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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-5



CHS. 9.-11


CH. 9:1-5

I speak truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience bearing joint-witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow, and my heart has ceaseless pain. For I could wish to be my own self Anathema from Christ on behalf of my brethren, my kinsmen according to flesh; who are Israelites, whose is the Adoption and the Glory and the Covenants, and the Lawgiving and the Service and the Promises; whose are the Fathers, and from whom came the Christ according to flesh. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 9:1. The sudden change of tone and subject takes us by surprise, and introduces a new division of the epistle.

Truth: see under Romans 1:18.

Speak in Christ: so 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 12:19. Paul’s words were prompted by inward union with Christ.

My conscience: as in Romans 2:15.

In the Holy Spirit: as in Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 12:3. Paul appeals to that faculty by which he contemplates his own inner self; and claims that in the testimony it now bears it is guided by the Holy Spirit. They who knew Paul could not resist this appeal to Christ, in union with whom they knew that he lived and spoke, and to the Spirit who evidently permeated his entire life and thought. This solemn appeal prepares us for a statement important and unlikely.

Romans 9:2. Great sorrow to me and ceaseless pain to my heart. In Romans 8:35-39, Paul’s enemies marched, conquered and powerless, in stately procession before our eyes. At sight of them, the conqueror burst into a song of triumph, and of praise to Him who gave the victory.

Suddenly the song ceases, and the minstrel, whose lips spoke forth a moment ago the exultation of his heart, now tells us that he has great and constant sadness. So unexpected is this statement that Paul appeals in proof of it to Christ, whose life and nature he shares, and to the Spirit who directs his words and actions.

Romans 9:3. A vain sacrifice to which Paul’s sorrow prompts him, revealing its intensity; and the persons for whom he is sad.

I could wish, or was wishing or praying: same verb in 2 Corinthians 13:7; 2 Corinthians 13:9; Acts 26:29; Acts 27:29.

Anathema: Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 23:14. So (LXX.) Deuteronomy 7:26; Deuteronomy 13:15; Deuteronomy 13:17; Joshua 6:17; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 7:1; Joshua 7:11; Joshua 7:15, and frequently; denoting objects irrevocably devoted to God, and if living to be put to death. Paul’s heart would prompt him to be separated from Christ and thus accursed, if this would save Israel.

My brethren: the ties of blood still binding Paul’s heart, even though he is a Jew and the Jews as a nation have rejected Christ.

According to flesh: distinguishing the persons referred to from brethren in Christ.

Paul weeps for his countrymen. He who is unmoved by hunger and imminent death is so deeply moved by their position that, to save them, he would almost expose himself to the anger of God. A similar case of self-devotion in Exodus 32:32. Perhaps in these moments Paul and Moses shared most fully the mind of Him who actually did (Galatians 3:13; Matthew 27:46) what their hearts vainly prompted them to do. The greatness of Paul’s sorrow for the Jews and the sacrifice to which it prompts him attest how terrible was their position. What was it in them which caused him such sorrow? No temporal calamity. This would not suggest such sacrifice to a man before whose eyes the world itself was passing away. Nor can he refer to believing Jews who were brethren in Christ and heirs of the coming glory, but only to the mass of the nation who had rejected Christ. Since Paul does not speak of any special calamity about to befall them, we must seek, and we shall find, an explanation of his sorrow in his foregoing teaching.

Paul has taught in Romans 3:9; Romans 3:19 that all men of all nations are, apart from Christ, exposed to punishment; and in Romans 1:16 etc. that the salvation announced by Christ is for those who believe. The mass of the Jews utterly rejected this offered salvation. Therefore, if Paul’s teaching be correct, they are under the anger of God and on the way to destruction. This is due, not to rejection by God, but to their own unbelief: Romans 11:1; Romans 9:32. Nor is their case hopeless: Romans 10:1; Romans 11:23. But most of them show no signs whatever of turning to Christ. Therefore Paul was sad for them, just as many to-day, who themselves rejoice amid the trials of life in the smile of God, are sad because some whom they love are away from Christ and are treading the path of sin and ruin. It is in moments when our joy in Christ is brightest and when we feel ourselves to be completely victorious over life with its uncertainties and death with its terrors that this sadness comes to us with greatest bitterness. Paul’s sudden sorrow in the midst of Christian exultation is true to the deepest and noblest instincts of our renewed nature.

Romans 9:4. As Paul ponders the position of his brethren, their many and great advantages pass in review before him.

Israelites: a favourite name of honour: Romans 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5; John 1:47; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:3-4.

Adoption: same word in Romans 8:15; Romans 8:23. Cp. Exodus 4:22 f, “Israel is My firstborn son… let My son go;” and Deuteronomy 14:1, “ye are sons to Jehovah your God.” Out of all nations, God chose Israel to occupy this special relation to Himself.

The Glory: the supernatural brightness in which God manifested His presence: Exodus 19:16; Exodus 24:10; Exodus 24:16-17; Exodus 40:34-38. It was proof of the adoption. The adoption and the glory recall the two Covenants made in the wilderness: Exodus 19:5; Exodus 24:7-8; Exodus 34:27; and Deuteronomy 29:1. And these recall the earlier covenant with Abraham, on which they rested: Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2-14; Exodus 2:24; Exodus 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:10. The plural covenants marks off a triplet, which is followed by a second and corresponding triplet.

The Lawgiving: cognate verb in Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 8:6. By giving a law, God acted as father to His adopted children.

The Service: same word in Romans 12:1; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6; John 16:2 : a cognate verb in Romans 1:9; Romans 1:25; Matthew 4:10; Acts 7:7; Acts 7:42; Acts 24:14; Acts 26:7; Acts 27:23. It denotes the ritual in which Israel showed reverence to God who manifested Himself in visible glory.

The Promises: Romans 15:8; Romans 4:13-14; Romans 4:16; Romans 4:20; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:16-18; Galatians 3:21-22; Galatians 3:29. They were a great feature of the covenants: so Ephesians 2:12, “covenants of promise.” These promises had been the solace and strength of Israel during ages of disaster.

Romans 9:5. Whose etc.: stately repetition, introducing another class of advantages.

The Fathers: chiefly Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who received the promises for themselves and their children: John 7:22; Acts 7:32; Exodus 3:13 : cp. Romans 4:13.

From whom, or from among whom. Paul cannot say, Whose is Christ.

The Christ: the anointed and thus designated Monarch of the eternal kingdom of God.

According to flesh: as in Romans 9:3, limiting the foregoing assertion to the bodily origin of Christ. This limitation suggests another element in Him which did not spring from Israel. Yet even this outward nearness to the Light of the world was the greatest of the many privileges of Israel.

Such were the spiritual advantages of those for whom Paul mourns. They belonged to the people whom God had adopted to be specially His own, in whose midst He had manifested Himself in visible splendour, and to whom He had bound Himself by covenant. They possessed the will of God in written form. Before their eyes, from childhood, the ritual set forth in outline the great truths now fully revealed. To them the coming of the Deliverer had been announced; and they were heirs of the promises made to the father of the faithful. And, more than all, in their midst the Anointed One had appeared, had presented the credentials of His royalty, and laid the foundation of His kingdom.

God, who is over all: solemn assertion of the existence of One who rules over and disposes all things according to His will: Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 4:6.

Blessed for ever (or for the ages).

Amen. Same words in Romans 1:25 : see under Romans 11:36; Romans 16:27.

At the mention of the name and birth of Christ, Paul cannot refrain from an outburst of praise to the great Ruler of the world who chose Israel, and gave Christ to be born in Paul’s own day and nation. His sorrow for the Jews implies that their religious advantages, which were designed to lead them to Christ, and the birth of Christ in their midst had utterly failed to profit them. Therefore, had the sentence ended here, it might have appeared that these advantages were of little worth. But they were infinitely the greatest advantages ever bestowed on any nation. And to Paul and the Jewish Christians they had actually been the means of infinite blessing. Had God chosen Britain instead of Judæa to be the birthplace of His Son, Paul might have been, not writing this epistle, but offering a human sacrifice to the god of the forest. Therefore, while he weeps for the Jews, he defends the worth of their slighted privileges by giving praise for them to the supreme Disposer of events, from whom these privileges came. He thus guards, as throughout the epistle he is so ready to do, against the error of underrating religious privileges as well as against that of trusting to them for salvation. And, that Paul was compelled to praise God, even in a moment of deepest sadness, for advantages which the Jews had trampled under foot, proves how great he felt those advantages to be. Thus his outburst of praise increases the sadness of these verses.

