Paul has great sorrow in his heart. Why? Because the Israelites are partakers of the blessings of Christ, but they do not all recognize it. The opening five verses of chapter nine confirm that God has given all of the blessings in Jesus Christ to the nation of Israel, “to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.”
Paul is greatly grieved that the Israelites seem to be excluded from the blessings of Christ, although in truth he knows that God’s chosen people have access to Christ and are actually closer to Him than other peoples of the time. Paul knows that Christ’s origin was divine, but that His path to earth as a man was afforded by the Jews.
In truth, the majority of the Jews simply do not accept Jesus as their Savior, as the One spoken of in the Old Testament as the Messiah. This saddens Paul to such an extent that he would be separated from Jesus if it meant that his people, the Israelites, would be united to Christ. His statement to this effect in verse three, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,” echoes a similar statement from his forefather in faith Moses, that was made in Exodus 32:32: “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
Whether Paul’s declaration was made in conscious knowledge of the parallel sentiment expressed by Moses is unclear but it suggests that Paul’s faith and sense of self-sacrifice for the benefit of his fellow countrymen was at least as great as that of Moses, a giant of faith in the Old Law.
Paul is quick to appropriately divide the blame for this situation. He clarifies that it is not due to the lack of power in God’s Word or lack of power of Christ that results in the Israelites’ alienation from the blessings of the Savior. Not all children of Israel are left out of the blessings of Christ; some have recognized God’s plan and accepted Christ. But for others, even though they are God’s people and have a heritage of being cared for by God, their physical lineage does not secure them a relationship with God under the new covenant. To help make this point, Paul uses Abraham as an example. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac inherited the promises and not Ishmael, even though Ishmael was firstborn. Another example Paul provides is that of Jacob and Esau. Even before they were born, God had purposed that Jacob would be the prominent son. This election by God is referenced as “not of works but of Him who calls,” suggesting that our destiny is bound up not only in the choices we make but also by the foreknowledge of God. God’s election in this sense is a mystery to us; we know that our free will determines our destiny, but God’s sovereign will plays a part in the tendency of belief and obedience. We will not truly understand the nuance of God’s election and our free will this side of eternity, but we should be amazed by God’s power and ability to see all from His divine perspective. His living outside of time and other factors must play a part in His purpose for creation.
The chapter continues in verse fourteen to affirm that it is up to God to determine who receives mercy, compassion, and salvation. The fact that God defines true justice is a given; we know there is no partiality and therefore our faith prompts confidence in His judgment, as well as some healthy fear. The point of verses fourteen through eighteen is that God decides our fate based on His righteous judgment of each of us, but that there is still a bit of mystery in the process. “Him who calls,” in respect to His divine perspective and perfect wisdom and judgment, considers many things unknowable to us when He weighs our hearts and executes His judgment.
Verses nineteen through twenty-four have a humbling affect in the midst of this complex discourse on judgment and God’s perspective on mankind. We need to count it a blessing simply that we have the knowledge of God and Christ that saves us. To question God’s judgment, methods, or rationale is absurd. To drive the point home, Paul uses the simple illustration in verses twenty through twenty-four: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
Paul attempts to explain the unknowable complexities of God’s plan by submitting the ideas of vessels made to demonstrate God’s wrath and vessels made to demonstrate God’s mercy (vessels = people). It is important to note here that Paul is not saying that God designs some for punishment, but He is making that point that if God decided to do this, who are we to question? We are His creation, completely under His control and at His mercy. Gratitude, not contempt or insolence, should be our response to His blessings and judgements alike.
Two verses are then quoted from the minor prophet Hosea to show that God had purposed to call both Jews and Gentiles to Him. The passages quoted from Isaiah that follow affirm Israel’s place in God’s plan through Jesus Christ. Christ was the seed that came through Israel, but that does not mean that all of Israel will be saved; Jews and Gentiles alike will be saved through Jesus, dependent on their belief, strength of faith, and obedience.
The final three verses of this important chapter sum up the discourse through the lens of law versus faith. The Israelites, who sought to serve God through the law as commanded, were not justified through the law but now have their chance to be justified by faith in Jesus. If the Israelites deny Christ and continue in the law, they are not justified. Likewise, the Gentiles, having access to God through faith in Jesus, also have the opportunity to be justified by faith in Jesus.
Where does that leave us? Most of us are not Jews practicing the Old law. If we were, it would behoove us to recognize the law in its proper place and instead turn to Christ. But as Gentiles, we are today faced with the very personal question: “Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” If we do, we are bound to listen, study, and obey the Words of the Son of God.
What do you believe?