A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 9:1-33
Over the next few blog posts, we will be covering Romans 9-11, where Paul appears to be changing the subject in his letter to the church in Rome. But Paul is not changing the subject at all. These next three chapters are part of the way he makes it clear how God keeps his promises to his people and how he saves.
The Israelites were God’s chosen people. What does it mean that they missed their promised Messiah? What does this say about God and our present position in God? Can we be secure in God’s love and salvation, when it seems that Israel was once loved and saved, but now seem rejected and cursed?
This is what Paul discusses in these next three chapters.
Paul’s Sorrow Over Israel
Paul left us at an ultimate high in Romans 8, when he assured us that nothing could separate us from God’s love found in Jesus. But now in Romans 9:1-2, Paul’s tone becomes somber. Paul feels sorrow and grief as he considers how the Israelite people, his own people, are separated from God’s love because they have rejected God’s Messiah.
In verse 3 Paul declares that he would be willing to become separated from Jesus if it could accomplish Israel’s salvation. And Paul is not merely using dramatic metaphor. Paul had a great passion for lost souls. He wasn’t troubled by persecution or imprisonment because he had greater troubles on his mind: lost souls.
Paul is not alone in this sentiment. In Exodus 32: 31-32, Moses pleaded to God on behalf of the Israelites after they had made and started worshiping a golden calf. He asked God to forgive their sin, but if not, then blot his name out of God’s Book.
Who else does this remind of us? Jesus! He demonstrated this very kind of love. He bore our punishment so that we would be forgiven. The difference is that Jesus was sinless and blameless. He could take our place, while Paul and Moses could not (Galatians 3:13).
Having this kind of love for the Jews is not what we would expect from Paul. The Jews had, in fact, become Paul’s worst enemies. They harassed and persecuted him more than anyone and stirred up lies and violence towards him.
But Paul continued to love them passionately. The pain he feels for his lost people is more severe when he considers how God had once blessed them with the privilege of being his own special people.
Israel’s Privilege and Legacy
Verse 4 tells us that the people of Israel were chosen as God’s adopted children. And not only were they adopted as God’s children, but God revealed his glory to them. This revelation of God’s glory is unique to the Israelites of the Old Testament.
Paul is speaking of God’s shekinah glory. Shekinah is a Hebrew word meaning, ‘dwells’ or ‘one who dwells’. God dwelled with his people, and visibly revealed himself to them through natural occurrences such as a great cloud of smoke or a pillar of fire. They had the privilege worshiping him in his presence, serving him, and receiving his promises and his law.
In verse 5, Paul speaks of the great legacy of being God’s chosen people. Not only did Israel give us Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Jesus himself came from Israel. And Paul makes a clear statement in this verse: that Jesus is God. This entire spiritual legacy makes Israel’s unbelief even more serious.
God’s Plan: Israel Rejects Their Messiah
Now in verse 6-13, Paul tells us why Israel rejected the Messiah. It was part of God’s sovereign plan.
Verse 6 tells us that God has not failed to keep his promise. God made a covenant with his chosen people. But Paul says that not all who are born into the nation of Israel are God’s chosen people. One of the meanings of the name Israel is ‘governed by God’. So, when God spoke of his promise to Israel, it was for a select few – those who were governed by God.
Verses 7-9 tell us that God chose only one of Abraham’s children from whose line he would count as his chosen people, and that was Isaac – the son promised to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.
And in verses 10-13, God selected his line from only one in a set of twins born to Isaac and Rebekah, which was Jacob. It says in these verses that God chose his line before they were even born. Before they had done anything good or bad, which tells us that God chooses according to his own reasons and purposes. God’s chosen people did not earn the privilege to be chosen. It was given to them by God based on his own plans and purposes.
God’s purposes and plans may not always seem logical to us. Choosing Isaac over Ishmael might seem logical because Ishmael was Abraham’s son with his wife’s servant. But it is harder to understand why God would choose Jacob over Esau. But God’s choice is always the right choice.
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. His unique position of being omniscient – all knowing – gives him foresight and knowledge that we can not comprehend.
Is It Wrong for God to be Merciful to Some and Not Others?
Now in verse 14 Paul asks and answers the question: Does God’s choice of one over the other make him unrighteous?
And he answers in verse 15: Of course not! Paul then quotes Exodus 33:19 where God clearly explains his right to give mercy to whomever he pleases. Remember what mercy is: mercy is getting what we do not deserve. God is never less than fair with anyone, but he has the right to be more than fair with anyone he chooses. Jesus also spoke of this right in a parable of the landowner in Matthew 20:1-6.
We are never in the right to expect God’s mercy towards us. If God is obliged to show us mercy, then it is not mercy – it is an obligation. No one is ever unfair for not giving mercy.
We Cannot Earn Mercy
Verse 16 tells us that it is God who decides to show mercy. We cannot choose it or earn it.
