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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

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Verses 1-3

‘I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh,’

He commences by making clear that what he has to say is as one who himself is ‘in Christ’ (‘in Messiah’), and as one who as regards the flesh is of Israelite descent (my brothers, kinsmen). They must not therefore see him as being ‘anti-Jewish’, for he is himself a Christian Jew. Indeed he brings out that it is his Holy Spirit enlightened conscience that testifies to the fact that he has a deep concern for his fellow-Israelites, a concern which causes him great anguish. He makes very clear that their parlous position does indeed cause him such pain and great anguish of heart, that if it were possible for him thereby to bring them to the truth and into a right relationship with the Messiah, he would be prepared himself to be ‘anathema from the Messiah (the Christ)’ for their sake. He thus does not want to be identified with those who treat the Jews lightly. As no other charge is brought against the Jews the inference must be that they in contrast are ‘accursed from the Christ’ (compare Galatians 3:10-11), something which if it were possible he would gladly take on himself for their sakes. If he had not seen their state as hopeless he would certainly not have wished himself accursed from Christ, even theoretically, and the only reason why he could have done so is because he saw himself as taking their place. He was willing in theory to do what his Master had done (Galatians 3:10-13), if it would have persuaded them

We should note immediately the emphasis here on Jesus as the Messiah. Paul himself is ‘in Christ (in Messiah)’ (Romans 9:1). He sees the Jews as ‘accursed from the Messiah (the Christ)’, something which he would gladly take on himself (Romans 9:3). And he sees the final privilege of the Jews as being that it was from them that the Messiah came (Romans 9:5). Thus at the very commencement of his argument relationship to the Messiah, who is mentioned three times, is seen to be as of great importance, something which he will bring out in Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:17, where belief in the Messiah is confirmed to be the only basis of true righteousness (as previously emphasised in Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25). This is the positive side of what he is saying.

‘Anathema from the Messiah’. Anathema basically means accursed. Thus Paul is here speaking of being excluded from the benefits brought by the Messiah as a consequence of being accursed. The implication from the words ‘ that I myself might be accursed from the Messiah’ is that there were others who were ‘accursed from the Messiah’, whose place he was prepared to take, in other words those of whom he speaks (he had already described the unbelieving Jews as accursed in Galatians 3:10-11). But we should note that in his own case what he has in mind is not a genuine desire for his ‘wish’ to be accursed from Christ to be fulfilled, but a theoretical position which he speaks of, knowing at the same time that it could not in fact occur. It is thus, in his case, bringing out the deep passion in his heart, rather than reflecting a genuine wish. Being anathema from the Messiah was, of course, the position that the unbelieving Jews were themselves in. They were accursed because they failed to fulfil the Law completely (Galatians 3:10) and they were to be seen as excluded from the benefits of the Messiah because of their unwillingness to have faith in Him. As a consequence they were under the wrath of God. Thus such was his love and concern for them that he was explaining that he would gladly have been prepared to swap places with them if only that might have made them willing to believe. By this he no doubt saw himself as following, albeit theoretically, in the steps of Jesus Who did Himself become accursed in order to deliver those who were accursed (Galatians 3:10-13).

‘My brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’ Paul often refers to his fellow-Christians as ‘brothers’. Thus here he differentiates his relationship with his fellow-Jews as brothers by describing it as ‘according to the flesh’. By this he is pointing out that he is not referring to spiritual brothers, but to those who are humanly speaking his kinsmen. In other words as an Israelite himself he sees himself as related to the Israelites (compare 2 Corinthians 11:22), and wants them to know that he has not overlooked the fact. We must beware, however, of reading into his use of the term ‘brothers’ any grand theological ideas. He is simply indicating a fleshly relationship of which he was deeply aware. Compare his words in Acts 22:1; Acts 22:5. Indeed Acts 22:5 clearly suggests that ‘the brothers’ was a regular way of describing the leaders, or all the members, of the synagogues. It has no implications salvation-wise.

Verses 1-5

Paul Is Concerned For Israel Because In Spite Of Their Many Advantages A Large Proportion of Them Have Rejected The Messiah Who Has Come From Among Them (9:1-5).

We find in Paul’s introductory comments some heart-rending words (Romans 9:1-3), as Paul demonstrates his love and concern for his fellow Israelites. He is not happy with their lot. He points out that the Israelites had many outward advantages, including the fact that they had produced the Messiah (Romans 9:1-5), but that he is heartbroken because they have not taken advantage of them. Indeed he is so concerned that he wishes that he could take their curse on himself, just as their Messiah had actually done (Galatians 3:10-13), so that they might be saved. It is noteworthy that Paul does not spell out what he saw as the situation of the ‘unbelieving’ Jews. He is not out to stir up hatred. But closer examination of the wider narrative indicates what that situation is:

1) He saw them as ‘accursed from Christ’, something implied in Romans 9:3.

2) He saw them as not on the whole being ‘true Israel’ (Romans 9:6).

3) He did not see their relationship with Abraham as making them ‘the children of God’ (Romans 9:7-8).

4) He saw the majority of them as not being of God’s elect (Romans 9:6; Romans 9:8; Romans 9:15; Romans 9:18; Romans 9:22-24; Romans 9:27; Romans 9:29; Romans 11:1-7).

He will then demonstrate in some detail from Scripture why this is undoubtedly so, and why the doctrine of election is no guarantee of salvation for all Israelites. It will be noted that there is no connecting word at the beginning of chapter 9, (e.g. no ‘therefore’, or ‘and’). This indicates that Paul is now commencing a new argument And as one who himself is ‘in the Messiah’ (in Christ - Romans 9:1) Paul here brings out his depth of feeling for his fellow-Israelites, who were humanly speaking his ‘brothers and kinsmen according to the flesh’, but the majority of whom were not ‘in Christ’. He stresses the wonder of the privileges that God has given them, including the bringing forth of the Messiah, something for which he as a true Jew is clearly very gratified. But this makes their rejection of the Messiah all the more culpable. This emphasis on the Messiah underlines the fact that the reason why he is so distressed for his brothers in Israel is because they have not responded to the Messiah, and have thereby forfeited their position before God (this will be brought out more fully in Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21). By inference from Romans 9:3 they are ‘anathema from Christ’, they are no longer His people, and indeed his first following argument will emphasise that they cannot be seen as the children of God (Romans 9:7-8), or even as Israel (Romans 9:6; compare Romans 11:16-24).

Verses 1-33

The Messsiah Has Come And Is For All. God Has Not Failed In His Promises To The True Israel. Salvation For All is Through Faith In The Messiah (9:1-11:36)

Paul now expands on chapters 1-8, in which he has demonstrated that all, both Jews and Gentiles, have sinned, and that all must therefore find salvation by faith through Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah. And he does it by 1). demonstrating the relationship of both Jews and Gentiles to the Messiah Who has come, and 2). showing that Salvation is for all through faith. This is because salvation comes about on God’s part through God’s election of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:6-29), and on man’s part through the faith of both believing Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah Who is LORD of all (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21), something which God has brought about by uniting both believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one olive tree (Romans 11:12-24). And the end in view is that the fullness of the Gentiles might come in, so that in this way all Israel might be saved.

Chapters 9-11 are built around a number of themes:

1). The Coming Of The Messiah.

2). The Election Unto Salvation Of All Who Believe.

3). Salvation Is For Both Jews And Gentiles.

4). The Vexed Question As To Whether God Has Failed In His Promises To Israel As Given In The Old Testament Scriptures?

5). Citations Which Demonstrate That All That Has Happened Is In Fulfilment Of Scripture.

1). The Coming Of The Messiah.

The Messiah is immediately introduced in Romans 9:1; Romans 9:3; Romans 9:5, and is revealed to be active throughout the three chapters. This looks back to the great emphasis that Paul has previously put on the saving activity of Jesus Messiah in men’s salvation. See for example Romans 3:24-28; Romans 5:15-21; Romans 6:1-14; Romans 8:1-18.


a). In Romans 9:1-5 Paul brings out that one major purpose for the existence of Israel was in order that they might bring forth the Messiah, the One Who is over all (and therefore concerned about both Jew and Gentile), Who is God, blessed for ever (Romans 9:5; compare Romans 1:3-4). In consequence of their attitude to Him the elect as represented by Paul are ‘in Messiah’ (Romans 9:1), whilst the unbelieving among the Israelites are ‘accursed from the Messiah’ (Romans 9:3). Thus by His coming the Messiah has divided natural Israel into the true Israel who have responded to the Messiah on the one hand, and rejected, unbelieving Israel who are no longer a part of the true Israel on the other. And this on the basis of whether they respond to God, or whether they choose their own way. This had in fact been Israel’s problem throughout history, which is why the prophets had emphasised that only a remnant would be saved.

b). In Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 he brings out initially that Israel have stumbled on the Stone (a Messianic title in Isaiah), whilst those who believe (in Him) will not be put to shame (Romans 9:30-33). And this is because Messiah is the end of the Law unto righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4). Thus those who glorify, and seek after, the Law will reject Him, for they want the Law to continue to rule their lives. But those who seek righteousness by faith find that He is close to them. They have discovered that we do not have to climb into Heaven to bring Messiah down, because He was freely sent down from God. We do not have to descend into the Abyss in order to bring Messiah up from the dead, because He rose triumphantly from the dead. Indeed He is not far off from us. He dwells with us and is in us. He is near us, being on our lips and in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), and thus with our lips we will confess Jesus as LORD, and in our hearts we will believe that God raised Him from the dead, in order that we might be saved, for ‘whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame (Romans 10:6-11). Such a state is inevitable if the Messiah is in us.

Notice the change from Messiah initially to LORD later on in this particular passage (compare Romans 9:5 where He is ‘over all’). It is because He is both Messiah and LORD (compare Acts 2:36), that He offers salvation to the Gentiles. Thus there is now no difference between Jew and Greek (Gentile) for the same ‘LORD of all’ (compare Romans 9:5) is rich to all who call on Him, for whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be saved (Romans 10:13). This faith will result in righteousness by faith (Romans 10:6), and it comes through hearing, and that comes through the word of Messiah (Romans 10:17) proclaimed by His messengers (Romans 10:15). Even the Jews know Him as LORD, for they say, ‘LORD, who has believed our report’ (Romans 10:16). Thus all are called on to respond to the Messiah as LORD, (the equivalent in the Greek of Yahweh in the Old Testament Scripture as the Scriptures cited reveal).

c). In Romans 11:1-32 we may have a veiled reference to Jesus Messiah in His capacity as the One who sums up Israel in Himself (Matthew 2:15; John 15:1-6) in the olive tree, which speaks of ideal Israel (Romans 11:16-24). That depends on how we see the olive tree. But the most important reference is to Him as the Deliverer Who will come out of Zion, banishing ungodliness from Jacob, renewing the covenant and taking away sin. As a consequence the fullness of the Gentiles will come in, and thereby ‘all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:25-26 a).

