Category Archives: ROMANS 9

The apostle Paul shows that God’s dealings with Israel in Old Testament times are not contradicted by the gospel.

ROMANS 9

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Romans chapter 9 God’s ways defended

Chapters 9-11 of the epistle to the Romans form a parenthetical section in the epistle, in which the apostle shows that the gospel which is the same for Jew and Gentile is perfectly in harmony with the purpose of God. The Old Testament had made a sharp distinction between Israel and the rest of mankind, (see, for example, Ephesians 2:11,12), but the apostle has shown in chapters 1-8 that as far as sinnership is concerned, “there is no difference”. So does this mean that Old Testament distinctions are invalid, and that there is no future for Israel as a separate entity? The apostle shows in chapters 9, 10 and 11 that this is not so. In chapter 9 the emphasis is upon incidents from Israel’s past which declare the principles behind the purpose of God. In chapter 10 the emphasis is on Israel’s present unbelief and its consequences. In chapter 11 the emphasis is on the future for Israel when “the Redeemer shall come from Zion”.

It is vital to a correct understanding of the section to see that the apostle is referring throughout to Israel as a nation. Twelve times he uses the word Israel, the name of the nation, and twice he refers to Israelites, as members of the nation. But he only uses the word Jew, the name for the individuals making up the nation, on two occasions, and that, not in connection with national affairs, but individual response to the gospel, in 9:24 and 10:12. A false view of chapters 9-11 will be formed in our minds if we do not take account of this fact.

Throughout chapters 1 to 8 the apostle has made reference to the Jews and the Gentiles as individuals. In chapter 1:16 he spoke of the gospel being “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. Now it was a great blessing for the Jews that the first thing the apostles did when they went into a city to preach the gospel was to go into the synagogue. This was where seekers after God were to be found. But whilst this was a great blessing, it was also a strong rebuke, for it supposed that the works of the law had not enabled the Jew to come to a state of righteousness, for the gospel was needed by them as much as by the depraved Gentile. It also supposed that the Jews in the synagogue had not received Christ as their Messiah yet, or else they would be meeting with Christians.

Then in chapter 2:8,9 the Jew is first again, but this time in judgement. “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile”. The apostle is careful to repeat in verse 10 that glory, honour, and peace are offered to the Jew first, but the fact remains that judgement will be meted out the Jew first because of his failure to obey righteousness as expressed in the law formally given to the nation at Sinai.

Later in the same chapter the apostle exposes the hypocrisy of the Jew, for he prided himself on having the law, yet failed to keep it. As a result the name of God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles. The conclusion the apostle draws is that being a Jew, committed by the rite of circumcision to keeping the law, is of no value if the law is transgressed. A true Jew is circumcised in heart; in other words, is a believer in Christ.

The question naturally arises, if a Jew is no better that a Gentile when it comes to sin and judgement, is there any advantage or benefit in being a Jew? The apostle answers that there are many advantages in being a Jew, the main one being that they had the oracles of God, for God spoke through Moses to them, and the words were recorded for their instruction and reproof, 3:2. The fact that many Jews were unfaithful to God in their attitude to His word does not mean that the word is invalid. This unfaithfulness is highlighted by fourteen statements Paul extracts from the Old Testament Scriptures, showing conclusively that the Jews were sunk in sin, and effectively no different to Gentiles, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, 3:23.

So this chapter is the beginning of that part of the epistle in which the apostle, having made known the ways of God in the gospel in chapters 1 to 8, now defends those ways against possible objections, especially from his Jewish readers. In particular, His ways in relation to the people of Israel as a nation.

Structure of the chapter

Section (a) Verses 1-5 The privileges of Israel
Section (b) Verses 6-13 The purpose of God
Section (c) Verses 14-18 The pity of God
Section (d) Verses 19-24 The power of God
Section (e) Verses 25-33 The proof from the Scriptures

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 9, VERSES 1 TO 5:

9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

9:2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

9:5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Section (a) Verses 1-5 The privileges of Israel

9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

I say the truth in Christ- Paul writes now as a believing Jew, and therefore as a man who is in Christ. His Jewish opponents no doubt accused him of treachery, for he had embraced Christianity, which to them was based on the claims of a blasphemous imposter. He puts himself on oath, so to speak, to tell the truth about his situation. It would be a very serious thing to associate with Christ, and then lie.
My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit- first his oath, now two witnesses by which every word may be established. His conscience was one witness, and the Holy Spirit is the other. He is confident that the Holy Spirit and his conscience are in agreement on this matter. Even if the Jews were sceptical of Paul, this solemn statement would at least gain their attention.

9:2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart- far from having disowned his nation, Paul’s heart was burdened and sorrowful as he thought of their national unbelief. In the next verse he will tell us how far his intense concern for the nation of Israel could go.

9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ- the imperfect tense of the verb “wish” indicates that which is simply theoretical, and which could not be realized in actual fact. It is not possible for someone who is truly saved to be anathema to Christ. Moses in a similar situation asked for his name to be blotted out of God’s book, if it meant God would presence Himself with His people again, Exodus 32:30-35. The book he referred to being the record of those who live upon the earth, Psalm 139:16. (Note, in passing, that this book includes the unborn). In effect, Moses was offering to die for the nation.
For my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh- the word brethren speaks of natural affection, not a spiritual relationship in the family of God. Stephen addressed the Jews as brethren, emphasizing their common descent from their father Abraham, Acts 7:2, but their subsequent treatment of him showed they were not born of God.

There now follows an impressive list of national privileges, not one of which in itself brought individual salvation.

9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Who are Israelites- this national name has not been used in the epistle previously, but now occurs as ‘Israel’ or ‘Israelite’ 14 times in chapters 9-11, alerting us to the fact that Paul is speaking about the nation, not specifically about individual Jews.
To whom pertaineth the adoption- “adoption” is the act of recognising a person, or in this case, a nation, as one’s son. This means Israel were God’s son nationally, for God said to Pharoah, “Israel is My son, even My firstborn”, Exodus 4:22,23. Israel as a nation is the firstborn in God’s family of nations, see Hosea 11:1 and Amos 3:2.
And the glory- the glory of God appeared in connection with the Tabernacle, thus forming a link with the revelation of the God of glory who appeared to Abraham when he was in Ur, Acts 7:2.
And the covenants- whether it be to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Phinehas or David.
And the giving of the law- note the apostle separates the covenants of promise from the old covenant of the Law, see Galatians 3:16,17. The former were unconditional, the latter was conditional on their obedience, hence the distinction made between them in this list.
And the service of God- a reference to the priestly and Levitical activity in connection with the tabernacle and the temple. See Hebrews 9:6. It is not Scriptural to call Christian meetings services.
And the promises- the detail of the undertaking given in the covenants was expanded by the prophets, as they spoke of the blessings available to the nation.

9:5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Whose are the fathers- having spoken of things, the apostle now speaks of persons. The patriarchs were the common possession of all in Israel. This prepares the way for verses 6-13 where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are used as illustrations.
And of whom, as concerning the flesh- note the change of preposition. The nation possessed the fathers, but being unbelieving, did not possess Christ. “Of” means “out of”. Christ is really descended from the fathers insofar as the flesh is concerned. He has legal descent from Abraham through Joseph, Matthew 1:1,16, and natural descent from Abraham through
Mary, Luke 3:23,34.
Christ came- the Messiah had arrived, but they failed to recognise Him. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not”, John 1:11. He came of Israel according to the flesh, but He also came forth from the Father, and came into the world, John 16:28. It would be inconceivable for the apostle, who believed in Christ, to turn from the nation from which He came, and to whom He came.
Who is over all, God blessed for ever- there is more to Christ than manhood. He who is from the nation is over the nation, for He is equal with the God of Israel. Note how the manhood and Godhood are both necessary here, as they were necessary in Romans 1:3,4. Far from modifying his doctrine concerning Christ as he defends himself, Paul insists that Christ is blessed for ever, deserving equal honour with the Father. He is Son of the Blessed, Mark 14:61,62.

