God’s Sovereign Choice, 1-29
‘In Romans 9–11 Paul presents a sustained theological argument to solve the problem of Israel which was raised in the first eight chapters of the letter. That problem is as follows: although the gospel is to the Jew first (Rom 1:16), most of Israel is closed to the gospel (Rom 10:16) and therefore has not received salvation (cf. Hofius, 175–78). Has God’s promise to Abraham and his seed been annulled (Rom 9:6)? Has God rejected his people (Rom 11:1–2)? These are the questions which, as an Israelite motivated by supreme love for his people (cf. Rom 9:2–3), Paul seeks to answer in this section, showing that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29).’ (DPL, art. ‘Restoration of Israel’)
Wright (Paul and the faithfulness of God) remarks that if Romans is primarily about God, this is no more so than in the present chapter (and ch 11). Here we are confronted with ‘God’s word, God’s children, God’s promise, God’s purpose in election, God’s call, God’s love (and hatred), God’s justice (or injustice), God’s mercy, God’s power, God’s name, God’s sovereignty, God’s will, God’s rights as the potter over the clay, God’s wrath and power, God’s patience, God’s glory and God’s people.’
Rom 9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—
‘After showing that God’s redemptive action in and through Christ (Rom 1-4) has brought freedom from condemnation (Rom 5), sin (Rom 6), law (Rom 7) and death (Rom 8), Paul brings this part of his letter to a climax with a magnificent description of God’s love in Christ from which nothing can separate us. This glorious doxology is abruptly overshadowed in Rom 9:1-2 by an expression of Paul’s deep pain over the fact that Israel, the people of God, had rejected their Messiah.’ (HSB)
‘The lack of a word or phrase to connect ch. 8 with ch. 9 suggests that there is a pause in Paul’s argument at this point. With the celebration of God’s unchangeable love for Christians (Rom 8:31-39) the climax of his argument to this point has been reached. But it is just this assertion of the certain fulfilment of God’s promises to Christians that leads Paul now to raise the question of God’s promises to Israel. Vs 1-3 show that this question was an intensely emotional one for him. For Paul never lost his sense of identification with his fellow-Jews. He therefore experiences great sorrow and unceasing anguish over those who are from the standpoint of the flesh (kata sarka) his ‘kinsmen’ and brothers (2-3). Although Paul does not tell us why he feels so badly about his fellow-Jews, the parallel in 10:1 makes clear that it is because the great majority of Jews are not saved; for they have refused to believe in Jesus Christ (cf. 9:30-10:21). So strongly does Paul feel this, like Moses before him, (Ex 32:31-34) he is willing to sacrifice his own salvation for the sake of the salvation of his fellow-Jews. The strength of Paul’s assertion (cf. also v 1) suggests that he may have been aware of some Jews who doubted his concern for his ‘kinsmen according to the flesh’.’ (NBC)
Most scholars today believe that Rom 9-11 is not an excursus but rather is the discussion Paul had been preparing for since his argument that Jew and Gentile alike are under sin and condemnation (1:18-3:20).
‘In his discussion of the fate of the Jews in Romans 9-11 Paul quotes from Isaiah no fewer than eleven times (Rom 9:29 = Isa 1:9; Rom 9:27-28 = Isa 10:22-23; Rom 11:26-27 = Isa 27:9; Rom 11:8 = Isa 29:10; Rom 11:34 = Isa 40:13; Rom 10:15 = Isa 52:7; Rom 11:26-27 = Isa 59:20-21; Rom 10:20 = Isa 65:1; Rom 10:21 = Isa 65:2). These references point both to Israel’s propensity to sin and to God’s determination to deliver them.’ (NDBT)
‘C. H. Dodd long ago recognized the special nature of Romans 9-11, suggesting that it was an independent source, possibly a sermon which was inserted by Paul into the letter. Certainly the fact that it is possible to read from Rom 8:38 to 12:1 without a discernible break in thought lends weight to this suggestion. However, many Pauline interpreters feel that Romans 9-11 is an integral part of the overall argument of the letter and do not feel the interpolation approach is warranted. The problem of the fate of the Jewish nation lies at the heart of this section of the letter, but this is anticipated earlier in the letter (as in Rom 3:1-8 and the Abraham image in Rom 4:1-25). Insofar as the section is concerned with the future fate of the Jewish nation, in light of their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah, it deals with eschatological matters.’ (DPL)
In many cultures, including our own, we would be tempted to think that a person ‘protesteth too much’ with such an insistence that he is telling the truth. This is just one of the many issues that arise when translating from one culture to another, and illustrates one of the pitfalls of literal translation. A translation that paid attention to Paul’s meaning, rather than to his actual choice of words, might render this verse, ‘I am telling the truth.’