Notice how readily and frequently, and sometimes unexpectedly, Paul turns to God in prayer or praise, even sometimes from matters in which God is not expressly mentioned: so Romans 1:25; Romans 15:5; Romans 15:13; Romans 16:20; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 4:20; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5; also 1 Peter 4:11. To do so, was natural to him because he looked upon everything in its relation to God. Observe also how constantly Paul attributes to God whatever Christ has done: so Romans 3:25; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:32. Hence the mention of Christ calls forth praise to God. In 1 Timothy 1:17, we have a similar outburst of praise for his own conversion.

Two RENDERINGS of Romans 9:5 b are grammatically admissible and worthy of consideration.

(1) ο ων επι παντων θεος may be in apposition to ο χριστος, asserting that He who sprang from Israel is over all God blessed forever: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:31; John 1:18; John 3:13. So Irenaeus (quoted on p. 6) and Origen, (both preserved in Latin translations only,) Tertullian, Cyprian, very many early Christian writers, and a large majority of the writers of all ages.

(2) ο ων επι παντων θεος may be the subject, and ευλογητος εις τους αιωνας the predicate, of a new sentence. This exposition is not found in any early Christian writer; but is adopted in the Alex., Ephraim, and Clermont MSS., where we find stops marking off the words in question as a doxology to the Father and spaces proving that the stops are from the first hand. In the Vat. MS. is a stop apparently from a later hand.

Of modern Critical Editors, Tregelles adopts the former, and Lachmann and Tischendorf the latter, exposition. Westcott and Hort here part company, preferring respectively the former and latter expositions. The Revisers place the former in their text, and the latter in their margin. A similar evenly-balanced divergence is found among modern grammarians and expositors.

The general and uncontradicted agreement of early Christian writers has much less weight in reference to exposition than to doctrine; and against it, as supporting exposition (1), must be set the punctuation of some early manuscripts. Certainly this agreement cannot be accepted as decisive. The correct interpretation of the passage before us can be determined only by the methods of modern exegesis.

I shall endeavour to show that (2) is in thorough accord with the structure of the passage, with the context, and with the thought of Paul; and that (1), though grammatically correct and making good sense, is made unlikely by the very ambiguity of the passage.

It is objected that ευλογητος, in the four other doxologies of the N.T. in which it is found, and in many doxologies in the O.T., is always (except Psalms 68:19) put before the name of God. So Luke 1:68; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3; Genesis 9:26; 1 Samuel 25:32-33; 1 Samuel 25:39, etc. But no one can say that grammar requires the predicate, even where the copula is suppressed, to stand first. For the contrary, see Romans 11:16; Romans 12:9; Hebrews 13:4; Luke 10:2. Of all languages, the Greek would be the last to forbid a man to say God be blessed in deviation from the common order blessed be God. The objection is simply an appeal to the usage of Paul and of the Bible. What this is, we will consider.

As noticed above, Paul frequently turns suddenly away from the matter in hand to ascribe praise to God. In these cases, whenever the doxology takes the form of an exclamation, it begins with the name of God, and often with a solemn declaration of the divine attribute which prompted it. In this way the writer puts prominently before us the Great Being to whom our attention is suddenly directed. When a doxology occurs at the beginning of a subject, the word of praise comes first, making prominent the idea of praise. So Luke 1:68, etc. Just so, in Luke 2:14, when the angels take up their song, they put the word glory first: but when they turn from God on high to men on earth, they give emphasis to the transition by putting the words upon earth before the word peace. They thus deviate, in the latter case from the universal, in the former from the almost universal, usage of the New Testament: cp. Luke 10:5; John 20:19; John 20:21; John 20:26. But they deviate for a sufficient reason.

The peculiarity of the case before us is, not the position, but the presence, of the word blessed. Elsewhere it is found in the N.T. only in doxologies which begin a subject. All others, and they are frequent with Paul, take the form “to God be glory.” But surely the use here of the word blessed need not surprise us. And, if used, it must follow God over all. Otherwise Paul would deviate from his own unvarying use in doxologies at the end of a subject, which are so frequent with him, a use flowing naturally from the order of thought; and would direct our chief attention to the act of praise instead of the Object of praise.

On the other hand, although ευλογημενος is used of Christ in Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39, etc., ευλογητος never is. (For the distinction, see Genesis 14:19-20, LXX.) And elsewhere Paul uses the word God, never of the Son, but as a distinctive title of the Father, even to distinguish Him from the Son. So Romans 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6. But these objections to (1) are not decisive. For, as I hope to show in Diss. i., Paul looked upon Christ as sharing to the full the divine nature of the Father. There is therefore no reason why he should not deviate from his custom and speak of Christ, though it be only once, as ευλογητος and θσος, terms elsewhere reserved for the Father. Cp. John 20:28; John 1:1, and probably John 1:18. Interpret it as we may, this passage differs from the usage of Paul. Consequently, no argument can be based on the unusual order of the words.

According to exposition (1), the word ων is an emphatic assertion that Christ is over all, God, and blessed for ever. In (2) it asserts that over all there exists one who bears the title God and is blessed for ever. The words ων επι παντων are, as in Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 3:7, put for emphasis between the article and its substantive, according to constant Greek usage. The words over all recall Ephesians 4:6, where they refer to the Father.

The words ο ων ευλογητος εις τους αιωνας in 2 Corinthians 11:31 give no support to (1). For they cannot by themselves form a complete sentence; and must therefore be in apposition to the foregoing nominative. And the context shows plainly to whom the words refer. Of this we should have been uncertain had Paul written ος εστιν as in Romans 1:25. But the clause before us has in itself all the elements of a complete sentence; and therefore we cannot join it to the previous sentence, and thus change its meaning altogether, without a good reason. Had Paul wished to teach here that Christ is God, he might have done so, and put his meaning beyond doubt, by writing ος εστιν as in Romans 1:25.

The words according to flesh suggest another side of Christ’s nature which did not descend from Israel. But this suggestion is so clear that it does not need express assertion. And there is nothing in the form of the words following, as there was in Romans 1:4, which calls attention to it. Nor can it be said that these words were inserted only to provoke the contrast. For the insertion of them is otherwise sufficiently accounted for. Even when narrating the privileges of Israel, Paul cannot go beyond the truth: and the truth requires this limitation. His sorrow for his brethren will not let him forget that Christ belongs to them only by outward bodily descent. But even this outward nearness to Him was the greatest of their many advantages.

How fully exposition (2) accords with the whole context and with the usage and thought of Paul, I have already attempted to show. To say that an outburst of praise would be out of place in a passage so full of sadness, is to overlook the pathos of these words. That the slighted privileges of Israel call forth a song from a heart smitten with deepest sorrow on their account, reveals their greatness and the terrible position of those who trample them under foot. As little inappropriate is this song of praise as will be the Hallelujahs of the Day of Judgment: Revelation 19:1-7. And that Paul rises unexpectedly from mention of Christ to praise to God, is in complete harmony with his constant mode of thought, e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 3:23.

So far then we have seen that the exposition I have adopted is not open to objection on the ground of grammar, the context, or the usage and thought of Paul. I shall now bring reasons for believing, with a confidence approaching certainty, that it conveys the actual thought and purpose of Paul.

