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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

34 - Romans 9 - What is Israel

3.3. Introduction - many commentators who comment on Romans or teach on the next three chapters here Romans 910 and 11 will position this as though these chapters are about eschatology. Eschatology is the study of final things, the study of the end times. It’s my view that these chapters are not about the end times, not about eschatology. These chapters are about something called soteriology. Soteriology is the study of salvation. It’s the study of what it takes to be saved. Because Paul discusses Israel in these chapters many have taken this as his commentary and prophecy about the end times. But in the same way that I don’t view Romans as the universal epistle but rather as primarily written to the Jews in Rome, these chapters are in my view of further expansion only talks about in chapters 1 through 3. Especially in the beginning of chapter 3 and verse one where he says, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” And then expands on this idea that he laid out in the first two chapters. Chapters 9 through 11 are further expansion and explanation of the nature of salvation and how it is accomplished. So, if you grab your Bibles let’s begin at verse one of chapter 9.

3.4. Israel Rejects Jesus:

3.4.1. 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, 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; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

3.4.2. Paul is saddened here for the fact that so much of Israel has rejected the Lord. In fact saddened so much that he himself would be separated from Christ if he could see the rest of the Jews saved.

3.4.3. He is saying that if anyone accepts Jesus it should be them. These are the people God said were his people. The ones who were continuously analogized as being the wife of God throughout the Old Testament. These are the people who it seen God’s glory in the saving of Noah through the flood, in the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, the manna from heaven along with victory in numerous battles and other demonstrations of God’s presence and power. They had also received the covenants and promises of God as well as seeing the fulfillment of many prophecies not least of which include the coming of the Messiah as a descendent of Abraham and a descendent of David just as predicted. If anyone should’ve seen and understood who Jesus it was these people. Yet, they had missed it and this made Paul extremely sad even to the point of saying he would give himself to see it change. In this we see Paul imitating Jesus in that he would offer himself for the benefit of others.

3.4.4. Paul says in first Corinthians chapter 11 and verse one: “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” In the same way we should grieve for the unsaved and be willing to give ourselves for them.

4. God’s word is effective

4.1. 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.” 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.

4.2. At this point we should look at the question “What is Israel?”

4.2.1. Since Paul says “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” we need to have an idea of what Israel is or isn’t.

