CHAPTER 9 OF THE ROMAN LETTER.
BRIEF REVIEW OF CHAPTERS 1 THROUGH 8.
In the 9th, 10th, and 11th chapters of the Roman letter the righteousness of God is revealed in His dealings throughout history with mankind, especially the Jews. To introduce the study of these three chapters, let us look once more at the broad outline of the Roman letter up to chapter 9.
Romans 1:16-17 presents the thesis of the book. "The gospel is the power of God for salvation to
everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is
revealed from faith to faith." (Romans 1:16-17). This statement sets the whole Roman letter in a context
concerning God's purpose from the beginning of time to the end of time, including the time of Adam to the
time of Christ' s second coming and, finally, the judgement. The righteousness of God has always, even
from the time of Adam, been revealed to individuals through their faith. In the so-called "Patriarchal age"
the righteousness of God was revealed through the faith that people of that time had in God. To the Jews
of the Mosaic covenant, the righteousness of God was revealed through the faith that the Jews had in God.
Now in the Christian dispensation the righteousness of God is revealed to all people through the faith that
they have in God. So, in this statement, "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith," I
believe there is reference to God's plan and purpose through all the ages of mankind on earth.
In the Roman letter Paul has revealed that God has always had His preachers of the gospel in every age of mankind on earth, who have been "sent" by God to tell of "the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!" said Paul when in Romans 10:15 he quoted from Isaiah 52:7.
In Romans, chapters 9, 10, and 11, Paul enlarged on this thesis of God's righteousness exhibited through His gift of salvation to each individual of mankind who has faith in God's saving power. This thesis is a basic principle of God's revealed will and God's eternal purpose on which God has based all things. This is one of the great truths of God's eternal purpose that caused Paul to exclaim in Romans 11:33, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God," and caused Paul to quote from that ancient patriarch Job, "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! " (Job 5: 9) .
We will see as we go on with our study that there are other great basic principles of God's will and purpose also revealed in the Roman letter that finally caused Paul to exclaim in Romans 11:36, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."
Going on with a short review of the earlier chapters of the Roman letter, let us consider some of the other principles revealed. In the first five chapters there is indication that the righteousness of God is revealed even in His wrath, for God is always "just," and "justice" same times demands that the wrath of God be exercised. But these chapters also reveal that the righteousness of God is shown in His "justification" through the blood of Christ of those who will choose to avail themselves of that "justification" through obedience of their faith. Thus the righteousness of God is also demonstrated in His action as "justifier." (Romans 3:;26). It is a great truth that the righteousness of God is revealed in everything that God has done down through all the ages of mankind on earth, and, of course, all that God does during our contemporary age as well.
But, above all, let us remember that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). And, "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6).
Other great principles revealed in these first five chapters were the truths that "by the works of the law no
flesh will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20), and that the law speaks "that every mouth may be
closed and all the world may become accountable to God" (Romans 3:19, and that "through the law comes
the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20). We will see that in Romans 11:32, Pau1 reiterated that truth with
these words: "For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all." That is the
reason that God laid down law and its consequences for all mankind, that he might demonstrate His
goodness and mercy toward us. Everything God does is for the good of mankind, even His giving to us of
law which we could not keep. In everything, the righteousness of God is revealed.
These three chapters, Romans 6, 7, and 8, teach us that our steps of obedient faith must not end with our baptism for the remission of our past sins, but that we must continue to take additional steps of obedient faith throughout our lives in order to bear fruit for Christ. They teach us that the requirement of the law, which we could not keep in our fleshly lives on earth, and which results in our continuing to sin even after we become Christians, is "fulfilled in us by the Spirit of Christ, we who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:4). We learn that, by the mercies of God, "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8: 1) . We really do not have to live 1ives of frustration, as many of us do, for "thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" He has "set us free from the body of this death!" (Romans 7:25).
Finally, in chapter 8, verse 28, Paul told us outright that we can KNOW "that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
These are some of the principles of God's eternal purpose that Paul brought to our minds in the first 8 chapters of the Roman letter. Now in Romans 9, 10, and 11 we will find that the righteousness of God has been revealed in all His dealings with mankind throughout the ages, with both Jews and Gentiles. These chapters especially give us a needed perspective concerning God's dealings with the Jews, but they speak also of all mankind, including the Gentiles. I think Romans 9, 10, and 11 present the BIG PICTURE, a summing up of what has been presented in the first 8 chapters. And a number of additional basic principles of God's will and His eternal purpose are brought out.
The righteousness of God is revealed in His dealings with the Jews. Rom. 9:1-11:36.
The Israelite history illustrates God's righteous principles. The rejection of the gospel by Israel does not indicate the word of God has failed. Rom. 9:1-10:15.
