So far in his letter to Messiah’s Community in Rome, the Rabbi has informed us that God has saved us with a great salvation, a salvation that we have not earned or deserved. He has killed our old nature. He has removed us from the control of our old, horrible master, sin. He has freed us from the law of sin and death. He has given us a new nature. He has given us new life. He has given us His Spirit who lives in us, who does so many good things for us. He has promised to resurrect our bodies and give us eternal life and an amazing inheritance.
But, the Christians and Messianic Jews who were in Rome may have started thinking: how reliable are these great promises? Reliable enough to suffer for? Reliable enough to die for? After all, God made a lot of promises to the Chosen People, and things don’t seem to be working out too well for Israel. If God’s promises to Israel won’t be fulfilled, how can we trust God’s promises to us? And what about Israel? Is God finished with the Jewish people? How should we understand Israel? How should we relate to Israel? These are the questions that Rabbi Paul deals with in chapters 9, 10 and 11.
In the first part of Romans 9, the Rabbi informed us that God was fulfilling His promises to Israel, but He was doing so through a remnant that would be saved. That raises some questions: Does God have the right to save a minority and not the majority? To choose some for salvation and not others – even among His Chosen Nation to whom He made promises of salvation? The Rabbi answers yes. The Lord is sovereign. He has that right. Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
Isaac and Rebekah conceived twin boys – Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, God informed Rebekah that He had reversed the birth order and had chosen the older to serve the younger. The Sovereign Lord chose Jacob to be the heir of the covenant God made with Abraham and all of its blessings. When the Lord told Rebekah that, those boys had not been born. The Lord made that determination apart from anything that Jacob or Esau had done. God’s choice of Jacob was determined solely by His sovereign will.
God communicated this same truth to the prophet Malachi: Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Not hated in the sense that God detested Esau, but hated in the sense that Esau was not chosen and Jacob was chosen.
Twin boys in the womb, who are about as similar as two human beings can be – one is chosen to accomplish very special purposes and one is not chosen. Does God have the right to do that? Yes He does. Is He unjust if He chooses one and not the other? Let the Rabbi answer. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!
God communicated the same truth before He revealed His glorious presence to Moses on Sinai. For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” And the opposite is true: God has the right to withhold mercy or compassion on those whom He does not choose to have mercy or compassion. So, if God chose to have mercy and compassion on a minority of the Chosen People, and save them, and did not have mercy or compassion on the majority, and chose not to save them – is He being unfair? Unjust? Unrighteous? No. The Sovereign Lord has the right to do that.
The Rabbi reiterates that it is the sovereignty of God that is preeminent in the matter of salvation – not human desire or efforts. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Salvation is not based on what we want or what we do, but on what God wants and on what God does. God had the right to extend mercy to Moses, to choose Moses for a very positive outcome; to reveal great things to Moses; to use Moses in a great way as Israel’s leader and prophet and lawgiver; to honor Moses and bless him with salvation. God’s choice of Moses resulted in something very positive for him.
Now Paul gives us another example of God’s right to choose, but this choosing resulted in a negative outcome for the individual involved. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: I like that – Scripture says to Pharaoh. It’s almost as if Scripture is a living thing, as if it the Bible is alive and able to talk to us. And in a very real sense it is alive and able to speak to us! So in a sense, it was not just Moses talking to Pharaoh, it was Scripture, it was the Word of God speaking to Pharaoh. My friends, we need to highly esteem the Word of God and realize how alive and powerful it is.
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” God communicated to the Egyptian king that He had created him and placed him in his powerful position, and allowed Pharaoh to resist Him so that God could accomplish His purposes through this wicked man. The great confrontation between the king of Egypt and the God of Israel resulted in the God of Israel sending the ten plagues, which devastated one of the most powerful nations on Earth; and resulted in the true God being known; and how He was able to rescue a nation of slaves from a much more powerful nation. God was able to reveal more about Himself and His saving power to the nations of the world – all because of Pharaoh and His stubborn resistance to God. And, God chose Pharaoh for this purpose. I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
Did God have the right to do that? To raise someone up who would resist Him so that God would be able to reveal His power throughout the world? Yes, He has that right. The proper conclusion to arrive at? Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy – like He did with Moses; like He did with the Messianic Jews of the time of Paul; and he hardens whom he wants to harden – like He did with Pharaoh; like He did with the majority of the Jewish people of Paul’s day whose hearts were hardened to Yeshua, which means their hearts were hardened to God the Father.