Rom 9:2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
For similar sorrow on the part of our Lord, see Mt 23:27-29.
Rom 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, Rom 9:4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
‘Paul here recognizes and enumerates the great external privileges belonging to the Jews, which aggravated his profound sorrow, on account of their rejection of the Messiah, and their consequent deplorable condition.’ (Haldane)
The people of Israel – he calls them Israelites, rather than Jews, in order to emphasise God’s historical dealings with them.
The adoption as sons – the adoption of the nation as the people of God, Ex 4:22; Deut 7:6; 14:1; Ho 11:1.
Theirs the divine glory – ‘The shekinah or kaboth occurs again and again in Israel’s history. It was the divine splendour of light which descended when God was visiting his people. (Ex 16:10; Ex 24:16-17; Ex 29:43; Ex 33:18-22) Israel had seen the glory of God and yet had rejected him. To us it has been given to see the glory of God’s love and mercy in the face of Jesus Christ; it is a terrible thing if we then choose the ways of earth.’ (DSB)
Rom 9:5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
From them is traced the human ancestry of Christ – This is the culmination. ‘All else had been a preparation for this; and yet when he came they rejected him. The biggest grief a man can have is to give his child every chance of success, to sacrifice and save and toil to give him the opportunity, and then to find that the child, through his disobedience or rebelliousness or self-indulgence, has failed to grasp it. Therein lies tragedy, for therein is the waste of love’s labour and the defeat of love’s dream. The tragedy of Israel was that God had prepared her for the day of the coming of his Son—and all the preparation was frustrated. It was not that God’s law had been broken; it was that God’s love had been spurned. It is not the anger, but the broken heart of God, which lies behind Paul’s words.’ (DSB)
In this impressive list of privileges, there is one notable omission: there is no mention of the land.
Christ, who is God over all – This translation is, according to Moo (NBC) ‘probably correct’, and this passage is, accordingly, one of the few in the NT in which Christ is explicitly called ‘God’. In this case, Paul is in this verse paying dual attention both to the human and to the divine natures of Christ. The alternative translation would place a full stop of ‘Christ’, making a separate exclamation of praise of ‘God over all, forever praised! Amen.’ So RSV and, predictably, the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, the argument is not settled by reference to punctuation in the original, for there was none. What we can say is, (a) the majority of the early church Fathers understood the verse as is it translated in the NIV (and AV); (b) the word order is not such as we would expect to find in a doxology. In a doxology, eulogetes (blessed) would come at the very beginning of the sentence, as in Eph 1:3.
Christ is not just the Jewish Messiah, he is ‘God over all’.
This Christ-centred ascription of glory, coming here in the context of a lament, is matched by the monotheistic celebration of Rom 11:33-36.
Rom 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
Wright suggests ‘that Rom 9:6–29 is parallel, within Paul’s overall design, to Rom 11:1–32. This is not just a matter of loose structure. There are numerous thematic parallels as well, ideas which are absent in Rom 9:30–10:13. Both passages have to do with the patriarchs¬ and the promises God made to them. Both stress the ‘call’ of God, the ‘mercy’ of God and the fact that neither are dependent upon ‘works’. Both insist upon the ‘patience’ of God, while emphasizing God’s activity in ‘hardening’ people. Both highlight the ‘remnant’, albeit in perhaps a slightly different sense. Both, interestingly, use the word ‘Israel’ in more than one way.’