4.2.2. So let’s start with the definition. Israel in Hebrew means = “Governed by God.”

4.3.3. From a practical standpoint Israel has several meanings. Meaning number one: Israel is the name of a man. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel just as he changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Jesus changed. Simon’s name to Peter. When God has changed a man’s name it symbolizes a change in their commitment to him and direction. It also symbolizes that man’s submission to God in such a way that they’ve allowed God to be the decider of even who they would be. Meaning number two: Israel then becomes the name of a nation. Now this nation that was named Israel didn’t have borders or land. The nation of Israel, the family of Jacob were in captivity to the Egyptians and then ultimately gained their freedom and wandered in the desert for 40 years as a nation without lands. In the process of becoming the nation of Israel, Jacob didn’t lose his identity in also being named Israel. Now at this point anyone could enter or leave (ceased to be part of) the nation of Israel. A woman could become part of Israel by marrying a Jewish man. A man who had no Jewish blood could join the nation of Israel by becoming circumcised and keeping the law. These men were called proselytes. So while the nation of Israel were initially the offspring of Jacob. Many members of the ultimate larger nation of Israel were not the offspring of Jacob and were not of his bloodline. There are also those who became apostate and left the nation of Israel deciding to live in other cultures and worship other gods. While these people had Jewish blood, they were no longer members of the nation of Israel. Being a member of the nation of Israel was contingent upon keeping the law. In other words, being part of the “Israel of God” was a voluntary act not one of heredity. Exodus 12:48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. This point is made again and Deuteronomy chapter 4 verses 4-10 which is lengthy enough that I won’t excerpt it here, but you can check it out on your own. Meaning number three: Israel then became the name of a geographic area defined by boundaries. In gaining land for themselves the nation of Israel didn’t cease to be a nation in the sense of the people group, but the name Israel gained a new meaning. In this case most of the people within the geographic boundary were in fact part of national Israel as defined by the people who kept the law. Meaning number four: In our modern sense when we speak of Israel for the most part, we are discussing the political and geographic country in the Middle East. In the modern nation of Israel, most of the population are Arabs, and even of those who claim Jewish heritage the majority are either atheistic or nonreligious in their daily life. And there are no modern-day Jews who keep the law. The law requires a temple and animal sacrifices. Therefore, there are today no law-keeping Jews. This is one of the reasons why some Jews and Christians want to see a building of the third Temple. They believe that if there’s a restored temple and a restoration of the blood sacrifices that this will be pleasing to God. There are also those who teach a dual covenant salvation. This is the idea that you can be saved by being a believer in Jesus, or that you can be saved by rejecting Jesus and keeping the law if you are Jewish. John Hagee is one of the main promoters of this idea. From my viewpoint I can’t think of anything more insulting to Jesus and to say that his sacrifice was insufficient and that the blood of bulls and goats could accomplish the same thing. Hebrews 10:1-4 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once [a]purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. So, if it’s not possible that the blood of bulls and goats can take away sins. Of what value could the construction of the third Temple and the reinstitution of Temple sacrifice be? Meaning number five: the Israel of God today represents the church. In the same way that the nation of Israel in meaning number two was strictly voluntary membership through the following of God’s ordinances. Membership in the church today, or in Christ is voluntary. God has made a new nation out of people from every nation. The church are now God’s people. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Matthew 21:43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. Ephesians 2:11-16 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross,

4.3.4. Paul is pointing out that being children of the flesh is of no value, it is children of the promise that get the inheritance. And the children of the promise are those who are following Jesus and have become one body with many members in Christ. We the church are this one body, this royal priesthood, this holy nation.

4.3.5. Christian – Follower of Christ. Being a Christ follower is a voluntary act in the same way that being part of the nation of Israel was a voluntary act. The church is the new Israel.

4.3.6. The doctrine I’m sharing here is called “fulfillment theology” or “supersessionism”. It’s detractors, who are typically dispensationalists, will call it “replacement theology”. Those who would call it replacement theology use that as a pejorative. If you Google replacement theology, you will find many articles claim that this is evil or even anti-Semitic theological viewpoint. It’s important to understand that the supersessionist viewpoint has nothing negative to say about Jews or about the old covenant except simply to say that we are under a new covenant now. The old covenant no longer applies, not only to Christians, but to Jews and to the whole world as well. There is no salvation except in the name of Jesus.

4.3.7. The writer of Hebrews says, and remember Hebrews was written to the Jews for purposes of explaining how Christianity was the “new path”, so let me share some verses: Hebrews 7:22 by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Hebrews 8:6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— This is a reference to Jeremiah 31:33 Hebrews 8:13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

4.3.8. We should also remember that Jesus himself spoke of the new covenant at the last supper. Jesus is quoted in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here is the verse from Matthew:

4.3.9. Matthew 26:28For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

4.3.10. Supersessionism is a doctrine of saying that the new covenant has replaced the old covenant. Some interpret this as saying that the church has replaced the Jewish people as God’s special people. For this reason, they are considered to be anti-Semitic. The better way to understand it is not that God has replaced Jewish people with Christians but rather that the definition of Israel as God’s special people has now expanded to all people are members of the new covenant, the body of Christ. Therefore, the body of Christ is the new Israel of God.

4.3.11. Now we have a clear understanding of what Paul means when he says “not all are Israel who are of Israel”. This is very much a continuation in the theme he began way back in the early chapters of the book especially when he said in chapter two in verses 28 and 29: 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

4.3.12. So after that long explanation, let’s take a look at verses six through eight one more time: 6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. (Remember Paul is lamenting that Jews according to the flesh have not been saved) 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.” 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.

