Romans 9

Thursday Evening Bible Study

November 20, 2008


While I was in Israel and Daniel Grant filled in for me, he taught part of Romans 9.  So I’m not going to go into great detail in the first part of the chapter.

:1-5 Israel’s rejection of Christ

:1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,

:2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.

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

Paul shares his heart, his great burden for his fellow Jews.  He would even wish that he could go to hell if it meant that some of his countrymen would follow Christ.

:4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;

Paul mentions eight things the Jews have been blessed with:

1. The adoption – God adopted the nation as His children.

2. The glory – they saw the Shekinah glory of God at the Tabernacle and the Temple.

3. The covenants – God made “contracts” with the Israelites – a covenant with Abraham, a covenant with Moses, a “new” covenant which came with Jesus.

4. The law – as we’ve seen in Exodus

5. The service – the worship of God through things like the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and Temple.

6. The promises – God isn’t finished with the Jews.  Even seeing the nation of Israel exist back in the land is a fulfillment of God’s promises.

:5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

7. The fathers – Great men of faith like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.

8. The Christ – the greatest blessing of all.  The Messiah, the Savior came from the Jewish people.

the eternally blessed God – in the Greek language Paul is saying that Jesus is God.

:6-13 Israel’s Rejection & God’s purpose

:6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,

:7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called."

Being a Jew is not enough.  Being a descendant of Abraham is not enough.

With Abraham, it was not all the sons of Abraham that were blessed, but the blessing only went through one son, Isaac, not Ishmael.

:8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

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

In Abraham’s life, he was promised a son.  When it took too long, Abraham took things into his own hands and had a son, Ishmael, with his concubine.  This was the son of the “flesh”.  It was not the “promised” son.  The promised son came later when Abraham was visited by a group of three strangers (Gen. 18).

In Israel this last week we had a cool experience at a place called “Genesis Land”.  The idea is that you go back in time and have a meal at the tent of Abraham.  The location is on the edge of a hill, looking out toward the Jordan River valley – a view very similar to the one Abraham might have had when he entertained these strangers.

Isaac was the son of promise, Ishmael was not.

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

:11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),

:12 it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger."

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

When Abraham’s son Isaac had kids, they were not both recipients of the “blessing”.

Even before they were born it was told that Esau (the older) would serve Jacob (the younger).

This choice by God came before they had been born, before they had done anything good or bad.  The choice came because God simply chose.

:14-29 Israel’s rejection and God’s purpose

:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

Some people will look at this and think that this is not fair.  How can God make these decisions about people before they are even born?

This is one of the great problems we face as humans, trying to understand our sovereign God.

Are we all just little puppets on strings, being told what to do by some ogre in heaven?  Is it fair that God judges us according to our choice of Him, when we find out that He made us this way?


He writes in characters too grand

For our short sight to understand;

We catch but broken strokes, and try

To fathom all the mystery

Of withered hopes, of death, of life,

The endless war, the useless strife --

But there, with larger, clearer sight,

We shall see this -- His way was right.

We may not always understand what God is doing, but His ways are best:


Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident which taught her this principle.  She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck.  Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested.   Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.  Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters.  Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed.  During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference.  It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.

:15 For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."

I will have mercy – future tense; I will in the future have mercy

whomever I will have mercy – present tense, subjunctive; I could have mercy

I will have compassion – future tense; I will in the future have compassion

whomever I will have compassion – present subjunctive; I could have compassion

The point is this – God is the one who decides who He is going to have mercy and compassion on.

This quote came after the golden calf episode.  Moses went off to spend time with God, and asked God if he could see God’s glory (Ex. 33:13-19).

(Exo 33:13-19 NKJV)  "Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people." {14} And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." {15} Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. {16} "For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth." {17} So the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name." {18} And he said, "Please, show me Your glory." {19} Then He said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

God’s reply was basically saying, “Moses, I’ll be gracious to who I want to be gracious to, you aren’t in a position to tell me who to be merciful to”.

Why does God choose some and apparently not choose others?

You may not like this answer, but the truth is that He does it because He wants to.  Period.  He’s the boss.  As the Creator of the Universe, it is wholly within His rights to make choices like this.

