Romans 9:14-18 – God Is Arbitrary and Unjust?

lady-liberty-scales-of-justice-h-1000

 

Introduction:

Last week we saw that Paul began to address a serious question.

  • Why had God’s chosen people rejected their Messiah?
  • An issue he was in deep lament over (vss. 1-5).

 

One answer he gave to this question was simple enough.

  • it is not as though the word of God has failed” (vs. 6)

 

His second answer, however, was a more complicated answer.

  • in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (vs. 11)
  • We paraphrased this – “God’s plan of choosing” – to help us out a bit.

 

We saw that Paul didn’t actually tell us what he meant by this…not yet.

  • Though he did give us a clue with an allusion to Malachi’s Esau text.
  • Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’

 

What he did do is begin to build the foundation for fleshing out this answer.

  • And what was the foundation Paul laid?

 

God is a God who chooses to suit his purposes.

  • His choices are not arbitrary.
  • God chose to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau.

 

And the results of His choices are corporate in scope:

  • There are children of the flesh.
  • And within them are children of the promise.

 

 

Another Controversy:

This foundation leads to another set of problems.

  • All of which Paul wants to address before he gets back to his main point.
  • So Paul takes a rabbit trail to address them.

 

However, we will see that Paul’s rabbit trail does curve back into verse 11.

  • “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue”

 

The perceived problem raised by God’s seemingly arbitrary choices is this:

  • A God who chooses the “children of promise” based on His own plan and purpose…
  • And not based on their ethnic status as God’s chosen…
  • Or their supposedly righteous spiritual status…
  • Must be an unfair and unjust God.

 

Remember, Paul was sure to tell us last week…

  • though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” (vs. 11)…
  • God chose and loved Isaac, but He rejected and disfavored Esau.
  • Even though both were ethnic Jews…
  • And neither had any spiritual standing at all in terms of obedience and disobedience.

 

This is why he exclaims in verse 14:

  • What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

 

So now we need to chase after Paul and see where he is going.

  • We need to find out why there is no “injustice on God’s part”.
  • We need to find out why the foundation Paul laid in vss. 6-13 is secure.
  • As with last week – Paul takes us back to the OT to make his point.

 

 

Moses and Exodus 33:

The first place Paul goes in verses 15 is Exodus 33.

  • For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

 

To get an idea of what is going on here, we need to look at a bigger chunk of Paul’s citation.

  • Exodus 33:12–19 (ESV) — 15 And he [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

 

This takes place after Israel’s rebellion at Sinai.

  • They had built the Golden Calf and God set a plague upon them.
  • The text Paul alludes to deal with Moses’ intercession on behalf of a rebellious Israel.
  • God had declared to Moses – “I will not go up among you” (33:3).

 

Moses pleads with God.

  • You have to go with us.
  • How else will “it be known” that the Israelites have “found favor in your sight”? (vs. 16)

 

He presses the point.

  • Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (vs. 16)

 

In other words…

  • The nations will know that Israel is God’s inheritance, His people…
  • Because of His presence and action on their behalf.

 

God apparently relents.

  • This very thing that you have spoken I will do” (vs. 17)

 

God then went on to tell Moses:

  • I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (vs. 19)

 

This statement is made in response to Moses’ intercession for a rebellious Israel.

  • God makes clear that because He is “The LORD”…
  • It is entirely His prerogative to extend grace and mercy as it suits Him.

 

Israel – God’s chosen – have failed in their believing loyalty to Yahweh.

  • They deserve nothing.

 

God can justly handle them how he chooses.

  • He can abandon them for their disobedience.

 

Or He can show mercy out of deference to the covenant with Abraham.

  • His decision – take them “to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’(33:3)

 

This is why Paul can argue that this passage answers his question…

  • “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means.” (vs. 14)

 

Because of Israel’s failure in the believing loyalty department – and thus their guilt…

  • God’s “purpose of election”, his “plan of choosing” will always be…
  • Dependent, “…not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (vs. 16)

 

In other words,

  • If God is just to choose Israel and bring them out of Egypt to begin with.
    • To make them His inheritance.
  • God is just to either to judge them for their disloyalty or show them mercy.
  • However God wants to work out His plan with Israel – His actions are just.

 

But just in case you are still not convinced of this.

  • Paul takes us to Exodus 9.

 

 

Pharaoh and Exodus 9:

The second place Paul takes us in verse 17 is Exodus 9.

  • For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

 

As before, we need to look at the whole passage.

  • Exodus 9:13–16 (ESV) — 13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

The context of this passage was the seventh plague of the nine that God had set upon Egypt.

  • Once again, God sent Moses to Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me”. (vs. 13)

 

But God added a new wrinkle for Moses to disclose.

  • The coming plagues will be upon Pharaoh himself, “on your yourself, and on your servants and your people”. (vs. 14)

 

God’s reason for this is that:

  • Pharaoh, “may know that there is none like me in all the earth” (vs. 14)
  • The plagues against the crops, rivers and animals apparently didn’t have the desired affect.
  • This is fodder for a theodicy!

 

In fact, God’s disclosure of this new twist prompts Him to let Pharaoh know something surprising.

  • God had thus far had mercy on Pharaoh – a hardened, Gentile persecutor of God’s own people.

 

This is made clear in verse 15.

  • For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.

