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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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A. Israel’s past election ch. 9

Paul began by tracing God’s dealings with the nation of Israel in the past.

"No conjunction or particle connects the two chapters, and the tone shifts dramatically from celebration (Romans 8:31-39) to lamentation (Romans 9:1-3)." [Note: Moo, p. 555.]

Verse 1

The apostle opened his discussion of God’s relations with Israel very personally, by sharing his heart for his own people. Some might have thought that Paul hated the Jews since he had departed from Judaism and now preached a Law-free gospel. Therefore he took pains to affirm his love for his fellow Jews, with a triple oath. He claimed two witnesses that he was telling the truth when he professed love for the Jews. These witnesses were his own position in Christ who is the truth and his clear conscience that the Holy Spirit had sensitized.

"No man will ever even begin to try to save men unless he first loves them." [Note: Barclay, p. 130.]

Verses 1-5

1. God’s blessing on Israel 9:1-5

Verse 2

Paul’s sorrow and grief over Israel’s condition contrast with his joy and exultation over his own condition (Romans 8:38-39).

Verse 3

"I could wish" introduces a wish that God would not possibly grant (Romans 8:35). Nevertheless it was a sincere wish. Paul had given up many things for the salvation of others (Philippians 3:8). Moses voiced a similar self-sacrificing wish for the Israelites’ salvation (Exodus 32:30-35). Paul’s brethren here were not his spiritual but his racial brothers and sisters. Even though he was "the apostle to the Gentiles" he still took pleasure in being a Jew.

Verse 4

Paul shared much in common with his blood brothers. "Israelites" connotes the chosen people of God whereas "Jews" simply distinguishes them from Gentiles. [Note: See Cranfield, 2:460-61, for a summary of the way "Israel" was used in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Judaism.] Here the apostle pointed out further advantages of the Jews (cf. Romans 3:2). He named eight of their special blessings in Romans 9:4-5.

God graciously had adopted Israel, as He had Christians (cf. Romans 8:15; Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1-2). The Israelites had the glory of God’s presence among them, as Christians have the glory of God within us through His indwelling Spirit (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). God took the initiative in reaching out to Israel with covenants that bound Him and the nation together (i.e., the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants). He has reached out to us with the gospel and the New Covenant with the same result. The "giving" (NASB; not "receiving," NIV) of the Mosaic Law was a great privilege for Israel that corresponds to the teaching of Christ for Christians. The Jewish sacrificial system enabled Israel to have fellowship with God, now available through the high priestly work of Christ. The promises revealed to the patriarchs guaranteed God’s action for them, just as God’s promises to Christians guarantee His action for us (Romans 8:31).

"He also gave them His Law to govern their political, social, and religious life, and to guarantee His blessing if they obeyed." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:543.]

Verse 5

The patriarchs were the fathers to whom God gave the promises before Israel was a nation. In this respect they correspond to the apostles in the church.

"The meaning and extent of these promises are the linchpin in Paul’s interpretation of salvation history; see Romans 9:6-13; Romans 11:15; and especially Romans 11:28, which forms with this verse an ’inclusio’ surrounding Paul’s discussion in these chapters." [Note: Moo, pp. 564-65.]

The Messiah came from Israel, though He was not exclusively theirs since He is the sovereign eternally blessed God (John 1:1). Here Paul called Jesus "God" (cf. Philippians 2:10-11; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:2). [Note: See Bruce, p. 176; and Robertson, 4:381.]

Paul did not explicitly compare Israel’s blessings and ours, which comparisons I have pointed out above. His point was simply that God had blessed Israel greatly. Obviously even though God had blessed the Israelites greatly their blessings did not exceed those of Christians today. The writer of the Book of Hebrews argued that God’s blessings of Christians under the New Covenant surpass His blessings of Israelites under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.

Verse 6

The word of God that was in Paul’s mind was evidently God’s revelation of His plans for Israel in the Old Testament. God revealed that He had chosen Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). The Israelites were to function as priests in the world by bringing the nations to God (cf. Isaiah 42:6). They were to do this by demonstrating through their life in the Holy Land how glorious it can be to live under the government of God. Israel had failed to carry out God’s purpose for her thus far and consequently had suffered His discipline. It looked as though the word that God had spoken concerning Israel’s purpose had failed. The Greek word translated "failed" (ekpeptoken) means "gone off its course," like a ship. Paul proceeded to show that God would accomplish His purpose for Israel in the rest of chapters 9-11.

". . . Romans 9-11 contains 11 occurrences of the term ’Israel,’ and in every case it refers to ethnic, or national, Israel. Never does the term include Gentiles within its meaning. The NT use of the term is identical with the Pauline sense in this section." [Note: S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "Evidence from Romans 9-11," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, p. 203.]

