Romans Chapter 9 - An In-Depth, Non-Calvinist Interpretation
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Romans 9 is one of the most fiercely debated passages of scripture. Before we begin let me say that sometimes when iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17) there are sparks, and that's ok. One thing I want us to have in mind is if there is a disagreement among Christians over Romans 9 then it's a family quarrel. It's ok to object to one another's view points but it's not ok to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We ARE permitted to judge the path (1 Thess. 5:21, Matt. 7:5, 1 John 4:1, 2 Cor. 10:5)  but we are NOT permitted to judge the person (Matt 7:1, Rom. 14:4).


Unless you're a Jew investigating the claims of Christ or a Christian investigating the claims of Calvinism, Romans 9 - 11 doesn't often garnish much attention. By those not in either of these groups Romans 9 - 11 is often seen as a parenthetical section of scripture plopped down in the middle of Paul's letter, almost as if out of place. I would argue it's not and it's relevant to the rest of his letter and would challenge us gentiles to re-read the letter of Romans as if you were a Jew and consider how as a Jew you might interpret Paul's writings. From such a perspective I believe Romans 9 - 11 fit right in to the rest of Romans.


Some have a difficult time understanding this section of Romans and that's ok. Peter even said some content in Paul's letters is hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). Unfortunately though many come into these verses with presuppositions reading into scripture what isn't there or twisting what is there. Many will take these verses out of context missing the reality that the original letter of Romans was written by Paul and sent in it's entirety, without chapter or verse breaks, to an audience consisting of both Jews and Gentiles whom, unlike us, didn't have the New Testament but were well acquainted with the Old Testament. Even the gentiles of that time who were mixing with the Jewish people likely had some understanding as we see with the woman at the well (John 4:9) and other scriptures.


The "Romans Road" through Gentile eyes is often seen for the good news it is, but the foundation of this road is what we would now call the Old Testament. Romans is NOT preaching a new religion but rather he is walking us through verse after verse from the old testament and enlightening all (it's obvious in his letter that he has both Jews and Gentiles in mind as recipients) on how the good news of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of those Old Testament prophecies and has always been God's plan. In fact, if you read the Old Testament pretending you don't know Jesus is the Messiah, much of the Old Testament simply doesn't make sense. It's important to Paul and the Holy Spirit that these New Testament teachings are Old Testament truths. Paul and his fellow Jews were very well acquainted with the Old Testament writings and the fact he's been bringing these up throughout Romans testifies that He had his fellow kinsmen in mind among the recipients. Many Christians today simply are not familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, at least not to start. As gentiles we often start out in the New Testament and try and see how the Old Testament fits in. The Jews were grounded in the Old Testament and had been for sometime and now Paul is showing them how the New Testament fits in and that it's not a new idea but an old idea that's been part of the plan all along.


On that note, imagine Paul who was a devout Jew, being so familiar with the old testament and now, having his eyes opened to what scripture was saying all this time and seeing with his own eyes how Christ has fulfilled them. Imagine then how compelled he must have been for his fellow kinsmen that they may see what he sees, after all, who doesn't want to share good news?


Paul, in Romans, often quotes the Old Testament without referencing it. It's like if we were wanting to encourage another believer and said to them something like "all fall short of the glory of God" and you both start nodding in agreement. You're not necessarily teaching them a new thing but having made the assumption they know it already you seek to remind them of it's current life application. Paul is doing the same thing for his anticipated recipients of his letter. When Paul speaks of the potter and the clay his verbiage matches that of Jeremiah 18 and Isaiah 29:16 though he makes no reference to either as many of those teachings would have been common knowledge to the Jews.


Paul, with wisdom from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has an understanding to many questions that have been raised and you see him walk through what we now call the book of Romans addressing many anticipated (and current) objections he perceives the recipient may have, especially in light of what has already been written and declared by God in the Old Testament. Therefore Romans is heavy laden throughout with Old Testament references. Often Paul will state a paradox between the understanding of those in his day and the gospel, then proposes a question, then answer his own question to show it is indeed NOT a paradox pulling from scripture Old Testament truths that have been saying this the whole time. So many times you see Paul anticipate objections from his recipients (often ones he intentionally provokes them too) given that he was aware of their current errant understanding of the Holy Scriptures and therefore he preemptively addresses them while simultaneously sharing the gospel. Paul, in sharing the good news that is applicable to both Jew and Gentile is also walking his kinsmen through the Old Testament so they may reconcile the gospel with the scriptures they were already familiar with.


When Paul starts in Romans 1:16 he states the gospel is the power of God for EVERYONE who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek and repeats that phrase again twice in Romans 2:8-11. As Gentiles we read "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" and we pass right over it maybe not understanding the full implications of it. When Paul says "to the Jew first and also of the Greek" instead of saying a blanket catch-all term such as "everyone" or "us all" or "the world" he is doing so because he wants to deliberately and specifically point out the inclusion of not only the Jews but the Gentiles (Greeks) too. A phrase that would have given a Jew a cause for pause and to seek clarification.


If that weren't enough Paul continues in Romans 2:28-29 saying a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly by way of circumcision (representing the law) but a true Jew is one who is so inwardly by the work of the Spirit. In Chapter 3 Paul shows us in the Old Testament how the law doesn't vindicate us but shows us our need for Christ. In Romans 4 Paul testifies that salvation by faith is an old testament reality, how Abraham and David were both saved by faith again quoting old testament passages to support these claims. In Chapter 5 Paul is connecting Christ to Adam, something obvious to us in hindsight but would be a new revelation of old testament truths for his fellow kinsmen. As gentiles sharing Jesus to other gentiles we likely wouldn't be sharing this connection with old testament truths but this was paramount to the Jew. In chapters 6 - 8 Paul shows us the law, grace, the Spirit and how all that intersects to each other and how that's always been God's intention. Now Romans 9 through 11 Paul is dealing with any remaining unresolved issues and questions that may still exist in the minds of those rooted in the Old Testament. Questions like, "If Jesus is the Messiah, why hasn't all of Israel accepted Him?", "What is God's ultimate plan through this?" and the like.


One mistake made by many of the Jews in Jesus's time was they made what Jesus was doing all about their earthly kingdom. After Jesus fed the 5000 they said "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world" and they tried to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:14-15). After the crucifixion before Jesus ascended they asked Him if it was at that time Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Now Jesus will do this and will fulfill those prophecies, but the mistake they made is making it all about that thus missing out what Jesus was doing here; that Jesus was giving them forgiveness, that Jesus was giving them salvation.