Had Paul intended to deviate from his otherwise unvarying custom and to speak of Christ as God, he must have done so with a set and serious purpose of asserting the divinity of Christ. And, if so, he would have used words which no one could misunderstand. In a similar case, John 1:1, we find language which excludes all doubt. In the passage before us, the words ος εστιν, as in Romans 1:25, would have given equal certainty. But Paul did not use them. Again, in the passages which set forth expressly the nature of the Son, e.g. Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15, Paul does not call Him God: and in each of them the subordination of the Son to the Father is very conspicuous. But here, if we adopt the traditional exposition, there is no mention whatever of the Father, and without such mention there is given to the Son the loftiest title found in the Bible; in other words, we should have here the divinity of Christ, asserted with a definiteness not found elsewhere in the writings or addresses of Paul, and not correlated to the unique supremacy of the Father. This is altogether inconsistent with the whole thought of Paul.

Moreover, Paul is not discussing here the dignity of Christ, but mentions Him casually in an exposition of the present position of the Jews. In such a passage, it is much more likely that he would deviate from his common mode of expression, and write once God be blessed instead of “To God be glory,” than that in a passage not referring specially to the nature of Christ he would assert, what he nowhere else explicitly asserts, that Christ is God, and assert it in language which may mean either this or something quite different.

In any case, the passage before us cannot be appealed to in proof of the divinity of Christ. For even those who so interpret it admit that their interpretation is open to doubt: and it is very unsafe to build important doctrine on an uncertain foundation. On the other hand, as I interpret them, these words reveal, by making them matter of praise to God, the greatness of the privileges which the Jews had trampled under foot.

Verses 6-13


CH. 9:6-13

But not as though the word of God has fallen through. For not all they who are from Israel are these Israel. Neither because they are seed of Abraham are all children; “but in Isaac will a seed be called for thee.” That is, not the children of the flesh, not these are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For a word of promise this word is, “At this season I will come; and for Sarah there shall be a son.”

And not only so, but also Rebecca, having conceived from one, Isaac our father:- “for they not yet having been born, nor having done anything good or bad, in order that the purpose of God according to election might continue, not from works but from Him that calls, it was said to her that “The greater will be servant to the less;” according as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:6. The word of God: His promises to Abraham, e.g. Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 22:17-18. Cp. Romans 4:13-17. Paul’s sorrow and the present sad position of the unbelieving Jews do not involve anything like a failure of the word of God to Abraham. He thus challenges an objection to the Gospel, viz. that if it be true God has broken the great promises on which rest the hopes of Israel. The Gospel promises infinite blessing to all who believe in Christ, and threatens destruction to those who reject Him. But with Abraham’s seed God made an eternal covenant, and promised to be their God for ever: Genesis 17:7. It might be objected that, by limiting salvation to those that believe, the Gospel implies the partial failure of the ancient promises. Paul does not hesitate to admit that these promises on which the Jews base their claims are the word of God. But he now declares, and in Romans 9:7-13 will prove, that the sad position of the Jews does not involve failure of the promises; that so long as they continue in their present unbelief, they are outside the number of those for whom the promises were given.

For not all etc.: commencement of this proof.

They from Israel: Jacob’s descendants. So Romans 1:3 : “from David’s seed.

Are Israel: sharers with their father Israel of the blessings promised to the seed of Abraham.

Romans 9:7-9. An unexpected transition from the sons of Israel to those of Abraham, an assertion touching the latter similar to that made in Romans 9:6 touching the former. We shall find, in Romans 9:7-9, that the assertion about Abraham proves that about Israel.

Romans 9:7. Seed of Abraham: natural descendants, corresponding to they of Israel in Romans 9:6.

Children: heirs of Abraham’s rights: cp. Romans 8:17. It corresponds with are Israel: cp. John 8:39.

But in Isaac etc.: quotation of Genesis 21:12, proving the foregoing assertion: same quotation in Hebrews 11:18. When God bid Abraham send away Ishmael, He promised that from Isaac should arise a posterity who would be called by Abraham’s name and inherit the promises made to his seed. The quoted text evidently limits the promises to Isaac and his children: cp. Genesis 17:19-21. It therefore proves that not all the natural offspring are Abraham’s children and heirs.

Romans 9:8. Exposition of the foregoing quotation, and of the principle involved in it.

Not the children of the flesh: descendants born according to the natural laws of the human body.

Children of God: recalling Romans 8:16. Since Paul is deducing a general principle applicable to the Jews of his own day, he expresses it in N.T. form. He here asserts that natural descent from Abraham does not place a man in a new relation to God. This explains the exclusion of Ishmael.

Children of the promise: born, as Isaac was, in fulfilment of a promise of God and therefore by supernatural power.

Reckoned: as in Romans 2:3; Romans 4:3-6.

Romans 9:9. Proof that Isaac is a child of promise. It therefore supports, from his case, the general principle asserted in Romans 9:8. Paul quotes from Genesis 18:10 a definite promise of a son for Sarah.

The objection challenged in Romans 9:6 assumes that the Jews claim the blessings promised to Abraham on the ground that they are descendants of Israel and that if these blessings be denied them the promises of God have failed. Paul reminds us that this claim is not admitted in the case of Abraham’s children: for no Jew asserts that both his sons were included in God’s covenant with their father. Nay more. The claim of the unbelieving Jews is precisely the same as that of Ishmael; whereas they who believe in Christ hold a position analogous to that of Isaac. For they, like him, have been born, not by natural generation, but in fulfilment of a special promise of God. If the Gospel be true, even though some Israelites be excluded from the blessings promised to their nation, God is only acting in reference to Israel’s sons as He acted of old to the sons of Abraham.

Romans 9:10. Another proof of the same, from the family of Isaac.

Not only was a distinction made between the sons of Sarah and Hagar, but between the sons of Rebecca and Isaac, both parents being the same. Paul thus evades a possible objection that Ishmael was a bondwoman’s child.

Romans 9:11-12. Further exposition of this second case.

Not yet having been born etc.: excluding all possibility of human merit as influencing God’s selection. This is emphasised by the words not having done anything good or bad.

The purpose of God: the eternal purpose revealed in God’s action in the families of Abraham and Isaac.

Election: cognate to elect in Romans 8:33 : the selection of a smaller out of a larger number. God acted on this principle, i.e.

according to election, when, instead of receiving into this covenant both Isaac and Ishmael, he took Isaac only. He acted on the same principle when he took Jacob and left Esau. Inasmuch as whatever God does in time He purposed from eternity, Paul speaks of God’s action as resulting from a purpose according to election. And, inasmuch as, in both patriarchal families, He acted on the same principle of selection, Paul says that He did so in the second case in order that the purpose according to election might continue, i.e. in order to act in the family of Isaac as He had already acted in the family of Abraham. The word continue calls attention to a permanent element in the divine action.

Not from works, but from Him that calls: source of this elective purpose. It was not prompted by any works of man, past or foreseen, but had its origin simply in God, who calls to Himself whom He will: cp. 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5.

It was said to her: as recorded in Genesis 25:23.

Greater… less: perhaps equivalent to older and younger; cp. Genesis 29:16; Genesis 10:21: probably designed to be an enigma to Rebecca, to be explained only by fulfilment. It evidently means that the one least likely should have the pre-eminence. So important in Paul’s thought, as a permanent element in divine administration, was the principle of selection as contrasted with indiscriminate blessing that he represents the maintenance of this principle as a purpose of the famous words spoken to Rebecca before her children were born. Subsequent history proves that these words were a limitation of the covenant to Jacob and his children. Had God bestowed the promised blessings on both sons of Isaac, He would have cast aside the elective purpose adopted in His dealings with the family of Abraham.

Romans 9:13. That Paul stated correctly in Romans 9:12 Gods purpose in speaking to Rebecca, he now proves by quoting Malachi 1:2.