It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of promise. Romans 9:1-13.
Paul loved his fellow Jews with a love that he had learned from God. He was a Jew himself, reared in the strictest traditions of the Jewish fathers. His loyalty to Christ did not change his deep affection for his fleshly brethren. Why did Paul grieve? Because, tragically, the Jews by and large were not accepting Christ and not being saved from God's wrath to come.
Logically, the Jews should have been the first to accept Christ and become Christians. Why? Because they had had a special part in the carrying out of God's plan to bring Christ, the Savior, into the world. "To them belongs the adoption as sons," said Paul. They were adopted as a nation by God, and God had made a special covenant with them that He did not make with any other of His earthly creation. God gave them a special Law at Sinai. God gave them the exclusive right to worship Him in accordance with His special ordinances in the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temple. To the Israelites (Jews) belong glory because God was with them in a very special way throughout their history.
The Jews were descended from fathers especially chosen by God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And then, in the person of Jesus, God Himself was born through Israel as a man upon the earth. Jesus was "the seed of David according to the flesh," said Paul in Romans 1:3. And then this Jesus, the Christ whom God gave to mankind through fleshly Israel, became the eternal King over all mankind. If anyone had a good opportunity to reap a blessing from all this, it was the Jews. If anyone was suited to work with Christ in these last days, it was fleshly Israel. But now that Christ had come, His own people, the Jews, in many cases were rejecting Him, and some people from among the Gentiles, who had not had the tremendous advantages of having such a close part with God in the unfolding of His purpose, were accepting Christ. Paul said that He was willing to do anything God might want him to do, even to sacrificing himself to alienation from God, for the sake of his brethren, the Jews.
Paul's statement, concerning his willingness to be "accursed" and "separated from Christ" for the sake of his brethren, does not indicate that God might ever require anyone other than Jesus to be sacrificed for the sake of the salvation of mankind. Jesus Christ was the only acceptable sacrifice, and He gave Himself once and for all. Paul's statement is simply an indication of His great love for his brethren, the Jews.
"(6) But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israe1; (7) neither are the all children because the are Abraham's descendants, but: ''Through Isaac your descendants will be named.' (8) That is, it is not the children or the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. (9) For this is a word of promise: 'At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.' (10) And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our rather Isaac: (11) for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might 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.'" Romans 9:6-13. NASV.
In these verses Paul introduced several of God's principles which are basic to our understanding of His purpose and His actions. First of all there is the principle that "the word of God has not failed." The word of God never fails. The prophet of old said it. "My word ... which goes forth from My mouth: it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. " ( Isaiah 55: 11 ) .
But the word of God called for all fleshly Israel to repent and turn to God in obedience of faith. All of fleshly Israel did not do that. Someone might ask: has not God's word failed? No, the word of God has not failed. God made provision for its rejection by some. God created people with wills of their own which they must exercise. If God had not allowed people to reject Him, that would have negated His design of mankind.
God allows people to reject Him by sinning against Him. But, through His word He offers them salvation as an unmerited gift if they will repent and call upon His name for salvation. Salvation is one of the goals or purposes of God's word. If people will not repent and call upon God for salvation, His word serves another purpose. It convicts them of sin and condemns them to suffer His wrath. For people who turn to God, His word serves one purpose, to save them from suffering the penalty of guilt for their sins. For people who continue to reject God and His word, that word serves another purpose: to convict and condemn them to a just condemnation. God's word never fails to accomplish a purpose for which God has uttered it.
Today, we, as Christians, seek to obey Christ's great commission by going into all the world to preach the gospel to all creation. Usually we recognize only one of God's purposes for the preaching of His gospel, the purpose of saving mankind from God 's wrath. When we as missionaries labor in a "hard field" where God's word is not accepted by the people to whom it is preached, we often get discouraged and want to leave that field. But we must remember that Christ has more than one purpose in commissioning us to preach His word. God wants His word to be preached even to all those people who will reject it. Of course, we have no right to prejudge people. God's word is powerful enough to convert anyone and God is sometimes more patient with lost people than we are. God's word is always efficacious to fulfill His purpose for it.
Paul has informed us in Romans chapter 3 that God is always "just" and the "justifier" of those who turn to Him in faith. In Romans chapters 1 and 2 Paul taught that every adult person on earth has sinned and fallen short of his responsibility to recognize the glory of God. No one has ever been born in any area of this earth who has not had a responsibility to recognize his Creator and seek to know Him. Everyone has failed in fulfilling this responsibility so everyone is without excuse. But God, in His loving patience toward the sinners of the earth, wants His word preached to them whether or not it results in their repentance. God is just and He will not prejudge a person. A person must cause himself to be lost in spite of the longsuffering, mercy, and patience of God. God wants His word to be preached to every sinful creature on earth (and every creature on earth is sinful). We Christians are God's vessels to carry God's word to all creation. We are called upon to "preach the word" no matter what the result. Perhaps God has not yet brought about the end of time and the last judgment because God is not finished with having His word judge mankind! God's word serves either to save a person or to judge that person.