One mistake we can make today is making Romans 9 all about salvation and not realizing much of it has to do with God's promises to Israel. There is a ton in the Old Testament that God has told Israel. If Paul is going to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of these things then he's challenged with the task of showing how they connect. Paul is so diligent and thorough with these passages because he is so passionate for his kinsmen (v1-3, Rom. 10:1, Acts 28:23), all through the leading of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21). We see this same passion in Acts 28 when Paul arrives at Rome (Acts 28:14) which in the letter to the Romans he made mention of his longing to come see them (Rom. 15:23), and once there he summons his kinsmen and hears from them that this new "sect" (i.e. Christianity) is being spoken of in their circles negatively (Acts 28:22). However they opt to not listen to those who are speaking ill of it and decide to hear from Paul direct. So a large number of them meet Paul at his lodging and Paul walks them through scripture after scripture from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from early until late in the evening trying to persuade them (Acts 28:22-23). Take a look:


20 For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” 21 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”

23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. 25 And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,

Go to this people and say,
You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
27 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] - Acts 22:20-28


Notice Paul was "testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus" citing largely the Law of Moses and out of the Prophets (Acts 28:23). Therefore we need to be careful to not read Romans 9 assuming every verse is about individual salvation as some error in doing but realize much of it is about the kingdom of God, the coming of the Messiah, the inclusion of the Gentiles, the partial hardening of Israel, and their resistance to believe (the very same things Paul dealt with above). And as you see in verse 25 and 29 above, this content is difficult for the Israelite and it's acceptance for them isn't easy, so Paul strikes hard through Romans 9 (much like he did in Romans 1-3) using their own scriptures heavily to affirm the validity of what he's saying, not with the intent to offend them but with the intent to persuade them.


We're about to go on that same journey. As we do this, I would encourage you to consider these things from the point of a Jew. In so doing you may see the frustrations that Paul knew he'd be dealing with before he even entered Rome. In fact, it's estimated that Paul's letter to the Romans was written 3 years before he actually arrived there. What's wonderful is because we have Paul's letter we're about to go through in Romans 9 through 11 what I suspect is largely what Paul did in person for his kinsmen as recorded in Acts 28 above. I once heard a pastor say he'd give up his entire seminary training to be in the room with Paul that day (Acts 28:23). Well good news! I believe we, at least in part, are about to!


1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, - Romans 9:1


Paul starts out Romans 9 almost defensively as he reaffirms that he is not lying, that he is telling the truth in the Messiah, that both his conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm the validity of what he is saying. As a Gentile we may be puzzled that Paul starts out this chapter defensively but understanding the objections being raised in the mind of the Jews and the dispute Paul is likely anticipating from his kinsmen, much like he experienced first hand when arriving at Rome (Acts 28:25,29), it's to be expected. Paul's preaching the gospel is upsetting what they've always (incorrectly) known to be true and this new "sect" preaching the Gospel is largely being rejected in Jewish circles (Acts 28:22). Some may be wondering if Paul has left Judaism altogether, abandoning it for this "new religion" which claims not only inclusion of the Gentiles by faith, but exclusion of the Israelites for lack thereof. If that wasn't bad enough, Paul is claiming this has been God's plan, God's purpose, and God's promise all along thus upsetting their misplaced beliefs which Paul is about to dissect. So Paul, while shaking the foundation of their beliefs, affirms to them that his love for his fellow Jew has in no way diminished, but rather it is out of love that Paul is compelled.


that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, - Romans 9:2-3


Question to ponder: What is Paul's heart toward his fellow kinsmen who are not saved and does it reflect your heart toward those in your life who are not saved?


Follow up question: Does Paul's heart here reflect the heart of God?


Answer: If your answer is no, may I challenge you with a follow up question; Does Paul care more about the lost than God? When Paul writes about having "great sorrow and unceasing grief" over them is Paul in error or does he hurt more than God over the lost? Does God not care about them as much as Paul? Absurd! I would argue the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes! (Isa. 53:10, Matt. 26:39, 42, 44, 1 Cor. 11:1, John 3:16-17, Rom. 5:5-8, 1 John 4:8, 16, 19). I ask this because many enter this chapter having made the error that Romans 9 is all about salvation and in so doing they conclude that God doesn't want all men saved. This is an absurd notion and largely in conflict with what the bible says about God and God's desire for all to be saved (Eze. 18:23, 32, Isa. 53:6, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, 4:10, Titus 2:11, Luke 15:7, John 1:7, 9, 3:16, 12:2, Heb. 2:9, Luke 2:10, Acts 3:26, 10:34-35, 17:30, 1 John 2:2, 4:10).


who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. - Romans 9:4-5


Paul, in reflecting what he said earlier in Romans 3:1-2, acknowledges God's word to the Israelites and affirms it's validity and does so in detail naming seven things which belonged to them through that high position (again without quoting each old testament verse assuming if his reader has an objection then that same reader would have common knowledge of these Old Testament scriptures). Paul who has been contending for the gospel is equally contending that the Old Testament attested to it as being the plan all along. Therefore Paul doesn't dodge God's word but rather fully acknowledges it and enters into it which again is why Romans is so heavily laden with Old Testament passages.


"To whom belongs the adoption as sons" God adopted the nation of Israel. In Exodus 4:22 the Lord said to Pharoah 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is My son, My firstborn." Israel had a national relationship with God. "The glory" Israel was the nation where God placed His glory in their temple and likewise in the temple of Jerusalem after it was built. God also led the Israelites by His glory in the pillar and by the glory in the cloud which covered the tabernacle. "The covenants" God made the covenant with Abraham which circumcision was meant to be a sign of, that Abraham and his descendants would be blessed and that the world would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3, 22:18), ultimately referring to Christ (Gal. 3:16). There was the Mosaic covenant which was the giving of the Law. There is also the New Covenant God recorded in Jer. 31 which Jesus fulfilled (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25) which Paul is arguing is for them, remember "to the Jew first and then also the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). The Gentiles are brought in through extension but this covenant was made to Israel. "The giving of the law" the Law was intended for good and was meant to result in life (Rom. 7:10, 12), and therefore it was a blessing to Israel. No other nation was given the law so as to protect them. "The temple service" this term "service" also means worship. Israelites were blessed by being permitted to worship before God and serve Him in a way that would be pleasing to Him. "Promises" this is a blanket term covering the many things God promised to Israel. Interestingly these covenants and promises were given to the Israelites but not for those blessings to remain only with the Israelites, that is, those who are Israelites according to the flesh.


But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; - Romans 9:6


Question: Who would most likely be prone to thinking the word of God has failed here, a Jew or a Gentile and why?


Answer: A Jew, since the gentile would have no reason to feel the word of God has failed having not had that word previously. Paul is addressing Jewish readers.


Jews may be struggling at this point as to why not all of Israel has accepted Jesus if He is indeed the Messiah, in their minds if Jesus is the Messiah then the promises made to Israel who has largely rejected Jesus have fell flat. Paul is arguing that is NOT the case as if God has changed and that His promises are no good or have come to an end. Paul after affirming these promises then shifts the readers gaze not on the promises, but rather on who is the true benefactor of these promises and then proceeds to show them exactly who that is according to the Old Testament teachings by first ruling out who it is not.


nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” - Romans 9:7


"Through Isaac your descendants will be named". This rules out claiming Abraham as their father as a right of passage as many were doing in those days (John 8:39, Luke 3:8). Abraham had another son Ishmael and when Sarah died and Abraham remarried he had 6 other boys (Gen. 25:1-2). The Jews knew it was through Isaac that the descendants would be named so to credit Abraham's fleshly lineage would likewise credit Ishmael and Abraham's other sons to be included which they are not. To make the claim of Abraham is to say the promise through Isaac is made void. Paul in quoting God's promise to Abraham is showing that not everyone who is born in Abraham's lineage are descendants thus reaffirming his claim that not all are Israel who are descendants according to the flesh because God elected it by way of promise to be through Isaac.


