Romans Chapter 9

1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,

2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, {separated} from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,

4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the {temple} service and the promises,

5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Paul is very sad because most of the nation of Israel refuses to believe the gospel. He is so sad that he is willing to exchange his salvation for theirs. He is sad because it was through the nation of Israel that Christ came according to the flesh, and to them was given the promises, and to them belong the promise of adoption of sons, and so many other blessings. To miss out on salvation after all that is truly a shame.

As an aside, you know, those who preach Limited Atonement cannot explain how Paul has so much concern for the salvation of souls and God doesn’t. Here we see Paul willing to be accursed for the salvation of the Jews. If Paul, a mere human, was willing to be accursed for the salvation of the Jews, wouldn’t God be willing even more? If God wills thus, surely He would do it. 2 Pet 3:9 reminds us that God wants none to perish. People try to explain this away by making God schizophrenic, saying that God has two wills, one that decrees things and one that wishes things. They say that only the decrees come to pass, not the wishes. How can that be true if God is Almighty? For an almighty being, all His wishes are decrees. There is no Scripture that supports the notion that God has two kinds of wills.

Further, if Paul believed in unconditional election he wouldn’t be so concerned about the salvation of these Jews. After all, he would simply say that they did not believe because they were not among the elect. It would not be logical for him to want to be accursed for their salvation.

6 But {it is} not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are {descended} from Israel;

7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED."

8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

9 For this is the word of promise: "AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON."

Paul ponders on why they missed the boat. Didn’t God’s word say that the descendants of Israel would be saved? Has God’s word failed? That is the question that Paul is addressing.

His conclusion is that God’s word has not failed – it cannot fail. Therefore, he had to conclude that when God meant that all Israel would be saved He did not mean ‘all Israel according to the flesh’ but meant something else. That is what Paul proves next.

Paul proves this by assuming that ‘all Israel’ meant ‘all Israel according to the flesh’ and shows that that leads to a contradiction.

Now according to the Jews ‘Israel’ was synonymous with ‘descendant of Abraham’ (Rom 11:1).

Paul’s first point is that if you take ‘all Israel’ to mean ‘the physical descendants of Abraham’ in the term “all Israel will be saved” then you have to also include the descendants through Ishmael. However, God’s promise to Abraham was that Abraham’s descendants would be named through Isaac. This shows that you can’t really take ‘all Israel’ to mean the physical descendants of Abraham.

10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived {twins} by one man, our father Isaac;

11 for though {the twins} were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to {His} choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,

12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER."

13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.”

In the second part of his proof Paul gives another (stronger) example.

Paul’s second point is that not even all the descendants of Isaac were chosen because God chose only the descendants through Jacob (and not through Esau) as the descendants of Abraham to whom the promises were to apply. This further shows that you cannot take ‘all Israel’ to mean the physical descendants of Abraham.

Further, God made these choices rather arbitrarily – especially the choice of Jacob over Esau. This is because God chose Jacob over Esau even before they were born and had done anything good or bad to influence God’s choice.

Note that ‘Jacob’ and ‘Esau’ refer not to Jacob and Esau themselves, but the nations that came from Jacob and Esau. This must be so because Esau never served Jacob in their lifetimes, but Edom (the nation that came from Esau) did serve Israel (the nation that came from Jacob).

Now Paul’s logic is this: if salvation is for all the physical descendants of Israel then God made the choice of whom to save in an arbitrary manner (as exemplified by His choosing Jacob over Esau). This implies that God is unjust. But we know that God is not unjust. Therefore, it cannot be that ‘all Israel’ must mean ‘the physical descendants of Abraham’.

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

15 For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION."

Paul knows one thing for sure – that there is no injustice with God. How does he know this? He knows it because of what he read in Exodus regarding how God dealt with Moses.