Even though all the physical descendants of Israel (Jacob) constitute the nation of Israel, as Scripture speaks of Israel, God spoke of Israel in a more restricted sense as well, namely, saved Israelites. Paul had previously pointed out this distinction between the outward Jew and the inward Jew (Romans 2:28-29). Non-dispensationalists, who believe that the church replaces Israel in God’s program (i.e., "replacement theology"), frequently appeal to this verse for support. They take the first "Israel" here as the "old Israel," and the second "Israel" as the "new Israel," the church. [Note: For further refutation of this interpretation, see Saucy, The Case . . ., pp. 195-98.] Saved Gentiles are also Abraham’s seed, but they are not in view here. Paul was considering only two kinds of Israelites: natural (ethnic) Israelites, both saved and unsaved, and spiritual Israelites, saved natural Israelites.

Verses 6-13

2. God’s election of Israel 9:6-13

Paul’s train of thought unfolds as follows in these verses. Because God’s election of Israel did not depend on natural descent (Romans 9:6-10) or human merit (Romans 9:11-14), Israel’s disobedience cannot nullify God’s determined purpose for the nation.

Verse 7

Even though God promised to bless Abraham’s descendants it was only one main branch of his family that He singled out for special blessing. God’s special elective purpose applied only to Isaac and his line of descendants. This reference to God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael is the first of three Old Testament illustrations of God’s sovereignty. The other two are Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:10-13), and Pharaoh (Romans 9:14-18).

Verse 8

It was not all the natural children of Abraham that God had in mind when He spoke of blessing Abraham’s seed uniquely. It was only of the children born supernaturally in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham about seed that He was speaking, namely, Isaac’s descendants.

"What counts is grace, not race." [Note: N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, p. 238.]

Verse 9

God did not choose to bless Isaac after his birth only because he was Abraham’s son. Rather He promised Abraham before Isaac’s birth that He would provide and bless a son for the patriarch supernaturally. His unusual birth confirmed God’s choice of Isaac, as the channel of special blessing, to his parents.

Verses 10-12

God’s special election of one portion of Abraham’s descendants for special blessing is further evident in His choice of Jacob rather than Esau. Someone might say that Isaac was obviously the natural son through whom blessing would come since he was the first son born to Abraham and Sarah. That was not true of Jacob. Furthermore Esau and Jacob both had the same mother as well as the same father, so that was not a factor, as an objector might claim it was in Isaac and Ishmael’s case. Jacob and Esau might have shared the firstborn privilege since they were twins. One conception produced both of them. However, God chose Jacob even though Rebekah bore Esau before Jacob. As in the case of Isaac, God made a choice between them before their birth. Their birth was also supernatural since their mother was barren. God chose Jacob before he had done any deeds or manifested a character worthy of God’s special blessing. The fact that Jacob became a less admirable person in some respects than Esau shows that God’s choice was not due to Jacob but to Himself.

"Surely, if Paul had assumed that faith was the basis for God’s election, he would have pointed this out when he raised the question in Romans 9:14 about the fairness of God’s election. All he would have needed to say at that point was ’of course God is not unjust in choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau, for his choosing took into account the faith of one and the unbelief of the other.’" [Note: Moo, p. 583.]

Verse 13

By quoting Malachi 1:2-3 Paul raised his discussion from the level of personal election to national election. Malachi was speaking of nations, as the context of this Malachi quotation shows. Paul’s point was that God does not wait until He sees how individuals or nations develop and what choices they make before He elects them. God chose Jacob and the nation of Israel for reasons that lay within Himself, not because they merited election (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8). This is a powerful refutation of the claim that election results from prior knowledge, that God chooses a person for salvation having foreseen that he or she will believe the gospel.

"The connection of this quotation with Romans 9:12 suggests that God’s love is the same as his election: God chose Jacob to inherit the blessings promised first to Abraham. . . . If God’s love of Jacob consists in his choosing Jacob to be the ’seed’ who would inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, then God’s hatred of Esau is best understood to refer to God’s decision not to bestow this privilege on Esau. It might best be translated ’reject.’ "Love’ and ’hate’ are not here, then, emotions that God feels but actions that he carries out." [Note: Ibid., p. 587. Cf. Cranfield, 2:480. See also Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; and John 12:25.]

"The strong contrast is a Semitic idiom that heightens the comparison by stating it in absolute terms." [Note: Mounce, p. 199.]

"As to ’Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,’ a woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, ’I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.’ ’That,’ Spurgeon replied, ’is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob!" [Note: Newell, p. 364.]

In Romans 9:6-13 Paul established that Israel was the object of God’s choice for special blessing because of His own gracious will. He did not choose Israel because of the Israelites’ natural descent from Abraham or because of their superior qualities.