Paul made it clear in the first part of the Roman letter that the Children of Israel (the Jews) had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not many of the Jews were obeying the gospel of Christ during the time of Paul's teaching. A humanly inspired conclusion might have been that the "word of God has failed." But Paul stated clearly in Romans chapter 9 verse 6 that "it is not as though the word of God has failed." Paul's statement was tantamount to saying that the word of God preached to the Jews had not failed in its purpose despite the fact that many of the Jews were rejecting Jesus as the Son of God and as their Savior.
Fleshly Israel, the Jews of Paul's day, thought that they were a chosen people of God with rights under God different from any other people. They based their belief on the simple fact that they were descended in the flesh from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Paul said that it was never God's intention that His Israel would be distinguished by fleshly lineage. It was never God's intention that all the fleshly descendants of Jacob (Israel) would be "His Israel" solely because of their fleshly lineage and regardless of their spiritual allegiance. From the time of Jacob God knew that there would be many people descended from Jacob (Israel the man) who would forsake Him. He never intended to count this type of Israelite among His spiritually chosen people.
Paul went on in verse 7, "Neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: (and Paul quoted here from Genesis 21:12) 'Through Isaac your descendants will be named.'" The fleshly Israelite people could understand that all the descendants of Abraham were not fleshly Israelites (descendants of Jacob). Only some of those offspring of Abraham through Abraham's son Isaac, and then through Isaac's son Jacob, became fleshly Israelites. The descendants of Abraham's other son, Ishmael, did not become Israelites. The fleshly Israelites of Paul's day could understand that. But that was not the end of the matter. God's Israelites were more than just fleshly beings, but spiritual beings and there was a spiritual lineage also.
Then Paul Wrote in verse 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." This verse stated the principle that it is really only the "children of promise" who were regarded as descendants in the sight of God. It was not just because of the fleshly man, Isaac, that God numbered some of Isaac's descendants as His. It really was because of a specific "promise" of God to Abraham and Isaac. God's "promise" was to carry out God's purpose. It was God's purpose that was important to God. Fleshly Israel of Paul's day could understand the reasoning of verse 7 concerning fleshly lineage. But they could not, or would not, understand the reasoning of verse 8 concerning God's "promise" and God's purpose, and where that reasoning led. They understood fleshly lineage, but they did not understand the promised lineage of faith.
Paul wrote further in verse 9, "For this is a word of promise: (and here Paul quoted from Genesis 18:10) 'At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.'" The only reason Sarah could have a son and, through him have a lineage, was because God had promised it and brought it to happen. It was God's working through the barren couple Sarah and Abraham that Isaac was born. Fleshly Israel of Paul's day could understand that their fleshly lineage was through Sarah and they put great store in that. But, it was not really Sarah's flesh that was important. It was not Sarah that produced the son Isaac, but the promise of God that produced him.
Paul went on with his explanation in verses 10 through 13. "And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand. not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.'" The Jews of Paul's day certainly could understand that their fleshly lineage was through Jacob, the younger of the twins, and not through Esau, the older. They put their entire stock in fleshly lineage. And they worked to keep their fleshly lineages pure, thinking that their relationship with God depended almost solely upon it. But they could not understand, or perhaps they did not want to accept the logical consequences of, Paul's explanation of how God's promise and purpose of will was carried out through a spiritual lineage instead of a fleshly lineage. Of course it was not just Paul's explanation, it was the Holy Spirit's explanation that Paul was giving here. It was not that Jacob himself was of importance because of how he deceived Esau into giving him, the younger twin, the birthright of the older twin. God's people came through Jacob instead of Esau only because God's purpose called for Jacob to be the one. It was God's choice, not Jacob's works of merit that won the lineage for him.
We must thank God and praise Him for this. For it is because of God's choice of us that we can be His children today. God chose Saul of Tarsus to be an Apostle of Christ even while Saul was against Christ, while he was persecuting Christ and Christians. Saul, being God's choice, Jesus called him on the road to Damascus. Saul recognized and answered the call and, thus, became an Apostle of Jesus. So we today, even while we are yet sinners, are called to be God's children only because of God's choice of us. Thank God for that.
This was not the end of the explanation of how God worked to establish His chosen Israel. So far the explanation established the principle that it is God's choice and God's purpose that accomplishes God's Israel, not the works of fleshly men in the manipulation of fleshly lineages. In verses 14 through 20 Paul went on to further explain that it is the choice of God that establishes a people in His grace, not the work of the people themselves.