That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” - Romans 9:8-9


Paul is making it clear that it is not children who are children of Israel according to the flesh but they are children who are so according to the promise which was first made to Abraham. Israel was a nation; Paul is showing here that this promise wasn't applicable to the nation of Israel as a whole as many Jews then and even today believe. Rather Paul shows them this ancient truth can be verified from what is written in the OT when it writes "through Isaac your descendants shall be named" thus disqualifying the nation of Israel as a whole according to their genetics. Therefore a Jew, even according to their own teachings, cannot claim their lineage as a qualifier of salvation and that's Paul's point here, that it's not according to the flesh but it's according to the promise.


Question: A question that may creep up as you learn this is, could genetics play a part if the lineage was through Isaac? We're clear now that it's not about being linked to Abraham but could it be about genetics if you're linked to Isaac? What about those who are descended from that lineage? Paul continues...


10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” - Romans 9:10-12


"And not only this" in other words in the same way it wasn't according to genetics with Abraham, neither is it with Isaac and his wife Rebekah's kids Jacob & Esau. Rebekah was pregnant with twins who hadn't even been born yet, and God said the younger of the two, Jacob, was chosen (or elected) even before birth which tells you that the promise is not a birthright through Isaac's descendants either. If that were the case then the promise would have applied to both twins but as it were it was only established from Isaac to Jacob and therefore not by fleshly inheritance but by God's choice.


The word "choice" here in the NASB is seen in some translations such as the ESV as "election". This is not the same as the Calvinist doctrine of election but rather it means choice or as the original Greek word "eklogé" used here it means "a selection".


Paul often speaks in tough love and will hammer points home. First showing lineage to Abraham is debunked and now in like fashion showing lineage to Isaac is debunked. "not yet born and had not done anything good or bad". Paul is now driving home his points made back in Romans 2 - 4, which he revisits in the verses to come, namely that it's also not on the basis of works as the twins had not yet even been born therefore they could not have been qualified by doing something good nor disqualified by doing something bad as there hasn't yet been such opportunity for them. Paul continues holding to the Old Testament teaching that it is by God's choice, God's promise, and not by our lineage nor by our performance or lack thereof.


Question: Are Romans 9 verses 10 - 12 about salvation? Was "election" or "choice" here about salvation?


Answer: No. If they are about salvation then we'd have to conclude that God is choosing Jacob's descendants to be saved and Esau's descendants to be condemned, the very notion that Paul just spent the first 12 verses defusing. As gentiles we often make everything about salvation, here is not about salvation but about the carriers of the promise. In other words if God was speaking of electing individuals to heaven or hell then nobody in Esau's lineage made it and everyone in Jacob's lineage did. This is about God's election of Jacob to establish His new covenant which Jesus is the fulfillment of (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25). Jesus's mission was often about salvation and we as gentiles see that and wear those glasses as we read other verses and we come to Romans 9 with our presuppositions making it the same thing. It's not. Right now Paul is arguing that promise is according to God's choice and he's debunking those that may think it's by lineage or by works. So as we continue understand these verses are not about salvation but rather God's election in bringing about the Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16).


"So that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls," God is seeing to it that His purpose would stand contingent on none other than His choice. Can you imagine if this wasn't the case? What if God's purpose was contingent on something outside Himself? Paul just debunked it being contingent on lineage or works, but imagine if it was? Scary thought isn't it. Fortunately God is in control.


Many mistakenly believe God's sovereignty means He controls everything, but this is in error. Yes God has full sovereignty and therefore He is fully in control, but this does not mean He fully controls everything. God does determine things, but does that mean God determines everything? He has the power to, He has the right to, He has the ability to, but I would argue it's not in His heart to. Excuse my crude analogy here but it's like me parking my truck in the middle of my yard in the presence of the many ants I see when I'm working out there. Now in terms of me among the ants, if I determine to park my truck somewhere like in the middle of my yard, can they do anything to stop me? No. They aren't smart enough nor are they strong enough. "But Ryan, (as I can hear the gears turning in your head) they could build an ant pile so large that you couldn't park your truck there?" Do I not have the power to overcome such an ant pile... have they met my flame thrower and bulldozer attributes :). Like God stopped the tower of babel and scattered and confused the people, I could do away with this ant pile and scatter the ants. What I am getting at here is, if I determine to park my truck in the middle of my yard, the ants cannot stop me. Does that mean the ants don't have freedom? Of course not. They can still crawl all around the yard, gather their food, build their tunnels, they can even crawl on the truck, but can they stop me from doing what I determine to do among them? No. So it is with us and God. The only thing that could stop God or sway God from carrying out His purpose is... God. But this particular promise to Abraham was of utmost importance to God, in fact, when God made it He swore by the highest power there could be, Himself (Hebrews 6:13-14). God determined to carry out this promise and swore by Himself to do it. Nothing was going to sway this.


Does that mean mankind doesn't have freedom? No. Since Adam and Eve man has had freedom but always with the reality that God is on the throne. Fortunately, God's purpose was too important to Him to allow it to be contingent on those freedoms so God elects here to exercise His "throne rights" to see to it this particular choice cannot be thwarted. In fact, God choosing to exercise His throne rights actually testifies to the freedom of man. If every work was meticulously controlled by God then He could have ensured His purpose would stand even if it were according to works since man would merely be puppets and their every move orchestrated by Him.


Paul argued a similar point earlier in Romans 4:16:


For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, - Romans 4:16


In otherwords, the reason we're saved by faith is specifically so the accomplishment of our salvation rests entirely in God's hands ("in accordance with grace"). Since this is the reality of it, the promise is a guarantee (there's the word "promise" again). Faith means God does 100% of the saving. Because of this, we can't screw it up.


Point to ponder: Next time someone asks you why are we saved by faith, your response should be something like "so it may be in accordance with grace". For more on this see our study here.


Establishing a way of salvation and carrying it out was to important to God to allow it to rest in the hands of men. Because it rests on God, and solely because God is ensuring His purpose stands, the promise can be a guarantee as Romans 4:16 states, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. I've often heard bosses say when something is extra important to them, "I will see to this personally". Because of God's purpose it was said "the older will serve the younger". God overruled the normal order of things specifically so ensure His purpose would stand as confirmed in the verse preceding. This boss is seeing to this personally.


Next we'll get into the things that are often the crux of the heated debates starting with verse 13.

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13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” - Romans 9:13


This is where people start getting hung up, especially if this verse is taken out of context so if you haven't already please first read through our study on the first twelve verses of Romans 9. Taking things out of context is dangerous. I once saw a picture of a baby done up so angel like with a ribbon and a card hooked to the ribbon that read "all these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me - Matthew 4:9". That may sound nice except that if you read that verse in context it's actually Satan speaking to Jesus when he is tempting Him. Context is important.