In a sense, I think our struggles with this come back to our struggles with authority.  Do we have a problem with people telling us what to do?  Do we have a problem with our boss assigning us a particular job?  Do you have a problem submitting to others?
It’s kind of like walking a dog.  The dog will learn to have a much easier time when it learns to go in the direction that it’s master is trying to go.  But when the dog resists the master, that’s when it gets tough.  Does the dog know the best way to go?  Rarely.

In reality, God doesn’t have to show mercy to any of us.  In reality, God ought to be sending us all to hell because of our rebellion against Him.  But instead, He chooses to show mercy and compassion.

:16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

him who willsthelo – to will, have in mind, intend

who runstrecho – to run; to exert one’s self, strive hard

There is a sense in which God’s choice of us is based on His foreknowledge.

(Rom 8:29 NKJV)  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…

In a sense we could say that God chose us because He knew we would one day choose Him.

But here the focus is on the fact that in the end, the question of who gets God’s mercy is God’s choice and God’s alone.

Our calling in God isn’t based on us willing or exerting effort.  We don’t demand of God to show us mercy.  It’s based on God deciding to have mercy.


God is sovereign

He does what He wants.
Are you okay with that?  You’ll be better off if you are.
The deciding factor in a person experiencing God’s mercy is not up to us – it’s not up to us making a choice or up to us exerting some sort of influence on God.
We receive mercy because God wants to show mercy.
We might look at this and think that this means that God is somehow “stingy” with mercy.
It’s just the opposite.
If it were up to us “will” for God to have mercy, or for us to “strive” to get mercy, no one would ever get it.

But because it’s up to God, mercy is given freely.

So how do I know if I’m a person to whom God has shown mercy?

Respond to His mercy and you’ll find out.

This is part of the mystery of it all.  God is sovereign and makes His choices.  Yet somehow He has set it all up so that we from our perspective have a choice, as Paul will say in the next chapter:

(Rom 10:13 NKJV)  For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."
Here is the same author, Paul, talking about God’s sovereignty and man’s choice all within paragraphs of each other.
How can both be true?  I don’t know, but it’s true.

:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."

Paul quotes from:

(Exo 9:16 NKJV)  "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

God was speaking to Pharaoh during the time when Moses was asking for the people to leave Egypt.  God said that the reason He allowed Pharaoh to be raised up was so God could display His power.

:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

He willsthelo – to will, have in mind, intend

In both places, the “wills” have to do with God’s intention, God’s will.  This is not speaking of a “future tense” sort of “will”.

hardensskleruno (arterial sclerosis – hardening of the arteries) – to make hard, harden

God had mercy on Moses.  God hardened Pharaoh.

One commentator wrote (JFB) that God hardened them by “judicially abandoning them to the hardening influence of sin itself”.

The idea is that of letting them go.  It’s the idea of letting them go the natural conclusion of their own sin.  This is very similar to what happened with Israel:

(Psa 81:11-12 NKJV)  "But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. {12} So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels.

Paul has already taught us a little about this.  When man rejects the knowledge of God, God “abandons” them, leaving them to the consequences of their sin:

(Rom 1:28 NLT)  When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done.

With Pharaoh, we see another example of this.  God told Moses that He would be hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21)

(Exo 4:21 NKJV)  …But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

Yet the actual process of arterial sclerosis started with Pharaoh.  As each of the various plagues began, each situation ends with Pharaoh hardening his own heart such as:

(Exo 7:13 NKJV)  And Pharaoh's heart grew hard…

(Exo 7:22 NKJV)  …Pharaoh's heart grew hard…

(Exo 8:15 NKJV)  But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart …

The process repeats itself over and over until finally God turns and hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  It’s as if all along Pharaoh has been hardening his heart, and so God says, “Okay, you want a hard heart, you can have it!”

(Exo 9:12 NKJV)  But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

It’s at this point that we get the verse that Paul is quoting about God hardening Pharaoh (vs. 17)

(Exo 9:16 NKJV)  "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.


God’s sovereignty is tied to man’s free will.

The strange thing is that even though we are in a section that deals heavily with God’s sovereignty, God’s ability to choose and predestine, there is still somehow the element of human free will woven in to all this. 
How does it all work together?  How can God choose and predestinate beforehand, yet we still have a free will?  It’s beyond me.  But I know that somehow both sides are true, and that God is big enough and smart enough to have it all figured out.

