November 16th, 2021 - Romans 9-11
At the end of chapter 8 Paul established that God has a purpose for believers; nothing can prevent that purpose from being fulfilled; and no one can separate God’s people from His love. Chapters 9-11 find Paul taking up the problem raised by the unbelief of so many Jews. If God had promised salvation to Israel yet so few Jews were being saved, how could Jesus truly be the fulfillment of God’s plan? In his response to this objection, Paul cites the Old Testament as evidence that God had always intended to save only a remnant of Israel, and he faults the Jews for refusing to embrace Christ. Paul then shows that God has not discarded Israel from His plan of salvation. Many Jews have already believed in Christ, and many more will believe in the future. Paul’s pain was so great that he was willing if possible, to be separated from Christ if it meant Israel could be united to Him. Paul doesn’t say why he has such bitter sorrow for his Jewish brothers and sisters. Yet his willingness to become cursed on their behalf if that would save them, makes clear that the failure of most Jews to respond to Jesus and be saved stimulated his agony. Paul knows that he cannot in fact be cut off from Christ, but he is echoing the offer of Moses who pled with God to kill him but to spare the people. Up to this point Paul had called the Jewish people Jews so his shift here in calling the Jews people of Israel is significant. Jew connotes National identity but Israel emphasizes the covenant relationship of the people of God. The Old Testament called Israel God’s son or child to emphasize that God had selected Israel to be His own people. Israel’s adopted status meant that they received God’s blessing and promises, not that they were necessarily saved.
Christ came from the people of Israel, and God made His promises of salvation to them. Israel here can refer to the people of Israel in a biological sense; that is everyone descended from Jacob. But in the later part of the Old Testament and in Judaism, the idea of a righteous remnant within Israel developed. On at least one occasion in the New Testament, Israel refers to everyone, Jew and Gentile, who belongs to God in a spiritual sense. Paul is stating that there is now an Israel within Israel, a community consisting of both Jews and Gentiles who truly believe. The quote in verse 7 is from Genesis 21:12, where God spoke to Abraham when he was reluctant to follow Sarah’s advice to banish his son Ishmael, who was born to the slave woman Hagar. God assured Abraham that Sarah’s child Isaac was the son through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. The children of Isaac are yet another illustration of Paul’s point. God’s promise to Isaac would never be fulfilled through Esau. Paul argued that the difference between the twins was of God’s choosing. God didn’t select Jacob on anything he had done; his selection was based solely on Grace. God told Rebekah before the twins were born that her older son would serve the younger. Esau was Isaac’s natural heir but Esau sold his birthright to Jacob and ceded his position to his brother in fulfillment of God’s promise. While God chose Jacob, He also made provision for Esau. It is somewhat disconcerting to read that God hates Esau but it really means he was not the object of God’s selection process. God’s choice is not unfair because He owes nothing to His sinful creatures. Paul quoted Exodus 33:19 which focuses on God’s nature. God is free from obligation or constraint in bestowing mercy on people. God is free to show mercy to whoever He wants.
Pharaoh refused to obey the Lord and hardened his heart. God used pharaoh’s sin to demonstrate His power and magnify His name. God only gave pharaoh over to what he had already chosen to do. God chose pharaoh be the instrument for showing His glory. Once again Paul asked a question in verse 19 that he will answer in verse 20. Here Paul is rebuking anyone who would raise such objections which in the end are only a protest against God’s ways, and not a sincere request for an explanation. The next question asks, what if. Some people insist Paul is raising only the possibility of a vessel designed for destruction. Others take the passage literally, that God prepares some people for eternal doom. So the grammar here is helpful. The word prepared is used twice. The first time literally means they prepared themselves and the second means “which He prepared”. If we are doomed it is because of our rejection of God. If we are redeemed it is because of the grace of God. The question isn’t why are some saved and some condemned? Everyone deserves condemnation. It is only by God’s Grace that anyone is saved. Paul insists that God was free to select whom He wanted from both the Jews and the Gentiles and he used prophecy from Hosea to reinforce his point. God will, eventually choose those who were not of the chosen people from early on. Paul also knew that so many Israelites had turned from God that the Old Testament prophets spoke of a true spiritual Israel within a larger nation of Israel. The remnant would receive salvation while the rest of the Israelites would suffer condemnation. The destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is often used as a poignant illustration of the reality and severity of God’s judgement. The question in verses 30-32 is, since Israel had the law and pursued righteousness, why have they not attained it? Was it because they were not elected? And the answer is they did not obtain righteousness because they did not believe. They tried obtaining righteousness by the works of the law. And by being committed to a righteousness by works, they stumbled over the righteousness of faith offered by Christ. People either put their faith in Jesus and build on that or they stumble over His message that faith and not human works is the key to getting right with God.