This verse in isolation has caused people to conjure up some pretty horrific ideas regarding God. I've heard some explain this as God chose Jacob to save unto eternal life and Esau to be a reprobate destined for eternal punishment and this is simply how God chose it and there's nothing you can do about it, it's a done deal. The problem is this does not line up with the rest of scripture nor the character of God (or we can argue once again that Paul [v1-3] cared more, and even the angels cared more [Luke 15:7]). It doesn't even fit in with the rest of Romans. Romans 1:20 for example shows that men have a responsibility (response-ability) with their knowledge of God. This is why "they are without excuse" as it says. Esau, if he had no responsibility would have a pretty darn good excuse. Remember Paul's heart at the beginning of this chapter and how it reflected that of God's? That hasn't changed. God still takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather they repent and live (Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11). So then what do we make of this verse and those that follow.


First, let me point out that the word "hate" here is Strong's 3404 "misei" and is the same exact word used in Luke 14:26 when Jesus says if anyone does not hate his own father, mother, children, brother's or sisters, and even their own wife, then they are disqualified from being a disciple.


Question: Does God really want us to hate our family and even our wives?


Answer: No, he does not. In fact, in Ephesians 5:25-33 we are instructed to love our wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.


Is God contradicting Himself? Not at all. God is not a god of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). I think it's safe to assume it's not God but rather us who are lacking understanding. Like Peter said, some things that Paul wrote are "hard to understand" and some who are "untaught and unstable distort" them (2 Pet. 3:16).


So what do we make of what Paul is saying here in verse 13 similarly to what Christ is saying in Luke 14:26? The definition of misei used in both instances means to "properly, to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another." Interestingly, the word used for love here in verse 13 is "agapao" which means "properly, to prefer, to love, for the believer, preferring to "live through Christ" i.e. embracing God's will (choosing His choices) and obeying them through His power. Agapao preeminently refers to what God prefers as He "is love"". What Jesus is saying in Luke 14:26 is if anyone picks their family over God then such a person is not worthy to be a disciple. In Romans 9:13 God is saying He preferred or "elected" Jacob over Esau.


Why did God do this with Jacob and Esau? "so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls," (v12). This is good news for us Gentiles and not bad news in any way! If God had made election to be according to lineage or according to works us Gentiles would be sunk. Actually, it's good news for the Jews also. If election had been according to lineage, most of them would be sunk, if it had been according to works all of them would have been sunk, so the fact that the promises come by way of grace (Rom. 4:16) means it's available to Jews and Gentiles alike.


Paul is quoting Mal. 1:2-3 from the old testament and the same Hebrew words for love and hate found in Mal. 1:2-3 are also found in Genesis 29:30-31 where Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Both were loved, but one was preferred over the other. The word for hate then isn't describing Jacob as wanting to utterly destroy Leah and ruin her in every possible way, nor did he want to condemn and torment Leah for all eternity. Rather he loved Leah but his choice was Rachel.


In modern English we don't use the words love and hate in those ways. For us they are opposite ends of the spectrum but it was not this way in these uses of it. If you turn to Malachi chapter 1 which Paul is quoting, Malachi actually defines what is meant here by love and hate in reference to Jacob and Esau as Paul has quoted. In verse 1 we see the message is to Israel, this time it's the last book in the old testament and includes the entire nation of Israel. In verse 2 he says "I have loved you". The Lord is saying to the nation of Israel, that is, the nation of Israel who has descended from Jacob that He has loved them. The nation replies "In what way have You loved us? (v2) So then God replies, ok, I'll show you how I have loved you.


Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” - Malachi 1:2b-4


So all that to show that God's selection here in Romans 9:13 is a corporate selection to the nation of Israel in contrast to the nation of Edom. It's not a salvific selection between the individuals of Jacob and Esau, but as we can see here in Mal. 1:1-5 as well as the actual verses Paul is referring to (Gen. 25:23) it's in reference to the two nations, not the individuals themselves. Here is the OT verse Paul is referencing:


23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.” - Genesis 25:23 (emphasis mine)


Paul often quotes just the pivotal part of these stories as if the reader need not be caught up on them in their entirety but just needing their focus drawn to a specific point. I would encourage you to take a look at Romans 9:11-13 in other translations such as MSG or TLB which expound on this section in Romans well.


In short, God picked one over the other. It's not a salvific issue nor does it contend with the character of God as seen in Jesus (Matt. 11:29, Heb. 1:3, John 14:9), creation (Rom. 1:20), and the rest of scripture. 1 John 4:8,16 both testify that "God is love", it's a core characteristic of who He is. God loves naturally; love comes naturally to Him. This is attested to earlier by Paul in Romans 5:8 when He says that God demonstrated His love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Jesus commands us to love God, love our families, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even our enemies.


Question: Would God command you to love someone He does not?


Answer: No. But rather when God calls you to love your enemy in Luke 6:35 he states in doing so you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. If God didn't love His enemies then none of us would have had a chance for it was while we were enemies we were reconciled through the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10).


But wait Ryan, Psalms 7:11 says God is righteously indignant every day and Psalm 5:5 state He hates all who do iniquity. I would ask then can you both love your child and hate your child at the same time? If you have two children and one murders the other, can you not feel a mix of complex feelings? This may fall into what we would call a "love-hate relationship". God is quite complex, if our feelings can be complex it should be no surprise that His can be too. Mark 3:5 records Jesus in the same verse feeling both angry at the Pharisees and grieved at their hardness of heart, so yes God can have complex feelings.


Along those lines I would argue that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. Hate I believe actually testifies to the presence of love because hate is invoked when something loved is adversely affected.


14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! - Romans 9:14


Does the boss not have a right to micromanage the employees? See the previous study on the first part of Romans 9 in regards to God exercising His "Throne Rights" in order to see to it His purpose was not thwarted. Now Paul is arguing the right of God to intervene with His creation any way He wants too. Few people will argue God's right to intervene, quarrels start when we debate God's purpose for intervening which we'll get into later. Paul here is showing that God in no way violates what is just by intervening however He pleases. In the previous study we used the boss/employee relationship to describe this. If an owner hires employees to run his store, and some work the produce department, some work the dairy, and some work the register, does not the boss have a right over who works where? Does not the boss have a right to intervene in whatever you are doing? If you are stacking apples and normally you only go 4 apples high which isn't easy as apples like to roll off of tables, but then the boss comes by and tells you to stack them 20 high or your fired, does he not have the right? Yes we can argue if that was nice or not and we can argue if the boss is mean or not, but is the boss being unjust? No he is perfectly within his rights to make that request and he has every right to fire you with or without reason so the fact he gave you a ridiculous reason is irrelevant to whether or not it was just.


15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” - Romans 9:15


God is completely free and justified to have mercy and compassion on whomever He wants, being under no obligation either way. This is a half-empty/half-full type of verse. If you feel God is wrathful (Matt. 25:24) this may be a terrifying verse. If you feel God is one who loves to give grace (John 1:14, 3:17, Luke 12:32) this may be a cause of joy in your heart. Jonah, knowing God was "gracious and compassionate", "slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness", "and one who relents concerning calamity" fled to Tarshish in order to not deliver God's invitation to Nineveh to repent and receive His mercy (Jonah 1:2-3, 4:2) because Jonah didn't want God to forgive them (Jonah 4:1). The fact God is free to have mercy and compassion is good news because He wants too (Isa. 30:18, 53:10, Heb. 12:2).