 

So God didn’t strike Pharaoh down – not yet anyway.

  • Why?

 

It wasn’t an arbitrary, unjust decision.

  • In fact, God had a very good reason.
  • But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” (vs. 16)

 

God had used Pharaoh’s hardness and position…

  • To demonstrate to all of Egypt His power over creation.

 

This declaration is hugely significant for Paul’s purposes.

  • God has the right show His mercy to anyone He chooses.
  • Even a hardened, Gentile persecutor of God’s very own people.
  • And He does so based on his purpose of election.

 

How can God act this way?

  • Because God’s people are such by God’s own choice, purpose and plan.
  • They are not as such because they are “better” people than the Gentiles.
  • They are not as such because they don’t have hardened hearts.

 

Paul says as much in his conclusion of this Exodus story in Romans 9:18:

  • So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (vs. 18)

 

This is why Paul can allude to this passage as an answer to his question in vs. 14:

  • “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means.” (vs. 14)

 

Why?

  • Because, the thing that is driving God’s choices is not the worthiness or unworthiness of any peoples.
  • Jew or Egyptian.
  • It is God’s “purpose of election” or “plan of choosing”.

 

And in the Pharaoh example, we get a glimpse of exactly what this purpose or plan might be:

  • so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

 

Pharaoh was hardened and received mercy during this hardening…for a time.

  • This was so that God could accomplish His purposes.

 

It just so happens that God’s choosing to then withhold His mercy on Pharaoh…

  • Eventually benefited the Israelites.
  • But, it doesn’t always have to be this way.

 

 

Conclusion:

So God’s plan of choosing does not mean He is unjust.

  • It means He is God – He is creator.
  • It means God chooses based on his plan and purposes.
  • And these don’t always have to line up with Israel’s well being.

 

Again, Paul still hasn’t fleshed out exactly what God’s purpose of election or plan of choosing is.

  • Remember, he has taken a rabbit trail that trailed off of the foundation he laid last week.

 

But, like last week, we get another clue about this purpose and plan…

  • Remember – Paul is ultimately trying to explain why the Jews rejected their very own Messiah.
  • His answer is wrapped up in God’s purpose of election – His plan of choosing.

 

Last week we encountered this clue:

  • Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’” – Malachi 1:5.

 

This week we encountered this clue:

  • But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16.

 

It seems God desires to make Himself known.

  • It seems God desires to draw people to himself.

 

If this is a clue to what God’s purpose and plan might be…

  • It has an obvious Jesus connection…
  • Philippians 2:10–11 (ESV) — 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Romans 9:6-13 – A Glaring Problem – Jews Rejected Their Messiah

ma_star-on-torah

 

Introduction:

I think the best way to dig into these texts (and chapters 9-11 specifically)…

  • Is simply to parse out what Paul seems to be saying on a plain reading.
  • The reason for this is to try and leave the baggage of our various traditions behind.
  • Keeping in mind, of course, that baggage has a way of creeping in anyway.

 

So having just expressed his lament for his fellow Jews in verses 1-5…

  • Jews who were connected to God’s promises and the Messiah…
  • Yet missed out on the fruit of these promises.

 

Paul now wants to address the elephant in the room – a potential huge problem.

  • If Israel was God’s elect, why do so many reject their Messiah?
  • This fact is problematic.
  • And it seems to impugn the character of Paul’s God.

 

There appear to be two answers to this question revealed in our text.

  • One is an affirmation of a negative.
  • The other is more drawn out, and centers on Paul’s interjection in verse 11.

 

Specifically Paul’s answers are:

  • (1) “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (vs. 6)
  • (2) “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (vs. 11)

 

 

Paul’s First Answer:

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed.” (vs. 6)

  • This is straightforward enough.

 

Paul wants to be clear that the ways God has acted in history on Israel’s behalf were not hollow.

  • God’s promises, His covenant faithfulness, etc. haven’t failed.
  • His character is not in jeopardy.

 

It’s debatable whether he is extending “the word” forward to include the Gospel.

  • The Gospel is certainly a continuation of God’s action in history on behalf of Israel.
  • The Gospel comes out of His promises and covenant faithfulness.
  • And Paul, after all, does mention Jesus in his lament.

 

So then, if “the word of God” wasn’t to blame…

  • How does Paul account for the glaring problem of Jewish unbelief in their Messiah?

 

 

Paul’s Second Answer:

in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (vs. 11)

  • A paraphrase of this is – “so that God’s plan of choosing might continue”.
  • And this answer is where it gets complicated.

 

To liken Paul’s answer to a house, we might say that…

  • In chapters 9-11, Paul is building a house – one with many necessary rooms.
  • But like any house, it needs a foundation.
  • And our text today is where Paul is laying the foundation.

 

So it is only the beginning of his second answer.

  • The complete answer will come when we apprehend the entire house and all its rooms.

 

The House Foundation:

6b For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad…12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 

The foundation is, textually, pretty basic.

  • The history of Israel is a history of God acting and choosing.
  • God called out ethnic Israel generally – “children of the flesh” (beginning in Gen. 12).
  • God chose through whom the promise to ethnic Israel would flow specifically – “children of the promise”.
    • Isaac and Jacob – not Ishmael or Esau.

 

Importantly, this choosing on God’s part had nothing to do with merit.

