Read the Passage: Romans 9
Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Romans 9
Identity of Israel (9:1–13)
Paul begins this section about the restoration of Israel by expressing his personal concern for his own nation, even expressing a desire to trade his own salvation for the redemption of Israel. Of course, as Paul had just taught in Rom. 8:38–39, it is not possible to lose or to exchange one’s salvation (cf. John 10:28). Since Paul knew this, his statement here is hyperbole and an expression of his deep love for his own people. In Rom. 9:4–5 Paul describes some of the benefits of being an Israelite. In Rom. 3:1–2 Paul had identified a general benefit of being Jewish as possessing the Old Testament. Here in Rom. 9:4–5 Paul lists some more specific benefits, most of which are revealed in the Old Testament, that were designed to prepare Israel for salvation. These include: being adopted, witnessing glory, possessing covenants, having law, serving God, knowing promises, producing patriarchs, and anticipating the Messiah.
While he will teach about the eventual salvation of many Israelites in Rom. 11, here in Rom. 9:6–13 Paul explains, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). In other words, just being ethnically Jewish has no bearing upon one’s spiritual condition. In the ensuing verses Paul marshals two arguments to make this point. First, in Rom. 9:7–9, Paul observers that even in the Old Testament, not all of Abraham’s own children were redeemed. Rather, the promises were only passed through the line of Isaac. Second, not all of Isaac’s own children were redeemed, as the promises were passed through Jacob, not Esau. Paul’s point here is that God’s promises related to salvation were never solely genetic, even in their original context. Rather, salvation has always been by faith alone “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works” (Rom. 9:11).
Prophecies about Israel (9:14–29)
As he had already done several times in this epistle, in Rom. 9:14–18 Paul anticipates and answers an objection from his readers. Namely, Paul addresses the question, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). In his negative reply, Paul cites Exod. 33:19. The objection that Paul speaks to is often repeated today—that is, the claim that if God only chooses some for salvation, then He is unjust. Note, however, that this argument assumes that mankind is morally neutral or good. Yet, if mankind is morally evil, as Paul has argued in Rom. 1–3, then God’s salvation of some and not of others is not a mark of injustice toward the lost, but of mercy toward the redeemed. This is the answer Paul gives in Rom. 9:15–18, as he appeals to the example of Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt and uses the terms “mercy” and “compassion” six times in this brief passage.
In Rom. 9:19–29 Paul continues to address the objection related to God’s justice in not redeeming all people—or, at least, all of Israel. In this passage Paul’s reply is three-fold. First, in Rom. 9:19–21 Paul asserts that the creation has no right to question the Creator. Second, in Rom. 9:22–24 Paul gives three reasons why God may want to redeem some people and not others—that is, to display His wrath, to make His power known, and to make His grace known. Third, in Rom. 9:25–29 Paul quotes three biblical passages to show that Israel’s unbelief is consistent with Old Testament prophecies. The passages he cites are Hos. 1:9–10; 2:23, Isa. 10:22–23, and Isa. 1:9. Each of these passages mentions God redeeming a remnant or a seed of Israel. Paul’s argument here is that if God has promised to eventually save a portion of Israel, then some Jews must be apostate.
Condition of Israel (9:30–33)
Paul concludes this chapter by reminding his readers that the reason why all Israel is not redeemed is because the Jews pursued salvation by law-keeping. Recall, in the previous chapter, Paul mentioned the inability of the moral law to save as he referred to “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3; cf. Gal. 3:21). At Rom. 9:30 Paul notes the reason why Gentiles are redeemed is because they pursued salvation by faith. Note, however, that while salvation is all of Christ, we dare not view mankind as being merely puppets whom God somehow moves at His will. Rather, as Paul teaches in this passage, the reason why some men are saved, and others are not, is because of what they freely choose to do. This tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is difficult for human minds to grasp; yet, we must affirm what the Bible affirms, being confident in God’s justice.
- Is it possible to exchange your salvation for the redemption of another? If not, why does Paul express his willingness to do so?
- How can we explain the righteousness, the justice, and the fairness of God in choosing Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau?
- How does God show mercy to mankind? By what mechanism did God harden the heart of Pharaoh? Does God still harden men’s hearts today?
- Why do you think Paul quotes the Old Testament twelve times in Romans 9, which is more than in any other chapter in this book?
- Why do many people reject the idea of God’s sovereignty? What is the alternative to the idea that God is sovereign regarding salvation?