16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. - Romans 9:16


I would argue that the crux of the many debates regarding Romans 9 rests on what is defined as "it" here. Some see "it" being an individual case-by-case salvation issue thus reading these verses as God unconditionally electing some for salvation and therefore also doing what's called double-predestination in that by electing some for salvation He's equally (deliberately or by omission) electing some for condemnation. The theology of Calvinism rests on this very notion. The problem is this creates a conflict of paramount importance that would describe God contrary to how He's been made known in the rest of scripture. Even well known Calvinists haven't been able to reconcile this conflict often citing Romans 9:20 as a cop-out. While I agree that God is never required to explain Himself, that often He meets us on our level like He did with Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11) and invites us to come and reason together (Isa. 1:18, Prov. 20:25). I believe the Bible is God meeting us on our level.


If "it" means God elects every individual apart from their response and therefore whomever He chooses is unconditionally, irresistibly saved and whomever He doesn't choose, or chooses for hell is unconditionally, irresistibly condemned then much of scripture is found to be in conflict with "it". Men many times have thwarted the will of God in regards to salvation. John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Rom. 10:21,  Acts 7:51, 2 Peter 2:1, Luke 7:30, to name a few.


Let me rabbit trail on this for a moment,


If "it" is in reference to individual salvation you would have to conclude God doesn't want to save everyone which is contrary to scripture (Gen. 12:3, Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 4:10, Titus 2:11, John 1:7, Heb. 2:9, Acts 3:26, 15:17, Luke 2:10, 6:35, 15:7, 19:10). You would have to conclude that God doesn't love everyone which is contrary to scripture (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 4:10). You would have to conclude that God wants to condemn people which is contrary to scripture (John 3:17, Eze. 18:23, 32, 33:11), you would have to conclude that God is only putting on a show by drawing all men to Himself (John 1:9, 12:32, 16:8), given they don't have any real option. You would have to conclude that man has no responsibility, literally that man has no response-ability, as in man cannot respond to the gospel which is contrary to scripture (John 1:12, John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Luke 11:9-13, Acts 7:51, Rev. 3:20, John 4:10, Rom. 1:18-20, 10:12-13, 10:21). You would have to conclude that God is double-tongued (1 Tim. 3:8) on one hand, inviting men to repentance (Acts 17:30, 1 Cor. 14:21), but on the other secretly preventing them from doing so. You would have to conclude that God always gets His way among men which is contrary to scripture (John 5:39-40, Luke 13:34, Rom. 10:21,  Acts 7:51, 2 Peter 2:1, Luke 7:30).


And these are just primary points. If you were willing to make the above conclusions then there are a bunch of secondary points you have to manipulate to fit into you theology. You would have to diminish God's love and explain God's motivation to be for another reason such as His glory as to why He gives people life that He may condemn them. You would have to argue that man doesn't have freewill which is contrary to scripture (1 Cor. 7:37, 7:39, John 7:17, 2 Cor. 8:3, Phile. 1:14, Deut. 30:19, Gen. 2:16-17). You would have to conclude that Christ didn't die for the sins of all men but only for those whom God chose to pay the penalty for which is contrary to scripture (1 John 2:2, 1 Tim. 4:10, 2:5-6, John 1:29, 3:16-17, 6:33, 6:51, Heb. 2:9, Rom. 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:18-19). You would have to conclude that God wanted man to sin, not only in the garden with Adam and Eve but with each individual today which again is contrary to scripture (Ecc. 7:29, Jam. 1:13-15, 1 John 2:16, Rom. 1:30, Gen. 1:27, Matt. 25:41). You would have to conclude that the enemy, Satan, hasn't been given an allotted measure of freedom (Job 1:7) but rather he is just doing God's bidding (Matt. 13:19). You would have to conclude that Hell was designed for man per God's plan from the beginning which is contrary to scripture (Matt. 25:41).


For "it" to refer to individual salvation there are many more disturbing conclusions, manipulations, and distortions of scripture that would have to be made as well but I feel we've hammered this pretty good.


So back on track to Romans 9:16 and what does "it" mean if it's not a salvific issue. I believe what fits best as "it" both in what Paul has been speaking of thus far as well as in the verses to come (not to mention the rest of scripture we just covered) is that "it" refers to the fulfillment of God's promise. "It" refers to something much larger than our individual salvation and that's God seeing to it that His purpose, which will be elaborated on in the next two chapters, is not thwarted based on man's zeal, efforts (Rom. 10:2), or lack thereof. The promise depends on our merciful God, not on the faithfulness ("willing and running") of man. Abraham "willed and ran" in the flesh to produce a son through Hagar and pleaded with God that God would recognize Ishmael as the promised one (Gen. 17:18), but God chose to not allow His promise to hinge on Abraham's willing and running but maintained it according to His mercy and continued as He elected to (Gen. 17:19), thus providing Isaac through Sarah.


So what is the promise? This is something the Jews would have already been familiar with but us Gentiles not as readily. The promise is God's word (God's word and God's promise are synonymous [Rom. 3:4]). This promise was first given to Abraham (Gen. 22:16-18, Rom. 9:9) and continued to Rebekah (Gen. 25:23, Rom. 9:10), and the Substance of this promise was to Abraham's Seed which Paul makes very clear in Galatians is Jesus Christ.


14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. - Galatians 3:14-18


What Paul wrote above to the Galatians He has been walking through more in depth here in Romans, citing specifics, walking through more in detail how God did it, and meeting us in the OT truths many of the Jews would have already been familiar with (and therefore often leaving out lengthy back story).


How does one partake in this promise? Paul continues later in that same chapter of Galatians:


26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. - Galatians 3:26-29 (emphasis mine)


How does one belong to Christ and therefore become a true descendant of Abraham? "through faith in Christ Jesus." But I am getting ahead of our study; Paul is getting to that near the end of this chapter.


17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” - Romans 9:17


Pharaoh was raised up for what purpose? To demonstrate God's power and that God's name would be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. Paul is showing us how God intervened in order to ensure His purpose stands, in this case, using Pharaoh in order to further the word of God throughout the whole earth (bringing about the Passover and even Rahab, a gentile, was evangelized by the plagues sent against Pharoah [Josh. 2:9-13] Rahab who later we discover in the genealogy of Jesus ([Matt. 1:5]). This isn't an individual salvific issue but rather God seeing to it His word does not fail even if the Israelites enter into unbelief. Before Moses went to Pharaoh he first went to the Israelites and proclaimed good news, but the Israelites did not believe him (Exo. 6:9).


"Raised you up". Many with presuppositions take this to mean God created (gave life to) Pharaoh with this intent but that term does not mean that. In fact, if you read this verse in other versions of the bible it states "Made you king" (TLB, ERV, etc). Paul tells us later that God is the one who establishes governing authorities (Rom. 13:1).