The words Esau I hated are expounded by those following, “they shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them Border of wickedness, and The people with whom God is angry for ever.” Cp. Psalms 5:5-6 : “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” Human passions are attributed to God in order to teach that He acts as men do when influenced by such passions: and only thus can men understand God. So Genesis 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:11, where God acts as a man does who has changed his mind. similarly Proverbs 13:24 : “he that spares his rod hates his son,” i.e. he is practically his son’s enemy. God acted as a friend to Jacob’s descendants and as an adversary to those of Esau: and His words in Malachi 1:2 imply that His different treatment of the two nations was due not to anything they or their respective fathers had done but simply to His undeserved favour to Israel. This is also confirmed by the history of Israel and of Edom. Therefore, looking back on God’s words to Rebecca, Paul may justly say that they were spoken in order to declare the great principle that the promised blessings were given apart from human merit.

Notice that in Genesis 25:23; Malachi 1:2, and in the O.T. frequently, the fathers and their descendants are identified. In the children the fathers seem to live on: and blessings or curses pronounced on the fathers go down to the children. And the sins of one generation are punished in another: Exodus 17:16; 1 Samuel 15:2.

God’s treatment of the sons of Isaac, as of those of Abraham, supports Paul’s assertion in Romans 9:6 that not all the descendants of Israel are heirs of the promises. By acting on the principle of selection, first in the family of Abraham and then in that of Isaac, God affords a strong presumption that He will do so in the third patriarchal family, that He will accept not all, but a part of, the descendants of Israel. The Gospel proclaims that He does so, that He gives the inheritance only to those who believe in Christ. This seemed to some a failure of the ancient promises.

But Paul has now shown that the unbelieving Jews have no better claim than have the descendants of Ishmael, whose claim no Jew would admit.

Again, Paul uses the early date of the prophecy about Isaac’s sons, in connection with God’s comment in Malachi 1:2 on His treatment of them, to meet another objection to the Gospel. He asserts, in Romans 3:27, that justification through faith shuts out all boasting on the ground of works, by bringing down all men, Jews or Gentiles, moral or immoral, to the level of sinners. He now points to a similar disregard of works, as a ground of God’s favour, in His treatment of the family of Isaac. If to-day God receives into His family, on the same terms of repentance and faith, the Pharisee and the publican, and rejects all unbelievers, moral or immoral, He only acts as He did when He chose Jacob and rejected Esau before they had done anything good or bad.

This argument however suggests an objection to the Gospel as serious as that which it removes, viz. that if God receive men without reference to previous morality, He is, if not unfaithful, yet unjust. This objection will be stated and answered in Romans 9:14-18. To provoke it, Paul quotes the mysterious words of Malachi 1:2. They teach that even the children of Abraham may be objects of God’s fiercest wrath.

The above argument is simply a reply to an objection. Paul shows that this objection to the divine origin of the Gospel tells with equal force against that which all admit to be a revelation from God. As a positive argument, this only raises a presumption, based on the similarity of God’s previous action, that He will do what the Gospel announces. But as a reply to the objection that the threatenings of the Gospel are inconsistent with the promises of God, the argument is irresistible.

On the doctrine of Election, see further in the note at the end of this chapter.

Verses 14-18


CH. 9:14-18

What then shall we say? Is there unrighteousness with God? Be it not so. For to Moses He says, “I will have mercy on whomsoever I have mercy, and will have compassion on whomsoever I have compassion.” Therefore it is not of him that desires nor of him that runs, but of God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very end I raised thee up, in order that I may show forth in thee My power, and in order that My name may be announced in all the earth.” Therefore on whom He will He has mercy; and whom He will He hardens.

Romans 9:14. What then etc.? what shall we infer? as in Romans 4:1, etc. The objection is based, not on God’s hatred to Esau, but on the words not of works. For no Jew would say that God’s treatment of Esau was unjust.

Unrighteousness: as in Romans 1:18, deviation from the standard of right. In a ruler, we call it injustice. While overturning an objection that the Gospel is contrary to the faithfulness of God, Paul has suggested another based on His justice. The unbelieving Jew may say that his own case differs altogether from that of Esau, that, whereas God’s words to Rebecca determined only the temporal lot of her sons and left them and their children to be judged at the great day according to their works, the Gospel announces eternal life for those who a few days ago were publicans and harlots, and shuts out from the promises of God some who have lived strictly moral lives. The teaching of Christ put Saul of Tarsus on the same level in reference to salvation as the outcasts around; and offers salvation to all on the same terms. Such teaching seemed to slap in the face morality itself. The Pharisee declares that the justice of God makes inconceivable that such teaching is divine. If the moral unbeliever cannot appeal to the ancient promises, he will appeal to something older than they, to the eternal justice of God. This objection, Paul meets with a direct denial: Be it not so.

Romans 9:15-16. In proof of this denial, Paul appeals to words spoken to Moses at one of the most solemn moments of his life: Exodus 33:19.

Mercy: kindness to the unfortunate and helpless: so Romans 11:30-32.

Compassion: a stronger form of the same: so Romans 12:1.

I-shall-have-mercy refers to practical manifestation of mercy; I-have-mercy, to the inward disposition. While granting Moses’ prayer to see His glory, God asserts the great principle that His gifts are acts of mercy; and that therefore the objects of them are chosen not because of their merit but because of their helplessness and God’s pity. God revealed His glory to Moses, not because he deserved it, but because God had compassion on him. Romans 9:16 is Paul’s inference from God’s words.

Runs: intense effort like that of a racer: so 1 Corinthians 9:24. The blessings of the Gospel cannot be obtained by man’s desire or effort, however intense, but are gifts of God’s mercy. Therefore no work of man gives a claim to them.

A ruler is unjust if in administration he deviates from the proclaimed principles of his government; or if he makes laws contrary to the eternal principles of right and wrong. By proclaiming in the Gospel that He will bestow His favour on believers without consideration of previous morality, God acts on a principle of government announced at Sinai, at the foundation of the Jewish state, a principle which none can call unjust. Its justice is evident from the case of Moses. He had certainly no claim to a revelation of God’s glory. God might justly have refused it; and therefore might justly give it to whom He would. Now in the Gospel God proclaims to all believers, of whatever previous character, a still grander revelation of His glory. He thus exercises the prerogative asserted at Sinai. He might justly have delayed for a century the manifestation of Himself in Christ. If so, Paul and his compeers would never have seen it. Was it then unjust in God to choose, apart from all thought of merit, the objects of this revelation? Was it unjust to refuse it to Saul of Tarsus who had desired it so long and sought it so earnestly, and to grant it to Zacchaeus and Mary of Magdala?

This quotation is the more suitable because of the argument lying in the word mercy. Mercy is not matter of justice, but is better than justice. It is evoked, not by merit, but by helplessness. If God’s kindness to a man like Moses, in the noblest moment of his life, was an act of mercy, prompted, not by what Moses had done, but by divine compassion, then the most moral man has no claim whatever to any gift from God: and God may justly bestow His gifts without reference to human conduct.

Romans 9:17. Proof of the above inference. From the case of Pharaoh, Paul will prove that God hardens whom He will, and thus put beyond doubt that He has mercy on whom He will.

The Scripture says: as in Romans 4:3. For the solemn and express words of God, Paul claims no higher authority than that they are the voice of the Scripture: so Romans 11:2; Galatians 4:30; cp. Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:22. See Diss. iii. The quoted passage is Exodus 9:15-16: “For now had I stretched out My hand and smitten thee and thy people with the pestilence, then hadst thou been cut off from the earth.

And indeed for this end I have made thee to continue, to the end that I may show thee My power, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Instead of destroying the king at once, God permitted him to continue his resistance; and thus reserved him for a more conspicuous overthrow, which would spread to all nations the name and fame of the God of Israel. This purpose was attained: see Joshua 2:10. Instead of made to continue, Paul writes I raised thee up. A cognate but less strong word in Acts 13:22-23. Those whom God lifts out of the mass of mankind and puts into a conspicuous position, He is said to raise-up. This alteration embodies a correct inference. They who occupy thrones are placed on them by God, to work out His purposes: Daniel 4:25; Isaiah 37:26. God here says that He had formed a purpose that through Pharaoh His name should be made known. Therefore we cannot doubt that for this end He not only spared his life but placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a man of Pharaoh’s character. In later days, to accomplish a different purpose, He put on the throne of Persia (Ezra 1:2) a man of different character. God’s perfect foreknowledge (Romans 8:29) enabled Him to do all this without interfering with human freedom. He knew beforehand the men to whom He gave the sceptre, and knew that their character would serve His purpose. We therefore infer from Exodus 9:16 that God placed Pharaoh on the throne in order that his obstinacy and overthrow might be a means of making known to nations around the greatness of God.

