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Romans Chapters 9-11, Part 3

by Karl Kemp  
7/29/2012 / Bible Studies

We continue this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11 here in Part 3, starting with Rom. 9:10.

(10) And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac [see Gen. 25:19-26]; (11) for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls [[The apostle doesn't say here that it doesn't matter what we do (including whether we submit to God and His Word in faith, or not). How could he? The Bible (including the writings of Paul) frequently mentions that all people (including Christians) will be judged according to their works, according to what they have done (cf. Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6-11; 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:25; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; and 22:12). There is no contradiction, as far as the Bible is concerned, saying that we are saved by grace through faith and saying that we will be judged according to our works. Our works must demonstrate that our faith was real; the works of righteousness produced by the grace/Spirit of God as we walk in faith aren't optional. Of course, forgiveness (by the grace of God) is an important aspect of Christianity, but Christianity involves much more than forgiveness. For one thing, God hates sin! And He (with His unique Son) paid an infinite price to redeem us and make us righteous and holy.

The apostle Paul frequently makes the point that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works/merit (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:21-4:5; Gal. 2:16; 3:1-14; and Eph. 2:8-10). THAT'S HIS POINT HERE WHEN HE SPEAKS OF THE TWINS NOT HAVING "DONE ANYTHING GOOD OR BAD" and "NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS." God was not obligated to choose Jacob or the Jews of Paul's day (or anybody else) because of their works (works like circumcision, temple sacrifices, or any other work of man in the flesh).

Paul doesn't say that God's choice of Jacob over Esau (to continue the lineage that started with Abraham that ultimately leads to the Messiah and new-covenant salvation) had nothing to do with differences between Jacob and Esau. Jacob was different than Esau, and the differences were not based on God's preprogramming, as if they were robots. God's choice of Jacob was based on His foreknowledge (cf. Rom. 8:29), but God was not obligated to choose Jacob for any reason - His choice of Jacob was totally of grace.

The fact that we have a definite role to fulfill in our salvation doesn't make our salvation any-the-less dependent on God's grace; none of us (including Abraham and Jacob) merited salvation; God could have left all the descendants of Adam to perish; all of us are one hundred percent dependent on God's grace. If God had not sent His Son to die for us, and then called us to salvation, we could not have answered the call (in faith), and we would have been lost. We must submit to God's call in faith, and we must continue on in faith (by His enabling grace) to the end. We'll talk more about God's call to salvation (aiming for the balance of what the New Testament teaches) under Rom. 9:24. In accordance with God's plan, we must appropriate His saving grace through faith. God is sovereign, but - thanks be to God! - He wills to save the lost; He does so on the basis of grace through faith.

I'll quote part of what Godet said under this verse ("Epistle to the Romans," [Zondervan, 1969 reprint of the 1886 edition], pages 348, 349). "...the preference given to Jacob was expressed before the birth of the twins, before they had done any act whatever; so true it is, that it was not founded on any particular merit which Jacob might possess. ... No doubt it might have been said in answer to the apostle, that God foresaw the good works of Jacob and the evil acts of Esau, and that His predilection for the former was founded on this prevision. ... But supposing the apostle had wished to discuss the question thoroughly, he might have replied in turn that the divine prevision, on which election rests, relates not to any work whatever as being able to establish some merit in favor of the elect, but on his faith, which cannot be a merit, since faith consists precisely in renouncing all merit, in the humble acceptance of a free gift. Faith foreseen is therefore a wholly different thing from works foreseen. The latter would really establish a right [The apostle frequently makes the point in Romans that no one can merit salvation by works because all men are spiritually dead, and sinners. Salvation is based totally on grace, with no admixture of merit.]: the former [faith foreseen] contains only a moral condition, that, namely, which follows from the fact that possession in the case of a free being supposes acceptance. ... To accept and to merit are two different things. But the apostle does not enter on this discussion, and simply states the fact that it was no merit on Jacob's part which constrained God to organize His plan as He did. This plan certainly was not arbitrarily conceived, but it contains nothing which gives it the character of an obligation or debt. ... ...the choice on which the plan rests was not made in accordance with a merit of works, but solely according to the will of the caller. Romans 8:29 has shown us that this choice is unmerited, yet neither is it arbitrary."

I believe Godet is on the right wavelength here, but I don't believe his viewpoint fully squares with Paul's viewpoint: Godet doesn't acknowledge a special call for the elect, but that's the way Paul uses the word call in Rom. 8:28, 30; here in Rom. 9:11; 9:24 (and in several other verses). In Godet's view (which is a view widely held), God calls all men and then elects those He foresees submitting to the gospel in faith. But for Paul it can't be quite as simple as God's choosing for salvation those that He foresees submitting to the gospel in faith when, from Paul's point of view, they are not called until after they are chosen.