  • His point is God’s prerogative to choose, not the spiritual state of an individual.

 

He presses this point with the Jacob and Esau illustration.

  • Before they even had, what we might call “a spiritual status” – “done nothing either good or bad”…
  • God made his choice.

 

In fact, this leads to the foundation Paul is laying:

  • God chose and chooses…
  • “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (vs. 11).

 

Before we unpack how Paul teases all this out…

  • I think it will be useful to pack it all in a helpful proposition.

 

God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau – and this was God’s choice, and it suited his purpose/plan of election/choosing.

 

 

The Flesh and The Promise:

Paul builds his foundation with two distinctions – children of the flesh, and the promise…

  • He does so using a number of different ideas.

 

Verse 6b – He says in verse 6b, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”.

  • Here he is making an important distinction.
  • There is a difference between ethnic Israel – “descended from Israel”.
  • And those that “belong to Israel”.

 

Importantly, we need to notice…

  • All those who “belong to Israel” are “descended from Israel”…
  • But not all those who are “descended from Israel” actually “belong to Israel”.

 

Verse 7 – Paul then builds on this distinction.

  • He says, in verse 7…
  • “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

 

Paul nuances the distinction made in verse 6.

  • He says that just because your are Abraham’s “offspring”…
  • Meaning just because you are an ethnic Jew, in the line of Abraham…
  • And thus “descended from Israel”…

 

Doesn’t mean that you are…

  • children of Abraham”.

 

This means Paul is layering the distinction from verse 6.

  • It is the “children of Abraham” that “belong to Israel”.

 

So who are the “children of Abraham”?

  • Paul’s answer, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

 

What is this supposed to convey?

 

Verse 8 – He explains it this way:

  • “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”

 

So using yet another phrase that connected back to verse 6’s “descended form Israel”…

  • Paul says that these folks – the “children of the flesh” – are not really “the children of God”.
  • So, they are not really the “children of Abraham”.

 

The real “children of Abraham”…

  • Those that are truly “counted as offspring” are the “children of the promise”…
  • Not the “children of the flesh”, not the “descended from Israel”.
  • That’s a lot of layers.

 

So why bring Isaac into the picture?

 

Isaac is the archetype of the “children of the promise”.

  • How so?
  • Paul thought you might ask.

 

Verse 9 – Paul lifts up Isaac as the archetype of the promise because…

  • “For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’”

 

This text is an allusion to and quote of an awesome story.

  • Genesis 18:10–14 (ESV) — 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.

 

God made a promise to Abraham.

  • Old Abraham and barren Sarah would have a descendant.
  • And Isaac was the fulfillment of that promise.

 

This is why Paul cites Isaac as the archetype or representative of the “children of the promise”.

  • Though Isaac certainly was “descended from Israel” and a child “of the flesh”…
  • He was more than that.

 

Isaac was the fulfillment of a God-made promise to Abraham.

  • And Isaac’s unique status as the promised offspring was his…
  • Only by God’s choice.

 

This is why Paul began the Isaac bit in verse 7 with:

  • through Isaac shall your offspring be named”.

 

God decreed with these words…

  • That Isaac, not Ishmael (the son of Hagar)…
  • Would be the one through whom His promise would be borne out.

 

So Isaac was born from the barren Sarah by God’s choice and promise…

  • And he was set apart from Ishmael by Gods’ choice and promise.
  • So Isaac is the archetype or representative of the “children of the promise”.

 

But just in case additional objections are raised about Paul’s layered distinctions.

  • Distinctions between the “children of the flesh” and “children of the promise”…
  • Paul brings in another archetype or representative of the promise – Jacob.

 

Verses 10-13 – And this example is more emphatic than the first.

  • And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad… 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 

In these verses Paul quotes and alludes to both Genesis and Malachi.

  • Genesis 25:21–23 (ESV) — 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
  • Malachi 1:3–5 (ESV) — 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’ ” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”

 

Here Paul introduces another promise story.

  • Rebekah learns that she is pregnant with twins – Jacob and Esau.
  • And God tells her (promises her) that, “the older shall serve the younger”.

 

This is an odd promise.

  • Typically, it is the older son who is in the driver’s seat.
  • Not so this time.

 

Paul also points out a peculiar feature of an already odd promise.

  • Just in case one thinks the Esau has committed an unrighteous act in the womb…
    • Like was thought of the blind man in John 9.
  • And so deserved to loose his birthright…

 

Paul wants us to know that God declared that Esau would serve Jacob even…

  • “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad”

 

In other words:

  • The relationship between the two was to be so…
  • Because God had determined to promise Rebekah it would be so.

 

It was a decision that had nothing to do with the actions of Esau and Jacob.

  • Their righteousness or lack thereof was irrelevant.
  • Their spiritual status was irrelevant – or non-existent – at the time of the promise.

 

But just in case we are still hesitant to embrace Jacob as an archetype of the “children of the promise”…

  • Paul busts out a brutal sounding verse from Malachi.
  • As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 

These words are chillingly clear.

  • God chose/promised Jacob – He “loved” Jacob.
  • And he “hated” Esau.

 

Strong words – what does “hated” actually mean?

  • Hated” means – “to decrease in status” or to “disfavor or disregard”.

