failed to attain righteousness? The answer is that she did not seek it on the right basis. She sought it on the basis of personal worthiness—that is, on the basis of works of merit. In actuality, there were three possibilities under which a Jew could attain righteousness:

1. By perfect sinless obedience throughout life; however, no one has ever accomplished this goal, except Jesus Himself (3:20, 23).

2. By obeying the gospel of Christ when it is preached (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:4 l; 4:10-12; et al.).

3. By obeying the law of Moses in faith during those days when Moses’ law prevailed (Hebrews 11:28-40).

For the vast majority of Israel, this last was the only visible provision for their salvation. None was sinless. Most of them did not live in the gospel age. But how could a Jew, not living in the gospel age, seek the law of righteousness in faith? He had to recognize his own unworthiness. He had to recognize he was a sinner and thus dependent on God’s merciful forgiveness for salvation. He had to be a devout keeper of the law, always ready to offer the sacrifices required by it. And last he had to be looking for the Messiah to come. Simeon (Luke 2:25) provides a paradigm for a faithful Jew. He was devout—that is, his religion was not haphazard, casual, or routine. It was committed and constant. He was just—that is, he recognized his sins as sins and offered the appropriate sacrifice in penitent obedience. Finally, he was waiting "for the consolation of Israel." In other words, he recognized the Messiah must come in order to remove the penalty of the sins for which he had been given pretermission (forgiveness with a view to something that must happen in the future—the death of Jesus that actually paid the penalty of sin) (Romans 3:25). In fact, this character is exactly the type anyone must have in order to be saved.

For they stumbled at the stumblingblock: Paul cites God’s warning to Israel in Isaiah 8:13-15:

The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be your fear,

And let Him be your dread He will be as a sanctuary.

But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. To both the houses of Israel,

As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem And many among them shall stumble;

They shall fall and be broken, Be snared and taken (NKJV).

Though Jehovah promises to be a sanctuary or a place of safety, at the same time He will be a stumbling stone against which many of the Jews will fall and be broken. Originally, referring to Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel, this passage ultimately applies to Jesus Christ who is the "express image" of Jehovah God (Hebrews 1:2-3). In Old Testament times, God presented Himself as the Holy Place of refuge for Israel against all her enemies (Isaiah 26:20-21; Ezekiel 11:16). But if Israel refused to take shelter in God’s grace, the same stone would become a stone of stumbling against which Israel would crash and be broken (Isaiah 65:1-7). Lenski dramatically says, "This is not a stone over which one may merely stumble and recover oneself but one against which one runs with his entire body and smashes it entirely; it is like knocking one’s brains out (637)." Stumbling over this stone was always the result in Israel when the people pursued the "law of righteousness" by meritorious works rather than by faith. In the same way, the majority of Jews living in Jesus’ day stumbled against Him (Luke 2:34; Luke 20:17-18; Matthew 21:44; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 11:9-11). Jesus was God in the flesh, and it should be no surprise that Israel rejected Him just as they had rejected Jehovah. They had been serving God on the wrong basis for generations—even centuries. As a result the "stumblingstone" fell on them and ground them to powder (Matthew 21:44). The problem never was with God. Israel fell as she had before in the wilderness "because of her unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).

Verse 23

As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

As it is written: This citation is a blending of two passages from Isaiah. "Behold, I lay in Sion" is found in Isaiah 28:16, and "a stumblingstone and rock of offence" is in Isaiah 8:14. The last clause, "and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" returns once more to Isaiah 28:16. Paul’s blend here is interesting. In Isaiah 8:14, while Jehovah is a sanctuary, the emphasis is on the fact that He is a rock of judgment; however, in Isaiah 28, the emphasis is focused on the stone as a refuge and a place of safety. Paul combines the two to keep in focus the fact that God’s interest in Israel was not one-faceted but multi-faceted. As Paul says in Romans 11:22; "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God." The stone here is the source of both judgment and promise.

