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Romans 9: “It is not as though God’s Word has failed”

Romans 9:6, “It is not as though God’s Word has failed”


Romans 8:31-39 is an awesome assurance and celebration of God’s faithfulness in saving all those who believe in Jesus. If God accomplished the hard part of sending His own Son to die on the cross for undeserving sinners like us, He will surely follow through and deliver us to heaven. After giving the Roman church assurance of salvation, Paul is struck by his thoughts of his own race of Jews without it. The author, Paul is a seasoned teacher of the Gospel so he knows the questions people will naturally have like, “If God is so faithful and loving, then where is Israel in all this?”  If Israel was God’s chosen people going all the way back to Abraham, then why did they reject Christ? Did God’s plan fail? Did God lose the very people that He promised Abraham to save? Reading the Old Testament presents us with a tension between Israel’s privileges and prerogatives with its plight of rejecting the Gospel and being cut off from God. Why did Israel reject Jesus, and is its condition irreversible? The author of Romans 9-11 will make three points in this section–God’s promises are spiritual in nature, so they are consistent with saving only believers, God is saving some Jews who believe like Paul, and in the future end times all Israel will be saved (11:26).


Romans 9:1-5, the Tragedy of Israel’s Unbelief


Paul is very clear that Israel’s unbelief is personal for him since he is Jewish and loves his countrymen. Paul says here that he has “great sorrow and unceasing grief” over the situation. Paul took a page out of Moses’ book in Exodus 32:32 where Moses interceded for them and offered his own life to God for theirs. Paul is like the caring pastor who was hired by a church after it fired its unpopular pastor. After six months he was given an excellent review so he asked why they fired the other guy. They said the previous guy kept telling them they were going to hell. The new guy said “yeah but that’s what I keep telling you, so what’s the difference?” Well, the first pastor seemed glad, but you seem genuinely sorry.


It is not as though Israel isn’t accountable because they had every opportunity and privilege. In v.4-5, Paul lists nine privileges: descendants of Abraham, adopted as sons, God revealed His glory to them, they were given the covenant, given the Law, the Temple service, the promises of Messiah, the Patriarchs were Israelites, and Christ’s lineage was as a descendant of Abraham and David. Therefore, their unbelief is inconsistent with their advantages, which heaps up their responsibility and guilt.


Theme of Romans 9:6– “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed”


Their rejection does not mean God’s plan is a failure. God has been completely faithful holding up His end of the Covenant, but they have broken it every step of the way, which reveals their unbelief. First of all the promises were made to the children of the promise (believers), not to all blood descendants. Therefore the promise of God was passed on to Isaac-not Ishmael, and Jacob-not Esau. This begs the question, “In God’s view, who is the real Israel?” Paul makes the case that the promise of God was given to the spiritual believing sons of Abraham and not broadly to all physical descendants. The times of Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19 come to mind when during the reign in Israel of King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel, the only believers in God that were left in Israel were Elijah and about 7000 other believing Jews (1 Kings 19:18). Who was the real Israel in Gods view? Certainly not Ahab and Jezebel and all the other idol worshippers, but Elijah and the 7000 were the real Israel. In The Gospel of John 8:32-47, Jesus was arguing with the Jewish religious leaders and He said “they (the Pharisees) were not of God” and were not following the belief and obedience of Abraham. Paul’s overall point was that Israel’s rejection of Jesus did not prove Jesus was not the Messiah, but actually proved that unbelieving Israel was not of God.


Romans 9:12-14, the Doctrine of Election


The very idea that Esau was not saved seems not at all fair to many people because the Bible is clear that God sovereignly chose Jacob but not Esau. Can we say that Esau was cheated? No way, he was an evil idolater and a womanizing scumbag. Can we say Jacob deserved salvation? No way, he was a liar whose very name came to mean deceiver. One got exactly what he deserved and the other (Jacob) got mercy. Therefore at the very least we must say–it is fair, but I don’t like it. It is interesting to me that people are willing to believe in the miracle of Isaac’s birth, but not in God’s choice of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc. In Romans 9:13, Paul quotes a very controversial passage from the prophet Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated”. Paul used this passage to emphasize his point, but we need to know that Malachi was predicting the future preservation of Israel and the destruction of Edom. Jacob and Esau were the respective fathers of two nations–Israel and Edom, so Malachi used them to represent the nation God would preserve and the nation that God would righteously reject. Many years later Edom and its idolatry were destroyed just as Malachi predicted, and the author of Romans is using that to make his point about Gods sovereignty. Malachi used a strong word for Gods judgment and rejection of Esau’s descendants, but the meaning in both Romans and Malachi is that one would be righteously judged while the other would be shown mercy. The word translated hate means rejected in its strongest sense. At this point the natural human response is that God was arbitrary and unfair, but Paul says, “May it never be!” The very idea that God could be unfair is outrageous, impossible. This is where the finite human mind may say, “Well I have a non Christian friend who is much more worthy than all the Christians I know, so my friend deserves it more than Joe Christian. First of all don’t forget that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Therefore neither deserve mercy, but God in His sovereign wisdom has chosen to give mercy to some and not others. Esau got exactly what he deserved, but Jacob got mercy. C. S. Lewis wrote an article on this entitled “God in the Dock”. In England the “Dock” is the witness stand where people are interrogated and have to justify themselves. Lewis’ point is that modern man has reversed the order–instead of seeing themselves standing before God in judgment, people prefer to place God on trial and they act as His judge. Wait a minute, don’t we want God to make those choices? Isn’t He alone omniscient, righteous, and holy?


