Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, but he is a Jew, an ex-Pharisee and a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil 3:5), so of course he is aggrieved that Jews have rejected the Messiah as much as he is passionate about the Gentile mission.
This is a fairly complicated passage, probably one of the ones Peter comments on as being hard to understand in 2 Peter 3:16. In 12:26 he writes “And in this way all Israel will be saved” – but what does he mean by Israel – in the context, Israel here is Jews and Gentiles in Christ. In today’s passage he talks of Israel as physical Israel and Old Covenant Spiritual Israel 9:6. Confused yet?
There are four Israel’s – three in the Bible!
1) Physical Israel – descendants of Israel (Jacob)
2) Spiritual Israel – Old Covenant believers
3) New covenant Israel – the people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ
4) Modern day Israel – the secular state of Israel formed in 1948.
Paul is grieved that physical Israel has rejected God and His Messiah. He asks a series of questions in this section:
Has God’s word failed? v.6a
Is God unjust? v.14 – choosing who to show mercy to
Why does God blame us if it His choice? v.19
What then? v.30 – to be followed up tomorrow.
The bottom line of Paul’s writings is that the acceptance of Gentiles into the people of God by faith is attributed to God’s sovereign mercy. The rejection of God by Israel is their own rebellion.
Has God’s word failed? v.6-13
Israel’s failure to accept the Christ is not God’s fault. There has always been two Israels – ethnic Israel physically descended from Israel (Jacob) and spiritual Israel who believe. He uses Abraham to illustrate that – not all of Abraham’s children are counted as Abraham’s offspring in faith terms. He had Ishmael and Isaac; only Isaac was the child of the promise. So there are natural children and children of the promise.
Is God unjust? v.14
By no means! Not at all! Perish the thought! – the same turn of phrase Paul used in Romans 6, when he asked if we should continue in sin so grace can abound; and when he asked if we should continue to sin because we are not under law; and if the law was sin. Perish the thought! It might be a logical conclusion to ask the question, but the answer is not blooming likely!
God is the God of justice and the God of mercy. Everyone deserves His justice. When God saves, He is exercising His mercy. Paul uses Moses and Pharaoh as examples. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, because his heart was hard already. As Leon Morris puts it “Neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.” God abandoned Pharaoh to his own stubbornness in the same way as God’s wrath is exercised currently by handing sinners over to what they desire with all its consequences (Romans 1:24,26,28).
All of us are guilty and sinful. Jew and Gentile alike. Nobody deserves to be saved. By hardening some, they are getting what they deserve. By having compassion on others, it is mercy.
If it is God’s choice why are we still to blame? Verse 19ff.
If salvation is due entirely to God’s will (v.15,18), why are we still to blame and accountable?
Paul has three answers, the first of which is in today’s reading. All of the answers concern who God is. Most of our problems arise when our image of God is distorted.
Today’s answer starts with a question – “Who are you, O man?” How can we answer God back? There are lots of questions posed in the argument of Romans, so Paul is not saying we can’t ask questions, quite the opposite! He compares us to the potter and clay – he is alluding not to Jeremiah, but to Isaiah 29:16 and 45:9, where they are trying to reverse the roles – to be the potter rather than the clay. Woe to Him who quarrels with His maker.
Paul is writing about people in rebellion to God, refusing to let God be God and acknowledge that we are His creatures and sinners. As F.F. Bruce put it “it is the God-defying rebel and not the bewildered seeker after the truth, whose mouth Paul so peremptorily shuts.” The potter has the right to shape clay for different purposes so God has the right to deal with fallen people according to both his wrath and his mercy.
Praise God that we who were once objects of wrath have become objects of mercy. Because of Christ Jesus.
Come back tomorrow as Paul develops his theme!