So the Messiah comes from Israel, is rejected by unbelieving Israel when He reveals Himself as LORD, but has come to redeem His true people, Whom He will bring through to salvation without losing a single one (John 10:27-29).

2). The Election Unto Salvation Of All Who Believe.

A second theme of these chapters is that God is sovereign, and that it is He Who elects men to be saved. That is why His purposes are certain to come through to fruition.

a). Romans 9:6-29. ‘Not all Israel is of Israel’ (Romans 9:6). In these words Paul commences his teaching concerning the true remnant who in God’s eyes represent the true Israel. And within this elect Israel are Gentiles like Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2) and Hagar the Egyptian (Genesis 16:3). That Eliezer is of the elect comes out in chapter 24 where he reveals his allegiance to Yahweh when seeking for a bride for Isaac. That Hagar is revealed as one of the elect comes out by her experiencing theophanies (e.g. Genesis 16:7-13). There can be little doubt that among the retainers of the Patriarchs there were other foreigners (Gentiles) who also believed in Yahweh, as the fathers led them in worship (e.g. Genesis 12:8). Thus ‘Israel’ from the commencement was a mixed society. (The idea that all Jews are direct descendants of Abraham is therefore incorrect).

In this passage Paul demonstrates that God chooses out an elect from the wider whole (an Israel from within Israel). And this is so that God’s purpose ‘according to election’ might stand. Thus not all the sons of Abraham are true believers, nor are all the sons of Isaac (while some of their Gentile retainers are). And that this idea of election carries on is demonstrated by the fact that ‘God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens’ (Romans 9:18). As a result of this election He ‘makes know the riches of His glory’ through the ‘vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory’ (Romans 9:23), which are made up of ‘the called, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles’ (Romans 9:24). So the elect are made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Furthermore of the children of Israel ‘only a remnant will be saved’ (Romans 9:27), a ‘seed’ from among Israel (Romans 9:29). In consequence it is clear that God elects to salvation some from among both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:24).

b). In Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 ‘whoever calls on the Name of the LORD (Jesus as LORD - Romans 10:9) will be saved’ (Romans 10:13) and they are then seen to be the elect from both Jews and Gentiles. And this fact is revealed by them ‘believing’ (in the Messiah through ‘the word of Messiah’ (Romans 10:17)), and ‘confessing Him as LORD, believing in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead’.

c). In Romans 11:1-32, there is within Israel, (an Israel which has already absorbed into itself many Gentiles either as proselytes or by forced circumcision, and is therefore made up of both Jew and Gentile), ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11:5). Galilee, for example, had been the scene of enforced circumcision under Aristobulus I when, on Israel taking over Galilee from the Ituraeans by military force, Galilean Gentiles had been forced to be circumcised and to submit to the Jewish Law (104/103 BC). No doubt many of their descendants had followed Jesus when He was preaching in Galilee and had responded to the preaching of the early church. Thus this remnant according to the election of grace included both home born Jews and former Gentiles. And we are further told concerning salvation that ‘the elect had obtained it and the rest had been hardened’ (Romans 11:7). In Romans 11:25 b we learn that ‘the full number of the Gentiles had come in’, again indicating election. Thus the branches which were being engrafted into the olive tree of Israel were being portrayed as the elect.

3). The Theme Of Salvation For Jew And Gentile.

The theme of salvation is closely connected with the theme of election and also runs throughout chapters 9-11. While salvation is not mentioned in Romans 9:6-13 it is clear that those described therein are seen as saved (see the commentary), whilst in Romans 9:14-18 Paul points out from Scripture that God has compassion on whom He will, and hardens whom He will. Thus He elects to salvation vessels of mercy which He has beforehand prepared for glory. This statement confirms that the salvation in mind is speaking of eternal salvation. And this includes both Jews and Gentiles who are believers in the Messiah (Romans 9:24). This idea of election is then carried through into Israel’s history so that in Romans 9:27 we learn that ‘although the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved’. Thus the election previously spoken of in Romans 9:6-24, whereby only a proportion of Israel were chosen, was clearly election to salvation.

In Romans 10:1 Paul declares that his heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be ‘saved’. However small the remnant may be (and it was not all that small for the Gospel had spread widely in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and Galilee, and soon throughout synagogues around the world) he wants to enlarge on it. But he then makes clear that the reason why unbelieving Israel have not been saved is because they are seeking to establish their own righteousness rather than looking to the righteousness of God which is available through faith in Messiah (Romans 10:3). This again makes clear what Paul means by ‘saved’. Now, however, Paul makes clear that a new situation has arisen as a result of the coming of the Messiah. And that is that salvation is available to both Jew and Gentile quite apart from proselytisation. ‘For there is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord of all is rich towards all who call upon Him, for whoever will call on the Name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:12-13), and this again is related to the coming of the Messiah (Romans 9:14-17).

In chapter 11, as a result of the stumbling of the Jews, salvation is opened to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). Thus a good part of this chapter concentrates on the riches received by the Gentiles by their being united with Israel, (‘riches for the world’, ‘riches for the Gentiles’ - Romans 11:12) although it is intermingled with warnings to them not to become arrogant, but to treat unbelieving Jews respectfully and decently, in the hope that they might be saved. However, as we have already seen, this introduction of Gentiles into Israel is no new thing. It had occurred from the beginning. Many Gentiles had become Jewish proselytes in one way or another. But what is new is the number being saved, and the means, of their salvation, faith in the Messiah. Meanwhile Paul is urgent to save more Jews (Romans 11:14) by provoking them to jealousy. Thus we are faced with a salvation about to occur for both Jews and Gentiles. Romans 9:16-24 then describe the process by which this is taking place, by unbelieving Israel being broken off the olive tree of ideal Israel, and being replaced by the engrafting of branches from the wild olive of the Gentiles, thus strengthening the branches that remain. There is, however no mention of either Israel or the Gentiles in these verses because the identification has already been made or is assumed to be understood. Both are in fact involved. The branches that are broken off are the unbelieving Jews, the branches that remain are the believing Jews, with their Gentile proselytes, and the branches that are engrafted in are the Gentiles converted to the Messiah, and any Jews who may later be converted. The consequence of this is that the Gentiles become one with Israel, resulting in the fact that the fullness of the Gentiles come in and in this way ‘all Israel will be saved’, because in order for ‘all Israel’ to be saved it was necessary that all the elect from among the Gentiles should come in.

4). The Vexed Question As To Whether God Has Failed In His Promises To Israel As Given In The Old Testament Scriptures?

In chapters 9-11 Paul also looks into the vexed question as to why, with their promised Messiah having come, the Jews have, on the whole, not benefited by His coming. Does this then mean that God has cast off Israel, demonstrating that what the Scriptures have promised is rendered invalid? Furthermore, can Gentiles really be saved by faith alone without being circumcised and becoming Jews under the Law? These are important questions, not only for the Jews, but also for all who see the Old Testament Scriptures as the word of God, and he deals with them from three aspects:

· Firstly, the rejection of the majority of the Jews is because of God’s elective purpose, and this has been revealed in Scripture. For the Scriptures, far from being mistaken about God’s purposes for the Jews, had clearly revealed that God always chooses His elect out of a wider entity. Thus He did not choose all of the sons of Abraham. Rather He chose one, Isaac, in whom Abraham’s seed would be ‘called’. But even though Isaac was the promised line in whom Abraham’s seed would be ‘called’, even so not all of his seed would be elect. For of Isaac’s seed He chose one, Jacob. And this was as a result of God’s sovereign decree. Thus at each stage God’s elect are only a part of the whole, even in the promised line. For, as the Scriptures have revealed, only a remnant were to be saved. It is noteworthy that in this passage the words ‘faith’ and ‘believe’ are not mentioned once (in vivid contrast with the next chapter). The whole emphasis in the passage is on God acting sovereignly (Romans 9:6-21). Meanwhile, acting sovereignly, God has also called Gentiles, who are called on equal terms with Jews (Romans 9:24). He had, of course, always made provision for Gentiles to become a part of Israel (Exodus 12:48; Deuteronomy 23:1-8). But now they were to be called in large numbers so as to become a part of the true Israel, while as the Scriptures have made clear only a remnant of Israel will be saved (Romans 9:6-29).

· Secondly, the rejection of the majority of Israel is because Israel as a whole failed to believe in and submit to the Messiah, Who was born among them. The believing Gentiles on the other hand have responded to the Messiah in true faith. Thus the majority in Israel have failed to achieve salvation through unbelief, while the minority of the Jews (the elect) and the Gentiles who believe, will, by responding in faith, be saved (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21). In contrast to the previous passage, in this passage the words ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ are mentioned in almost every verse (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21).

· Thirdly, it is because, while the elect of Israel have been saved as God promised, the remainder have been blinded by unbelief in order that the Gentiles might find salvation. For the Gentiles will be united with the olive tree of the ideal Israel, something which will finally also be to the benefit of Israel. (We can compare with this the uniting of all believers in Christ in chapter 6). But all of what God sees as the true Israel will finally be saved. God’s promises have not failed (Romans 11:1-36).

5). That All Is In Fulfilment Of Scripture.

Underlying all that Paul argues in these three chapters is his use of Scripture, which was seen as authoritative by the Jews and by interested Gentiles. In Romans 9:6-29 he uses first the Law of Moses and then the prophets for the purpose of demonstrating his case for election, and closes with a selection of Scriptures from the prophets (Hosea and Isaiah) demonstrating that Scripture taught the acceptance of the Gentiles, and the fact that only a remnant of Israel would be saved.

In Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 we again find a miscellany of quotations, together with indirect references, from the Law, the prophets and the holy writings, demonstrating that the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, and the proclamation of the Gospel to all, was prepared for in Scripture, as was the unbelief and disobedience of the Jews.

In Romans 11:1-32 we have quotations from both the Prophets and the Holy Writings which demonstrate that only a remnant of Israel will be saved, while the larger part of Israel will fall into a spirit of stupor, the consequence being that, as a result of their stumbling, salvation will go out to the Gentiles, so as to provoke the Jews to jealousy. The illustration of the olive tree which follows is itself based on Scripture, and demonstrates the uniting into one of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. And finally it is Scripture that proclaims the coming of a Redeemer, as promised in Romans 3:24, who will cause ‘all Israel’ (Jacob) to be saved.

Why Does Paul Concentrate So Much On The Problem Of Israel?

We might now ask, Why in a doctrinal letter like this should Paul concentrate so much on Israel? One reason is apparent above. He was seeking to explain God’s sovereign activity in salvation, and was demonstrating the foundational basis of the true Israel of which the church consisted, from its very commencement. After all the church of his day held the Old Testament to be their Scriptures and looked to them for spiritual guidance. It was therefore necessary to make clear how those Scriptures revealed what had happened to God’s people, and connected the old with the new.