Behold, I lay in Sion: It is interesting to note that in Isaiah 8:14 Jehovah is the stone, but in Isaiah 28 Jehovah places the stone in Zion. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the name of God and refers to all three persons of the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In Isaiah 8:14, all three are referred to by one name; but in Isaiah 28:16, the emphasis is on the distinction of persons as Jehovah places the stone, who is Jesus, in Zion. The fact that Jesus is the stone under consideration is implicit and can be demonstrated by comparing several passages. Matthew 16:16-18 is clearly based on Isaiah 28:14-19. Peter’s confession summarizes the person and work of Jesus, who is the foundation stone upon which the church is built (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10).

a stumblingstone and rock of offence: How can Jesus be both a stone that causes men to stumble or a rock that falls on men and grinds them to powder ( Matthew 21:44) and a refuge of safety at the same time? First, we should note that God does not desire, intend, nor cause any Jew (or Gentile) to fall over this stone or be broken by it. The stone is intended as a refuge, but men stumble over it when they reject the preaching of the gospel.

The words rendered "stumblingblock" are li/qon prosko/mmato$ ("stone of stumbling"). The verb "they stumbled" (prose/koyan) means "to strike or bump against or over; figuratively it means to give offense, to take offense at, to reject" (Cottrell Vol, 2 152), The noun derived from this verb is pro/skomma and though it can refer to the object over which one stumbles, here it refers to the act of stumbling as such (see Cottrell Vol. 2 152). The word rendered "offense" (skanda/lou) means:

An action or circumstance that leads one to act contrary to a proper course of action or set of of beliefs, temptation to sin, enticement to apostasy, false belief… To those who cannot come to a decision to believe on him, Jesus is skanda/lon, (BDAG 926).

Cottrell adds that "in the LXX the word often means ’cause of ruin’ and is often used in the sense of a snare or trap or temptation, i.e. a cause for sin and punishment" (Vol. 2 153). He concludes:

Thus a skandalon is something which one opposes or to which one takes offense only to his ruin or destruction. In this light it is easy to see how Jesus is a stumbling stone. Those who oppose him or who take offense at the gospel of the cross fall into eternal ruin and death. This is what happened to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23) and it can happen to anyone else (Vol. 2 153).

If you say, "No" to Him who said, "Yes" to the cross, you will be ground into powder (Matthew 21:44) at the judgment.

and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed: Fortunately, there is another side to this picture. This passage refers to Isaiah 28:16 b, and the Hebrew verb there is interesting. The KJV translates it, "shall not make haste," which accords with the literal definition of the word (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies 208). Figuratively, however, it is "transferred to any great emotion of the mind" (208). The NIV says "will never be dismayed." The NASB has "will not be disturbed." Lamsa translates the Aramaic of the Peshita as "shall not be afraid." The NRSV renders it "will not panic." And the Amplified styles it: "will not be ashamed or give way or make haste [in sudden panic]." The Septuagint says "will not be ashamed." Cottrell resolves all of this variation well:

The passive verb used by Paul means "to be disgraced, to be put to shame," and speaks more of the reason for such panic or hasty flight than the fleeing itself. The idea is that those who take refuge upon the Rock by trusting in him will never have to slink away in shame for having made a humiliating decision (Vol. 2 153).

In other words, those who place their trust in Jesus have no need to worry that their confidence in Him will prove to be ill placed. God keeps His word and will vindicate the faith of His people.

In verses 31-33, Paul establishes the trustworthiness of God by demonstrating that Israel has no one but herself to blame for her lost condition. The problem was that most in Israel placed their trust in their descent from Abraham and the merit of their own works rather than in the promises of God and in Jesus Christ as His Messiah. They pursued righteousness with God by works rather than by faith. They chose justification by law rather than justification by grace. Of course, the Jews hold no monopoly on such an approach to God, which ends ironically in condemnation to hell. Any person living in the Christian Age can respond to the New Testament in the same way Israel did—that is, by pursuing righteousness on the basis of his or her own personal works in an effort to satisfy God and earn a home in heaven. If one should unwisely pursue such a course, his fate will be no different from that of all those Jews who stood accursed from God and condemned to hell in Paul’s day. This idea is not to be construed as lessening one whit the Christian’s obligation to obey God, but it is intended to make all aware that man is dependent upon God and His system of justification by grace on the basis of faith for salvation. There is no other way to be saved.