18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:18


Jews would have likely agreed with Paul when he spoke of God hardening Pharaoh, what's clever here is that If the Jews agree that God hardened Pharaoh for His purpose, couldn't He also harden the Jews for His purpose? They would have to agree, or at least they have no solid argument. This is why I believe Paul follows up with what He said of Pharaoh with verse 18 above that God can do whatever He wants to whomever He wants. Jews were okay when God chose Pharaoh for His purpose, but now, in understanding that God did that with Pharaoh they must come to terms that God is allowed to do that with anyone which means to them too.


The Hebrew word for hardened regarding Pharaoh in Exodus 7:22 & 9:12 means "made firm" (Strong's 2388). If you look at the OT accounts of Pharaoh you will see that Pharaoh was already rebellious and with him God had much patience, but ultimately as Pharaoh didn't want to yield to God, therefore God "made firm" his position and used Pharaoh in another way that furthered the knowledge of God throughout the whole world (and we're still reading that account today, so it worked). Pharaoh wasn't created for rebellion (Ecc. 7:29, 1 John 2:16, Jam. 1:13-15, Gen. 1:27, Matt. 25:41) but after Pharaoh, many times hardening his own heart (cf. Exo. 7:3 where God had not yet hardened Pharaoh's heart but Pharaoh's heart already, through the natural consequences of sin was hardening [Exo. 7:22], until Pharaoh ended up intentionally hardening his own heart [Exo. 8:15]). Therefore God made firm him in his desired state and raised him up for another purpose. God had much patience with Pharaoh as amazingly he does with vessels of wrath as we'll cover in verses 22-23 to come.


God not only harden Pharaoh's heart but He did so in that of Pharaoh's servants (Exo. 10:1). This is what is known as a "judicial hardening" which could be defined as "God's sinless use of sinful actions." Pharaoh and the Egyptions had already hardened their hearts (1 Sam. 6:6). Judicial hardening is often blinding an already rebellious person in their rebellion (Matt. 4:11-12, Rom. 11:8, Acts 28:26-27, 1 Sam. 6:6) so as to prevent their repentance for a time. We'll see in the coming chapters/studies that God does likewise in part to Israel. As God took opportunity with Pharaoh to spread His word, God likewise hardens the Israelites (Rom. 11:7-10) so that Gentiles could be grafted in (Rom. 11:11). Did God intentionally break off the Israelites from the Vine so that Gentiles could be grafted in? Absurd! Read what Paul concludes later in Romans 11:


19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. - Romans 11:19-23 (emphasis mine).


God made firm their standpoint of unbelief so that the Gentiles could be grafted in. If He hadn't done so, Christ would not have been crucified by them and the gentiles would remain lost.


22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. - Acts 2:22-23


Understanding Romans 9 within it's context of the entire letter of Romans is crucial in both the previous chapters and those that follow. This is no small task for Paul to explain, yet he desires us to be informed of God's plan in this mystery (Rom. 11:25). God has allowed Israel to be partially hardened "made firm" in their rebellion with a greater redemptive purpose in mind, even with the view of redemption for those once judicially hardened (Rom. 11:11, 23, 26, 32).


Consider Professor Leighton Flowers analogies of judicial hardening1:


Analogy #1: "When a police officer sets up a speed trap he has one ultimate desire: to stop speeders for the safety of all. However, by hiding the truth of his presence he is ensuring that those who want to speed will continue to do so. Thus, in one sense he wants the speeders to continue to speed so as to catch them speeding, but his ultimate purpose is the same: to stop speeders for the safety of all. The police officer does not determine the speeders desire to speed in any way, he simply hides the truth so as to ensure the speeder will continue to speed, something they have contra-causally chosen to do."


Analogy #2: "Suppose my 4 year old daughter was told that she is not to take cookies from the cookie jar. In another room, out of sight, I see into the kitchen that my daughter is looking at the cookie jar. She looks around the room to see if anyone is watching. As a parent, I can tell what she is thinking. She is about to steal a cookie and she knows she is not supposed to. Now, I could step into the room so that she sees me prior to her committing this sin. Upon seeing me she would forego her evil plot and give up the idea of getting the cookie (at least until the next time she was alone). However, suppose I decide to not step into the room. I remain out of sight to allow her to be tempted and then pounce into action to catch her with her hand in the cookie jar. Now, by not stepping in at the moment I saw she was being tempted did I cause the temptation? No. I allowed it to continue, but I did not cause it. I did not determine for her to desire to steal. I could have prevented the action by simply showing myself, but I chose not to do so." This is like judicial hardening. By simply hiding the truth (i.e. that I was present and watching) I allowed my daughter to be tempted and to act in sin. Am I in any way culpable for that sin? No. I merely allowed it though I could have stopped it.


God's motive behind judicial hardening has always been to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose. Israel, through their unbelief and rebellious acts, crucified our Lord. If God hadn't orchestrated events like this, they would have not crucified Jesus and we would all be doomed.


but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; - 1 Corinthians 2:7-8


Though what they did was evil, it resulted in mercy for us. Because it resulted in mercy for us, they may also now be shown mercy. God could have intervened at Christ first coming and given everyone a "Damascus road experience" (Acts 9) with all the Jews if He wanted too, fortunately for all of us He didn't want to (Rom. 11:31-32).


28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. - Romans 11:28-32





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19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” - Romans 9:19


The Jews may be quite upset at what Paul is preaching regarding their nation and at this point would likely raise some objections. This judicial hardening happening to Israel (Rom. 11:25, Acts 28:27), if it was you or your family, your church, your nation being hardened you too might be troubled. Likewise, we may be troubled regarding us and our loved ones when Jesus says the reason He speaks in parables is "so that while seeing, they may not see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven" (Mark 4:12). If that was Jesus response regarding your loved ones wouldn't it trouble you? Perhaps you would inquire just the same as Paul anticipates in verse 19 above. If this were speaking of salvation then it would be a difficult passage to swallow, but as we'll see it's not regarding salvation but rather a firming up of men in their unbelief. Remember our analogies in last week's study? Consider what Paul quotes at the end of Romans 9:


33 just as it is written,

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” - Romans 9:33


If one stumbles over this rock that God has put, does said person have the right to blame God for their stumbling? Notice not all stumble over it, but it's placement results in good things for them that believe. The Israelites were striving in their own strength (see Rom. 9:31-32, Rom. 10:2-3). God saw they were striving in their own strength and put a "stone of stumbling" in front of them, of which the Israelites may make the Romans 9:19 claim above "Why does He still find fault?". We can no more fault God for this than Adam and Eve can fault God for putting them in the same garden as the tree of knowledge. They tried though, after eating from it Adam's defense to God was "the woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." Is Adam correct that it's God's fault? No. God gave the woman to be Adam's helper (Gen. 2:18), God giving the stone, as discussed in last week's study which we'll get into here as well, is with good intent.


This is about God orchestrating His plan, His promise, His purpose, which is actually quite exciting! The Rock they stumbled over is salvation for us! (And available to them as we'll get into.) God has had a plan from long ago, that's always been the plan, that would result in the inclusion of the Gentiles resulting in salvation to both Jew and Gentile as we'll see in Romans 11. To that extent there has been a partial hardening as Romans 11:25 states but this partial hardening was and has resulted in salvation coming to the Gentiles. What's beautiful is that this partial hardening is not only beneficial to the Gentiles, but to the Jews as well. In fact, without this hardening there would be no benefit to either group (Rom. 11:31).


