Romans 9 on Election

Romans 9 is perhaps the passage which most lends itself to interpretations which portray God as a capricious, arbitrary tyrant. This passage had long troubled me, because if “Love” has any meaning that relates to desiring the good of others, then it was hard to reconcile these interpretations with the Scripture that “God is Love”.

I have found a commentary which to me is very helpful in interpreting correctly this difficult passage. It does so by examining the context and the overall flow of what Paul is really talking about in Romans 9, which is an objection by Jews that if Paul’s gospel is true that God’s promises to the Jews have failed. Paul shows that this is not the case, and explains at least two things: viz. that God has a sovereign right to choose a people for Himself according to His choice, and that being a physical descendant of Abraham does not make you a child of God. Paul’s argument is rather complex and the passage could be interpreted in isolation to make God seem capricious, but when looked at in both the immediate context and in the broader one of Scripture, this can be seen to be false.

Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that there are things about God’s Ways which we will never understand this side of eternity. We need to make sure that we are not those who harden ourselves against God, lest we find that one day God confirms us in our hardness of heart and we no longer have any ability or desire to repent towards God. That is the ultimate tragedy for an individual, but not for God’s overall purposes. God can use even evil individuals in the unfolding of His plan. There always seem to be plenty of willing candidates for these kind of roles, sadly. God has foreseen all that would be, and He has planned in advance for us good works to do, but that DOES NOT mean that He makes all men do certain sins and harden their hearts from Him.

The commentary to which I refer is on the www.e-sword.net site is called the People’s New Testament commentary. Since it seems to be in the public domain, I will post here what is says on the relevant passages of Romans 9. I will denote quotes from this commentary by the letters ‘PNT’.

Rom 9:1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
Rom 9:2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
Rom 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
Rom 9:4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
Rom 9:5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

My comment: We can see that the context of this passage is all about a concern for Israelites. It is not a concern for individual salvation.

PNT:

I say the truth in Christ. This affirmation is made so solemn because the Jews charged Paul with having forsaken his race. He speaks as in the presence of Christ, with a conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

That I have great heaviness, etc. Not so much that his countrymen are estranged from him, as that they were without the blessing of Christ.

For I could wish myself accursed from Christ. He could wish this, if that would avail anything, to save his Jewish brethren.

Accursed. “Anathema,” in the Revision. Rejected from Christ and lost.

My brethren. His Jewish brethren, those of the same Jewish stock as himself.

Who are Israelites. He now enumerates some of the glories of the Jewish race. Jacob, their ancestor, had been called Israel (Gen_32:28) by the angel. This means a Prince with God, and this proud title was borne by his descendants.

Whose is the adoption. Six high privileges of the chosen people are named in Rom_9:4-5. They were adopted as the chosen people (Deu_7:6).

And the glory. The presence of the ark of God and the glory of the Divine Presence (1Sa_4:21).

The covenants. The covenants made with Abraham and at Sinai.

The giving of the law. The law of Moses given to the children of Israel.

And the service of God. The worship of the tabernacle and temple.

And the promises. Especially the blessed promise of Christ.

Whose are the fathers. The patriarchs and prophets.

Of whom . . . Christ came. Greatest of all, Christ, in his fleshly nature, was of their race, of the tribe of Judah, and of the seed of David.

Who is over all. See Mat_28:18. He is our King and our Judge.

God blessed forever. More than man; Divine.

Rom 9:6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
Rom 9:7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.”
Rom 9:8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
Rom 9:9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”


PNT
Rom 9:10-13

And not only this. The first argument is that the true seed are children of the promise, a spiritual seed rather than of the flesh. The second argument, now begun, is that God has the right to reject what nation he will, including the Jews, and to choose other races if he will. This is shown by facts from history. He did exercise the right of choice when he chose Jacob as the chosen nation, instead of Esau. The facts are recited to show this.

For the children. The children, yet unborn, were both Isaac’s seed according to the flesh; hence, according to the flesh, of the promised seed, and both equally without works, neither having done good nor evil.

That the purpose of God according to election might stand. That it might stand forth that he made the choice of his own will, freely. Of his own will he chose Jacob, yet unborn, to become the head of the chosen race, rather than Esau. Note that this election was not to eternal salvation, but to become the head of a people. As Moses, Samuel, and John the Baptist were raised up for a great work of God, so was Jacob.

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. See Gen_25:23. It was said to Rebecca, “Two nations are in thy womb, . . . one people shall be stronger than the other, and the elder (people) shall serve the younger” Esau never served Jacob, but the Edomites, descended from Jacob, served the Israelites. The election here is that of a race.

