Monthly Archives: March 2017

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 verse 15 of Romans 9 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 from Exodus.

  • 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 text 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 deals 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.