:19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

The idea is, “How could God condemn a person if He was the one that hardened their heart in the first place?”

:20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?"

This is a rhetorical question.

Paul is pulling from a common idea in the Old Testament:

(Isa 45:9 NKJV)  "Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' Or shall your handiwork say, 'He has no hands'?

(Jer 18:6 NKJV)  "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!


Yield to the potter.

The best thing that can happen to the clay is to yield to the Master Potter.  Don’t fight Him.  Let Him mold you into what He wants.
We need to remember that we cannot train ourselves to be Christians; we cannot discipline ourselves to be saints; we cannot bend ourselves to the will of God: we have to be broken to the will of God.
   Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)
It’s foolish not to yield to the Lord.
There was an officer in the navy who had always dreamed of commanding a battleship. He finally achieved that dream and was given commission of the newest and proudest ship in the fleet. One stormy night, as the ship plowed through the seas, the captain was on duty on the bridge when off to the port he spotted a strange light rapidly closing with his own vessel. Immediately he ordered the signalman to flash the message to the unidentified craft, "Alter your course ten degrees to the south." Only a moment had passed before the reply came: "Alter your course ten degrees to the north." Determined that his ship would take a backseat to no other, the captain snapped out the order to be sent: "Alter course ten degrees--I am the CAPTAIN!" The response beamed back, "Alter your course ten degrees--I am Seaman Third Class Jones." Now infuriated, the captain grabbed the signal light with his own hands and fired off: "Alter course, I am a battleship." The reply came back. "Alter your course, I am a lighthouse."
Yield to the Lord.  Don’t be afraid of what He’s going to do with you.

Let Him work it out in His timing.


I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied that, had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or at least it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me.
John Newton (1725–1807)

:21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

powerexousia – power of choice; the power of authority

The bottom line is: if God is our Creator, who are we to question Him?  Can’t He do what He wants?


God has the authority

To discuss the authority of Almighty God seems a bit meaningless, and to question it would be absurd. Can we imagine the Lord God of Hosts having to request permission of anyone or to apply for anything to a higher body? To whom would God go for permission? Who is higher than the Highest? Who is mightier than the Almighty? Whose position antedates that of the Eternal? At whose throne would God kneel? Where is the greater one to whom he must appeal?

A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)

There’s a crazy thing going on in California regarding “power” or “authority”.
The people voted a few years back that marriage was between a man and a woman.
Then last year the California Supreme Court decided that this was not okay.
Then earlier this month the people again voted to state that marriage was between one man and one woman.
Now the California Supreme Court is once again stating that we the people don’t have the right to make such decisions.

Where does their authority come from?  What is the basis for their decisions?

God has ultimate authority.  He can do whatever He wants to do.  Even the California Supreme Court does not have the authority of questioning God.

:22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,

(Rom 9:22 NLT)  God has every right to exercise his judgment and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgment and are fit only for destruction.

Now, it could be that Paul may be referring in some sense to Pharaoh here.

God could have just wiped Pharaoh out from the start, but instead kept giving Pharaoh chance after chance.  God showed patience to Pharaoh.

But I was wondering if there aren’t a couple of other ideas here as well.

For the Jews, they didn’t seem to have a problem that this would normally apply to the Gentiles.  They considered that the only reason God created Gentiles in the first place was so there would be fuel for the fires of hell.

But as we’re going to see, Paul is going to turn that thinking around on the Jews.  In fact, only a remnant of the Jews are chosen.  And God has not destined all Gentiles for hell, in fact He’s chosen some for glory.  And there are some Jews who have been “fitted to destruction”.


Don’t judge too quickly

Be careful that you don’t go putting people into this category.  Don’t be putting yourself into this category.
I know people who have been deceived by Satan into thinking that because they’ve done some horrible sin, that they must be in this category, and there’s no way out.
Keep in mind the apostle Paul himself.
He was at one time a persecutor of the church.  He killed Christians for fun.  He calls himself the “chief of all sinners”.  Even when he did come to follow Jesus, people in the church had a hard time believing it at first because he had such a bad reputation.
That’s what grace is all about.
We are saved not because we were good enough.  But because God has done everything for us, giving us eternal life if we only respond to His love.