 

The point here is that…

  • God chose to elevate Jacob’s status – a promise he made to Rebekah…
  • But in so doing he chose to decrease the status of Esau.

 

So as a result of God’s choice and promise…

  • It would be Jacob that would obtain the birthright that belonged to Esau.
  • Jacob would be the progenitor of Isaac’s line.

 

So like Isaac…

  • Jacob is a representative or archetype of the “children of the promise”.
  • Those that “belong to Israel”, are “counted as offspring”, and are “children of God”.

 

Verse 11b – But why would God choose and promise with such specificity?

  • As we said at the beginning…
  • “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls”

 

But there is a big picture principle behind all this specificity – thus the archetype language.

  • In other words, Isaac and Jacob weren’t chosen simply as individuals.
  • They were chosen to suit the much bigger, corporate in scope, purposes of God – the status of the “children”.
  • All of which suited His “purpose of election” or “plan of choosing”.

 

So the explanation for why Paul’s “kinsman according to the flesh” (vs. 3)…

  • Are cut off from Christ…
  • Is not found in a deficiency in God or His promises.
  • It is so that God’s “purpose of election [plan of choosing] might continue”.
  • The same purposes or plan that Isaac and Jacob were caught up within.

 

What exactly is God’s “purpose of election” [plan of choosing] that must “continue”?

  • As we said, the answer to this takes 3 chapters for Paul to develop.

 

What we have today is only the foundation for the answer.

  • The entire answer will be found in the rooms that Paul builds on this foundation.
  • Rooms we will explore over the coming weeks.

 

Paul’s citation of Malachi 1 does give us a clue.

  • Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!’” (vs. 5)
  • God’s disfavor of Esau and judgment of Esau’s Edom seemed to have a certain desired affect.

 

And what was the foundation Paul just built?

  • God is a God who chooses to suit his purposes.
  • His choices are not arbitrary.
  • God chose to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of Abraham, Ishmael and Esau.

 

And the results of His choices are corporate in scope:

  • There are children of the flesh.
  • And within them are children of the promise.

 

 

Romans 9:1-5 – Paul’s Lament for Israel

Romans 9:1–5 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

 

 

Intro:

The most obvious thing about this text is its abrupt change in tone from Romans 8.

  • Speculations abound about how to account for this.

 

Many suggest that Romans 12 seems to make more sense as a follow up to Romans 8.

  • This is because it deals with how the awesomeness of Romans 8 impacts the Christian life.
  • Romans 12:1 (ESV) — 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

 

In contrast to Romans 12, Romans 9-11 gives us:

  • “Paul’s anguished wrestling with the problem of Israel’s unbelief” – Doug Moo.

 

But this is not a topic that is out of place for Romans.

  • Paul brought it up already.

 

In Romans 4, Paul went out of his way to include Abraham with those in Christ…

  • And to redefine what it meant to be the people of God.

 

During those lessons we dealt with the badges of inclusion – circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.

  • Underneath all this was an explanation of, if Jesus was the Messiah, why did so many Jews reject him.

 

So it seems in Romans 9-11…

  • Paul has decided to come back to this…big whoop.

 

It also might help us make sense of Paul’s transition to Romans 9-11 with a question.

  • We can simply ask, why did Paul write it?

 

There are at least three reasons (certainly more).

  • (1) Defense of the Gospel – word of God has not failed (vs. 6).
  • (2) Definitively account for the “status of the people Israel” – Doug Moo.
  • (3) “Paul…wants to make clear that his focus on the Gentile mission has by no means meant the abandonment of his concern for, and, indeed, plans for, the salvation of their fellow Jews. But he also wants to dispel any notion that he might have joined with the Gentile Christians in Rome in their sinful disdain for the Jewish people” – Doug Moo.

 

Let’s dive in and see what Paul has to say.

 

 

Paul’s Lament – Verses 1-2:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

 

It makes sense to me that after sharing all the blessings that accrue to those in Christ in Romans 8…

  • Paul’s heart was tugged towards those who were missing out on these blessings.

 

In light of this…

  • Paul declares that what he is about to say is the “truth in Christ”…
  • That he is “not lying”…

 

And more than that, Paul says his conscience is pricked, not by some feeling of worldly guilt…

  • But by a conscience saturated “in the Holy Spirit”.

 

Then in verse 2 he shares what the true thing is that the Spirit confirms.

  • He says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for his fellow Jews (vs. 2).
  • The BDAG says this phrase refers to a great “pain of mind or spirit”.

 

Most think it is best to understand this pain as expressing an intense, heartfelt lament.

  • A lament similar, many say, to the laments of the OT prophets over Israel.
  • Jeremiah 4:19 (ESV) — 19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

 

Why would Paul have such profound concern for the salvation of his fellow Jews?

  • Do Christ and the Holy Spirit aid in his heart felt lament?

 

How might we find such a concern for our fellow Gentiles?

  • We have Christ and the Spirit – what’s my/our excuse?

 

 

Accursed – Verse 3:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

 

Here Paul confirms our suspicions that he is definitely talking about his fellow Jews.

  • His “brothers” and “kinsmen”.
  • Who are such by virtue of being “according to the flesh”.

 

Paul’s commission by Christ was to the Gentiles.

  • Acts 22:21 (ESV) — 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
  • But never doubt that his heart is deeply inclined toward his fellow Jews.

