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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4064. A.D. 60.

The apostle, finding it necessary to speak more expressly of the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles, here introduces the subject; and,

(1,) In very tender expressions avows his regard to his Jewish brethren, several of whose great privileges and peculiar advantages he here enumerates, Romans 9:1-5 . And then,

(2,) Shows that the rejection of a considerable part of the seed of Abraham, and even of the posterity of Isaac, from the peculiar privileges of God’s chosen people, was an incontestable fact, which the Jews could not but grant to have happened; that is, with regard to the descendants of Ishmael and Esau, Romans 9:6-13 .

(3,) That the sovereign choice of some individuals to peculiar privileges, to which none had any claim, and the sovereign appointment, from among many criminals, of some to peculiar and exemplary punishment, was perfectly consistent both with reason and Scripture, Romans 9:14-24 .

(4,) That the admission of the Gentiles to the privileges of God’s peculiar people, when Israel should be rejected, was so far from being inconsistent with Scripture, that it had been actually foretold, both by Hosea and Isaiah , vv25-33.

Verses 1-2

Romans 9:1-2. The apostle having insinuated, Romans 3:3, that God would cast off the Jews for their unbelief, a Jew is there supposed to object, that their rejection would destroy the faithfulness of God. To this the apostle answered, that the faithfulness of God would be established rather than destroyed, by the rejection of the Jews for their unbelief; because God had expressly declared, Genesis 18:19, that Abraham’s children were to keep the way of the Lord, in order to their obtaining the promised blessings; and had thereby insinuated, that if they did not keep that way they would lose blessings, of which their being made the visible Church of God was one. This was all the answer the apostle thought proper to make in that part of his epistle. But the objection being specious, and, it seems, much insisted on by the unbelieving Jews, he introduces it a second time in this place, that he might reply to it more fully: this then is the subject of this chapter. The apostle shows therein, in answer to the objection of his countrymen, that the rejection of the unbelieving Jews from being the Church of God, and the reception of the believing Gentiles to be his people in their stead, was not contrary to the word of God. That the apostle had not here the least thought of personal election or reprobation, is manifest, 1st, Because it lay quite wide of his design, which, as has been just observed, was merely to show that God’s rejecting the Jews, and receiving the Gentiles, was consistent with his word: 2d, Because such a doctrine would not only have had no tendency to convince, but would have evidently tended to harden the Jews: 3d, Because when he sums up his argument, in the close of the chapter, he says not one word, nor gives the least intimation about it.

I say the truth in Christ This being a solemn appeal to Christ and the Holy Ghost, as knowing the apostle’s heart, for the truth of what he affirmed, it is of the nature of an oath. I lie not That which he had in the former clause expressed in the affirmative, he in this emphatically confirms in the negative, according to the manner of the Hebrews, who were wont to deliver, as well negatively as affirmatively, what they judged to be worthy of special observation. My conscience also bearing me witness As to the truth of what I say; in the Holy Ghost Who searches all hearts, and perfectly knows whether the soul on which he operates be sincere. That I have great heaviness, &c. Greek, οτι λυπη μοι εστι μεγαλη , και αδιαλειπτος οδυνη τη καρδια μου , that I have great grief, and unceasing anguish in my heart This is the fact, the belief of which the apostle desired to procure by that solemnity of attestation expressed in the preceding verse: he does not here mention the cause of his grief and anguish, but it is evident from the first verse that the cause was their obduracy, and rejection as a nation, and the many miseries which he foresaw to be coming upon them. By thus declaring his sorrow for the unbelieving Jews, who excluded themselves from all the blessings he had enumerated in the former part of his epistle, he shows that what he was now about to say, he did not speak from any prejudice to them.