It is very important to turn to the Old Testament quote that Paul makes here. It is found in Exodus, particularly in chapters 32 and 33. There we read that Moses had gone up Mount Sinai to receive God’s commandments, and he was up there for 40 days and nights (Ex 24:18). Since Moses delayed coming down for so long the people made a golden calf and began to worship it (Ex 32:1). Then God told Moses what had happened and said that He would destroy the people (Ex 32:10). Moses entreated God to not destroy them and God did not destroy them immediately (Ex 32:14). Then Moses went down the mountain and stopped the idol worship (Ex 32:20). Then Moses goes to the Lord to ask Him to spare the people (Ex 32:30-35).

Moses’ plea to God is to either forgive their sin or to blot his name from God’s book. Now here is the key verse (Ex 32:33) that sticks in Paul’s mind. In that verse, God tells Moses that He will blot from His book those who have sinned against Him – keep this in mind, as I’ll come back to it in a moment.

God further tells Moses that He will not lead the Israelites any more (Ex 33:1-3) but Moses entreats God to lead them (Ex 33:12-16). God agrees, but remains firm about not showing mercy and compassion to the Israelites (Ex 33:17-19) – which is the point where God says that He will show mercy (or grace) and compassion to whom He chooses, indicating that this is non-negotiable and Moses cannot change His mind on this.

We know that in the end God did not show mercy and compassion to the Israelites because they all died in the wilderness and never saw the promised land (Num 14:22,23).

Now we can see what Paul was thinking of when he wrote Rom 9:15. He was thinking of the justice of God in the sense that God does not allow the guilty to go unpunished. He was thinking of how God told Moses that He would blot from His book those who have sinned against Him.

God was willing to compromise with Moses on other things, but on this one principle – that He would blot from His book those who have sinned against Him – God stood firm.

From this Paul learnt that God does not enter names in or blot names out from His book (of life) arbitrarily.

Certainly, Paul was not at all trying to teach predestination or divine election here.

This concludes Paul’s proof that ‘all Israel’ cannot mean ‘the physical descendants of Abraham’, and thus God’s word has not failed even if all the physical descendants of Abraham are not saved.

16 So then it {does} not {depend} on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

The ‘it’ here refers to ‘the honorable use’ and ‘the common use’ mentioned in verse 21 – and not to a person’s salvation.

This makes sense because having proved that the decision of who will be saved and who will not be saved is not made in an arbitrary fashion Paul now changes the topic to God choice for fulfilling His purpose.

Another way to say this is that if the physical descendants of Abraham were not chosen for salvation, what were they chosen for? This is the next question that Paul tackles. Paul contends that the Jews were chosen for fulfilling God’s plan. He is referring to God’s plan to bring salvation to man by sending His Son to die for the sins of the world.

Paul’s point here is that God’s choice for purpose is independent of man’s will and behavior but depends solely on God. God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau to form the nation through whom His Son would enter the world.

Similarly, Paul now gives the example of how God chose Moses to fulfill God’s plan and how God chose Pharaoh to fulfill God’s plan – one for demonstrating His mercy and the other for demonstrating His wrath.

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH."

Note that Pharaoh was raised to demonstrate God’s power. Nothing is mentioned about God condemning Pharaoh to eternal damnation.

18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

God desires to show mercy to all (Rom 11:32) but the law that He operates by is to show mercy to those who show mercy (Mt 5:7). Therefore, this verse does not mean that God arbitrarily shows mercy to some and arbitrarily hardens some.

In order to accomplish His will God hardens some people and shows favor on some people. He gives people different personalities, lets them live in different places and times, and brings different circumstances across their path – all so that His divine plan (including all His prophecies) comes to pass. That is what God’s sovereignty is all about. It is about fulfilling His plan, not about electing people to salvation.

Note that God does not use His sovereignty to turn people away from Him. He does not turn anyone away from Him because He wants none to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9) and all to be saved (1 Tm 2:4).

19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?