I'm not disputing the fact that (in fact I want to emphasize the fact that) in a very significant way God does call all people to repent and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel (cf., e.g., Matt. 22:1-14; Acts 17:30, 31; and 1 Tim. 2:4-7 [the last two passages don't specifically mention a call]), but here in Rom. 9:6-29, as in Rom. 8:28-30 and in several other verses he uses the word call of a special call of the elect. See the discussion under Rom. 8:29, 30 in my verse-by-verse study of Rom. 8:16-39, and see under Rom. 9:24 in this present paper.

God's election of individuals is based on His knowledge/foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29; cf. Eph. 1:4); He is above the time of our created world; He knows the heart; He knows who will serve and worship Him from the heart, and He knows who is serving and worshipping Him from the heart. He knew, for one thing, that many (even most) of the Jews of Jesus' and Paul's generation were not worshipping Him from their hearts. The Lord Jesus frequently made that point when He was living on the earth.]], (12) it was said to her, 'THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.' [[Paul quoted the last part of Gen. 25:23 here. I'll quote Gen. 25:21-23. "Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD [Yahweh] answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. (22) But the children struggled together within her, and she said, 'If this is so, why then am I this way?' So she went to inquire of the LORD [Yahweh]. (23) The LORD [Yahweh] said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body [The "two nations/peoples" are to be headed by the two sons in her womb, Jacob and Esau.]; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.' " Esau was born first (Gen. 25:25, 26). The covenant nation Israel (that began with Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob) eventually became dominant over the nation Edom (that began with Esau [cf., e.g., Gen. 27:29]).

I should point out that God's choice of Jacob over Esau didn't mean that Esau and his descendants were all destined for damnation (see under verse 13).]] (13) Just as it is written, 'JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.' [[Paul quoted these words from Mal. 1:2, 3. The names "Jacob" and "Esau" are used in Mal. 1:2-5 of the nations "Israel" and "Edom." Malachi was writing some 1,400 years after the birth of the twins.

The word "hate" is not always used in an absolute sense in the Bible (it is sometimes used in a relative sense of loving someone/something less than loving someone/something else [cf. Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26]); but the idea of God's displeasure with Esau and his descendants is included here. These words about loving and hating do not apply, however, to every single individual, whether the Israelites or the Edomites. God certainly didn't hate the individual Edomites who turned to Him from their hearts and lived for Him, and it is quite possible that many of the descendants of Esau will have a place in God's eternal kingdom as part of the nations.

I had a footnote: The salvation of the nations (the nations being distinct from God's true Israel) is discussed in my paper on my internet site titled, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations." Compare Deut. 23:7; Isa. 11:14; and 21:11, 12 (These verses from Isaiah, which seem to infer the ultimate salvation of the remnant of Edom, are discussed in my paper titled, "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Selected Eschatological Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah"); Jer. 49:11 (with 49:7-10); and Amos 9:12. All the verses cited specifically mention descendants of Esau (Edomites). See my subsequent papers dealing with the Psalms and the book of Jeremiah that also deal to some extent with God's salvation of the nations at the end of this age.]] (14) What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! [[The apostle Paul's primary point here is that there is no injustice with God when He saves some of the Israelites of Paul's generation but leaves many of them (even the majority) on the outside of new-covenant salvation. As Paul goes on to show in Rom. 9:15-18, God has the right to have mercy/compassion on whom He desires, but He doesn't owe mercy/compassion to any person, not even Moses, and He has the right to reject and harden whom He desires. God, whose ways are always right, does what needs to be done. For one thing, God cannot allow those who never will repent into heaven. Rebels in heaven would destroy divine order, and rebels would not want to be in heaven on God's terms, not that they will want the alternative.

In Rom. 9:6 Paul has already said, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all [part of God's true] Israel who are of Israel." And in verses 10-13 he has shown that God had the right to choose Jacob over Esau (even though Esau was the firstborn) and that His choice of Jacob was not dependent on works, as if Jacob could say that he had earned the right to be chosen, or that the Israelites could say that God was obligated to choose them for new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus.