Verse 14

The apostle first flatly denied the charge that God is unjust. God cannot be unjust because He is God.

Verses 14-18

3. God’s freedom to elect 9:14-18

The question of fairness arises whenever someone makes a choice to favor one person or group over another. Paul dealt with the justice of God in doing what He did in this pericope.

"These verses are a detour from the main road of Paul’s argument. Paul takes this detour because he knows that his insistence on God’s initiative in determining who should be saved and who rejected (see Romans 9:10-13 especially) will meet with questions and even objections. Appropriately, therefore, Paul reverts to the diatribe style, with its question-and-answer format and references to a dialogue partner, that he has utilized earlier in the letter (see Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:8; Romans 3:27-31; Romans 6-7)." [Note: Moo, pp. 549-50.]

Verse 15

Then he proceeded to refute the charge. When the whole nation of Israel rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32), God took the lives of only 3,000 of the rebels. He could have justly slain the whole nation. His mercy caused Him to do something that appeared to be unjust. Likewise in His dealings with Jacob and Esau God blessed Esau greatly as a descendant of Abraham, as He did all of Abraham’s descendants. Nevertheless He chose to bestow special grace on Jacob.

"The grace of God has been spoken of in this Epistle often before; but not until these chapters is mercy named; and until mercy is understood, grace cannot be fully appreciated." [Note: Newell, p. 355.]

Verse 16

It is not man’s desire or effort that causes God to be merciful but His own sovereign choice. God is under no obligation to show mercy or extend grace to anyone. If we insist on receiving just treatment from God, what we will get is condemnation (Romans 3:23).

Verse 17

God said He raised Pharaoh up. God had mercifully spared Pharaoh up to the moment when He said these words to him, through six plagues and in spite of his consistent opposition to God. God did not mean that He had created Pharaoh and allowed him to sit on Egypt’s throne, though He had done that too. This is clear from Exodus 9:16, which Paul quoted. The NASB translation makes this clear by translating Exodus 9:16, ". . . for this cause I have allowed you to remain." Pharaoh deserved death for his opposition and insolence. However, God would not take his life in the remaining plagues so his continuing opposition and God’s victory over him would result in greater glory for God (cf. Joshua 9:9; Psalms 76:10). Here is another example similar to the one in Romans 9:15 of God not giving people what they deserve but extending mercy to them instead.

"Paul introduced this quotation with the words, For the Scripture says, for he equated the words of God with the words of Scripture." [Note: Witmer, p. 477.]

Verse 18

This statement summarizes Paul’s point. In chapter 1 the apostle had spoken about the way God gives people over to their own evil desires as a form of punishment for their sins. This is how God hardens people’s hearts. In Pharaoh’s case we see this working out clearly. God was not unjust because He allowed the hardening process to continue. His justice demanded punishment. Similarly, a person may chose to drink poison or he may choose not to, but if he chooses to drink it, inevitable consequences will follow.

"Neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself." [Note: Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 361.]

"God’s hardening, then, is an action that renders a person insensitive to God and his word and that, if not reversed, culminates in eternal damnation." [Note: Moo, p. 597.]

"God’s hardening does not, then, cause spiritual insensitivity to the things of God; it maintains people in the state of sin that already characterizes them." [Note: Ibid., p. 599. See also Dorian G. Coover Cox, "The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart in Its Literary and Cultural Contexts," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:651 (July-September 2006):292-311.]

". . . we say boldly, that a believer’s heart is not fully yielded to God until it accepts without question, and without demanding softening, this eighteenth verse." [Note: Newell, p. 369.]

Paul did not mention the fact that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, which Moses stated in Exodus. Paul’s point was simply that God can freely and justly extend mercy or not extend mercy to those who deserve His judgment.

"The reconciliation of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is beyond our power. The Bible states and emphasizes both, and then leaves them. We shall be wise if we do the same." [Note: Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., p. 257. Cf. p. 266.]

Verse 19

Paul posed the question in this verse and then answered it in the verses that follow.

Verses 19-29

4. God’s mercy toward Israel 9:19-29

Next Paul dealt with a question that rises out of what he had just argued for, namely, God’s freedom to extend mercy to whom He will. Is it not logical that if God is going to show mercy to whom He will, in spite of human actions and merit, that human actions really provide no basis for His judging us? Is not the basis of judgment really God’s will rather than human actions?

Verse 20

In the first place it is presumptuous for human beings, the objects of divine judgment, to sit in judgment on their Judge. Judging is God’s prerogative, not ours. Creatures have no right to complain about their Creator’s behavior.

". . . men are not lost because they are hardened; they are hardened because they are lost; they are lost because they are sinners." [Note: Newell, p. 371.]