But another factor that affected Paul’s decision was that he was very conscious when writing his letter that he was writing to a church where many, even though the minority, still had close links with Judaism, and he knew that many Christian Jews may well still have been attending the synagogue on the Sabbath, while worshipping with Christians on the first day of the week, this in the same way as Christian Jews were observing Temple requirements in Jerusalem (Acts 21:24). This could unquestionably also have been true of Gentile Christians who had formerly been Jewish proselytes. It may also even have been true of some God-Fearers, those Gentiles who had adhered to Jewish teaching whilst remaining uncircumcised, and who had responded eagerly to the Gospel. In consequence Paul recognised that unless they were aware of the truth, there would be the danger of their slipping back into Judaism in the same way as those to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written were in danger of slipping back, losing sight of how the coming of the Messiah, and what He had accomplished through His death and resurrection, had totally altered their situation. This was partly what he was hoping to guard against.

Indeed, many Jews who claimed to believe in Jesus as the Messiah were nevertheless trying to convince Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised and obey the whole Law, including dietary restrictions and observance of the Jewish Feasts (Romans 14:3; Romans 14:6; Romans 14:14-15; Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:3-5; Galatians 2:12-14; Colossians 2:16), because they had failed to recognise the fullness of what Christ had done for them. They too had to be combated.

So that is why he now sets out to demonstrate that it is not physical Israel which is the true Israel, but that the true Israel is made up of ‘the elect’, that is of those who truly follow the Messiah (Jesus Christ), and respond to Him solely through faith (whether Jew or Gentile), seeking the righteousness of God through Him, the consequence being that all who fail to do so are no longer a part of the true Israel (Romans 10:3-4; Romans 10:9; Romans 11:17-28).

This aim has already been apparent in his letter earlier. During his attempts to demonstrate that all men are sinners Paul had specifically had to deal with the question of the special privileges claimed by the Jews, something which he had then dealt with in some detail because of what he saw as its importance (Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:9). As part of his argument he had set forward a summary of their main claims, ‘You bear the name of a Jew, and rest on the law, and glory (boast) in God, and (claim to) know his will, and approve the things which are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth’ (Romans 2:17-20). In other words he made it plain that the Jews alone, among all nations, had received the direct revelation of God. This Paul was mainly willing to grant them, with reservations. But as he had also pointed out, due to their failure to actually observe the Law of which they were so proud, these privileges actually condemned them (Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:20).

But it could then be asked, had God not included the Jews in the number of His elect as described in Romans 8:29-30? This was the position held by many Jews. And it could further be asked, ‘If they were so privileged by God as to have the Law and the covenant sign of circumcision, why did they now suffer God’s rejection? Did not all Scripture make clear that such were the people of God?’ If the Scriptures did so, and if the Jews were no longer fulfilling God’s purpose, did it not mean that the Scriptures were wrong?

Paul had partially dealt with these points when he pointed out that many of those who called themselves Jews were in fact not true Jews, because their lives fell short of what was required of a true Jew (Romans 2:28). In his eyes the true Jew was a person who was a Jew inwardly, whose circumcision was that of the heart, and was spiritual (‘in the spirit’). It was not simply a matter of obeying what was written down (‘in the letter’). They had to be those whose praise came from God not from men. And he pointed out that this was true of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 2:26; Romans 2:29). Thus he considered that there were still ‘true Jews’ but that they were in the minority. Indeed, he argued that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, could be ‘true Jews’ if their hearts were directed properly and they had experienced the work of God in their spirits. (The Jews would not actually have denied that Gentiles could become Jews. It was happening all the time. But what they would have argued was that it was only on condition of their being circumcised and submitting to the Law of Moses as interpreted by the elders. This was why some who believed in Jesus as the Messiah wanted all Gentile converts to follow this procedure).

On the other hand he saw that the majority of those who claimed to be true Jews were in fact not true Jews because they had not experienced that transformation of heart that was Scripturally required in order to be so (Romans 2:28-29). Thus he had already prepared for the idea that not all of Israel were ‘the elect’. This did, however, still leave open the claim of the Jews to be ‘sons of Abraham’, to be God’s people and the elect of God, and to have special privileges not available to Gentiles, something which they considered made them ‘a special case’, and put them in the ‘favourites’ category. Paul now answers these claims by demonstrating that not all Jews are seen by God as true sons of Abraham (Romans 9:7-8); by pointing out that God’s elect were but a minority of Israel (Romans 9:9-29), and by claiming that God in His sovereignty has the right to save whom He will, and has elected to save some from among both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:14-29).

He will then go on to demonstrate that the true Israel are those who believe in the Jesus as the Messiah (Romans 10:4; Romans 10:9), something which the majority of Israel have failed to do (Romans 10:16; Romans 10:19; Romans 10:21), and that the true Israel is therefore made up of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles who have been incorporated as one into ‘the olive tree’ (chapter 11), thus tying in with his position in Romans 2:26; Romans 2:29 and with Romans 9:23-24.

For all these reasons, therefore, these three chapters form an essential part of his argument for ‘justification by faith’ as being through faith in Christ Jesus alone. They demonstrate why so many Jews were excluded from it because of their unbelief, something clearly evidenced by Scripture, and why so many Gentiles were being accepted on the basis of faith in the Messiah (Christ). They also serve to demonstrate why the Jews were not being incorporated into Christ, and why they were bereft of the Spirit. It is because they do not respond in faith to their Messiah.

It is thus a mistake to see these chapters as only dealing with the question of the position of the Jews (or more strictly or Israel), even though Israel feature prominently in his argument. They also deal in some depth with:

1) The question of the acceptability of the Gentiles through faith, and their right to be incorporated into the true Israel which is now ‘the church’ (ekklesia, a Greek word which in LXX was one of those which indicated the ‘congregation of Israel’).

2) The danger of the Gentiles dismissing the idea of the privileges of the Jews, or of themselves slipping back (Romans 11:17-28).

For a detailed examination of the question as to whether the church (ekklesia - ‘congregation’) is the true Israel see the excursus after chapter 11.

The Jews And Israel.

One important point to be kept in mind when studying these chapters is Paul’s use of the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Israel’. The term Jew(s) is used nine times in chapters 1-3, but only otherwise occurs in Romans 9:24, where it is stressing that both Jews and Gentiles are included among the elect, and in Romans 10:12 where it is used in the stereotyped idea of ‘Jew and Greek’ (compare Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:22-24; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). It mainly indicates Jews in contrast with Gentiles, but is distinctively used of ‘true Jews’, which includes believing Gentiles, in Romans 2:26-29. In the remainder of his letters Paul uses the term fifteen times.

On the other hand the term Israel occurs twelve times in Romans, but only in chapters 9-11, and it should be noted that in these chapters there are in fact three/four different meanings of the term Israel. The term is incontrovertibly used:

1) To depict the totality of Israel (Romans 9:6; Romans 9:27; Romans 10:19; Romans 10:21; Romans 11:1-2; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:25).

2) To depict unbelieving Israel (Romans 9:4; Romans 9:31; Romans 10:1).

3) To depict the elect in Israel (Romans 9:6).

We would also claim that it is used to include both Jews and believing Gentiles (as with the term Jew in Romans 2:26-29) in Romans 11:25-26.

The term Israel appears only seven times throughout the remainder of his other letters, in which he speaks of Jew/Jews fifteen times. It refers:

· Twice to ‘the children of Israel’ referring back to an historical situation (2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:13).

· Once to ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Corinthians 10:18) which suggests that there is an Israel not after the flesh.

· Once to ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16) where it appears in context to include all believers.

· Once in Ephesians 2:12, where Paul then goes on to demonstrate that believing Gentiles have been incorporated into it.

· Twice where Paul makes clear that he is an Israelite (2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:5.

It is quite clear therefore that the term ‘Israel’ is fluid.

These distinctions were presumably made because in Romans 1-3 he was deliberately aiming to make clear that it was the current Jews whom he had in mind in his strictures, while acknowledging that they were in the main not really ‘true Jews’, whilst in chapters 9-11 his arguments very much had in mind the days of ‘Israel’, and the Old Testament viewpoint on them. It was to ‘Israel’ that a large part of his quotations were addressed (e.g. by Moses, Isaiah, Hosea, David, etc.). However, as we have noted, he specifically seeks in those chapters to demonstrate that there is a true Israel in the midst of physical Israel, and as we will argue, that that true Israel includes believing Gentiles.

Verses 4-5

‘Who are Israelites; whose is the adoption as sons, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, whose are the fathers, and of whom is the Messiah (the Christ) as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’

Paul now emphasises the huge benefits that had been the privilege of the Jews (compare Romans 2:17-20). Firstly that they were ‘Israelites’. Thus they belonged to the nation chosen and redeemed by God (Exodus 20:2) to whom God had revealed Himself in history. And furthermore God had given them many advantages of which he will now describe a few.

What follows his statement that they are Israelites now divides up into three sections by the use of ‘whose’ referring back to ‘who are Israelites’. Thus:

1) Whose is the adoption as a son, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service, and the promises.

2) Whose are the fathers (the Patriarchs).

3) Of whom is the Messiah concerning the flesh.

The first lists all the privileges of being Israelites which were given at the beginning when Israel were first redeemed from Egypt, although later also supplemented; the second looks back to the source from whom the Israelites came, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel, descent from whom was seen by Israelites as of great importance; the third concentrates on their having among them the Messiah Who is over all, the great Hope of Israel, Whose coming from among them was seen as of equal, if not more, importance, than all the others (the order would appear to be from the least to the greatest). Paul has already made clear that the Messiah has come, in Christ (Romans 9:1). Now he declares that He had come from among the Jews. It is significant that Paul does not say, ‘whose is the Messiah’, paralleling the other two phrases, for as a result of their having mainly rejected Him Paul could not see Him as belonging to them. Nevertheless His coming from among them is seen as of great significance, as indeed is the fact that He has come. And it leaves them without excuse, because the reason that they rejected Him was because He did not offer them what they wanted.

This list is especially significant because in what follows Paul will look in depth at the second and third statements. Does their leaning on the fathers necessarily mean that all Israel will be saved? This is answered as a ‘no’ in Romans 9:6-29. What would be required for them in order to be reconciled to their Messiah? This is answered in Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21 in terms of responding in faith to Him as the Messiah.

‘Who are Israelites.’ This links the Jews squarely with the Israelites whose history is made plain in the Old Testament. It was because they were ‘Israelites’ that the other privileges applied to them. It was a term which gave the Jews great pride. It indicated that they belonged to the people whom God had redeemed from Egypt and to whom He had given His covenant. And they (falsely) saw it as indicating that they were descended from Abraham and Jacob. But that was a myth perpetuated by their history. Even from the beginning large numbers of Israelites had had no direct connection with Abraham (and Jacob) by descent. They had been descended from servants in the ‘households’ of the Patriarchs (Abraham could call on 318 fighting men ‘born in his house’ - Genesis 14:14, and the Patriarchs went down to Egypt with their ‘households’ - Exodus 1:1. Thus many of the earliest Israelites were born from these household servants.). And after the Exodus the ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12:38), which consisted of other races, probably including Egyptians, had been incorporated into Israel at Sinai, as had other groups like the Kenites (Judges 1:16), whilst even later there were those who voluntarily entered the covenant by submission to God (Exodus 12:48; Deuteronomy 23:1-8). All became absorbed as ‘sons of Abraham’. Thus Israel was a conglomerate nation.