It is not as though God’s word had failed – ‘God’s word’ here is usually taken to mean roughly ‘the gospel’ (as in 1 Cor. 2:1; 14:36; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Col. 1:25; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:9), or ‘God’s promises’.
‘Jewish unbelief at the present time does not mean, Paul asserts, that God’s promises to his people have failed because (i) God had never promised to save every single Jew (Rom 9:6b-29); (ii) the Jews are themselves responsible for failing to believe (Rom 9:30-10:21); (iii) God’s promises to Israel are even now being fulfilled in a remnant, of Jewish Christians (Rom 11:1-10); and (iv) God will yet save all Israel (Rom 11:12-32).’ (Moo, NBC)
‘The non-inclusion of part of Israel is attributed by Paul both to God’s predestination and to Israel’s failure. (Rom 9:6-29) In Paul’s thought these elements are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive. Israel’s fault is that most Israelites of Paul’s time did not put their faith in Jesus Christ. He had become a stumbling stone to them. (Rom 9:30-10:4) The reason for this failure to accept Christ has traditionally been regarded as “a self-righteous attitude on the part of Jews.” “They sought to establish their own righteousness” (Rom 10:3) has been understood to mean that Jews thought that righteousness could be achieved by their own effort, that is, by good works. Hence those who made that effort presumed they had succeeded and became self-righteous as a result. They had a zeal but a mistaken zeal. (Rom 10:2) E. P. Sanders in particular has written much to correct this general view of the fault of Israel. He argues that zeal as such is not wrong. They did not err in seeking righteousness but they sought the wrong kind of righteousness-righteousness “of their own” in the sense that it was a righteousness peculiar to Jews as a people and the righteousness of a former dispensation prior to the coming of faith (in Jesus Christ). The fault of this righteousness is its exclusivity and the “coming of faith” means that God’s salvation is open to everyone who has faith, whether Jew or Gentile; there is no distinction. (Rom 10:12) It seems therefore that Paul’s gospel was an offense to many Jews who failed to understand and/or acknowledge the new day that had dawned in Jesus Christ. They saw Paul’s work and message as an absolute threat to the future and well-being of Israel and they opposed it bitterly as a result. But Paul did not perceive it thus-he sees the coming of Christ as confirmation, (Rom 4:16) of the promises made to Abraham and as an extension of the covenant to include believing Gentiles along with the believing in Israel. He refuses to regard Israel as “rejected” but only as temporarily hardened by God until the full number of the Gentiles comes into the kingdom.’ (DPL)
According to Wright, Paul is specifically addressing Gentiles here: ‘Do not imagine that your inheritance of Israel’s promises means that you can discount their history, their scriptures, their very election. On the p 1187 contrary, their entire story stands firm, makes sense in its own terms and is the foundation of yours as well.’ (Paul and the Faithfulness of God)
Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel – Paul distinguishes here between ethnic Israel and the ‘true’ Israel. Cf. Rom 2:28-29.
Flavel: ‘If Abraham’s faith be not in your hearts, it will be no advantage that Abraham’s blood runs in your veins.’
Or, as Wright puts it, as in Rom 3:21-4:25 and Gal 3:3, it is a matter of ‘grace, not race’.
But what does Paul means by the ‘true Israel’ here? Two main options are available:-
- the remnant within ethnic Israel who have true faith. Moo supports this interpretation, stating that using ‘Israel’ to mean ‘the church’ is rare in Paul (perhaps only in Gal 6:16). Sanday & Headlam:’St. Paul does not mean here to distinguish a spiritual Israel (i.e. the Christian Church) from the fleshly Israel, but to state that the promises made to Israel might be fulfilled even if some of his descendants were shut out from them. What he states is that not all the physical descendants of Jacob are necessarily inheritors of the Divine promises implied in the sacred name Israel.’ Murray concurs, stating that, for Paul, ‘there is a [true] “Israel ” within ethnic Israel.’