Verse 21

The illustration in this verse clarifies the inappropriateness of this critical attitude. Clearly Israel is in view as the vessel in the illustration (cf. Isaiah 29:16; Jeremiah 18:6). Israel had no right to criticize God for shaping her for a particular purpose of His own choosing. Really Israel had nothing to complain about since God had formed her for an honorable use. Obviously the same is true of individuals.

"Neither Moses, nor Pharaoh, nor anyone else, could choose his parents, his genetic structure, or his time and place of birth. We have to believe that these matters are in the hands of God." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:545.]

Verse 22

People prepare themselves for destruction by pursuing sin (ch. 1; cf. Matthew 7:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Philippians 3:19). However, the verb translated "prepared" in this verse is probably a passive rather than a middle, though the form of the passive and middle tenses is identical in Greek. The passive is much more common in the New Testament. Paul probably meant that God prepares some people for destruction. Pharaoh was such a vessel of wrath. Paul had in mind those in Israel who had opposed the gospel in his day. God was patient and merciful with them (cf. Romans 2:3-4; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19-20; 2 Peter 3:9).

Verses 23-24

Those who believe the gospel are those in whom God will display the riches of His glory, not His wrath.

"Paul teaches that God has brought upon certain people whom he chooses on the basis of nothing but his own will a condition of spiritual stupor, a condition that leads to eternal condemnation." [Note: Moo, p. 609.]

These vessels include both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Romans 1:16; Romans 2:10-11; Romans 3:22).

"Men fit themselves for hell; but it is God that fits men for heaven." [Note: Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., p. 261.]

Verses 25-26

The inclusion of Gentiles in this group is in harmony with Old Testament prophecy. It foretold the calling of the Gentiles and the preservation of a Jewish remnant. Hosea 2:23; Hosea 1:10, in their contexts, refer to a reversal of Israel’s status. Some interpreters say that this is a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. [Note: E.g., McClain, p. 183; and John A. Battle Jr., "Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:25-26," Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981):115-29.] Others claim that this was an initial partial fulfillment that does not eliminate a future complete fulfillment. [Note: E.g., Darrell L. Bock, "The Reign of the Lord Christ," in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition, pp. 37-67; W. Edward Glenny, "The Israel Imagery of 1 Peter 2," in ibid., pp. 156-87; and idem, "The ’People of God’ in Romans 9:25-26," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:605 (January-March 1995):42-59.] A better explanation, I think, is that Paul saw an analogy between God’s present calling of Gentiles and His future calling of Israel. [Note: Johnson, "Evidence from . . .," p. 209-11; Witmer, p. 479.] Gentiles were not a distinct people, as were the Jews, but constituted the mass of humanity. Nevertheless, by God’s grace, believing Gentiles became members of the new people of God, the church.

Verses 27-28

Israel’s election as a nation did not preclude God’s judgment of the unbelievers in it. His mercy and faithfulness are observable in His sparing a remnant. Isaiah 10:22-23 anticipated the depletion of Israel through Sennacherib’s invasion. That was God’s instrument of judgment. When Paul wrote, the believing remnant of Israel was within the church, as it is today.

Verse 29

If God had not tempered His judgment with mercy He would have destroyed Israel as completely as He had Sodom and Gomorrah. The remnant of believers among the mass of racial Jews is proof of God’s mercy to the children of Israel.

Verses 30-31

Paul’s question, that often marks a new argument in Romans, introduced his concluding summary that he couched in terminology suggestive of a foot race. Israel struggled hard to obtain the prize of righteousness, the righteousness God requires for acceptance by Him, but crossed the finish line behind Gentiles who were not running that hard. Israel as a whole hoped to gain righteousness by doing good works, but believing Gentiles obtained the prize by believing the gospel. Again, the contrast between law and faith recurs.

"Hardly a passage in the New Testament is stronger than this one in its exposure of the futility of works as a means of justification." [Note: Harrison, p. 109.]

Verses 30-33

5. God’s mercy toward the Gentiles 9:30-33

This short pericope concludes Paul’s argument concerning Israel’s past election and begins the train of thought that he continued in chapter 10. The use of "righteousness" ten times in Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 illustrates the unity of this section and identifies a major theme in it.

Verses 32-33

Israel as a whole, excluding the believing remnant, failed to gain a righteous standing before God because she tried to win it with works. A stone on the racetrack over which she stumbled impeded her progress. Intent on winning in her own effort Israel failed to recognize the Stone prophesied in Scripture who was to provide salvation for her.

The quotation is from Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16 (cf. 1 Peter 2:6-8). God intended the Messiah to be the provider of salvation. However the Jews did not allow Him to fulfill this function for them. Consequently this Stone became a stumbling block for them (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23).

Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ did not make God unfaithful or unrighteous in His dealings with the nation. What it did do was make it possible for Gentiles to surpass the Jews as the main recipients of salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/romans-9.html. 2012.
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