What about all the blessings to the Jewish nation, then, which God has promised? Do they rightfully belong to the Jews after all? Are the Jews, then, all to be saved because of them? How can Paul affirm these promises if he still also declares that the Jews lack salvation?
But not such as that the word of God has fallen off. (9:6)
This is Paul’s first thought in answering these questions. He wants to start with the most important fact, which must be the certainty of God’s word. He will not even allow us to begin down the road of seeing falsehood in what God has spoken. He opposes that idea first and foremost, and then he will quickly come to an explanation of why God’s word remains true. But first, let’s make sure that we know that God will not be disgraced or dishonored by failing to keep His word.
This question of the failing of God’s words, His promises, His faithfulness, has been encountered a few times throughout the book already. It has been questioned as to whether God’s faithfulness would be upheld when some Jews are unfaithful (3:3). It was asked if God would be unrighteous by bringing wrath upon men (3:5). It was asserted that the gospel of forgiveness and grace to those who believe does not make God’s law of no effect (3:31). In each case, Paul strongly affirms God’s obvious righteousness through all things. His word will always be true.
And also throughout the answers to these other doubts of God’s faithfulness we find the same basic matter of explanation that will become the first point of justification here for God’s ways as well:
For not all those from Israel, these are Israel. (9:6)
Paul’s first answer in vindication of God’s dealings is to raise the question of the true identity of a Jew. He has done this before. He has already told us that the true Jew is the man who has been circumcised in heart rather than simply in the flesh (2:28-29). He has said even that the Gentile who does not have bodily circumcision will count as a circumcised Jew if he follows God’s ways (2:26). We have been shown likewise that the heirs of the promises to the father of the Jews, Abraham, are just as much the uncircumcised but believing Gentiles as the circumcised Jews who believe. They receive the promises to Abraham as well and are children of Abraham likewise with the Jews But it is necessary for the circumcised Jew not only to be circumcised like Abraham, but also to share in the faith of Abraham if he wishes to be the true seed of Abraham (4:9-17).
In understanding how God’s promises to the Jew remain true despite the fact that many Jews do not receive them, it is vital to understand the spiritual nature of what it is to be a Jew and a son and heir of Abraham. Paul has already asserted this spiritual nature of the matter in previous chapters, and we must keep this in mind as he refers to the same discussion again. This time, though, Paul is going to follow a slightly more developed line of reasoning in the matter:
Neither that all the children are Abraham’s seed, but rather, “In Isaac, a seed will be called to you.” That is, not the children of flesh, these are the children of God, but rather, the children of the promise are reckoned unto a seed. (9:7-8)
In these two verses is packed together a large amount of content. Some very important principles are here set forth by Paul. His focus is upon the nature of the actual promise given to Abraham long ago.
What did God actually promise Abraham? The Jew has long held the promise to Abraham as the basis of his security with God, but Paul is going to be demonstrating that such a view has been a terrible misunderstanding of God’s words. Paul is going to show that the word of God has not failed, but rather only the wrong twisting of that word which the Jews have long held to. Once Paul shows what the nature of the promise really was, there will be no room left for the Jewish confidence in the form it has long taken.
First, the simple fact is declared that not all those who were born as children to Abraham counted as Abraham’s seed so far as the promises were concerned. The Jew readily knew and acknowledged this, and Paul will use his agreement as he confirms his argument with some plain cases from the life of Abraham and his descendents. He has the Jew’s ready support when he assumes that Isaac, rather than Ishmael, is the chosen son of Abraham. Though Paul does not here name Ishmael, he assumes that we are familiar with the story of Isaac and Ishmael, how Ishmael was sent away so as not to inherit from Abraham along with the chosen son Isaac. Thus, though Ishmael was a son of Abraham, he was not a part of God’s promises to Abraham the way Isaac was.