The potter has a right over the clay. God's mercy does not depend on man. Romans 9:14-23.
"(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 wi11 have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compass on whom I have compassion.' (16) So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (17) For the scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.' (18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." Romans 9:14-18. NASV.
"There is no injustice with God, is there?" The Jews were quick to answer No. And they understood to some extent God's principle, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." That is, they understood it when it applied to a fleshly lineage. God had often in times past demonstrated His mercy toward the Jews. Many of the Jews had come to expect God's mercy always to be exercised unconditionally towards them and to expect only God's wrath to be exercised toward the Gentiles. They understood that there was no injustice in God's choosing of Jacob instead of Esau. But when it came to a different kind of lineage that would admit Gentiles to Israel, they could not bring themselves to see it. Many of them thought that they should be saved eternally simply because they were born of Jewish flesh, and that Gentiles should be rejected by God simply because they were born of Gentile flesh.
In verse 16 Paul set them straight. Verse 16 states another of the important eternal principles of God that we should all learn. "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Our God is a God of mercy toward all mankind, Jew and Gentile. God's mercy does not depend upon men, upon what they happen to think or upon what they happen to consider just or unjust. God alone sets the standards. Praise God that He is a God of mercy toward us all and men's volition or men's action cannot change that.
In verse 17 Paul pointed out how God controls everything. Pharaoh of Egypt who caused so much trouble for God's people and would not let them go free, was actually "raised up" by God. Pharaoh, in fighting against God, was doomed to defeat. Not only was he fighting God's purpose for God's chosen people, fighting God, so to speak, but in the background the outcome of his decisions were constrained and controlled by God. God did not take away Pharaoh's free will, but every time Pharaoh made a decision against God's will, God made that decision of Pharaoh instrumental in accomplishing, not defeating, God's will. The Bible reveals that this is the way God operates. He causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His will. This does not mean that Pharaoh had no choice with respect to acceptance of God's will and obedience to God. It does not mean that Pharaoh could not have repented from his opposition to God if he had desired to do so. It just means that God used Pharaoh to carry out His own will and would not let Pharaoh's opposition thwart His will. Pharaoh chose his own evil course. Then God used him, even in his evil course, for good to those who loved God.
What Paul wrote in chapter 9 must be understood in context with a number of other scriptural principles some of which are: "God is not one to show partiality" (Acts 10: 34); "God is not willing for any to perish" (2 Peter 3: 9); "Whoever will may come" (John 3: 16). These are principles that do not change. They have to do with salvation and eternal destiny. That is the reason Paul asked the rhetorical question in Romans 9: 14, "There is no injustice with God, is there?"
If God selected people before they were born to go to Heaven or Hell, and if those people could do nothing about it, God might be said to be unjust. But God's use of Pharaoh as described in Romans 9:17 did not indicate the ultimate eternal destiny of Pharaoh to be Heaven or Hell. Pharaoh was raised up to be King that God might show His power. This fact had nothing to do with Pharaoh's eternal destiny which was based upon his own faith and his own choice of action. I can imagine that Pharaoh might have been a vessel to demonstrate God's power by cooperating with God and willingly letting the Israelites go free. But Pharaoh chose to act against God, and God demonstrated His power by bringing Pharaoh' s evi1 actions to naught.
The Bible reveals that God does raise up people to different talents and to different stations in life in order to carry out His will. But God does not determine a person 's eternal destiny in His use of those persons. Everyone has a chance to be among those for whom God causes all things to work together for good. God does not destroy the human will and the human choice in His use of each human.
In verse 18 Paul wrote that not only does God have mercy on whom He desires, He also "hardens" whom He desires. Through the Bible account of Pharaoh, God has taught us a lesson about "heart hardening." Each time that God placed a miraculous sign before Pharaoh, and Pharaoh chose to disbelieve God in spite of the sign, the Old Testament stated that "God hardened his heart." What does this mean? Did God prevent Pharaoh from believing? Did God take away Pharaoh's choice, thus condemning him to hell even before he had lived out his life on earth? No. We see in verse 22 that God has always endured with patience those evil men whom He can use only as vessels of wrath. Pharaoh was one of those evil men that God used as a vessel of wrath. God endured Pharaoh's actions with patience. He did not prematurely condemn him to hell when He "hardened his heart."
We know that it was God's desire for Pharaoh to believe. The plagues were not just a judgement of God's wrath but were for the purpose of convincing the Egyptians to believe in Him. God would not try to convince Pharaoh to believe on the one hand and prevent him from believing on the other hand. But what does it mean when the Bible says "God hardened his heart?"