Paul continues in chapter 10 about Israel’s need for the gospel. His deep desire and prayer is that Israel might be justified and saved from God’s wrath. Paul believes Israel has enthusiasm for the Lord but it is misdirected because it fails to understand that Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of God’s plan. The Jews were very religious outwardly but they lacked a correct understanding of the kind of worship God wanted from them. And he explained their ignorance in verses 3-13. The Jews didn’t understand God manifesting Himself in Jesus Christ because they were so focused on the law as the way to secure their own righteousness. But Israel failed to comprehend exactly what the law was intended to do. The law revealed sin and showed that people could not hope to keep the law. Christ came and fulfilled the law, then offered us His righteousness through faith in Him. We read in Leviticus 18:5 that obedience to all of the laws commands were words that encouraged the Israelites to obey the law in order to enjoy a long life and prosperity in the land the Lord was giving to them. Paul can see the implication that if people want to be right with God through the law , they can only do so by obeying all of it…which no one can do.
There are two kinds of righteousness, by works or by faith. One is inaccessible and the other is very accessible. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to demonstrate that righteousness by faith is not far off and inaccessible, but as near as a person’s mouth and heart. All one has to do is repent, believe in Jesus, and confess that belief. He tells us that we do not need to go up to heaven to find Christ and so be made right with God because God has already brought Christ down to earth. We also don’t need to go down to the place of the dead to find Christ because God has already raised Him from the dead. To find Christ, we must simply believe in the message that is close at hand. This is available to anyone, Jew or Greek who comes to the Lord. Paul argued that Israel was in a position to know what God was doing through Jesus Christ so they were culpable for their failure to understand or accept it. Israel was guilty both of failing to understand God’s plan in light of Christ, and of focusing so much on the law that they missed Christ when He arrived. This is followed by Paul quoting Old Testament scripture from Psalm 19:4, Deuteronomy 32:21, and Isaiah 65:1-2. The people of Israel had in fact heard the Good News. By the time Paul wrote, Christian missionaries had spread the Good News through most of the Roman Empire. Did the people understand? Many of the Jews were guilty of idolatry because they put the law in place of God Himself. God’s punishment involved using the Gentiles, people who are not even a nation, to make Israel jealous and angry. Israel heard but they were disobedient. The quote from Isaiah refers to the people of Israel. Paul here is referring to the Gentiles who were not seeking the Lord but they were given the opportunity to know Him and they took it. God opened the way for them to be part of His kingdom.
However, Israel’s rejection was not total. From the very beginning God had chosen them based on His grace alone. He references Elijah the prophet, who after his time with the 400 prophets of Baal fled to the wilderness where he bemoaned his fate. God responded with the assurance that many faithful people remained. The thing about God is that there is always, always a faithful remnant. But Pul knew that while many Jews didn’t believe, and some were even hostile, God was and is still working to preserve a believing remnant. This solid core of godly Israelites in the faithful remnant represents God’s pledge of his continuing faithfulness to His promises and to His people. God’s election was based solely on His Grace. What Israel seeks is righteousness and the elects have received that by faith. The others were blinded because they didn’t believe.