Moreover, so also was the case with the choice of Jacob over Esau, and that even more clearly (v. 10-13). At least with the case of Ishmael, he was obviously lesser in standing than Isaac because he was born of a slave woman rather than from Sarah as Isaac was. With Jacob and Esau, however, both were from the beloved wife of Isaac, even being twins. And yet, Jacob was chosen, and Esau was not.
So then, if the Jew will simply think about his own beliefs, he will see that he knows that not all those born from Abraham are counted as God’s chosen people. It is not too difficult to see how this principle is true, and this opens the door for the truth that Paul asserts, that the same is true throughout the generations of Israel. Not all those who are Israel, that is, those who are able to trace their lineage back to Abraham, are actually Israel, that is, God’s true chosen people. The true Jew is of a spiritual nature.
A second aspect of this promise to Abraham that should be noted concerns the form of the contrast in Paul’s explanation. First, Paul asserts that “not all the children are seed” and that “not the children of flesh, these are the children of God.” What is the second part of these contrasts, though? Look at the form of them again. He says, “In Isaac, a seed will be called to you”; and, “The children of promise are reckoned unto a seed.”
We have already seen language about the seed before in Romans, when Paul discussed Abraham’s life at length in chapter 4 and showed how both Jew and Gentile had equal claim to be the seed of Abraham if they partook of the faith of Abraham. The promise to the seed of Abraham should not be understood in terms of a promise to the physical descendents of Abraham. This is only a partial picture that leaves much confused in the end.
There is a very rich thought from Paul that is connected to this concept of Abraham’s seed that he does not explicitly develop here. Rather, it is explicitly developed in Galatians 3:15ff. We cannot rely only upon the passage in Galatians for our understanding here, of course, because Paul surely must be expected to explain himself in this book rather than in another. But the parallels in thought between the book of Romans and the book of Galatians are at times amazingly close, as has often been noted, and the actuality is simply that something becomes explicit in Galatians that is only implicit here in Romans. Most all of what Paul says in the similar argument of Galatians is found stated also in Romans, but there is one fact that pertains closely to our discussion at the moment that is not explicit in Romans:
But to Abraham the promises were spoken, and to his seed. He does not say, “And to his seeds,” as upon many, but rather, as upon one: “And to his seed,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
Here we find a key principle in Paul’s thought that finds some significant entrance into the picture of Romans. The promise was actually to the unique one seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. And yet, we also see Paul talking, both in Romans and elsewhere, of all believers as the true seed of Abraham. This is the language we have noted in our study in Romans. What is the explanation? See what Paul says a few verses later in his discussion in Galatians:
But if you are of Christ, then you are the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
The result of this picture is in practicality the same as what we find in Romans. The seed, primarily and most properly understood, is the one man Christ Himself. We, though, who are by faith in Christ joined to Him, become partakers of the promises to that Seed, and thus we also are considered as the seed of Abraham. This is very fitting to the language we find in Romans, where we are the seed of Abraham by sharing in the faith of Abraham (chapter 4), and we are the co-heirs with Christ of all the blessings and promises given to Him (chapter 8).
Again, not all of this is spelled out plainly in Romans the way we see it in Galatians, but the basic elements of the thought can be seen clearly enough. It is well worth the reader’s small diversion of time to see how Paul spells it out explicitly in Galatians. Now let us return to the thought as we actually find it in Romans.
The contrast, then, we were noting, is not quite so simple as saying that not all the children of Abraham are sons of God but that only Isaac and His children are Sons of God. It would be easy to assume this is what Paul wants to say.
Rather, the complement of the first part is instead that through Isaac would come a seed. Some might explain the language as saying that Isaac would be the seed, and this is in one sense true, but there is more to the picture than that, which is clear in Paul’s discussion of the matter here.
If it were sufficient to say that Isaac was the chosen seed, then it would naturally follow that the sons of Isaac would all be heirs to the promises of Abraham also, regardless of what might have been the case for Ishmael and the other sons of Abraham that were not the chosen seed. However, such was not the case. Isaac’s sons also had to be distinguished from one another according to the promise of the seed, and only Jacob was chosen to continue that promise.
