A Brief History: Romans 9

Thoughts from Passage

This is a long chapter with all kinds of twists and turns. To stick with an anology that NT Wright uses this chapter is the type of winding road you would see on a car commercial. The problem with this particular road is that one direction leads towards Christ and the other road leads to the places everyone has already been. Paul writes this having taken the turn that leads to Jesus, but is sharing how he came to that turn and why others, especially the Israelites, should change direction and join him on a new road. Rather than trying to give an in-depth look at this section I will write what I (and I hope others) see as the movements of the texts.

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised![a] Amen.

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[b] 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”[c]

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 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.”[f]

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”[i] 26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”[j]

27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. 28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”[k] 29 It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”[l]

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

The first several verses, really this whole section, reveal that Paul writes this with a broken heart. Paul so desperately wants the Israelites to join him in following Christ that he says he would even give up his own salvation to do so. These verses show a man full of sadness at the thought of his brother and sister Israelites not following this new thing that God is doing. This really encompasses the first 5 verses and I would say this move is Paul’s broken heart.

Paul has this broken heart because God’s chosen people are not believing what God is doing through Jesus. This breaks Paul’s heart because if they do not begin to have faith that Jesus is God’s answer then they will no longer be God’s chosen people. This is why Paul uses the line “not all who are Israel are Israel” (yes, I know that is verse six, but there are not always clean lines in trying to summarize Scripture).

Paul moves from a broken heart to the next move is pointing out how even though it looks like God is doing a new thing, this is really what the Scriptures point toward. Move two is the revealing of God doing what He always said he would do. Paul does this by pointing out several things that the Jews would have known.

This centers around Abraham who really has been a central figure throughout Paul’s letter to this church. Abraham was righteous by faith and Paul has already pointed that out. However, it was Genesis 12 that Abraham was told he and his descendants would be a blessing to the world. Genesis 15 tells that Abraham’s descendants will be more numerous than the sand on the seashore, but we see in Genesis 16 Abraham and Sarah tried to speed up God’s plan and used Hagar to do it. This is the beginning of Paul pointing out various references to the Scriptures which show where God used unlikely people.

In not so many words, Paul asks the question that if God was going to make Abraham’s descendants more numerous than the sand on the seashore would he not have had to include Gentiles? This is the next move of Paul’s thoughts, the Gentiles are the fulfillment and continuation of God’s convenat with Abraham! This covenant is expanded through the work of Jesus and allows within the story the Israelites knew, a way for Gentile believers to become Abraham’s descendants. (Paul uses words from Isaiah, and Hosea among others throughout this section which would basically be from verse 6-29)

The final move is Paul pointing out how throughout history God has been at work and they, the Israelites, have missed it, but that through faith they can be made right. It doesn’t take much looking through the stories of the Israelites and their waywardness to see how true this has been throughout the Scriptures as they would wander away and then repent and God would hear and answer their prayers. It was never their works that saved them, but always their faith in a God who redeems. Paul is warning against the direction they have been heading in which they have tried to believe that through their efforts that God “owed” them, but this was the stumbling block for them. God owes them nothing, but through God’s gift they receive salvation.

This is a simplified commentary of the text that is full of holes. However, it is a quick look at a dense section of Scripture in which Paul is doing what Paul normally does, saying much more behind the words that he writes! It is also always good to remember that this chapter falls in the middle of what is really three chapters of thought (chapters 9-11) and that it falls within a full letter to the church of Rome, and that it is one of many letters that Paul wrote, but it also must be looked at in light of all the New Testament and the Old Testament and ultimately through the light of Jesus…that’s a run on sentence as a way of saying we always read and understand Scripture in light of its entirety!

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