 

And he also confirms for us his lament is over their status in Christ.

  • This is implied by his sacrificial plea.
  • It is actually they who are “accursed and cut off from Christ”.

 

We need to unpack Paul’s selfless gesture to sacrifice himself.

  • Paul says, he wishes he could be “accursed and cut off from Christ”…
  • If it meant his fellow Jews were not so.

 

Interestingly the word “accursed and cut off” here is the Greek “anathema”.

  • The idea relates to one’s standing before God.

 

One can either be “consecrated” to God.

  • Or, one can be separated from God.
  • Anathema” is obviously the latter.

 

Paul’s apparent willingness to go through this is startling.

  • But it clearly conveys just how deep his lament was for his fellow Jews.
  • Again, one wonders what would bring us to such lament for our fellow Gentiles.

 

BTW – a short history lesson is in order here.

  • Anathema” is a word that has been used throughout Church history.
  • It came to mean to be denounced and excommunicated – BDAG.

 

During the Church councils of the first millennia…

  • It was used as an epithet hurled at those who rejected…
  • Beliefs that were being established as “orthodox”.

 

Some examples can be found in Chalcedon in 553.

  • “If anyone does not confess that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one nature or essence, one power or authority, worshipped as a trinity of the same essence, one deity in three hypostases or persons, let him be anathema”.
  • “If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non- temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema.”

 

 

Benefits of Inheritance – Verses 4-5:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

 

So after expressing the depth of his lament for his fellow Jews…

  • He lists out the privileges they have been afforded as Israelites.

 

All of which, as we saw last week…

  • Flow from God’s election of them as His inheritance.

 

He says to them belong:

  • Adoption – “Paul’s way of summing up the OT teaching about Israel as ‘God’s son’” – Moo.
  • Glory – “God’s presence with the people of Israel” – Moo.
  • Covenants – Made with Abraham, Noah, David, etc.
  • “Giving of the law” – It is they, not Gentiles, to whom God gave the law.
  • Worship – This refers to worship and honor of god through the sacrificial system.
  • Promises – These are bound up in the covenants – like the promise of people, nation, land.
  • Patriarchs – This is one of the badges of membership into the Promises.

 

They even have, “according to the flesh…the Christ, who is God over all”.

  • This is the ultimate crowning achievement.
  • The Jesus the Messiah is Himself a Jew, descended from the Patriarchs.
  • The Jews birthed the Messiah!

 

But, as N.T. Wright reminds us, such a relationship to the Messiah is not enough.

“The Jews really are the people of the Messiah, but they are that ‘according to the flesh’. The Messiah really does belong to them, but only in the ‘fleshly’ sense…” – N.T. Wright.

 

By implication, the point is they don’t stand in relation to him through faith!

  • And here lies the problem.

 

Israel is the source of the Messiah…

  • But they know him not.
  • Thus…the reason for Paul’s lament.

 

 

Jesus as God?

We need to pay special attention to the end of verse 5.

  • “According to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

 

Is Paul saying that Christ is God (ho on theos)?

 

Depends on your particular translation.

  • ESV – “according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
  • NRSV – “according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
  • HCSB – “by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”
  • NASB – “from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

 

These translations disagree with each other.

  • The ESV and HCSB have Paul saying Christ is God.
  • The NRSV and the NASB do not.

 

Why such vastly different takes?

“Exegetes and theologians since the inception of the church have been sharply divided over this question. The issue is one of punctuation and therefore of interpretation, for Greek manuscripts of the NT rarely contain punctuation marks and the marks that are found tend to be sporadic and irregular” – Doug Moo.

 

The differing translations can be understood broadly in two ways:

  • (1) Christology – Paul’s thought was that “God” was predicated to “Christ”, so that “Christ” is “God”.
  • (2) Doxology – Paul’s thought was that only “over all” was predicated to Christ – as in “Lord over all”.
    • Meaning that “God blessed forever, Amen” starts a new thought.
    • Specifically it would be a doxology offered to God for all the privileges had by Israel.

 

Which one is right?

 

Doug Moo, after going into great detail on both options, says this:

  • “Connecting ‘God’ to ‘Christ’ is therefore exegetically preferable, theologically unobjectionable, and contextually appropriate. Paul here calls the Messiah, Jesus, ‘God,’ attributing to him full divine status” – Doug Moo.

 

But Gordon Fee, after going into great detail on both options, says this:

“It seems incongruous both to the letter as a whole and to the present context in particular—not to mention Paul’s usage throughout the corpus—that Paul should suddenly call the Messiah theos when his coming in the flesh is the ultimate expression of what God is doing in the world”.

  • In other words, the importance for the context is the distinction between Jesus and God.

 

So…take your pick.

  • Just be flexible about it.

 

 

 

Romans 8:38-39 – Unseen Realm – Part 2

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Last week we did some foundation work.

  • We introduced the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.

 

This was necessary to give us the background behind Paul’s list in verses 38 and 39.

  • Specifically the personal forces that seek to separate us from God’s love in Christ.
  • nor angels nor rulers…nor powers”.

 

Today we continue our exploration of these personal forces.

  • Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

Cosmic Geography and Angels, Rulers and Powers :

How do Paul’s angels, rulers and powers…

  • Connect to last week’s exploration of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview?

