Has God's Word failed?
HAS GOD’s WORD FAILED? (ROM 9:1-13)
Finally we return to Romans 9, to where we left off a few weeks ago. There is much debate and controversy about the correct interpretation of Romans 9-11 and most of it is not because the text is difficult to understand. Most of it is because we don’t like what it says….
These chapters are going to challenge a number of our frameworks. We learned about frameworks in the Dig n Discover course we did recently. A framework is way of thinking, a perspective, a conviction, a paradigm, a cultural lens or doctrinal system that we bring to the text of scripture which informs, shapes and colours our understanding of the text. A framework represents the presuppositions or bias which filter and effect the way we see, understand and respond to the Biblical text.
We all come to the Bible with these presuppositions or assumptions, some of them are long held convictions which we feel very strongly about. So I expect that all of us are going to feel a bit uncomfortable as we work through this text, myself included. But it’s important that as far as we are able, we let the text be king. We must recognize our frameworks and be willing to change them when they don’t line up with the text of Scripture. That is what sanctification is all about – conforming our thinking to Christ’s so that we think and feel and act like Christ.
So if you find yourself getting a bit emotional, or unsettled, or even angry - it may be that I’m doing a bad job of explaining the text, or it may be that one of your frameworks is being challenged. Ask God to help you through this text and to transform your thinking and perspective where it needs to be transformed.
Read Rom 9:1-13
So the first thing we need to do, is enter into the mindset or framework of the original author and audience. We need to understand what the problem is in this text, why it is a problem and what the Spirit inspired solution is that Paul offers
1. The problem (1-6)
2. The solution (6-13)
3. The implication (11)
1: THE PROBLEM (1-6)
THE EMOTION (1-3)
Can you hear the emotion of vs 1-3? This is something about which Paul feels very deeply.
· Vs 1 he emphasizes the truthfulness of what he is saying
· Vs 2 he emphasizes the grief and emotion with which he says it
· Vs 3 he emphasizes the seriousness of what he is saying. He could wish that he was cut off from Christ for the sake of His people.
The situation that Paul is talking about could not be more serious. He is willing to go to hell if that could change it.
So what is the problem that is causing Paul such anguish and grief?
What is the problem? (4-5)
They are Israelites and to them belong….
He’s talking about the nation of Israel, ethnic Israel, his kinsmen according to the flesh as he puts in in vs 3.
They are God’s chosen people, God’s elect, special nation. Chosen from among all the nations to be His treasured possession.
He goes on to list their privileged position. In Greek there is assonance which groups this list into 3pairs. So there are pairs of words which have a similar sound to them:
· The adoption and the giving of the law
· The glory and the worship
· The covenants and the promises
The pairs of words are also logically and thematically connected
· The adoption or the sonship and the giving of the law probably refers back to Sinai when God adopted Israel as His people and entered into a covenant relationship with them which was laid out in the law of Moses. He would be their God and they would be His special people as Ex 6:7 puts it.
· The term which has been translated here as worship is used of the Old Testament system of worship with its offerings and priests and sacrifices. It is closely connected to the priesthood and the temple where the Shekinah glory of God dwelt in the midst of His people. So the terms glory and the worship or sacrificial service go together – The whole system of offerings and feasts, Levites and Priests which allowed the people to approach God and God to dwell in their midst.
· The Covenants and the promises refer to the promises God made to the patriarchs and subsequent Israelites, which he ratified in various Covenants to Abraham, Moses and David. All that God promised and covenanted to do in and for Israel, all the good that He had planned and purposed for them.
Which leads naturally to their lineage in vs 5 beginning with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and culminating in Jesus Christ who was a Jew, coming from the Jewish nation and coming for the Jewish nation.
· But he was no mere man, as Paul goes on to highlight
· He is the climax of God’s redemptive plan,
· He is the Lord over all, He is the Christ – the promised Messiah of Israel – that’s His title
· Beyond all of that, He is God over all, forever blessed.
So Paul is summarizing here the whole of redemptive history up to this point which centered on Israel and climaxed in Christ.
How could this nation who were God’s chosen nation, who were His covenant people, who had played such a vital role in the story of salvation – how could they have rejected their messiah and their God and find themselves outside of God’s blessing, outside of salvation?
This is the situation Paul finds unacceptable and unthinkable.