Let me put it this way. What if the eyes of all Jews were opened to the 1st coming of the Messiah? If they knew and believed Jesus to be the Son of God would they have crucified Him? No. If they didn't crucify Christ then nobody has any hope, neither Jew nor Gentile. But, by a "spirit of stupor" given to the Jews  (Rom. 11:8) and "eyes to see not and ears to hear not" they remained or were "made firm" in their unbelief. From this ignorance they cried out "crucify Him". We should be thankful that the Jews were enemies of the gospel...


28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; - Romans 11:28


From the gospel's point of view the Jews are enemies of it. They crucified Christ (Acts 2:22-23 below) and they tried to stop His message (Acts 5:40). But from God's point of view they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the Gentiles though we should be so grateful for what God did threw the Jews. Yes godless men crucified Jesus and Yes this was God's plan all along (John 12:27, Matt. 26:54). As Peter states in Acts:


22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. - Acts 2:22-23


Interestingly that's Peter speaking after the crucifixion, beforehand Peter tried to stop it when he drew his sword in defense of Jesus and struck a slave that came to take Jesus away to His crucifixion. Jesus commanded Peter holster his sword and after explaining to Peter that Jesus could appeal to the Father and have at His disposal more than twelve legions of angels, Jesus said to Peter "How then will Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" Did men in their evilness come to take Jesus away? Yes. Did God plan it? Yes.


The error some make is assuming that if God orchestrated those events then God orchestrates everything, every thought, every choice, every decision, good or bad and they read this section of Romans 9 and make it represent that viewpoint and apply it to everything as though everything that happens is the will of God (cf. Jer 7:31, 19:5, 32:35). The boss runs the business, and if something is important enough he leaves his office and comes down and sees to it personally. Does this mean the boss sees to EVERYTHING personally even to the point of being the causer of all things, even the bad (evil)? No. If that were the case, why have employees at all? As we discussed previously, some matters are of utmost importance that God does indeed see to them personally.


20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? - Romans 9:20


This closely resembles Isaiah 29:16 and is likely what Paul is alluding to, not that he intended to quote Isaiah but to use the same wisdom that Israelites would have generally accepted from these OT verses (cf Isa. 10:15) but now Paul applies such reasoning to Israel.


At this point the reader hasn't reached Romans 11 yet. We've spent a good amount of time there as Romans 11 helps make sense of Romans 9. Paul, like he's done throughout Romans is setting the stage for his big reveal that's coming up in Romans 11. However right now, Paul is arguing God's right to judicially harden Israel and now addresses the question that would likely surface in the minds of many Jews considering what's been shared thus far and the point is this. Does God have the right? Yes. Does God have to answer to us to do it? Nope. The bigger question for me is not to look at does God have the right, but what is God's heart behind the action? Is He a good boss or a sadistic boss? This is the big reveal in Romans 11 but first Paul is laying this groundwork.


21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? - Romans 9:21


Like we've seen already in this chapter, Paul often quotes from the Old Testament stories the Jews would have been familiar with. As gentiles we often read this and overlook it's OT ties, but Jews would have been well familiar with the story of the potter and the clay pulled from Jeremiah 18. Let's look at that.


1The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. - Jeremiah 18:1-10 (emphasis mine)


Consider what is written there and how God appropriated the vessels based on the condition (highlighted in bold) and consider what is written in Romans 11:17-23 below.


17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. - Romans 11:17-23 (emphasis mine)


Do you see the similarity between the two stories? There is a condition at hand. God doesn't allow someone to be blind arbitrarily. What is that condition? Faith as confirmed in 2 Corinthians 4:4:


in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - 2 Corinthians 4:4 (emphasis mine)


Also notice the potter had a different plan for the clay before it spoiled. It was never his intention to remake it into another vessel that served a different purpose until after it spoiled. Once it spoiled however, he made a new plan for that clay. God elaborates that imagery to be likened to what He is doing with Israel. Proverbs 16:9 says that man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps. I believe Jeremiah 18 above illustrates that very well.


On a side note there's another similar reference in the OT that Paul was likely alluding to as well in Isaiah 29:15-16 which too shows the correlation between man's plan and God's molding with a call to repentance at the start of verse 16.


Does man have free will? Yes. Does God direct their steps? Yes. I believe this is the reality of the potter and the clay as well as the wisdom in Proverbs 16:9. Paul testifying of God's right to make a vessel for his purpose of mercy or his purpose of wrath is not disputed, but His heart, like the potter, didn't start molding it for a vessel of wrath until after it spoiled. Did the potter still make use of it? Yes. Similarly how God makes use of Pharoah. Amazingly the vessel still has an opportunity to "turn from its evil". And as Paul writes, "if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again." God is so patient:


22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? - Romans 9:22


Question: If there wasn't an option to repent what would be the purpose of God being patient? If God's intentions were to create vessels of wrath from the start, then why would said vessels wear on His patience? Wouldn't they be doing what He wanted thus aligned with His desired result? Remember the potter in Jeremiah 18 started out molding the clay with a different objective in mind. God did too:


27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. - Genesis 1:27


24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. - Matthew 13:24


29 Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” - Ecclesiastes 7:29


Nobody was intended to be a vessel of wrath, God's patience shows that, consider what Paul and Peter wrote about God's patience in 1 Timothy 1:16 and 2 Peter 3:9. But God "although willing" used those who chose unbelief, those that "spoiled" (cross reference Rom. 1:24, 26, 28, "God gave them that...") to be allocated for a different purpose:


23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, - Romans 9:23


Some take this to mean that God showed vessels of mercy how good they have it by contrasting them with vessels of wrath which demonstrate how bad it could have been. I would argue that isn't what is being spoken of here. If one needed to know how bad it could have been they need only consider Jesus Christ and what He endured for us. If we were to say that Jesus didn't have it as bad as it could be then we are saying that Jesus didn't pay the penalty in full. Jesus paid it all...♫. Therefore the invitation to be a vessel for honorable use is available to all.


20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. - 2 Timothy 2:20-21


I believe the vessels of wrath were used for God's purpose. By way of judicial hardening to the Israelites God brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to believers, to make known to us the promise of the Messiah, the riches of His glory, the power of the gospel for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16). Pharaoh was used in this same way (to make God known in the whole world), it's no coincidence that Paul uses that example in this same passage.


Some have argued that God desires to make vessels of wrath because it glorifies Him. It does glorify Him in showing He doesn't condone sin and that He is indeed a God of justice, but what do they demonstrate that isn't demonstrated on the cross? That phrase "although willing" and that word "patience" in v22 will tell you that them being vessels of wrath is not His original intent (Ecc. 7:29). The potter too started out with a different intent in mind (Jer. 18:3). While God indeed uses vessels of wrath and they do glorify Him, I would argue more so do vessels of mercy, even to the point of drowning out any remaining glory stemming from vessels of wrath.