((I had a footnote: God would have been obligated to save the Israelites of Paul's generation if they had been doers of the Law, but none of them were (cf., e.g., Luke 13:1-5; Rom. 2:1-29; 3:9-20; and Gal. 3:10, 22). The believers who lived under the Law (the old covenant) will be saved, but it will be because of God's grace in Christ, not because they earned salvation through fully keeping the Law (through works). It is true, however, that believers under the old covenant did make it a priority to live according to the Law, and there was some grace available under that covenant to help them. Once Christ had come it was not an option to continue under the old covenant and reject Christ and the new covenant in His blood.)) Paul expects his Jewish antagonists to agree that whatever God has done (as recorded in the Old Testament) was right to do.

I'll quote a few sentences from what Robert H. Mounce says under Rom. 9:14-18 ("Romans" [Broadman and Holman, 1995], page 200). "Although God elects with sovereign freedom, it does not follow that Israel had nothing to do with their rejection. Later in the chapter we will learn that Israel failed to attain a right standing with God because they pursued it on the basis of works (vv. 30-32) [not on the basis of faith in Christ and God's new-covenant plan of salvation]. The sovereignty of God does not set aside human responsibility."]] (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' [[The apostle quoted these words from Ex. 33:19 to show that, even in the case of Moses, God granted his request on the basis of mercy/compassion, not because He was obligated to him. It is also clear, however, that God's mercy/compassion to Moses was not arbitrary (as if there were no differences between Moses and most of the other men living on the earth at that time); Moses was a believer and he lived for God, quite unlike Pharaoh.]]. (16) So then it does not depend on the man who wills [John 1:13] or the man who runs ["on man's desire or effort" (NIV)], but on God who has mercy. [[It takes more than the will/desire of the Israelites (or the Gentiles) to be saved and more than their running/effort/works, striving in the flesh, in an attempt to gain salvation, as if these things obligated God to choose them. The Israelites (like the Gentiles) are totally dependent on the saving mercy of God in Christ. God doesn't owe His saving mercy (grace) to anyone, including the Jews of Paul's day. The apostle's primary concern here (in the context of Rom. 9:6-29) was with God's right to not have mercy/compassion on (to even harden; cf. Rom. 9:18; 11:7, 25) many of the Israelites in the day of new-covenant salvation.

It is significant that these words of Rom. 9:16 don't say that God doesn't consider the hearts of people when He elects one for salvation in Christ and doesn't elect another (I'm confident that His choices are influenced by His knowledge/foreknowledge of the hearts of people; they certainly aren't arbitrary choices). And these words don't mean that the wills of people are not involved in submitting to Christ and the gospel or that the wills and works of people are unnecessary when it comes to working out their salvation (by grace through faith).

As Paul will show in Rom. 10:2, it required more than the religious zeal of the Israelites to please God. The devotees of many religions (and some atheists too) are zealous; God is interested in those who are zealous for Him (the God who really is God) and for His truth and righteousness. Our zeal must be from the heart (by faith), and it must be in accordance with the plan, truth, word, and righteousness of God. Before we run for God (by His grace), we must submit our hearts to Him (this is a big part of what faith means in the Bible); we must get our attitudes, motives, and priorities in divine order (by His grace); and we must learn what He requires us to do, where and how He wants us to run. Once the new covenant had been established on the basis of the blood of Christ, God required faith in Christ - zealous works of the flesh could never bypass the need for faith in Him and His plan of salvation.]] (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH' [Ex. 9:16]. [[These words were spoken to Pharaoh after six of the ten plagues had already fallen on Egypt. God's plan included using the obstinacy (hardness) of Pharaoh, and even to further harden him, to bring forth judgments so intense and dramatic that His power and name would be broadcast across the world. (His name being broadcast would help many people worldwide to begin to consider Him, the God of Israel, the God of creation, the God of all people. His intense judgments against Egypt also had a powerful effect on Israel.) The book of Exodus makes it quite clear that Pharaoh had great pride and a hard heart, but it also makes it clear that God further hardened him for His own purposes.

I had a footnote: Although Paul doesn't mention this point (Paul's discussion in Rom. 9:6-29 puts all the emphasis on God's sovereign role in salvation), it is significant that the book of Exodus establishes the point that Pharaoh's heart was hard (Ex. 3:19; 7:13, 14; 7:22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 14:5 [see the NIV on these verses; some of these verses are ambiguous in the NASB]) before it says God hardened his heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12 [this is the first verse where it mentions that God hardened Pharaoh's heart]; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; and 14:4 , 17). God never hardens hearts that aren't already hard toward Him; He never makes righteous people sinful. He isn't the author of sin. He does, however, use sinful beings in His judgments, including the devil, evil angels and demons, Pharaoh, Antichrist, and the false prophet.

