Commentary

 

9:1-5. By repetition in positive and negative terms (internally attested by the witness of his own conscience [cf. comments on 2:15] in the presence of the Holy Spirit) Paul affirmed his deep anguish of heart over the rejection of the gospel by the vast majority of Jews. His desire for their salvation was so strong that he was at the point of wishing (imperf. tense, I could wish) that he were cursed and cut off from Christ for his kinsmen, the Israelites.

Paul then listed seven spiritual privileges which belonged to the people of Israel as God’s chosen nation: the adoption as sons (cf. Ex. 4:22), the divine glory (cf. Ex. 16:10; 24:17; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11), the covenants (Gen. 15:18; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Jer. 31:31-34), the receiving of the Law (Deut. 5:1-22), the temple worship (latreia, “sacred service,” which may also include service in the tabernacle), and the promises (esp. of the coming Messiah). Also the Israelites were in the line of promise from its beginning in the patriarchs (cf. Matt. 1:1-16; Rom. 1:3) to its fulfillment in the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. This is a clear affirmation of the deity of Messiah. Some take these words as a separate sentence (see niv marg.), but the NIV text seems preferable.

2.     the choice illustrated (9:6-18).

a.     Isaac over Ishmael (9:6-9).

9:6-9. The failure of the Jews to respond to the gospel of Christ did not mean God’s Word had failed. Instead this rejection was simply the current example of the principle of God’s sovereign choice established in the Old Testament. Paul reminded his readers of a truth he had presented earlier: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel, that is, spiritual Israel (cf. 2:28-29).

Then Paul gave three Old Testament illustrations of God’s sovereignty (Isaac and Ishmael, 9:7b-9; Jacob and Esau, vv. 10-13; and Pharaoh, vv. 14-18). The first two show that God made a sovereign choice among the physical descendants of Abraham in establishing the spiritual line of promise. Ishmael, born to Hagar (Gen. 16)—and the six sons of Keturah as well (Gen. 25:1-4)—were Abraham’s descendants (sperma), but they were not counted as Abraham’s children (tekna, “born ones”) in the line of promise. Instead, as God told Abraham (Gen. 21:12), It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned (lit., “in Isaac seed [sperma] will be called to you”). Paul repeated the principle for emphasis in different words: It is not the natural children (lit., “the born ones of the flesh”) who are God’s children (tekna, “born ones of God”), but it is the children (tekna) of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring (sperma). To be a physical descendant of Abraham is not enough; one must be chosen by God (cf. “chosen” in Rom. 8:33) and must believe in Him (4:3, 22-24). God’s assurance that the promise would come through Isaac, not Ishmael, was given to Abraham: At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son (a somewhat free quotation of Gen. 18:10 from the LXX).

b.     Jacob over Esau (9:10-13).

9:10-13. The second Old Testament illustration of God’s sovereign choice is drawn from the second generation of Jewish ancestry. Apparently God purposed to establish this principle clearly at the beginning of His relationship with His Chosen People. This illustration emphasizes God’s sovereignty even more than the first since it involves God’s choice of one twin over another. (In the case of Abraham’s sons, God chose the child of one woman over the child of another woman.) In addition, in the case of Rebecca’s children God’s choice was indicated before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad. This demonstrated that God’s sovereign choice was not by works, even foreseen works, but by Him who calls (cf. “called” in 1:6; 8:28, 30). God’s plan (8:28; 9:11), and not man’s works (4:2-6), is the basis of His election. Rebecca was informed, The older will serve the younger (cf. Gen. 25:23), a divine choice confirmed by God’s declaration, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (cf. Mal. 1:2-3). Esau, the older, did not actually serve Jacob, his younger twin; but Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, did (cf. 1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 22:47; 2 Kings 14:7). God’s “love” for Jacob was revealed in His choice of Jacob and God’s “hatred” for Esau was seen in His rejecting Esau for the line of promise. Hatred in this sense is not absolute but relative to a higher choice (cf. Matt. 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25).

c.     Pharaoh (9:14-18).

9:14-18. With the words, What then shall we say? (cf. 4:1; 6:1; 8:31) Paul introduced the question undoubtedly in his readers’ minds, Is God unjust in choosing Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau? The Greek negative particle (m?) with a question implies a negative response. Paul responded in his usual emphatic way, Not at all! (m? genoito; cf. comments on 3:4) The issue in such matters is not justice but sovereign decision, as God’s word to Moses (Ex. 33:19) quoted by Paul indicates. As the sovereign God, He has the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses. In fact, He is not under obligation to extend mercy to anyone. Therefore experiencing His mercy does not . . . depend on man’s desire (lit., “the one willing”) or effort (lit., “the one running”). No one deserves or can earn His mercy.