Verse 24

Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Once God’s advance preparation was accomplished through the nation of Israel, He "called" all men, Jews and Gentiles, who would come and receive His mercy. This passage is not what the Calvinist calls the "effectual call," which is synonymous with the false doctrine of "irresistible grace." The Bible knows nothing of such false doctrines. Instead, this passage refers to the call of the gospel that is extended to all sinners by the preaching of the gospel. Unfortunately, it is a call that only a few are willing to accept (1:6-7; 8:28-30; Matthew 7:13-14).

Paul twice uses the preposition e)c. Usually this word is translated more emphatically as "out of." God has called spiritual Israel out of the Jews and out of the Gentiles. In other words, those who accept this call by obedience to the gospel are separated from the rest of the world as God’s own special people. They are literally the "called-out ones" or the church (e)kklhsi/a). The point is that God used the nation of Israel to produce the church; this was His intention for Israel from the beginning.

In view of all that God has done through Christ to extend mercy to all, Jews and Gentiles, how can any one legitimately murmur against God for His rejection of unfaithful and disobedient Israelites who have spurned the call of the gospel in contemptuous disgust? To quote Lard:

God has called both Jews and Gentiles alike. Not only so, but he proposes to make all vessels for honor, and none for dishonor. In this, therefore, none can say he is unjust. But he not only called us; he also had mercy on us. And the precise reason for having mercy on us and not on the rest, is that we accepted the call, while they rejected it. In calling to salvation, God is equally merciful to all. He sends to all the same Christ, the same gospel; on them he spends the same influences, and to them presents the same incentives to duty. But beyond this, he strictly discriminates in bestowing mercy. He bestows it on those only who obey his Son. On all the rest he will one day pour out his wrath (313).

Verses 25-26

As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Paul here cites two quotations (more accurately, paraphrases) from the prophet Hosea (1:10; 2:23) to support what he has been teaching. Hosea’s prophecy was specifically directed to the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. As a result of their persistent disobedience and idolatry, God rejected these tribes and punished them by allowing the Assyrians to overrun the kingdom and take them into permanent exile; however, Hosea’s words gave hope to these people. Though they were rejected and not beloved and not God’s people, a day was coming when they could be restored to covenant relationship with God. Once more they would become God’s beloved and chosen people (Hosea 1:6-10; Hosea 2:21-23).

The question is: How can Paul cite this passage in reference to Gentiles? The answer is that he does not cite these passages to refer to Gentiles only but rather to Jews and Gentiles who were cut off from God because of their sins but who, through Christ and the gospel, have been restored to covenant relationship with God. Peter cites the same passages to the same effect (1 Peter 2:10). Sanday and Headlam observe:

In the original passage the words refer to the ten tribes. A son and a daughter of Hosea are named Lo-ammi, "not a people," and Lo-ruhamah, "without mercy," to signify the fallen condition of the ten tribes; and Hosea prophesies their restoration (cf. Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:8-9). St. Paul applies the principle which underlies these words, that God can take into His covenant those who were previously cut off from it, to the calling of the Gentiles (263-264).

These Old Testament references reveal that the present state of Israel’s unbelief and separation from God was no surprise to God and that His original purpose had not failed. From the beginning God intended to use Israel as a means to an end—the establishment of spiritual Israel, the church of Christ. Spiritual Israel consists of the believing remnant of Jews who accepted Christ and the gospel and all believers from among the Gentiles; therefore, God’s purpose for Israel had been accomplished in fulfillment of these prophecies. Those Jews who accepted Christ had once been cut off as God’s beloved people, but now they were restored to Him by the gospel. Those Gentiles who had never been His beloved people before were now also included among the recipients of God’s mercy by their obedience to the gospel. Cottrell says:

In this verse the "not my people" are renamed "sons of the living God." To a once fallen but now-converted Jew, this is the restoration of a name once proudly worn by all Israelites. That it is now a name applied not just to believing Jews but also to believing Gentiles shows that mere physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not suffice for true sonship. Today we are all—men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free men—sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-29) (Vol. 2 136).

When verse 26 says, "it shall come to pass that in the place," "the place" probably refers to the Gentile world. In other words, one no longer must return to Jerusalem to worship God. Adoption into God’s family is now accomplished by the preaching of the gospel throughout the world. Whenever anyone, Jew or Gentile, accepts and obeys the gospel in any nation he is accepted into God’s family and becomes one of His beloved people—a child of God (Acts 10:34-35). God is no longer interested in a holy place but rather in a holy people who will accept His way, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.

