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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 9

 

 

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Verses 1-33

What of God's Promises to Israel?

Now, such being the case - that God had purposed in eternal counsel the blessing of Gentiles on an equal basis with Jews, as it is this day - what is to become of the special promises to Israel? Did the apostle utterly ignore these in his zeal for the conversion of Gentiles? Far be the thought! Such accusations which were bound to be hurled against him, are utterly denied and proven false in his most admirable discussion, in chapters 9, 10 and 11, of Israel's present state and the counsel of God concerning that favored though bloodguilty nation. These chapters are of utmost importance to a right understanding of prophecy and all God's dispensational ways. They form a parenthesis in the epistle, which is written to Christian saints, of course. Romans 12:1-21 could quite easily follow Romans 8:1-39, and the truth concerning Christians be not impaired at all. But as God would not hide from Abraham that which he did, so He delights that His saints should be concerned in all that concerns Him, that they might be the more earnest intercessors, and have their souls unselfishly occupied. We have learned His counsel concerning us: let us also learn them concerning Israel, and we shall the more learn to adore His wisdom.

What heart is not touched by the ardent longing of the apostle for his own nation Israel, expressed in these first words of Romans 9:1-33? Who can doubt its reality? To do so would be to challenge the Word of God, which places its seal upon the truth of it. Doubtless because liable to be disbelieved, he insists, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost - that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I have wished that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." The love of his heart is a blessed example for us, who ought also to have our souls unfeignedly exercised in yearning for these ancient people of God. It is true he had wished what was impossible - that he might be accursed from Christ for their sakes - but we must remember that burning love does not stop to reason first. Still, godly intelligence corrected this desire afterwards, but did not lessen his love toward them: his sorrow was continual. O that our love should burn as warmly and brightly as his, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding! Do we not have as much occasion for it now as did the beloved apostle then? Is the state of "the Jew, the Gentile, or the Church of God" so vastly improved in our day? Nay, has not the pride of man rather outdone all his former efforts in his ambition to establish his security independently of God? "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." Such was the lament of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1), and can it not find echo in the hearts of the people of God today? Surely Romans 9:1-3 is a becoming result of the glorious assurance of Romans 8:1-39. Do our souls not long for others when we know ourselves eternally accepted of God?

Now the apostle lists some of the peculiar privileges and dignities of Israel with which God had endowed them as the nation of His choice on earth. These are not at all individual blessings, but national, and consequently not at all in that sense having the slightest connection with the blessings of Christianity, which are applied to individual souls. "The adoption" here is the adoption of a nation - "When Israel was a child - I called My son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). We have already noticed the adoption in connection with present-day saints of God - (Romans 8:14-16) spoken of in the plural, not in the singular, as in Hosea: "Israel, My son."

"The glory" is the presence of God manifested as it could not be in connection with any other nation. To the Church, of course, as to all individual believers today, the glory is known in the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In Israel we see the glory first in the cloud following them. Then coming into the tabernacle, later into the temple, from which it is removed later - Ezekiel describing both the removal and the eventual future restoration of the glory, to be accomplished when all Israel shall be saved.

"The covenants" are two, in particular - in fact, three, when the distinction is drawn between the covenant of law first given - the tables being broken - and that of Exodus 34:1-35 - the former of absolute law, demanding undeviating obedience, the latter of law tempered by mercy in provisions for "the errors of the people." "The New covenant," awaiting the millennium is fully of grace manifested in Christ Jesus and God's writing His law upon the hearts of His people. These are exclusively Israel's, of course, although we who have believed today do enter into the blessings of the new covenant - not because it was made for us, but because grace goes out beyond the bounds of the covenant. Compare Hebrews 8:1-13.

"And the giving of the law" was exclusively to Israel, who were thus made the depositary of the full Old Testament. "The service" is the only ritual God ever instituted for a nation - the only carnal worship sanctioned of God, with its priesthood, sacrifices, and temple. "The promises" too, are connected with Israel, and if blessing is prophesied toward the nations, yet the promise is given to Israel that she would be the channel of blessing. The Messiah was promised to Israel, although through Him indeed blessing would come to the Gentiles.

Theirs also are the fathers - Abraham Isaac, and Jacob - men so honored of God that He would call Himself "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Their names come before us almost immediately - not to flatter men because of a fleshly relationship, but to demonstrate that the election of God is far above it. Nevertheless, the fleshly relationship is a privilege that carries a dignity and responsibility that is peculiar.

