Sunday, February 06, 2005

ROMANS 9: BIBLE STUDY NOTES.

ROMANS 9

9:1-5 (Paul’s Sorrow Over The Jews)

Although Paul had been persecuted by the Jews, he felt “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for them. It is a sign of deep spiritual maturity that you can hurt for your persecutors and enemies. This is the ability to realize that their persecution follows from their “lostness” and inability to comprehend the grace of God. Your concern is not so much that they have hurt you, but that they are without God and without hope in the world.

Moses expressed this feeling to God after he came down off the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments. He found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. In Exodus 32:32 he said “but now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written. (Note the past tense.)”

Jesus demonstrated this on the cross. He said, as is recorded in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, cried out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” See Acts 7:60.

Now Paul, despite his sufferings, feels real anguish over the Jews, because they have rejected Christ. He even says he would trade his salvation for theirs, if they would come to Christ. When he says he wish he himself were “cursed”, he uses the Greek word “anathema”, which means given over to the wrath of God for eternal destruction.

Paul recites, in verse 4, all the special things they had from God. Yet, all those things did not bring them all to Christ.

9:5-9 (The Real Israel)

Paul goes on to say that the failure of the Jews to come to Christ was not a failure of God’s word (his promise to Abraham). Then he explains a great truth to us: not all of the physical descendants of Abraham are the real “Israel”. Rather, it is the children of the promise, those who have believed.

Paul had already broached this subject in Romans 2:28-29. There, he said “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

In verse 8, he tells us it is not the natural children of Abraham who are God’s children. If they were, it would be the descendants of Ishmael who were God’s children, for he was the first-born. But Ishmael was born of a sinful desire to accomplish God’s will or purpose in way other than the way God intended. He was a child of human will, but it did not change God’s will. (After Sarah’s death, Abraham also had children by Keturah, but they were not children of the promise, either.)

God’s promise and will was for Abraham to have a child by Sarah, a child of the promise, for God promised they would have a child, and only by the intervention of God could they have that child, for Sarah was barren. God kept that promise by giving them Isaac.

This is a picture of election. God chose Isaac as the one who would be Abraham’s son according to the covenant promise. He did not choose Ishmael. Abraham even asked God for Ishmael to be the promised child. In Genesis 17:18, he said to God “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing”. But God told him he would have a son with Sarah, call him Isaac, and God would establish his covenant with him and his descendants. Ishmael was there, Abraham loved him, he would have been very convenient. But God had chosen Isaac and his choice would stand. It reminds me of John 1:12-13: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Therefore, we know that there are those who are physical descendants of Abraham who will not believe and be saved. But we, who are not physical descendants of Abraham, are his spiritual descendants because we believe and are adopted as sons into God’s family, and are, therefore, part of Israel, the true, spiritual Israel.

Now Paul will go on to tell us that this is a matter of God’s election, or choice, also.

9:10-13 (An Example Of Election)

The next example of God’s election comes in the very next generation. Isaac, the son of promise, had two sons. They were twins, so they were as close to equal as they could be. They had the same father, who was of the line of promise, yet only one inherited the promise. That one was not the first-born, but the second, breaking the human pattern of choice. Paul quotes Malachi 1:2, where God said he loved Jacob, but hated Esau and turned his mountains into a wasteland. There is a sense of actual rejection of Esau.

Why did God do this? Paul said it was “in order that God’s purpose in election might stand (or continue)”.

It was not because of anything they did. Verse 12 says it was not by works, and verse 11 said they had not done anything good or bad. In fact, the choice was made before they were born. So, it was not that God looked into the future and saw that Jacob would be a better person than Esau, or do better things, that he chose him. Rather, God chose Jacob so that his purposes might stand.

I think Paul is giving us an analogy to salvation. He is saying God did not elect us to believe because he looked into the future and saw we would believe or that we would do good works. Rather, he chose us to believe in order to continue his purposes, the accomplishment of his will. It is about Him, not about us.

This is why there is no room for boasting or pride in the Christian life. God did not bring us to salvation because of anything we would do. He did so out of his own purposes, as an expression of his mercy and grace, and our only response is gratitude and praise.