This shows the wickedness of rejecting Him, as the majority in Israel had done. He is over all, so they should have responded, “My Lord!” He is God, so they should have responded, “My God!”, but they failed to do so. The apostle Thomas doubted at first that Christ was risen, and only believed when he saw, after a whole week had gone by. He represents the nation of Israel in a future day, who, when the whole period of the current church age has elapsed, will “look upon Him whom they pierced”, John 19:37, for “every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him”, Revelation 1:7. Significantly, it was the sight of the pierce-wounds that convinced Thomas, John 20:24-29. No wonder he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God”.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 9, VERSES 6 TO 13:

9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

9:9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

9:10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;)

9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

The truths brought out in this chapter would be very startling to a Jew, shaking his beliefs to the very foundation. The apostle is going to methodically show, however, that these truths are based on the way God dealt with the patriarchs. It is not even that these truths have not been mentioned before in the New Testament, for they have, in various ways, as the following points show:

1. The words of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus, “Marvel not that I say unto thee, “Ye must be born again”, John 3:7. Note the change of personal pronoun. The Authorised Version, because it retains the distinction between singular and plural pronouns, is indispensable if a correct grasp of God’s mind is to be known. The Lord speaks to Nicodemus as an individual, (“I say unto thee”), but then says, “Ye must be born again”. Every individual in the nation of which Nicodemus was a part, and of which he was a teacher, needed to be born again. It was not just a message for him. So the nation as a whole stood in need of the new birth. Just being the nation was not enough.

2. The lawyer who came to ask about the law was told the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. The lesson he should have derived from the story was not that he was like a priest or Levite, or even like the Samaritan, but he was like the man left half-dead by the roadside. Such was the condition even of one who had influence and prestige in Israel.

3. In John 8:33 the claim is made by the Jews that they were Abraham’s seed. In response the Lord Jesus alluded to the incident in Genesis 21:8-11 where Ishmael mocked Isaac, and as a consequence was cast out of the father’s house. It is slaves that are cast out, as Ishmael was; it is sons that remain in the house, as Isaac did. But the Jews were slaves to sin, for the Lord said to them, “He that committeth sin is the servant of sin”, verse 34. They were servants like Ishmael then, and not like Isaac the free son. Their claim to be Abraham’s seed was correct, but Ishmael could claim this, and had God’s word to prove it, for God had said to Abraham, “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed”, Genesis 21:13. Mere descent from Abraham was not enough however, if they are to be sons in the Father’s house.

These incidents will provide the framework for the apostle’s teaching in this important passage. As we go through, we shall have to be careful to distinguish the times when Paul is speaking of the literal event, and when he is deriving a spiritual principle from it which furthers the cause he has in mind in the passage. We shall also need to be careful to remember the apostle’s overall purpose, which is to show how God deals with the nation of Israel.

Section (b) Verses 6-13 The purpose of God

9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect- when laws are enacted it is usually specified when they are to take effect; that is, when they are to come into force. Now the word of God in the Old Testament said that it would be the Messiah who would bring to fruition the purpose of God for the nation. But it seems as if that word of God has not come into effect, for the nation rejected Jesus of Nazareth and saw to it that He was crucified. They were acting inconsistently in this, for the coming of Christ was the climax to the Old Testament blessings mentioned in verses 4 and 5, not an after-thought.

To deal with this problem, (if problem it is), the apostle shows that the reason things do not seem to have come into effect as the Jews expected, (for they were looking for a warrior Messiah to defeat their enemies, not a crucified Messiah who seemed himself to be defeated), is the unbelief of the majority in the nation. It is the apostle’s task to show, then, that the reason why God’s purpose has not yet been fully realised is because that purpose involves a nation that is composed of believers only. As long as that is not the case, the realisation of all God’s plans is deferred.

The apostle begins by drawing on truths which were implied in God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founders, under God, of the nation, and revered by them all. If he can show that God was acting, even then, on certain fixed principles, and if he can show that those fixed principles explain the current situation of Israel, then his task is done and the problems are solved. It will also show that Paul’s sorrow over the current state of the nation is not due to any disappointment he has with God’s dealings. Rather, the cause of His sorrow is alone the unbelief of the privileged nation of Israel.

There are at least five incidents the apostle uses, and they are these:

1. When Jacob was renamed Israel, Genesis 32:24-28
When Jacob was born his hand was holding his brother Esau’s heel. Rebekah called him Jacob because the word means “take by the heel”. It also means “supplanter”, as we see from the words of his brother Esau when he said, “Is he not rightly called Jacob? For he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing”, Genesis 27:36. Having fled from his brother Esau, Jacob was returning, years later. God intervened in his experience, and sent an angel who wrestled with him. When he asked for a blessing from God, the angel said that his name would be changed from Jacob to Israel, “for as a prince hast thou power with God, and with men, and hast prevailed”, Genesis 32:28. The name Israel is made up of two words, “isra” meaning prince, and “el” meaning God.

2. The birth both of Ishmael and Isaac, Genesis 16:1-16; 21:1-5 Abraham had no son and heir, so he adopted the fleshly custom of the day and produced a son, Ishmael, through Hagar, Genesis 16. God then promised to give Abraham a son through his proper wife Sarah, and even though by this time Abraham and Sarah were old, Isaac was born, Genesis 17:15-17; 21:1-5.

3. Jacob and Esau when unborn, Genesis 25:21-26

Isaac’s wife Rebekah was carrying twins, and they struggled within her. When she enquired of the Lord about this, she was told that there were two nations in her womb, and the twin who would be born first, Esau, would serve his younger brother Jacob, Genesis 21-26.

4. After Israel made the golden calf, Exodus 32:9-14;33:15-19

God threatened to destroy the nation of Israel for worshipping the golden calf. Moses intervened, however, and God agreed to spare the nation with the words, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy”, Exodus 33:19.

5. The raising up of Pharoah to be king in Egypt, Exodus 9:16.

He resisted God will, and became an example of the folly of so doing. God said to him, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth”, Exodus 9:16.

Returning to verse 6

For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel Jacob is used as an illustration first by the apostle, even though he was after Abraham and Isaac in time, because his name was given to the nation, and the passage is about national status and blessing.

The rabbis taught that “No Israelite can go into Gehenna”, Pesikta 38(a), and, “All Israelites have their portion in the world to come”, Sanhedrin I. The apostle must deal with this error, and he does so by the use of the incident involving the name of Israel.

Jacob, whose name, as we have seen, means “supplanter”, was renamed Israel, meaning “a prince with God”, or “ruling with God”. So what Paul is emphasizing here is that they are not all princes with God who bear the name of “prince with God”. In other words, to be of the nation naturally, does not secure spiritual blessing; that must come through faith. Jacob had to learn that lesson, for he had survived by his scheming until Genesis 32, and then he found that true blessing comes from God alone, when men earnestly desire it. It was at this point he became a prince with God.