Was Jacob, then, the chosen seed, so that all his children are heirs of the promise? So thought the Jews, and thus counted themselves as a nation, the entirety of the offspring of Jacob, his twelve sons becoming the twelve tribes of Israel, as the chosen seed and heirs to the promise. This was not, however, the meaning of the promise. Paul is contradicting that very idea in this passage.
We know that Paul has already shown us who the true heirs of the promise are: Those who have faith in Christ. The promise to the Jewish nation had much to do with the coming of the true seed of Abraham, who was Christ Himself. Paul is demonstrating that a share in the promises to Abraham did not belong by default to the descendents of Abraham, the Jews, but rather belongs to those who are found in Christ; they alone are sure of God’s favor and blessings.
And we see actually a fairly direct hint in Paul’s thought concerning the blessings that were given to the Jews as a nation, that these blessings had an ultimate aim in the coming of Christ. Do you remember the list of blessings that Paul begins chapter 9 by naming as belonging to the Jews? What was the last and most significant of all those blessings? “From whom comes the Christ according to the flesh.” This is the climax of all the blessings belonging to the Jews. They had the privilege of being those through whom would come the great chosen Seed. Salvation was of the Jews, as Christ said.
So, then, what is the nature of the promise to Abraham that Paul is spelling out? Paul does not take the time to explain all the steps of the thought process here (as I noted, I have been filling them in somewhat more fully from Paul’s other writings, which is valuable in our attempt to understand the discussion more fully in this much disputed chapter of the Bible). The reason for this is primarily that he is more concerned at the moment with opposing a false idea than laying out the fullness of the reality in detail. He is demonstrating that the promise did not mean any such thing as a guarantee to all the sons of Abraham that they would be heirs of the promise of salvation. The promise was that a seed would be called and blessed from Abraham. That seed was not all the children of Abraham. Nor was it all the children of Isaac. Why would all the children of Jacob think it to be them by default? Paul says, “No. Not all Israel are Israel.”
There is another important emphasis that Paul begins to make in these examples of the children of Abraham and Isaac that he will elaborate upon much more in the following portion of the chapter. When he mentions the choice of Jacob over Esau as the chosen line, he emphasizes the fact of their equality, and even of Esau’s superiority as the older son:
But not only this, but rather also Rebecca having conception from one man, Isaac our father. For not yet having been born, neither having practiced anything good or evil, so that the plan of God according to choice might remain, not from works but rather from the one who calls, it was spoken to her, “The greater will serve the lesser,” just as it has been written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (9:10-13)
These two sons are no different from one another when Jacob is chosen: They have one father, one mother, unlike Isaac and Ishmael. They, in fact, are twins. They have not even been born yet, actually, and thus have done nothing in life to distinguish them. What is the point of all this? It shows that Jacob was not chosen because of his merit in any way. It is not at all the case that he has a claim upon God’s favor towards him. Remember what Paul said about Abraham in similar fashion: “If Abraham was justified by works, he has a boast” (4:2). So likewise would be the case if Jacob had been chosen because of his goodness in some way or other, but such was not the fact of the matter. Actually, there was only one mark that God saw that was a difference between these two twin sons, and that single mark actually went against Jacob, not in his favor: He was to be born as the younger. It was foretold that the younger, who should have been the subordinate of the two sons, would have ascendency over the older and thus greater son. God was demonstrating that his choice had nothing to do with Jacob’s worthiness. God was graciously granting to Jacob’s line a special favor of blessing because He willed to do so for His purposes. Jacob and His children had no right or claim to this favor. This is very important to note and serves as the focus and basis of Paul’s argument that follows:
What, then, will we say? There is not unrighteousness with God, is there? May it never be! For to Moses He says, “I will give mercy to whomsoever I give mercy, and I will give compassion to whomsoever I give compassion.” So then, not of the one who wills, nor of the one who runs, but rather of the God who gives mercy. (9:14-15)
Once again the question arises as to whether God has somehow been unfaithful and unrighteous in His word and deeds. Having given grace to the Jews, promising them many things and showing them many blessings throughout their history, making covenants with them and calling them His chosen people, if He now says that they do not have a claim upon His favor and final salvation, is this unrighteousness on God’s part?