Their ‘descent’ from the Patriarchs was therefore by adoption. In fact in the days of Jesus those who could prove direct descent from Abraham were relatively few (Jesus’ father was one because he was a son of David), and those who could so prove their descent, often tended to see themselves as unique and to despise other Jews, intermarrying among themselves in order to preserve their purity. Thus even the Jews acknowledged that few Jews could be shown to be genuinely descended from Abraham. Nevertheless the Jews happily accepted their position as those who had been adopted by Abraham so that they could call God their Father, a privilege which was not permitted to late proselytes (which was a little hypocritical because large numbers of Jews could have traced their descent to Gentiles incorporated among the Jews). What they also tended to overlook when they claimed to be Israelites was that the majority of Israelites in the past had been unfaithful to the covenant and had regularly been brought under the judgment of God, and had therefore been cast off in God’s eyes, even though they themselves had not seen it in that way. To be an Israelite was thus not a guarantee of acceptance by God.

Part of the reason for Paul’s distress would also appear to have been that it must have appeared to onlookers, from their rejection of their Messiah by the majority of the Jews, that the promises of God were not being fulfilled in their case, (they were being fulfilled with regard to the elect), for he lists all the privileges that the Jews should have been enjoying but were now missing out on as a result of their rejection of the Messiah:

· They were Israelites, the people with whom God had established His covenant.

· They had been adopted by God as ‘His son’ (Exodus 4:22) and could thus be seen as His children and as His sons and daughters (Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 43:6; Hosea 11:1).

· They had experienced ‘the glory’, the manifestation of the glory of God, when God had descended on the Tabernacle and the Temple ( Exo 40:34 ; 1 Kings 8:10 ff.), a glory which they still believed was among them, concealed in the Holiest Place of All in the Temple. Thus they considered that they had to a certain degree had God dwelling among them.

· They had been invited to partake in the covenants that God had made through the ages from the beginning, including those given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and at Sinai, all of which were recorded in the Scriptures.

· They had received the Law at Sinai, a revelation of the mind of God (see Romans 2:17-19), and an indicator of their special position as God’s people.

· ‘And the service.’ On their behalf God had established a priesthood to serve Him, and a sacrificial system, through which all Israel benefited.

· They had through their forefathers received ‘the promises’ given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the promises concerning the Messiah.

· They looked back to the Patriarchs as their fathers.

· And above all, as far as His humanity was concerned, they had produced the Messiah, the One Who is overall, God, blessed for ever.

Thus their privileges were great. But in spite of them they were still in unbelief, as Paul had made clear in Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:10, and were therefore still under the judgment of God.

The adoption by God of Israel as ‘His son’ (Exodus 4:22) must not be seen as comparable with the adoption through the Spirit of true believers as sons of God (Romans 8:15-17). Firstly because Israel’s sonship was primarily a ‘corporate sonship’ (‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’). Secondly because the Old Testament makes quite clear that large numbers of the Israelites had not lived up to this sonship. It is true that they had been put in a position of special privilege, but it was equally true that on the whole they had forfeited that privilege by their behaviour. That was what the teaching of the prophets was all about. It was only the comparatively few who had truly become children of God (as Paul will soon make plain). We may certainly see the term ‘son’ as indicating that God had not totally finished with Israel, He would still show them favour as a nation (Romans 11:28), but as Paul will shortly indicate, it would only be a remnant who would be saved, a remnant who responded to the Messiah. God’s adoption of Israel was no indicator that Israelites would automatically be saved. It was rather a privilege which had given them a greater opportunity than most to find the truth, a privilege that most of them had failed to take advantage of. They were like the son who said to his father ‘I will go, sir’, but who did not do so (Matthew 21:30).

‘And of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’ And their greatest privilege was that coming from Israel as far as the flesh was concerned was ‘the Christ (Messiah)’. ‘As concerning the flesh’ may simply signify that while His humanity owed its origin to Israel, His spirit and influence were more exerted elsewhere so that He is not to be seen as an Israelite figure but a world figure. But it is far more likely that ‘concerning the flesh’ indicates that, while humanly speaking He came from Israel, He Himself in His essential being came from another source, a spiritual source, that is, from Heaven, which would agree with Romans 1:3-4. This can be seen as confirmed by the statement that He is ‘over all’. So a contrasting description is found by recognising that what Paul is saying is that while in the flesh the Christ is a Jew, in His true being He is ‘God over all, blessed for ever’. This can again be paralleled with what was said in Romans 1:3-4, of the One Who was ‘of the seed of David according to the flesh’ but was then declared to be in Himself the Son of God with power. If this be so then we have here a clear statement of Christ’s Godhood, parallel to that in Titus 2:13. See also Philippians 2:9-11, and compare 2 Peter 1:1 which is the same construction as 2 Peter 1:11 and therefore refers to Jesus as ‘our God and Saviour’. But it should be noticed that Paul’s constant reference to Jesus as ‘the LORD’ in parallel with speaking of God, equally demonstrates His Godhood. Thus Paul had no doubt about his own position. Not that our belief that Jesus is God requires these statements. He Himself made it quite clear in John 5:17-29 and John 14:7-9.

In further support of this interpretation of the latter part of Romans 9:5 is the phrase ‘the One Who is’ which would naturally be seen as modifying something previously said, thus indicating that what follows is not just a doxology. Furthermore the placing of ‘God’ before ‘blessed’ would have been almost unique in Jewish doxologies (they said ‘blessed be God’), something of which Paul would have been well aware, it must therefore be seen as deliberately intended so as to connect blessed with the previous context and to prevent this being seen as simply an appended doxology. This being so Paul is here making clear that Jesus the Messiah is not only of Jewish descent, but is also God over all, to be blessed for ever.

Verse 6

‘But it is not as though the word of God has come to nought. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel,’

Paul is here concerned to demonstrate that the word of God has not come to nought in the failure of Israel to be what they should be, and it is on the basis that God never intended His word to apply to the whole of physical Israel. It was rather addressed to a spiritual remnant within Israel. To put it in simple terms, ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel’. Here we have clearly expressed two meanings of the word Israel, one referring to the outward nation (including both believers in the Messiah and unbelievers) and one referring to the true spiritual Israel, the Israel within Israel (consisting at this time of believers in the Messiah, that is, of Christ). We should note in this regard that even the concept of the physical nation of Israel was fluid, for the Jews were scattered around the world, and large numbers had made themselves at home among other nations, of whom some would be careless of their ‘privilege’. But the point of Paul’s statement is that within what anyone might claim as representing Israel, were a spiritual inner core who were in God’s eyes the true Israel. Thus the fact that some of Israel had proved unworthy would not mean that God’s word concerning Israel had failed, and this was because God had always intended that what He had said only applied to the ones whom He chose, the true Israel, as he will shortly further demonstrate both here and in Romans 11:1-10.

That Paul is speaking of election to salvation is made clear, firstly by the terminology used (‘children of God’ - compare Romans 8:16; ‘reckoned’ - compare Romans 4:3-11; ‘children of promise’ - compare Galatians 4:28; ‘called’ - compare Romans 1:6; Romans 8:28; Romans 8:30; ‘not of works’ - compare Romans 3:27-28; Romans 4:3-5; Ephesians 2:9; all terms used elsewhere of those who had been accounted as righteous through the righteousness of God), and secondly by what follows. He has in mind those who were ‘prepared unto glory’, in contrast to those ‘fitted for destruction’ (Romans 9:22-24).

‘The word of God.’ Here this must mean His word as given through the prophets (including Moses) and therefore through the Scriptures. It is ‘the word’ in which the promises were made, and Paul will justify his position precisely in terms of the Scriptures (e.g. Romans 9:25-29; Romans 9:33 and continually).

‘Israel.’ We should note that this is the first statement concerning Israel in the three chapters, and as such might be seen as defining ‘Israel’. Indeed we might say that Paul is going out of his way to define it. And his definition of ‘Israel’ is that it consists of the elect of God. Thus while he uses the term Israel in three ways, 1). as referring to the whole of Israel, including both believers in Jesus the Messiah and unbelievers; 2). as referring to unbelieving Israel only; and 3). as referring to the elect of Israel, it is only once specifically defined, and that is here. Thus when it comes to definition Paul defines ‘Israel’ as primarily meaning ‘those in the nation who are elect’. This might be seen as important when deciding the meaning of ‘all Israel’ in Romans 11:26.

Verses 6-13

The Rejection Of Their Messiah By The Majority Of Israel Has Not Brought The Word Of God To Nought For It Has Always Been The Case That Not All Of Supposed Israel Are Truly Israel, But Only Those Who Are Chosen In Line With The Purposes Of God (9:6-13).

Paul now deals with the charge that his teaching, in which he has rejected the idea that the Jews who cling to the Law are in process of salvation (e.g. Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:20), and in which he has opened to Gentiles a way back to God through a means other than submission to the Law (the whole of 1-8), would mean that the word of God had come to nought in that Israel had not fulfilled its purpose. One such purpose, for example, was that the word of God was given to Israel so that it might be a teacher of the nations concerning Him (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 49:1-6). They would have claimed that that assurance was not given in order that it might be sidelined. (Paul, of course, could have pointed out that that very prophecy was in fact being fulfilled, for it was being fulfilled in himself and in the original Jewish church). Indeed some Jews would have gone further for many believed that all who were circumcised Israelites were the elect of God and would thereby, unless they apostasised, obtain eternal life. The cases of the earnest Pharisee (Luke 10:25) and rich young ruler (Luke 18:18) do, however demonstrate, that this view was not widely accepted in Jesus’ days, at least among the more earnest, for in their case they wanted to be sure how they could obtain eternal life. Thus the danger was that Paul’s arguments might have been seen by some as suggesting:

1) That Israel were not God’s chosen people, or that if they were, in some way God’s word had failed. His reply to this is that Scripture reveals that only a portion of Israel, the truly godly, are God’s chosen people as far as salvation is concerned (Romans 9:6-29).

2) That salvation was not to be obtained by uniting with Israel as ‘the people of God’. Paul’s reply to that will be that the Gentiles were in fact saved by uniting with the true people of God (the Jews who followed their Messiah) as they were united with Christ (Romans 11:17-28; Ephesians 2:11-22).

3) That all of God’s efforts with regard to Israel had been in vain. Paul’s reply is to indicate that God’s efforts were not in vain, for it was from Israel that the Messiah came (Romans 9:5), and that in fact the foundation on which the church was built consisted of the Jewish Apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20-22) and the remnant of Israel (Romans 11:17-28).

And the argument would then continue by suggesting that if Israel was rejected in this way, what does it say about God and His word and His faithfulness?