 

So the Deuteronomy 32 worldview…

  • Is a worldview pertaining to something called Cosmic Geography.

 

As we saw last week…

  • This is the idea that some members of God’s divine council…
  • Which the OT refers to interchangeably as elohim, sons of god, host of heaven, sun, moon, or stars
  • Were made ruler over certain parts of the known world.

 

But God kept for Himself, as “his own inheritance”, the descendants of Abraham.

  • Thus, the reason why He marked out the Promised Land from the other nations.
  • It was to be the geography of his inheritance.

 

The Bible captures these events in 3 texts:

  • Genesis 11:7–9 (ESV) — 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
  • Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (ESV) — 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind [dispersed them], he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
  • Deuteronomy 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.

 

And then at some point in history there was an elohim rebellion:

  • Psalm 82:1–8 (ESV) — 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

 

As a result of this rebellion…

  • God prophesied through the Psalmist that he would bring judgment upon them.
  • And, importantly, that He would take for Himself as an inheritance “all the nations!

 

Importantly, this meant that until such judgment comes…

  • There exist a number of elohim battling against God…
  • There is a coming judgment…
  • And there is a plan for God to inherit all the nations.

 

Michael Heiser puts it this way:

“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Old Testament is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations” – Michael Heiser.

 

The point:

  • This is the worldview that Paul inhabited.

 

So the connection between Paul and the Cosmic Geography of a Deut. 32 worldview…

  • Is quite simple.

 

When he spoke of angel, rulers, and powers (obviously not in all contexts)…

  • Paul was using NT language for the elohim, sons of god, host of heaven, sun, moon, or stars.

 

In other words, Paul was talking about the rebel elohim under judgment.

  • And he was doing so in the context of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview and its Cosmic Geography.

 

A quick look at a variety of scholars will make this point about our text:

  • Paul often, “uses [this language] to denote powers or authorities of the spirit world…those of an evil nature” – Moo.
  • “The pairing of ἀρχαί [rulers] with ἄγγελοι [angels] seals the issue since Paul never uses the latter term of governmental authorities but always of spiritual beings” – Tom Schreiner.
  • Paul is teaching that, “not even the most malevolent of metaphysical powers, can unfasten them from the divine love that is known and experienced in the Lord Jesus Christ” – Michael Bird.
  • Paul is “referring to the spiritual forces ruling the nations and bringing opposition against God’s people” – Craig Keener
  • “That preternatural [beyond what is normal] beings are in view need not be questioned” – John Murray.
  • We are dealing with “…powers which exercise their influence throughout the entire cosmos” – EDNT.
  • “These terms have something in common— they were used in both the New Testament and other Greek literature for geographical domain rulership [Cosmic Geography]. This is the divine dominion concept of Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 [Deuteronomy 32 worldview]” – Michael Heiser.

 

So I think we now see the connection.

  • But we need to tease out the implications of Paul’s teaching for us.
  • They are especially important to our understanding the Gospel itself!

 

To help us with this…

  • We need to fill out Paul’s thinking on these personal forces.

 

All of these compliment today’s text.

  • They all deal with the personal forces that seek to separate us from God’s love.
  • And the Cosmic Geography/Deuteronomy 32 worldview stuff helps us make sense of all of them.

 

 

Personal Forces Survey:

(1) Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) — 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 

This is a well known text – at least semantically.

  • By now, however, I hope we can appreciate this text for the depth of its content.

 

Paul says that we – saints/those in Christ – wrestle against:

  • rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

 

This idea of “wrestle against” is that we are involved in a struggle likened to…

  • Hand-to-hand combat.
  • This is WW1 trench warfare.

 

The context of this warfare is “this present darkness”.

  • What is this?

 

This includes the Cosmic Geography and the Deuteronomy 32 worldview ideas.

  • This is the rebel elohim.
  • And a nod to the fact that God has not yet fully inherited their nations and judged them.

 

And this warfare is clearly what Paul is referring to in our text today.

  • The rebel elohim are trying to sever us from the love of God in Christ.

 

This is why it is so important for us to realize that God’s love for us…

  • The accomplishing power we spoke of last week…
  • Is an all-powerful and unrelenting power that accomplishes God’s decrees without fail.

 

 

(2) 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (ESV) — 6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

 

Paul reveals a tantalizing truth about the rebel elohim.

  • He talks of their pending judgment – something he knows about from the OT.
  • He says the “rulers of this age” are doomed to pass away.

 

And then he gives us insight into the Gospel itself.

 

So we know that God would judge the rebel elohim…

  • And make all the nations His inheritance.

 

But, what Paul tells us here gives us a clue about how that these things would begin.

  • He says that “rulers of this age” had no foreknowledge of the work of Christ on the cross.
  • A work “decreed” by God “before the ages”.

 

He says if the did…

  • they would not have crucified the Lord”

 

Why not?

  • Apparently, Christ’s work on the cross…
  • Was directly related to judgment and inheritance.
  • The cross was a mechanism for securing this outcome.

 

 

(3) 1 Corinthians 15:24–25 (ESV) — 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

 

This passage picks up on our “why not?” from above.

  • Paul confirms again that the “rule and every authority and power” will be destroyed at “the end”.

 

He also tells us some intriguing things.

  • He describes the rebel elohim as Christ’s “enemies”.