But above all, it is from Israel that "as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever." What greater dignity could ever be accorded a nation; what more significant nearness to the source of all the blessings of God! On this account, surely the rejection of His mercy is all the more enormous guilt. But the fact remains that Israel is the nation favored of God above all others. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" are His words to this people of His choice (Amos 3:2). But the greatness of this last mentioned favor is infinite: the Messiah is no less than God over all, blessed forever. Who then will dare despise or belittle the glory of God's people Israel? Did Paul do so in the slightest measure? Assuredly not. Indeed perhaps beyond all others he realized and valued what the gracious favor of God had bestowed upon his beloved nation.

But the nation Israel has refused the gospel of God's grace in Christ Jesus: has God's Word and purpose then failed of its object in having so blessed the nation?Faith replies, certainly not. It may appear so, but this is for the sake of the testing of faith. "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel." God's reckoning is a spiritual one: natural generation cannot presumptuously lay hold of blessings that are given for spiritual reasons. Jacob was called Israel only when the flesh was touched and shriveled. How then can fleshly Israel claim to be "Israelites indeed" when flesh is not only far from shriveled, but the very occasion of their boasting? That is Jacob, not Israel.

"Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called." Here is a testimony among Abraham's children at the very beginning. Ishmael was Abraham's seed according to flesh: but God's decree was, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Ishmael then is allowed no place. This was the sovereign decree of God at the time. The word of promise was: that Sarai should have a son: no promise had been given in connection with Hagar and Ishmael.

Will some object that since Hagar was a bondwoman the case is not applicable? Very well, there is more than this. Rebecca had two children by Isaac - twins in fact. Therefore the one certainly had as much natural claim as the other - the precedent, if any, being with the firstborn, Esau. But before the children were born, and consequently having done no works, either good or evil, God's purpose according to election was both settled, and declared to Rebecca - "The older shall serve the younger." What then are the works of the flesh as a basis for blessing from God? Or what the prestige of godly parentage?

Indeed, after the two had lived and died, and their characters thus fully manifested, the one self-judged, the other self-righteous, God wrote by Malachi, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." It is a solemn declaration. Esau is plainly the man after the flesh - whether it be well-trained, amiable, kind, or whatever else. Flesh is nothing to God: it profiteth nothing (John 6:63), and its proud self-confidence God hates. Jacob on the other hand, as we have before said, was one whose flesh God touched and shriveled.

"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Far be the thought" (JND). Do we suppose it is unrighteous on God's part to have no respect for man's proud fleshly accomplishments? What? Are we so arrogant as to expect our works to be put on the same level as the work of the Creator of heaven and earth? Can we be surprised that God regards such presumption as mere hateful abomination? Indeed, He is fully righteous to regard it so, and we ourselves utterly unrighteous if we dare to question Him.

In reference to showing mercy, as in reference to everything else, God will make plain His sovereign title to act as He pleases. What will it avail a sinful man to say Him nay? No Israelite at least could deny that God had said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Is this arbitrary? Very well: who can deny God His full arbitrary rights? Does He say, four times in the space of a short sentence, "I will," and mean nothing by it? Does a wise parent consult the opinions or whims of his little child as a guide to his child's training? Does he encourage or even tolerate the child's mocking of his authority? God's "I wills" stand, and only folly dares to quarrel.

But to whom is God pleased to show mercy? Certainly not to the self-righteous mockers, who by their very attitude deny their need of mercy. It is to the repentant­- those who confess themselves sinners, who in their extremity call upon the Name of the Lord. Facing the truth of their guilt and ruin, they cry to Him, and He has compassion. Shall we quarrel with a God who chooses to show mercy to such souls? Is this not greatness and goodness that is worthy of the Creator of heaven and earth?

What then? "It is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." Neither man's will nor man's energy have any place. God has sovereign title to shew mercy, and man is called upon to bow to this Divine sovereignty. Can anything be more right or proper? Indeed, can anything do more good for man than his subjection to his Creator? Plainly, God seeks man's best interests, and man rebelliously sins against his own soul. What more tragic folly can we imagine?