The offer of salvation to the Gentiles is the purpose, not just the result of Israel’s disobedience. Paul emphasizes that God had the salvation of Gentiles in view all along and ultimately the salvation of many Jews as well. The sight of Gentiles enjoying the blessings of salvation that God had promised to Israel would spur Jews to desire salvation so they could participate in those blessings as well. But, Paul also addressed the Gentile Christians in Rome, rebuking them for thinking too highly of themselves , especially in relation to their Jewish brothers and sisters. He shows that their enjoyment of salvation depends entirely on God’s kindness and that God’s final goal is to stimulate repentance among the Jews. Paul devoted himself to the conversion of Gentiles because he knew that their salvation would ultimately lead to salvation for Jews as well. Their rejection here refers to God’s rejection of the unbelieving Jews. But their acceptance then refers to God’s acceptance of Jews into His kingdom. Paul even speaks of life for those who were dead. This may well refer to the new spiritual life that comes to Jews as a result of their conversion to Christ. But the language more naturally suggests the physical resurrection from the dead. That occurs when Christ returns in glory.
Paul speaks of the part of the dough, if offered as first fruits is holy than the whole batch is holy. And if the root is holy so are the branches. In other words, part of the first batch of dough is taken and set aside as a gift to the Lord but a portion cannot be set aside if the whole batch is not holy. God’s promises to and blessings on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the root from which the rest of the people grow. The olive tree is a reference to the people of God and Paul refers to the Gentile Christians as branches from a wild olive tree that are grafted on to a regular tree, which is Israel. The Gentiles were not originally included among the people of God. By the time Paul wrote to the church in Rome it was composed of mainly Gentiles which was common in the early Christian communities. This led many Gentile Christians to brag about their status, while treating Jews and their religious heritage with disdain. Paul reminded the Gentile believers that they enjoy God’s blessings only because they have been included in the one people of God, who are rooted in God’s promises to Israel. The Gentiles were to fear what could happen. In scripture fear often means a reverential awe of God that includes the recognition that we must one day stand before Him in judgement. God is both kind and severe; severe to those who have been disobedient and kind to those who trust Him. But if you stop trusting you will be cut off. Scripture consistently emphasizes that only believers who persevere to the end will be saved. However, Paul’s warning leads to debate over the theological implications of his statement. Some think it implies that genuine believers can stop believing and therefore not be saved in the end. Others argue that we should not press the metaphor so far and that Paul is referring to people who appear to be believers but whose lack of real faith ultimately reveals itself. If Gentiles continue in God’s goodness they will not be cut off and if Jews turn to God in faith they can be grafted in again. This is not a reference to individual salvation but to God’s plan for the Jews and Gentiles. What God has done with the Gentiles is contrary to nature. The usual method of enhancing olive trees involved grafting a shoot from a cultivated olive tree onto a wild olive tree to benefit from the wild tree’s vigor. But God grafted the wild tree branches into a cultivated tree…Gentiles into the people of God and that is contrary to nature.
Paul used the word mystery to refer to an event of the last days that has already been determined by God. Such a mystery already exists in heaven, and is revealed to God’s people in the Christian Era. Here the mystery is the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the plan of salvation, which is at the heart of this entire passage. If believers do not understand this mystery, chances are they will be haughty and boast. Another part of the mystery is that Israel has been temporarily hardened and partially hardened but God has not rejected them. The phrase “all Israel” could refer to the total of all believers, both Jewish and Gentile. With this meaning “and so” would describe the way that God works to bring salvation to all His people. All Israel could refer to the total of all Jews destined to believe throughout the Christian Era, or to a significant number of Jews who turn to Christ in the last days. With this second meaning the “and so” would have a sequential meaning, after the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ then the full number of Jews will be saved. It does not mean all Jewish people. In the Old Testament the one who rescues Is the Lord. Paul almost surely is referring to Jesus Christ here. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 59:20 says that the redeemer will come to Jerusalem. Paul might have changed the wording to represent Jesus’ first coming from among the people of Israel or to speak of the second coming when Jesus will return from the heavenly Jerusalem. Having mercy on everyone has the sense of all kinds of people. In the context of the Book of Romans, and especially this chapter, it refers to the inclusion of Gentiles alongside of Jews.
Paul ends this chapter with a short hymn of praise, extolling how powerful, mighty, and awesome God is. None of us can even come close to knowing God or understanding His ways. He ends with the reminder that God is the source, the means and the end of all things. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and the goal of everything. Therefore, He should be praised and glorified forever.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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