Romans 9:18. Inference from God’s words to Pharaoh, including, and supplementing, and supporting, the inference in Romans 9:16.

Hardens: so Exodus 4:21, “I will harden his heart;” also Romans 7:3. Same or cognate word in Hebrews 3:8; Hebrews 4:7; Acts 19:9; Romans 2:5. The heart is hard when it is incapable of receiving divine impressions. To harden, is to make less susceptible of such impressions. We may well believe that each refusal made Pharaoh less open to divine influences. Moreover, this progressive hardening was a part of the order of human life, and therefore a divinely-ordained consequence of his refusal to obey, a divinely-ordained punishment of his disobedience. In this real and awful sense it was an act of God. For He ordained that they who reject His influences leading men towards obedience shall by their rejection become less susceptible to such influences. It is also the sinner’s own act. For, had he not resisted God, his heart would not have been hardened. This hardening is no more inconsistent with the character of God than is any other kind of punishment. This verse asserts God’s right to inflict this punishment on whomever He will. In Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3, God announced that He would inflict it on Pharaoh: and no Jew would deny the justice of the punishment.

Pharaoh was an exact parallel to Paul’s opponents: for what he did, they are doing. The only bad thing recorded of him is a repeated rejection of an embassy from God: and they have rejected a more solemn embassy: 2 Corinthians 5:20; Hebrews 2:3. Therefore, it God make them, in spite of their morality, a monument of wrath, He will only treat them as He treated Pharaoh. By condemning him, the Jews admitted the justice of their own condemnation.

That God bestows blessing on grounds, not of merit, but of mercy, and that He selects, from men equally guilty, objects of special and conspicuous punishment, does not make in the least uncertain who are the objects of the blessing and the curse. For God’s purposes flow from His moral character, and are therefore in harmony with His love and wisdom. Moreover, while reserving to Himself the right to choose the objects of His favour and His anger, He has made known to us His choice. In the Gospel He proclaims mercy for all who believe, of whatever previous character; and destruction for all who reject the offered mercy. We never read of a purpose of God still kept secret. In Christ, the purpose once hidden is now made manifest: Romans 16:26; Ephesians 3:5.

Romans 9:15-18 are full of comfort. When we ask blessing from God, we look, not at our efforts to obtain it or at our merit, but at our helplessness and God’s compassion. For His gifts are acts of pure mercy: and He has promised them to all who ask in faith. We therefore ask for them in humble and joyful confidence that God will fulfil His promise.

These verses are also a solemn warning to some who think that because of their morality God cannot justly condemn them to final destruction. He will harden and punish and raise into a monument of anger whom He will. And we read in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 that He will destroy those who obey not the Gospel. The justice of this punishment will appear in the great day: Romans 2:5.

Nearly all the difficulties of these verses vanish when we remember that they are a reply to one who objects that it would be unjust for God to destroy those who reject the Gospel. To such objectors, the case of Pharaoh, whose only recorded sin is a rejection of an embassy from God, is a triumphant answer.

Verses 19-23


CH. 9:19-23

Thou wilt say to me then, Why does He still find fault? For who is resisting His will? O man, at any rate, who art thou that answerest again to God? Shall the moulded vessel say to him that moulded it, Why didst thou make me thus? Or has not the potter authority over the clay, out of the same lump to make one part a vessel for honour, and another for dishonour? Moreover, if God, desiring to show forth His anger and to make known His power, has borne, in much longsuffering, vessels of anger made ready for destruction, in order that He may also make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy which He before-prepared for glory—

Romans 9:19. A last objection, suggested by Romans 9:18. The mention of Pharaoh implies that his case is parallel to that of the unbelieving Jews; and suggests that God will harden them and through their hardness accomplish His purposes. The Jew replies, Why then does God, after hardening me, still (cp. Romans 3:7; Romans 6:2) find fault, i.e. continue to blame me for sins resulting from hardness inflicted by God? The force of this objection lies in the second question, which suggests that no one is resisting His will. If this suggestion can be made good, if it can be proved that sinners are altogether passive in the hands of God, it will be difficult to understand how He can blame or punish them.

Romans 9:20. Paul indignantly cuts off both questions by reminding the objector that in asking them he sets himself up against God, and by bidding him look at himself and consider who it is that does this. For God has declared that He does find fault with and will punish, for their sins, all unbelievers: and Paul will show that the man before us ought to be the last in the world to call in question God’s right to do this.

Shall the moulded vessel say to him that moulded it? word for word from Isaiah 29:16, LXX. In Romans 9:19, the moulded vessel of clay is calling the potter to account.

Romans 9:21. Further development of the argument underlying this last question.

The potter: same word in Jeremiah 18:2-3; Jeremiah 18:6, LXX.: in Hebrew it is cognate to the word rendered moulded in Romans 9:20.

The clay: same metaphor in Isaiah 64:8. The potter is under no obligation to the clay; and therefore may justly make, even out of the same lump, vessels for honour and for dishonour.

Vessel: same word in 2 Timothy 2:20-21; John 19:29; Revelation 2:27; Revelation 18:12; Acts 9:15; 2 Corinthians 4:7. In the Gospel, God declares that from the common mass of mankind He will, by sovereign election, take a part, viz. believers, and cover them with glory: and this verse implies that He will use another part, viz. those who reject the Gospel, to advance by their deep debasement His sovereign purposes. To object to this, is to deny the potter’s right over his own clay.

Paul has shown that we have no right to ask the questions in Romans 9:19; but he has not answered them. He has not explained why God still finds fault; nor disproved the implied assertion that no one resists His will. But he has suggested a complete explanation and disproof. For Romans 9:21 recalls at once Jeremiah 18:6-7 : “cannot I do with you as this potter does… as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are ye in My hand.” Just as Moses and Pharaoh were parallels to men in Paul’s day, so were the men of Jeremiah’s day. Because of old God resolved to bless Israel, they thought it impossible for Him to punish them. God asks, Do you deny Me the right of doing what this potter does? He changed his purpose when the clay resisted; cannot I do the same? Now evidently, although the potter’s second and lower purpose has been accomplished in the clay, He can still find fault: for the clay has resisted his original purpose. God’s primary purpose for Israel was that they should be saved through Christ. This purpose they resisted. And God formed a second purpose, viz. that through their unbelief and destruction His name may be glorified. The accomplishment of the secondary purpose does not free them from blame for resisting His primary purpose of mercy. Again, in Jeremiah 18:8; Jeremiah 18:11 God says that even now He will revert to His first purpose of blessing, if Israel will repent. And, as we read in Romans 11:23, God is ready to pardon and bless the Jews of Paul’s day. Consequently, it is not only their fault, and a result of their resistance to God’s purpose, that He formed the purpose of dishonour, but it will be their own further fault if this second purpose is accomplished.

Notice that to Jeremiah God speaks of the clay as a whole: for He refers to the destiny of the nation as a whole. But Paul refers to the salvation of individuals; and therefore speaks of different kinds of vessels from the same lump.

We see now that, while apparently cutting off the objection as one which we have no right to make and one to which he will not condescend to reply, Paul has really, by pointing to the potter and his clay, suggested a complete reply. The parallel is so exact and the reply so complete that we cannot doubt that Paul intended to suggest them. He holds up a mirror in which the Jews may see with their own eyes that they are resisting God’s purposes, and are justly exposed to blame and punishment.

