How does the gospel of the grace of God - as explained in the first eight chapters of Romans - fit in with God’s promises to Israel? In these chapters the apostle reconciles the ways and promises of God with Israel, and His ways with all mankind at the present time, when salvation is preached without discrimination.
Romans 9. Paul declares his love for his people. He was prepared to be a curse for them, such was his love - like Moses in Exodus 32:32, “And now, if thou wilt forgive their sin… but if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book that thou hast written”. He states that they have a special place in God’s ways in verses 4 and 5. Remember that both the old and the new covenants are with Israel. Further, “the promises of God” are not with the church, they are with Israel. The church is neither the subject of promise nor of prophecy but of mystery, hidden in God. This is mentioned in Romans 16:25 and explained fully in Ephesians and Colossians. Christ came according to flesh via that nation. However, the church has greater blessings – heavenly ones; Israel is promised earthly ones.
In verse 6 he is careful to show that being in the area of privilege is not the same thing as being a partaker of those privileges - “Not all are Israel that are of Israel”. Scripture is careful to explain this in several places. Persons will claim nearness to Christ in a coming time – “We have eaten in thy presence and drunk, and thou hast taught in our streets; and he shall say, I tell you, I do not know you whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity”, Luke 13:26. Hebrews 6 gives a further example of persons who have tasted and benefited from the greatest of the Lord’s things, but have no divine life in them.
In verses 6-16 Paul explains that it is God’s sovereign choice - Isaac then Jacob - otherwise Ishmaelites (Arab peoples) and Edomites could claim admission. Does Israel find fault with God, and complain that God is unfair, verse 14? Israel had to accept God’s sovereignty, otherwise they would have been destroyed for making the golden calf if God had not said (Exodus 33:19) “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy”.
On the other hand, Pharaoh is a witness to the fact that God may harden a person’s heart and God may exercise His judgments on such. Do people find fault because God acts as He will, i.e. sovereignly? This is met by asserting God’s title to judge man, and rebuking man’s pretension to judge God. How does God use His infinite power? With the greatest patience towards those who have become “vessels of wrath” and with richest mercy towards those who are taken up for blessing – the latter class being no better in themselves than the former. So in verses 23-29 Paul shows that mercy calls Gentiles who had no privileges and Jews who had lost all their privileges, and that Hosea and Isaiah confirm all this more than once. Then in the last paragraph, he shows that the nations have been called, but that Israel has stumbled when Christ has been presented to them, while only faith would not be ashamed.
Before continuing, we should state that God did not predestine Esau to be hated, nor was Pharaoh predestined to be a vessel of wrath. It is not said that He hated Esau until late in the Old Testament, after Esau’s ways had been displayed. He chose Jacob above Esau before the two were born, but that did not mean that he was hated, nor did it destine Esau to the conduct that he exhibited. Esau was - and his seed still are - marked by retaining their hatred of Israel. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until Pharaoh hardened it first, by refusing to let Israel go. “Vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” are persons who have fitted themselves for it. God predestines persons for blessing, but that does not imply that the others are predestined for judgment. That is poor human logic. Calvin fell into that trap. In 1 Timothy 2:4 we are told of “our Saviour God, who desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”.
Paul answers another objection beginning at verse 19, “Why does He yet find fault?” Such a question implies that God made man to be evil, which is untrue; but man being evil already, God has a right to choose - according to His sovereign will - to show mercy to some. He would be perfectly justified in destroying us all. But if it has pleased Him to spare some, who shall say “no” to Him? It would be setting up to be superior to God. Paul insists that God has the absolute right to do what He will – He is the Potter. He has the right to make one to honour and one to dishonour, but scripture does not say that God has exercised that right. People who speak of their rights seem to forget that God has any! There are no rights if the Creator has none. As mentioned earlier, He exercise His rights towards the wicked by showing “endurance with much long-suffering” - see 9:22. Instead of instantly destroying rebellious people called “vessels of wrath” He endures them for a time. Believers are called “vessels of mercy” and are said to be “before prepared for glory”. According to William Kelly, a learned Biblical scholar in Hebrew and Greek, “strictly speaking He prepared them beforehand with a view to glory”. The evil is man’s and in no case is it of God; the good is His and not our own.
Notice the sequence of events and quotations in verses 24-26. We are “called, not only from amongst the Jews, but also from amongst the nations”. Then Paul quotes Hosea 2:23, where Israel is again recognized as God’s people, followed by a quote from Hosea 1:10 where it can be shown that the people referred to – although in a veiled way – are in fact the nations. Believers from the nations are named not just “my people”, but “sons of the living God”. This is another evidence that believers forming the church, (taken mainly from the nations), are given a greater place than Israel. That nation is now called “not-my-people” as once the Gentiles were known by that name.