The apostle shows in the next verses that their status as a nation is through the purpose of God, and is not a result of them meriting the position. That purpose does not involve a nation composed of both believers and unbelievers, but believers only. This is why there is a future for Israel as a nation still, because their destiny as a nation is grounded in the sovereign choice of God. But is is a nation that believes. Like the fig tree that the Lord Jesus cursed, which withered away from the roots, Mark 11:12-14,20,21, the nation of Israel after the flesh has no future. We must not embrace the idea that the current State of Israel acts according to God. The nation is in unbelief, and has been since it crucified its true Messiah. In fact, the majority of the nation will receive and believe the Antichrist, see Daniel 9:27. Individual members of the nation must learn to depend on God and His grace for blessing, and come to Him individually in faith.

Jacob’s brother Esau had used this name in a similar way. When Jacob was born, he was given that name, which means “to take by the heel”, because he had grasped his twin brother’s heel after he had been brought forth. But the Hebrew word for Jacob also means “he will supplant”, so it was prophetic also. Later, when the twins were grown, Esau said, “Is not he rightly called Jacob? For he hath supplanted me these two times”, Genesis 27:36. So the name Jacob was used in a figurative as well as a literal sense. Such is the case also with the name Israel in this verse.

We see this illustrated in the case of Nathaniel, who was described by the Lord, (who knew his heart), as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile”, John 1:47. Jacob had been marked by guile, but then had dealings with God and was renamed Israel. Nathaniel, too, had been born as a man of guile, Jacob-like, as we all are, but a change had come about, and he was now Israel-like, a prince with God, and recognised as such by the Lord Jesus Himself. He was now fit to be part of Christ’s kingdom, not only because he recognised Jesus of Nazareth was king of Israel, but also because he owned Him as Son of God. Only those who do this will be in the kingdom.

Another example of the use of a name as a description is found in Romans 2:28,29, where we read, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God”. Now the word Jew is derived from the name Judah, which means “praise”, see Genesis 29:35. So the apostle is virtually saying to the Jews, “You are called by the name Judah, but because there is no reality in your hearts, and you are only Jews by birth, then you do not live up to that name by bringing praise to the Lord by your lives; nor can He, for His part, praise you for the way you live”.

So, going back to his statement, we see that the apostle is in line with Old Testament and New Testament practice to use the name Israel not only as a personal title, but also as a description. So what does the statement actually mean? The apostle is declaring that being part of the nation that derives its name from Israel their forefather, does not automatically mean that you can be described as “Israel”, a “prince with God”. That dignity only comes after personal dealings with God have wrought a great change of heart. So it is that the apostle can refer to the future nation of Israel, after it has come into the good of God’s grace nationally, after their Messiah has returned to them, as “the Israel of God”, the nation He can own and recognise because they are all believers, Galatians 6:16.

Taking all these things together, we see that the apostle is shattering the national complacency of those in Israel, and is showing them that their rejection of Christ is the result of their own unbelief, and not as a result of God’s word being ineffectual.

9:7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children- John the Baptist warned those of his day, “think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father:’ for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”, Matthew 3:9. If being a child of Abraham is a natural thing only, then God can produce children for Abraham by breathing life into natural things like stones.

We should notice the different ways the word “seed” is used in connection with Abraham, as follows:

First, Ishmael was Abraham’s seed, in the sense that he was a child of Abraham, Genesis 21:13, (the very next verse to the one Paul is about to quote).

Second, Isaac was Abraham’s seed, for God said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called”, Genesis 21:12.

Third, Abraham’s descendants through Isaac are called Abraham’s seed, for God said, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice”, Genesis 22:17,18.
Fourth, in the ultimate sense “The Seed” is Christ, as Galatians 3:16 makes clear with the words, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘And to seeds’, as of many; but as of one, ‘And to thy seed’, which is Christ”. So if the seed is Christ, then He cannot be associated with any who are not believers. God’s definition of the seed of Abraham, in this use of the word, (as opposed to the use of it sometimes as meaning ‘physical descendants of Abraham’, like Ishmael, or the children of Keturah), was “those who can be associated with Christ, and who belong to Him”. Even if they lived in Old Testament times God could think of them in relation to His Son, just as He passed over the sins of Old Testament saints in view of His Son’s sacrifice at Calvary, Romans 3:25.

Fifth, the expression “Abraham’s seed” is applied to believers of this age in the words, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”, Galatians 3:29. So the seed of Abraham is said to be believers at this present time. It would be inconsistent to think that the seed could consist of unbelievers in former times, but only believers now.

But, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called”- this is a quotation from Genesis 21:12, spoken when Hagar and Ishmael were cast out of Abraham’s house. God sovereignly singled out Isaac to be the heir of Abraham, thus showing that the natural descent of Ishmael from Abraham was of no avail when it comes to relationship with God. This is not only true of those descended from Abraham through Hagar, but extends even to those who only have natural descent through Abraham, as we have seen from the Lord’s words to the men of His day, as we shall see when thinking of the next verse.

9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God- “That is” should be understood as “which means”. Paul now applies the principle illustrated by Ishmael, (child of the flesh), and Isaac, (child of promise). He had already used the story in a similar way in Galatians 4:21-31.

The Jews had claimed in John 8:33 to be Abraham’s seed. This gave the Lord Jesus the opportunity to point out to them the spiritual meaning that lay behind a significant event in the experience of Abraham and Isaac. On the day that Isaac was weaned, his father had made a great feast to celebrate the occasion. Ishmael, however, cruelly mocked Isaac, and consequently was cast out of Abraham’s house, Genesis 21:1-13.

Now Ishmael was the son of Hagar, the slave-girl from Egypt. Nonetheless he could claim to be Abraham’s seed, for Abraham was his father. The Jews, too, were naturally descended from Abraham. As slaves to sin, however, they were no different to Ishmael, the child of the slave. As such, they had no right to be in God’s house.

Isaac had the right to remain in the father’s house, and he illustrates the fact that the Lord Jesus, the Son of His Father, is worthy of a settled place in the Father’s presence. He has no sin within to enslave Him, and He is perfectly free to do the Father’s will.

The wonder of it all, however, is that others besides the Lord Jesus may share that place. Those made free by the application of the truth to their souls, are made free indeed. This particular word for “indeed”, is only used here in John’s gospel. It is based on the word “to be”, and indicates that those who are made free by the Lord Jesus are free to the very core of their being. They are not superficially free. They are as free, in fact, as the Son is free, and with the same result, namely favour with the Father, and ultimately a place in the Father’s house on high, John 14:2,3.

There was no doubt that the Jews who surrounded Christ as He spoke these words were descended from Abraham as to the flesh, but their attitude towards Him suggested there was something badly wrong. Just as Ishmael mocked Isaac when he was presented to the world as the son of his father, so the nation of Israel mocked Christ’s claim to be the Son of God. So it is possible to be descended from Isaac naturally, but be Ishmael-like spiritually, and reject Christ.

In a similar way the apostle begins to apply the principle; he is thinking on two levels. He is seeing Ishmael as the product of Abraham’s fleshly way of obtaining a son, and Isaac as the son God supernaturally gave to Abraham and Sarah. In that initial sense Ishmael was a child of the flesh as to his birth, and Isaac was a child of God as to his birth.

Paul is not saying anything about the personal spiritual status of Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac was certainly not born of God because he was miraculously conceived; he would have to have personal dealings with God to become His child. (In any case being a child of God in the new-birth sense does not happen at natural birth). Nor was Ishmael unable to believe because he was a child after the flesh. After all, every person born, including Isaac, is “born of the flesh”, John 3:6. If Ishmael came to God in repentance and faith he too could be born of God.