To be hardened means to be made stiff, unbending, or stubborn. We are told in Psalm 95:7 (which is quoted in Hebrews 3), "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." In other words, do not become stubborn in unbelief when God presents something for you to believe. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, "Take care, brethren, lest there be in anyone of you an evi1, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the 1iving God. But encourage one another day by day, as long as it is still called 'today,' lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
The same word "harden" is used in Hebrews 3:13 as the word used in Romans 9:18. In Romans it says that God hardens whom He desires but in Hebrews it says, Do not harden your own hearts! It intimates that hearts are hardened by our own choices as the deceitfulness of sin takes hold of us. Moreover, it intimates that one can escape the hardening by believing, or by ceasing to have an unbelieving heart.
The reference in Hebrews records the fact that the children of Israel had hardened hearts as they approached the land of promise. They were not allowed by God at that time to enter the land of promise. Then Hebrews 3:19 says, "And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." They lost the promised land because they chose not to believe, not because they had hardened hearts. But through their unbelief, the deceitfulness of sin caused them to get hardened hearts.
We all know this principle. It is an illustration of God's principle that those who continue in sin must reap the consequences of that sin. The more we turn away from God and do evil, the more calloused we become, the easier it becomes to do evil again, and the harder it becomes to turn back to God. Our souls, part of our "hearts," become hardened in sin more and more every time we reject a chance to believe. Is this what happened to Pharaoh? I think so.
God said to Moses about Pharaoh in Exodus 4:21, "I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." But in Exodus 8:15 it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In what way can it be said that God hardened Pharaoh' s heart and yet also truly be said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart? And then again, in what way can it be said that unbelief and deceitfulness of sin hardened h is heart? The Scripture indicates that all these things are simultaneously true concerning hardened hearts.
One of the main points of the 9th chapter of Romans is that God is in charge of everything. The law of sin and death (which includes the principle of the heart becoming hardened as the result of sin} reigns among unbelievers because God allows it to do so. God, in His patience, allows "vessels of wrath" to exist on this earth along with His "vessels of mercy" said Paul in Romans 9-22. It is a result of God's giving people free wills to make their own choices. Sin and unbelief cause hearts to be hardened because God allows people to make evil choices. In that sense, God hardens hearts. In that sense Paul said in Romans 9:18, "God hardens whom He desires." God has no desire that man be lost. God has no desire that man get into a hardened state. It is simply a principle of God that anyone who continues in sin must reap the consequences of that sin.
First of all God desires that sinful men accept His grace. But God desires that sinful men who will not accept his grace be judged in their lives by hardening of their hearts. If God allows men to get themselves into a hardened condition, who are we to question God about that? It is God who is in charge. God is always consistent. He has created us as free will agents. One of our choices happens to be the "road" to a hardened heart. Such is the nature of sin. If God did not allow us to make that choice, then we really wouldn't have any choice. We make the choice. God sets the result and duly informs us. If our hearts become hardened, we are without excuse. (This is clearly taught in Romans chapters 1 and 2.) And whatever choice we make, God is going to use us to carry out His purposes. If we make the choice that Pharaoh made, God will harden our hearts and use us as vessels of wrath. God even uses these vessels of wrath for good to those who love Him. Pharaoh's sin and hardness of heart was used by God to bring good to Israel and, finally, to judge Pharaoh. All of God's purposes and actions are good.
I think we will see as we study Romans that the hardening of our own hearts as we continue in unbelief, and the judgements of God that are brought to bear upon us as we live in a hardened, unbelieving state. God uses in unexpected ways even for our own good to try to bring us to repentance. God endures our evil practices with patience for a long season as He tries to bring us to repentance. This is an example of the truth declared in Romans 8: 28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." The discussion of these principles were continued by Paul in the next verses of chapter 9.
The potter has a right over the clay. God's mercy does not depend on man. Romans 9:14-23.
Gentiles are called as well as Jews. Romans 9:24-26.
But only a remnant will be saved. Romans 9:27-29.
"(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 tor 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? (23) And He did so in order that He might make known the riches or His glory upon vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory, (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) And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, 'Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved: (28) for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.' (29) And just as Isaiah foretold, 'Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, w would have become as Sodom. and would have resembled Gomorrah.'" Romans 9:19-29. NASV.
If God is in control of everything and able to use everything I do for one of His purposes, why does He find fault with me? Paul set up that question as coming from one who opposed what he was teaching. We are all under God's control from the standpoint that we cannot effectively resist His will. We cannot do anything that will thwart God's purpose. If we act the way God wants us to act, He uses us to accomplish His purposes. If we act contrary to the way He wants, He still uses us to accomplish one of His purposes. So why does He find fault?