Verse 3

Romans 9:3. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ ( The word αναθεμα , here rendered accursed, answers to the Hebrew word חרם , cherem, which signifies what is devoted to destruction. And, as the Jewish nation was now an anathema, destined to destruction, Mr. Locke supposes that Paul, to express his affection for them, here says that he could wish, provided he could thereby save them from it, to become an anathema, or to be devoted to destruction himself, in their stead. In other words, that he could be content “that Christ should give him up to such calamities as these, to which the Jewish people were doomed for rejecting him; so that if they could all be centred in one person, he would be willing they should unite in him, could he thereby be a means of saving his countrymen. This is the interpretation of Dr. Samuel Clarke, (see his Seventeen Sermons, p. 340.) To the same purpose nearly is Goodwin’s exposition of the passage: “It seems,” says he, “to mean, that he was willing to be looked upon, and in every respect dealt with in the world, as if he were accursed by Christ, and so worthy of all ignominy, punishment, tortures, and death, that could be inflicted on him: such as were wont to be inflicted on persons, who, for some hateful crime, were devoted to utter destruction. The Greek word is indifferently applied either to persons or things, and in Scripture commonly signifies such, in either kind, as were consigned, either by God himself, or men, or both, to destruction, in the nature of piacular sacrifices.” Such a sacrifice Paul was willing to become for his brethren’s sake, supposing that he could thereby “procure deliverance for them from that most heavy curse of an eternal separation from God, which he certainly knew hung over their heads, for their obstinate refusal of the gospel.” According to these interpretations, αναθεμα απο Χριστου , must be rendered, made an anathema by, or from Christ. But Dr. Waterland observing, as απο προγονων , 2 Timothy 3:3, signifies, after the example of my forefathers, απο του Χριστου , in this passage, may signify, after the example of Christ. This exposition is adopted by Dr. Doddridge as the most probable, who thus paraphrases the verse: “I could even wish, that as Christ subjected himself to the curse, that he might deliver us from it, so I myself, likewise, were made an anathema after his example; like him exposed to all the execrations of an enraged people, and even to the infamous and accursed death of crucifixion itself, for the sake of my brethren: &c., that they might thereby be delivered from the guilt they have brought upon their own heads, and become entitled to the forfeited and rejected blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom.” Many commentators have shown how very absurd it would be to suppose the apostle meant, that he could be content to be delivered over to everlasting misery for the good of others. The apostle here mentions his near relation to the Jews, in order that what he had expressed concerning the greatness of his affection for them, might be the more easily believed by them.

Verse 4

Romans 9:4. Who are Israelites The seed of Jacob, that eminent patriarch, who, as a prince, had power with God and prevailed. The apostle, with great address, enumerates these privileges of the Jews, both that he might show how honourably he thought of them, and that he might awaken their solicitude, not to sacrifice that divine favour, by which they had been so eminently and so long distinguished. To whom pertaineth the adoption That is whom God hath taken into a special covenant with himself, whereby he stands engaged ever to act the part of a God and Father to them, and to own them for his children. It is true, this adoption of the Jews was but a shadow of the heavenly adoption of believers in Christ; yet was it, simply considered, a prerogative of a very sacred import. And the glory The visible symbol of the divine presence which rested above the ark, was called the glory, 1 Samuel 4:21, and the glory of the Lord. Hence the introduction of the ark into the temple, is called the entrance of the King of glory, Psalms 24:7; and upon the carrying away of the ark by the Philistines, the wife of Phineas, now at the point of death, said, The glory is departed from Israel. But God himself was the glory of his people Israel, and by many visible testimonies of his presence with them, shed a glory upon them, and caused their brightness to shine throughout the world. So Isaiah, The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. These two last-mentioned particulars are relative to each other: Israel is the firstborn son of God, and the God of glory is his God. And the covenants That with Abraham, Genesis 15:8; Genesis 17:2; Genesis 17:7; and that with the Jewish nation by the ministry of Moses, Exodus 24:7-8; Exodus 34:27; including the seals of these covenants, namely, circumcision, the seal of the former, Genesis 17:10; and the sprinkling of blood the seal of the latter, Exodus 24:8. He says covenants, in the plural, also, because God’s covenant with his people was often and variously repeated. And the giving of the law The glorious promulgation of the moral law by God himself, by the mediation of his angels upon mount Horeb; not excluding the more private delivery of the various judicial and political laws appointed for the government of that commonwealth. The covenant, in the first dispensation of it, was given long before the law. And the worship of God The way of worshipping God according to his will, prescribed in the ceremonial law for the people, till Christ should come in the flesh: and the promises Of the Messiah, and of spiritual and eternal blessings by him.

By enumerating these privileges of the Jews, the apostle, as above observed, not only meant to show them that he respected them on account of these advantages, but to make them sensible of the loss they were about to sustain by God’s casting them off. “They were to be excluded from the better privileges of the gospel church, of which their ancient privileges were but the types. For their relation to God as his people, signified by the name Israelites, prefigured the more honourable relation which believers, the true Israel, stand in to God. Their adoption as the sons of God, and the privileges they were entitled to thereby, were types of believers being made partakers of the divine nature by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and of their title to the inheritance of heaven. The residence of the glory, first in the tabernacle and then in the temple, was a figure of the residence of God, by his Spirit, in the Christian Church, his temple on earth, and of his eternal residence in that church, brought to its perfect form in heaven. The covenant with Abraham was the new, or gospel covenant, the blessings of which were typified by the temporal blessings promised to him and to his natural seed: and the covenant of Sinai, whereby the Israelites, as the worshippers of the true God, were separated from the idolatrous nations, was an emblem of the final separation of the righteous from the wicked for ever. In the giving of the law, and the formation of the Israelites into a nation, or community, the formation of the city of the living God, and of the general assembly and church of the firstborn, was represented. Lastly, the heavenly country, the habitation of the righteous, was typified by Canaan, a country given to the Israelites by God’s promise.” Macknight.