But God will maintain His own glory, whatever man's attitude may be - in fact will display His own power by the very means of those who harden their hearts against Him. Scripture had testified to this before the law was given, and Jews were well acquainted with God's using the stubborn opposition of Egypt's monarch for the purpose of showing His absolute power over the strongest force man could muster. We ought to tremble at the greatness of His glory when we hear His word to Pharaoh - "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth." God Himself had allowed Pharaoh to become great, though to Pharaoh it was a matter of personal pride and the occasion of displaying his will in independence of God. What then? In the face of this independence God would show His own power. Indeed, Pharaoh had been allowed to be raised to this very height, in order that the higher power of God might be shown. Not that God is to be blamed for the stubbornness of Pharaoh. For while verse 18 insists "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth" - yet we must take care to inquire, whom does He will to harden? Does Scripture say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart before Pharaoh had any sense of responsibility? Far from it. Pharaoh had first boldly disdained and insulted God when faced with the responsibility of letting Israel go - "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2). So we see that Pharaoh's wilful hardening of his own heart preceded God's judicial hardening, which is first seen in Exodus 7:13. Dare we then quarrel with God's will to harden such a character?

But objectors can be stubbornly persistent. "Why," they ask, "doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His purpose?" If God's sovereign power is so great that His purpose is actually carried out by means of the opposition of men, why is He not then favorable to those who are rebellious? For if this is the case, then no one really resists His purpose.

Now what does such an objection involve? First, let us see clearly that these who deny God the right of finding fault with man, at the same time are bold in finding fault with God!

Do we wonder that God's answer is firm and peremptory? Man may think his question is quite reasonable, little realizing the actual deceit in it. But it is utterly dishonorable, and God closes the discussion with a strong declaration of His sovereign title to do as He pleases. If man, like a perverse child, will not learn by instruction, then he is summarily told who is in authority, and who has the right of doing His will. When God says "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" we might notice that man's voice is silenced: there are no more objections. God has the final word.

"Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?" It is a humbling rebuke to the pride of man, but how needful! If this is arbitrary, yet it is far from any suggestion that God could take delight in the evil condition or just judgment of the wicked.

Nevertheless, in connection with "them that perish," there are three definite attributes of God plainly made known - His wrath, His power, His longsuffering. Each of these certainly has its important lesson for man. And if God chooses thus to make Himself known, it is our wisdom to learn rather than criticize.

His wrath against sin can never be appeased: it is wrath to the uttermost. Can man's arguments alter His mind in this? Or will it help man to persuade himself that God will be sparing in His judgment of sin?No! God will prove that His very nature is the opposite of sin and no quarter can be given.

Is He able to carry this wrath to its conclusion in the judgment of sin and of those who array themselves on the side of sin, against Him? Let Pharaoh be our teacher. God's power has been made known in measure at any rate in the eventual dreadful judgment of Egypt after much longsuffering and many preliminaries, during which Pharaoh evidently assured himself that he was impervious. And though God bears long today, sending warning upon warning to a stubborn world, yet will His power be made known, suddenly, terribly, to a startled, though still hardened world.

But what of His longsuffering?Is it not marvelous beyond expression? Six thousand years of patient forbearing with a world full of violence and corruption, history bearing witness to almost unthinkable evil again and again breaking out on every hand! But we must lower our six thousand years to an approximate 4300; for God forbid that we should forget the flood God brought upon the world of the ungodly, after long patience, and warning by the preaching of Noah and his building of the ark.

But God's warnings are despised, and His longsuffering regarded only as a sign that either He is indifferent or else not of sufficient importance to take into account! And "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily: therefore the hearts of the children of men are fully set in them to do evil." Still God bears long! Will there be then the least excuse for the defiant unbelief of men? Certainly none. What shame of face will be theirs when they are reminded that they have despised God's goodness and longsuffering, by which He sought to bring men to repentance. But theirs is a terrible designation - "the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Moreover, they will all be brought to acknowledge that they have fully earned such a title, and the accompanying judgment.

On the other hand, in connection with His redeemed saints, called "vessels of mercy," God will make known "the riches of His glory." This is not simply a single attribute of God, but a term exceedingly broad and inclusive, for time and space would forbid the enumeration of such riches - riches in which vessels of mercy are given an eternal inheritance, the marvel and joy of which will never be diminished. All this is worthy of God, and who shall say Him nay?nor must we miss the deeply blessed truth that these vessels of mercy God had before prepared unto glory. What unspeakable comfort and peace for our souls in this knowledge of His supreme majesty exercised in counsels so glorious - counsels in which we - poor redeemed sinners - have such a part.

"Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles." It is a call according to mercy, surely, and yet mercy that is not shown with partiality: it can include both Jews and Gentiles - yea, souls from every nation under heaven - mercy available for all who will have it. But His call here is that which, sinking into the soul, works repentance, the confession of our need of mercy, and our thankful reception of it, in Christ Jesus.

Now this is all quite consistent with the two prophecies quoted from Hosea in verses 25 and 26. For while the prophecies clearly apply only to Israel - yet it is Israel in the same distance from God as though they had been Gentiles - "not My people." If God could have mercy upon Israel after declaring them to be "not My people," it plainly follows that He could be merciful also to Gentiles, for they were in precisely the same class. What admirable wisdom! What blessed grace! Could Israel escape the plain, though humbling, force of this? But there is not merely restoration to the estate of being God's "people"; there is also the sweet term "beloved" - and more than this, "the children of the Living God." This had never been the language applied to Israel even in her best days, but it will be in the Millennium, and so it is now to both Jew and Gentile believers - members of the body of Christ, the Church.

On the other hand, however, Isaiah had prophesied salvation only for a remnant of the children of Israel, in contrast to the mass. This is in fact the uniform testimony of all the prophets, so plain that no Jew could deny it unless infidel and unbelieving. There can be no mistaking of the meaning of Isaiah - for he recognizes that Israel's children may be as the sand of the sea, yet insists "a remnant shall return" to the Lord. The chapter quoted (Isaiah 10:1-34) is plain as to the remnant.

God would finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness. His patience reaches its limit, though the majority of Israel are still unrepentant: He will make short work of their proud independence. Righteousness must be carried out, and will not be infringed upon even by patience. Solemn lesson for men who think of patience as a complete passing over of sin!

Verse 29 quotes a previous prophecy of Isaiah - from Isaiah 1:9, confirming the truth of mercy for a remnant only. Here "a seed" is spoken of - a small part. The verse quoted uses the term "a very small remnant." If the Lord had not preserved this feeble seed, the destruction of Israel would have been as complete as of Sodom and Gomorrah. Let us notice too that these quotations come from the "gospel prophet" - the one who more than all others tells of grace and mercy available for the poor, the thirsting, the blind - describing too the state of wondrous blessing in store for Israel in the latter days. But he is plain that "not all" "who are of Israel" will have part in this. His gospel is for those who receive it, not for the proudly independent.

And Gentiles have received it, though they had not followed after righteousness. By grace they have nevertheless attained to righteousness - having received it in the gospel. For the gospel does not ask for righteousness: it brings it, and faith appropriates it. Simple, yet profound truth!

But Israel had followed after the law of righteousness - only in fact to exemplify the mournful fact that pursuing is not attaining. They still seek to follow, but it is a pathetic spectacle, for they, hobbling on their lame legs, have dropped so far behind that righteousness is merely a dim vision in the immeasurable distance. Refusing it as a gift, they still vainly pursue it as an object.

And the reason simply that "they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at the stumbling-stone." The stumbling-stone is Christ, of course, and righteousness is manifested and provided in Him, but this did not suit the pride of Israel: they would, they imagined, attain it by works of law, and "they were offended in Him." What tragic refusal of their own mercies! How can man be so blinded as to think of attaining righteousness in the flesh, when the Son of God has been here to fully express what righteousness is? Does man think to attain the same perfection as the Lord Jesus Christ in the world?It is the poor deformed cripple thinking to overtake the strong, virile racer, and refusing therefore to be carried in the strong man's arms!

It is instructive to notice Isaiah 28:16, from which verse 33 is quoted. There "the stone" is spoken of as "a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation." The chapter has reference to the latter days of Israel, when the rulers will make lies and falsehood their refuge. Christ is presented as the sharp contrast to men's thoughts. But Romans 9:1-33 gives the added thought that such a stone must be "a stumbling-stone and rock of offense." It is Christ come so low in humiliation that those inclined to their own honor and self-righteousness are offended - but it works only their own ruin. They will be brought to a humiliating shame in the end. But "whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed."

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 9:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/romans-9.html. 1897-1910.


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