In answering that question Paul reminded us of a principle that was brought out way back in the book of Job. That principle might be stated: The created thing cannot fully understand His creator and has no right to question the motives of the Creator. And, as illustrated in Genesis, Man has no right to answer back to God whether he has been created a Jacob or an Esau, for one purpose or another purpose. Paul illustrated the principle by calling to our minds the case of a potter molding vessels from clay. The potter can make what he wishes from the clay. He has need for various kinds of vessels, some for honorable use, some for common use. The potter decides what kind of vessels he needs and what kind of vessels he will try to make. The clay does not decide.
So God used evil men like Pharaoh as His vessels of wrath. Who has any right to question God about that? Evil men like Pharaoh, like anyone of us at one time in life, were destined for destruction. At that time God used them for whatever He could, according to some aspect of His purpose. At the same time God endured the evil of men with patience, said Paul in Romans 9:22. God did not want them to continue in their evil way.
The first time Pharaoh refused to let Israel leave Egypt, God could have struck him dead. Pharaoh was trying to fight against God. He was doing evil and he was destined eventually for destruction if he did not repent. But God endured his evil with patience giving him time to repent. Pharaoh was given a chance by God to live on and make many other free will choices in which he had every chance to recognize God and repent.
This did not mean that God was not willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known. Who are we to question God? We have no right to plead with God against anyone as Elijah did against Israel. In Romans 11:3 Paul recalled the words of Elijah to God against Israel, "Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." But what Elijah thought was not wholly true. It only seemed to Elijah's fallible flesh that he was alone with God. God had kept 7,000 men who had not bowed to Baal. No. We must not question God. God had His own purposes when He "endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction."
Some of us might ask questions concerning the statements of Romans 9:20-21 about the potter and the clay. Some who believe that God's predestination gives man no choice, point to these verses as upholding their view. "The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" 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." See here, someone says, God is the potter. We are the clay. God makes of us as He will and we have nothing to say about it. God will make us as He made Pharaoh, if He has a whim to do so, and damn us to destruction. Or He will make us for use in His church and take us to heaven. We are nothing but clay and can do nothing about it.
But this point of view is ascribing a characteristic to the potter which he does not have, especially a potter like our Creator. In Romans 9:20- 21, Paul wrote of a potter who will not make an inferior vessel when he could make a more valuable one. The Bible describes our Creator as one who would not make any of us for torment if He could make us for heaven. God would be working for the Devil to make an individual for destruction, when He could make him for use in His kingdom. However, the potter does have some lumps of clay which turn out to be of use only for dishonor, or common use. Why is this?
The Scripture in Jeremiah 18:1-10 gave the answer. Paul' s reference in the Roman letter to the potter and the clay, and vessels of honor and dishonor, seem to refer to truth that Jeremiah had made known as follows: "'The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, 'Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I shall announce my words to you!' Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter: so he remade it into another vessel. as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Can I not, 0 house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?' declares the Lord. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, 0 house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.'"
Thus we see that in one case the clay spoiled in the potter's hand. The clay has been given some little power of its own. Although the potter started out to make an honorable vessel of the clay, it spoiled and he had then to make of it whatever he could. The Jewish nation spoiled in God's hand. So then, and only then, He cut them off and used them as a vessel of wrath. Even then He left room for them to repent. This passage in Jeremiah shows clearly the free moral agency given to the Israelite nation and Israelite individuals.
If the Potter uses me for dishonor, it is because I caused myself to be spoiled in His hands. I have been created a lump of clay with a free will. I have the capability to cause myself to be spoiled in the Potter's hands. This Potter, our Lord, is very special. This clay, mankind, is very special. The clay has free choice to escape the Potter' s hands and become a spoiled vessel. Then the Potter has no choice but to use it for whatever it is fit. And, praise God, this vessel of clay can change its choice, and become cleansed, and become a vessel for honor useful to convey the mercy of the Master.
Paul told us in 2nd Timothy 2:20-21, "Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore. if a man cleanses himself from these things (wicked things), he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work."
Some Comments Concerning "Predestination."
We have seen that God has not predestined any individual to destruction in Hell without giving him a chance. We have seen that, even though every individual at one time or another has exercised his choice against God (has sinned) and is thus without excuse and deserving of destruction in Hell, God has guaranteed additiona1 opportunities to everyone to reverse his wrong choice. In fact, "God so loved the world (the world of sinners) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3: 16). Every individual has a chance at eternal life. No on is predestined to go to Hell without a chance, and everyone is predestined to salvation who will take the steps to accept the gift of salvation. But, everyone who does not repent and obey God during his lifetime, is predestined to go to Hell. God predestines us in a general way to one or another destiny. The choice is up to us.
We have seen that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. We have seen that God foreknew and predestined whoever would believe to become conformed to the image of His Son, and those who will choose to believe, God has already justified and glorified (that is, his justification and glorification is as good as done). This is something that is not possible for us to bring about as humans living in the dimensions given to us. But with God, this is possible, to predestine us and give us free choice also.
