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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Romans 9

 

 

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Verses 1-8

The true Israel

Romans 9:1-8

The Jews looked for a Messiah (John 7:40-42), but they expected the Messiah to restore the nation of Israel to world prominence, to restore the great kingdom of David, and to confer upon Israel great favor with God. If any Gentile participated in this glorious kingdom, it would be by becoming a Jew. It is obvious that they did not understand the sacrifices and types; for they did not see the Messiah coming first as a Lamb, a Sin-offering, and a Saviour. They read the Old Testament Scriptures that refer to his triumphant and glorious second-coming (the eternal kingdom of righteousness) and applied them to his first coming and to their nation alone. But Christ came as it was written–the Lamb of God, the righteousness of God, the atonement and sacrifice for sin, for Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12-13; Ephesians 2:11-16). How did the Jews respond? With few exceptions they rejected him and his message (John 1:11; Acts 13:44-48). As a result of their greatest sin, the rejection of Christ, they have been blinded and the gospel preached to the Gentile nations (Romans 11:7-10). The Gentiles in great number believed the gospel and were saved. The Jews, for the most part, abide still in unbelief. This is what is on Paul's mind as he writes the following words.

Romans 9:1-3. There are three things to note in these verses.

1. The solemn vow. I speak the truth as a Christian. I do not lie. The Holy Spirit is my witness.

2. The sincere affection. Paul was happy in Christ; but when he thought of his Jewish brethren in blindness and unbelief, it caused him great sorrow (Romans 10:1).

3. The startling statement. If his being separated from Christ could secure their salvation, he expresses his willingness. This is most difficult to understand, but Moses said practically the same thing (Exodus 32:31-33).

Romans 9:4. Paul identifies the people of whom he speaks–my kinsmen are the descendents of Abraham.

1. The adoption was theirs. Not spiritual adoption which makes men joint-heirs with Christ; but they were God's chosen nation, separated from idolatrous nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

2. The glory was theirs (1 Samuel 4:22). This glory was the presence of God in their midst–the tabernacle, the ark, the cloud, etc.

3. The covenants with Abraham and David were theirs.

4. The giving of the law was theirs. The law was given to Israel at Sinai.

5. The service of God was theirs. This is the service of the tabernacle, the acceptable way to worship God (Hebrews 9:1-8).

6. The promises were theirs–promises of the Messiah, of redemption, and of glory.

Romans 9:5. From this nation came the fathers–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and all the others (Hebrews 1:1). But still an infinitely higher honor (of the Jewish nation, as concerning his flesh)–Christ came! He is a direct descendant of David (Romans 1:3; Matt. l:l).

‘Who is over all, God blessed forever.’ This is one of the most distinct statements of our Lord's deity–he is God over all! (John 10:30; Hebrews 1:8; Acts 20:28.)

Romans 9:6. The unbelief of Israel and their rejection by God does not mean that the divine purpose has failed nor that the promises of God are of none effect; for it is not only the natural descendants of Abraham who make up the true Israel of God, but those who believe in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 3:29-30; Romans 4:9-12). The promise of redemption was to Abraham and his seed, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16). There are many Jews who are not Israel and many Gentiles who are Israel (Philippians 3:3).

Romans 9:7. We have this illustrated in the case of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was not of Israel though he was a direct descendant of Abraham. The error of the Jews was that they thought they were children of God by being the children of Abraham. This natural sonship was only a figure of the spiritual sonship of all believers of all nations.

Romans 9:8. The sum is this: men are not the children of God because they are children of Abraham, nor because they are children of believers, nor because they are descendants of any flesh; but they are children of God who are children of the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, who are born again (John 1:11-13), who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with the heart.

God has a people, a holy nation, chosen in Christ. To these people he has given his presence, his blessings, and an inheritance forever (1 Peter 2:9). National Israel is a type of this holy nation.

The people who make up this holy Israel are not so because they are people whom God created, or because they name the name of God as their father, or because they go about a form of worship; but they are sons of God who are chosen of God and are children of true faith. Ishmael and Isaac illustrate this. Both were sons of Abraham by natural descent, but one was chosen. God has a chosen people out of every nation.


