Romans 9: God’s Relationship to Israel
Romans is written in four movements with a unifying theme – the gospel is God’s good news promised to us even in the Law and Prophets!
- Chapters 1 – 4 reveal God’s righteousness and that our salvation comes by faith in the work of Jesus.
- Chapters 5 – 8 teach us that we have peace with God and remind us of our glorious assurance, the Spirit in this life, and our final redemption soon to come.
- Paul was a missionary to the Gentile nations, but he was first a Jew and always concerned about his people. In chapters 9 – 11, Paul addresses God’s relationship to Israel in light of the past promises.
- And then, in the final chapters, Paul emphasizes the transformed life.
If you are new to the blog, I have posted thoughts on chapters 1 – 8. You can find those posts by using the category search on the right or the “Romans” tab at the top of the page.
Intercession in Relationship
We are now in Romans 9, which has been challenging for me. Let me share just a few lessons I am pondering.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.Romans 9:2-4 NIV
Paul starts this chapter by expressing his grief for his kinsmen. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, a zealous Jew before his conversion. And while he was commissioned as a missionary to the Gentiles, he grieves that his people rejected Jesus. He is so upset that he wishes himself cut off from Christ if it meant his race, the people of Israel would believe. That’s such a strong sentiment and one we have seen before in scripture! Do you remember Moses’ response when the people worshipped the Golden Calf?
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”Exodus 32:30-32 NIV
This similar response suggests that Paul saw himself as an intermediary between Israel and God like Moses was. God has blessed Israel and plans even more blessings, but Paul sees his kinsmen as cursed before God because of their unbelief.
I wonder about the grief we bear for the sake of our loved ones. How committed are we to interceding for them? I also think about the church in our world today – divided over matters that are not of first importance, social and political matters that, while necessary, should not diminish the unity of the church. Can we relate to Paul in our grief over the state of the church today?
God’s Sovereignty through Relationship
Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit.
It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? That means that Israelite identity … was God-determined by promise.Romans 9:6-9 MSG
Beginning in Romans 9:6, Paul builds a careful explanation of God’s sovereignty. God chose Israel to be “his son,” but along the way, we also see God choosing certain bloodlines within the nation of Israel. Abraham fathered both Ishmael and Isaac, but the promise of God was to Isaac. Isaac fathered both Esau and Jacob, but the promise of God was to Jacob and his descendants.
The Lord said to Moses … say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’”Exodus 4:22-23 NIV
What about “whosoever will?”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile why God calls some people and not others. Theologians call this the doctrine of election, which is clearly taught in the scriptures. At the same time, we see scriptures like these:
- “Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.'” (John 7:16-17 NIV).
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).
- “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:12-13).
- [God] “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4).
- “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
- “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” (1 John 4:15).
[Side note: I grew up in a denomination that did not emphasize the doctrine of election but focused on man’s free will. Interestingly, a philosophical viewpoint called compatibilism says both free will and election exist and are compatible. And while I might not be able to explain it well, that’s where I am today in my thinking.]
Basis of the Doctrine of Election
The basis for the doctrine of election is this – we are all guilty before God. There is none righteous, no not one. We are all dead in our sins. Dead people cannot choose God unless God first awakens them, revealing Himself to them. And if God only awakened even one dead person, that would be an act of mercy on His part. But He has chosen millions upon millions of people who, left to their own devices, would never have chosen Him.
The bottom line, God is the potter, and He fashions His clay as He chooses. He is God, and we are not. Even among the Jews, God has chosen some, not all.
The so what question!?
God’s call on our lives implies great responsibility. It means living out our purpose in and through our relationship with God. God chose Israel and commissioned them, saying, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” They were to reflect their God to all nations and be a light to the Gentiles. They failed in that mission, and the mission is accomplished through Jesus. He is the light of the world.
We, too, are people who have been commissioned. Our command is to love God with all that we are and have and to love our neighbors as He has loved us. The question then, as chosen people of God, are we fulfilling our purpose?
“God’s choice never results in easy, arrogant, automatic superiority. Much is expected of those to whom much is given.”Wright, N. T. (2011). Romans. United Kingdom: InterVarsity Press.
Father of men, who can complain
Under thy mild and equal reign?
Who does a weight of duty share
More than his aids and power can bear?
O the unbounding grace which brought
To us, the words by Jesus taught!
So blest and with such hopes inspired,
How much is given, how much required!