Paul’s answer with regard to election is simple. A look back at Israel’s history will reveal that God has always been selective as to whom He allocates His blessing, and that He has always chosen those who would come within His blessing from among the many. It has never been the case that all have been blessed. God has always worked through an elect. That is why even at this very time it is only some Jews who have been called out along with some Gentiles (Romans 9:24). In other words he is saying that within the physical nation of Israel there was a spiritual Israel who are in God’s eyes the true Israel, the Israel from among Israel.

His analysis is pungent and powerful. The fact that of all the sons of Abraham Isaac alone was the one through whom his seed would be called (Romans 9:7) demonstrated that not all sons of Abraham were of the ‘called’. Furthermore the fact that not all the seed of Isaac (who was the chosen one) benefited by that call, but only Jacob, demonstrated that God’s call was of a proportion of the promised seed and not of the whole. Enough is thus said to demonstrate that even the seed of the elect of God were not necessarily elect.

Verses 6-29

Not All Israel Are The True Israel. The True Israel Are a Remnant Of Israel Chosen By God, Together With Some Believing Gentiles. For God Has A Right To Do What He Will (9:6-29).

Paul now begins to establish from the Scriptures what God’s method of working is, and what the true situation of the Jews (who considered themselves to be ‘the elect’) was. The basic purpose of these verses is in order to emphasise that the Scriptures themselves demonstrate that not all of Israel are to be saved and inherit eternal life, but only a proportion, (not all are ‘the elect’), while at the same time some Gentiles are among the elect (Romans 9:23-24). This was basic to his whole argument about ‘justification by faith’ in Romans 1:16 to Romans 4:25. If many Jews were right who believed that Israel were God’s elect and therefore that to belong to the Jewish nation under the Law, and to be circumcised, was a guarantee of God’s final mercy for all Israelites, then Paul’s teaching concerning justification by faith would be seen to be false. He has already partially dealt with this problem in Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:18 from the angle that all Jews were sinners. Now he will deal with the question of the election of Israel, and how it relates to salvation, and to Gentile believers

This section of the chapter can be divided up as follows:

· Not all of supposed Israel are truly Israel, and are the children of God, but only those who are chosen in line with the elective purposes of God (Romans 9:6-13).

· The Scripture demonstrates that God is sovereign over all things and has mercy on whom He wills (Romans 9:14-18).

· God has the sovereign right to do what He chooses, and has opted to save only a proportion of Israelites, whilst also including many Gentiles (Romans 9:19-26).

· It is in accordance with Scripture that Gentiles would become children of God whilst only a remnant of Israel would be saved (Romans 9:27-29).

Verse 7

‘Nor, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children, but, “In Isaac shall your seed be called”.’

Furthermore, Paul declares that not all of Abraham’s seed were to be seen as his children as far as the promises were concerned, but only those who were children of the promise. ‘In Isaac will your seed be called’ (Genesis 21:12). The called would come from among the seed of Isaac (and not of Ishmael or the sons of Keturah). But even then it would only be some of the seed of Isaac, as is demonstrated by the fact that Esau was not called. Consider also Romans 11:1-5 where only a remnant of Israel remained true. Thus again God was to be seen as selective in whom He chooses.

In fact, of course, Israel were not composed solely of Abraham’s seed. Many came from the seed of his Aramean servants, and sometimes foreign servants, and many Gentiles had been absorbed into Israel and has been seed-bearing. The background of Israel was multi-national.

Verses 8-9

‘That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For this is a word of promise, “According to this season will I come, and Sarah will have a son”.

For the conclusion to be reached from the facts of Scripture is that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of promise, in other words those foreknown of God (Romans 11:1-5), and chosen by Him. And he gives, as an example of God’s promises, the promise that Sarah would have a son ‘when He (God) came’ (Genesis 18:10). ‘When He came’ indicated that the son of promise would be miraculously born to aged parents. So it should be noted that the promise related to a child especially elected by God, produced as a result of the activity of God, and being but a portion of the whole, an indication of what would follow.

‘The children of the promise.’ In Galatians 4:28 ‘the children of promise’ are those who are ‘born after the Spirit’ rather than the flesh (Galatians 4:29), that is by the miraculous working of God, and this because they are the result of God acting in accordance with His own promise and determination (Galatians 4:23). In the same way in Romans the usual parallel with flesh is the life producing Spirit (Romans 8:4-13), and this ties in with the idea here that ‘God will come’ to Sarah at the right time, that is, will visit her in order to bring about a miraculous birth, and will do it according to the word of promise. It was God Who, outside the normal scheme of things, determined that Isaac would be born. Thus the idea behind ‘the children of the promise’ is of those born supernaturally in accordance with God’s promise and determination. In other words they are exceptionally born through God’s foreknowing (Romans 8:29) and through the Spirit (consider John 3:1-7). Indeed when God says, ‘I will come’ it always indicates divine activity as in John 14:23 (compare John 14:18), and Luke 1:68 (compare Luke 1:35).

Verses 10-13

‘And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac . For the children being not yet born, nor having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls, it was said to her, “The elder will serve the younger”. Even as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (did not love)”.’

But it did not stop with the birth of Isaac, because although the promised seed was to be ‘called in Isaac’ (Romans 9:7) Scripture immediately makes clear that not all Isaac’s seed would be children of promise. For the same situation also arose when Rebecca, Isaac’s wife had twins. Indeed in this case they came from the same mother at the same time, and were both sons of Isaac, the child of promise. Yet even before they were born God had chosen one above the other, and the younger one at that. At that stage neither had done good, and neither had done bad. So the election could not have been on the basis of merit. It was thus clearly revealed as depending solely on the call of God. For God had declared, even before they were born, that ‘the elder will serve the younger’ (Genesis 25:23). This was something to be seen as confirmed by the later Scripture, ‘Jacob I loved and Esau I hated (did not love)’ (Malachi 1:2). God elected Jacob and not Esau, and the effect of it passed on to their descendants. Once again, therefore, to be a child of promise involved not just physical birth, but the electing activity of God whereby one was chosen and the other not.

‘By our father Isaac.’ Here Paul is speaking as a Jew to Jews (compare Romans 9:3). He is looking at it from their biased viewpoint because if taken literally ‘our father’ is not strictly true. Large numbers of the Jews were not physically descended from Isaac (see excursus at the end of chapter 11). Isaac was rather ‘their father’ by adoption, as ‘the father’ of the original family tribe which had formed the basis of Israel. The reason for the introduction of the phrase ‘our father Isaac’ is in order to underline the fact that both Esau and Jacob were descendants of Isaac, the one in whom Abraham’s seed would be called. But he then points out that even Isaac’s fatherhood was not a guarantee of election, for he was the father of Esau, who was not called.

‘That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls.’ For God’s election was not on the basis of deserts, nor on the basis of being sons of Isaac, but simply on the basis of His call. The terminology here is salvation terminology related to what he has previously written. For ‘the purpose of God according to election’ see Romans 8:28-30; Romans 8:33. For ‘not of works’ see Romans 3:28; Romans 4:2-5. Here salvation is made dependent on nothing but the call of God. If we try to talk about God ‘foreseeing faith’ or ‘foreseeing works’ we destroy Paul’s whole argument which is based on the fact that the decision is God’s alone without any merit or activity on our part.

It will be noted that Paul has not actually said anything with which the Jews would have substantially disagreed. They too would have agreed that Ishmael and Esau were not ‘elected’. But what Paul is saying is that they should therefore recognise a principle here, that God’s election is not a blanket one, but is confined at each stage to those who are chosen, and that being born of an ‘elect one’ does not guarantee ‘election’. And as Romans 9:6 has made clear, the conclusion he wants them to come to is that the same applies to Israel. They are ‘not all Israel who are of Israel’, and ‘not all the sons of Abraham are of the chosen’. Thus by implication to claim to be a ‘son of Abraham’ did not necessarily signify being of the elect of God. Ishmael and Esau were ‘sons’ of Abraham, as were the sons of Keturah, and yet were not of the elect. Furthermore Esau was a son of Isaac in whom Abraham’s seed would be called, and yet Esau was not called. He was not of ‘the elect’.

‘The elder will serve the younger.’ It is often argued that this could only refer to the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom, because in fact Esau did not ‘serve’ Jacob. But the latter statement is not strictly true. Jacob did become the head of the family tribe, and in terms of the thought of those days Esau was therefore subject to him. This may well have been one reason why Esau came out to welcome Jacob home (Genesis 32:3 ff.) and was with Jacob in the burial of their father (Genesis 35:29).

To take what Paul has said and make it mean on the basis of Malachi 1:2-3 that he was teaching that the whole nation of Israel is therefore elected to salvation is to reverse what Paul is saying. He was at this point arguing a principle, that at each step only a part were called, not directly discussing whether Israel as a whole were elect or not. It was, however, a principle which, once strictly applied, did cast doubt on the doctrine of the election of Israel as a whole to salvation. For that doctrine assumed that God had ceased making individual choices, whereas Paul makes clear that that was God’s method.

Having said that it would seem probable that Paul does have in the back of his mind the descendants of Jacob as being in special favour with God. The citation from Malachi, ‘Jacob have I loved’ indicated the nation of Israel as an entity (even though not necessarily as a whole), and even ‘the elder will serve the younger’ indicated that one nation would serve another (Genesis 25:23). So God’s election went on through history, but as Paul makes clear it was an election of those within Israel who responded from the heart, not an election of the whole (Romans 9:6), and indeed it also included those who had not been Israelites, who would unite themselves with Israel in the true worship of God (just as Edom included far more than just the descendants of Esau. Esau had four hundred men to serve him right from the beginning). We can no more say that all Israelites were included than we can say that all Edomites were excluded. For while Esau was ‘not loved’, Edomites could enter into the congregation of the Lord from the beginning (Deuteronomy 23:7), and by the time of Jesus large numbers of Edomites had been co-opted into Israel by force in the time of John Hyrcanus (the Jewish High Priest and Governor), and were thus seen as included among ‘the elect’ in Jewish eyes. In that sense therefore it could be said that Esau had become loved. The truth is that the whole idea of nationhood and election, in terms of Israel’s election, was fluid. However, with regard to Paul’s intention in Romans we should note that any benefit received by Israel was seen as received because of the election of Jacob, which is what Paul is stressing here. The whole emphasis is on the choice between two people, as is made clear by the reference to the fact that neither of them had done good or evil before they were born.

Note On The Election of Israel.

Paul would undoubtedly have agreed that that there was a sense in which Israel s an entity were elected by God. Indeed it was something specifically stated in Scripture (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Psalms 135:4: Isaiah 41:8-9). But that was seen as because God intended to act in the world through that nation (e.g. Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), rather than because each Israelite was to be seen as elected. Indeed Isaiah makes clear that ‘His servant Israel’ are to be seen as the spiritual element within Israel (Isaiah 49:3) There the task of ‘Israel’ is to include bringing Jacob to Him again, and restoring the preserved of Israel (Isaiah 49:6). As Israel as a whole could not restore itself, Isaiah 49:3 can only be seen as referring to a spiritual remnant within Israel.