God’s words to Jeremiah prove that the accomplishment of purposes which are entirely God’s may yet in God’s sovereign wisdom depend entirely on the conduct of man. They also justify us in thinking of His purposes as successive; although in themselves they are eternal and therefore simultaneous. Only by looking on them as successive can we in any measure comprehend the primary and secondary purposes of God.

Romans 9:22. Further description of the man who replies to God, making still more evident the folly of his reply.

To show-forth: recalling the same word in Romans 9:17.

Desiring etc.: a definite purpose of God. For His anger is an essential element of His nature; and its manifestation is for the good of His creatures. And, along with His anger against sin, punishment makes-known His power to crush all opposition.

Has borne: as men bear a burden, i.e. refrained from at once destroying something unpleasant to Him.

In much longsuffering: recalling Romans 2:4. God not only delays punishment but takes active means to lead sinners to repentance.

Vessels: as in Romans 9:21.

Of anger… of mercy: whom God views with anger or mercy: so Ephesians 2:3, “children of anger.”

Made-ready: elsewhere, e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:10, in a good sense. Their preparation for their destiny was complete. By whom they were made ready, Paul leaves us to infer. Since they were hardened by God, they were by Him made ready for destruction: and since their hardening was a punishment of their own resistance, they had, by rejecting the Gospel, made themselves ready. Every act of sin makes the sinner more fit for perdition.

Destruction: see note on p. 87. {Romans 2:24}

We have here a second answer to the question in Romans 9:20, Who art thou? The objectors are not only “clay marred in the hand of the potter” but are already objects of God’s anger, made ready, by their own sins and by the hardness which follows sin, for destruction. If Romans 9:21 recalls Jeremiah 18:1-12; Romans 9:22 recalls Jeremiah 19:1-13. Now God’s nature moves Him to punish all sin and to crush all resistance, and thus to make known His anger and power. But He holds back His righteous anger, in order that the wicked may repent and live. Yet while refusing to repent, they complain that He finds fault with them.

Romans 9:23. Another purpose of God’s forbearance.

Riches: recalling Romans 2:4.

Of His glory: as in Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16. It is the valuable abundance of the manifested splendour which belongs to God. His forbearance is prompted by a desire to show mercy to men, to prepare them in the present life for a splendour to be bestowed in the life to come, and thus to make known the infinite resources and the grandeur of His own nature.

Before-prepared: so Ephesians 2:10 : in contrast to made ready for destruction. Throughout life everyone is preparing for destruction or for glory. The preparation for glory, being entirely a work of God, is expressly attributed to Him: whom He before-prepared.

The sentence occupying Romans 9:22-23 is broken off at the word glory, to make way for a further account of God’s treatment of the vessels of mercy: cp. Romans 5:12; Romans 7:12. We may supply from the foregoing, “Shall the objects of such forbearance call Him to account?”

The men who ask why God finds fault with them are men justly condemned, as Paul proved in Romans 1:18; Romans 3:20, for their own sins, whom God might justly destroy at once. To do so, would manifest His righteous anger and great power. But so great is His longsuffering that He permits them to live, and uses means for their salvation. He spares them because He has purposes of mercy, because He wishes to prepare men whom He will cover with His own abundant glory. Therefore He prolongs the world’s probation. Can men whose life is spared only because God forbears to act on principles of mere justice, and forbears because of His purpose of mercy to mankind at large, can such men reply to God when He declares what He will do with them? With more justice might a prisoner who but for the king’s respite had been put to death complain of prison fare.

How appropriate was Paul’s reference to Pharaoh and to the men of Jeremiah’s day will appear when we remember the fearful storm which, as Paul wrote these words, was already gathering, soon to burst in overwhelming fury on the house of Israel.

Verses 24-29


CH. 9:24-29

Vessels of mercy which He before-prepared for glory, whom He also called, even us, not only from among Jews, but also from among Gentiles. As also in Hosea He says, “I will call Not My people, My people; and Not beloved, Beloved. And it shall be in the place where it was said to them, No people of Mine are ye, there they shall be called sons of the living God.” Moreover, Isaiah cries on behalf of Israel, “If the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant shall be saved: for, accomplishing and cutting short His word, the Lord will perform it on the earth.” And according as Isaiah has said before, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had become as Sodom, and we had been made like as Gomorrah.”

Chapter 9 began with an expression of sorrow that many of the Jews were, if the teaching of Romans 1-8. be correct, outside the family of God. In reply to the objection that, if so, God’s promise has failed, Paul pointed to the cases of Ishmael and Esau. But it was further objected that it would be, if not unfaithful, yet unjust, for God to receive on the same terms, as the Gospel says He will, men good and bad. To this, Paul replied that God’s gifts are acts not of justice but of mercy; and that He not only bestows them on whom He will, but also inflicts on whom He will, for His own purposes, special punishment. To the objection that, if so, God has no reason to find fault, he refused to give a reply, and reminded the objector that he was but a vessel of clay, a vessel spared only by the longsuffering of its maker. Paul will now show that the present position of Gentiles and Jews agrees with prophecy.

Romans 9:24. Called: the Gospel summons, as in Romans 9:12; Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:14, etc.; cognate to the word called in Romans 1:1; Romans 1:6-7. That God has spoken to us, and called us to Himself, is the ground of all our hopes.

Jews… Gentiles: whose respective relation to the Kingdom of God is a chief matter of this chapter.

Romans 9:25-26. Quotations from Hosea 2:23; Hosea 2:1; respectively.

Call: to give a name; not to summon as in Romans 9:24. The two meanings embody one idea, to cry out a person’s name. The word is not found in the text quoted: but it expresses fairly the prophet’s meaning. It was probably prompted by the same word, in another sense, in Romans 9:24. God bid Hosea, in Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:9, give to two of his children the names No-mercy and No-people-of-mine, in token that the ten tribes were no longer God’s people or objects of His mercy; and made this more conspicuous by saying that He will have mercy upon and save the house of Judah. Afterwards, in Hosea 2:23, He says, “I will have mercy on No-mercy, and I will say to No-people-of-mine, My-people thou art.” Still earlier, in Hosea 1:10, God says, “in the place where it shall be said to them, No-people-of-mine are ye, it shall be said to them, Sons of the living God are ye.” Paul reverses the order of the quotations in order to give concluding prominence to the remarkable phrase sons of the living God, so wonderfully anticipating the Gospel of Christ.

Not-beloved: the LXX. rendering of No-mercy.

In the place where: either Palestine or the land of bondage. The very hills and plains which were witnesses of the one declaration will be witnesses of the other.

Paul quotes these words, which refer primarily to the ten tribes, in proof that God, when He called men from the midst of the Gentiles to be vessels of mercy, acted on principles announced by the prophet Hosea. Gentiles could not be more completely aliens than those whom God declared to be neither His people nor objects of His mercy. But Hosea foretold that in days to come God will speak again to the outcasts and call them His sons. In the Gospel, this prophecy finds unexpected and marvellous fulfilment, a fulfilment wider than the promise but in full agreement with its spirit. The glad tidings of salvation and of reception into the family of God, even for outcasts, which through Hosea God promised to announce in days then future, He had actually announced in the Gospel preached by Paul.

Romans 9:27-28. Another prophecy, from Isaiah: Isaiah 10:22. His words are, “If thy people Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, a remnant among them shall return. Consumption is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For consumption and a determined purpose the Lord Jehovah of armies is working out in the midst of all the earth.” The variations in the quotation do not touch the sense.

The number of the sons of Israel: not found in Isaiah 10:22 but taken from Hosea 1:10.

As the sand of the sea: found in both passages.

Will be saved: implied in Isaiah’s words “shall return.” Why only a remnant will be saved, Romans 9:28 explains.

Accomplishing His word: achieving its purpose: cp. Romans 2:27.

Cutting-short: a sudden and complete accomplishment.

His word: God’s many threatenings to Israel. Amid the terror inspired by Assyria, the prophet foretells Assyria’s coming fall; and looks forward to the day of Israel’s deliverance. He sees fulfilled the promise recorded in Genesis 22:17, and Israel numerous as the sand of the sea. But he declares emphatically and repeatedly that only a part of the nation will experience the great salvation, and that this part will return to and trust in God. Upon the rest of the nation, God has determined to inflict punishment. He has resolved that a wave of justice shall overflow the land: and, what He has determined, He will do.