9:14-16 (God’s Will vs. Man’s Will)

So, what is the first thing we will say in response to this idea of election? We say “it’s not fair!” Paul phrases it this way in verse 14: “is God unjust?” He answers the question, or the accusation, but saying “not at all”, or “by no means”.

As proof of his assertion that God is just, Paul offers a quote of Exodus 33:19, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”. Let’s look at Exodus 33.

God told Moses to take the Israelites to Canaan. Moses asked God for a deeper relationship between them, and with the Israelites also. In verse 13, Moses asked God to teach him God’s ways so he could know God and continue to find favor. God promised his presence would be with them.

Moses wanted more assurance. He asked God to show him God’s glory. God responded in verse 19 that he would cause his goodness to pass in front of Moses and would proclaim his name in Moses’ presence. Then he makes the statement Paul quoted: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So, in this process of deepening their relationship, God gave Moses a taste of his presence and proclaimed his name. Then, he told Moses, in effect, that he (God) is sovereign. He chooses those on whom he will have mercy. He chooses those he will save. He chooses those who will minister for him. He has the right to choose.

The book of Job has a lot to say about God’s sovereignty. God allowed Satan to take everything from Job: his health, his wealth, and his children. When that happened, Job 1:20-21 says that Job fell to the ground in worship and said “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised”. He recognized God’s sovereign right to deal with him as God pleased.

But, as things progressed, Job could not resist questioning God about everything that happened. In Job 30:20, he said “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me.” He goes on to recite to God how righteous he, Job, is and asks God to answer him. Turn to Job 38-41 and you read God’s answer. He tells Job nothing about Job’s righteousness, or his complaints, but talks instead of God’s creation of the earth and his sustaining of it, and his knowledge of all things. In other words, he reminded Job that he is God and he is sovereign. In Job 40:8, he said “Would you discredit my justice?” This is the same question Paul raised in Romans 9.

By the way, Job responded in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and repentance. In Job 42:1-2, he said “I know that you can do all things; no plan of your can be thwarted.” In verse 6, he said “therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

So, God is sovereign. He makes his choices according to his will. Those choices and actions of God are just. If we do not think they are just, or unfair, we need to adjust our thinking to God’s. We should acknowledge his sovereignty and repent if we have questioned it.

9:17-18 (The Example of Pharaoh)

Jonathan Edwards described God’s sovereignty as “his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.” (sermon on Romans 9) As an example of God’s sovereignty and his right to deal with men and women as he pleases, Paul cites a scriptural example: the Pharaoh of Egypt. Paul is a great preacher\theologian. He always resorts to scripture, not to philosophy to prove his point.

You can read about Pharaoh in the early chapters of Exodus. He was the ruler of Egypt. He kept the Israelites in slavery. When God spoke to him through Moses and commanded him to let the Israelites leave Egypt, Pharaoh said no.

In Exodus 9:15-16, the Lord told Pharaoh this: I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague tat would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up (or spared you) for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

The Lord inflicted a series of plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh would relent during the plague, but, as soon as it was over, he would refuse again to release the Israelites. Repeatedly, the scripture says the Lord hardened his heart.

Paul says in verse 18 that God will have mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and harden whom he wants to harden. This is a summary of his dealings with Esau and Pharaoh. It is also called the doctrine of reprobation, the counterpart to the doctrine of election.

How did the Lord harden Pharaoh’s heart? In a sense, he did it by revealing his mercy, his power, and his will. Pharaoh rejected them all. The Lord told him he was merciful by not destroying him, but Pharaoh did not love him for it. The Lord displayed his power through the plagues, but Pharaoh did not bow to him. The Lord revealed his will by communicating it clearly through Moses, but Pharaoh did not obey it.

Pharaoh followed his own sinful, prideful, un-regenerated heart and refused to obey God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
God could have changed Pharaoh’s heart, but God used him to display his glory, by defeating him and freeing the Israelites. In 1 Samuel 4:8, the Philistines said “Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert.”

Pharaoh lived out Proverbs 16:4, which says the Lord works out everything for his own ends, even the wicked for the day of disaster.

Why is it important that God acted in election? It is the answer to Paul’s original question in this chapter: did the word of God fail since all Jews did not come to faith in Christ? Paul’s answer, then, is no, God’s word did not fail, God chose, or elected, for it to come out this way.