In verses 17-18, Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of God’s sovereignty and authority to show mercy to some and not to others. This was the Pharaoh of the time of Moses, who refused to let the Israelites go even after God sent plague after plague.
God allowed this specific Pharaoh to rise to power so that God could show his strength in his judgment against him, which in turn brought God glory. If another ruler ruled in pharaoh’s place and might have caved at the first opportunity, God would not have needed to send ten plagues, the Angel of Death, or part the Red Sea, all of which pointed to God and gave God all the glory.
If you read this account in the Book of Exodus, you will see that sometimes Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but in the end, it was God who allowed Pharaoh’s heart to become hard. We shouldn’t think that God persuaded a kind-hearted Pharaoh to be hard towards God and Israel. In the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, God simply allowed Pharaoh’s heart to pursue its natural inclination.
God Can Use Any Circumstance to Bring Himself Glory
Sometimes God will glorify himself through showing mercy; sometimes God will glorify himself through man’s stubbornness.
In verse 19, Paul asks the question that some of us might be thinking: does God’s sovereignty, or his right to decide, mean that mankind is not responsible for their actions, because they are only doing what he willed them to do?
But in verse 20, Paul is suggesting that the question alone is disrespectful. If God says that he both decides our actions, as his creation, and holds his creation accountable, who are we to argue?
In verse 21, Paul uses the example of a potter. The potter gets to decide how he wants to use the clay, not the lump of clay. If God declares that we have an eternal responsibility before him, then we do.
Verse 22 tells us that God, even though he has the right to show us his anger and his power when we disobey, he is very patient with us.
Though Underserved, God Wants to be More Than Fair to Us
And verse 23 tells us that God wants to be more than fair to us – to show us his mercy. And it says he does this because it makes his glory shine even brighter. Those who receive salvation, truly understand what God’s mercy really means! We understand our sinfulness and the death sentence that hangs over our heads without it!
In verses 24-29 Paul talks about God’s right to choose whom he will call his children.
Verse 24 tells us that God has selected his children from both the Jews and the Gentiles.
In verse 25-26, Paul quotes the prophet Hosea in Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10, saying that God has the right to choose his people, who previously were not called his people, namely the Gentiles.
And in verses 27-29, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 10:23 and Isaiah 1:9, saying that it is God’s right to choose a remnant among Israel for salvation. By a remnant, it means that not all of Israel will be saved – only a portion of them will.
God Saved His Faithful Remnant
In Isaiah 10:23, Isaiah was speaking of God’s work in saving a remnant of Israel from a coming Assyrian destruction. Rather than being completely wiped out by the Assyrians, God assured them that he would preserve his remnant. God’s covenant was never made to the entire nation of Israel, but rather to the remnant – his chosen people.
In Isaiah 1:9, Isaiah spoke about how people had become very wicked again, as in the times of Sodom and Gomorrah – two cities that were ultimately destroyed. But God preserved his remnant, and for this reason, some were spared.
God Extends His Covenant to the Gentiles
Now in verses 30-33, Paul returns to the present situation of the Gentiles being made right with God and the Israelites missing the mark.
To a human perspective, it appears that the Gentiles, who were not trying to meet God’s standards, were made right with God, while the Jews who, by all appearances, seemed to be trying hard to keep the law, were not made right with God. And we know from previous chapters in Romans, that those who pursue to be right with God by faith, obtain it, while those who pursue righteousness by works or the law, do not.
In verses 32-33, Paul explains why Israel seems to have been cast off from God’s goodness and righteousness: because they did not seek him by faith.
We Are Given Free Will
In earlier verses of this chapter, Paul argued from God’s perspective, stating that it is God’s sovereign choice to whom he will show mercy. But now he is placing the responsibility on Israel, stating that because they did not seek God’s righteousness by faith, they are no longer shown his mercy.
Paul is not contradicting himself here. It is not just a matter of God’s sovereign choice, or human responsibility. There are two sides to this coin. We are given free-will, and we have the choice to have faith and gain God’s grace and mercy or reject him and be cast out. But God also has foreknowledge. He sees and knows our hearts long before we are even born. He knows who will turn to him and who will reject him. Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose us even before the world was made.
God Is In Control and Can Be Trusted
God’s sovereignty means that his plans can’t be thwarted. Sometimes we may not understand why things happen the way they do, and it might feel like God is distant at times, but we can trust in his promises! God has not forgotten Israel, His Chosen People. He has included them in his plan.
God’s New Covenant in Jesus Christ cannot be broken, and nothing can separate us from his love. The Bible provides us with a detailed record of just how he trustworthy he is! Read the Bible for yourself and be encouraged!
Chosen By God: God Has Chosen You for a Divine Assignment – Will You Dare To Fulfill It? by Rick Renner – God has an amazing plan for your life! Do you know God’s awesome plan that he designed especially for you? Are you ready to discover it?