:23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,

prepared beforehandproetoimazo prepare before, to make ready beforehand

Part of the problem comes in our thinking that every person has a right to be shown God’s grace.  The problem is that we’re all sinners.  We’re all sinners because we’ve sinned.  Nobody twisted our arm.  None of us have the right to be shown God’s grace.  We are all deserving of God’s wrath.  The fact that God would choose to show grace at all is absolutely amazing.


You’ve been chosen.

Let’s not get so hung up with the problem that we miss the gem in the passage.
You have been chosen.
Because you have chosen to follow Jesus, I can tell you that you have been chosen by God.
And God has glorious things prepared for you (1Cor. 2:7-10).  You’re prepared for them.
(1 Cor 2:7-10 NKJV)  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, {8} which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. {9} But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." {10} But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.

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

The vessels of mercy not only include Jews, but there are also Gentiles that fall into this category.

Paul now transitions into another subject where he goes to prove from the Scriptures that God has planned all along on saving Gentiles.

:25 As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved."

:26 "And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God."

Hosea was the prophet who had been asked by God to marry a prostitute.

When their kids were born, their daughter was named “Loruhamah”, meaning “no mercy” (Hos. 1:6), and the son was named “Loammi”, meaning “not my people” (Hos. 1:9).

This was because God was warning Israel that He wouldn’t be having mercy on them, and they would no longer be His people.

But as the book progresses, we see God planning on bringing the nation back to Him, just as He commanded Hosea to take back his unfaithful wife.

He quotes from Hos. 2:23

(Hosea 2:23 NLT)  "At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites and raise them for myself! I will show love to those I called 'Not loved.' And to those I called 'Not my people,' I will say, 'Now you are my people.' Then they will reply, 'You are our God!'"

Not only was this talking about God taking back the unfaithful Jews, but it hints at God one day reaching out to the pagan Gentiles as well.

:27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved.

:28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth."

He’s quoting from Is. 10:22-23

(Isa 10:22-23 NKJV)  For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness. {23} For the Lord GOD of hosts Will make a determined end In the midst of all the land.

Paul’s point is that it’s not just being Jewish that will get you saved in the end, but being a part of the group called “the remnant”.

:29 And as Isaiah said before: "Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah."

He quotes an earlier passage of Isaiah (Is. 1:9)

(Isa 1:9 NKJV)  Unless the LORD of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.

Sabaoth – don’t confuse “Sabaoth” with “Sabbath”.  Sabaoth refers to the armies of Israel.  God is the head of the armies of Israel.

left us a seed – the remnant.  Each time God brought judgment, He didn’t wipe out the entire nation, but left a “remnant”, a “seed” to replant back in the land.

Sodom … Gomorrah – the two cities destroyed by God because of their wickedness.

The idea is that if God didn’t entirely wipe out the nation, like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah.

The other day I was reading in:

(Ezek 16:56 NKJV)  "For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride,
A warning to the people of Israel.  Sometimes we can learn lessons that hard way – by having to go through the difficult time ourselves.  Sometimes we can learn things the easy way – by learning from what others have gone through.  Israel didn’t learn the easy way, by learning from Sodom’s destruction.  They had to learn the hard way.

:30-33 Present Condition of Israel

:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;

Paul has already made a case that salvation is received through faith (Romans 1-5).

The Gentiles are clueless when it comes to righteousness and God’s ways.

Yet they have found righteousness when they heard the gospel, believed it, and were saved.

It turns out that God had ideas of saving them all along.

:31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.

Israel did know about God’s righteousness, they had the law of Moses that set the standard.

But they didn’t reach the standard.

:32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.

:33 As it is written: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."

Paul quotes from two passages (Is. 8:14; 28:16)

(Isa 8:14 NKJV)  He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

(Isa 28:16 NKJV)  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.

Some people would trip over this stone in Zion.  Others would believe.  How could you not be one who trips?  By being one who believes.

It’s even in the Old Testament.  You don’t stumble if you’ll just trust Him.

You could say like Maxwell Smart, they “missed it by that much”.

They didn’t have that one key ingredient to salvation – faith.

Jesus is the “stumbling stone”.

What do you do with Jesus?

Do you believe in Him?
Are you tripped up by Him?