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Lecture 7 - Romans Chapter 9
God’s Past Dealings with Israel in Electing Grace
Having carried us all the way from the distance and bondage and condemnation of chapters 1, 2, and 3 to the glorious freedom and justification and eternal union with Christ of chapter 8, the apostle now turns to consider another phase of things altogether. He well knew that many of his readers would be pious, godly Jews who had accepted Christ as their Messiah and their Saviour, but who were passing through a time of great perplexity and bewilderment as they saw their own nation apparently hardened into opposition against the gospel and sinners of the Gentiles turning to the Lord. They were aware that the prophets predicted a great work of God among the Gentiles, but they had always been accustomed to think of this as following upon the full restoration and blessing of Israel, and, indeed, as flowing from it. Israel should blossom and bud and fill the face of the whole earth with fruit. The Gentiles should come to her light and find happiness in subjection to her. Now all the prophecies on which they had based their expectations seemed to have failed of fulfilment. How could Paul reconcile his proclamation of free grace to the Gentiles everywhere, apart from their submission to the rights connected with the old covenant? In the three chapters that are now to occupy us, the apostle meets this question, and that in a masterly way, showing how the righteousness of God is harmonized with His dispensational ways. This part of the epistle may be separated into three sub-divisions. Chapter 9 gives us God’s past dealings with Israel in electing grace; chapter 10, God’s present dealings with Israel in governmental discipline; and chapter 11, God’s future dealings with Israel in fulfilment of prophecy.
Opening our Bibles, then, to chapter 9, who can fail to be touched by his earnest words in regard to his brethren after the flesh? He insists that he loves them tenderly, that his heart is constantly burdened because of them. No one could possibly love them more than he did. They, perhaps, thought him estranged from them because of his commission to give the gospel to the nations, but it is very evident, both here and throughout the latter part of the book of Acts, that though he magnified his office as the apostle to the Gentiles, there was always a great tugging at his heart to get to his own people and bear testimony to them. His ministry was ever to the Jew first and then to the Greek.
There is a difference of opinion among men of piety and scholarship as to the exact meaning of verse Romans 9:3 - Did it mean to say that there were times when he had actually wished, if it were possible, to save his brethren by being himself accursed from Christ; that he would have been willing to submit to this? Or is he simply saying that he understands thoroughly the feeling of the most earnest Jew, who in his mistaken zeal detests the Christ, because he himself had at one time actually desired to be accursed from Christ as standing with his brethren after the flesh? If we accept the latter view, we see in this verse simply an expression of the intensity of his feelings as an unconverted Jew. If, as the present lecturer is inclined to do, we accept the former explanation, then we put him on the same platform with Moses, who cried, “If it be possible, blot me out of Thy book, only let the people live.” But whichever view we finally accept, our sense of his deep interest in his people becomes intensified as we read.
He enumerates, in verses Romans 9:4-5, the great blessings that belong to Israel. He says that to them pertain the adoption (literally, the son-placing), and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the ritual service, and the promises. “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
Consider these blessings in their order:
First: The son-placing. God had owned the nation of Israel as His son. It is not the New Testament truth of individual adoption as we have it in the epistle to the Ephesians and as we have already considered it in Romans Chapter 8; in fact, it is not individual here at all, but national. God could say of Israel, “Out of Egypt have I called My son;” and, again, “You only have I known of all nations that be upon the earth.” They were His, and He owned them as such.
Secondly: The glory. Glory is manifested excellence. And through them God would manifest the excellence of His great name. They were His witnesses.
Third: The covenants. Observe that all the covenants pertain to Israel; that is, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the new covenant. All belonged to them. Believers from among the Gentiles come under the blessings of the new covenant, because it is a covenant of pure grace. But God has Israel and Judah in view when He says, through the prophet, “I will make a new covenant with you.” When our Lord instituted the memorial supper, He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” The blood of the covenant has already been poured out, but the new covenant has not yet actually been made, though it shall be eventually with the earthly people. Meantime, redeemed Gentiles come under all the spiritual blessings of that covenant, and indeed all the others in a manner far beyond anything that Old Testament prophets ever could have anticipated.