The case of Jew and Gentile has been described, and now Paul draws conclusions in verses 30-33 from what has been discussed. Israel reasoned like this: “If we have been given the law of God, isn’t it to attain acceptance with God by faithful observance of its precepts? What else could it be given for?” [We won’t go into that now.] Such a reasoning was fatal to them and is still so to people now. Christ is the stumbling block. People still are satisfied with their own efforts to do what is right, satisfied in their own works and not the work of redemption of the Lord Jesus.
Romans 10. In chapter 10:4 Christ is declared to be the end of law for righteousness – not that the law is ended or finished - it still stands in all its majesty - but the end of law for righteousness to every one that believes. Trying to use it for our own righteousness is finished; Christ is our righteousness. Not that He has kept the law for us, but that He is the perfect Offering that God recognizes. In verse 6 and 7, as another has said “There it is no question of heights to be scaled or depths to be sounded, which would put honour on human earnestness and ability. Christ is proclaimed for the simplest to confess Him, and to believe on His name”. The law did not call anyone. It regulated the ways of the people to whom it was given – Israel. It was given to one nation only. It did not involve preaching. The gospel goes out to Jew and Gentile now. God sent the message when His people were getting farther and farther away from Him in Joel 2:32, quoted here by the Spirit: “For everyone whosoever, who shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved”. Then he stops. In Joel the verse goes on to the application in a coming time when salvation will be at Jerusalem for the remnant of Israel. This will involve a “local” blessing then. Blessing is universal now. This is another example of some 2,000 years between two parts of a verse. In Luke 4:18-19 the Lord read from Isaiah 61:1-2, and stopped part way in that second verse, at “the acceptable year of the Lord”, as being fulfilled then. The next part of that verse in Isaiah speaks of “the day of vengeance of our God”, an event due some 2,000 years later! Notice that deliverance in the prophets was connected with calling on His name, returning to the Lord, rather than observing more ordinances.
Again with the preachers who carry good news – there is a present application now to the wide world. The Holy Spirit stops before the end of Isaiah 52:7 when quoting it in Romans 10:15. In that future day, it will be the news to Jerusalem that salvation from their enemies is at hand, that Christ is reigning. But currently Zion (Jerusalem) remains in the control of the Arabs because Israel refused their Messiah.
How shall they preach unless they have been sent? – chapter 10:15. Never in scripture is there any warrant for men to send out a preacher. That is the Lord’s privilege. Some may use the instance in Acts 13:1-3 to justify persons sending out servants, but it was the Holy Spirit that called them to the work. The laying of hands on Barnabas and Saul was an act of identification with that call. The ascended Christ gives the gifts, therefore it is He alone who has the right to direct them. The Corinthians gave the money for the saints at Judea, therefore they had the right to choose who would carry it there with Paul. In Acts 6:3, the believers gave the food, therefore they had the right to choose out persons to care for the distribution of it – serving tables.
The apostle continues to show that the Old Testament prophets spoke of Israel’s rebellion and unbelief and shows that God is justified in sending the good news to the nations. These last were always in God’s mind. Psalm 19 is quoted in Romans 10:18. That Psalm has two parts; the first six verses speak of God’s witness in creation – “the heavens declare the glory of God” - and the next five refer to the law given to Israel. The sun and the stars shine for everyone, not just Israel. Romans 1:20 remind us that God has had a witness to all men from the beginning of creation. Israel should have known that God was interested in the nations. Paul reminds them of Moses’ words in 10:19, and Isaiah is quoted in verses 20 and 21. It is very noticeable how the Jews listened to Paul’s speech in Jerusalem in Acts 22, but when he reached the point where the Lord said to him: “Go, for I will send thee to the nations afar off” (verse 21) they could bear no more, “And they heard him until this word”. When Paul was in Rome under house arrest, many came to him, but when he told them that “this salvation of God has been sent to the nations; they also will hear it”, the Jews went away.
Romans 11. The next question raised is whether Israel was to lose their place before God entirely because of their unbelief and opposition to God’s grace. Romans 11 proves that this is not so. There is, he says, “a remnant according to election of grace”, and himself an example of that. But it is no longer linked with works. In verse 7, the situation is described – “the elect” or “the election” refers to the righteous remnant of Israel, and the mass are called “the rest”. These last have been blinded or hardened. “Judicial blindness” is the term used to describe God causing people to not understand after their continued despising of Himself and His word. It happened to Pharaoh, to the nations in Romans 1, to Israel as we get here and elsewhere. It will happen to Christendom (the Christianized area of the world) as we see in 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.