 

So Paul pits Christ against the rebel elohim.

  • We are not alone in our hand-to-hand combat.

 

Paul then tells us that between the now and not yet…

  • Christ is “destroying every rule and every authority and power”.
  • He is at war with the rebel elohim.
  • He is putting them “under his feet”.

 

Finally, Paul gives us this tidbit:

  • the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father”.

 

So apparently another mechanism by which God secures the nations for Himself…

  • Is what Paul calls “the end”.

 

When this “the end” comes…

  • God the Father will have his full inheritance – “the kingdom” (all the nations).

 

Michael Heiser puts it like this:

  • “The coming of the incarnate Yahweh was the beginning of reclaiming those nations as well” – Michael Heiser.
  • Although Heiser adds, they “were not going to surrender their domains without a fight”.

 

BTW – Is it any wonder why the following scene played out in the Unseen Realm.

  • Satan and the other rebel elohim may not have known about the Gospel.
  • But they knew something was up with Jesus and tried to take Him out early.
  • Revelation 12:4 (ESV) — 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

 

 

(4) 1 Corinthians 6:3 (ESV) — 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!

First let me add to this text some related texts from Paul and Jesus.

  • 2 Timothy 2:12 (ESV) — 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
  • Luke 19:17 (ESV) — 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’

 

So here we get an answer to a tantalizing question.

  • Why are the rebel elohim after us?

 

The first answer is obvious.

  • They are at war with Christ and we are in Christ.

 

A second answer is more intriguing.

  • Paul says, “we are to judge angels”.
  • Paul says, “we will also reign with” Christ.

 

And Jesus, in speaking of the “economics” of the Kingdom of God says:

  • The faithful, in various proportions, “shall have authority over…cities”.

 

So apparently, the rebel elohim now know that it is the image bearer in Christ…

  • That will participate with Christ in divine rule.
  • In a sense, we replace the rebel elohim and they don’t like it!

 

 

Huge Gospel Implications:

All this from Paul should reshape how we think of the Gospel.

  • It should reshape how we think about the significance of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, exaltation and intercession.

 

The Gospel is not only about us.

  • We certainly are its beneficiaries.
  • We certainly partake in its blessings.

 

But we are, in some ways, just the tip of the iceberg.

  • The Gospel is how God initiates his assault on the rebel elohim.
  • The Gospel is how God initiates His reclamation of the nations for Himself.

 

And he uses Christ and his work on the cross to do this.

 

To appreciate this, we need only look at a few more texts.

  • Colossians 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
  • Ephesians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
  • Ephesians 3:9–11 (ESV) — 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
  • Hebrews 2:14 (ESV) — 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
  • Hebrews 2:8 (ESV) — 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

 

Having been buried, resurrected and exalted…

  • Jesus is now set up “over the hostile powers” – Craig Keener.

 

Now everything is subjected to Christ.

  • And through Christ everything is being and will be put right – including Cosmic Geography.

 

The cosmic rulers are “disarmed and put to shame by the cross” – Heiser.

  • This is the Gospel!

 

Isaiah sums up the final defeat of the rebel elohim well:

  • Isaiah 24:21–23 (ESV) — 21 On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. 22 They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. 23 Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.

 

And concerning God’s inheritance of the nations:

  • Isaiah 66:20–22 (ESV) — 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. 22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.

 

 

Romans 8:38-39 – Unseen Realm – Part 1

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Last week we opened up with Paul’s question:

  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (vs. 35).

 

We noted that with this question Paul was reframing his Romans 8 discussion around God’s love.

  • Our security in the Gospel, our future assurance of glorification, etc.
  • All of these are seen as an unassailable expression of God’s love through Christ to us.
  • He is their source.

 

We then saw how throughout his letters Paul associated God’s love with…

  • Action towards us.
  • As such, we characterized God’s love for us as His accomplishing power.

 

This love – this accomplishing power – was impervious to defeat by all comers…whether they be:

  • Impersonal Forces
  • Personal Forces

 

Neither one can sever our connection to God’s love – His accomplishing power.

  • Last week we dealt specifically with the impersonal forces or circumstances that seek to do so.

 

And if Paul’s listed ended with these, Paul’s audience would be troubled.

  • They might say that’s all well and good Paul.
  • But these forces aren’t personal.
  • What about the personal forces?

 

Only the personal forces possess a will that is actively seeking to destroy Christ’s:

  • Kingdom
  • Church
  • Saints

 

What about those forces?

 

This leads us into the stranger dimension of Paul’s list.

  • A dimension that first-world moderns usually gloss right over.
  • The personal forces of the unseen realm.

 

 

Personal Forces of The Unseen Realm:

Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Paul includes in his list the following personal forces.

  • nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers

 

These, too, are unable to sever us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

  • They too are casualties of God’s accomplishing power!

 

But who are they?

 

To get at the significance of who they are…

  • We need to unpack them a bit.

 

Question.

  • If you asked anyone in church today…
  • Why the world is all jacked up…
  • What would they say?

 

Likely, the answer would contain things like:

  • The Fall
  • Adam
  • Sin/Rebellion
  • Satan

 

If you asked an ancient Jew, why the world is all jacked up…

  • What would they say?

 

They would certainly acknowledge the role of Genesis 3.

  • But they would go well beyond it.