Fourth: The giving of the law. We have already seen that the law was given to Israel. It addressed itself to Israel. It was never given to Gentiles as such, though all men become responsible in regard to its provisions when it is made known to them.
Fifth: The ritual service. God ordained a ritual service of marvelous meaning and wondrous beauty in connection with both the tabernacle and the temple of old, but there is no hint of ritualistic practices of any kind for the Church of God as such. In fact we are warned against them in unmistakable terms in Colossians Chapter 2.
Sixth: The promises. The reference, of course, is to the many promises of temporal blessing under Messiah’s reign in the kingdom age.
Seventh: The fathers, Ahraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs, these belonged to the earthly people. The heavenly people have no genealogical list to consult; they are cut off entirely from earthly lineage. The Church was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. But in Israel we see the descendants of the fathers, though, as the chapter goes on to the show, they are not all reckoned of Israel who are of Israel after the flesh.
Of this people Christ came, born of a virgin- a real man in a true body of flesh and blood with a rational spirit and soul; nevertheless, as to the mystery of His person, God over all, blessed forever.
To the faithful Jew who had banked upon the promises of God to Israel, it would appear that in large measure these promises had failed; otherwise, why would Israel nationally be set to one side and the Gentiles be in the place of blessing? But the apostle now proceeds to show that God has ever acted on the principle of sovereign grace. All the special privileges that Israel had enjoyed were to be attributed to this principle. God took them out from among the nations as an elect people, separating them to Himself. But He ever had in mind a regenerated people as the people of the promise. Not all who were born of Israel’s blood belonged to Israel, as recognized by God. Neither because of the natural seed of Abraham were they necessarily children of promise. In electing grace God had said to Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” He chose to pass over Ishmael, the man born after the flesh, and take up Isaac, whose birth was miraculous. In this He illustrates the principle that “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God. Children of promise are counted for the seed.” What a staggering blow is this to the pretensions of those who boast so loudly in our day of what they call the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. The children of the flesh, we are distinctly told, are not the children of God. And in this statement we have, emphasized, the same truth that our Lord declared to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Isaac was the child of promise. God said, “At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.” Naturally, it would have been impossible for the promise to be fulfilled, but God wrought in resurrection power, quickening the dead bodies of Isaac’s parents, and the word came true.
Then again, in the case of the children of Isaac and Rebecca, we see the same principle of electing grace illustrated. We are told that:
“(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” (vers. Romans 9:11-13).
What a tremendous amount of needless controversy has raged about these verses! Yet how plain and simple they are, viewed in the light of God’s dispensational dealings. There is no question here of predestination to heaven or reprobation to hell; in fact, eternal issues do not really come in throughout this chapter, although, of course, they naturally follow as the result of the use or abuse of God-given privileges. But we are not told here, nor anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to heaven and another to hell; to save one by grace, notwithstanding all his evil works, and to condemn the other to perdition, notwithstanding all his yearnings for something higher and nobler than he has yet found The passage has to do entirely with privilege here on earth. It was the purpose of God that Jacob should be the father of the nation of Israel, and that through him the promised Seed, our Lord Jesus Christ, should come into the world. He had also pre-determined that Esau should be a man of the wilderness- the father of a nation of nomads, as the Edomites have ever been. It is this that is involved in the prenatal decree: “The elder shall serve the younger.” And be it observed that it was not before the children were born, neither had done any good or evil, that God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” These words are quoted from the very last book of the Old Testament. We find them in Malachi 1:2-3. Let me read them:
“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.”