Verses 26-27

Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

"Isaiah cried" indicates the fervency of this prophecy. God has kept His word given to Abraham (Genesis 22:17). Israel has become a great nation as numberless as the sand on the seashore and the stars of heaven. But only a remnant of them shall be saved (Isaiah 10:21-23). The remnant of which Isaiah prophesies, Paul says, is that number of Jews who accepted Christ as the Messiah and obeyed the gospel. In other words, Isaiah had in mind not a small number of the ten tribes who would return to Israel but the spiritual Israel of the New Testament church.

Isaiah’s declaration that only a remnant of Israel will be saved vindicates Paul’s argument "that the covenant promise did not contemplate or guarantee the salvation of all ethnic Israel" (Murray Vol. II 39). Everything God promised Israel has been done, but the remnant prophecy shows once for all that God chose Israel as a nation for service (to bring Christ into the world and lay the groundwork for the church of Christ) and not for salvation. In fact, only a small number of national Israel was saved, and this fact is perfectly consonant with God’s promises and faithfulness.

That so few in Israel had accepted the gospel is also the reason for Paul’s anguished cry at the beginning of this chapter (9:1-3). The fact that only a remnant of physical Israel would become a part of spiritual Israel is a solemn declaration that the rest of them would be cut off as God’s people. Judgment is the emphasis of verse 28. The NIV says God will execute His judgment against all those Jews who were not a part of the remnant "with speed and finality." In other words, God will carry out this judgment with quick, thorough completeness, and it will be final. God’s purpose for Israel as a nation was accomplished when the church was established; and consequently, He determined to bring to an end His relationship with Israel as a nation. Thus, the establishment of spiritual Israel marks the end of God’s dealing with Israel as a nation. Now any Jew wishing to continue a covenant relationship with God must accept and obey the gospel. This requirement is not contrary to the promises of God but is exactly what God planned from "before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20).

Verse 28

And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

This citation is from Isaiah 1:9. Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that no righteous people were found there (obviously, Paul does not consider Lot as a native of Sodom and Gomorrah but rather a temporary visitor). Abraham negotiated the angel down to "ten righteous souls" as the price for the redemption of these two cities but to no avail. No righteous souls were found there (Genesis 18:16 to Genesis 19:29). As a result these cities were obliterated with no remaining seed. Isaiah and Paul point out that were it not for the "very small remnant" (Isaiah 1:9) as "seed," Israel would have justly suffered the same judgment.

The Lord of Sabaoth is the "Lord of Armies or the Lord of Hosts" (BDAG 909). As such, God is the ruler of all the heavenly or angelic hosts; He is "the King of kings and Lord of lords." As Almighty God, He has executed judgment against faithless Israel.

left us a seed: This phrase is critically important because of its portent for the next section of Paul’s argument (9:30-10:21). God has allowed this small remnant or seed to remain because it is faithful. This is a note of promise and hope. Cottrell quotes from Dunn, saying it is "a gasp of gratitude" (Vol. 2 140).

The idea of seed denotes not only a relationship with the past but also a preparation for the future. It suggests the potential for new growth. As Cottrell observes, "The purpose for leaving behind a few survivors is to reseed and replant for the future. The new growth that springs forth from this seed is the new spiritual Israel, the church" (Vol. 2 140). Lard concludes this section with these poignant words:

But the Lord of hosts has preserved us offspring, a mere remnant, it is true, in comparison with those that are lost, still enough to preserve our name from oblivion. This remnant is small in numbers, but mighty nevertheless. It has been purified in the blood of Christ, and is now the light of the world. Its name is to endure forever; and its victories are to extend to the remotest boundaries of earth. All nations shall bless God for it. In the loss of Israel there is cause for "continual sorrow"; but in the salvation of the remnant, still greater cause for joy; and in the end, God’s name will be more honored through this remnant, and the world more blessed, than through all the countless hosts of Israel besides. After all, then, God has not been nursing Israel to no purpose (316).

The Freedom and Responsibility of Men to Accept the Gospel and Be Saved
or to Reject It and Be Lost (9:30–10:21)

Paul’s purpose in chapters nine through eleven is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His promises. God had long ago chosen Israel as His special people; but according to the gospel, the vast majority of Jews stood rejected and lost before God. How, then, could anyone rest secure in the righteousness of God offered in the gospel [Romans 1-8] if God Himself could not be trusted to keep His promises? Paul accomplishes this vindication by the presentation of three closely reasoned arguments.