5. Paul goes on here to explain who the children of the promise are:

5.1. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”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.”

5.2. And what is the promise he is referring to? We find it in Genesis 12 in verses two and three: I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

5.3. In what way do we find all the families of the earth blessed? In the sending of the Messiah. The promise to Abraham was that the Messiah would come to save the world and that all the world would be blessed as a result.

5.4. What is this business in verse 11 where he says, “the purpose of God according to election”? This is a favorite verse of Calvinists who, in my opinion, twist it to say that God chooses some for salvation and others for destruction. I don’t believe that this is what Paul is saying here. When God taps one man on the shoulder for a specific job in this case being the ancestor of the Messiah, it does not mean that God has condemned everyone else. Often, we have all seen a manager, a superior officer, or a father or mother choose one of their subordinates for a specific job. This does not confer condemnation on those who were chosen for this job. The confusion arises out of a misunderstanding of “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”. Hated in this context is not the same as we often use the word “hate” in the common English vernacular today. It’s also not the same as when we read that God “hates evil” or that men are “haters of God”. This use of the word “hate” means prefer. As in Luke chapter 14 and verse 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

5.5. God’s choosing of Jacob over Esau was not a choice to save Jacob and condemn Esau. It was a choice to bring the Messiah through the line of Jacob.

6. Is God unrighteous?

6.1. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 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.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the 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.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

6.2. God’s Mercy depends upon him, not upon us. Some have taken this to imply a capriciousness of God. As though his mercy and compassion have nothing whatsoever to do with who you are or what you have done. Calvinists use this as a picture of salvation. God does the choosing and what we do has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s choices. The statement of God “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” Comes at the point of the discovery of the golden calf. God was merciful in not exacting an even more terrible penalty on Israel. God is indicating here that these are his decisions and no one else’s and that they are perfect decisions.

6.3. God explains to us in other places the basis for his mercy:

6.3.1. Luke 1:50: And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

6.3.2. James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

6.3.3. 2 Samuel 22:26 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless.

6.3.4. Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

6.4. He goes on to give an example of how this works in the life of Pharaoh. God raised up Pharaoh for purposes of glorifying himself. But Pharaoh was a merciless man. He was brutal and committed to his brutality. God first sent him Moses to plead with him and to ask him to repent brutality. But Pharaoh refused to hear and hardened his heart. Hardening – What does it mean? Think of calluses. A callous is a hard spot, difficult to penetrate. Then God sent 10 plagues in succession each of which was an opportunity for Pharaoh to repent and with each Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Ultimately God confirmed this hardness in Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s hardness of heart was a sinful choice that Pharaoh made. To make God the author of these choices in the way that the Calvinists do makes God the author of sin. Rather, in knowing the future that Pharaoh would choose for himself, God confirmed in him his hardness of heart. So when verse 18 says “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” This should not be interpreted to say that it’s without basis. I understand it to say that God is the bestower of mercy and the confirmer of hardness based upon his perfect wisdom, knowledge, and judgment.

6.5. Mercy versus Grace. God is never less than fair, but sometimes more than fair. Mercy being equal to fairness and grace being unmerited favor. It could be said that in the case of Jacob and Esau, the choosing of Jacob to be the ancestor of Jesus was an example of grace since Jacob had done nothing to merit this. Verse 11 says 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).

7. Why does he Still Find Fault?

7.1. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 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?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 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, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

7.2. So this is a difficult passage to understand. Paul is asking the same question that every non-Calvinist will ask and that is if God is deciding everything then how can he find fault in the man who sins? After all, if we really can’t make any choices then how can God condemn us? Notice that Paul opens this section with “you will say to me then”. Paul is anticipating the response to what he just said, and he is giving a corrective to clarify his remarks.