Observe what is in question:-God is pleading with the sons of Jacob to serve and obey Him, on the ground that He is doubly entitled to their obedience, first, because He is their Creator, second, because of the privileges, the earthly blessings He has given them. Comparatively speaking, He has loved Jacob, and hated Esau. That is, He gave to Jacob a beautiful fatherland, well-watered, productive, delightful for situation; He gave them, too, a holy law, pastors, shepherd-kings to guide them, prophets to instruct them, a ritual system full and expressive to lead their hearts out in worship and praise. All these things were denied to Edom. They were the children of the desert. We do not read that a prophet was ever sent to them, though they were not left without some knowledge of God. Esau received instruction from the lips of his parents, but for a morsel of bread he sold his birthright. And his descendants have ever been characterized by the same independent lawless spirit. Dispensationally, Jacob was loved, Esau hated. There is no reference to the individual as such. “God so loved the world,” and therefore every child of Jacob or of Esau may be saved who will. But no one can dispute the fact that Jacob and his descendants enjoyed earthly privileges, and spiritual, too, that Esau and his children had never known. Is God unrighteous in thus distinguishing between nations? Is He unrighteous, for instance, to-day in giving to the peoples of northern Europe and of America privileges that the inhabitants of central Africa and inland South America have never known? By no means. He is sovereign. He distributes the nations of men upon the earth as seems good to Himself, and though He takes up one nation in special grace and passes by another, that does not in the slightest degree hinder any individual in any nation from turning to God in repentance, and if any men anywhere under the sun, in any circumstances whatever, look up to God, no matter how deep their ignorance, confessing their sin and crying out for mercy, it is written, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Paul quotes the word of God to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
Observe, you do not get the negative. He does not say, “I will condemn whom I will condemn, or I will reprobate to eternal destruction whom I will reprobate.” There is no such thought in the mind of God, who “desireth not the death of the sinner, but that all should turn to Him and live.” When were these words spoken to Moses? Turn back to Exodus 33:19. Read the entire passage, and note the occasion on which God used them. Israel had forfeited all claim to blessing on the ground of law; they had made a calf of gold and bowed down before it, even while Moses was in the mount receiving the tables of the covenant. Thus they had violated the first two commandments before they were brought into the camp, after having declared but a few days before, “All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient.” Because of this, God was about to blot them out from the face of the earth, but Moses, the mediator, pleaded their cause in His presence. He even offered, as we have seen, to die in their stead, if that might turn aside the fierce anger of the Lord. But now observe the wonders of sovereign grace: God took refuge in His own inherent right to suspend judgment, if it pleased Him. And so He exclaims, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” He spared the people, thus making them a wondrous witness to His grace. Apart from this sovereign grace no one would ever be saved, because all men have forfeited title to life through sin. Israel, nationally, owed all their blessing to God’s mercy and compassion, when in righteousness they would have been cut off from the land of the living. If it pleased God now to take up the Gentiles and show mercy to them, what ground had Israel to complain?
So, then, exclaims the apostle, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” He is not setting aside the will of man; he is not declaring that no responsibility to run in the way of righteousness rests upon man; but he is declaring that, apart from the sovereign mercy of God, no man would ever will to be saved or run in the way of His commandments.
He turns next to speak of Pharaoh, for it is evident that one cannot logically accept the truth already demonstrated without recognizing the fact that God does give some up to destruction and leave them to perish in their sins. Pharaoh was a Gentile, the oppressor of Israel. To him God sent His servants demanding submission. In his pride and haughtiness, in his brazenness and wickedness, he exclaimed, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?” He dares to challenge the Almighty, and God condescends to accept the challenge. He says:
“Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
He is not speaking here of a helpless babe. The words have no reference to the birth of Pharaoh; they have to do exclusively with the outstanding position that God gave him in order that he might be a lesson to all succeeding generations of the folly of fighting against God. The Greeks used to say, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” It was a principle that even the heathen could plainly discern. We see the same principle still: an Alexander, a Caesar, a Napoleon, a Kaiser permitted to climb to the very summit, almost, of human ambition, only to be hurled ignominiously into the depths of execration at last.
And so God demonstrates that He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth. He is the moral governor of the universe and He worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will. “None can stay His hand, nor say unto God, What doest Thou?” If men dare to rush ruthlessly upon the thick bosses of the Almighty they must experience His righteous wrath.