Verse 5

Romans 9:5. Whose, &c. To the preceding the apostle now adds two more prerogatives: theirs are the fathers They are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancient patriarchs, and other holy men, who were great in the sight of God, and to whom he made many great and precious promises, in which their children also and children’s children were interested. And of whom Of which Israelites; as concerning the flesh That is, in respect of his human nature; Christ The expected Messiah; came. This plainly supposes another nature in Christ, according to which he came not from the Israelites. And this can be none other but the divine nature; which, in the sequel of the verse, is expressly attributed to him. The apostle reserves the mention of Christ’s descent from the Jews for the last of their prerogatives, as being the greatest of them all: who is over all, God, &c. The apostle gives this, so highly honourable a testimony to Christ, because he was so vilified by the Jews; thus making up that great breach, so to speak, which they had made on his name and honour by their unbelief, and wicked rejection of him. He is said to be over all, 1st, Because, as he was God-Man and Mediator, all power was given unto him in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18; all things delivered into his hands, and put under his feet, John 3:35; 1 Corinthians 15:27; the Father giving him a name above every name, Philippians 2:9; and constituting him his great plenipotentiary, to transact all things relating to the whole creation, especially angels and men; to settle the affairs of heaven and earth for eternity. And more especially, 2d, Because as God, possessed of true, essential deity, he was in union with his Father and the Holy Spirit, supreme over all, and consequently blessed for ever Which words he adds to show, that a far different measure from that which the Jews had hitherto measured out unto Christ, was due to him from them, as from all other men. No words can more clearly express his divine, supreme majesty, and his gracious sovereignty over both Jews and Gentiles. The apostle closes all with the word, amen An expression commonly used for a serious confirmation of what is said immediately before, together with an approbation of it; sometimes also importing a desire for the performance thereof. Some would persuade us that the true reading of this clause is, ων ο επι παντων θεος , whose is the God over all; because by this reading, they say, the climax is completed; and the privilege in which the Jews gloried above all others, (namely, that of having the true God for their God,) is not omitted. “But as this reading,” says Macknight, “is found in no copy whatever, it ought not to be admitted on conjecture.” Thus also Doddridge: “How ingenious soever that conjecture may be thought, by which some would read this, whose is the God over all, to answer to, whose are the fathers, I think it would be extremely dangerous to follow this reading, unsupported as it is by any critical authority of manuscripts or ancient quotations. Nor can I find any authority for rendering Θεος ευλογητος εις τους αιωνας , God be blessed for ever. I must, therefore, consider this memorable text as a proof of Christ’s proper deity, which, I think, the opposers of that doctrine have never been able, nor will ever be able to answer. Though common sense must teach, what Christians have always believed, that it is not with respect to the Father, but to the created world that this august title is given to him:” that is, that he is said to be God over all.