Our lives, and the purpose of our lives, and the salvation of our lives do not depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy, on God’s sovereign choice. Which brings us to the next objection that the Rabbi deals with. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” God is sovereign. He makes choices about us and the meaning of our lives before we are born. He chooses some for salvation – but not others. If God is sovereign; if His will always prevails; if He always gets the result He wants – how can those He does not choose for salvation be held responsible for their failure?
The Rabbi answers this objection by referring to the greatness of the Creator and the right of the Creator over His creation. But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? Human beings are far from God. And we don’t really know how great God is; how worthy He is; how sovereign He is. And we are man-centered, not God centered. And we have a hard time understanding the Creator/creature relationship; and that God is God and we are not God. And it is hard for us to understand how small we are compared to God.
Like a potter has the right to make from the same lump of clay a magnificent bowl to be used for special purposes and kept on display because it is so special and so beautiful; and the potter has the right to make ordinary bowls that are used for everyday purposes and get chipped or broken and are thrown away – so the Creator has the right to make human beings and choose some for special purposes – which include becoming His child and living forever with Him – and the Creator has the right to make other human beings who will be used for a short time and then discarded.
Just as the chess master has the right to sacrifice his pawns in order to give his king and queen the victory, God has the right to make, use and then discard some human beings in order to make other human beings into kings and queens.
And there is more. Those human beings who were not chosen for salvation should be grateful for whatever life they enjoy, and not blame God for the eternal life they will not experience, because fallen human beings, who have not been chosen, do not deserve eternal life. No, they deserve wrath and destruction. What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? Adam and Eve sinned and joined the rebellion of the fallen angels. Their descendants are part of that rebellion. They are on the side of evil. Humanity is in a state of active rebellion against God. We are at war with the Creator. We are His enemies, not His friends. And our nature is fallen. We are not good. We are not righteous. We are wicked and corrupt and twisted and perverse and rebellious. The infinitely holy and righteous God is not happy with humanity. He is not pleased with us. He is angry with us for our rebellion and our wickedness and our arrogance. We deserve His anger. We deserve His wrath. We deserve judgment and destruction.
God would be just if He did not restrain His wrath and destroyed every rebel this instant. And He has the right to do that. And He would be just if He did that. He would be fair if He did that. So, if He chooses not to do that, but instead chooses to be merciful to the wicked and allow them to remain alive for a period of time on Earth, they have no right to complain that God is unfair for not allowing them to live forever with Him. They have no right to demand that. They have no right to expect that. What they deserve is wrath and destruction. Anything more than immediate destruction is grace – for which they should be thankful.
God has the right to use fallen human beings, unchosen human beings, wicked human beings, human beings who will not end their rebellion against God – to accomplish His purposes – especially when those purposes involve saving other human beings who were chosen – including Jewish people and people from the nations. What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
It is God’s plan; it is God’s purpose; it is God’s will to create a specific number of very special creatures, made in His image, who will be His glorious sons and daughters, eternal friends and companion of the glorious Creator. Those human beings will be born into this fallen world and experience good things and bad things – suffering, trials and hardships – which purify us and strengthen us in our faith and commitment to God; and like humble caterpillars which emerge from their cocoons as glorious butterflies, they will be transformed into glorious creatures – magnificent kings and queens who will rule the new universe under the High King, and His Son, King Yeshua.
God planned this from eternity past. He is accomplishing this in the present in this fallen world that is satanically controlled and under a curse and in rebellion against God, full of people who are unchosen and in rebellion against God. Does God have the right to accomplish this very good purpose in this way, choosing some, not others, using the unchosen to accomplish his great purpose with the chosen? Yes, He does. Does God have the right to use the unblessed to bless the blessed; those headed for shame to bring honor to the ones chosen for glory? Indeed He does.
The Rabbi stated that the ones chosen for a glorious future include the faithful remnant of the Chosen people and people from the nations – the Gentiles. Paul reinforces this truth with a prophecy from Hosea. As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” The Lord, speaking through Hosea, predicted that like an adulterous wife leaves her husband, the Jewish people would become so unfaithful to God that we would leave Him, and, in a sense, the Lord would consider us as not belonging to Him. We would not be His people. However, that estrangement would be temporary. It would not last. The Lord would forgive us and restore us and we would once again be His people.
