Who is Israel?
As if chapter 8 wasn’t controversial enough, we’re about to get even more controversial. Now we may not only be stepping on the toes of non-reformed people, but we may be stepping on the toes of premillennial believers. I hope you understand that neither of these are my intention; my desire is to remain as faithful to the Scriptures as I possibly can be. Romans 9 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible, and for obvious reasons. Nothing gives a blunt-force trauma treatise on the doctrine of election much like Romans 9 does. But realize that Paul comes to this point purely by working out his gospel message. That being said, always remember that the next chapter flows out of what just came before.
Many people have tried and tried to make Romans 9 about nations, about a “corporate election” system and many other things. There have been numerous attempts to deal with what seems to be so plainly taught in this chapter. The reality simply is that one, such explanations completely disrupt the flow of Paul’s argument; why does Paul suddenly go from talking about the salvation of the elect in chapter 8 to then talking about nations? What’s the warrant for this? There is none. But the second reality is our lenses, and the secret idols we wish to protect are what make us do this. We must do our level best to set aside our presuppositions and read the text as it is, and pray hard and fast, asking the Lord to help us quell our pride and the secret idols we carry with us, even as genuine believers. What is Romans 9 telling us?
Paul nearly begins by asking a rhetorical question yet again. He asks several in this chapter, which are important to follow, and we will follow them here. But what question does he almost ask at this point? Again, recall what we just got done with. We were tying the bow on what the gospel is, and who it is for. It is for God’s elect. Now the question that will be raised against Paul is this, “Paul, if what you’re saying is true, then God’s entire gospel has failed; the Jews (who are the chosen people of God–the elect nation) have for the majority rejected this gospel of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. They turned away, and if anything, this Messiah has caused even greater schism for the Jews!”
This is the thing Paul is revisiting from the beginning of Romans 3, how God has not failed at all. Now we’re about to dive headlong into what Paul meant. Paul answers the objection here that he anticipates by saying that God’s promises have not failed and why? Because not all those who come from the loins of Abraham are actually Abraham’s. Who are Abraham’s offspring? The children of the promise. Who are the children of the promise? We just got done speaking about this in Romans 8–the elect of God. Paul is reminding us here, in its most ultimate sense, that the true Israel of God are the elect. Remember, if Christ represents his people in his death and resurrection, and his people are Israel, and he never fails to save any of his people, then either Christ is a subpar Savior at best, and a failed one at worst, or Israel was more than a simple genealogy.
God’s Sovereign Choice
Paul proceeds to use numerous examples in the Old Testament Scriptures to prove his doctrine of divine election. Sarah has a son, and why? Because Sarah willed it? No, because God did. Furthermore, Jacob and Esau were twins in the womb! What greater example is there than this? Two twins, that means they were essentially one at one point. This would mean they must both be entitled to promises because they actually are one, right? Not according to God. God has the right to decide to whom He has His covenant promises pass through, and He chooses Jacob. Why? Was it anything that Jacob did that Esau didn’t? Of course not, as Paul says, God’s decision happened before the two were born, before they did anything in their lives. And for what purpose did God do this? In order that His purpose of election might stand. God’s, not theirs.
“The older will serve the younger” once again, breaking the normal tradition. What’s Paul saying? God has the right to break tradition, He alone is sovereign. Now we come to a question, and you ought to know what this means by now. Now is the time to pay close attention so you can see what Paul is anticipating as an objection. The objection is this: Paul, that’s not fair!
If you are raising the same objection that Paul raised to himself, you’re the objector to Paul’s doctrine! And Paul answers you by quoting Exodus 33:19 when God says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy”. God again gets to choose to whom He will save and whom He will not. This is why God raised up Pharaoh, another character Paul uses to prove what? The dreadful doctrine (by human standards) of reprobation; those whom God has chosen specifically for destruction. And Paul addresses this how? Does he say that Pharaoh was a mean guy and because he wouldn’t play ball, God said, “Well, too bad, my friend! You could’ve been big!”?
By no means! Again, what does Paul fall back on? God’s glory–God raised up Pharaoh for the specific purpose of demonstrating His power and glory, that He is God, the pagan gods are false gods, they cannot save, and God raised Pharaoh up to illustrate the Passover which would be ultimately fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you see, my fellow believer, as shocking as this is, that Lord willing you will come to see that this is so beautiful if our focus is on God’s glory and not on sinful man’s well being. Surely, in God’s glory, by His grace, the well being of man is part of that, but it cannot be the central aspect.
The Gentiles Grafted In
Through this doctrine of election, Paul begins to tie the knot on his argument, showing that this is how God saves all people, apart from the law as the Judiasers were trying to make Gentiles do. It is not through the law but through faith in Christ, and since faith cannot be a work, else Paul ends up in the Judiasers’ trap only in a different form, faith must also be a gift, and salvation must be by covenant, where Christ imputes his covenant blessings to his elect, those whom he has died for, and their sins imputed to his sacrifice and they are then raised with him. This is for Jew and Gentile–this is the gospel for ages to come! It’s all been tied up beautifully in this excellent work of Paul.