Verses 6-8

Romans 9:6-8. Not as though The original expression, ουχ οιον δε οτι , is rather obscure; but Erasmus supplying, after the Greek scholiast, the words τουτο ου λεγω , seems to have given the sense of it thus; I do not say this, that the word of God hath fallen, namely, to the ground, without effect. The apostle’s meaning is, that nothing he had now said concerning the rejection of the greater part of the Jews, drew any such consequence after it, as that the word of God (that is, his promises made to Abraham and his seed) should miscarry, or fall to the ground; the Jews imagining that the word of God must fail, if all their nation were not saved. This sentiment Paul now refutes, showing, 1st, That the word itself had foretold their rejection: and, 2d, That though the body of the nation was rejected, God’s promises were already fulfilled to the true Israelites, and hereafter all Israel should be saved: which is the sum of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters. For Here he enters upon the proof of it; they are not all Israel True spiritual Israelites, to whom the promises belong; which are of Israel The natural posterity of Jacob, and Israelites by birth, and so visible members of the church. The Jews vehemently maintained the contrary; namely, that all who were born Israelites, and they only, were the people of God. The former part of this assertion is refuted here, the latter, Romans 9:24, &c. The sum is, God accepts all believers, and them only; and this is no way contrary to his word. Nay, he hath declared in his word, both by types and by express testimonies, that believers are accepted as the children of the promise, while unbelievers are rejected, though they are children after the flesh. It is true the great promise, that Jehovah would be their God, was delivered to all the posterity of Israel without exception; but it was intended to be understood in a conditional sense, as what would not be fulfilled to them, unless they imitated the faith of Abraham. And in this sense it was made to the Gentiles, and to the whole world, as well as to the Jews. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham According to the flesh; will it follow, that they are all children of God. This did not hold even in Abraham’s own family, and much less in his remote descendants. But, God then said, in Isaac shall thy seed be called Isaac’s posterity, not Ishmael’s, shall be spoken of as thy seed, by way of eminence; that seed to which the promises are made. That is, they who are the children of the flesh The carnal seed of Abraham; are not Purely upon that account; the children of God In the true sense; namely, spiritual children. But the children of the promise Those whom God hath promised to acknowledge for his children; namely, such as are born again by the supernatural power of God’s Spirit, (as Isaac was conceived and born by a power above the course of nature,) and who by faith lay hold on the promise of salvation made in Christ; these are they who are intended in the covenant with Abraham, the persons whose God Jehovah promised to be, and to whom the spiritual blessings and the inheritance belong. In quoting these words, in Isaac shall thy seed be called, and inferring therefrom that the children of the promise shall be counted for the seed, the apostle does not intend to give the literal sense of the words, but the typical only; and by his interpretation signifies that they were spoken by God in a typical and allegorical, as well as in a literal sense, and that God there declared his counsel concerning those persons whom he purposed to own as his children, and make partakers of the blessings of righteousness and salvation. As if he had said, This is a clear type of things to come; showing us, that in all succeeding generations, not the lineal descendants of Abraham, but they to whom the promise is made, that is, believers, are the true children of God.

Verses 9-13

Romans 9:9-13. For this is the word of promise To show that Isaac was a son of promise, (and so a meet type of those that should be begotten of God by the promise of the gospel through faith,) he cites the words of the promise in substance, by which Isaac was begotten and born. See Genesis 17:20; Genesis 18:10; in which places two circumstances are mentioned, the one of God’s coming to fulfil his promise, in causing Sarah to have a son; the other of the set time when he would thus come; which plainly evince Isaac to have been a son of promise, conceived and born by virtue of that peculiar promise, which Abraham and Sarah believed, in order to his conception. At this time As if he had said, Even now, though thy body and Sarah’s are dead, or at the time which I now appoint; I will come Will manifest my power, and she shall conceive, and have a son And he only shall inherit the blessing, and not whosoever is born of thee. Observe, reader, Isaac is not brought forward in this chapter as a type, or example, of persons personally elected by God from eternity, but as a type of those, how few or how many soever they may be, that shall be counted God’s children, and judged meet to inherit his kingdom. And not only this, &c. And that God’s blessing does not belong to all the descendants of Abraham, appears not only by this instance, but by that of Esau and Jacob, the latter of whom was chosen to inherit the blessing of being the progenitor of the Messiah, and other blessings connected therewith, before either of them had done good or evil The apostle mentions this to show, that neither did their ancestors receive their advantages through any merit of their own; that the purpose of God according to election might stand Whose purpose was to elect to superior blessings, particularly to church privileges; not of works Not for any preceding merit in him he chose; but of him that calleth Of his own good pleasure, who calls to the enjoyment of particular privileges whom he sees good. “Nothing can be more evident,” says Mr. Sellon, “to any one that considers the beginning and end of this chapter, than that the apostle is not speaking of the election of particular persons to eternal life, but of particular nations to outward church privileges, which duly used, through Christ, should be the means of bringing men to eternal life, and to higher degrees of glory therein than others should enjoy, who were not favoured with these privileges. Nor is God, the great Governor of the world, on this account, any more to be deemed a respecter of persons, than an earthly king, who takes some of his subjects for lords of his bed- chamber, and others for lower employments; since he will make them all, that behave well in their station, completely happy.” See his Works, vol. 2. p. 134. It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger Not in person, for Esau never served Jacob; but in his posterity. Accordingly the Edomites were often brought into subjection by the Israelites. But though Esau had served Jacob personally, and had been inferior to him in worldly greatness, it would have been no proof at all of Jacob’s election to eternal life, nor of Esau’s reprobation: as little was the subjection of the Edomites to the Israelites, in David’s days, a proof of the election and reprobation of their progenitors. Add to this, that the circumstance of Esau’s being elder than Jacob was very properly taken notice of to show that Jacob’s election was contrary to the right of primogeniture, because this circumstance proved it to be from pure favour: but if his election had been to eternal life, the circumstance of his age ought not to have been mentioned, because it had no relation to that matter whatever. As it is written With which word in Genesis, spoken so long before, that of Malachi agrees; I have loved Jacob With a peculiar love; that is, the Israelites, the posterity of Jacob; and I have comparatively hated Esau That is, the Edomites, the posterity of Esau. But observe, 1st, This does not relate to the person of Jacob or Esau: 2d, Nor does it relate to the eternal state either of them or their posterity. Thus far the apostle has been proving his proposition, namely, that the exclusion of a great part of the seed of Abraham, yea, and of Isaac, from the special promises of God, was so far from being impossible, that, according to the Scriptures themselves, it had actually happened. And his intent herein, as appears from Romans 9:30-33, (which passage is a key to the whole chapter,) is evidently to show, that as God before chose Jacob, who represented the Jews, and admitted him and his posterity to peculiar privileges, above the Gentiles, without any merit in him or them to deserve it; so now, (the Jews through their unbelief having rejected the Messiah, and being justly therefore themselves rejected of God,) he had chosen the Gentiles, represented by Esau, to be his peculiar people; according to the prediction of Hosea, I will call them my people, &c., cited Romans 9:25, where see the note; and that without any thing on their part to deserve this favour. It was entirely free with respect both to them and Jacob, God’s mercy and goodness preventing, not the endeavour only, but even the will of both. As, before Jacob either willed or strove for it, the blessing was designed of God for him; so, before ever the Gentiles sought after God, the blessings of Christ’s kingdom were designed for them. Yet it does not follow that all who are called Christians, and enjoy outward church privileges, shall be finally saved, any more than it is to be concluded that all the Jews were saved before Christ came in the flesh, on account of their privileges.