Verses 9-18

Not of works – but of him that calleth

Romans 9:9-18

Romans 9:9. The birth of Isaac was by promise; without a miracle, it would never have taken place. The birth of Ishmael was not by promise but in the ordinary course of nature (read Romans 9:7-8). Ishmael is a type of those who are born after the flesh and are carnal men. Isaac is a type of those who are born of the Spirit and are the children of God (John 3:5-7; Galatians 4:28; Philippians 3:3).

Romans 9:10. Not only does the case of Isaac prove that Abraham's seed are not all the children of God, but a stronger proof is seen in the birth of Jacob and Esau (who were born at the same time) conceived by Rebecca of the same father. The Jews might argue that Ishmael was born of a bond woman and Isaac of Sarah, the lawful wife. But Jacob and Esau were born of the same father and mother at the same time. The great distinction made between the two brothers could only be traced to the sovereign will of God (Exodus 33:18-19).

Romans 9:11. The choice of Jacob as an object of mercy was made before the children were born (2 Thessalonians 2:13). The choice was made before they had done any good or evil (Titus 3:5). The choice was made according to the purpose of God (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9). This is the foundation and source of all mercy–the sovereign will of God (Ephesians 1:3-5).

Romans 9:12. There was only one point in which the sons of Isaac were different. Esau was the oldest and (according to the flesh and natural custom) had priority and power over Jacob. But God chose the younger son to receive his mercy and partake of his grace (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). The dominion of the younger over the elder flowed from God's eternal love to the one and his hatred to the other. This verse teaches the great fundamental doctrines of sovereignty, election, predestination, and reprobation.

Romans 9:13. It is written in Malachi 1:1-3, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’ Men want this to read, ‘Esau have I loved less;’ but this is not the way it reads in scripture. Those who have some understanding of God's holiness and man's sinfulness understand why God could hate both Jacob and Esau, as well as all mankind. God's love for Jacob, as his love for us, is in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). God acted in justice toward Esau–in mercy toward Jacob. Out of Christ there is only wrath and judgment (John 3:36).

Romans 9:14. The apostle anticipated the objection of the natural mind to the truth of sovereign mercy. Does not loving Jacob and hating Esau before they were born imply that there is injustice in God? Is it righteous for God to love one who has done no good and to hate one who has done no evil? What is the apostle's reply? ‘God forbid!’ This is all that he says. God forbid that anyone should charge God with folly (Job 1:22). All that God does is consistent with the perfection of his character (Genesis 18:25).

Romans 9:15. The apostle makes no defense or apology for God. He rests his doctrine solely on the Scriptures and produces God's own words to Moses declaring the truth of sovereign mercy (Exodus 33:18-19). This is enough for the believer; God has spoken. However, we can give several reasons why God must elect, sanctify, and call a people unto himself or none would be saved.

1. All men are lost and dead in Adam (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:17-19).

2. Men by nature do not love God (John 3:19; Romans 8:7; John 5:40).

3. Men count the things of God as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Romans 9:16. This is the conclusion:

1. Salvation is not of the will of men but according to the will and purpose of God (John 1:11-13).

2. Salvation is not attained by the activities and efforts of the flesh but is accomplished by the work of God's Spirit and word in the heart (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Romans 9:17. This verse could be read after Romans 9:13 as another example of God's absolute sovereignty in the matter of his grace and mercy and in disposing of men as he will for his glory and the fulfillment of his purpose. The birth, situation, power, and conduct of Pharaoh were all by divine appointment (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28) to accomplish the will of God concerning Israel. We know that all sin is with men, but even the wrath of man will praise the Lord; and for his purpose and glory all men and things exist (Psalms 76:10).

Romans 9:18. Paul repeats again that God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Matthew 11:25-26). Mercy is a divine attribute! Mercy is sovereign! God must deal in justice with all men; but when God acts in mercy, he is free to deal with men according to his own will in Christ. However, mercy cannot be exercised at the expense of justice (Romans 3:25-26).