In verses 11-15 Paul is quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy 32; their being provoked to jealousy is stated by Moses in verse 21 of that chapter. The fact that God would provoke them in this way proves that He has not abandoned them for ever – just for a time. He did this only after they put to death their Messiah and refused the gospel that offered them pardon of this and all other sins by His blood. Israel has lost their place as God’s witness to the world. This has now been given to the nations, inasmuch as the church consists mainly of believers from the nations. Israel’s reception, referred to in verse 15, does not happen until the Son of man comes to reign in righteousness and Jerusalem will become a centre on earth. Then all the nations will enjoy the reign of Christ and the knowledge of Him “will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea”. This is the period spoken of by the Lord in Matthew 19:28, “in the regeneration”. In such a period, it will be a new day for the nations, like “life from among the dead”. This expression in this context does not mean a literal resurrection. It is right to preach globally now, but scripture shows that the whole world is not going to be blessed and delivered now. Paul tells us what to expect in our time, the last days – perilous or difficult times.
In verse 16 Paul refers to Numbers 15:19-21, where it speaks of the offering - “the first of your dough shall ye offer, a cake”. From the context it can be seen that he refers to the figures of the first-fruit with the lump [of dough] and the root with the branches. The apostle is explaining the connection and responsibility of those who followed Abraham. It was to him that the promises were given, as the root of God’s testimony on the earth, after men had fallen into idolatry. Rather than destroy the earth, God began afresh by calling Abraham out of Chaldea. Abraham represents the root and stock of the olive tree, or the first fruits. He was the first to be chosen and called out to have promises in his line. The Jew became the natural trunk or branches. The Gentile was the wild olive tree as distinct from Israel. God must have the branches consistent with the root and since the Jews as a whole failed, God had to act in judgment against them. Israel has been taken out of the present testimony of God, or “broken out” of the olive tree. God has grafted the nations in. If He has done that to the “natural branches”, He will do the same to those grafted in – He will judge the public Christian profession (Christendom) which has proved unfaithful and Israel will again be restored to their place in the “olive tree” after the tribulation. There is nothing here about the true believers who form the church being broken out. This is not a matter of saving grace here in this figure, but of responsibility in the particular testimony committed to either the Jew in his time and then that of the church publicly in its time. The church will be with Christ during the tribulation when unbelief here on earth will be judged.
The Jews were, and still are, hostile to the gospel, instead of being saved by it – see verse 28.
By this is meant the bulk of that people; there were, and are, many individuals blessed by believing on Christ. The greatest enemies of the apostles were the Jews – but God used this opportunity to reach out fully to the nations. When Christ comes, “He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob”, i.e. the elect of Israel will have been humbled and brought to repentance, on account of the fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The new covenant will be established with such. Currently the gospel is for both Jew and Gentile; at that time they will be chosen because of God’s promises to the fathers. Such a promise God will never revoke - “For the gifts and calling of God are not subject to repentance”. God will bring the elect through the great tribulation and humbled they will be blessed on the basis of mercy, pure grace, just as we have, and “so all Israel shall be saved”; not just Judah and Benjamin - the tribes we now call Jews - but also a remnant from each of the ten tribes lost to our view, but not lost to God’s view.
In this chapter the apostle has shown three reasons why God has not abandoned Israel; first, He has taken up a remnant according to election of grace, of whom Paul was an example; secondly, he shows that God’s object was to provoke Israel to jealousy by reaching out fully to the nations – this brought in the picture of the olive tree and their being finally restored to their own place; and thirdly, that the word of God speaks definitely that He will restore them in sovereign mercy in spite of all their sins, giving them repentance and turning their heart toward their Messiah whom they rejected so long ago.
The review of God’s ways, His judgments, His wisdom and His knowledge causes the apostle to break out into a doxology, an expression of praise to God – see Romans 11:33-36. He asks who has known His mind, or who has been His counsellor, or who has first given something to God so that He owes us something? Paul marvels at God’s mercy. For of Him, and through Him, and for Him are all things: to Him be glory for ever. As another has said: “The gospel is His, the righteousness His, the grace His, and so is the glory”. Persons may ask: What is the point of studying the deep things of God? One chief reason is that it enlarges our praise. Amen.
MM April 2008
Acknowledgement: Notes on the Epistle to the Romans, by William Kelly
Publisher: Bible Truth Publishers, Addison, Illinois, USA