Verses 14-16

Romans 9:14-16. What shall we say then? To this. The apostle now introduces and refutes an objection. Is there unrighteousness, or injustice, with God? In the distribution of his providential blessings, in this or any other instance that can be produced? Was it unjust in God to choose Jacob and his posterity to be the members of his visible church on earth, and to inherit the promises in their literal meaning, rather than Esau and his posterity? Or to accept believers who imitate the faith of Jacob, and them only? God forbid In no wise: this is well consistent with justice. For he saith to Moses, &c. For he has a right to fix the terms on which he will show mercy; according to his declaration to Moses, petitioning for all the people, after they had been guilty of idolatry in worshipping the golden calf; I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy According to the terms I myself have fixed; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion Namely, on those only who submit to my terms; who accept of it in the way that I have appointed. So then The inference to be drawn is; It The blessing; therefore is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth It is not the effect either of the will or the works of man, but of the grace and power of God. The will of man is here opposed to the grace of God, and man’s running, to the divine operation. And this general declaration respects not only Isaac and Jacob, and the Israelites in the time of Moses, but likewise all the spiritual children of Abraham, even to the end of the world.

Verses 17-18

Romans 9:17-18. For Or, moreover, rather, as it seems γαρ ought to be translated, (the passage here quoted being no proof of what immediately goes before,) God has an indisputable right to reject those who will not accept his blessings on his own terms. And this he exercised in the case of Pharaoh; to whom, after many instances of stubbornness and rebellion, he said, as it is recorded in Scripture; For this very thing have I raised thee up That is, unless thou repent, this will surely be the consequence of my raising thee up, making thee a great and glorious king; that my power will be shown upon thee As, indeed, it was, by the terrible judgments brought on Egypt, and overwhelming him and his army in the sea; and my name declared through all the earth As it is at this day. Perhaps this may have a still further meaning. It seems that God was resolved to show his power over the river, the insects, other animals, (with the natural causes of their health, diseases, life, and death,) over meteors, the air, the sun, (all of which were worshipped by the Egyptians, from whom other nations learned their idolatry,) and, at once, over all their gods, by that terrible stroke, of slaying all their priests and their choicest victims, the firstborn of man and beast: and all this with a design, not only to deliver his people Israel, (for which a single act of omnipotence would have sufficed,) but to convince the Egyptians, that the objects of their worship were but the creatures of Jehovah, and entirely in his power; and to draw them and the neighbouring nations who should hear of all these wonders, from their idolatry, to worship the one God. For the execution of this design, (in order to the display of the divine power over the various objects of their worship, in a variety of wonderful acts, which were, at the same time, just punishments for their cruel oppression of the Israelites,) God was pleased to raise to the throne of an absolute monarchy, a man, not whom he had made wicked on purpose, but whom he found so, the proudest, the most daring, and obstinate, of all the Egyptian princes: and who, being incorrigible, well deserved to be set up in that situation, where the divine judgments fell the heaviest. Therefore Or, so then, upon the whole, we may conclude; he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy Namely, on those that comply with his terms, on them that repent and believe in Christ; and whom he will Namely, them that remain in impenitence and unbelief, and who reject his counsel against themselves; he hardeneth Leaves to the hardness of their hearts.