It is important to you, for you may ask: will God fail me. The answer is: no, God is saving you and working in you according to his will and election.

It is important to the church, for we ask: what of those who came and seemed to be part of us then left us? 1 John 2:19 says: they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

It is important to God, for it shows that salvation is not by our works so that we may boast, but is solely a function of God’s grace, to his glorious praise. The doctrine of election glorifies God, for it shows that God is absolutely sovereign and we have no power over him. We live in his mercy and love.

9:19-21 (ARE WE OFF THE HOOK?)

Paul anticipates the next question: since we cannot resist God’s will, how can God blame us for what we choose?

The assumption here is that we cannot resist God’s will. Job 42:2 says “I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Knowing that God’s will is irresistible, so, some would complain that God holds us accountable even though he did not choose us for regeneration. Paul replied that God, as the sovereign, could do as he liked with his creation. He used the analogy of potter and clay. The clay does not get to complain about the way the potter made it. Isaiah acknowledged this in Isaiah 64:8, saying “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” Proverbs 16:4 says “The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.”

Although the emphasis of Paul’s answer is God’s sovereignty and ability to do what he will, remember that the question was “why does God still blame us?” So, the assumption here, with which Paul does not argue, is that God still blames us despite his sovereignty in election. That is, God holds us accountable for our choices.

There is a tension, then, in the Bible between man’s ability to choose and God’s election. Man has the ability to choose, and is accountable for his choice for Christ or against him. But man’s ability to choose Christ is corrupted by sin. He cannot choose Christ unless Christ calls him and regenerates his corrupt spirit so that he can choose Christ. Jesus said, in John 6:65, “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (NIV) The ESV says “unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Why is it this way? Because it is the way God made it. He does not tell us more than that.



9:22-23 (Paul’s Proposition)

Paul proposed reasons God might act in election. First, he said God might bear with great patience the objects of his wrath in order to show his wrath and power. Paul calls them the objects of his wrath, prepared for destruction.

This is a hard concept for us. Two examples occur to me.

God prepared Pharaoh for destruction. He gave him multiple chances to do what God commanded. He “bore him with great patience”. Finally, though, God demonstrated this power and wrath when he acted. God told Pharaoh, through Moses, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

God prepared Judas for destruction. Jesus said, in John 17:12, “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” That Scripture is Psalm 41:9, that says “even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Peter told the disciples, after the death of Jesus, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas…”

Paul went on to say that God did this to reveal the riches of his glory to the objects of his mercy, the Believers. We see the riches of his glory when we see him act in judgment, and we respond in worship and thanksgiving.

Notice that we, as the objects of his mercy are also those he prepared in advance for glory. We are also the ones he called.


9:24-29 (Calling All Gentiles [at least the elect ones])

Paul again points out that God called people from among the Gentiles to become part of his people. We once were not his people, but, when we received him, we became his people. 2 Peter 2:9 says we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to god, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

John 1:11-12 says he came to that which was his own [the Jews], but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him [mostly Gentiles], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

9:30-33 (The Stumbling Stone)

Just in case you did not get it the first several times, Paul says here that Gentiles have obtained a righteousness that is by faith. He said the Gentiles did not pursue it, but they obtained it. Why is that? It is because God made it so.

In contrast, the Jews pursued righteousness, but did not attain it. Why did they not? They did not because they pursued it by works rather than by faith.

The Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone, which is Christ. Isaiah 8:13-14 says “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary.” We fear God and revere him as holy, but we also come to him and he is our sanctuary. He protects us, shelters us, and keeps us for all eternity. No one can separate us from his love.

But the passage goes on to say “for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.”

Many who want to come to God on their own terms stumble on the stone that is Christ. Men and women want to justify themselves and say accept me on my own merits. But God says repent and believe and you will be saved. 1 Peter 2:7-8 points out that, to those who believe, the stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, the stone is a stumbling stone.

Today, do not stumble, but believe. Lay down your works of righteousness. God sees them only as filthy rags. Lay down your pride, stubbornness, reluctance, and fear. Believe in Christ and receive eternal life and eternal joy.

Romans 9 is a difficult passage. Regardless of how you feel about it, or how you interpret it, one thing is clear and we can all agree upon it. You must come to Christ in faith. If you do, he will accept you and save you and hold you forever. If you have not come to Christ, come today.


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