That is exactly Paul’s concern here. Look at vs 6. It’s not as though the Word of God has failed. It’s not as though God has been faithless. He is concerned for His fellow country men, but he is even more concerned to show that God’s word and promises to them have not failed.
Let’s back up for a moment and trace the argument he has been making up to this point and it will hopefully clarify the tension here.
The argument from Romans
· 1:13 – “as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” He is writing to a largely Gentile church though there were probably some Jews among them as well.
· 1:16-17 the key verse of Romans – He is presenting the gospel to them as the good news, God’s righteousness for both Jews and Gentiles. It is a righteousness which comes through faith in Christ.
· Chapter 1 the Gentiles are unrighteous and deserving of God’s wrath. Chapter 2 the Jews are unrighteous and deserving of God’s judgment
· 3:9-10 all are unrighteous, both Jews and Gentiles. Notice how throughout He is explicitly applying the gospel to both groups – Jews and non-Jews.
· 3:21 righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law – God’s righteousness is by faith in Christ and not by law keeping or lineage or any worth or merit of your own.
· 4:1-3 By faith alone, not by works. By grace, not by merit. The argument goes on to say Abraham was justified before he was circumcised so could not have been by his works.
· 4:16 all those who believe are offspring of Abraham and inherit the promised blessings, blessings which He goes on to explain and unpack from chapter 5-8
· 5:1-2 – We have been justified by faith and have peace with God and the hope of glory.
· Rom 6 died to sin, Rom 7 died to the law, Rom 8 alive and indwelled by the Sprit.
· Rom 8 unwrapped this incredible hope we have in some detail –
o forgiveness of sins (8:1)
o the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us (8:4)
o indwelling by the Spirit (8:5)
o Adoption as sons (8:14)
o An inheritance with Christ (8:17)
o The hope of glory (8:18)
o The intercession of the Sprit and of Christ on our behalf (8:26, 34)
o Foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified – this ubroken chain of God’s unconditional, covenenant love (8:30)
o And the knowledge that this love will never change and nothing can separate us from that love and it will cause us to conquer over all things, past and present, temporal, eternal, physical and spiritual.
That’s the note that chapter 8 ended with and it sounds like all good news to us. The blessings promised to Abraham have at last come to all nations as God promised…but they have not come to Israel…
And that’s the rub, that’s the problem. The forgiveness and the messiah and the Spirit promised to Israel as His chosen, adopted covenant people – have not come to them. For the most part ethnic Israel have rejected Christ and find them outside of God’s blessings, outside of forgiveness, under God’s wrath.
It’s like we’ve had the Exodus and the Egyptians who saw God’s power and miracles have come out of Egypt and the Jews stayed behind as slaves and God’s special chosen people have not been delivered at all, in fact their condition is worse than before, God is about to destroy them for their idolatry…..and like Moses Paul is saying in Rom 9-11 - wait, this can’t be, what will the nations say, what will the Gentiles say?
Why is it a problem?
Jer 29:11-14 – made to Israel in exhile – if God’s word to and promises to Israel are not realized – what does this say about God’s faithfulness – what basis do we have for confidence and hope in His word?
The problem is not just that Israel have lost out, the real problem is that the promises which God made to them have not been realized.
· Has God failed to keep His Word? Has He made empty promises which He found Himself unable to keep? Were His plans and His best intentions thwarted so that Israel now find themselves cast off, unadopted and unloved?
· That is the real problem Paul goes on to address from vs 6 onwards - not just what happened to Israel, but what happened to God’s promises. Notice vs 6 – it is not as though the word of God has failed?....
· That is the real problem this raises, can we trust God’s word, is God faithful to His promises – or can human unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God and thwart the redemptive purposes of God?
· He already alluded to this problem back in Rom 3:3 “What is some were unfaithful, does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means, let God be true though every man is a liar.”
We can’t say that God’s faithfulness to His promises and plans is nullified by human sin or unbelief – that would be a crisis.
· If God is not faithful to His promises in the past, then how do we know He can bring about what He has promised in the present?
· The hope of Chapter 8, the promised glory, the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God – how can we trust any of it if the ones to whom God made such promises in the past – find themselves outside of those promises?
· If God failed to bring about His good purposes toward Israel – how do we know that He will not fail to bring them about in us?....
So what Paul is dealing with here is not just the future of Israel, or the relationship between Israel and the church – He must set about vindicating the character and Word of God so that there is no doubt that we can trust him.