Of course, as before, Paul quickly and dogmatically assures everyone that this cannot possibly be the case. And then he goes on to explain what is the real claim (or lack thereof) that the Jews have upon the continuing favor of God.
Paul has thus far assumed the fact that the Jews are not to receive as a people the final blessings of eternal salvation for all members of the nation. This is the cause of the grief and sadness that Paul expressed to start the chapter. Now, though, he is moving towards the explanation of the fact that God has turned away from the Jewish people. He is beginning to show in these verses that this is not contrary to God’s promises or what the Jews had a right to expect from God.
Paul begins his demonstration of this fact by recalling the statement of God to Moses concerning His mercy and compassion, that He will give it how and to whom He chooses. The original context of this statement is worth noting. It is found in Exodus 33:19. The context is that of Israel’s rebellious act of making a golden calf to worship and God’s burning wrath that follows to the point where He is ready to destroy them all and build the nation again from Moses alone.
Moses is interceding on behalf of the people, pleading with God first not to destroy them, then secondly to accompany them into the promised land as has been the expectation. In the midst of these entreaties, God gives Moses a token of His favor by showing him some of His own glory, but He also declares that His mercy and His compassion are His to give as He pleases. God listens, though, to Moses’ entreaties and restrains His wrath, not destroying the people, and does accompany them into the promised land.
Why does Paul bring this statement into the picture now in his discussion in Romans 9? There are many valuable reasons for the connection. The first point of connection is the fact that God has indeed shown mercy and compassion to Israel. What is to be understood from this grace and mercy given to them? They need to understand the fact that this is a gracious gift from God that He gives to them because of His desire to do so, not because they have earned it or have any claim upon it. We have already seen that this was true from the very start with the choice of Abraham, then of Isaac, then of Jacob. It was grace from God that He chose them, not on account of any merit of their own.
But such is very plainly the case also with the nation of Israel as a whole. In the forming of the nation, which is the context of this citation from Exodus, we see this very obviously. First, the nature of their redemption from slavery in Egypt shows that they were a small and despised and powerless people that God gave great grace to in their time of need. It is elsewhere emphasized that they were not chosen because they were the most powerful of nations, but rather, they were “the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7).
Moreover, the history of Israel was one to their shame from the very start. The story of their coming out of Egypt could hardly be more condemning to them if it were intentionally created to be so. At every step, it seems, they are rebelling against God’s will. This citation concerning God’s sovereignty in bestowing mercy is in the midst of Israel’s greatest rebellion during that time. Whatever claim to God’s mercy they might have felt they had on account of His covenant with their fathers, surely they would have to confess that they forfeited all such claims when they so flagrantly rebelled against the law that God had given them. Now, while God is fuming in anger against their rebellion, they have no claim at all to God’s mercy. If He shows them mercy, it will be purely from His good and gracious will to do so. It is not because of any claim that they have upon God.
Israel should remember this before taking a position that God would be unrighteous not to grant them eternal favor as a nation. The Jew is reminded of it here by Paul. In light of the fact that God is turning away from working through the Jewish nation and blessing them as a nation, Paul asserts that what mercy and compassion they did receive from God for so long was not promised to them as their right, but granted to them for a time out of God’s grace. They cannot complain at all if later He turns to another plan.