The Apostle Paul then presented his third illustration, the Egyptian Pharaoh of the Exodus. To him God said through Moses, I raised you up (i.e., brought you onto the scene of history) to display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth (cf. Ex. 9:16). God’s power (cf. Rom. 9:22) was demonstrated as He freed the Israelites from under Pharaoh’s hand. And other nations heard about it and were awed (Ex. 15:14-16; Josh. 2:10-11; 9:9; 1 Sam. 4:8). It is significant that Paul introduced this quotation with the words, For the Scripture says, for he equated the words of God with the words of Scripture. Paul concluded, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy (cf. Rom. 9:15) and He hardens whom He wants to harden (“make stubborn”; cf. Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:27; 14:4, 8; cf. 14:17). Because of God’s choice, Pharaoh then hardened his own heart (Ex. 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35). All this shows that God chooses and works sovereignly, but not arbitrarily. Yet Pharaoh was responsible for his actions.

3.     the choice explained (9:19-29).

9:19-21. Once again Paul anticipated the questioning response of his readers: Then why does God still blame us? (The Gr. word trans. “then” probably goes with the preceding statement rather than this question, though this also makes good sense.) For who resists (perf. tense, “has taken and continues to take a stand against”) His will? (boul?mati, “deliberate purpose”) These questions are still raised by those who reject the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty. If God makes the choices, how can He hold man responsible? Who can go against what He does?

In response Paul reaffirmed the reality of God’s sovereignty and the effrontery of such questions. But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? (cf. Isa. 45:9) Man, the created one, has no right to question God, the Creator. Paul then quoted a clause from Isaiah 29:16: Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, Why did You make me like this? Drawing an analogy between the sovereign Creator and a potter, Paul asked, Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes (lit., “one vessel [pot or vase] unto honor”) and some for common use? (lit., “unto dishonor”) Obviously a potter from the same pile takes some clay to form a finely shaped and decorated vase and takes other clay to make a cooking pot (cf. Jer. 18:4-6). And the clay has no right to complain! The sovereign Creator has the same authority over His creatures, especially in light of man’s origin from dust (Gen. 2:7).

9:22-26. Having stated that God is like a potter, Paul now applied this illustration to God’s sovereign purpose for different people. He stated the two alternatives as conditional clauses (What if. . . ?) and left unstated the obvious common conclusion: Does not God have that right? The one alternative is that God . . . bore with great patience (cf. 2 Peter 3:9) the objects (lit., “vessels”; cf. Rom. 9:21) of His wrathprepared for destruction (ap?leian, “ruin”). The perfect participle “prepared” describes past action with a continuing result or state. “Prepared” may be reflexive (“prepared themselves”), but it seems preferable to take it as passive (“were prepared”). The thought is that they have been and are in a state of readiness or ripeness to receive God’s wrath. The objects of God’s wrath are the unsaved (1:18), who will suffer eternal judgment (John 3:36). God has patiently endured their antagonism to Him (cf. Acts 14:16; Rom. 3:25), but their judgment is coming. Those who oppose Him and refuse to turn to Him (Matt. 23:37) are then “prepared” by Him for condemnation. They are “storing up [God’s] wrath” against themselves (Rom. 2:5). In hell they will experience His wrath, and His power will be made known (cf. 9:17). God does not delight in wrath, and He did not choose some people to go to hell. Choosing (v. 22) should be rendered “willing.” Some are prepared by God for eternal judgment not because He delights to do so, but because of their sin. In view of their sin, which makes them “ripe” for destruction, God is willing to exhibit His wrath, and He will do so at the proper time.

The other alternative relates to God’s dealings with the objects (lit., “vessels”; cf. v. 21) of His mercy. God chose them as such in order to make the riches of His glory known and He prepared them in advance for glory (cf. 8:29-31; Col. 1:27; 3:4). The verb “He prepared in advance” (Rom. 9:23) is pro?toimasen, “He made ready beforehand,” which God does by bestowing salvation. (The word “prepared” in v. 22 is kat?rtismena, “are made or prepared or ripened.”)

Up to this point Paul had been speaking conditionally and objectively, but in verse 24 he was more direct—even us—because he and his readers were some of the vessels of mercy sovereignly chosen by God. God not only chose them but He also called them, including Jews and Gentiles. The point is that God’s sovereign choice was manifested not only in the Jews’ ancestry (in Isaac and Jacob, vv. 6-13), but also in Paul’s generation and today. To back up his conclusion and particularly the part about Gentiles, Paul quoted two verses from Hosea (2:23; 1:10). God directed Hosea to give his children symbolic names—one son Lo-Ammi (not my people) and the daughter Lo-Ruhamah (not . . . loved). These represented God’s abandonment of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrian Captivity and Exile (Hosea 1:2-9).