Verse 19

Romans 9:19. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault As if he had said, Because I affirm concerning God, that whom he will he hardeneth, thou wilt say, Why then doth he yet find fault with, or complain of, such persons, that they continue disobedient! For who hath resisted his will Who hath been, is, or ever will be, able to hinder that from coming to pass which God willeth shall come to pass? Here it must be observed, that when the apostle saith, Whom he will he hardeneth, he doth not suppose any purpose or decree to be formed by God to harden any man, without his having previously committed those sins which he might not have committed: and having resisted the strivings of God’s Spirit, and abused the light and grace whereby he might both have known and complied with the divine will; but, at the most, only a purpose to harden those who first voluntarily harden themselves. Nor do his words suppose that they, who are actually hardened by God, have no capacity or possibility left them, by means of that grace which is yet vouchsafed to them, of recovering themselves from the state of hardness in which they are, and yet of turning to God in true repentance and reformation of life. Although then the will of God be, in a sense, irresistible, yet if this will be, 1st, To harden none but those who first voluntarily harden themselves, by known and wilful sin; and, 2d, To leave those whom he doth harden in a capacity of relenting and returning to him, being furnished with sufficient helps for that purpose, so that if they do it not, it becomes a high aggravation of their former sins; certainly he hath reason to reprove and complain of those who are, at any time, thus hardened by it.

Verses 20-21

Romans 9:20-21. Nay but, O man Little, impotent, ignorant man; Who art thou In all thy boasted wisdom and penetration; that repliest against God? That accusest God of injustice, for himself fixing the terms on which he will show mercy? or for leaving those to the hardness of their hearts who obstinately and perseveringly refuse or neglect to comply with those terms? Or, (which may be rather intended,) who impiously formest arguments against God, on account of his distributing to some nations, or some individuals, favours which he denies to others; not considering that privileges which God is obliged to give to none, he may, without injustice, withhold from whom he will? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Why hast thou made me capable of honour and immortality, only on the terms of repentance and faith? Or, Why was I not entitled by birth, to advantages which others were born to? The apostle alludes here to Isaiah 45:9, where, in answer to the objections and cavils of the unbelieving Jews, disposed to murmur against God, and arraign the wisdom and justice of his dispensations, in regard to them, the prophet asks similar questions; implying that “nations, who derive their existence and continuance merely from the power and goodness of God, have no right to find fault with him, because he hath denied them this or that advantage, or because he bears with the wickedness of some nations for a long time, while he instantly punishes others.” Hath not the potter power over the clay And, much more, hath not God power over his creatures; to appoint one vessel Namely, the believer; to honour, and another Namely, the unbeliever; to dishonour? The power of the potter over the clay is the similitude which God himself used by Jeremiah for illustrating that power and sovereignty whereby he is entitled to make some nations great and happy, and to punish and destroy others. See Jeremiah 18:6-7; where “every reader must be sensible that nothing is said concerning individuals, some to be saved, and some to be damned, by an exercise of absolute sovereignty. It is his power and sovereignty in the disposal of nations only, that is described by the figure of the potter.” To make of the same lump one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour “The same lump signifies the mass of mankind, out of which particular nations are formed; consequently the one vessel means, not any particular person, but a nation or community. And a vessel to honour, or an honourable use, means a nation made great and happy by the favour and protection of God, and by the advantages which he confers on them. On the other hand, a vessel to dishonour, signifies a nation which God depresses, by denying it the advantages bestowed on others, or by depriving it of the advantages which it formerly enjoyed, Acts 13:17. The meaning of this question is, May not God, without injustice, exalt one nation, by bestowing privileges upon it, and depress another, by taking away the privileges which it has long enjoyed.” Macknight. If we survey, says an eminent writer, the right which God has over us in a more general way, with regard to his intelligent creatures, God may be considered in two different views; as Creator, Proprietor, and Lord of all, or as their moral Governor and Judge. God, as sovereign Lord and Proprietor of all, dispenses his gifts or favours to his creatures with perfect wisdom, but by no rules or methods of proceeding that we are acquainted with. The time when we shall exist, the country where we shall live, our parents, our constitution of body and turn of mind: these, and numberless other circumstances, are, doubtless, ordered with perfect wisdom, but by rules that lie quite out of our sight. But God’s methods of dealing with us, as our Governor and Judge, are clearly revealed, and perfectly known; namely, that he will finally reward every man according to his works; he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. Therefore, though he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth, (that is, suffers to be hardened, in consequence of their obstinate wickedness,) yet his is not the will of an arbitrary, capricious, or tyrannical being. He wills nothing but what is infinitely wise and good; and therefore his will is a most proper rule of judgment. He will show mercy, as he hath assured us, to none but true believers, nor harden any but such as obstinately refuse his mercy.