God has a plan and a purpose and He uses us all to carry out that purpose. If we choose to believe. we are used as vessels to carry out His mercy. If we choose not to believe. we are used as vessels to carry out His wrath. In using us as vessels He may make us "a Jacob" or "an Esau" in this world but He does not take away our chance to receive the gift of salvation or our ability to choose the gift of salvation.
In Romans 9:25 Paul referred to the Old Testament prophet Hosea. Hosea foretold that the Gentiles would become God's people and be "beloved" of God. When God "chose" Jacob, the younger, and "rejected" Esau, the older, for a special purpose, He chose the offspring of Jacob as a special people for a very special purpose. He said, in effect, to all other people, "You are not My people" for this special purpose. The Jews became "His people" to bring about the fleshly lineage of Christ. But Hosea was given insight by God's Holy Spirit to know that the Gentiles would also be given opportunity to become "sons of the living God." In Romans 9:22-23 Paul wrote that God endured with patience the actions of many evil people in order to bring in the Gentiles also as "sons of God", as "beloved", and as "God's people" also. In fact, the special purpose for which God chose the Jews was for the sake of the eternal salvation of the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
In Romans 9:27 Paul carried on his earlier point that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of promise." This time he referred to words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. This has always been true. No Jew is, or ever was, a child of promise just because he was a fleshly Jew. It is not the many fleshly descendants of Israel who will be saved, but only the children of promise who will be saved. And because of the fact that so many of the Jews had rejected God, Isaiah said that the children of promise will include only a remnant of the Jews.
What about the rest of the people on the earth who are not children of promise? In Romans 9:28 Paul quoted Isaiah as saying, "The Lord will execute His word upon the earth thoroughly and quickly." Because God is willing to demonstrate His wrath, God's purpose cannot be blocked and woe to the one who stands in the way of God 's purpose.
In Romans 9:29 Paul continued to quote Isaiah. Isaiah had pointed out that the fleshly nation of Israel had been preserved by God for the sake of the faithful remnant. Israel would have become as Sodom and Gomorrah, literally wiped from the face of the earth, had not God endured with patience the many vessels of wrath. He endured them that He might make known the riches of His glory upon the remnant, who were His vessels of mercy.
To all who read, we people of this earth are vessels of God, all of us. No one of us can say, "No, I am not a vessel of God." We are vessels either of God's mercy or of God's wrath. God wants us to give ourselves to Him and become "sons of God" as a remnant has done. It we will, then He will make us "vessels of God's mercy" to the world. If we do not become part of the remnant which gives themselves to God, then God uses us as "vessels of wrath" to the world. A "vessel of mercy" or a "vessel of wrath", which will it be? Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters." We must see that God's purpose will be carried out.
Pursuit of righteousness by law rather than by faith results in stumbling over the stumbling stone. Romans 9:30-33.
"(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.'" Romans 9:30-33. NASV.
"What shall we say then?" Paul asked. What has been the result of God's way of doing things? Well, His purposes have been and are being carried out. The Christ was brought to earth through a fleshly lineage. And the Gentiles attained righteousness by faith. The Gentiles did not pursue the Law of Moses. They were not called upon by God to do so. But through their' faith God counted them righteous just as He counted Abraham and other faithful men righteous.
The people of Israel, by and large, spurned faith and pursued by works a law of righteousness. That was the Law of Moses. But Israel did not arrive at righteousness through that law because Israel could not keep the law. They broke the law just as all men have done. No man ever became righteous by pursuing a law. By pursuing a law, man can only condemn himself because he always breaks the law. How does one achieve righteousness? He cannot, except God gives it to him as a gift. That was the lesson of the Law of Moses, the schoolmaster to lead the Jews to Christ. The Jews, by and large, did not learn it. But God, in His love and mercy, made the gift of salvation available to all men, Jews and Gentiles, through faith.
What are the conditions of one to receive God's gift of righteousness? They are simply that one have and exercise faith, believe, follow, and obey Jesus. To the Jew of old who lived before Christ came to earth, the conditions were to believe and trust in the promised Christ. To the Jew of Paul's day the condition was to believe and follow Jesus who had already come, had died, and had been raised. Faith saves, not works of law. The Gentiles did not work in the Law of Moses, nor did they achieve righteousness by working and trusting in the law written in their own hearts. Through faith in Christ they were counted righteous. The Jews worked but would not have faith. In this, the Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone. The very One whom God gave them to save them, served as a "stumbling stone" of condemnation to them if they did not have faith in Him. The concept of Jesus becoming a "stumbling stone" is an important principle for all of us to learn today. Paul enlarged upon its meaning in chapter 11 of the Roman letter.