- all believers, both Jews and Gentiles. This would be consistent with Paul’s teaching in Gal 6:16, and with his redefinition of ‘Jew’ in Rom 2:28f. De Lacey (DPL) notes that in Galatians Paul develops ‘a sustained argument that his converts already enjoy all the blessings of the covenant—they are already children of Abraham (Gal 3:7, 28–29)…In Galatians then—almost certainly one of the earliest extant letters of Paul—we already see…a deep conviction about the nature of the church as the true Israel of God, with Jew and Gentile on equal standing before God and to each other.’ De Lacey add that ‘within this perspective it is more likely than not that in Romans 11:26 Paul reiterates his redefinition of “all Israel” (cf. Rom 9:6) as a new people in Christ, wherein is “neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal 3:28).’ This interpretation is consistent with Rom 4:16, where Paul says that Abraham’s offspring is anyone who shares Abraham’s faith. So also Ridderbos, Grudem, Robertson, and some others.
Wright says: ‘We would not know, on the basis of the present passage alone, that Paul had in mind that the sperma Abraam would include Messiah-believing Gentiles, as he insists in chapter 4 and indeed in Galatians 3. He has the soft pedal on at the moment, hitting the same notes but keeping the overtones quiet. But they are there, ready to be reawakened when the music changes key, fleetingly in Rom 9:24 and then, spectacularly, in Rom 9:30–10:13.’ (Paul and the Faithfulness of God)
This interpretation is also supported later in the present chapter, when Paul asserts ‘that the people of God, the true Israel, is also extended to include Gentiles (Rom 9:24); taking promises from Hosea (Hos 1:10; 2:23), which in their OT setting referred only to the future of the nation Israel, Paul applies them to the Church (Rom. 9:25f.). Those who were “not my people”—Gentiles—have now become “my people,” “sons of the living God,” by inclusion in the Church. In a real sense, then, the OT promises to Israel are fulfilled in this new definition of the people of God, the Church.’ (ISBE, 2nd ed. art. ‘Eschatology’)
Grudem (Systematic Theology) says: ‘Paul here implies that the true children of Abraham, those who are in the most true sense “Israel,” are not the nation of Israel by physical descent from Abraham but those who have believed in Christ. Those who truly believe in Christ are now the ones who have the privilege of being called “my people” by the Lord (Rom. 9:25, quoting Hos. 2:23); therefore, the church is now God’s chosen people. This means that when Jewish people according to the flesh are saved in large numbers at some time in the future, they will not constitute a separate people of God or be like a separate olive tree, but they will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (Rom. 11:24). Another passage indicating this is Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Similarly, Paul says that Christians are the “true circumcision” (Phil. 3:3).’
Rom 9:7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
‘He shows them, from their own writings, that the principle of election had existed in former times-in the case of Isaac, (Rom 9:7-13) in the writings of Moses, (Rom 9:15) in the case of Pharaoh, (Rom 9:17) and in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah,’ (Rom 9:25-29) (Barnes)
‘The Jewish people prided themselves in the fact that God had chosen Israel and had not chosen the Gentiles. Part of this theme is picked up in the argument in Rom 9:7-13. While Abraham had more than one son, God chose Isaac as the one through whom the promise would be passed down. Isaac also has more than one son, but God chose Jacob and not Esau. Any Jewish reader would nod affirmingly, especially if he or she had not read the opening verse: (Rom 9:6) “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (RSV). Paul’s reason for arguing this is not to prove that God could choose the Hebrew people for his purposes and reject others. All Jews knew this. Paul is pointing out that if this is the case, God can also choose some Jews and reject others. Paul is using the Jews’ own teaching against their national complacency.’ (HSB)
Rom 9:8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
Rom 9:9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
Rom 9:10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac.
But Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac – Moo thinks that this should be translated, ‘…but also Rebecca, when she conceived children in one act of intercourse with Isaac, our ancestor’. Paul’s point (according to Moo) is not simply that Jacob and Esau had the same father (as did Isaac and Ishamael, who were both Abraham’s children), but that they were twins. ‘Paul would then be highlighting the utter lack of natural distinguishing characteristics separating Jacob and Esau.’
Rom 9:11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:
‘The Jewish people also prided themselves on their adherence to the Mosaic law. Surely God would reward their careful observance with salvation; surely he would not select Gentiles for salvation when the Jews were so much more righteous. Paul argues that this is not the case. In the opening parts of the book he has argued that there is no one who is righteous, so no one has a claim on God’s salvation. Any salvation which people get is mercy and grace, not just deserts. Now in this chapter he goes out of his way to point out that God’s choice in the case of Isaac and Jacob was not based on their character. It was made before they developed their character. It does not help to argue that God knew what sort of people they would become, for that would be to deny what Paul is arguing. He is arguing that God simply chose.’ (HSB)
Rom 9:12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
Not by works – ‘God’s choice not only came before they had done anything but also was not based on anything they had done.’ (Moo)
Contra Dunn, who understands ‘works’ here to refer to ‘works of the law’ (i.e. ‘faithfulness to the law’), this expression should be understood as referring to ‘deeds’ of any kind. For one thing, Paul was well aware that Jacob and Esau lived long before the giving of Mosaic law (cf Gal 3:17). For another thing, Paul has already virtually defined ‘works’ as ‘anything good or bad’ (v11).
Rom 9:13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
‘In a discussion of election and predestination, questions about Jacob and Esau (Rom 9:13) arise, as do questions about God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart.” (Rom 9:17-18) These verses could be interpreted to mean that God beforehand had planned things out without any regard for human response. The worst scenario would suggest that God had taken a nice young Egyptian prince and turned him into a monster. Rom 9:13 could mean that God really hated Esau and played favorites among his children. I do not believe this is the proper way to understand these passages. Paul, their human author, is looking back. Interpretations are easier after the fact. Whereas God is no respecter of persons whom he has created, he does not violate the free will he gave to humankind. God works with it. A better interpretation of these passages is to say that God used what Esau and Pharaoh had become. Esau, a compulsive man who sought instant gratification of his desires, would not be the kind of person who becomes a patriarch. Pharaoh, a ruthless man, God confirmed and judged as an oppressor; Pharaoh’s harsh and cruel acts were punished. In that punishment God received glory to himself, even out of Pharaoh’s disobedience.’ (Holman, art. ‘Predestination’)
Belleville (DPL, art. ‘Enemy, Enmity, Hatred’) writes: ‘Did God determine before the birth of either nation to love the one and hate the other? Some think that the word “hate” is an instance of the Semitic use of a direct opposite to express a lesser degree of comparison: “God loved Jacob more than Esau.” But this does not take into account the overarching theme in Romans 9 of God’s sovereign choosing and rejecting. Others have taken “hate” at face value to refer to God’s intense animosity toward and ultimate condemnation of Esau/Edom. This, however, overlooks the intimate link in Romans 9:12–13 between “the older serving the younger” and God’s hatred of Esau (“as it is written, Esau I hated”). The solution surely lies in seeing that Paul’s overall argument in Romans 9:1–29 has to do with corporate “election” and “rejection” based on promise as opposed to natural descent. Here the very act of choosing the one (= “love”) by default results in rejecting the other (= “hate”). That “hate” can be used of the rejection implicit in the action of choosing one party over another is well illustrated by Matthew 4:24, where to choose between two masters is to “love” the one and “hate” the other, and by Luke 14:26, where to choose to follow Christ is effectively “to hate father and mother.”’
Rom 9:14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!