How did God harden Pharaoh? The Bible doesn't supply the details, but it may have involved nothing more than setting the stage for men and demons to remind Pharaoh that he was a god and the head of the mightiest nation on the earth. By yielding to Moses and the god of the Hebrews, he would be wrongly humbling himself, and letting his gods down, and his nation; he would be letting his forefathers down, and his people; how would it look in the history books for great Pharoah and mighty Egypt to have been humbled by the god of a slave people, who surely must be a rather insignificant god?]] (18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires [like Moses and the elect Jews of Paul's generation], and He hardens whom He desires [like Pharaoh and the non-elect Jews of Paul's generation]. [[But God's decisions aren't arbitrary (far from it); there was, for one thing, a big difference between Moses (Rom. 9:15) and Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17). The primary point that Paul makes here (in this context) is that God has the right to have mercy on the Israelites He has chosen and to harden the rest of them (see Rom. 11:7, 25). Hardening is a form of judgment; the idea here is to harden against becoming "Christians." (People cannot become Christians in any satisfactory sense, on God's terms, unless they truly repent and submit their hearts and lives to God and His saving grace. Becoming a Christian involves more than joining up on your terms. God knows the heart. He knows the attitudes, motives, and priorities. The grace of God doesn't change the rebellious hearts of people who remain closed to the idea of repentance.)

Paul (apparently) doesn't mention God's hardening Gentiles in Romans chapters 9-11, except for the hardening of Pharaoh in Rom. 9:17, which was a hardening that didn't directly deal with his salvation. And, significantly, one reason that Paul mentioned the hardening of Pharaoh in Rom. 9:17 was to set the stage to show (in Rom. 9:22, 27-29) that God's hardening of Israel would lead to intense, dramatic judgment of Israel, even as the hardening of Pharaoh had led to intense, dramatic judgment of Pharaoh and Egypt.

The apostle could have discussed the fact that God always has PERFECT REASONS for doing everything He does (for one thing, He doesn't arbitrarily judge/harden people), but some things don't really need to be said. GOD ISN'T ON TRIAL! (although many people think He is), and there is a limit to how much we can defend Him without indirectly insulting Him. Also, as I have mentioned, the apostle wasn't trying to give a balanced presentation of the truth in Rom. 9:6-29; he was dealing exclusively with one strand of truth: God's sovereign right to do what He does, and in this context he was dealing almost exclusively with God's dealings with Israel. As far as Paul was concerned, if God did it, is doing it, or will do it, it is right and good. Israel was challenging God: Christ Jesus isn't the promised Messiah; and if He were the Messiah, then God hasn't kept the promises He made to Israel (in that so many of the Israelites aren't being saved).

Didn't God want the Jews to become Christians? First Timothy 2:4-6 makes it clear that God wants all people to repent and submit to the gospel in faith (though He knows it isn't going to happen), but, and this is important, He doesn't want people to become "Christians" in a half-baked way that isn't really Christianity. It does much damage to the body of Christ, and it increases the sin of those people too.

God knew the hearts of the Israelites; He knew that many of them, even though many of them were religious, were not submitted to Him in their hearts (they did not love Him) and that they were not about ready to really submit in faith to Christ and the gospel of righteousness from their hearts. (The Lord Jesus frequently made that point, as recorded in the four Gospels.) Such Jews God hardened. He knew, for one thing, that they would have so distorted the gospel that it would have made it very difficult for Gentiles to be saved through Christ and the new covenant. (The Judaizers caused enough problems for the apostle Paul and the Gentile Christians as it was.) Also, the judicial hardening of the unbelievers in Israel contributes to the repentance and salvation of the remnant of Israel. For a rather lengthy discussion on the topic of God's hardening of Israel, see under John 12:37-41 and Isa. 6:8-13 on pages 37-42 of my "A Paper on Faith." Better yet, start on page 34 under John 6:44, 45. (The page numbers go with the version on my internet site.)

I'll quote a few sentences from what Charles R. Erdman says regarding verses 14-18 ("Epistle of Paul to the Romans" [Baker, 1983], page 119). Erdman (AD 1866-1960) was a Calvinist who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary and pastored Presbyterian churches). "Paul does not here mention the complementary truths of faith and fault on the part of men; he is asserting only the divine sovereign freedom of God, whether in showing mercy or in hardening, whether in the cases of Moses and Pharaoh, or in the case of the believing and unbelieving Jews in the days of Paul. The choices and actions of God are not capricious or unjust, but they are absolutely free and uncontrolled."