Just as Israel would experience a time of estrangement so that we would not be God’s people, but then would become God’s people, something similar was happening with a remnant of the Gentiles. The peoples from the nations had been unfaithful to God. They were estranged from Him. They had not been His people. But the Lord had chosen a remnant from the nations and was saving some of them. They were responding to the Good News and were becoming His people. And the same thing was happening among the Chosen Nation. The Lord was saving a remnant of Jewish people. They were becoming God’s true sons and daughters, and members of God’s true people.
Again, Paul reinforces this truth with two quotes from another prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelis be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.” The Lord informed Isaiah that judgment was coming to Israel, to a nation that had turned from God, and only a remnant of the Jewish people would turn to God and be saved.
Even before this prophecy of future judgment and the salvation of a remnant had been given to Isaiah, the Lord had been judging His wayward people. It is just as Isaiah said previously: “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” The faithless Jewish nation had already been judged by God by Him allowing us to be attacked by enemies. And if the Lord had not chosen some of us to survive, all of us would have been killed. We would have been completely destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. But in the time of Isaiah, the Lord graciously spared a remnant of the nation. God saved some, but not others. God saved a remnant, not the entire nation. And God was acting the same way in the time of Paul. God was saving some, but not others; a remnant, not the entire nation. Does God have the right to do that? Yes, He does.
God is sovereign and has the right to chose some for eternal life, and not others. Human beings are fallen and rebellious and wicked and enemies of God and the Creator would be just if He spared none of us. God has the right to use the wicked unchosen to achieve His purpose with the chosen who will be blessed. These are some of the reasons why some Jewish people were being saved, but not all of the Jewish people being saved.
But there was a more immediate reason why more of the Chosen People, who had been given so many great advantages, were not being saved, and why many Gentiles, who had far fewer advantages, were being saved. What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. The Jewish people, who had so many advantages, knew about good and evil, God and Satan, Heaven and Hell, salvation and damnation. The Judaism of the first century was focused on attaining salvation, but the theology had become distorted. It had become too works-oriented instead of grace and faith oriented. The focus was Torah observance, keeping the law, doing mitzvot, good deeds outweighing bad deeds. And for those Jewish people who adhere to traditional Judaism, this is still the situation.
The majority of the Jewish people were pursuing salvation in a legalistic way, in a way that can’t result in becoming righteous. And the majority were sure they were right and Yeshua and His followers were wrong. This famous and true saying applied to them: “It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true that kills you.” So when Messiah Yeshua and His followers, who knew better, tried to correct us, we rejected them and their correction.
The Gentiles, however, were different. They carried very little theological baggage with them. They were like a clean slate. So ironically, the Gentiles, who had fewer spiritual advantages, and who understood less about God, and were not as focused on attaining salvation as we Jewish people were – ironically, more and more of them were being saved because when they heard the simple Gospel message, they responded with a child-like faith. They said yes to Yeshua and that was that.
The majority of the Jewish people were pursuing righteousness – but pursuing it in the wrong way. The Lord had made it clear that salvation would be made available, but it would come not through adherence to the laws of the Sinai Covenant, but through the arrival of the Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, who would die to make atonement for us and make us truly righteous.
Tragically, when the Savior came, we didn’t recognize Him. We rejected Him and His claims about Himself. We rejected His correction of our errors. The Rabbi reinforces this truth by quoting from the prophet Isaiah, who communicated the same truth. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” We must come to God on His terms. We must not insist on our own systems, our own ideologies. We must not ignore Yeshua. We must not reject Him. Otherwise, we will be put to shame. Our lives will turn out to be an embarrassing failure. We must accept Yeshua as the Messiah. That is the only way to please God, and have a successful life in this world followed by eternal honor in the world to come.
And, if we know Yeshua, we must tell others about Him. Ask the Lord to help you share the good news with at least one person this week; to fill you with His Spirit, and with wisdom and courage; to look for opportunities; to create opportunities to bring the Gospel to the lost and dying world around you.
Lord, help us to be more God-centered, not self-centered; to understand that You are God and we are not. That You, the Creator, have the right to choose one human being and not another. Help help better understand You and Your Lordship and Your sovereignty over all things.
And, out of gratitude for Your choice of us, help us be righteous and holy and humble and passionate about telling the Good News to those around us, who are in such desperate need of the Good News.