The Lord: see under Romans 9:29.

The force of these quotations is evident. If the Gospel be true, many Gentiles are members of the family of God, and many Jews are, and apparently for ever will be, shut out from that family and from the salvation announced by the Messiah. This latter thought gave Paul deep sorrow. But he has shown that it involves neither unfaithfulness nor injustice in God. And the quotations from Hosea and Isaiah prove that the reception of Gentiles and the limitation of salvation to a part of Israel accord with prophecy.

Romans 9:29. Another quotation from Isaiah: Isaiah 1:9. Things are now according as he foretold.

Said-before: either in an earlier part of his prophecy, or before it took place. Probably the latter: for the mere order of Isaiah’s prophecies is unimportant. Same word in 2 Corinthians 7:3; 2 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 1:9; Hebrews 4:7; Matthew 24:25. Paul says that Isaiah’s description of things around him was a prophecy of the days of Christ. God treated the covenant people on definite principles. Consequently, His dealings with them at one time were prophetic of times to come.

The Lord: constant rendering in LXX. for the Hebrew word JEHOVAH, the distinctive name of the God of Israel, never given to others as the name god frequently is. Cp. 1 Kings 18:39, “Jehovah, He is the God.” So sacred was this name that in reading the Jews replaced it by the secular title lord: same word in Genesis 18:12; Genesis 42:30; Genesis 42:33, etc. And it is so rendered in the Greek, Latin, and some other versions. This rendering causes great confusion in the N.T.: for the same word is both a secular title, as in Acts 16:16; Acts 16:19; Acts 16:30, and the distinctive title of Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 8:6, and a rendering of the distinctive O.T. name of God. Sometimes, e.g. Romans 10:12, it is difficult to determine whether the word refers to the Son or the Father.

Sabaoth: a Hebrew word for armies. Same transliteration is very common in (LXX.) the Book of Isaiah, e.g. Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 5:9; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 5:24. The bidding of Jehovah of armies is done by the powers of heaven and earth: cp. Daniel 4:35; Psalms 103:20-21; Psalms 148:2.

Seed: from the LXX., instead of remnant. The remnant of Judah in the days of Isaiah was a seed in which the life of the sacred people was preserved for future generations.

It might be objected to the Gospel that, by making faith the condition of salvation, it practically reduced the covenant people to a small remnant, viz. the believing Jews. But Paul reminds us that in Isaiah’s day, by death and captivity, the nation was reduced to a small remnant; and that, but for the help of God, it would then have been as completely destroyed as were Sodom and Gomorrah. Consequently, God is doing now only what Isaiah says He did then.

Verses 30-33


CH. 9:30-33

What then shall we say? That Gentiles, the men not pursuing righteousness, have laid hold of righteousness, the righteousness which is from faith. But Israel, while pursuing a law of righteousness, to such law has not attained. Why? Because they sought it not from faith but from works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling; according as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of a snare: and he that believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Romans 9:30. Righteousness from faith: recalling Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 3:27-30, which contain the main thesis of the epistle. Since the quotations do not mention either righteousness or faith, Paul’s inference must be drawn from this main thesis. It marks the conclusion of his argument, which is designed to remove objections to this thesis on the ground of the present condition of the Jews.

Gentiles: not the Gentiles: for only a part of them believed.

Pursue: as in a race: cp. Romans 14:19; Philippians 3:12; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22, etc.

Laid-hold-of: as does a racer: 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:12-13.

Righteousness: as in Romans 1:17 : the state of him who has the approval of the great Judge. The Gospel proclaims the favour of God to all who believe. Many Gentiles who formerly lived in sin have believed; and, if the Gospel be true, are now accounted righteous by God. They have obtained the righteousness which is from faith.

Romans 9:31. The contrasted lot of Israel, i.e. of the mass of the Jews in contrast to the believing Gentiles.

A law of righteousness: a standard of conduct, from which they seek the favour of God. This ideal standard some Jews set before themselves; and strove by morality, austerity, or ritual, to attain or come up to it, i.e. to realise it in themselves and thus attain righteousness. But in this effort they failed. Their failure illustrates Romans 9:16 : cp. Matthew 21:31.

Romans 9:32. Reason why the Jews have not obtained righteousness, viz. because they sought it not in God’s way from faith, i.e. on the condition of faith, but in a way of their own, as though it might be derived from works.

They stumbled etc.: comment on their failure.

Stumbling: same word in Romans 14:13; Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 8:9; and 1 Peter 2:6, referring, as here, to Christ.

Stone of stumbling: one against which men strike their foot. The Jews rejected the Gospel because Christ was not what they expected. He thus became a stone against which the men of Israel, as they ran after righteousness, stumbled. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:23; Matthew 13:57.

Romans 9:33. According as etc.: that Christ is a stone of stumbling, agrees with prophecy.

Snare: skandalon, the Greek original of our word scandal: so Romans 11:9; Romans 14:13; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:23, etc. Cognate verb in Romans 14:21, in some copies; 1 Corinthians 8:13 twice, etc. It denotes a trap in which anyone is caught.

Rock of a snare: one on which when men step they fall and are entrapped. See under same word in Romans 11:9. Paul weaves together Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16. The one reads, “He shall be for a sanctuary; and for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of falling, to the two houses of Israel; for a snare and for a trap to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Something to be said or done by God will be an occasion of deception and destruction to the Jews. Such were the lowly appearance of Christ and the simplicity of the Gospel. These were a stone against which most of the Jews struck their foot, and a rock on which they slipped and fell: Matthew 11:6. Isaiah 28:16 is, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone, a stone of proof, the precious corner-stone of a laid foundation. He that believes will not make haste.” In days to come, God will lay in Zion, the seat of the kingdom of David, the foundation-stone of a temple or palace.

It will be the corner-stone of a firmly-laid foundation, a stone tested and valuable. He that builds on it by faith will not be put to the hurry of flight.

Believes: in Hebrew, to make firm or sure: he that makes himself firm by resting on the firm foundation-stone.

Not put to shame: as he would be if, in spite of his trust in Christ, he perished. Same word and sense in Romans 5:5.

The apparent carelessness of this quotation does not lessen its value to men familiar with the Old Testament. The quoted passages prove clearly that the foretold salvation is for those who believe; and that it is consistent with the character of God to do that which to some men will become an occasion of falling. In Romans 9:24-29, we saw that the reception of the Gentiles and the limitation of salvation to a part of the Jews are in harmony with prophecy. We now see that faith as the condition of salvation, and the unfortunate effect of the Gospel on some of the Jews, are also in harmony with it.

A comparison of Romans 9:25-33 with 1 Peter 2:6-10 suggests that these O.T. quotations were often used by the early Christian teachers.

Romans 9:32 implies that the reason why one man is unsaved while others are saved is not in God but in himself. So in Romans 10:3; Romans 11:22-23; Matthew 23:37. This by no means contradicts Romans 9:18, but looks at the same subject from another point. The reason why any one criminal is put to death is, if justice be done, entirely in himself. But the question whether any criminals are to be put to death rests entirely with the legislature. Those who oppose capital punishment may leave out of sight the conduct of the criminal, and speak only of what it is expedient for the government to do. And the moralist may leave out of sight the expediency of capital punishment, and speak only of the consequences of sin. Or again, the motion of the withered leaves of autumn is due altogether to the wind. They do not in the least degree even co-operate to produce their own motion. But the stones on the wayside remain unmoved. The difference arises, not from a difference in the influences brought to bear on the stones and the leaves, but simply from this, that while the leaves yield to, the stones resist, the influences which both alike experience. So with us. That believers are justified at all, springs entirely from the undeserved mercy of God: and every step towards salvation is entirely God’s work in them. But the reason why, when some are justified, others are not, is that they put themselves by unbelief outside the number of those whom God has determined to save. When Paul replied to the objection that the Gospel is inconsistent with the justice of God, he said that salvation is not a matter of justice, and that God bestows it on whom He will. But when explaining why the Jews have not obtained salvation, he says that the reason is in themselves. Notice also that their position is here attributed, not to their sin, but to their unbelief.

