Israel & the Church in Romans 9-11 (Part 1)

By Jerry Wierwille

With the new covenant in Christ, God's promises to Abraham are being fulfilled as a result of the inclusion of the Gentiles with Israel as God's covenant people. But this then raises the question, "What about God's promises to Israel?" In this session and the following, we are going to examine Romans chapters 9-11 where Paul explains how God is faithful to all His promises, and how He is working out His redemptive plan and purposes through both Jews and Gentiles.

Eightfold Advantage of Israelites (Jews)

  1. The adoption
  2. The glory
  3. The covenants
  4. The law
  5. The (temple) worship
  6. The promises
  7. The patriarchs
  8. The messiah

Structure of Romans Ch. 9

  1. Has God’s Word Failed? (v. 6a)
  2. Is God unjust? (v. 14)
  3. Why does God find fault? (v. 19)
  4. So what then does it all mean? (v. 30)

#1: Has God’s Word Failed? (vv. 6-13)

Proposition: “Not all Israel belong to Israel…and not all of Abraham’s offspring are his children

Paul’s answer is to clarify that God never chose Abraham’s descendants, merely on account of their biological relation to him for inclusion in the covenant community.

  • Argument #1: Isaac and Ishmael (vv. 7-9)

                    Gen 21:12; 18:10, 14

  • Argument #2: Jacob and Esau (vv. 10-13)

                    Gen 25:23; Mal 1:2-3

Paul’s point is that God has sovereignly chosen Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau; and by implication, that means that God is free to sovereignly choose covenant membership to be on the basis of faith, as opposed to works of the law or ethnicity.

#2: Is God unjust? (vv. 14-18)

Argument #1: Moses (v. 15)

Exod 33:19

What does “it” refer to (v. 16)? The “it” refers back to “God’s purpose of election” (v. 11), which depends on God and upon whomever he chooses to show mercy.

Argument #2: Pharaoh (v. 17)

Exod 9:16

God predicted ahead of time that he was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 14:4). However, the hardening is expressed passively, without an expressed subject (i.e., “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened”: 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35); and then actively by Pharaoh who is said to have hardened his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34); and it is said that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8).

Unbelief is the hardening of one’s own heart. Unbelief is not the result of God’s hardening. God’s hardening is the response to a person’s unbelief.  Likewise, being shown mercy does not in itself produce belief. Mercy is God’s response to a person’s belief (trust).

Thus far, Paul has demonstrated that God is not unjust in choosing the Gentiles who have faith, as opposed to Jews who try to keep the Law, because God “has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and hardens whom he wants to harden” (v. 18). Paul’s premise is that if God wants to show mercy on those who have faith, and harden those who do not believe, regardless of their ethnicity or adherence to the law, God is just and right in doing so. Paul’s arguments about Moses and Pharaoh are to disprove the idea that God decided to show mercy to Moses and condemned Pharaoh irrespective of their personal wills; his point is that God has the sovereign right to establish the basis for which he will show his mercy.

#3: Why does God find fault? (vv. 19-29)

Argument #1: The Choice of the Creator (vv. 20-24)

Jer 18:1-12

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ 12“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”

Argument #2: The Prophet Hosea (vv. 25-26)

Hos 2:23 & 1:10

Argument #3: The Prophet Isaiah (vv. 27-29)

Isa 10:22-23 & 1:9

Question #4: So what then does it all mean? (vv. 30-33)

“Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works.” (vv. 30a-32a)

Isa 28:16 & 8:14

The Jews placed their confidence in their ethnicity and their keeping of the law as the basis for their inclusion among God’s covenant people. But Paul demonstrates from Scripture that they have no reason for maintaining that line of reasoning. The issue is that Israel has failed to meet the defining characteristic of God’s covenant people by rejecting God’s Messiah. God’s gracious provision for righteousness and salvation in Christ has become for them a “stumbling stone.” But the one who has faith in Christ “will not be ashamed.”

What is the Conclusion

In essence, Paul is telling ethnic Israel that God has the right to choose whomever he wills to be included in his covenant people. However, he is not telling them this because God has chosen not to elect most of them against their will. Rather, he’s telling them this because the criterion for inclusion in God’s covenant people is different from what they think it is. It is not based on ethnic identity and law keeping, but on faith in Christ. Thus, Paul’s presumption is that his people (Israel) will likely feel betrayed by this paradigm shift. And so, Paul then explains that they should not have this attitude since God has no obligation to them simply on account that they are the physical descendants of Abraham. Instead, Paul demonstrates from the Old Testament that God has always operated with the criterion of faith (as exemplified by the patriarch Abraham, ch. 4), and his relationship to Israel has always depended upon their repentance and trust.

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