7.3. In verse 19, he lists two questions that he thinks people will ask. They are conjoined questions. “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”. What is the will people are unable to resist? It’s my opinion that it’s God’s will that we would have freedom of choice. He continues in verse 20 anticipating another question “Why have you made me like this?” Meaning, why have you made me able to choose sin. I’m aware that this is a departure from what you may have heard from anyone who has a reformed theological opinion. I have no problem if you see this differently than I do and I encourage you to seek the Lord and the Holy Spirit as you study this out in the context of the whole book of Romans.

7.4. He goes on asking now a question of his own in verse 21 “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” The lump Paul speaks of here is mankind and when he says one for honor and another for dishonor this could speak of the potter’s intention. My belief is that it’s saying that the potter makes similar vessels out of the same clay and that men then use them differently. We know here that the analogy of a vessel is the analogy of a person. Remember what Paul said in Chapter 7 verse 19 “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” And verses 23-24 “23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The body of death is the lump, the vessel, the thing created by the potter. This becomes clearer in the next three verses:

7.4.1. 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,

7.4.2. The confusion here comes from “prepared for destruction”. Many have interpreted this to mean that God is the preparer of these vessels. I don’t see it this way. I see the free choice of man as the preparer of these vessels in the clue that is in the phrase immediately before “endured with much long-suffering” if God had prepared them for this why would he need to “endure” them? Why would God be “long-suffering”? He is long-suffering and enduring the sinful use of the vessels that he has made.

7.4.3. In verse 23 Paul elaborates: “ and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, The vessels of mercy are men who have sinned (remember chapters 1 through three, Paul makes the case that this is literally everyone) and who have followed Jesus unto salvation. The “which He had prepared beforehand for glory” includes all of mankind who God loved and desired to be with him in eternity.

7.4.4. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world”. It doesn’t say for God so loved the saved or the chosen or the elect. God loves everyone he created. He didn’t create anyone for the purpose of destroying them. It is the selfish evil heart of man that destroys himself.

7.4.5. 2 Peter 3:9 “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” how could this be the case if God has created some for purposes of destroying them?

7.4.6. Verse 24: even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” Some commentators see the word “even” here and see it as “only”. According to Strong’s concordance this is a conjunction, a word that connects. It’s best understood as “and, also,”. So, if we read verse 24 as “and us whom he called” or “also us whom he called” or “indeed us whom he called” we gain a better understanding. The whole thing would read “and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, (and us whom He called), or (also us whom He called), not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? The whole meaning now being that he had prepared everyone for glory including those of us whom he called rather than only us whom he called.

8. Paul now uses some Old Testament Scripture to reinforce the idea that being in the family of God is a voluntary act.

8.1. 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.”

8.2. Paul uses Hosea to reinforce the point he has made throughout the book of Romans that one’s ethnicity doesn’t matter, it’s whether a choice is made to serve God.

8.3. 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.”

8.4. Paul uses Isaiah to reinforce here the idea that there may be many children of Israel but those who will be saved will be the remnant. And the remnant are those who are faithful, not those who are ethnically descended as part of the family.

8.5. 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.”

8.6. Once again Paul uses Isaiah to reinforce the idea that absent “the seed”, meaning the word of the Lord that Israel themselves would descend into sinfulness and rebellion. In this way they would prepare themselves for destruction. We know from John 1:1 that the word is Jesus. The verse Paul is quoting here is Isaiah 1 and verse nine. Let me share with you Isaiah 1:9-10.

8.7. Isaiah 1:9-10 9 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. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah:

8.8. Paul continues to make the point that it is hearing the word of the Lord, giving ear to the law of our God and being faithful to him that prepares you as a vessel of mercy. As well as that ignoring the word of God prepares you for destruction just as Sodom and Gomorrah prepared themselves for destruction.

9. Attaining to Righteousness

9.1. 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 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.”

9.2. He elaborates here one more time tying up the idea that the Gentiles have attained to righteousness because of their faith and that Israel did not attain righteousness because they sought it through the law and not through faith. He will go on in chapter 10 with an extended discussion of salvation by faith alone.

10. That’s it for chapter 9. Lord willing, will get into chapter 10 next week, or as soon as I’m able to do so.

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