‘Paul’s emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation raises certain objections, as he well knew from many years of preaching. Paul deals with two of these in this section. Is not God unfair to choose some and reject others (v14)? And how can people be blamed for rejecting God if he himself determines that rejection (v19)? Such questions are our natural response to the biblical teaching about God’s sovereignty. It is significant that Paul here offers no ‘logical’ explanation for the compatibility of God’s sovereignty with the equally biblical teaching that God is scrupulously fair and that human beings are justifiably blameworthy for their actions. We would do well to follow his approach: to affirm the truth of these great biblical doctrines without eliminating or weakening one or the other through an insistence on an exhaustive explanation. This is a point at which, with Paul, (cf. Rom 11:33-36) we should be prepared to recognize a mystery beyond our comprehension.’ (Moo, NBC)
Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
He says to Moses – Ex 33:19.
‘Paul’s way of defending God’s justice is to proclaim his mercy. It sounds like a complete non sequitur. But it is not. It simply indicates that the question itself is misconceived, because the basis on which God deals savingly with sinners is not justice but mercy v16.’ (Stott)
Samuel Davies: “The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the great and only remedy for a ruined country- the only effectual preventative of national calamities and desolation, and the only sure cause of a lasting and well established peace.”
Rom 9:16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
‘If justice be thy plea, remember this: that, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.’ (The Merchant of Venice, Act 4 scene 1)
‘Sinners have no claim upon God. He does not owe us anything; or if he does, it is only punishment for our sins. Therefore, those whom God passes by are condemned by his strict justice. The real mystery of salvation is not that God rejects some, which is perfectly just, but that he chooses any at all, which is sheer mercy.’ (Ryken, The Message of Salvation, 71)
Rom 9:17 For the 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.”
See Ex 9:16. ‘Paul knew that the OT spoke not only of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21; 7:3,4,13; 9:12,15-17,34-35; 10:1,20,27; 11:9,10) but also of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, (Ex 8:15,32; 9:34; 1 Sam 6:6) thus making him responsible for the sins he committed. That God could work his will in and through the acts of humans in such a way that his will was done and yet the human will was not violated, coerced or ignored is fundamental to biblical thinking. (See, e.g., Pr 16:1,4,9,33.’ (EDBT)
‘Pharaoh did not arise by chance or by his own power, but God had raised him up. Why would God raise up such an obstinate ruler? So that God’s power could be clearly seen when he brought about the exodus. Pharaoh’s hardening was part of God’s plan for God’s own purposes.’ (HSB)
‘This passage is designed to illustrate the doctrine that God shows mercy according to his sovereign pleasure by a reference to one of the most extraordinary cases of hardness of heart which has ever occurred. The design is to show that God has a right to pass by those to whom he does not choose to show mercy; and to place them in circumstances where they shall develop their true character, and where in fact they shall become more hardened and be destroyed, Rom 9:18.’ (Barnes)
‘The meaning of the word and the truth of the case may be expressed in the following particulars:
- God meant to accomplish some great purposes by his existence and conduct.
- He kept him, or sustained him, with reference to that.
- He had control over the haughty and wicked monarch. He could take his life, or he could continue him on earth. As he had control over all things that could affect the pride, the feelings, and the happiness of the monarch, so he had control over the monarch himself.
- He placed him in circumstances just fitted to develop his character. He kept him amidst those circumstances until his character was fully developed.
- He did not exert a positive influence on the mind of Pharaoh; for,
- in all this the monarch acted freely. He did that which he chose to do. He pursued his own course. He was voluntary in his schemes of oppressing the Israelites. He was voluntary in his opposition to God. He was voluntary when he pursued the Israelites to the Red Sea. In all his doings he acted as he chose to do, and with a determined choice of evil, from which neither warning nor judgment would turn him away. Thus he is said to have hardened his own heart, Ex 8:15.