21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

So then, if the physical descendants of Abraham were not chosen for salvation, what were they chosen for – after all, the Bible does say that they were chosen? Paul contends that they were chosen as instruments for fulfilling God’s plan. He is referring to God’s plan to bring salvation to man by sending His Son in the flesh to die for the sins of the world. Specifically, the Christ was a descendant of Abraham.

Paul gives the example of how God chose Moses to fulfill God’s plan and how God chose Pharaoh to fulfill God’s plan – one as a vessel of mercy and the other as a vessel of wrath. Just as God arbitrarily chose Moses and Pharaoh as vessels of mercy and wrath respectively, so also God chose Israel and Edom as vessels of mercy and wrath respectively. By pointing out the example Paul is showing that this is normal behavior for God.

Paul contends that God can choose whomever He wishes when it comes to fulfilling His plan. Doing so is not unjust because God is the maker of all. This is in contrast to God’s choice regarding who are to be saved. The latter cannot be arbitrary because of the moral element involved and its consequences on eternal destiny.

Notice carefully that these verses are talking about how God makes people. That is, the kind of temperament and personality and talents that God gives each person. These verses do not refer to how God saves people but how God uses people – honorable use or common use.

God makes use of vessels of mercy (such as the great men of God) and vessels of wrath who are eternally damned. But these verses do not teach that God damns the vessels of wrath; nor do they teach that God elects the vessels of mercy. The verses just tell us that while using the vessels of wrath He exhibits patience, not destroying them immediately, just as we sometimes deal patiently with those who cause us a great deal of trouble because they are of service to us in some way. The verse does not say that God prepares them for destruction – it just says that they were prepared for destruction. They could very well be responsible for their own destruction.

23 And {He did so} to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,

God’s glory is His divine nature. His goal is to give that divine nature to those who are saved. God makes use of different people so that all things work for the good of the ones who chose salvation – so that they make be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus (Rom 8:28-30).

24 {even} us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

25 As He says also in Hosea, "I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, 'MY PEOPLE,' AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, 'BELOVED.' "

26 "AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, 'YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,' THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD."

27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, "THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED;

28 FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY."

29 And just as Isaiah foretold, "UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.”

Having proved that not all Jews will be saved, Paul now addresses the question of whether any Gentiles will be saved. Paul’s point is that God uses vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy to fulfill his plan in preparing the way for the ones who will be saved, both Jews and Gentiles. This is what Paul shows in the passage above – that only a remnant of Jews are saved, and that not all Gentiles are doomed. He gives scriptural examples to show that some Gentiles will be saved and to show that only a remnant of Jews will be saved. He does this to strengthen his point that ‘all Israel’ does not mean ‘the physical descendants of Abraham’. That is, he is showing that even the Gentiles, who are not physical descendants of Abraham, are saved.

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;

31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at {that} law.

32 Why? Because {they did} not {pursue it} by faith, but as though {it were} by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,

33 just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

The key point that Paul reminds us here is the one he already explained in detail in earlier chapters of Romans – that salvation (or righteousness) is by faith in Christ. The Gentiles who believe receive it. The Jews who believe also receive it. But most of the Jews did not become righteous because they sought righteousness through the law instead of seeking it simply by believing in Christ.

So then Paul contends that people are saved through faith, and that salvation is freely available to all that believe, both Jew and Gentile. In Rom 4:16 Paul said that salvation was through faith in order to make it available to all. He now explains that the ‘all’ meant ‘Jews and Gentiles’, and not just Jews. If salvation were by election, what is the necessity of faith?

In Romans chapter ten Paul focuses on the method through which people are saved. After all, if people are not saved by virtue of their being a descendant of Israel according to the flesh then how are they saved? He also tries to understand why the Jews are not getting saved.

Paul here reminds us that salvation is by faith in preparation for what he is going to say next (that is, in chapter ten). Further, chapter ten is really preparation for what he is going to say in chapter eleven.


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