That Israel as a whole was not seen as elected is clearly evident from their history. Those who rebelled against Him were cast off from Him to such an extent that He declared them ‘not my people’ (Hosea 1:9), and this was the majority of the people. Indeed the constant refrain of the prophets is that God will deal with a remnant (e.g. Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 8:2; Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 10:21; Isaiah 10:24; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 14:14-20; Ezekiel 14:22; Amos 9:8-10; Micah 2:12; Micah 5:3; Zephaniah 3:12-13; Zechariah 13:8-9). In Elijah’s time God had left Himself only ‘seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal’ (Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18). And in Jeremiah’s time there was not a righteous man in Jerusalem apart from Jeremiah and his adherents (Jeremiah 5:1). There is no suggestion that the nation as a whole retained God’s favour, either as individuals or as a nation. God’s favour was on those who looked to Him. It is man who lumps everyone together from a saving point of view, not God. But God does not save in batches, rather He saves depending on individual response, something, of course, that Paul has already made clear (Romans 2:29). (And something which is equally true of ‘the church’).

It is true that many of the Jews saw things differently, which is why Paul is arguing as he is. It is man’s way to favour his own group and see them as especially chosen. Rabbis would later claim that no Israelite would go into Gehenna, and that all Israelites had their portion in the world to come (interestingly Israelites there also included Edomites, for the remnant of the Edomites who fled to Israel were made Israelites by force by John Hyrcanus, and it included Gentiles, for Gentiles living in Galilee when it was recaptured by the Jews had been forced to be circumcised and become Jews by Aristobulus, son of John Hyrcanus). But that not all in the time of Jesus saw it in the same way is indicated by those who came to Jesus asking how they could inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18 and parallels). So many Jews did still recognise that they were individually accountable, and that not all would receive eternal life. Nevertheless the Jews did develop a strong doctrine of election for the people as a whole, something which Paul has dismissed in Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:10 and also by inference dismisses here. It was in fact a doctrine based on false premises (see excursus at the end of chapter 11.).

End of note.

Verse 14

‘What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not.’

Paul first raises the question that might be asked, ‘does this not mean that God is behaving unfairly?’ Paul’s reply is strong, ‘Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not.’ God cannot in these cases be accused of unrighteousness, that is of acting contrary to His nature, because we are dealing, not with pure justice, but with questions of mercy and compassion. It is not as though anyone deserved God’s favour. The point is that no one does. Thus God is free to give His favour wherever He wills.

Verses 14-18

The Scripture Demonstrates That God Is Sovereign Over All Things And Has Mercy On Whom He Wills (9:14-18).

Paul recognises that what he has just demonstrated about God’s elective mercy might raise the protest, ‘but surely that means that God is being unfair’. So he immediately deals with that charge on the basis of the Scriptures, demonstrating what God had proclaimed to Moses, and what was revealed in God’s treatment of Pharaoh at the Exodus. The point behind these examples is that what he has already said about Israel is justified, and that God does what He wills because no man has any claim on Him on the basis of their goodness. He thus can have compassion on whom He chooses, and He can harden whom He chooses, because they have already all demonstrated their hardness of heart. By this he is bolstering his argument in the previous verses that God acts unilaterally on individuals and nations in order to further the fulfilling of His purposes.

Verse 15

‘For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”.’

Paul illustrates his point from Scripture. God had said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). Thus God had by this indicated that He would have mercy and compassion on those whom He Himself chose. And Paul emphasises this by adding ‘and whom He will He hardens’. The decision therefore as to who will receive mercy and who will not is to be seen as due to the elective purpose of God, for mercy and judgment are both in His hands, to be exercised as He wills. Furthermore it should be noted that the statement in Exodus is made immediately following an incident where He had said, ‘he who has sinned, him will I blot out of my book’ (Exodus 32:33), where Israelites are clearly in mind, some of whom were consequently so punished (Exodus 32:35), while others received mercy, at least temporarily.

Someone may then question the morality of this, but the idea here is that as God is speaking of situations requiring mercy and compassion He is not bound by any moral requirement. In the nature of the case no one can be seen as deserving of mercy and compassion. The whole point of mercy and compassion is that they override the demands of justice. The persons in question, who are to receive mercy and compassion, are all clearly deserving of judgment, otherwise they would not require mercy and compassion. They would instead get what was due to them. In consequence, when He chooses to show mercy and compassion in one case and not in another, no question can be raised as to the morality of it. Whether to show mercy or not is solely at the discretion of the judge, and if mercy were shown to all then justice would cease to exist. Strict justice in fact would require that no mercy was shown at all. That was why God had to find a way of maintaining the demands of justice while showing mercy. And He accomplished it through the cross. Thus mercy is not bound by morality. We note the dogmatism of God’s statement. The decision is made solely on the basis of His will, as in the case of the election of Jacob.

It should also be noted that this statement was made concerning those who were ‘under the Law’, indicating that there were at least some who were under the Law who would not find mercy. Indeed on the basis of Romans 9:22 some are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. This last demonstrates again the fallacy of the extreme Jewish position that no Jew would enter Gehenna. Certainly Paul did not believe that.

Verse 16

‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy.’

‘It’ clearly refers to the previous verse, speaking of God’s showing of mercy, whilst the present tense of the verbs suggests that here Paul is enunciating a general principle. He is thus saying that in consequence of what God had said we can discern the general pattern that a man does not receive mercy in view of what he himself purposes (wills) or in view of what he has done, or indeed in view of what he promises to do. Neither his will nor his actions alter God’s decision. Rather, because by his will and actions he is subject to judgment, his hope can only lie in the mercy of God. And God dispenses that mercy as He wills. This again stresses that in order to receive mercy there is no requirement on man’s part. It is not a question of foreseen faith or works, it purely results from God’s sovereign decision. Faith and works must certainly follow that decision, but ultimately salvation is of God.

Verse 17

‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose (for unto this thing) did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth”.’

This overall sovereignty of God can be seen as illustrated from the life of Pharaoh, where God says to Pharaoh that He had ‘raised him up’ in order that He might show His power in the way He dealt with him, and might thereby reveal to all the earth His mighty power over a king who claimed to be a powerful god (Exodus 9:16; Exodus 15:14 ff). Pharaoh could have no justifiable complaint. He had resisted God from the start. Thus he was only receiving his due reward. In this case God, instead of exercising His prerogative of mercy, chose to harden an already hardened Pharaoh, and this was in order that the world might learn the truth about Him. So even this had a positive moral purpose. For Paul’s alteration of the OT text to ‘raise you up’ underlines the fact that even here God’s purpose was one of mercy, not on Pharaoh, but on all those who would hear and fear. God had raised up Pharaoh (and hardened his heart - Romans 9:18) as a witness to the nations. In other words, God’s judgment on Pharaoh would result in His word going out to the nations, just as in Paul’s day the hardening of Israel was to result similarly in the word of God’s power going out as a witness to the nations (Romans 11:11-12; Romans 11:15). As in Pharaoh’s case, the hardening of Israel had a positive purpose. Indeed his use of the verb ‘raised you up’ may also have been intended by Paul to remind his readers of an even greater occasion when God ‘raised up’ (1 Corinthians 6:14) Someone, His own Son, in order to demonstrate His power (Romans 1:4), but if so the implication is not drawn out.

The Hebrew text in Exodus 9:16 would appear to be the basis for Paul’s citation, for it reads ‘for this reason I have caused you to stand, for to show you My power, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth’. Paul’s is thus a somewhat loose paraphrase with ‘raised up’ being introduced by Paul.

‘The Scripture says.’ Here ‘the Scripture’ is used as a synonym for God, indicating that the Scriptures were indeed seen as ‘the voice of God’, and were seen as parallel with God’s own word.

Verse 18

‘So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardens.’

Paul assumes that his readers will connect Pharaoh’s being raised up to glorify God with his hardening of heart, a condition expressed a number of times in Exodus (e.g. Exodus 7:3; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:17). He thus concludes by saying ‘He (God) has mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardens’, particularly having Pharaoh’s behaviour in mind, although later applying the term ‘harden’ to Israel in Romans 11:7; Romans 11:25 demonstrating that God treats them like He treated Pharaoh. God is thus depicted as sovereign in all His dealings with men, and as One Who cannot be called to account for how He behaves towards men, although one reason why this is so is that none of them are deserving. Thus all men are seen as undeserving, and as therefore having no rights apart from that of judgment.

Here we cannot avoid the fact that Paul unquestionably puts the onus on God both for showing mercy and for hardening men’s hearts, and that eternal salvation and eternal destruction are in mind is made evident by his later illustration in Romans 9:22-23. He thus does not shy away from indicating God’s responsibility for the fate of all men both positively and negatively. And as his aim in the passage is to demonstrate that God acts unilaterally we cannot avoid recognising that God is primarily sovereign over all, even over men’s decisions. Indeed this is confirmed in the following verses where Paul clearly acknowledges that he cannot explain it, and then asserts the facts even more emphatically. On the other hand we must certainly recognise that God’s actions do work in parallel with man’s behaviour. God’s mercy works in parallel with the exercising of faith by the objects of His mercy, and His mercy withheld works in parallel with the objects of His wrath sinning and refusing to believe (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:17). But the hardening of men by God necessarily follows the fact that they themselves are sinful, and is not the cause of it, for they are sinful from the womb (Psalms 58:3).

Verse 19

‘You will say then to me, “Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” ’

He opens with a theoretical argument, although no doubt one he had heard many times, that of someone who says, “(If God hardens whom He will) why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” The idea behind the argument is that if God is sovereignly responsible for men’s decisions, no blame can be laid on men for how they respond to Him. All they are doing is fulfilling His will. Thus it would be unfair of God to find fault with them.

Verses 19-29

God Has The Sovereign Right To Do What He Chooses, And To Save Whom He Will (9:19-29).

Paul does not hide from the consequences of what he has been saying. He rather defends it by appealing to God’s absolute right over human beings, and then to Scripture. He sees the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as closely aligned with his argument that God has for the time being rejected the majority in physical Israel, while saving those within Israel who are believers in Jesus as the Messiah

Verse 20

‘No but, O man, who are you who replies against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me thus?” ’

Paul’s response to the questions is illuminating, both in what he does not say and what he does say. He does not attempt to marshal arguments which he could have used had he believed them, such as 1). that God acts on the basis of what He foresees in men (whether belief or unbelief), or 2). that God has some other way of saving Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah. These are arguments which some among modern man would put forward. But Paul seemingly does not accept them. Rather he simply declares by his questions put to the ‘man’, that he knows of no explanation, indicating thereby that he has no valid argument apart from what the Scriptures have stated. He then simply challenges whether they as human beings are in any position to reply against God, or disagree with Him. And he does it on the basis that the creature cannot say to his Creator, ‘why did you make me thus?’, which is a loose rendering of Isaiah 45:9. The Creator, in other words, has sovereign rights to do what He will with His creation which no one can deny, and He can choose to do with His creatures what He will.