So much for the first level on which the apostle is thinking. But there is a higher level, and it illustrates the principle God works on to secure for Himself a nation of Israel that is composed entirely of converted souls. So Ishmael and Isaac now become illustrations of those who are simply naturally born, and those who are born of the Spirit according to God’s promise to give eternal life to those who believe.

But the children of the promise are counted for the seed- just as Isaac was born naturally through the promise of God, (and hence can be called a child of promise), so on a higher level, those who are born again as a result of God intervening, are the true children of God, and constitute the true seed of Abraham.

That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God- “That is” may be understood as “which means”. Paul now applies the principle illustrated by Ishmael, (child of the flesh, because he was produced by Abraham acting after the flesh), and Isaac, (child of God, because he was produced by God’s intervention). He had already used these two sons as an allegory in Galatians 4:21-31, seeing in Ishmael those who are the product of the law, and who are therefore in bondage to it, and Isaac those who are the product of grace, and are free.

Having stated the situation from a positive angle in verse 7, the apostle now begins to apply the principle from a negative angle as he speaks of those who do not qualify to be part of the true seed. He is not still speaking of Ishmael and Isaac, but rather of those whom they illustrate, namely, those of the nation of Israel who are born after the flesh, and those of the nation of Israel who are born of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is now using the expressions “children of the flesh” and “children of God” in application. This is confirmed by the fact that he is talking about children in the plural in each case, so he is not speaking specifically about Ishmael and Isaac here. He is showing that the true Israel is only composed of those born of the Spirit.

The expression “children of the flesh” as used in Paul’s application, means those who are descendants of Abraham but have never been born again through faith. They are not descended from Ishmael, but from Isaac, but they are not Isaac-like. As such, they are not part of the true Israel. The true Israelites are those who are not only children of Abraham by natural birth, but children of God by new birth.

But the children of the promise are counted for the seed- the promise mentioned here is the promise quoted in the next verse. The expression “children of the promise” applies the situation as regards Isaac physically, in a spiritual way. He was heir to everything because God promised him to Abraham and Sarah. He becomes an illustration of those who lay hold of the promises of God. It is those who are born as a result of God working, as Isaac was, rather than those born through human effort, like Ishmael, who are the children of the promise. Paul is bringing out here that it was never God’s intention to reckon a mixed company of believers and unbelievers to be the Seed of Abraham that would inherit the promises, and over whom Christ would reign.

After all, we must bear in mind two things in connection with the true seed. First, that in the ultimate sense it is Christ, as Galatians 3:16 makes clear with the words, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, ‘And to seeds’, as of many; but as of one, ‘And to thy seed’, which is Christ”. So if the seed is Christ, then He cannot be associated with any who are not believers. God’s definition of the seed of Abraham, in this use of the word, (as opposed to the use of it sometimes as meaning ‘physical descendants of Abraham’), was “those who can be associated with Christ, and who belong to Him”. Even if they lived in Old Testament times God could think of them in relation to His Son, just as He passed over the sins of Old Testament saints in view of His Son’s sacrifice at Calvary, Romans 3:25.

Second, the expression “Abraham’s seed” is applied to believers of this age in the words, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”, Galatians 3:29. So the seed of Abraham is said to be believers at this present time. It would be inconsistent to think that the seed could consist of unbelievers in former times, but only believers now.

9:9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

For this is the word of promise- the last point is of great importance, therefore the apostle quotes the actual promise that God made.
“At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son”- the emphasis is on the action of God, “will I come”, showing that position with God must come from His intervention, not that of the flesh. Note also that the timing of the birth of the child was completely in the control of God. The gender of the child was also under Divine control, for His purpose could not be worked out if Sarah had a daughter. The child must be a son so as to beget seed.

9:10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

And not only this- the third lesson Israel must learn.
But when Rebecca also had conceived- as well as Sarah’s conception illustrating a principle, Rebecca’s does also. Note how appropriate these illustrations are, for they both involve the matter of producing children.
By one, even by our father Isaac- the fact that there were two different mothers involved in the births of Ishmael and Isaac served to illustrate the contrast between, on the one hand, the devices of the flesh, (Abraham having a child by his bondslave), and, on the other hand, the promise of God, (Isaac is born of parents who are as good as dead). Now, however, the apostle draws attention to the purpose of God in His sovereign choice of one rather than the other. The situation with Rebecca suits his requirements admirably, for there is one father, one mother, and their twin sons are not born at the time God speaks about them.

9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;)

(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil- as both are not born, they are in identical circumstances. As those not having done any act of moral significance, neither has earned the favour of God by good works, nor, for that matter, His anger because of evil works. So Jacob is not blessed because of good works, nor is Esau rejected because he has done evil works, at this point in time. When the promise quoted in verse 9 was given, Ishmael was already born. Here, things are different, and the difference illustrates the principle of God’s sovereign choice, as the apostle will now say.
That the purpose of God according to election might stand- “stand” means abide, last, not perish. There was nothing in the situation regarding Rebecca’s sons which would cause God’s purpose to be undermined. The election the apostle is speaking about is God’s choice of the descendants of Jacob to form the nation of Israel over which His Son would reign. We see this to be the case by reading Genesis 25:23, where God says to Rebecca in response to her enquiry as to why her babies were struggling in the womb, “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger”. Words could not be plainer, “Two nations…two manner of people…one people…other people”. Coupled with this, God speaks through Malachi of Esau’s mountains. Clearly the reference is to the nations that will spring from Esau and Jacob respectively. Just as clearly the reference is not to God choosing one person for salvation and the other for damnation. The two sons give their names to two nations, and only one of the nations, Israel, is chosen of God to produce the Messiah. This has nothing to do with the personal destiny of either Jacob or Esau. That will be determined by their response to God, or lack of it, as the case may be. The election is of Jacob to be the father of the twelve sons who would form the twelve tribes of Israel.
The quotation which follows in verse 13 reinforces this truth, for Malachi is speaking of nations under their patriarchal head, Jacob and Esau, (Scripture says “Esau is Edom”, Genesis 36:8).
Not of works, but of Him that calleth)- Israel’s position as the favoured nation is solely the result of God choosing that it should be so, and not at all because by their works they have merited it, (for being not yet born they had done neither good or evil). Now this is a blessing and also a caution for the nation. It is a blessing, in that if the nation in the ideal sense, (and not in any merely traditional sense), is God’s because He chose it, then their position is unassailable and secure. It is a caution because if their position is not based on works, then they cannot earn it, but must know God’s grace in Christ. They cannot be blessed as a nation apart from Christ and Calvary. So the nation of Israel is God’s choice from among the nations, but it is not the nation consisting of believers and unbelievers, but the nation the apostle calls “the Israel of God”, Galatians 6:16.

9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

It was said unto her- first the apostle quotes what was said to Rebecca before the sons were born.
“The elder shall serve the younger”- that is, Esau, the first one to come from the womb, would serve his younger brother Jacob. In normal circumstances in Bible times, the reverse would be the case. That this is a national thing we have already noted from the words, “Two nations are in thy womb”, Genesis 25:23. But it is also seen in the fact that Esau did not personally serve Isaac in his lifetime. In fact the reverse is the case, for in Genesis 33 we find the following:

Verse 3 Jacob bows himself to the ground seven times before his brother Esau.
Verses 5 and 14 Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant.
Verses 13,14,15 Jacob calls Esau his lord.