At this point in Romans 9:15-17, Paul uses two O. T. Passages as his backup. In Exodus 33:19, Israel had sinned with the golden calf idol so the people worried about whether God would forgive them even though they deserved death. God’s answer was “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”. If they were to be forgiven it would be based solely on Gods chosen mercy. Then in Romans 9:17 Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in Ex. 9:16. Pharaoh had already rejected and disobeyed God, so God actually hardened him further in order to reveal Himself. After 6 miracles Pharaoh was ready to give up, but God had determined to do ten miracles so God further hardened Pharaoh’s heart so he would not let Israel go yet. God’s hardening does not cause people not to believe, but it maintains people in the state of sin that they have chosen. God does not compel anyone to sin, and He is never the author of evil (James 1:13-16). Using Pharaoh’s proud arrogance, God revealed Himself to the whole world.


Why Does God Still Find Fault?


Again, Paul anticipates our question, “If we all stand condemned and it is solely up to God to provide mercy then how can we be blamed?” In Romans 9:18-24, Paul answers with a question, “who are you puny man to seek to question God?” Doesn’t the potter have the right to mold the clay however he chooses? Lowly created men have no right to deny Gods right to hold men accountable. We know that we deserve only condemnation, yet for Gods reasons He has chosen believers to be His redeemed children saved by the blood of Christ. God has purposes that we are incapable of seeing. Paul gives hypothetical situations to make his point. What if God desires to reveal His attributes of mercy and grace, but also it is necessary to reveal His righteous wrath against sin? Romans 9:22-24 is telling us that God has revealed all His attributes by allowing some to justifiably be condemned.


Original Sin, Total Depravity, and the Mercy of God


The doctrine of original sin, which is common to every Christian denomination, maintains that the whole human race was negatively affected by Adam’s disobedience and rebellion against God. As a result of the fallen world and the rebellion of the human race, we are all subject to varying degrees of sin nature. The doctrine of total depravity does NOT mean that we all engage in every possible form of sin, but it does mean that sin is universal to the human race and that our entire person is subject to it. The most obvious example of this is selfishness. Everyone is not equally selfish, but to some extent all of us are selfish and act primarily for ourselves and our families. Mankind has a free will, but their choices are all sinful in nature in the sight of God. Sin has not removed freedom, but at least the ability to exercise that freedom properly. Granted that you and your friends and family are much better people than others, but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Therefore, we are totally unable to live good lives sufficient enough to earn God’s seal of approval. We are unable to be righteous in God’s eyes without divine assistance. This divine assistance is a gift of God, so we call it God’s grace—we are saved by God’s grace. We deserve punishment, but God has shown us mercy in not giving us what we deserve. Justice is an absolute with God, so He accomplishes showing us mercy and giving us salvation through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. This atonement is first and last all a work of God. In Romans 9, Paul deals with why that grace and mercy is given to some and not to others. When people say that it is unjust for God to save some and not others, it escapes their notice that it is only unjust if both deserve mercy. Since it is clear that both Esau and Jacob were terrible sinners, then one got exactly what he deserved and one got mercy. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “My difficulty is not in how Esau deserved judgment, my difficulty is in how Jacob (or me) deserved grace and mercy”. 


Maybe our next question is in how God goes about assisting some to believe. Remember that God need do nothing to keep people from not believing (see Romans 3:9-17), but God must prepare the hearts of believers so they will believe. There is NO answer to the question of how God decides who will receive His grace and who will be left in their sinful condition. We praise God because He is omniscient and omnipotent, and God alone has the absolute attribute of justice. Therefore we want God on His throne making these decisions. There is no injustice in God’s choices because justice would result in God’s condemning all. The bottom line is our prayer, “Oh Lord, give us mercy and not justice”.


Picture of About the Author: Charlie Taylor
About the Author: Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor grew up in Dallas, Texas, graduated from the University of Texas Business School and went into the commercial real estate business for about twenty years before enrolling in and graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary with honors.

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