God was not permanently casting away the people of Israel, however. In the verses quoted by Paul God promised to restore them as His beloved and as His people. By ethnic heritage the Gentiles were not God’s people, so Paul was led by the Spirit of God to apply these verses to Gentiles—and Jews also—who were sovereignly chosen by God and called to be His people in Christ. The quotation of Hosea 2:23 is rather free with the order of the clauses reversed to fit the application to Gentiles. Paul was applying these verses from Hosea to the Gentiles, not reinterpreting them. He was not saying that Israel of the Old Testament is part of the church.

9:27-29. Here Paul quoted Old Testament verses to support the fact that God in His sovereign choice and calling always includes a Jewish segment, though it is a minority. The passages quoted (Isa. 10:22-23 and 1:9, both from the LXX) make it clear that in God’s judgment on rebellious Israel He by sovereign choice preserves and saves a remnant. Those promises were fulfilled in the Captivity and Exile of both Israel and Judah and in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and will also be fulfilled in the national end-time deliverance of Israel (Rom. 11:26-27). Even today the same principle is true. Jews who become members of the church, the body of Christ, are what Paul later called “a remnant chosen by grace” (11:5), which included himself (11:1).

B.     God’s sovereign choice applied (9:30-10:21).

1.     israel’s stumbling (9:30-10:4).

9:30-33. Once again Paul asked his familiar rhetorical question, What then shall we say? (cf. 4:1; 6:1; 8:31; 9:14) preparatory to his summation of this situation. His identification of the Gentiles (lit., “the nations”) as the ones who have obtained . . . a righteousness that is by (ek, “out from”) faith is interesting. As Paul stated later, the church included Jewish as well as Gentile believers (11:1-5), but by the time of Paul’s third missionary journey the increasing rejection of the gospel by the Jews and the predominance of Gentiles in the church led the apostle to speak of “the Gentiles” as antithetical to Israel. The latter pursued (“kept on pursuing”) a Law of righteousness, but has not attained it. “A Law of righteousness” refers to the Mosaic Law (cf. 7:7, 12, 14). To seek to attain righteousness by observing the Law requires that it be kept perfectly (cf. James 2:10). Why did Israel not attain it? Because they pursued it not by (ek, “out from”) faith but as if it were by (ek, “out from”) works. The Israelites did not admit their inability to keep the Law perfectly and turn by faith to God for forgiveness. Instead a few of them kept trying to keep the Law by their own efforts. Consequently they stumbled (cf. Rom. 11:11) over the “stumbling Stone.” The Lord Jesus Christ, “the stumbling Stone” (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-8), did not conform to the Jews’ expectations, so they rejected Him instead of responding to Him by faith. To show that God anticipated this, Paul quoted from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 (cf. Rom. 10:11), combining the two statements to indicate the two contrasting reactions by men to the Stone that God placed in Zion (cf. “Zion” in 11:26).

10:1-4. Having stated the fact of Israel’s stumbling in the preceding verses, Paul now explained the reason for that stumbling. But first, in words reminiscent of the opening verses of chapter 9, the apostle expressed his deep personal spiritual burden for the salvation of the people of Israel. Perhaps with his own experience in mind (cf. Acts 26:11; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:4-6) Paul affirmed, For I can testify (pres. tense, “I testify, bear witness”) about them that they are zealous for God. Israel was called “the God-intoxicated people.” Paul had to acknowledge, however, that their zeal is not based on (lit., “according to”) knowledge (epign?sin, “intensive, full knowledge”). The Jews obviously had knowledge of God but not full knowledge. Otherwise they would not have stumbled over Christ by seeking to gain righteousness on the basis of works.

Paul continued his explanation of Israel’s failure and their misguided zeal. Since they did not know (the participle agnoountes means “being ignorant,” here in the sense of not understanding) the righteousness that comes from God. The NIV implies that the people of Israel did not understand the God-provided righteousness expounded in this letter to the Christians in Rome (cf. Rom. 1:17). That may be true, even though they should have known from their own Scriptures (cf. Gen. 15:6; Ps. 32:1-2). But here preferably the righteousness in view is the righteousness God requires for people to be accepted by Him, which is God’s own infinite righteousness. The Jews did not really understand God’s own infinite righteousness, which is why they were continuing to seek to establish their own (cf. Isa. 64:6). Little wonder then that they did not submit to (“place themselves under”) God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness God provides through Christ by faith. The Greek in Romans 10:4 includes the coordinating particle gar, “for” (not trans. in the niv). It introduces a statement that is crucial to Paul’s explanation of Israel’s stumbling—Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. The word translated “end” (telos) stands in the emphatic first position in the Greek sentence. It means that Christ is the designed end (termination) or Purpose-Goal of the Law (cf. Gal. 3:24), the Object to which the Law pointed.

