Excursus on Romans 9
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Excursus on Romans 9
This is the 14th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
(Any slides, photos, study guides or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
I. Secure in Our Salvation
Another passage that ends up being contentious is Romans 9. The heart of Romans 9 for the Calvinists says that God does whatever he wants anytime with anyone. He is working with individuals to bring them to do whatever he wants. I want to present my view in regards to this chapter. This chapter does not talk about individuals and salvation but rather it is a history of Israel to support Paul’s point that we can be secure. At the end of Romans 8 it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So what about the Israelites? They have been cast aside and thus the beginning of Romans is asking, what about the Jews? The fundamental answer is not all ethnic Jews are saved and he develops this. Then he goes back to say that God is persistent and faithful to bless his sinful people because he has chosen them and he will not go back on his promise. I think this is the heart of what Romans 9 says.
II. Jacob and Israel; Esau and Edom
In Romans 9:11 it says, ‘though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, the older will serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob I love, but Esau I hated.’ So both of these guys are deceivers, especially Jacob and then Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. In dealing with these two characters, God is faithful to his promise with Abraham, ‘out of your seed, a deliverer will come.’ So he picks Jacob and I think the point is that nobody is problematic enough that God can’t use them, especially in Jacob’s case. This is totally his sovereign choice as to which one to choose. Why did God hate Esau? And this does mean hate! We need to understand Old Testament illusions to understand the answer to this. Where is this quoted from? This is quoted from Malachi 1:2 “I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, “how have you loved us?’ “Is not Esau Jacob's brother?’ declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’’ Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’ So Esau represents the nation of Edom that comes out of Esau. The same goes for Jacob; it is not the historical person but the people that come out of him. Edom represented evil and bad people who God brought destruction upon. God keeps being faithful to Jacob even though they as a nation don’t deserve it; oh he punishes them but he is still faithful to them. It doesn’t say that God hated Esau before he was born as it comes from Malachi and not from Genesis.
III. Their Faithfulness vs God’s Faithfulness
In Roman 9:14, ‘what shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.’ And this comes from Exodus 33. In Exodus 32, we have the golden calf with Moses coming down from the Mountain with the stone tablets and God becomes very angry with the Israelites. But Moses asks God to show him his glory. I will have mercy with whom I have mercy and compassion with whom I have compassion. So we see it was Israel in Exodus who had just committed heresy with the creation a golden calf to worship. What God is saying, he will have compassion on sinful Israel and in this he shows the depth of his mercy. Thus God says, I will have compassion on sinful Israel and it is not limited except to Israel. And this is consistent because of his commitment to the Israelites. A point here is that no one needs to earn God’s mercy. With Jacob and thus Israel God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend upon their faithfulness. It only depends on God promise to be faithful.
A. Pharaoh Again
Now is verse 17 in regards to Pharaoh where God commanded righteousness from Pharaoh but Pharaoh refuses as they go back and forth with Pharaoh’s response and the complex of different wills. God forces him to decide by presenting him with the different plagues. So whom does God have mercy on? He has mercy on Jacob and thus Israel and also sinners. Whom does he harden? Pharaoh who deserves it, but he was faithful to Israelites because of his promises to them and his covenant with them. In verse 19, the question is posed, ‘who resists God’s will?’ It doesn’t say they can’t; what it says is there is no sense to resisting God’s will. Both Pharaoh and Israel both resists God’s will. Why was Judah carried off to Babylon; it was because of their sin. He punishes them because of his love for them and allows them to return. No one is powerful enough to resist God’s will.
B. Reshaped Like Clay
What about the potter in verse 21? This is a metaphor from the Old Testament in Jeramiah 18:2 where it says, ‘go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ The pot he was making was flawed and so he reformed it into another pot. He doesn’t start with a new gob of wet clay. This refers to Israel; God is still faithful to them. He doesn’t destroy them; instead he works with them bringing them up to what God wants them to be. He says this starting with verse 6, ‘can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? Like clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand, Israel.’ God goes on to say that if he wants to bring destruction on a nation but that nation repents then he will relent. In verses 9 and 10 God says the opposite; if a nation is evil in his sight, he will reconsider the good he had intended to do for it. So we can say that is a matter of will within that nation who repents or doesn’t repent of their sins. So we see the responsiveness has a lot to do with what God does.
C. His Faithfulness Remains
Back to Romans 9:22-23, ‘what if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath that were prepared for destruction, in order to make now the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.’ The key verb here is ‘having endured with great patience.’ It doesn’t say who prepared them for destruction. The key verbs in 23 are ‘made known’ and ‘on those he prepared.’ God is preparing people for mercy and the people he is preparing are the Israelites; the righteous people of Israel. He is bearing with patience, not making them evil. But Israel tried to do it like Pharaoh; they didn’t pursue it by faith but as if it were based on works. So Romans 9 isn’t talking about individual salvation, it seems to me, except by application. It is not talking about God’s providence in my life except by analogy; it is talking about God faithfulness to bless his sinful people Israel as a proof to say that nothing can separate us from the love of God. When he decided to be faithful to us, he will do that. Yes, we can resist but his faithfulness remains regardless on his chosen people who we as Christians are now.