Do you sense now the gravity of this problem which has really been created by the gospel and Israel’s rejection of their own messiah? It is a reality which calls God’s plans, God’s character, God’s power and reputation into question.
Summary: Put another way…. In order for us to have the unshakeable hope that Paul has been putting before us in Rom 5-8, we must have an answer for what has become of Ethnic Israel, what has become of their hope, how is God working out His promises and redemption toward them?
The solution (9:6-13)
Paul’s inspired answer is found in Rom 9-11 which I hope you can now see, is not an aside at all, but is essential to our gospel hope.
The first part of his argument is that the promises were never realized by all of ethnic Israel. There was always a select group within the nation, who were chosen to be the recipients of God’s covenant promises.
God’s promises and plans for redemption was never for every single ethnic Jew, but was directed specifically to those whom He chose out and called from among the rest.
God is sovereign in choosing who will be the objects of His blessing. God’s grace, God’s election is sovereign and free and it did not include every ethnic Jew.
· Not all who are the physical descendants of Israel, truly belong to Israel (6). Even in the O.T there were those who were physical descendants, Israel by birth, but who were excluded from the promises and found themselves outside of God’s covenant purposes, they were not the Israel of God’s elective purpose and covenant, not truly Israel.
· He says the same thing in a different way in vs 7. Not all the physical descendants of Abraham are the objects and recipients of God’s grace and promised blessings (7)
· Not all the physical children of Abraham are children of the promise, children of God, children of the covenant.
So he is arguing that God’s promises didn’t fail because they were never directed toward every single physical descendent of Abraham without exception, they were never intended for every single Jew – but this select group within the nation as a whole. Sovereignly and freely chosen to be the objects of grace and recipients of the promised blessing.
Isaac and Ishmael (7-9)
As proof of his statement he goes back to Abraham.
· Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the firstborn, the oldest, the one who according to culture and tradition had the rights to the inheritance, the privileges of the firstborn.
· Yet God explicitly says that His promises will not be realized through Ishmael but through Isaac.
· So we have 2 sons, both Abraham’s children by physical descent, but only one is selected to be the recipient and channel of God’s plan of redemption and the realization of His promises.
· Paul’s point in vs 8 is that physical descent doesn’t automatically make you the object and recipient of God’s grace and promises.
Isaac and Ishmael, the very first descendants of Abraham are proof of Paul’s point. Both are physical descendants but only one is chosen to be a part of God’s redemptive purpose and plans.
Not all the physical descendants of Israel belong to the true Israel, through whom God’s promises are realized
Some would be quick to object to Paul’s argument at this point and say, “Wait a minute, Ishmael was born to Hagar, Sarah’s servant. He wasn’t of pure blood, He wasn’t a legitimate physical descendant.
Paul’s point is such a paradigm shift for almost every Jew that he must summon more evidence…
Esau and Jacob (10)
So Paul takes Esau and Jacob. Two twins born to the father of Israel, born to the same mother. There is no legitimate physical grounds for why the one descendant should be chosen to be the recipient of God’s promise and blessing and not the other
· Again, Esau is the oldest, even if only by a few minutes. He is the firstborn, the one who according to custom should have received the promise and the inheritance
· Yet God choses the younger and not the older. God choses Jacob and not Esau
Again, Paul’s point – it is not all the physical descendants who become the recipients of divine grace and become the ones through whom God works out His redemptive promises.
God’s Word and promises have not failed because they were never directed toward every physical descendant of Abram or every individual Jew – but they focused on select individuals, a select group from among all the descendants of Israel – selected out by grace. Sovereign and free.
Paul doesn’t stop there by merely showing that some of Abraham’s descendants were chosen to be the recipients of God’s promises and not others, He goes on to highlight that this choice was not at all dependent upon their status or character or faith or obedience.
The nature of election (11-13)
Paul draws from the history we find in Gen 25 of these two twins.
· Gen 25:21-23
· Two people’s would come from these sons who would be born to Isaac – the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel.
· Paul’s proof is undeniable – not all the physical descendants of Abraham become the recipients of Gods promises – but only those whom God selects from among these descendants.
But notice what Paul highlights in Romans 9:11. This choice was made before they were even born, before they had done anything to earn or deserve it.