The Law did not and could not of itself provide righteousness before God for individuals (cf. Rom. 3:20; 7:7). But Christ fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17-18) by keeping it perfectly during His sinless life (cf. John 8:46) and then gave His life in payment for the penalty of sin and the broken Law (cf. Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:13-14). The Law then pointed to Him as the Source of the God-provided righteousness it could not supply (Gal. 3:24). A godly Jew who trusted Yahweh and followed the Levitical system, including the sin offering and the trespass offering, would most likely be inclined to respond to Christ by faith and would receive God’s righteousness (i.e., be justified; Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:24; 4:3, 5). He then could meet the requirements of the Law by the indwelling Holy Spirit (8:4). Conversely, a Jew who sought by works to establish his own righteousness would not recognize Christ as “the end of the Law” and would stumble over Him.

2.     god’s gracious offer (10:5-15).

10:5-8. In presenting God’s gracious offer of salvation in Christ and the provision of righteousness by faith, Paul first stated the contrast of the by-works approach to achieving righteousness. He wrote, Moses describes (lit., “writes”) the righteousness that is by the Law. Then Paul quoted Leviticus 18:5, The man who does these things will live by them. If a Jew were to receive righteousness by keeping the demands of the Law, that would be human achievement; it would not be from God. However, a Jew would need to keep the entire Law perfectly all his life—an impossible task (James 2:10). But then Paul also quoted Moses in support of his righteousness-by-faith position centered in Christ as “the end of the Law” and the means by which righteousness is available for everyone who believes. It does not seem appropriate that Paul was merely borrowing Moses’ words and applying them to something foreign in Moses’ thought. This suggests, then, that righteousness . . . by faith is not a new concept, but had been proclaimed to Israel by Moses.

The material Paul quoted in Romans 10:6-8 is taken somewhat freely from Deuteronomy 30:12-14 with clauses quoted here and there. The material in Deuteronomy was part of Moses’ charge to the generation of Israel about to enter the land of Canaan. This exhortation was the conclusion of Moses’ prophetic description of God’s dealing with Israel. Blessing was promised for faith and obedience, and chastisement would result from rejection and disobedience. If Israel forsook God, Moses said, she would face worldwide dispersion and affliction. When the people then finally do turn to God in faith, He will restore them to blessing, prosperity, and prominence among the nations (Deut. 30:1-10). The point of Moses’ exhortation (Deut. 30:11) is that the generation to whom he was speaking had the message (it was very near you and in your mouth, Deut. 30:14) and could respond by faith (in your heart, Deut. 30:14) and walk with God in obedience. Since the Israelites in Moses’ day had the message, they did not need to ask that it be brought down from heaven or that someone “cross the sea to get it” (Deut. 30:13). Instead, the word (Moses’ instructions) was “near” them (Deut. 30:14).

In effect, Paul indicated that the same truth applied to his generation, with the added fact that Christ had come in the flesh (John 1:14) and had been resurrected. Therefore there was no need for anyone to ask to bring Christ down (in His Incarnation) or to bring Christ up from the dead; He had already come and had been resurrected. The message of righteousness by faith in Paul’s day was “near” his readers (available to them) and this was “the word” (rh?ma, “saying”) of faith he was proclaiming (rh?ma, “the spoken word” is also used in Eph. 5:26; 6:17; 1 Peter 1:25). Thus the gospel, “the word of faith,” is available and accessible.

10:9-13. In these verses Paul stated the content of that message concerning faith. Confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord is mentioned first to conform to the order of the quotation from Deuteronomy 30:14 in Romans 10:8. The confession is an acknowledgement that God has been incarnated in Jesus (cf. v. 6), that Jesus Christ is God. Also essential is heart-faith that God raised Him from the dead (cf. v. 7). The result is salvation. The true order is given in verse 10: For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified (lit., “it is believed unto righteousness”), and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (lit., “it is confessed unto salvation”). Yet these are not two separate steps to salvation. They are chronologically together. Salvation comes through acknowledging to God that Christ is God and believing in Him.