‘O man.’ This signifies, in context, puny man as compared with the mighty God, as puny man seeks to contest what God chooses to do.

Verse 21

‘Or has the potter not a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel to honour, and another to dishonour?’

He now illustrates his position in terms of a potter who has a lump of clay and can use it both to make an ‘honourable’ vessel and to make a ‘dishonourable’ one. Which he makes is solely up to the potter’s discretion. So a potter may take his piece of clay, and set aside one part to produce an ornamental vase, and another part to produce a crude chamber pot. No one will question his right to do so. The idea therefore is that God has the same right to do what He will with what He has created. Applying this to his earlier argument Isaac and Jacob were honourable vessels. Their brothers were dishonourable vessels.

It is a quite false position to argue that Paul is likening ‘feeling people’ to mere lumps of clay, anymore than to argue that he is likening a humble potter to God. That is not his point. He is using an illustration, and his emphasis is on the fact that like the potter God can determine to do what He will.

Verse 22

‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,’

Paul then directly applies his illustration of the Potter to God Himself. The idea of likening God to a Potter comes directly from the Old Testament Scriptures (Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 29:16; Jeremiah 18:6). And the idea behind it is that just as a Potter chooses what he will do with what he makes, so in the same way no man has the right to challenge God’s decisions as to what to do with His creatures, with the proviso, of course, that we know that He will do what is morally right.

Here he applies that concept to God as One Who, willing to demonstrate His wrath (antipathy to sin) and make His powers known (as He had done with Pharaoh), delays applying that wrath to the guilty immediately, but rather puts up with them with much longsuffering, even though they are vessels ‘fitted for destruction’. In context this latter does not just mean that they are of a kind that deserves destruction (fit for destruction), but rather that they have actually been made that way by ‘the Potter’, they have been ‘fitted for destruction’. He has made them with destruction in mind. They are dishonourable vessels, vessels which are made to fulfil dishonourable purposes, and then to be broken. These vessels basically represent all unbelievers, but especially in the context Jews who have refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Note that there is a purpose in what God does here. It is in order to make known His sovereign power. If man is not aware of God’s sovereign power the way he behaves is quickly affected. Thus it was necessary that through some examples man is made to recognise that he stands under the judgment of God, and in order to do this God gives men a certain license, as He did with Pharaoh. (Nevertheless that delay also gives man the opportunity to repent (Romans 2:4-5), and he can be sure that if he does so, God will show him compassion).

Verses 23-24

‘And that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand to glory, even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?’

Having purposed that certain vessels would be made in such a way that they were fitted for destruction, God also purposed to make known the riches of His glory on vessels which were prepared with mercy in mind, vessels which He prepared beforehand for glory (like ‘honourable vessels’ such as ornamental vases). That these vessels are Christians is indicated by the word ‘us’ and confirmed by the references to the glory awaiting Christians in Romans 8:17-18; Romans 8:21; Romans 8:30. These Christians are then defined as those who are called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles. They are the called ones of God and come out from both Jews and Gentiles. Thus behind his whole argument is not simply that only the elect of Israel will be saved, but that the elect also includes believing Gentiles

All this, of course, indicates that the vessels fitted for ‘destruction’, (a word which in Paul always refers to ‘eternal destruction’), are the remainder of the Jews and the Gentiles, the unbelieving ones who have not been ‘called’ (in Romans ‘called’, when God is in mind, is a salvation word, Romans 1:6-7; Romans 8:28; Romans 8:30; Romans 9:7; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:29). That salvation and judgment are concerned can hardly be doubted, confirming that both some Jews (the spiritual Israel of Romans 9:6) and Gentiles will be saved (those called out), and that the remainder of both Jews (the physical Israel excluding the spiritual Israel) and Gentiles will be lost. Thus Paul’s arguments all the way through have had this in mind.

This is the first reference to Gentiles in the chapter, for the purpose of the chapter up to this point has been in order to bring out that only a proportion of Israel were God’s elect, and thus chosen to be saved, the Israel within Israel’ of Romans 9:6. But all along he has had the intention of introducing Gentiles in order to demonstrate that God’s elect include Gentiles. Paul thus now emphasises that God’s call reaches out, not only to the Jews but to Gentiles.

Verse 25

‘As he says also in Hosea (Greek - Osee), “I will call that my people, who were not my people, and her beloved, who was not beloved”.’

Paul then cites Hosea in order to demonstrate that it has always been God’s intention that some who were ‘not My people’ should become ‘My people’. That some who were not beloved and elect, would become beloved and elect. (In many cases ‘beloved’ and ‘elect’ were seen as synonyms).

He declares that in Hosea we read, ‘I will call that My people who were not My people, and (I will call) her beloved who was not beloved’ (a Pauline paraphrase of Hosea 2:23). It would certainly appear, at least at first sight, that this quotation from Hosea is backing up Romans 9:23-24, for in it he is seeking to demonstrate from Scripture that some of those who were ‘not God’s people’ would become so. But some question who are in Paul’s mind here. The previous verses from Romans 9:6 onwards have been referring to the election of only a part of Israel, with Gentiles only being introduced at the end as an additional final comment. Is he then continuing his argument on the election of only a part of Israel? Or is he now seeing the Gentiles as included? The direct connection with the previous verse would suggest that he is applying Hosea’ prophecy to ‘the called’ among both believing Jews and Gentiles, both therefore being seen as having been ‘not My people’, and now being ‘My people’. And the general impression at first sight is certainly that that is precisely what he meant. But against this is argued the fact that there is little doubt that the citation from Hosea only had Israelites in mind, because it was Israelites who were actually in the mind of Hosea.

However, if we take the view that Paul is drawing from Hosea’s wording, (that ‘not My people’ can become ‘My people’), the inference that this is God’s usual method of working, and that it is something which was evidenced by an Israel that had lapsed into Gentile idolatry and had therefore virtually become Gentile, having been cut off from God’s true Israel, then, it may well be that he sees this as evidence that God will reach out to believing Gentiles as well. That is indeed what the Jews themselves believed when they accepted into their synagogues both Gentile proselytes and Gentile God-fearers (uncircumcised adherents).

But strictly speaking, in Hosea ‘not My people’ referred to a rejected Israel. It may thus be that this is simply a continuation of the argument that ‘not all Israel is Israel’. His point would then be that for a while Israel had been ‘not My people’, and were thus not of the elect, but that as a result of God’s activity some of them would become ‘My people’ (‘some’ because many would die in their ‘not my people’ state), indicating again that not all Israel is Israel. Most scholars, however, see Paul here as referring to the Gentiles, with Paul’s point being that a principle is revealed in the statement which demonstrates that God can make ‘not My people’ into ‘My people’. It may, in fact, be that Paul had both possibilities in mind.

Verse 26

‘And it shall be, that in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there will they be called “sons of the living God”.’

He then further cites Hosea 1:10 which asserts that those who were ‘not My people’ would at some stage become ‘sons of the living God’. If we see Paul as referring this to Gentiles, as he probably is, then he is declaring that Scripture teaches that some from among the Gentiles, will be called ‘sons of the living God’ (compare 2 Corinthians 6:16 with 18). If that is so then what he sees as inherent within the words is that God will call many from among the Gentiles to Himself, and make them children of God (as was true of the elect of Israel - Romans 9:8). On the other hand, if we see the reference as being towards Jews then this is further confirmation that at one stage many in Israel had not been sons of the living God, and that all was therefore subject to God’s election. It may well be that Paul had both possibilities in mind.

In support of seeing these two verses as referring to Israel is that he later cites texts separately which demonstrate the acceptance of Gentiles in Romans 10:19-20, and that the whole of this passage has been mainly dealing with the question as to whether all Jews were elect, with the mention of Gentiles only being brought in at the end to clinch his argument.

Verses 27-28

‘And Isaiah cries concerning Israel, “If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant who will be saved, for the Lord will execute his word on the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.” ’

He then cites from Isaiah 10:22 a (supplemented by Hosea 1:10) a verse concerning Israel which asserts that even though Israel should become very numerous, only a remnant of them would be saved, and this, as Isaiah 10:23 reveals, is as a result of the judgment of God on the remainder. This would support the case that the ‘all Israel’ in Romans 11:26 who are saved means ‘the remnant’. ‘Finishing it’ refers to the certainty of God’s judgment’, ‘cutting it short’ might indicate that God stepped in to save the elect, or may indicate the speed with which the finishing will take place. In Isaiah 10:0 the prime reference of the verses is probably to deliverance from the Assyrians, although it may have included a wider reference to God’s deliverance in terms of the more distant future (as prophecies often did). Paul seemingly sees it as including a principle which was permanently applicable, that in all God’s dealings with Israel, only a remnant will be saved. So the teaching of Romans 9:26-28 is, in Paul’s view, that only a remnant of Israel was to be saved, whilst numerous Gentiles were to become His people and His beloved, a situation which was true of the Christian church.

The LXX of these verses reads, ‘And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them will be saved. He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work in all the world.’ (Isaiah 10:22-23 LXX). This has been supplemented at the beginning by ‘The number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea’ which is found in Hosea 1:10. This combining of texts, with reference only being made to the major source, was commonplace in Paul’s day. Compare a similar thing in Mark 1:2-3 where texts from Malachi and Isaiah are combined. We have no similar explanation for the rendering of Isaiah 10:23, although it is clear that while shortened, it does connect with the LXX text. This may have been found in the version from which Paul was citing, or it may simply have been his amendment of LXX. We simply do not know.

Verse 29

‘And, as Isaiah has said before, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had become as Sodom, and had been made like to Gomorrah”.’

This picture is then seen as confirmed by Isaiah 1:9, where, apart from ‘a seed’ left to them by God (the seed of Abraham mentioned in Romans 9:7? The holy seed of Isaiah 6:12), all Israel were to be destroyed by God’s judgment in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Once again those who were acceptable to God, and therefore saved, were only a remnant out of Israel. These three verses confirm that what the whole passage from Romans 9:6 has been about was the election of a minority of Israel who would alone remain as God’s people, being supplemented by large numbers of Gentiles, who would also become God’s people. This incorporating of Gentiles into Israel to form the true Israel is confirmed in Romans 11:17-25; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 1:9; etc.

‘The Lord of Sabaoth.’ A transliteration of the Hebrew which means ‘the Lord of Hosts.’

Verses 30-31

‘What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith, but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at the law.’