 

Michael Heiser sets up the “well beyond”.

“After Eden, God still intended to dwell with humanity. But there would be opposition. Divine beings in service to Yahweh could defect. Enemies of Yahweh and his rule, from the human to the divine to something in between, lurked over the horizon. Heaven and earth were destined to be reunited, but it would be a titanic struggle” – Michael Heiser.

 

There are two specific events in Genesis that demonstrate Heiser’s observation.

  • (1) The “sons of god” and Nephilim of Genesis 6.
    • About which Peter and Jude talk.
  • (2) The Tower of Babel incident found in Genesis 11 and Deuteronomy 32.
    • About which Paul talks.

 

In an effort to understand Paul’s personal force list…

  • We are going to deal with the second.
  • This represents what Michael Heiser calls the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.
  • We can unpack this worldview by looking at a few OT texts.

 

 

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview (Michael Heiser):

Genesis 11:5–9 (ESV) — 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

 

Here we see God’s response to the peoples’ effort to build the Tower and make a name for themselves.

  • The tower was their attempt to reestablish what was lost at Eden.
  • Access to the divine.
  • We all know the story.

 

It is interesting that God’s response in Genesis 11 parallels that of Genesis 1’s creation.

  • let us make man in our imageANDlet us go down and there confuse their language
  • So God created man in his own imageANDSo the LORD dispersed them

 

This is interesting because of the identity of the “us”.

  • The “us” is God’s divine council.
  • So, in both instances, God lays out a plan to His divine council.
  • And then God alone provides the action for the plan.

 

To flesh this out more, there is one more Babel text – often overlooked.

  • Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (ESV) — 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

 

Here we get more details.

  • The scattering of the people was “according to the number of the sons of God”.

 

The scattering played out like this – according to the text.

  • YHWH would soon set apart a portion of the people for himself – “his allotted heritage”.
  • His people, Jacob” = Israel.

 

And, as for the rest of the folks:

  • They were divvied up “according to the number of the sons of God”.
  • In other words, each of the “sons of God” had his allotment – his inheritance – of the remaining folks.

 

So this text shows us how:

“Yahweh’s dispersal of the nations at Babel resulted in his disinheriting those nations as his people” – Michael Heiser.

 

So what does all this mean?

  • Two things.

 

(1) God’s later call to Abraham in Gen. 12 was how he established His allotment – His inheritance.

  • This was done at the exclusion of the other nations.
  • This exclusion is part of Paul’s “God gave them up” language of Rom. 1:18-26.

 

But this was also an act of grace.

  • God called Abraham out of the East – the place of exile.
  • He called him out of the disinherited and excluded.
  • Importantly, God didn’t make a new Adam.

 

(2) “The rest of the nations were placed under the authority of Yahweh’s divine council” – Michael Heiser.

  • These are the plural “us” of the “let us go down”.
  • The “sons of God”.

 

Moses speaks of this event here:

  • Deuteronomy 4:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.

 

Here Moses gives a warning that operates on top of the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.

  • God’s inheritance (Israel) is tempted to follow after the “host of heaven”…
  • The “sons of God” of the other nations.

 

In effect, they want to reject their inheritance with Yahweh and choose to be heirs of the “host of heaven”.

  • AKA –“the sun and the moon and the stars”.
  • Insane!

 

Moses reminds them:

  • God delivered you from this very thing – Egypt and her gods.
  • He did so that you might be His “own inheritance”.
  • So get a grip!

 

 

Rabbit Trail – Naaman and Dirt

  • 2 Kings 5:17 (ESV) — 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.

 

Naaman had finally submitted to the cure Elisha offered him in the sorry waters of the Jordan.

  • The result was his healing and a change in his believing loyalty – he switched it to YHWH.

 

So why would Naaman request “two mule loads of earth” from Israel to take back Damascus?

  • You guessed it!
  • Has to do with Deut. 32 worldview and Moses’ warning in Deut. 4.
  • Syrian dirt is (currently) under the inheritance of Rimmon.

 

 

All of this sets up the next scene in our Unseen Realm drama.

  • We know that the disinherited nations become the enemy and foil of Israel.
  • The modern reader easily notices this fact.

 

But what about the “sons of god” of those rebellious nations – what becomes of them?

 

The Psalmist gives us a glimpse:

  • Psalm 82:1–8 (ESV) — 1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

 

Here the Psalmist gives us a shocking glimpse into the unseen realm.

  • Some of the “gods” (“sons of Most High”) – the elohim over the other nations – have rebelled.
  • They, like Satan (himself an elohim), have aligned themselves against God and His purposes.
  • Their end is to die like men and lose their inheritance – “O God…you shall inherit the nations!” (vs. 8).

 

Michael Heiser puts it like this:

  • “Yahweh [is] judging other elohim, sons of the Most High, for their corruption in administering the nations” – Michael Heiser.

 

Next week we will flesh out exactly how this informs Paul’s:

  • nor angels nor rulers” – “nor powers

 

Heiser gives us a glimpse:

“From the fateful decision at Babel onward, the story of the Old Testament is about Israel versus the disinherited nations, and Yahweh versus the corrupt, rebel elohim of those nations. The division of the nations and their allotment under other elohim is behind the scenes in all sorts of places in biblical history” – Michael Heiser.