In his first argument (9:1-29), Paul describes the absolute sovereign right of God to choose whomever He will for His service for whatever reason. He establishes God’s faithfulness by proving that His promises to Israel as a nation involved only their role of service and not salvation. God chose Israel to serve a special purpose in bringing to fruition the plan whereby man could be redeemed from his sins. God never chose a nation for salvation. Instead, salvation is a matter for individuals. From the beginning God distinguished the nation of Israel from those individual Israelites who chose of their own free will to be a part of spiritual Israel. The remnant (spiritual Israel) to whom Paul is writing is composed of those Jews who chose to accept and obey the gospel of Christ, believing in Jesus as the Messiah with all their hearts. God’s sovereign election of national Israel, including His covenant promises, applied only to the nation’s role of service.

In the second argument in this section (9:30-10:21), Paul explains that Israel’s lost condition (the vast majority of the nation) is the result not of God’s solemn decree but rather of their rejection of the gospel of grace. The point stressed in this section is that each of those in Israel who is lost is responsible for his own fate. Most in Israel, rather than obeying the gospel in faithful trust, had opted to attempt to be saved on the basis of Moses’ law, which was a system requiring absolute sinless righteousness. It was a system of meritorious works, and by it no man who has sinned can be justified. Paul makes it clear that every Jew who will forsake the law and accept the gracious gift of God’s righteousness offered in the New Testament system will be saved—even now. The problem was (and is) almost all in Israel have spurned God’s gracious offer in the gospel. Most, then and now, reject Jesus as the Messiah. The problem of Israel’s lost condition has nothing to do with God’s faithfulness to His promises. God is faithful.

The third argument will show that God has not cast off Israel, but Israel has rejected God. Every Jew who is lost has no one to blame but himself (see chapter 11:1-32).

Verse 29

What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

What shall we say then: Paul pauses to summarize his argument from the preceding paragraph even as he opens his next argument. He asks, "What then is the conclusion of this discussion?" Up to this point the argument has run like this:

1. God’s promise has not failed.

2. Gentiles, though they were not seeking righteousness, have nevertheless attained it (verses 24, 25).

3. The Jews who were actively striving for righteousness have failed to achieve it.

These facts naturally lead to Paul’s question that opens this section: Why is this so?

That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness: First, Paul is not referring to "the" Gentiles as though all of them as a group or even most of them as individuals had attained righteousness. The article is not present in the Greek, and it is better to understand that "Gentiles"—that is, some of them—have attained righteousness. Second, it is not that these Gentiles have attained moral righteousness but rather that they have "a right status in God’s sight" (Cranfield 247). In other words, they had attained a right standing with God by virtue of their obedience to the gospel. God, according to His system of grace, has declared or counted as righteous those Gentiles who have believed. Third, the amazing fact about their righteousness of faith is that, as opposed to the Jews, these Gentiles were not even pursuing this right status with God. The word translated "pursuing" (diw/konta) means "to follow with haste and presumably with intensity of effort, in order to catch up with, for friendly or hostile purpose" (LN Vol. 1 202). It is not that no Gentiles were striving to live according to the moral law. Some were. But on the whole the pagan world was characterized by wickedness (1:18-32; Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30; Ephesians 4:17-19). In spite of this situation, some Gentiles had attained righteousness anyway. They were not seeking after the righteousness offered in the gospel; but God, in the New Testament age, is actively seeking Gentiles to be His people through the global presentation of the gospel to all who will believe it. By obeying the gospel, Gentiles attain right standing with God.

even the righteousness which is of faith: The righteousness attained by Gentiles is not based on works of merit. Rather, it is righteousness God freely gives to a sinful man by declaration when that man comes to Him in faithful, obedient penitence (Titus 3:3-7; Romans 6:4-6; Romans 6:17-18) in response to the preaching of the gospel of Christ (1:16, 17; 3:21-22; Philippians 3:9). As Cottrell observes, "’Righteousness by faith’ is a shorthand expression for the grace system as a whole and is similar to ’justified by faith’ in 3:28" (Vol. 2 145).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 9". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-9.html. 1993-2022.
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