· Jacob became the recipient and channel of God’s grace and promise not because of mere physical descent, not because of aptitude, or faith, or obedience or any merit and response on His part.
· The basis lay in God’s sovereign choice.
· This has always been how God has worked out His purposes – based on His sovereign choice, not based on human merit or worth.
So that’s the problem, the solution and now let’s consider the implications as Paul draws them out here in vs 11 particularly.
3: The implications (11)
So there are two important points Pail highights by His commentary
· God’s promsies were never indiscriminantly made, but are directly personally and specifically toward His elect, those whom He has chosen.
· God’s choice is not based on human merit, ancestry, works or worth – but is sovereign and free.
· Before they were even born or had done anything good or bad – as a demonstration and outworking of God’s purposes in election.
Not based on forsight (11b)
I must point out in the last part of vs 11 that two things are put in contrast: Not by works, but because of Him who calls.
· So on the one side of the contrast lies human works and merit and on the other side divine election and calling and these are set in contrast to each other.
· Some want to turn around and say that God’s choice is based on divine foresight, or foreknowledge or God looking ahead and seeing that Isaac would believe the promise, or obey God’s will or merit His choice.
· But the text explicitly puts these things in contrast to each other – by divine choice and calling, not by human works or merit.
· Again, Paul grounds the timing of the choice – before they were even born….that’s when the choice was made and therefore not at all dependent upon anything they would do or become.
The basis of election is God’s calling – and now we are back to Rom 8:30 – read Rom 8:30
God’s promises are not contingent, they will always be realized because they are not based on human merit or worth or actions or choices but upon His election and directed toward those whom He calls.
And those whom God calls He calls into relationships with Himself to be objects of His love and blessing. 8:31, 8:37
So Paul concludes his point in Rom 9:13 on the same note. Jacob wasn’t just chosen and called to receive an inheritance but to become the object of God’s special covenant love.
He quotes from Mal 1:2-5 to substantiate his point. Read Mal 1:2-5
· Clearly in context God is explaining how Israel are the recipients of His promises and protection and blessing and not Edom who descended from Esau.
· To be hated, is not to be the object of covenant love, it’s not to know the same gracious treatment and loving disposition. Mal 1:4 My anger is on them forever
· Edom are judged for their sin in a way that Israel are not. Israel enjoy a relationship with God that Edom do not.
The whole of O.T. history tells us that Israel was as faithless and idolatrous and sinful as all the other nations – yet God doesn’t treat them like the other nations, He doesn’t deal with their sin like He does the other nations so that His purpose in election might stand not by works but by Him who calls.
God’s promises are realized through some descendants and not others and the basis of that difference is not human merit or worth – but Sovereign grace.
This is the essence of what is sometimes called Reformed doctrine, or the doctrines of grace or Calvinism – unconditional election.
God sovereignly and freely chooses who will be the objects of His covenant love and promises and that choice is not based on any worth or merit or faith or faithfulness on the part of man.
There are many in Christianity who find this view of God untenable. They will not worship and serve a God who sovereignly and freely choses who will be the objects of His grace and promises and love.
That’s simply not fair they say, it’s not right, it’s unjust…
Which is exactly the objection Paul goes on to address in vs 14 and following – read 9:14.
Maybe you find this text difficult to swallow? Maybe you are feeling emotional or even angry at the thought that God chooses to hate some people and love others, that God doesn’t love all people with the same love.
· Is it because the text isn’t clear, or is it because of your framework, your presuppositions and perspectives that you are bringing to the text?
· If this text offends you, why does it offend you? What do you find difficult – the meaning of the text or its implications for your view of God and salvation?
· It’s ok to wrestle, its ok to struggle and to want to make sure that there is no other way to understand the text, no better explanation for what this means – but we can never put ourselves over the text make it say what it doesn’t say and squeeze it into our predetermined framework of who God is and what He may or may not do.
· Ultimately we must yield our ideas to the text and let the text be king. If this is what it says, than this is good.
I’ve wrestled with and agonized with this doctrine because I didn’t start my Christian life believing this and it challenged my view of God and salvation. But on the other side of this wrestling is a glorious security.
God’s love toward me us unconditional and unchanging because it was never based on my faith of faithfulness but on His sovereign gracious choice.
He chose to set His love on me and there is no explanation for it outside of God’s sovereign freedom and that means there is nothing outside of God that can ever change it.