Clearly this is not a fulfilment of the prophecy “the elder shall serve the younger”, if we understand the elder to be Esau personally and the younger to be Jacob personally. The prophecy is only fulfilled on a national level. It was partially fulfilled during David’s reign, for we read, “And he put garrisons in Edom; and all the Edomites became David’s servants”, 1 Chronicles 18:13. It will be fulfilled fully when Christ reigns, as the prophecy of Obadiah 18 makes clear, “And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau, for the Lord hath spoken it”.

9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

As it is written- the previous verse relates to what was said by God just before the twins were born, whereas now it is the word of God through Malachi centuries later. Note the “it is written”, for the Word of God, written by Malachi many years before Paul was writing, still abides, and is currently relevant. This gives the apostle authority to use it in his argument, for the words have not lost their power.
‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated’- God now speaks in the past tense, and summarises His attitude to the two nations which came from Esau and Jacob. It would be helpful to quote Malachi’s words, to see the context:

“The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, ‘Wherein hast Thou loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, ‘We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places;’ thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, ‘The border of wickedness’, and, ‘The people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.’ And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel”, Malachi 1:1-5.

“Was not Eau Jacob’s brother?” serves to remind us of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Esau and Jacob. Yet Esau is called Jacob’s brother, not Jacob, Esau’s brother, even though by the time Jacob was born, his twin brother Esau had already arrived. There is an allusion in this to the fact that Jacob was going to be the dominant and preferred one, and Esau is reckoned only in terms of being his brother.

Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, and there was no difference between them as to parentage and environment, yet God gave Jacob the superior place because He chose him to be the father of the nation of Israel through his twelve sons.

This was an act of love, for as Moses reminded Israel in the Deuteronomy 7:7,8 that “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He hath sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, from the hand of Pharoah king of Egypt”.

So Moses offers no direct explanation as to why God loved them, but simply says He loved because He loved, indirectly implying that God loved them because He is love, and His dealings are an expression of what He is in Himself. He does not need anything from man to make Him love, He loves because it is His nature to do so. So God’s choice of Israel was in love, and it involved Jacob being in the ascendancy. But if Israel was the object of love, Esau, (who later on, when formed into a nation, was called Edom), was the object of God’s hatred, not because He hates without cause, but because He hated what Edom did. Scripture says, “God is love”, 1 John 4:8, for that is the essence of His Being. It is not the case that God is hate. God loves without cause, (except the underlying cause of glorifying Himself in some way), but He does not hate without just cause.

So it was that in Malachi’s day, Edom had been judged. The cause of God’s judgement is set out by Obadiah in verses12-14. Edom had done the following things:

1. Rejoiced when Israel was taken into captivity. “But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; Neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction”.

2. Reacted in pride to the calamity of Israel. “Neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress”.

3. Entered into the gates of Jerusalem to loot and pillage. “Thou shouldest not have entered into the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Yea, thou shouldest not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity”. The psalmist wrote as he sat by the rivers of Babylon during the captivity, “Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem; Who said, ‘Raze it, Raze it, even to the foundation thereof'”, Psalm 137:7.

4. Cut off those trying to escape. “Neither shouldest thou have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape”.

5. Betrayed those that remained in the city. “Neither shouldest thou have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress”.

These are examples of gratuitous and unjustified wickedness and spite. As a result Ezekiel, prophesying at about the same time as Obadiah, recorded God’s words, “I will stretch out My hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it; and I will make it desolate from Teman; and they of Dedan shall fall by the sword. And I will lay My vengeance upon Edom by the hand of My people Israel: and they shall do in Edom according to Mine anger and according to My fury; and they shall know My vengeance saith the Lord God”, Ezekiel 25:13,14.

And again, “Thus saith the Lord God; When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate. As thou didst rejoice at the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so will I do unto thee: thou shalt be desolate, O mount Seir, and all Idumea, even all of it: and they shall know that I am the Lord”, Ezekiel 35:14,15.

Malachi prophesied after the remnant of Israel had returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and had rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple. A comparison between the things Malachi prophesies about, and the conditions in Jerusalem at the end of the book of Nehemiah, will suggest that he ministered at the end of the first period into which Daniel’s 490 years’ vision was divided. His book is critically important, for it shows what God’s attitude to them was before they entered the dark period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, when the heavens would be silent. The faithful ones need to be assured of His love; the unfaithful ones need to be reminded of His judgements.

To assure them of His love, God reminds them through Malachi that He had restored the nation that bears Israel’s name to the land after the captivity. To remind them of His judgements, He cites the fact that He expressed His hatred towards Esau, (referred to as Edom by Malachi, for Genesis 36:8 says “Esau is Edom”, ), as is seen by the fact that his mountains and cities were laid waste, whereas Jerusalem was rebuilt.

The principle the apostle is deriving from all this is simple: the love God had shown in His choice of them to be His special nation is maintained, and those who do anything to try to frustrate the outworking of His purpose through them will know His hatred and His wrath. As was said in Zechariah 2:8, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye”.

We may summarise the apostle’s teaching so far by saying that having startled us with the thought that not all who are descended from the patriarch Israel are really part of the nation to which he gave his name, nevertheless the future of Israel is assured because it is the object of God’s loving choice.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 9, VERSES 14 TO 18:

9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

9:15 For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.

9:18 Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.

Section (c) Verses 14-18 The pity of God towards the nation

9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

What shall we say then- here the apostle asks a question of his believing readers, whereas in verse 19 he supposes an unbeliever objecting. The “then” tells us that the question is asked because of what has gone before.
Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid- are God’s dealings unjust when He loves one and hates another? This can only be true if He does so without good reason and contrary to His own righteousness. God cannot deny Himself, 2 Timothy 2:13. God and unrighteousness cannot co-exist. The reason the apostle can so forcibly deny that there is unrighteousness with God is found in the next verse, hence it begins with “for”, meaning “because”. The apostle is confident that God will continue to show that same love, righteousness and mercy mingled together in His dealings with Israel in the future, as He did when they made the golden calf.

9:15 For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

For He saith to Moses- after Israel had sinned in the matter of the golden calf. We might think this will be an example of God hating, but it is the reverse.

It would be helpful to set out the main features of the context of the words Paul is about to quote:

1. Some in Israel make a golden calf to worship, Exodus 32:1-8.

2. The Lord threatens to obliterate the nation of Israel and make a nation from Moses, Exodus 32:9,10.

3.Moses pleads for them firstly on the basis of the harm that would be caused to God’s name if He abandoned the nation He had just redeemed from Egypt. Then secondly, on the basis of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, (meaning Jacob), Exodus 32:1-13.

4. The Lord responds to this by reversing His decision, Exodus 32:14.

5. Moses and Joshua come down from the mount and Moses breaks the tables of the Law, Exodus 32:15-24.

6. Moses stands at the gate of the camp, and appeals for those who are on the Lord’s side in this matter to come to him. The tribe of Levi do so, and are charged with the slaughter of the guilty persons, presumably those of their tribe who followed Aaron as he led them into sin, Exodus 32:25-29. When Moses referred to this incident later, he said of Levi, “Who said unto his father and mother, ‘I have not seen him’; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children'”, Deuteronomy 33:9. God was doing what He will do again in the future, for “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness”, Malachi 3:3.

7. Moses goes to the Lord to make atonement by intercession, and also by offering to be blotted out of the book of the living; in other words, offers to die for the nation. The Lord does not accept this, saying the individual must die for his own sin. By refusing Moses’ offer God preserved the uniqueness of the death of His Son. He promises an angel to go before the people instead of Himself, and He plagues the people for their idolatry, Exodus 32:30-35.