Paul next supports the principle that he is here laying forth with an interesting and unexpected parallel situation, that of Pharaoh:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “Unto this very purpose I raised you out, so that I might demonstrate in you My power and so that My name might be declared in all the earth.” So then, whom He wills, He shows mercy, but whom He wills, He hardens. (9:17-18)
What was the nature of God’s dealings with Pharaoh? They illustrate very well the principles which Paul is explaining to us concerning God’s granting or withholding of mercy as He sees fit. First of all, God exalted Pharaoh and gave him much glory and power and honor on the earth. He blessed him and showed him mercy. Egypt was raised to prosperity for a long time upon the earth. Why? God had an important purpose for it all. Then, when the time was right, God took away that glory and destroyed the nation of Egypt. Pharaoh was hardened against the truth, and his heart would not be humbled to honor God.
This is not the way it had always gone with the Pharaoh of Egypt. Though Pharaoh had not given up his gods and pagan ways, he had in the days of Jacob and Joseph honored God and His people in the land of Egypt. They had been blessed for it. Now, however, God did not allow that to be the case, but instead worked in such a way that Pharaoh was hardened. At that point, God’s judgment came upon the nation of Egypt, and it was largely destroyed. What was God’s purpose in all of this? He was accomplishing the glory of His own name. He was demonstrating His power and declaring His name in all the earth. He used Egypt in honor for a time for the sake of His purpose. Then, when it better suited His plan, the time came when He cast Egypt down to the dust. His glory can be accomplished in either way, and He knows what is the best use of each nation. God has ever done as He pleased among the nations of mankind, humbling one nation and raising another to power, only in turn to humble likewise that nation also by yet another. He is always working to accomplish His purpose and His glory.
Such was also God’s way with Israel. For many long generations, God blessed Israel and protected them and preserved them. Why? Because they were faithful to Him? Sadly not, as we know. The truth is that they proved during the time of the Exodus to be equally rebellious as Pharaoh himself was. Why, then, was Pharaoh humbled and destroyed while the people of Israel were not at that time, but were preserved and shown mercy? It was all for the better accomplishment of God’s glory and purposes. He had a plan. Israel was upheld for its long history in order that He might accomplish it, not because they deserved it and had a claim upon God. He made that clear from the start, when He decided not to destroy the nation immediately for their rebellion. This was the appeal of Moses at that time, that God ought not do so because the nations all around would hear of it and God’s glory in their eyes would be diminished. For this reason of protecting His own glory, He showed mercy.
And so it always was in the history of Israel. When God showed mercy to them in their rebellion, it was on account of His own glory that He did so. Israel had no claim upon Him any more than Pharaoh had so long ago. God was free to raise Pharaoh up despite his arrogance against Him, showing mercy to him, or He was free to cast Pharaoh down because of that rebellious heart. Whichever better suited His purposes, He chose to do. So likewise with Israel at this time.
Is God free to do this? Paul allows that question to be raised, but He allows no doubt as to the answer of that question nor either to the real right of it to be asked:
O man, on the contrary, who are you who answers back against God? The thing molded will not say to the one molding, “Why did you make me thus?”, will he? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump on the one hand a vessel unto honor, but on the other hand that which is unto dishonor? But if God, willing to show wrath and to make known His power, with much patience bore vessels of wrath prepared unto destruction, and so that He might make known the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand unto glory? (9:20-23)
We should understand here what Paul is referring to in the first place without too much difficulty. Here is Israel being set aside and brought out of their place of honor unto dishonor, and they are complaining against God for it that it is unjust and unfair. Paul rebukes them sharply and tells them that the potter has the right to choose what sort of vessel he will make. If God determined long ago to bless Israel though they were in no way deserving of it, surely also He can now remove them from their place of honor and privilege as He sees fit. They are at His disposal in the fulfillment of His plan for mankind, His plan for His glory upon this earth.
Though Paul does not even here mention the fact, their complaint is made all the more empty by the fact of their terrible rebelliousness against Him through so many ages. Paul has emphasized their lack of claim to merit in regards to God’s choice, and this is important in seeing their lack of claim to a continued place of honor. He has alluded also to their idol worship at the very outset of their history as a nation, but he has not yet laid to their charge the fact of their national hardness of heart through many generations against God. That charge will soon be coming, though.