As it is written. In Mal_1:2-3. The language of Malachi, in its connection, shows that this is spoken of the two races. Mal_1:3 says, “I hated Esau and laid waste his mountains and his heritage.” This was not true of Esau as a person, but was true of his descendants. One race was loved and the other race hated. God has then asserted his right to freely choose or to reject races. There is not the slightest hint of electing some persons to eternal salvation and others to damnation.

Rom 9:10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
Rom 9:11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
Rom 9:12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER SHALL SERVE THE YOUNGER.”
Rom 9:13 As it is written, “JACOB I HAVE LOVED, BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED.”


Rom 9:10-13 – PNT

And not only this. The first argument is that the true seed are children of the promise, a spiritual seed rather than of the flesh. The second argument, now begun, is that God has the right to reject what nation he will, including the Jews, and to choose other races if he will. This is shown by facts from history. He did exercise the right of choice when he chose Jacob as the chosen nation, instead of Esau. The facts are recited to show this.

For the children. The children, yet unborn, were both Isaac’s seed according to the flesh; hence, according to the flesh, of the promised seed, and both equally without works, neither having done good nor evil.

That the purpose of God according to election might stand. That it might stand forth that he made the choice of his own will, freely. Of his own will he chose Jacob, yet unborn, to become the head of the chosen race, rather than Esau. Note that this election was not to eternal salvation, but to become the head of a people. As Moses, Samuel, and John the Baptist were raised up for a great work of God, so was Jacob.

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. See Gen_25:23. It was said to Rebecca, “Two nations are in thy womb, . . . one people shall be stronger than the other, and the elder (people) shall serve the younger” Esau never served Jacob, but the Edomites, descended from Jacob, served the Israelites. The election here is that of a race.

As it is written. In Mal_1:2-3. The language of Malachi, in its connection, shows that this is spoken of the two races. Mal_1:3 says, “I hated Esau and laid waste his mountains and his heritage.” This was not true of Esau as a person, but was true of his descendants. One race was loved and the other race hated. God has then asserted his right to freely choose or to reject races. There is not the slightest hint of electing some persons to eternal salvation and others to damnation.

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
Rom 9:15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOMEVER I WILL HAVE COMPASSION.”
Rom 9:16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I HAVE RAISED YOU UP, THAT I MAY SHOW MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MAY BE DECLARED IN ALL THE EARTH.”
Rom 9:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.


Rom 9:14-18 – PNT

Is there unrighteousness with God? Does not this liberty of God, in his election of races, do violence to his justice? Is it not unjust that God should choose one nation and reject another? The answer to this is now given. Paul shows that the Scriptures recognize this liberty, and these Scriptures, reverenced by the Jewish objector to whom he is writing, would not assign injustice to God. The argument is wholly scriptural.

I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy. This is in Exo_33:19, and is in answer to a request of Moses for a high privilege. The Lord grants it, not because he merits it, but of grace, because he “will be gracious to whom he willeth, and will have mercy where he will.” The passage, as applied by Paul, asserts that God favors nations according to his pleasure. He exercises free choice.

So then it is not of him that willeth. When God is gracious, it is not because a human will (him that willeth), or a human work (him that runneth) lays him under obligation, and forces him to give, but the gift is of him, due to his mercy, which he has the right to bestow where he will. Isaac willed to bestow the blessing on Esau, and the latter run to obtain the venison (Gen_27:5), but Jacob had been chosen to become the founder of the chosen people, and received the blessing, which promised that he should be the father of a great nation.

The Scripture saith to Pharaoh. Exo_9:16. It is not said that Pharaoh was born for, but was raised to the throne for a particular purpose. That purpose was that I might shew my power in thee. It is not said that God raised him up to destroy him. His power might have been shown by Pharaoh yielding to his power. Pharaoh’s conduct made it necessary to abase him. Here, again, the election is not of an individual to destruction, but of a man to be a king for a particular purpose. The destruction came upon him because, in that position, he resisted God.