8. Although the Lord refuses to go up with the people, He promises to ensure that they inherit the land, Exodus 33:1-3.

9. The people mourn at this, Exodus 33:4-6.

10. Moses pitches a tabernacle outside the camp, and makes coming out to him a test of their loyalty, Exodus 33:7-11.

11. Moses appeals to God to return to leading His people with the words, “Show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee…and consider that this nation is Thy people”, Exodus 33:12-13.

12. The Lord assures Moses that His presence will go with him, Exodus 33:14.

13. Moses twice over calls Israel “Thy people”, Exodus 33:15,16.

14. God undertakes to “do this thing also that thou hast spoken”. In other words, the people are to be reckoned God’s people again after their lapse, Exodus 33:17.

15. Moses requests to see God’s glory, the sign that His presence was with him. The Lord agrees, Exodus 33:18.

Then come the words that Paul now quotes-

I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion- by saying “I will…I will” God is indicating His determined purpose, from which He will not be deflected. Israel had good reason to be grateful that this sovereign attitude of God was manifested towards them. They had forfeited all rights to His mercy, yet God chose to show mercy to them despite their sin. This is a righteous thing for God to do, because He declares His glory to Moses in the very next chapter as one who forgives sin, Exodus 34:7. The incident of the golden calf had been a test for Aaron, and he failed. (This highlights the fact that the law made men high priests that have infirmity, Hebrews 7:28.). It was also a test for Moses, and he triumphed, pleading for the people, offering to die for them, securing their reinstatement as the people of God with the presence of God with them.

Notice it is not God saying He will have mercy on some and judge others. It is unmixed mercy and compassion to the nation, despite their waywardness. God’s right to cast them off as a nation was maintained, for He is light, and therefore displays righteousness and holiness, but He is also love, and therefore displays mercy and compassion.

There is nothing here in the context, (and it is always the context that must govern our interpretation), to warrant the idea that God arbitrarily picks out some to have mercy on, and passes others by, for that would contradict other Scriptures. Peter wrote that “The Lord…is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”, 2 Peter 3:9. There are none upon the earth at any time who could not gain God’s salvation, if they would only come God’s way, namely, by repentance and faith. The idea that there are some who are predestined to the Lake of Fire, and therefore there is no provision for them is a God-dishonouring lie. The Scripture distinctly states that men are chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

In Exodus 33:19, the words are given as, “and He said…’and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy'”. Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour to those who cannot merit it and cannot repay it. The word for mercy used here is His deep compassion for those He sees need help, His tender pity to those who feel the misery of sin. This is perfectly manifested by the Lord Jesus when He wept over Jerusalem, lamenting its refusal to come to Him, Luke 19:41; see also Matthew 23:37. How appropriate these words are to the situation. The people have sinned, but God is prepared to show grace towards them; He knows they have a tendency to fail, so He has, and will continue to have, compassion upon them in their frailty, in view of His covenant with Abraham. So there is provision in the attitude of God for the people in their current situation, and any that would arise in the future.

So we may summarise by saying that in Exodus 33, where the people have broken the Law, God pledges to show grace. The people deserve His judgement, but He assures Moses He will reach out to them in their weakness and have compassion on them. In Romans 9, however, the point is that God has pity on the nation, not so much because they are law-breakers, but because they have rejected His Son cruelly, and intends to have compassion over them, if they will turn from their unbelief. No doubt this is an answer to the prayer of the Lord Jesus when He pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, Luke 23:34. The princes of this world, including those listed in Acts 4:5,6, (whom Peter calls “ye builders” in verse 11, meaning the builders of the nation), crucified the Lord of glory in ignorance, 1 Corinthians 2:8.

The form of the phrase we are considering shows that God is determined in what He says He will do. He will do what He will do, and no power shall stop Him. He is indeed sovereign, but not in any unprincipled way, for He cannot deny Himself. This should give great comfort to those in Israel who were having second thoughts about their rejection of Christ. They may be confident that when they come to God in true repentance and faith they will find Him to be what He declared Himself to be through this word, spoken long ago to Moses, but repeated to them by the apostle Paul, whose heart longed to see them saved, as he expressly says in 10:1. They may also have confidence that all God’s covenant promises to Abraham will be fulfilled to the letter, always remembering the principle, set out in these verses, that it is believers alone who shall be in the good of that covenant.

9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy- the principle on which God acts, (“it”), is not in response to the will of man asserting itself, (“willeth”), to influence God’s actions, (for example Moses interceding and offering to give his life for the nation), nor is it in response to any energetic action, (“runneth”), on the part of man, (such as the tribe of Levi slaying the worshippers of the golden calf), as if God can be forced to act in a certain way. Rather, it is the sovereign choice of God to show mercy. In this way the blessing is thoroughly undeserved and secure. If one man could persuade God to act in a particular way, who is to say that another man might not be able to influence Him in the opposite way? By the same token, if a man could merit God’s favour by “running”, that is, by energetic activity for Him, then there would some glory for man in the matter; but no flesh may glory in God’s presence, 1 Corinthians 1:29. God’s actions are rooted solely in His will, and this gives great assurance to those who comply with that will.

9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.

For the scripture saith unto Pharoah- by using the word “saith”, and not “said”, the apostle emphasises the living voice of the Old Testament Scriptures, that they have the same authority as the original oral statement. We should remember that there were only a few weeks between the defeat of Pharoah and the worshipping of the golden calf. Pharoah becomes, because of his hardness of heart, one who knows God’s hatred. So there is a contrast between Moses pleading with God for the nation, and Pharoah determined to destroy them. Again we see the national aspect of the passage.
Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up- God brought Pharoah to the throne of Egypt to show His power when he abused his position and fought against God. It is not raised up by being born, as if God creates men to destroy them. The time had come for God to deliver His people, and those who oppose His will must be made an example.
That I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth- we see here the two-fold purpose of God, namely, to show what happens to those who rebel against Him, and to magnify His name when He defeats His foes. As the Israelites said in their song, “Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them”, Exodus 15:14-16. That His name was honoured is seen in that Rahab knew about Israel crossing the Red Sea, Joshua 2:8-11, and so did the Gibeonites, Joshua 9:9,10.

We should remember that Pharoah was virtually a god in Egypt, and so represented the powers of evil. He is not some insignificant individual, but
the one through whom the Prince of this world was attacking Israel. As such, he met God’s severe displeasure.

9:18 Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.

Therefore- on the basis of God’s dealings with Israel and Pharoah, the following conclusion may be drawn.
Hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth- note that whilst the mention of mercy to Israel is repeated, the thought regarding Pharoah is that he will be hardened. In order that God’s power over Egypt might be demonstrated by the plagues, He hardened Pharoah’s heart, by allowing Pharoah to harden his heart wilfully, and thus fulfilled His purpose. The hardening was determined by God. When Pharoah hardened his heart, he was doing exactly what God willed to happen, yet he was still fully responsible for his actions. This is a warning to all in positions of power who seek to harm the nation of Israel. God will not ignore their actions, but will bring them to account. As He said to Abraham, “and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee”, Genesis 12:3.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 9, VERSES 19 TO 24:

9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?

9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

9:22 What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

9:23 And that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory,

9:24 Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Section (d) Verses 19-24 The power of God towards His enemies

9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?

Thou wilt say then unto me- the apostle anticipates an objection to this truth.
Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?- if the will of God cannot be resisted successfully, as Pharoah’s experience demonstrates, then what just reason has God for finding fault with what men do, since they only carry out what He decrees? And again, what reason is there to object to Israel’s continued unbelief as a nation? For the same word “harden” that is used of Pharoah, is used by God in relation to Israel in John 12:40, where the apostle quotes Isaiah’s words, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hath hardened their heart”, as being applicable to the nation that was about to have God’s Son crucified.