Romans 9:30-33 help us to understand CHAPTER 9, of which it is a summing up. Paul does not introduce his new matter by laying down, as in Romans 1:16; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 6:3-4; Romans 8:3-4, a foundation-stone of explicit doctrinal statement. Therefore, only from the argument can we learn the exact purpose of the chapter. Paul’s aim, as I understand it, is to defend the Gospel expounded in Romans 1-8. against Jewish objections, and especially against the great objection that if the Gospel be true the mass of the Jewish nation are outside the blessings promised to their fathers, or in other words to defend the Gospel in view of the fact that many Jews have rejected and many Gentiles have accepted it. In Romans 9:1-5, Paul expresses his sorrow for this fact. But, in Romans 9:6-13, he shows that, painful as it is to himself, it is not inconsistent with the promises of God; nor

(Romans 9:14-18) with the declared principles of His government. The reply to Objection 1 is put in a form which provokes Objection 2: the reply to this last suggests Objection 3, viz. that such principles of government destroy human accountability. This objection, Romans 9:19-23 meet. Paul then states in Romans 9:24, from the point of view of the Gospel call, what he afterwards, in Romans 9:30-31, states from the point of view of actual results. In Romans 9:25-29, the statement of Romans 9:24 is shown to be in harmony with O.T. prophecy. This is followed in Romans 9:30-31 by a plain assertion of the fact which in Romans 9:1-5 caused Paul so much sorrow and which throughout Romans 9, he has been harmonizing with the character of God. This fact is in Romans 9:32 traced to its cause; and even this cause is in Romans 9:33 found to be in harmony with the Old Testament. Thus the whole chapter is a proof that the Gospel expounded in this epistle is in harmony with the earlier revelation.

ELECTION, PREDESTINATION: associated in Ephesians 1:4-5. In Romans 8:33; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:28, we find the words elect, ELECTION; and in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28; Ephesians 1:4; James 2:5; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:13; Luke 9:35; Luke 10:42; Luke 14:7; John 6:70; Acts 1:24; Acts 15:22, we have the cognate verb choose, chosen. They denote a mental act by which we take for ourselves a smaller out of a larger number of objects. Choice implies freedom in him who makes it, but is generally determined by the difference between the objects chosen and rejected.

A divine election is prominent in Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Psalms 33:12; Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:1; Isaiah 65:9; Isaiah 65:22. Out of all nations, God chose Israel to be specially His own. From this divine choice resulted all the religious advantages of the Jews. Hence the nation could never forget that it was the chosen people of God. Since the foretold glory was destined only for the faithful ones in Israel, the word was sometimes used specially for them: so Isaiah 65:9; Isaiah 65:15; Isaiah 65:22, a stepping-stone to its N.T. use. We have a connecting link, amid O.T. phraseology, in 1 Peter 2:9 : “a chosen race:” so Romans 1:1. Our Lord, in Matthew 22:14; Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:31; Luke 18:7, and Paul in Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1, speak of believers as elect: so Revelation 17:14. In Romans 11:5; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says that his readers were chosen by God, before the world was, for a salvation to be realised in holiness and faith; and that God’s choice arose, not from their works, but altogether from God’s favour.

The N.T. doctrine of election may be thus stated: From eternity, moved only by pity for our lost state and not at all by any foreseen good in us, and as irresponsible sovereign of the world, God resolved to save, not all men promiscuously, but only those who should believe the Gospel. This doctrine is a restatement of the fundamental doctrine of salvation through faith, from the point of view of the eternal forethought of God. Whatever God does in time, He purposed from eternity: and, whatever He does, He does unmoved by any good external to Himself. For apart from Him no good exists. God proclaimed that He will save all who believe the good news, and destroy those who reject it. We infer then that from eternity He resolved so to do. He saw man in sin and misery, and resolved to save. He was moved to save, by His love to the entire race: John 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11. To reconcile the salvation of sinners with divine justice, God gave His Son to die: Romans 3:25-26. He chose the Gospel to be the instrument, and faith the condition, of salvation to each individual: Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:28; Romans 3:30. He exerts on all men influences leading towards repentance, influences without which none can come to Christ: Romans 2:4; John 6:44. God thought fit, in infinite wisdom and universal love, to permit men either to yield to, or resist, these influences; and made the effect of the Gospel contingent on man’s surrender to them. From the beginning, He foresaw who would believe and how many would continue in faith. But He was moved to save, not by their foreseen faith and perseverance, but only by His love and by man’s misery and helplessness. Our faith is God’s work in us and gift to us: and the good works which follow faith are not its necessary result, but are attached to it by the grace of God and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Our faith and good works, so far from being the motive, are results, of God’s eternal purpose.

This doctrine, thus stated, contains all that Paul says about election. The resolution to save, not all men indiscriminately, but only believers, is a purpose according to election. For, by fixing, of His own free-will, and without reference to man’s conduct, the condition of salvation, He chose the objects of salvation. We thus owe His favour to-day entirely to the sovereign election of God.

Closely related to this doctrine of Election, is Paul’s teaching about PREDESTINATION, already in some measure expounded under Romans 8:29-30. It is the eternal purpose in which before the world was God marked out the path along which, and the goal towards which, He would lead His chosen ones, viz. to adoption into His family and to likeness to the glory of His Firstborn. It is a logical development of Doctrine 3, viz. that we are to be dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus, just as Election is a development of Doctrine 1, Justification through Faith, each of these fundamental doctrines being viewed in the light of the eternal forethought of God.

Like election, predestination is simply a purpose; and by no means implies its inevitable accomplishment. Hence in Romans 11:21-22 Paul solemnly warns his readers that, unless they continue in faith, they will, although predestined to glory, be cut off and perish.

This chapter has frequently been appealed to in support of Calvin’s teaching that God brings to bear, in pursuance of an eternal purpose, upon some of those who hear the Gospel and not on others, influences which necessarily and always lead to repentance, faith, justification, and eternal life; and that the reason why these influences, without which none can be saved, are not exerted on some men while they are on others is entirely in God and not at all in man. See my New Life in Christ pp. 270-276. And it must be admitted that some serious objections brought against this teaching of Calvin are in Romans 9, brought against the teaching of Paul. But very different doctrines may lie open to the same objection. And Paul’s replies, which are irresistible against those who object to the doctrine of Justification through Faith, are powerless to meet the same objections when brought against the teaching of Calvin. It is true that, if Calvin’s teaching were that of Paul, a Jew might object that it was inconsistent with the promise of God: and, if so, the objection would, I admit, be fairly met in Romans 9:6-13. Again, on the ground of justice, objection has frequently been made to Calvin’s teaching. But was anyone who brought this objection ever convinced, by reading Romans 9:14-18, that this teaching is in harmony with God’s justice? Certainly the story of Pharaoh does nothing whatever to harmonize it with the character of God. But we have seen how decisively the case of Pharaoh overturns objections to the teaching of Romans 3:22; Romans 9:31 based on the justice of God. To the teaching of Calvin we might fairly bring the objection in Romans 9:19. But how irrelevant would then be Paul’s answer! We should reply back that it was not our fault that we were born in sin; and that being born in sin we could not, apart from justifying grace, avoid resisting God. Therefore God would have no more reason to find fault with us than with a lion tearing its prey. The mention of the potter’s clay puts to silence the man who objects to Romans 3:22; Romans 9:31 : but, as a defence of Calvin’s scheme, it provokes bitterest reply. We cannot accept doctrines never explicitly asserted in the Bible simply because objections now brought against them were also brought against other teaching of Paul. See further in my New Life in Christ pp. 263-277.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 9". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/romans-9.html. 1877-90.
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