Beginning with verse Romans 9:19, and going on to the end of the chapter, the apostle undertakes to meet the objection of the fatalist, the man who says, “Well, granting all you’ve been saying, then God’s decrees are irresistible and I myself am but an automaton, moved about at His will, absolutely without responsibility. Why does He find fault? What ground can there be for judgment of a creature who can never will nor run but as God Himself directs? To resist His will is impossible. Where, then, does moral responsibility come in?”
Such objections to the doctrine of the Divine Sovereignty have been raised from the earliest days. But, inasmuch as we have already seen that the apostle simply has in view privilege here on earth, those objections fall to the ground. The privileged Jew may fail utterly to appreciate the blessings lavished upon him, and so come under divine condemnation; while the ignorant barbarian, bereft of all the blessings of civilization and enlightenment, may, nevertheless, have an exercised conscience that will lead him into the presence of God. At any rate, it is the height of impiety for puny man to sit in judgment upon God. It is as though the vessel wrought upon the wheel should turn to the potter and ask, indignantly, “Why hast thou made me thus?” Clearly, he who has the intelligence to form vessels out of clay has the right to make them of such shape or size or for such use as he deems best. Of the very same lump of clay he may make one vessel unto honor, to be displayed upon the sideboard to admiring throngs, and another unto dishonor, for use in a scullery, and altogether without beauty or attractiveness. If God, the great Former of all, willing to manifest both His anger and His power, endures, with much long-suffering, vessels that call down His indignation because having a will, which the work of the potter has not, they deliberately fit themselves for destruction, shall anyone find fault if He manifests the riches of His glory in His dealings with other vessels of mercy which He has had in view for the glory of His Son from eternity? And such vessels of mercy are the called of God, whether Jews by birth or Gentiles also. Passage after passage from the Old Testament is called into requisition to show that this is nothing new in God’s ways with men, and that the prophets have foreseen just such a setting aside of Israel and taking up of the Gentiles as has already taken place. Hosea testified that God has said, “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’, they shall be called the children of the living God.” Israel forfeited all title to be called His people. During the present dispensation, when grace is going out to the Gentiles, they would be set to one side nationally, as by-and-by the same grace that is now being shown to the nations will be manifested again to them, and they shall once more be called the children of the living God. Isaiah prophesied that although the number of the children of Israel should be as the sands of the sea, yet of this vast throng only a remnant should be saved, and that in the day of the Lord’s indignation, when He would be executing His judgment upon the earth. The same prophet saw the sin of the people as the sin of the cities of the plain, and exclaimed, “Except the Lord of hosts hath left us a seed, we should be as Sodom, and be made like unto Gomorrah.”
What then, is the conclusion? Simply that the unrighteous Gentiles have, through grace, attained to a righteousness which is of faith. They followed not after righteousness, but God in righteousness pursued after them and made known His gospel, that they might believe and be saved. Israel, on the other hand, to whom He had given a law of righteousness, were even more guilty than the Gentiles, for they refused to follow it and therefore they missed that righteousness which the law would have inculcated.
Why did they miss it? Because they failed to realize that is it only to be obtained by faith, and that no man, by his own power, can ever keep that Holy and perfect law. When God sent His Son into the world, who is the embodiment of all perfection, in whom the law was fulfilled perfectly, they knew Him not, but stumbled over the stumbling stone of a lowly Christ when they were expecting a triumphant King. They realized not their need of one who could accomplish righteousness on their behalf, because they lacked faith. And so they fulfilled the Scripture in condemning Him. But, nevertheless, wherever He is individually received by faith, He saves the soul that trusts Him, though the nation has stumbled and fallen. According as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone, and a rock of offence, and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” When He came in grace the first time, Israel refused Him. But “the stone that the builders rejected is made the Head of the corner.” When He comes again He will be as the stone, falling in judgment upon the Gentiles, whereas Israel then repentant and regenerated will see in Him the chief corner stone.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17