Therefore hath he mercy. Rom_9:15 has shown that he hath mercy according to his own sense of right, not according to any human code. The case of Pharaoh shows, in addition, that whom he will, he hardeneth. “What must not be forgotten, and what appears distinctly, from the whole narrative in Exodus, is that Pharaoh’s hardening was at first his own act. Five times it is said of him that he himself hardened, or made heavy his heart (Exo_7:13; Exo_7:22; Exo_8:15; Exo_8:32; Exo_9:7), before the time when it is at last said that God hardened him (Exo_9:12), and even after that it is said that he hardened himself (Exo_9:34). Thus he at first closed his own heart to God’s appeals; grew harder by stubborn resistance under God’s judgments, until at last God, as a punishment for his obstinate rejection of right, gave him over to his mad folly and took away his judgment.”–Godet. At first Pharaoh hardened his own heart; God’s judgments only made it harder, and then God “gave him over.” God only made harder, by his judgments and by leaving him to his folly, one who had already hardened his own heart. That he was given over to madness is shown in the record. Even his magician said, “This is the finger of God” (Exo_8:19). He himself once said, “I have sinned; the Lord is righteous” (Exo_9:27). Had he not hardened himself again, the result would have been different. Then God gave him up to his own folly, “to hardness of heart and reprobacy of mind.” The Jews approved of all this in the case of Pharaoh, but held that God could never abandon them on account of their sinful course. Paul’s argument is, that if they, the favored people, should pursue Pharaoh’s course, they might experience Pharaoh’s fate. They, also, hardening themselves, might be “delivered over to hardness,” for God is not limited by race, or by any limitation, but hardens whom he wills. He wills to harden those who harden themselves. I have dwelt upon this passage at greater length than usual because it is so little understood. Godet well says that in this whole passage Paul is not writing theology, but answering the arrogant pretensions of Jewish Pharisaism, and hence he asserts the Divine liberty. Had he been replying to those who have exaggerated this liberty into a purely arbitrary and tyrannical will, he would have brought out the opposite side of truth.

Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
Rom 9:20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
Rom 9:21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Rom 9:22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
Rom 9:23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
Rom 9:24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?


Rom 9:19-24 – PNT

Who withstandeth his will? He now meets another objection of the Jewish adversary. If God’s will is paramount, why should he find fault, for no one nation can withstand his will. If God hardens, the nation that is hardened only submits to him. Paul does not stop to show that this objection is far-fetched, and illogical, but in substance says: “Let that be granted. Then what right has the Jewish nation to object? It is nothing but a lump of clay in the hands of the potter.”

Who art thou that repliest against God? Shall men charge God with injustice? We have no right to strive with our Maker. He has the right to declare his own conditions upon which he will have mercy.

Hath not right over the clay? So God, as far as right is involved, has the right to make of his creatures what he will. It is not said that we are as clay in the potter’s hands, but that God has the right over us that the potter has over his clay. One lump the potter can use for a splendid vase; another for a vessel for base uses.

What if God. Now if God, in the exercise of his undoubted right, has done something like this, in his dealings with the Jew and Gentile.

Willing to show his wrath. Though provoked to visit punishment on the Jewish nation for its sin in rejecting Christ, and thus to demonstrate his power, yet thus far he has endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath. The unbelieving Jewish nation, so sinful before God, yet long endured, is meant. God, in the exercise of his sovereign will, has thus far deferred the exhibition of his wrath in its destruction. This verse began with a question. It implies, If God does all this, where is the fault?

And that he might make known. “The vessels of mercy” are both Gentile and Jewish believers. What if God endured vessels fitted for destruction (Rom_9:22), was there wrong in this? What if he thus made known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, was there wrong in this?

Which he had afore prepared unto glory. The preparation referred to is not that of individuals for eternal life, but the preparation made was to save the Gentiles as well as Jews. The next verse shows what is meant.

Even us whom he hath called. He “endured the vessels of wrath” that he might make known his mercy in calling both Jews and Gentiles. The destruction of the Jewish nation, predicted by the Savior in Matt. 24, was delayed in mercy until tens of thousands of Jews, as well as of Gentiles, accepted Christ. The whole passage shows that God suffered the sins of the Jewish nation, without cutting it off, because its existence was essential in his plans for saving the world. Of it Christ came. From it the apostles were chosen. In it the church was formed, and from it went forth the gospel preachers.

Rom 9:25 As He says also in Hosea: “I WILL CALL THEM MY PEOPLE, WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, AND HER BELOVED, WHO WAS NOT BELOVED.”
Rom 9:26 “AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”
Rom 9:27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL BE AS THE SAND OF THE SEA, THE REMNANT WILL BE SAVED.

My commentary: you can see here that Paul’s concern is God’s sovereign choice in choosing a people both from the midst of physical descendants of Abraham, and from among the Gentiles.

What do YOU think?

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About Michael Fackerell

The Christian faith is about Jesus. He came to save the lost. About Jesus Christ, Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

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