Verses 22-23

Romans 9:22-23. What if God, willing, &c. Referring to Romans 9:18-19. That is, Although it were now his will, because of their obstinate unbelief; to show his wrath Which necessarily presupposes sin; and to make his power known This is repeated from Romans 9:17; yet endured As he did Pharaoh With much long-suffering Which should have led them to repentance; the vessels of wrath Those who had moved his wrath, by still rejecting his mercy; fitted for destruction By their own wilful and final impenitence: is there any injustice in this? And that he might make known What if, by showing such long-suffering even to the vessels of his wrath, he did the more abundantly show the greatness of his glorious goodness, wisdom, and power; on the vessels of mercy On those whom he had himself, by his grace; prepared for glory Is this injustice? By vessels of mercy he means such persons as were formerly miserable by being dead in trespasses and sins, but had afterward, through believing the gospel, obtained mercy, even the great mercy of the forgiveness of sins, with the fruits and consequences of it; and by the term προητοιμασεν , he means, God’s fitting them for glory, by working in them true repentance and living faith, by justifying and sanctifying them, and giving them all those qualifications necessary for the attainment of it.

Verses 24-26

Romans 9:24-26. Even us, whom he hath called By his gospel and his grace, to repentance, faith, and holiness, and hath enabled us to obey the call; we are these vessels of mercy, of what nation soever we may be; not of the Jews only Who have hitherto been the peculiar people of God; but also of the Gentiles Who are now taken for God’s people, as well as the Jews. As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, &c. These words are quoted from two places of the prophecy of Hosea; (namely, chap. Romans 1:10; Romans 2:23;) and according to the connection in which they there stand, they seem very evidently to refer primarily to God’s purpose of restoring the Jews to the privileges of his people, after they had been a while rejected of him; but nevertheless they are here applied by the apostle to the calling of the Gentiles, which they doubtless were also intended to include. (See the notes on those passages of Hosea.) Indeed, as Dr. Doddridge justly observes, that great event might, with some probability, be inferred, partly from the temporary rejection of the Jews, of which this text also speaks; (for it was not to be imagined that God would have no people in the world;) and partly as it was in the nature of things more probable that he should call the heathen, than that he should restore the Jews, when he had cast them off for such ingratitude, as rendered them less worthy of his favour than the most idolatrous nations. And her beloved As a spouse; who once was not beloved Consequently not unconditionally elected. In these words the apostle, nearly following the Septuagint version, rather interprets than quotes Hosea’s words, which are, I will have mercy on her that had not obtained mercy. The expressions of the apostle are different from those of the prophet, but their meaning is the same. “In the beginning of the chapter, Hosea, having described the idolatry of the Jews under the figure of whoredom, and their chastisement by hedging up their way with thorns, foretels their return to their first husband, who would speak comfortably to them, and betroth them a second time. He then adds the words above quoted, which the apostle very properly expresses by, I will call her beloved who was not beloved That is, I will pardon her, and restore her to her former place in my affection, and to her ancient relation to me, by introducing her into the gospel church. In quoting this passage from Hosea, the apostle begins with the conversion of the Gentiles, because it was to happen first; but the prophet speaks first of the conversion of the Jews.” Macknight. And it shall come to pass, &c. Here the apostle quotes Hosea’s words exactly, (see Hosea 1:10,) and that with a view still more fully to show that the conversion of the Gentiles had been foretold, to which this passage more plainly refers than those cited above: that in the place In the countries; where it was said To the idolatrous Gentiles; Ye are not my people Where there was no church formerly, namely, in the times of the Old Testament; there they shall be called Not only the people, but the children The sons and daughters; of the living God For, as the living God, he can easily bring it to pass, however incredible it may appear.