But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. - 2 Corinthians 3:7-11


Question: Which is more glorious, a God who desires to save some, or a God who desires to save everyone and therefore enacts a plan that freely offers salvation to all? A God who loves some, or a God who loves all? (cf. Prov. 19:11, Psa. 86:5, 15, 103:8, 145:8, Exo. 34:6, Jonah 4:2).

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24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. - Romans 9:24


This is likened to how Paul wrapped up his argument with the Romans in person as well (Acts 28). Upon meeting with the Jews in Rome who wanted to hear directly from Paul about this new "sect" being spoken against in their circles (Acts 28:22) Paul made efforts to persuade them, walking them through the Law of Moses and the Prophets spending all day with them and reasoning according to scripture (Acts 28:23), much like Paul has done with us in Romans 9 as well. Upon their final rejection of what Paul was sharing Paul shared a stark prophecy that Isaiah had given and said to them "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles" (Acts 28:28).


What's interesting is that what would be scoffed at by the Israelites such as the Gentiles inclusion, is celebrated by us Gentiles. Imagine though, imagine the Gentiles of Paul's day. Always an outsider, always required to stay in the outer courts of the temple, then Jesus shows up, cleanses the temple on behalf of the Gentiles (Matt. 21:12-13), tears the veil on behalf of everyone (Matt. 27:51), and amazingly, comes to you! (Rev. 3:20). Talk about feeling included! Can you imagine once feeling like the woman at the well asking Jesus why He's even talking to her to sitting at a table with a bunch of Jews who believed, all of like mind, all in fellowship, thankful for what Christ has done for you all!


25 As He says also in Hosea,

“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”
26 And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.” - Romans 9:25-26


Paul is quoting from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. What's beautiful is that if you read the verses Paul is quoting from Hosea in it's original context you will read a wonderful story about a loving God pursuing an unfaithful Israel. Even these verses Paul is referencing testify to God's genuine love for an unfaithful Israel (Hos. 3:1). It may appear that those who are not God's people as quoted in Hosea here could mean us Gentiles, that is not the case. Hosea is a depiction of God redeeming Israel. The verses quoted are referencing Israel who was God's people, then through their unfaithfulness became not God's people, and yet God redeems them to once again make them God's people once more. Israelites would have known this. From the Jewish standpoint they would have affirmed that Israel would most definitely be redeemed by God as they would have been familiar with Hosea. Paul is pointing out that indeed Hosea was about Israel, but within the context of the preceding verse as well as the rest of the chapter and all of Romans, basically that if God can do this with Israel, that is make them who were not His people once again His people, can He not also do that with Gentiles? If God can do this with Israel, then to the Israelites that are familiar with this story, would it be so far fetched that God can do this with Gentiles?


People previously classified as outsiders, (whether Jew or Gentile) are now officially insiders which was made possible through God's long standing redemptive plan which involved much of what Paul wrote about in this chapter that we've covered thus far. Paul, according to the Holy Spirit, is revealing God's mystery that was hidden in ages past to make known to us now that this has been God's plan all along.


For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, - Ephesians 3:1-11


"To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel", "mystery which for ages has been hidden in God". This has always been the plan. Romans 9 details that plan for us now given special revelation of what was formerly a mystery. I can't imagine Paul's heartache when his kinsmen refused to listen (Acts 28:25,28, Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1).


27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” - Romans 9:27-28


Jews often rejected the Messiah because the majority of Israel didn't accept the Messiah. In other words, they believed the Messiah would be welcomed by all and because Jesus wasn't, they conclude He was not the Messiah. However, Paul is showing them in their own texts that it doesn't say all will accept Him but rather "it is the remnant that will be saved", thus disqualifying their preconceived notion from their own texts.


29 And just as Isaiah foretold,

Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” - Romans 9:29


Question: What is the "Posterity" mentioned here? Could it be the same as the "it" mentioned in verse 16?


God, according to His purpose, ensured a remnant of Israel would remain from physical destruction per His promise (otherwise they may have become like Sodom and Gomorrah). Isaiah is crying out that if God hadn't left them this posterity (promise of a Descendant) that Israel would have gone the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Therefore their preservation is credited solely to God and by His doing alone, not by reason of Israel's faithfulness, their works, nor their lineage, but according to His purpose. This prophecy from Isaiah confirms what Paul has been walking all of us through thus far. That God has a plan and that plan is not contingent on man, but that God in His sovereignty has personally saw to it that His promise doesn't fail and through His choice has made elections in keeping with that purpose. Thank God. Like we discussed before, but can you imagine if the coming of Christ was contingent on man? A terrifying thought. Fortunately God is so faithful to His word and loves us so much.


30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. - Romans 9:30-31


This would be seen as unfair, that Jews who were trying hard wouldn't attain that which Gentiles weren't even trying for, namely, being righteous before God. I believe that's the point. Paul is pointing out that it's by grace!


Question: Why did Israel not arrive at that law?


Paul brings his argument full circle to the conclusion of what has happened with Israel. Namely that they didn't attain righteousness. My question for you that if you've read ahead Paul already answered, but it's still worth asking, is why? Why did Israel not receive righteousness? Is it because God elected them for hell because He only wanted a remnant to be saved? Is it because God didn't want them to? Not at all! (Eze. 33:10-11). Paul answers:


32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, - Romans 9:32


It's interesting that Paul mentions the pursuit here. Paul wasn't arguing that Israelites weren't trying, that they weren't pursuing, he knows they were and are. Paul is arguing that though they are trying so very hard, they aren't obtaining it. They aren't reaching their goal. They aren't getting their desired outcome. They aren't arriving at their intended destination which is righteousness before God. Why? Because they aren't pursuing it by faith but as though it were by works. Paul had just argued earlier in Romans how Abraham obtained it as a credit based on faith now is showing how they aren't doing the deeds of Abraham (John 8:39).


33 just as it is written,

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” - Romans 9:33


It's interesting that the same Rock can to one group be a stumbling stone and to another be a Rock that does not disappoint. What's the difference? How you pursue it. Those that pursue it by faith will not be disappointed but those that pursue it as though it were by works, they will stumble over it and even take offense at those that are gifted it freely, something which they've striven so hard to obtain and never arrived at. Let's face it, the Jews were working so much harder to obtain righteousness than the Gentiles were. So Gentiles arriving at the finish line without working for it themselves but instead trusting in Christ's work on their behalf.. yeah that may offend some Jews. Those that pursue it by works are of the flesh, like Ishmael, are children of the flesh. Those that pursue it by faith, like Isaac, are children of promise (Gal. 4:21-31).


This chapter is not a matter of chosen vs unchosen nor is it a matter of Synergism vs Monergism. It's about God's redemptive plan from ages ago now being revealed to men. It's about God ensuring this redemptive plan of His, which was enacted solely by His election, His choice, His promise, His purpose, comes to pass, thus ushering in the Messiah who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2). Riches of mercy and grace, available to all who pursue this righteousness by faith, and them that do, both Jew and Gentile, will not be disappointed.


Paul's closing statement at the end of this letter:


25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. - Romans 16:25-27

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