Verses 19-33

Objections to sovereign mercy

Romans 9:19-33

Romans 9:18 declares the immutable sovereignty of God in salvation and mercy. If God has the right and power to show mercy to whom he will, then ‘whom he will he hardeneth.’ The scripture declares that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 9:34-35). It also declares that God hardened his heart (Exodus 10:1). God is said to harden men's hearts (much like it is said, ‘God creates darkness and evil,’ Isaiah 45:7) by leaving men to their own way, wisdom, and evil desires. If light is not given by God, darkness will reign. If the means of grace are not set forth, evil will abound (Acts 2:23). The same means that result in life and mercy to the elect become stumbling stones and means of greater condemnation to them that perish (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Romans 9:19. Here is the third objection to sovereign mercy held forth by the natural mind. The first objection (Romans 9:6.)–most of Israel perishes, so it seems the purpose and promise of God has failed. The second objection (Romans 9:14.)–God is unjust to choose some and pass by others. Now in Romans 9:19 we come to the third objection–if God shows mercy to some and none can resist his sovereign will, then why does he find fault with sinners? If the wrath of men is so under the control of God that it, too, serves his purpose, then why blame the sinner?

Romans 9:20-23. In these verses the apostle gives three distinct answers to this objection. These answers will not satisfy the natural mind, but they will be sufficient for every believer who receives the word by faith.

1. (Romans 9:20.) ‘O man, who are you to dispute with God? Who are you to question God's providence or hope to understand God's ways? How foolish and arrogant for a finite creature to sit in judgment on God's mercy and justice. The answer to why God does what he does in found in himself, not in our natural wisdom.

2. (Romans 9:21.) The word ‘power’ here denotes right, privilege, or authority. God has a right to do with his own what he will. But it is more than that. God's power is always exercised in a way that is consistent with his righteousness and glory. The chief end of man is to glorify God; therefore, God has the right to do what best serves his glory.

3. (Romans 9:22.) God has determined to make known to this universe two things. He will make known his wrath against sin, and he will make known the riches of his grace and glory.

God had endured these vessels of wrath with much patience as he did the old world before the flood, Pharaoh before he cut him off, and Sodom before he destroyed it. These unbelievers have light which they hate and means of grace which they despise.

The vessels of mercy receive his mercy, love, and grace, not because they are better or wiser than others or because they deserve it, but because God chose to reveal his grace in them and make them objects of his mercy from eternity.

‘It is not wise for the novice to meddle too much with divine purposes and mysteries. Nothing has greater tendency to confound the understanding and to harden the heart than to take strong meat too early. Let us not talk of these matters too lightly. Hidden things belong to God; things that are revealed belong to us. Touching the Almighty we cannot find him out; but he is excellent in power, judgment, and grace. He will not afflict without cause. Let us rejoice that the great truth of divine grace is written in the word and revealed in Christ.’ – M. Luther.

Romans 9:24. The promise of eternal life was not made to the natural seed of Abraham but to the true seed of Abraham–Christ (and all who by grace are in him, whether Jew or Gentile.)

Romans 9:25-28. The calling of the Gentiles is prophesied throughout the Old Testament. This prophecy is from Hosea 2:23. The Jewish nation was typically the spouse of God; but when the Christ shall come, he will reveal his true seed and call her beloved which was not beloved–that is, the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Though the descendants of Abraham number in the millions, only a small number are the true Israel of God. These Jews thought that all of Abraham's descendants were the people of God. When the Messiah came and they rejected him (John 1:10-11), after hundreds of years of long-suffering with their idolatry and rebellion, God made a short work of them and has blinded them to this day.

Romans 9:29. Actually the doctrine of election, very far from being a harsh and cruel doctrine, is a cause for rejoicing; for had it not been for God's choosing to save a people, neither Jew nor Gentile would escape the wrath to come. We would have all been destroyed as Sodom and Gomorrah.

Romans 9:30-33. What is the result of all this discussion? The conclusion from the whole is that those Gentiles who are chosen of God, called by the Spirit, and redeemed by Christ have obtained the righteousness of Christ by faith (though they did not seek it and were abandoned to evil), while Israel (who had all the advantages, the law and the prophets, and sought acceptance with God) found it not! Why? Because Israel sought righteousness by works and not by grace–by the deeds of the law and not by faith.

Israel stumbled at Jesus Christ. Instead of looking to him (who fulfilled all types, promises, and sacrifices), they rejected him altogether. Had they understood their prophets, they would have embraced Christ. Therefore, they were offended by his words and were ashamed of his cross.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 9:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/romans-9.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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