This is intensely solemn, for both Pharoah and Israel display the same attitude to God, and are hardened by Him as a result. That this national hardening does not mean no Jew can be saved is evident, for Paul will say in 11:1, “for I also am an Israelite”. He was living proof that individual Jews could still be saved.

The apostle answers this objection in two ways. First, by rebuking any argument against God, and then by explaining further the way in which God’s purpose is worked out.

9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?- the “nay” is a denial of the suggestion, while the “but” is the apostle’s rebuttal. The words he uses are an allusion to Job 33:12,13, “I will answer thee, that God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against Him? For He giveth not account of any of His matters”. It is outrageous for puny sinful man to seek to argue with God and answer Him back, or even to expect Him to gives reasons for His actions.
Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, “Why hast Thou made me thus?”- now we have an allusion to Isaiah 45:9, which reads, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, “What makest thou?” Job describes men as those who “live in houses of clay”, Job 4:19, and his friend Elihu said to him, “I also am formed out of the clay”, Job 33:6. This reminds us forcibly of the frailty and fragility of man, and cautions against pitting ourselves against the mighty God of heaven.

9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?- the apostle follows up his allusion to Isaiah 45:9 with its use of the potter metaphor for God. God has the right to do as He pleases, just as a potter has the right to make whatever he wants of his own clay. But that He does not act arbitrarily and capriciously is seen in the next verses. That God has the right to act sovereignly, is the answer to the unbelievers cavil. For the believer there is a further explanation, for God does not make vessels so He can destroy them.

9:22 What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

What if God- here the apostle sets out a complementary truth. God has the right to do as He pleases, as the previous verse has stated, but we must always be aware that He does not act in an unprincipled way. It is important to notice that in the Greek text the word “de” introduces a new topic. It is the equivalent of “on the other hand”, and is found near the beginning of verse 22. So having presented one valid explanation for the seemingly indifferent way in which God treats men, as if He makes them dishonourable, as a potter makes a vessel for a dishonourable use, he now gives to us the alternative explanation.

This alternative explanation of the dealings of God with men, is the one the apostle constantly favours in these verses. He is not a harsh and maverick God, acting in some unprincipled and arbitrary way, but works out His purpose in righteousness and love. We know this is God’s character, for He has been perfectly manifested by His Son, who said, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”, John 14:9. We find no trace of harshness or unreasonableness in His dealings with men. He was harsh against their sin, it is true, but He came, not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them, Luke 9:56. There is no hint that He was making vessels so He could destroy them. An illustration of this is His way with Judas. Right to the end He sought His recovery, but Judas, alas, hardened his heart and went into perdition.

This alternative explanation will still maintain God’s rights over men, but will show that, far from being a tyrant, God in fact waits patiently for vessels of wrath to repent. It is worthy of note that when Pharaoh showed signs of relaxing his attitude to God, then respite was given him. We see this in connection with the plague of frogs, Exodus 8:8-15, and the plague of flies, 8:30-32. After the plague of hail, he even went so far as to say, “I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Intreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer”, Exodus 9:27,28. Yet as soon as the hail is removed, Pharaoh hardened his heart. He was morally responsible for this hardening, but the Lord was behind it, to show His great power, but also to show His longsuffering, even to vessels of wrath.

Willing to show His wrath- that is, determined to do so. If God shows wrath, it is always for a just cause. At the time when the nation of Israel was about to be taken into captivity, Jeremiah also used the illustration of the potter and the clay. He tells us this:

“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand so are ye in Mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, that I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them'”, Jeremiah 18:3-10.

Having spoken these words from the Lord, Jeremiah went to the people of Israel and applied them to their situation. Their response was to reject his words. Jeremiah was told by the Lord to respond to this by getting a potter’s earthen vessel, take representatives of the people, go to the valley of the son of Hinnom, and break the vessel in the sight of the people. He then said, ‘Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again'”, Jeremiah 19:1,2,10,11. The Jews reading Paul’s epistle would be well aware of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the way in which they used the imagery of the potter. They could be made anew if they repented, or they could continue in their current sinful state, be hardened of God, and thus be like an earthenware vessel, that cannot be made anew.

And to make His power known- as He did in the case of Pharoah.
Endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction- note that the apostle does not speak of God making vessels to pour out His wrath upon. We must not confuse the use of potter imagery in verse 20 in response to an unbelieving objection, (which emphasises God’s sovereignty), and the use of potter imagery in this verse as the apostle explains the situation in more detail for the benefit of earnest and perplexed enquirers, (which emphasises God’s long-suffering).

He endured the behaviour even though it deserved His wrath. If He endured with much long-suffering it was because He was waiting for repentance, as 2 Peter 3:9 indicates. This was the situation with Israel nationally, for as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”, 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16. No-one could doubt they were, and are, a vessel of wrath. But Jeremiah, whilst he applied the image of the potter’s vessel to Israel, did say that it referred to any nation. So applying that here, we see that those of any nation which oppose God’s purpose for Israel are vessels of wrath, for the word is not “vessel”, but “vessels”. Those who persecute Israel must not expect to go unpunished, even though their actions work out God’s purpose in some way. This was a principle set out by the Old Testament. For instance, having told Abraham that his seed would be afflicted in Egypt, God then said that the nation that afflicted them He would judge, and so it came to pass, Genesis 15:14.

To be fitted is not the same as to be made, and also is in the middle voice, meaning men fit themselves. All men are deserving of God’s wrath as they come into the world, for they are “by nature the children of wrath”, Ephesians 2:4; there are none that are vessels unto honour when they are born. That birth is in view is seen in the expression “by nature”. Men are children of wrath by natural birth, not by some predestining act of God. Nor are they children of wrath by default, as if God predestined some to heaven and by that act predestined the rest to endure His wrath. Men, however, Israelites included, fit themselves for wrath by their sin. The wrath will be in exact proportion to their guilt.

9:23 And that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory,

And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy- note it is vessels of mercy, not vessels unto honour. Only the mercy of God to undeserving sinners can introduce them to the glories detailed in 8:28-30, so that they become vessels of honour in association with His Son. This is true predestination, which has not to do, (strangely enough) with destinations, heaven or hell, but with being within the boundaries of God’s purpose to surround His Son with those who are like Him.
The vessel Jeremiah saw the potter make was marred in his hand, but he did not say, “This vessel is obviously predestined to be marred, I will therefore throw it away”. In fact, the potter made that same vessel anew. And this God does also, for as soon as He has dealings with men, and they realise they are marred by sin, He is able to make them anew by the new birth, and by this means fit them to know the riches of His glory. This is indicated in God’s word through Jeremiah, for He declared that if the nation of Israel, represented by the marred vessel, turned from their evil, then God would not inflict judgement upon them.
Which He had aforeprepared unto glory- the tenses the apostle uses in verses 22 and 23 show that he is looking back after the will of God has been worked out. Aforeprepared either involves being prepared beforehand in His eternal counsel, Ephesians 1:3-6; Romans 8:29,30, or prepared for eternity in their lifetime. Men fit themselves for destruction by being content to remain vessels of wrath, but God alone can fit men for honour and glory.

9:24 Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles- note that as he describes the vessels of mercy, he speaks of God’s call in the gospel, and also reverts to the term Jew, the individual, rather than Israel, the national name. After all, if there is to be a nation composed only of believing Israelites in the future, they must come individually by faith in response to God’s call in the gospel.