At the present, however, whether they had been rebellious or faithful would not have mattered, in one sense. God might just as well have wisely chosen to turn away from the Jewish nation and to another nation for the simple fact that it served His purposes better to do so. If the Jew is honest and fair, he will see that God passed over all other nations and assigned them all a place outside of the highest honor when He chose them as His own possession as a nation. Why did Esau not receive that blessing? Was it because of his unfaithfulness? No, but simply because it was God’s plan to choose the younger and demonstrate His grace in such a way to the one without claim to honor. Esau had neither a claim to God’s gracious choice of honor, nor a just complaint when his brother Jacob was chosen instead. Neither has Israel a claim or a complaint when God does likewise with them.
One point of explanation that Paul indicates as a factor in the perceived aggrievement of Israel is the long time of blessing that God allowed them despite their unworthiness. He says that God bore with much patience those vessels that were prepared unto destruction. Has this not long been a source of difficulty for man in understanding God’s ways? When sinful men are not punished immediately, God’s ways are often hard to understand, His wisdom hard to see. Had God removed Israel from His sight in wrathful destruction at the moment when they rejected His covenant with them and worshiped the golden calf, who would ever have thought God unrighteous and unfaithful to do so? But He did not act in this way. He allowed them many generations more of His favor. He bore with them through many long years of rebellion against Him. He certainly was angry with them and wanted to pour out His wrath upon them from that first rebellion, but He instead bore with them. Only after His purposes of redemption in Christ had been fulfilled did He finally send His wrath upon them and remove them from before Him, turning to the Gentiles.
Why did He work this way? Why did He postpone His wrath so long and bear with these vessels fit for destruction through so many years? This was the way in which He would be able best to show grace to those who were prepared instead for honor. The unworthy vessels of dishonor received many blessings as God withheld His wrath on account of the vessels of honor.
All of this picture is such a fitting application of the principles of the gospel that Paul has already laid out in earlier chapters. Do you remember how Paul explained the fact that God’s wrath has been against rebellious mankind ever since the start, but that He had “overlooked” the rebellion and sin for many generations until it was finally demonstrated in the death of His own Son, Jesus? Then, at that point, it was finally seen and understood for what it was. So is the same idea here applied to God’s dealings with Israel. God had overlooked their rebellion, so to speak, for many generations until His purposes were finally seen and understood in Christ. It was not that He was not angry with them and wanting to punish their sin; He was. But the time was not right until He had accomplished His purposes in Christ.
And in all of this, just as Paul distinguished from the start between “Israel” and “Israel,” so we must also learn to distinguish God’s dealings with the nation as a whole from those faithful individuals within the nation who were the true spiritual seed of Abraham. Just as God had every right to choose between Jacob and Esau, or Israel and Egypt, and decide how to deal with each nation according to His own glory, so also He knows wisely and justly how to distinguish within Israel between those who were worthy vessels and those who were not. As God sets aside the many vessels of wrath found within Israel that had only received a period of reprieve on account of God’s will to bring glory to the vessels of honor, He will not deal with the nation in lump-sum fashion, but rather will so wisely and ably provide a way for the true spiritual seed to remain in honor and receive salvation while the unworthy vessels of dishonor are brought low and receive wrath. God knows how to distinguish between the two types of vessels and He has the authority to do so. And, if it need be said, He will do so justly.
This distinction within Israel between those who are vessels of honor and those who are vessels fit for dishonor is the heart of this chapter. Paul from the start has been explaining that not all Israel are Israel and showing how God has dealt with Israel in both senses. God had indeed blessed the whole of the nation (“Israel” in one sense) for many generations, though not because they have deserved it at all. Now, however, the time has come when we will see the distinction between the faithful and believing sons and heirs of Abraham (“Israel” in the true and spiritual sense) and those who are sons only in the fleshly and carnal sense, rebellious against the true spirit of their father.