- Neither Pharaoh nor any sinner can justly blame God for placing them in circumstances where they shall develop their own character, and show what they are. It is not the fault of God, but their own fault. The sinner is not compelled to sin; nor is God under obligation to save him contrary to the prevalent desires and wishes of the sinner himself.’ (Barnes)
Rom 9:18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
He hardens whom he wants to harden – ‘Neither here not anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.’ (Morris) Stott adds, ‘So God’s hardening of him was a judicial act, abandoning him to his own stubbornness, much as God’s wrath against the ungodly is expressed by “giving them over” to their own depravity, Rom 1:24,26,28. The same combination of human obstinacy and divine judgement in the hardening of the heart is seen in God’s word to Isaiah (“Make the heart of this people calloused” Isa 6:9f), which Jesus applied to his own teaching ministry, Mt 13:13ff; Mk 4:11-12; Jn 12:39-40, and Paul to his, Acts 28:25 ff.’
‘Neither the bestowal of God’s mercy nor his hardening are based on human actions (although it should be remembered that God acts on people who are already lost in sin and that his exclusion of some from salvation is in some sense simply a confirmation of the choice they have already made). It should also be remembered that God’s decisions on these matters are not disclosed to us and that they are not meant in any way to cause despair. The Scriptures make plain that God will never refuse to accept, or cast away, those who diligently seek him.’ (Moo, NBC)
Rom 9:19 one of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
“Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Rom 9:19) This objection surely proves beyond any doubt whatsoever that the Apostle has been teaching that salvation is entirely the result of the sovereign will and election of God and nothing to do with us at all. There is nothing new in this objection to this doctrine. People were objecting to it in the first century and they have been objecting to it ever since. It has nothing to do with modern learning, modern knowledge, modern science—nothing at all. People have always done it. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Rom 9:20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”
Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? – As Bruce points out, there are different ways of answering back to God. There is the answering back of Job, or Jeremiah, for example, which questions why God is acting in a particular way. This is even seen in Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross. Such cries come from a fundamental conviction that God is righteous, as well as omnipotent. But there is the cry that arises out of unbelief and disobedience, where the complainant attempts ‘to put God in the dock and sit in judgment on him.’ It is this attitude that Paul condemns here, just like Isaiah before him (Isa 45:9).
Ryle makes a general application of this, regarding our reading of Scripture: ‘Dare not to say, “I believe this verse, for I like it. I reject that, for I do not like it. I receive this, for I can understand it. I refuse that, for I cannot reconcile it with my views.” Nay, but, O man, “who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:20.) By what right do you talk in this way? Surely it were better to say over every chapter in the Word, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”’ (Practical Religion, p467)
Rom 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Rom 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
Rom 9:23 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—
Rom 9:24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Rom 9:25 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,”
Hos 1:10f is taken by some (e.g. Ryle, in Coming Events and Present Duties) to predict the gathering and conversion of national Israel in the last days. But, clearly, Paul applies this to both Jews and Gentiles.
Hos 1, 2 teaches, by means of an acted parable, that Israel was to be rejected and then restored. It is noteworthy that what originally referred to literal Israel is now applied by Paul to the church. See also Acts 2:16f, quoting Joel 2:27ff. See the discussion in George Eldon Ladd, “Israel and the Church,” The Evangelical Quarterly 36.4 (Oct. 1964): 206-214.
Rom 9:26 and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
“It was happen that in the very place” –
Rom 9:27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. Rom 9:28 For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”
Rom 9:29 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.”
Israel’s Unbelief, 30-33
‘This [Rom 9:30-10:21] is not a passage about “human responsibility” as such, but about how through the Messiah and the preaching that heralds him, Israel is being transformed from an ethnic people into a worldwide family. The Gentiles are entering in, while the Jews are missing out because they are still misguidedly pursuing the Torah in the wrong manner.’ (Steven Harris, summarising N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant)
Rom 9:30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;
Rom 9:31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.
Rom 9:32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”
Rom 9:33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
As it is written – Cf. Isa 28:16
A stone that cause men to stumble – 1 Pet 2:8