Verses 27-29

Romans 9:27-29. Esaias also And, as the calling of the Gentiles, so the rejection of the Jews also is foretold by the prophets, particularly by Isaiah who crieth Κραζει , calleth aloud Speaks with great earnestness, as to a people unwilling to hear; concerning Israel That is, both the ten tribes about to be carried captive into Assyria, which was almost a total rejection, and Judah and Benjamin, which were to be wasted by the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib, and afterward to be partly destroyed and partly carried into captivity by the king of Babylon: though the children of Israel be as the sand, a remnant Only, out of the many myriads of them; shall be saved Shall escape destruction. But few escaped the ravages of Sennacherib’s army, and only a small number returned from Babylon after the Babylonish captivity. These, however, that were preserved, were a type or figure of that small number of converts under the gospel, who escaped the vengeance which fell upon the main body of the Jewish nation from the Romans, and that still greater vengeance which awaits all that obey not the gospel, in the eternal world. See the note on Isaiah 10:21-23. For, as the same prophet adds, (the apostle quotes the Septuagint translation,) he will finish, &c. Greek, συντελων και συντεμνων , he is finishing and cutting short the work, λογον , the account, or matter, in righteousness In justice, and will leave but a small remnant. There will be so general a destruction, that but a small number will escape. Because a short work A quick despatch in executing judgment; will the Lord make upon the earth Or, upon the land of Judea. For though in the LXX. it is οικουμενη ολη , the whole world, the scope of the passage seems to restrict the sense to the land of Judea, in which restricted sense the same word is used Luke 2:1. And as Esaias said before Namely, chap. Romans 1:9, concerning those who were besieged in Jerusalem by Rezin and Pekah; Except the Lord of Sabaoth So it is in the Hebrew, in which language the word Sabaoth signifies hosts, and is sometimes used to denote the sun, moon, and stars, as also the angels. The Lord of Sabaoth, or of hosts, therefore, as one of the titles of Jehovah, marks his supreme dominion over the universe, and particularly over the different orders of angels, who, on account of their multitude, and of their serving under the command of God, are named hosts, 1 Kings 22:19. The LXX., in the passages where this Hebrew word occurs, commonly express it in Greek letters, in which St. Paul has followed them. So also James, chap. Romans 5:4, supposing that it would be agreeable to the ears of the Jews. The sense here is, Except the Lord, who is the powerful and sovereign Ruler of all the creatures in heaven and earth, which are his hosts, ready to do him service; had left us a seed Reserved from the common calamity, a small company, out of which, as a seed, God would cause his church to spring up again; we had been as Sodoma Utterly destroyed. So that, (as if he had said,) it is no unexampled thing for the main body of the Jewish nation to revolt from God, and perish in their sins.

Verses 30-33

Romans 9:30-33. What shall we say then What is to be concluded from all that has been said, but this, that the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness Who a while ago had no knowledge of, no care or thought about it; have attained to righteousness Or justification; even the righteousness which is of faith Which is by faith in Christ and in his gospel, Philippians 3:9. This is the first conclusion we may draw from the preceding observations. The second is, that Israel, (the Jews,) which followed after the law of righteousness The law which, duly used, would have led them to faith, and thereby to righteousness; hath not attained to the law of righteousness To that righteousness, or justification, which is one great end of the law. Or, as Estius and Beza think, the law of righteousness is put for the righteousness of the law; as Hebrews 7:16, the law of a carnal commandment, signifies the carnal commandment of the law. According to this interpretation, the apostle’s meaning is, Israel, who pursued the righteousness of the law, have not attained it. Wherefore? Is it because God eternally decreed they should not? No: there is nothing like this to be met with in the apostle’s reasoning; but, agreeably to his argument, he gives us this grand reason for it: because they sought it not by faith, whereby alone it could be attained; but, as it were In effect, if not professedly; by the works of the law The works required by it, which they were not able perfectly to perform. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone Which lay in their way. This is an allusion to one who, running in a race, stumbles on a stone in his way, and, falling, loses the race. As it is written Foretold by their own prophet; Behold, I lay in Sion I exhibit in my church what, though in truth the only sure foundation of religion and happiness, yet will be, in fact, a stumbling-stone, and a rock of offence An occasion of ruin to many through their obstinate unbelief. And whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed Or, as the original expression may be more literally translated, No one who believeth on him shall be ashamed. The reader will observe two passages of Isaiah are here joined in one quotation, because they relate to the same subject; namely, Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 8:14. See note on 1 Peter 2:8. Accordingly, those in Israel who expected the Messiah to be a great temporal prince, stumbled at Jesus on account of the poverty, meanness, and state of suffering in which he appeared among them. Hence they fell short of righteousness and salvation, and lost all their privileges as the people of God.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 9". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/romans-9.html. 1857.
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