As God sets aside the nation as a whole, it is not as if He sets aside the true sons who are true Jews. As often we have seen, Paul has in a mind a point that he later will explicitly discuss (in chapter 11), that God has not fully cast away His people Israel. There is salvation for the true Jew despite the setting aside of the nation as a whole. Paul makes clear that God’s plan brings glory to those vessels prepared for glory.
And who are those vessels? They are named by Paul as coming from both the Jews and the Gentiles:
Vessels of mercy which He prepared unto glory, us whom He called, not only from the Jews, but rather also from the Gentiles. (9:23-24)
These vessels of mercy and glory, then, are both Jews and Gentiles, as Paul has constantly been saying throughout the book. Those Jews who expected only that all their nation would receive God’s mercy and salvation forever had not well understood God’s promises and ways at all. So it always is with the carnal mind, thinking according to the flesh, unable (because unwilling) to please God or understand His ways aright.
The last major proof that Paul undertakes in this chapter is to show plainly from the Old Testament Scriptures themselves that such is what the Jewish nation ought to have known was coming. The prophecies concerning the nation’s future made it plain enough what was going to take place.
First, Hosea tells us:
I will call this which is not My people, “My people,” and the one not beloved, “beloved.” And it will be in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people,” there they will be called sons of the Living God. (9:25-26)
This passage in Hosea richly fits the point Paul is here making. The whole passage in that great prophet deals with the rejection of Israel that God foretells. They are being cast aside and no longer are His people. But that is not where the story ends, for He also foretells the making of a new covenant, and the calling again of His beloved to Himself. Once fully understood, we see that the Gentiles are also here in view as those who were not God’s people being called His people. The Jews are sent away and become as the Gentiles, but then all these nations who are not God’s people, Jew and Gentile alike, are given grace to become His beloved together once more. Such is the hope and promise given both to rejected Israel and to the Gentile nations.
Concerning Israel, Paul refers to the prophet Isaiah. In two passages from that prophet, Paul shows that the fate of Israel is to have but a small number, a remnant, a seed, who will be saved out of vast multitudes that might be found in the nation:
If the number of the sons of Israel should be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. (9:27)
Except the Lord of Hosts had left off to us a seed, as Sodom we had become and as Gomorrah we had become likened. (9:29)
So then, the Gentiles have the promised hope that those who are not His people will one day be called sons of God. And His people Israel must recognize the foretold fate that only a small number of their multitude will be saved.
Paul has made these facts clear, both by explaining the true nature of the initial promises to Israel, distinguishing between “Israel” and “Israel,” and by showing the clear promises and declarations in the prophets concerning these matters. Now Paul is ready to show just how all of these unexpected changes are to take effect. How will this come about? It is something very unexpected, something marvelous in men’s eyes. It is contrary to what the natural flesh feels should be expected:
What, then, will we say? That the Gentiles who were not pursuing righteousness, laid hold of righteousness, but a righteousness from faith, but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive unto the law. Because of what? Because not from faith, but rather, as from works. They stumbled on the stone of stumbling, just as it has been written: “Behold, I set in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and the one who believes upon it will not be put to shame.” (9:30-33)
What is the cause of these unexpected dealings with the Jews and Gentiles? It is the gospel of righteousness from faith, apart from a law of works. The nature of salvation as Paul has explained it through the first eight chapters is the key to understanding the large picture of God’s dealings with mankind. Only by this gospel of faith will God’s promises and dealings with Israel make any sense. Only by this gospel key will we be able to understand God’s ways with them. But once that gospel has been rightly understood, all of the results for Israel and the Gentiles will become necessary results. This is the way it must be. God is accomplishing what was a mystery to us. And His ways are good and full of wisdom.
Paul will now turn and explain just how exactly the gospel of faith results in this separation of Jew from Jew and the uniting of the remnant of believing Jews with believing Gentiles into one body of salvation as God’s people. We are seeing now the great unfolding of God’s greatest mysteries of salvation among men. We are seeing the wisdom of God as revealed to men. It is indeed glorious to understand. May we appreciate these wise plans of God and praise Him as we ought!