I'll also quote two sentences from what Douglas Moo says under Rom. 9:14-23 ("New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition," page 1144). Although Moo is a Calvinist, by including statements like these he brings some much-needed balance to this topic. "The Scriptures make plain that God will never refuse to accept, or cast away, those who diligently seek him. [This is extremely important! We should always encourage people to humble themselves before God, to repent, and to diligently seek Him, starting with what He has said in His Word. No one should be given the mistaken idea that they will be wasting their time to seek God because they may not be one of the elect. The Bible shows that all who truly seek God according to His terms will find Him.] ... [Paul] has earlier in the letter made it plain that people are fully responsible for their rejection of the truth of God (1:20-2:11), and he will make the point again with respect to Israel (9:30-10:21)."]] (19) You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will [cf., e.g., 2 Chron. 20:6; Job 9:12; and Dan. 4:35]?' [[As the apostle continues in Rom. 9:20-29, he doesn't answer the questions, "Why does He still find fault?" and "For who resists His will?" The apostle was offended by such questions, questions that challenged the goodness and righteousness of God. He didn't answer the questions at all here. Instead, he made it quite clear that no man has a right to answer back to God in such a way (Rom. 9:20). As Paul continues with this discourse in Rom. 9:30-11:36 (as in his other writings, and as it is taught in other books of the Bible), he does, however, show why God finds fault with the Jews (and the Gentiles too).

The destiny of the Jews (or the Gentiles) isn't determined apart from the input of each person. The Jews were responsible for their unbelief (cf., e.g., Rom. 2:5, 8; 3:3; 9:32; 10:3, 9-13, 16; 11:20-23, and 30). To the extent a person's sin is due to the hardening of God, I don't believe they would be responsible, but the unbelief and sinfulness of man does not result from the hardening of God; we are responsible for our unbelief and sin.

When it comes to foundational issues, like the fact that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of a virgin, that He would be crucified and die for our sins, and that He would be raised on the third day, or the fact that God's end-time judgment of the world will come to pass as it is spelled out in the book of Revelation, God doesn't leave room for man (or for the devil and his angels) to alter His plans. But when it comes to the details of the lives of people, God (in His sovereignty) leaves much room for the input of man. The Bible is literally full of verses that back up this point. The New Testament is packed with verses that show, for example, that faith is something people do in response to God's grace, and that people are responsible for their unbelief when they don't submit to the gospel in faith, or when they turn from faith back into unbelief. See my "A Paper on Faith." All people are called to repent and submit to the gospel in faith (cf., e.g., Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 17:30, 31; and 1 Tim. 2:4-6).

God's will isn't always done; for example, the sin of Christians isn't the will of God (e.g., "For this is the will of God, your sanctification [holiness]; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality [and all other sin]" [1 Thess. 4:3]). And even though the book of Revelation speaks of the Lamb's book of life, which has had the names of the elect written in it since the foundation of the world (cf., e.g., Rev. 13:8; 17:8 with Eph. 1:4), it also shows that if the Christians at Sardis didn't repent (and what was said regarding them is applicable to all Christians who are in a similar situation), their names would be erased from the book (Rev. 3:1-6). It's clear that it wasn't the will of God for those Christians (or any other Christians) to continue in sin and have their names erased from the book of life - He called for them to repent. ((The facts that the Lord Jesus said they still had some things that remained, which were about to die in Rev. 3:2 and that He said that they had soiled their (Christian) garments in verse 4, along with the fact that He was going to erase their names from the book of life if they didn't repent, confirms that He was speaking to people who had become born-again Christians.))

Again, Paul's total emphasis in Rom. 9:6-29 is on God's sovereign right to elect some of the Israelites of his day and to reject and harden the rest of them. The fact that God's right to do this was being challenged by many of the Israelites was a substantial factor that tended to keep Paul from answering the question here as to why God still finds fault. (As I mentioned, their basic challenge centered in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.) Furthermore, it's important to understand how intensely some of the Israelites were working to try to stop the gospel from going forth, including going forth to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 5:17-40; 6:8-8:3; 9:23-30; 11:19; 12:1-19; 13:45-51; 14:1-6, 19; 15:1-5; 17:5-13; 18:5, 6, 12, 13; 19:8, 9; 20:3; 21:20-22, 27-32; 22:21-24; 24:1-9; 25:1-3, 7-12; Gal. 4:29; 6:12; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; and Rev. 2:9; 3:9).]]

We will continue this verses-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11, starting with Rom. 9:20 in Part 4.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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