Paul then (v. 11) supported his position by requoting part of Isaiah 28:16 (cf. Rom. 9:33), adding the Greek word translated everyone. God responds with the gift of provided righteousness to each individual who believes. Then Paul reminded his readers of God’s impartiality, as he did when discussing human sinfulness (3:22). Just as all who sin will be judged, so all who believe will be saved and richly blessed. This conclusion also is supported by a quotation from Joel 2:32: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. To call on the Lord means to pray in faith for salvation. (On the significance of the “name,” see comments on Acts 3:16.)

10:14-15. After proclaiming God’s gracious offer in Christ, Paul confronted the natural questions that arise, each additional question building on the key verb from the preceding question. God’s promise of salvation to “everyone who calls” on Him (v. 13) begins the process. How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? Previously, to call on the Lord was equated with trusting Him or believing in Him (cf. vv. 11 and 13), but here it follows the believing. When one believes in Christ, he “calls” on Him. Believing, in turn, is based on hearing, and hearing is based on someone preaching . . . and how can they preach unless they are sent? (Since the Gr. word k?ryss?, “preach,” means “to be a herald, to announce,” it is not limited to proclamation from a pulpit.) Carrying God’s gracious offer involves human beings whom God has brought to Himself and then uses as His heralds. They share God’s message of salvation because He will save everyone who calls on His name. Paul quoted from Isaiah 52:7 concerning the eagerness of the bearers of good news. Those who bear it have beautiful . . . feet, that is, their message is welcome. In Isaiah 52:7 the messenger announced to Judah that God had ended their Exile in Babylon (cf. Isa. 40:9-11). But Paul applied Isaiah 52:7 to the Jews of his day to whom the gospel was being given.

3.     israel’s rejection (10:16-21).

10:16-18. Paul had made it clear that God’s gracious offer of righteousness by faith was given to all, Jews and Gentiles alike (cf. v. 12). His focus in this chapter, however, has been on the people of Israel and their response to that offer (cf. v. 1). Therefore when he wrote, But not all the Israelites (the Gr. text simply says “all”) accepted the good news, he obviously had in mind the Jews’ failure to respond. (“Accepted” translates hyp?kousan, a compound of the verb “to hear.” It means “to hear with a positive response,” and so “to obey, to submit to.”) This is borne out by Paul’s confirming quotation of Isaiah 53:1: Lord, who has believed our message? This failure of the Jews to respond to the good news was true in Jesus’ days on earth (John 12:37-41) and in Paul’s day as well. However, the indefinite “all” of the Greek text (Rom. 10:16) is appropriate, because the response to the gospel among the Gentiles was also far less than total. Paul explained, Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message (lit., “is out from hearing”; cf. v. 14) and the message is heard through the word of Christ (lit., “and the hearing is through the saying [rh?matos; cf. v. 17] concerning Christ”). The Greek word ako? (“hearing”) can mean the thing heard (the message; v. 16) or the act or sense of hearing (v. 17).

Someone, however, might insist that the Jews were not given adequate opportunity to hear the message. So, Paul said, But I ask (“say”), Did they not hear? He then quoted Psalm 19:4, concerning God’s general revelation in the cosmic heavens (cf. Rom. 1:18-20). However, that psalm also discusses God’s special revelation in the Old Testament (Ps. 19:7-11). Paul’s obvious answer to his question is that Israel had ample opportunity by both general and special revelation to respond to God. Certainly she heard.

10:19-21. With these verses the argument takes a turn. The apostle anticipated another objection. Someone might argue, “Yes, Israel heard but she did not understand that God purposed to offer righteousness by faith to all mankind, including Gentiles.” So Paul wrote, Again I ask (lit., “But I say”), did Israel not understand? (egn?, “know”) His answer this time was from two Old Testament quotations, one as early as Moses (Deut. 32:21) and the second by Isaiah (Isa. 65:1). Both Old Testament leaders wrote about God’s turning to the Gentiles, whom the Jews thought had no understanding (asynet?, “senseless”; cf. Rom. 1:21, 31). And yet concerning Israel, God has been gracious in spite of her disobedience (a quotation of Isa. 65:2). Israel’s continuing rebellious and unbelieving disobedience was judged by God’s turning to the Gentiles (Rom. 10:20; cf. Acts 8:1-8, 10). At the same time God has not withheld salvation from Jews. He has held out His hands, imploring them to return to Him.

C.     God’s sovereign choice fulfilled (chap. 11).

To this point in this major section of Romans (chaps. 9-11) God’s personal righteousness and His provided righteousness for people has been displayed primarily in Israel’s rejecting Christ and rebelling against God, and in God’s choosing and turning to Gentiles in grace. These themes continue in this chapter, but God’s sovereign choice also involves His restoring Israel and His being magnified thereby.

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