Paul, by the use of the word “us”, joins himself with any, of the Jews or of the Gentiles, who have become a vessel of mercy through response to the gospel. He had been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious”, but he “obtained mercy”, 1 Timothy 1:13.

The mention of Gentiles prepares us for verses 30-33, but first the apostle must show how the truth he has been setting forth in regard to Israel is in line with Old Testament scripture. If he cannot do this, he will not convince Jewish doubters.

Summary of the passage

We have learnt in verses 6-24 the following things:

1. That not all who call themselves Israelites are reckoned by God to be part of the nation over which Christ shall reign. Something more than physical descent from Abraham through Jacob is needed.

2. Just as Isaac was born through the intervention of God, so those wishing to be counted part of the Israel of God must be born of God.

3. Just as Jacob was chosen and loved by God, so those who are truly Israelites may be assured that God loves them and preserves them.

4. Just as Edom was hated by God for what he did to the nation of Israel, so those who oppose God’s purpose shall be dealt with severely.

5. Just as God had mercy on Israel despite their lapse into idolatry, and responded to Moses’ pleading for them, so He will be merciful when they repent of their sin.

6. Just as Pharoah hardened his heart and resisted God, and thus incurred His wrath, so those who harden their hearts, (even if they are of the nation of Israel naturally), will know God’s wrath.

7. God in His sovereignty prepares those who believe for glory.

8. Equally, God in His sovereignty destroys those who by unbelief and rebellion fit themselves for destruction.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 9, VERSES 25 TO 33:

9:25 As He saith also in Osee, I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

9:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

9:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

9:28 For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

9:29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

9:31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.

Section (e) Verses 25-33 The proof from the Scriptures.

9:25 As He saith also in Osee, I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

As He saith also in Osee- as well as speaking through Paul, God spoke through Osee, otherwise known as Hosea, who stood at the head of the minor prophets in the Jewish arrangement of books. If he can produce proof from the scriptures that what he has just said is in line with the Old Testament, then he is well on the way to convincing his Jewish objectors.
I will call them “My people”, which were “not My people”; and her “beloved”, which was “not beloved”- a reference to God’s promise that although He was going to renounce His people and send them into captivity because of their idolatry, (Hosea prophesied just before the Assyrians came and removed the Northern Kingdom), He would reverse His decision and accept them back. So, far from being cast off finally because of their sin in going into idolatry, and later on crucifying Christ, they may call upon the Lord to show mercy upon them as individuals now, just as they will do nationally in a future day. The principle is the same in either case. Thus the apostle has derived the principle he needs to prove his point; he has not transferred the interpretation of the passage to the church, but has made a legitimate application. If God will so act towards Israel as a nation in a day to come, that must be in line with His character, and since God does not change, that is His character now in regard to individual salvation. The reason why God can own Israel as his people in a day to come, is because they will have all turned to Christ at His second coming. At last they will be a nation consisting only of believers.

9:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

And it shall to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, “Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God”- a quotation from Hosea 1:10. The prophet spoke words of judgement to Israel whilst they were still in the land, yet they will be brought back from dispersion amongst the Gentiles to be addressed by God in the land again, (hence the reference to “the place where is was said unto them”, meaning the land of Israel), this time with words of encouragement. Thus the meaning of the name of Hosea’s first son finds its double fulfilment. Jezreel means “sown of God”, or “seed of God”. They were to be scattered amongst the nations as seed is scattered, but in a day to come they will be sown in the land, and will be the seed, (children) of God, see Hosea 2:22,23. Peter uses this same Scripture to show that these things have been anticipated by believers at the present time, 1 Peter 2:10, but Paul is using the words literally, not figuratively, as Peter did.

9:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

Esaias also crieth concerning Israel- Isaiah also, as well as Hosea, had things to say about Israel. Since Isaiah is “also” speaking about Israel, this shows that both Isaiah and Hosea are prophesying about Israel, not about the church. The words are found in Isaiah 10:22. “Concerning” means over, as if lamenting over Israel as Christ did over Jerusalem.
‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea- Hosea said this also, but he was referring to their prosperity in the land under the Messiah, Hosea 1:10, (hence the apostle does not quote his words, even though they are in the same sentence as the words quoted in verse 26).
Isaiah is the one the apostle quotes now, for he is highlighting the fact that despite the numerical greatness of Israel, God will only save a remnant. This of course is the main theme of the apostle in the chapter, that relationship with God is on the basis of His choice, and their faith, not on national status.
A remnant shall be saved’- that is, only a remnant, and not the whole nation. This is true in principle now, see 11:5, and in the future, see Zechariah 13:9.

9:28 For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness, because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth- this is Paul’s comment on the words of Isaiah, explaining how it is that although they are as numerous as the sand of the sea, yet only a remnant shall be saved. God will do, and finish, a work with Israel, in which He will cut them short, that is, will reduce them from a professing multitude to a believing remnant. This will be a righteous thing for Him to do, and He will do it “upon the earth”, that is, in the land of Israel, where they will all gravitate at the end times. Notice it is not a short work of the earth, but upon the earth.

9:29 And as Esaias said before, ‘Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha’.

And as Esaias said before- that is, before it came to pass, and before his words in chapter 10 just quoted.
‘Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha’- this is from Isaiah 1:9, where the word “seed” is found instead of Paul’s word “remnant”. This is a link with Hosea, for his son Jezreel was the sign that there would be a seed or generation begotten of God to populate the millenial earth; see on verse 27. God was going to own a seed Note the implied encouragement in the use of the title Lord of Sabaoth, or Hosts. God is surrounded by myriads who serve Him, and He sends forth hosts to protect those who are His, see Hebrews 1:14. They may only be a remnant, but they are in the majority. But this was only because of Divine intervention; otherwise they would have been exterminated, just like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha after God had judged them with fire from heaven.

9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

What shall we say then?- what conclusion shall we draw from the foregoing? The expression really introduces a section which forms a link with the next one, where the apostle describes the refusal of the individual members of the nation of Israel to believe.
That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness- they had no law to guide them in matters relative to God and did not desire one.
Have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith- attained means laid hold of; it is not a word which suggest human attainment or merit, but rather a laying hold of God’s promises in faith.

9:31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness- professing to be interested in being righteous, and seeking to keep the law to achieve this.
Hath not attained to the law of righteousness- attain in this instance means to arrive at. The Gentiles have reached and grasped righteousness, but it is always just out of the reach of the Jew, no matter how hard he pursues it.

9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Wherefore?- why is this the case?
Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the deeds of the law- only faith grasps the blessing, those who seek to merit it fall short.
For they stumbled at that stumblingstone- “that stumblingstone” does not refer to the law as a stumblingstone, but the stumbling stone of Christ as Messiah, as the quotation following makes clear. It is not only the Jews of Christ’s day who stumbled at Him because He emphasized the need for faith, and the futility of human effort; in the Old Testament time there was a failure to see that if a Messiah was needed as their Saviour, then they had no power in themselves to please God.

9:33 As it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed’.

As it is written, ‘Behold I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed’- the apostle here combines together quotations from Isaiah 28:16, “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: He that believeth shall not make haste”, and Isaiah 8:14, “And He shall be for a sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel”. In both contexts the idea is of the danger of the sort of unbelief which trusts in men rather than God. Faith rests upon Christ the foundation stone and does not have to make a hasty retreat when the enemy comes, whereas unbelief trips up over Christ, and finds Him to be offensive as He insists on the need for faith not religious works.