‘What shall we say then?’ is a typical Pauline introduction to the next phase in his argument (Romans 4:1; Romans 6:1; Romans 7:7), although at the same time certainly also connecting up with the previous discussion. It summarises the situation from a new point of view. For here there is certainly a movement from the idea of God’s election, where all was of God’s decree, to that of man’s faith and belief, where man is responsible for his actions and attitudes. Prior to this all had been due to the sovereignty of God. God had been active in choosing out a remnant for Himself (Romans 8:29-30). Now, suddenly, emphasis is laid on man’s faith or unbelief as a deciding factor (constantly throughout Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:17), and it is faith or unbelief in the Messiah. Here is the human side of why the majority of Israel has been rejected. It was because they had rejected their Messiah. In contrast believing Gentiles, conjoined with the believing remnant of Israel, have been accepted because they have believed in Him.

So Paul is here dealing with what was a sticking point for Jews, that so many Gentiles were being saved, and on so simple a basis. They had been willing to accept that Gentiles could become a part of Israel, by being circumcised, after having gone through a process of instruction and Law keeping. What they could not stomach was this new mass movement in which Gentiles were being immediately included among the elect as a result of believing in Christ, without being circumcised and without being instructed in the Law. Paul, therefore, now explains the basis of it. Why are so many Gentiles being saved even though they had not followed the path of righteousness? (That is, they had not been Law-keeping Jews, nor had they submitted themselves to a probationary period under the Law). It is because they have ‘attained to righteousness’, the righteousness of God, the righteousness which is the consequence of faith and is given freely to those who believe in Jesus Christ. And as the whole of Romans 1-8 has demonstrated, this righteousness is based on the Messiah Jesus, and on what He has done for them (Romans 1:3-4; Romans 3:21-28; Romans 4:24-25; Romans 5:1-21; Romans 6:1-11; Romans 6:23; Romans 7:4; Romans 7:25; Romans 8:1-4; Romans 8:9-11; Romans 8:17; Romans 8:32-39). As Romans 9:32-33 emphasise, it was Israel’s failure to believe in Him that was the reason for their downfall. ‘The righteousness of faith’ is thus that righteousness which is received as a gift in consequence of the righteousness provided by the Messiah, and it is received through faith (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:24-25; Romans 5:15-21; Romans 8:1-4).

In contrast with the believing Gentiles, who had attained to righteousness through accepting the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, were unbelieving Israel, who while ‘following after a law of righteousness’ did not arrive at it. (Or ‘who pursuing after the Law of righteousness did not overtake it’, metaphors possibly taken from the race track). We might have expected Paul to say ‘following after righteousness’ or ‘following after the righteousness of the Law’ (Romans 10:5) in contrast with what he had said of the Gentiles. But instead he speaks of ‘following after the Law of righteousness’. This was an important emphasis. For by stressing ‘the Law of righteousness’ he was bringing out what they really did seek. He was emphasising that what they sought was not true righteousness but a synthetic kind of righteousness which was comprised of obedience to the Law in accordance with their own interpretation of it. They were ‘following the Law’, and in practise the idea of ‘real righteousness’ was secondary. It passed them by (see Matthew 23:23; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Mark 12:33). What they were more concerned with was ‘observing the Law’. For they had convinced themselves that by doing this they would please God, and observe the covenant. They saw it as their side of the bargain with God. To them the be all and end all had become ‘following the Law’ as interpreted by the Rabbis so as, in their eyes, to observe the covenant. But the problem with this was that they had by this observed the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of the Law. Indeed they had put their whole effort into observing it without any real concern as to whether they were truly being righteous, and thereby many had convinced themselves that they were righteous, when all they were was self-righteous (see Luke 18:11-12). For as Jesus had said, ‘you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgment and mercy and faith’ (Matthew 23:23). So Paul is saying that on the whole they had no conception of true righteousness.

And the consequence of this was that they had not ‘arrived at the Law’. They had not attained to it. They had failed to fulfil it. Indeed they had fallen far short of it. They had not even come close to achieving it. And this was because they had failed to observe its spirit, to love God wholly from the heart and to love all men as themselves (both their neighbour and the stranger who lived amongst them - Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:34). All the Law could do, therefore, was condemn them, as Paul had made clear in Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:20. So ‘not arriving at the Law’ indicates their falling short of it, and it brings out that what they really feared was not ‘falling short of righteousness’, but ‘falling short of the Law’ which they had turned into a list of rules. They had done what it is so easy to do, they had replaced the spirit with the letter.

Verses 30-33

The Eternal Destiny Of All People, Both Jew And Gentile, Is Based On Belief In God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. (9:30-10:21).

There is now a vast change in Paul’s argument, for it will be noted that from Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:17 Paul lays huge emphasis on faith and on believing in Jesus Christ, this in contrast with Romans 9:6-29 where they are not mentioned. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah undergirds this whole passage. The Greek words for faith and/or believing occur in almost every verse, with those verses which do not contain the words being in specific contrast with a verse that does. And the faith that is in mind is faith in the Messiah. Furthermore even in Romans 10:17 --21 , which contain citations from the Old Testament Scriptures, faith and unbelief, although only mentioned once, underlie all that is said. Faith and belief are thus the keynote of this passage, and it is faith in Jesus as Messiah and LORD. Here then Paul is explaining how the Jews on the whole came short. It was because they did not respond in faith to their Messiah, Whose coming was the greatest of all the privileges that God had given them (Romans 9:4-5).

(In Romans 9:1-29 Israel came short because of God’s elective purposes, the message being that God had always purposed that only a remnant would be saved. Here they come short because of unbelief in that they have failed to believe in the Messiah. We thus have human responsibility going hand in hand with God’s sovereignty).

A second emphasis in this passage, although subordinate to the first, is on ‘righteousness’, which occurs at least ten times (although in clusters), all of which are in Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:10. Paul is here seeking to bring out the difference between righteousness attained by works, which is the righteousness of men, and righteousness resulting from faith in the Messiah, a central feature of Romans 3:19 to Romans 4:25, which is the righteousness of God. Note the contrasts:

1) The Gentiles who did not follow after righteousness (the righteousness of the Law) attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith (acceptability in God’s eyes through the righteousness of Christ (Romans 5:17-18) received by faith (Romans 3:22), which resulted in practical righteousness), whilst Israel who followed after the Law of righteousness, did not arrive at the Law because they sought it by works and not by faith, failing to believe in the Messiah (Romans 9:30-33). Here receiving the righteousness of God by faith in the Messiah is contrasted with following the Law and seeking to achieve it (or with pursuing the Law and failing to overtake it, a metaphor from the race track).

2) Israel were ignorant of God’s righteousness, and sought to establish their own, thus not subjecting themselves to the righteousness of God, which is found in Christ. Thus as Christ (the Messiah) is the end of the Law for righteousness (the righteousness of God) to everyone who believes (Romans 10:3-4), their failure was in not believing, and as a result failing to receive the benefit from what He had accomplished. Here an emphasis is laid on the ignorance of the Jews as to what true righteousness was, with the consequence that they failed to recognise the need for the righteousness of God, thereby failing to recognise that their Messiah had come as the final fulfilment of that Law.

3) Moses wrote that the man who does the righteousness out of the Law will live thereby, but the righteousness out of faith says if you believe in your heart that Jesus is LORD and that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness (Romans 10:5-10). Here the vain attempt to seek ‘life’ by the Law, is contrasted with the sure way of receiving ‘life’ and salvation through the acceptance of Jesus as LORD.

Thus we may see the whole passage as having as its central theme, faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah, (Romans 9:33; Romans 10:4; Romans 10:9-11; Romans 10:13; Romans 10:17) a faith which responds to Him and which results in reception of the righteousness of God, this being in contrast with Israel’s unbelief and refusal to respond to God’s way of righteousness. It is those who call on the Name of the LORD who will be saved (Romans 10:13), that is, those who believe on ‘Jesus as LORD’ (Romans 10:9).

Verses 32-33

‘For what reason? Because (they sought) not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling, even as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and he who believes on him will not be put to shame.”

And why did they fail to ‘arrive at the Law’? That is fail to fulfil it to the Law’s satisfaction. It was because they had sought to fulfil it in the wrong way. They had thought that they could achieve it ‘by works’, that is, by hard endeavour, and by their own efforts. And many had struggled manfully to that end, like Paul had once done, but they had inevitably failed, because for sinful man it was unachievable. Thus what they should rather have done was respond to the righteousness of God which was by faith in their Messiah, in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22), receiving it as a free gift (Romans 3:24; Romans 5:15-19). Then the righteousness of the Law would have been fulfilled in them (Romans 8:4).

But to believe in Jesus Christ Who had brought them the true significance of the Law (Matthew 5-7), and Who had brought righteousness through faith in Him (Romans 5:14-21), was beyond them. For if He was right then they, and all they had lived for, were wrong. They stumbled at (the verb contains the idea of responding in annoyance to) the stumblingstone of which the Scriptures had spoken, the stumblingstone of the Messiah. (As men always stumble at and are annoyed with God’s ways). He was a stumblingstone because the way of salvation that He had brought was contrary to the ideas of men, and in their eyes, with their false emphasis, was contrary to the Law of Moses. Christ crucified was for them a stumblingblock (1 Corinthians 1:23). They had failed to see that the Law of Moses and the prophets pointed to a righteousness of God obtainable through Christ and through His death (Romans 3:21; Romans 3:24-25; Leviticus 1-16; Isaiah 53:11). And so their pride in their own viewpoint was too great to enable them to accept His offer. They were so tied up with religious forms and ceremonies, and with the ‘traditions of the elders’, and were so proud of them, that as a result His way appeared too simple. It offended their religious perspectives and attitudes. And so He became both a stumblingstone, a stone which tripped them up, and a rock of offence, a rock on which they hurt themselves.

Paul then illustrates this with citations from Scripture which had by this time come to be seen by many as referring to the Messiah (this reference of it to the Messiah is found e.g. in some of the Targums, the Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament Scriptures which had been developed for synagogue use). His citation is “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and he who believes on him will not be put to shame.” This is a combination of Isaiah 28:16 with Isaiah 8:14. Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 28:16 reads, ‘ Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, of sure foundation. He who believes will not make haste (LXX will not be put to shame).’ Isaiah 8:14 reads, ‘and He will be for a sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel.’ Paul thus conflates the two verses (which was, as we have previously seen, a general method of the day) in order to bring out that for the majority of Israel hope and sureness were replaced by unbelief and stumbling. He takes the opening and closing clauses in Isaiah 28:16 and inserts within them a portion (paraphrased) of Isaiah 8:14 because, sadly, He Who was intended for a foundation and a Sanctuary for Israel, was to turn out rather to be a stumblingstone and rock of offence for a large part of Israel. On the other hand, for those who believed in Him there would be nothing to be ashamed of. They could rest confidently in Him without shame, not racing about trying to find a solution. Thus he sees the unbelief of a large part of Israel concerning the Messiah as already prophesied in Scripture.

Interestingly this same combination of citations is found in 1 Peter 2:6-8 (although not conflated, and including another ‘stone’ quotation) suggesting that it was well recognised in the early church that these verses referred to Christ. Paul will cite Isaiah 28:16 LXX again in Romans 10:11.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/romans-9.html. 2013.
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