We are also reminded here of the principle we studied in Romans chapter 4: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work. but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5). In this 9th chapter of Romans Paul illustrated this principle. The Jews worked hard under their Law and got their wages, or due. Since they could not keep the Law perfectly, their due did not include a state of righteousness for them. They spurned the faith in God's gift of salvation, so in eternity they were left with nothing but separation from God, for they were unfaithful law breakers. On the other hand, the Gentiles who had faith did not try to depend upon works of law (they "did not work"), and God gave them the promised gift of salvation reserved only for those whom God counts righteous.
Paul's language, in referring to "the one who does not work", does not mean that the recipient of God's gift does nothing at all. After all the recipient has a free will and must make a choice. He has to exercise "obedience of faith." His "obedience of faith," after God has counted him righteous, puts him in a position to serve God as a vessel for God's works of righteousness. Works of righteousness can only be done by God Himself through men whom God counts righteous, men who have been regenerated by God in the new birth.
The works which God can do through the righteous are the works James spoke of when he wrote "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26). Paul referred to the same works of which James spoke as acts of "obedience of faith." Paul in the Roman letter teaches us that faith without obedience is dead. Paul spoke in the Roman letter of an active life in Christ bearing fruit for Christ by obeying and "walking" where the Spirit of Christ leads. This is the same as the "working faith" expounded by James. Perhaps we might say, where James stresses the working activities of regenerated men, Paul in the Roman letter stresses the fundamental working of God's plan which makes it possible for regenerated men to do "good works" in the service of Christ. Romans shows us how "to quit spinning our wheels" and "wearing ourselves out for nothing" and how to make our activities really count in the service of our Lord.
When we see the big picture that Pau1 gave here in Romans 9, there are some tremendous lessons for us today. God's purpose was to bring Jesus Christ into the world and through Him to bring salvation to all people. God chose a certain group of people (the Israelites) to be His vessel in bringing about this grand purpose. God formed the vessel, Israel. Man did not frm it. God created Israel for His special purpose. All that God asked of the vessel Israel was that it perform its function in God's hands for which it was created.
But many Israelites would not perform their function. Many Israelites did much to try to block God's
purpose. Did these rebellious people of Israel block God's purpose? No! God's purpose could not be
frustrated. Although many in the nation of Israel turned against God, God preserved a remnant through
whom His purpose was carried out. And now, get this! God even used the defection of Israel to bring
about His purpose! If Israel would not be used as the vessel God intended it to be, then God placed a
stumbling block before it, and used Israel's defection to bring the Gentiles into righteousness. God's
purposes, of bringing Christ into the world of the flesh and bringing salvation to the Gentiles as well as the
Jews, could not be stopped.
Looking ahead we see that chapters 10 and 11 are about the Israel of God, about the real meaning of God's Israel, God's chosen people in all ages of time, not just the fleshly nation of the Jews. All that followed explained the opening statement in chapter 9, verse 6, "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." Who was and is the Israel of God? The Jews of Paul's day thought they had exclusive rights to claim that close relationship with God that the word Israel denoted. Paul, a fleshly Jew, chosen by Christ to be His Apostle to the Gentiles, must have "shook up" the Jewish people when he painted out in chapter 9, verse 24, that the Israel of God included people "not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." It is "God's purpose according to His choice" which stands, wrote Paul in chapter 9, verse 11. In verse 24 he wrote that God has chosen Gentiles as well as Jews. He went on to say in verse 25 that it is just as the prophet Hosea prophesied, "I will call those who were not My people, 'My people', and her who was not beloved, 'beloved.' And it whall 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." God has intended all along that His Israel would include Gentiles as well as Jews. His grace has been extended to all mankind throughout all time. The idea that is espoused by a few, that no Gentile before the time of Jesus on earth had ever had a chance to be saved, is simply not true. The Bible is not responsible for that idea.
All through chapter 9 down to verse 30 Paul pointed out God's part in establishment of His ultimate Israel. In verse 30 he mentioned the only part man has had in God's addition of people to His Israel. Man, whether Jew or Gentile, had to have the faith by which God counts him righteous. This has always been true. Even Abel, of the 2nd generation of men on earth, was counted righteous because of his faith in God.
The Jews of Paul's day, by and large, could understand and accept only the principle of fleshly lineage as the basis for God's Israel. They either could not, or would not, accept the principle that Israel was composed of "children of promise" who actually came through a spiritual lineage of faith of whom Abraham was, in type and example, the father, and that God's Israel is composed of both faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles. We Christians of these last days are Abraham's "children of promise" through a timeless lineage of faith, and are thus a part of God's Israel.
(This was taken from the book "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on the Roman Letter by F. M. Perry.)
© 2002, F. M. Perry