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Bible: What Does Romans 9 Teach Us About Israel's Future Salvation and the Absolute Sovereignty of God?

Updated on June 19, 2016

The Olive Tree


Romans 9: Israel's Future Salvation, and the Absolute Sovereignty of God

Romans 9

God's Relationship to the Nation of Israel

The next three chapters answer mystifying questions regarding God’s relationship to the nation of Israel.

As Paul begins his discussion, he discloses the absolute truth under God regarding his unending, heart-felt grief that the Jewish people have turned from Christ (vv. 1-2).

He asserts that if he could give up his salvation so that the Jews might receive the Lord, he would do it (v. 3).

The apostle lists the enormous advantages and privileges that belonged to the Israelites:

(1) adoption into God’s family (cf. Ex. 4:22);

(2) sightings of God’s shekinah (cf. Ex. 16:10);

(3) participation in the covenants of promise (e.g., Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, New); and

(4) reception of the Law of Moses with its services and promises (v. 4; cf. Romans 3:1-2).

In addition, the Israelites descended from the patriarchs, and the humanity of the Messiah, “the eternally blessed God,” came from them (v. 5).

[Paul confesses his own belief in the deity of Christ here (v. 5b)].

To answer a supposed objection that the Scripture has failed regarding God’s promises to Israel, the apostle employs rhetorical flair (“it is not . . . has taken no effect”), arguing that the word of God has indeed brought about its intended effects.

Only true Israel has responded to the gospel; those who are only physical descendants of Jacob have not (v. 6).

Paul points out that God considers “the called” only those descendants in Isaac’s lineage, not all of Abraham’s physical children (v. 7; cf. Gen. 21:12).

The LORD promised the “already dead” Abraham that elderly Sarah would bear Isaac (cf. Gen. 17:15-22; Rom. 4:13-21).

Isaac’s “people” constitute the “children of the promise,” but Abraham’s other physical descendants are not “children of God” (vv. 8-9; cf. Gen. 18:10).

Brothers in the Flesh Only


Jacob and Esau

When the apostle discusses the case of Jacob and Esau, he adds more evidence that God chooses some to salvation and allows others the freedom to go their own way (vv. 10-13).

When Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, conceived the fraternal twins Jacob and Esau (v. 10), God told her that Esau (the older) would serve the younger (Jacob) [v. 12; cf. Gen. 25:23].

The LORD purposed to elect Jacob to salvation, graciously calling him before his birth, not basing His selection on any moral action of Jacob (v. 11).

In Malachi 1:2, 3, God expresses His relationship with Isaac’s two sons: love for Jacob and hatred for Esau; Paul reiterates these verses here to show Jacob’s preeminence over Esau (v. 13).

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The Absolute Sovereignty of God

Again, Paul opens with his characteristic “What shall we say then?” query, using it as a pedagogical tool to lead into taking the opposing position (“Is there unrighteousness with God?”).

Of course, in true Pauline style, he answers his set-up question with another me genoito (v. 14; cf. 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7).

God, he asserts, is free to show mercy or not to show mercy to any sinner He wishes.

As support for his teaching, Paul cites the OT incident in which the LORD chose to show Moses His glory and Israel His mercy through him (v. 15; cf. Ex. 33:19).

The apostle makes clear that salvation originates with a God who chooses to show mercy to someone, not with a man who secures salvation through an act of his own will (v. 16).

[What does the phrase “him who runs” mean?]

Paul supports his position with another OT passage, this one dealing with the LORD’s two-fold purpose for raising up the Pharaoh of the Exodus:

(1) to show His power, and

(2) to make His name known universally (v. 17a).

[Notice that Paul equates the written Word with the Word spoken by God.]

He concludes that God chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and not to show mercy to him (v. 18).

The apostle next raises an opponent’s likely objection; in essence, it argues, “It is not just for a God who wills the hardening of a man’s heart to punish this one for his deeds; the man had no choice in the matter” (v. 19).

Instead of analyzing the difficulties of this thorny, existential problem, Paul falls back on the Scriptural teaching of the absolute sovereignty of God, and asserts that created beings have no right to complain to the Creator about how He has made them (v. 20).

[When Job asked God why He made his life miserable, the LORD gave him the same type of answer (chapters 38-40).

The bottom line appears to be that humanity cannot understand the answer; it is locked in the deep of God’s omniscience, and finds its perfect resolution in the mind of Infinite Justice.

This answer might not satisfy human curiosity, but it appears to be the only one God has chosen to provide.]

The Potter and the Clay


Using the figure of the Potter and clay, Paul argues that the Creator has the absolute authority to save one vessel and condemn the other (v. 21).

Perhaps referring back to Pharaoh and Egypt, the apostle, using a rhetorical question, deduces that God maintains the prerogative to put up with those who prepared themselves for destruction (vessels of wrath) in order that He might reveal “the riches of His glory” to those He called from eternity past to receive honor (Jew and Gentile vessels of mercy) [vv. 22-24).

Paul then cites Hosea 1:9-10 to indicate God’s future acceptance of the Gentiles as His beloved people, temporarily replacing Israel with them (vv. 25-26).

Regarding Israel’s salvation, the apostle enlists Isaiah’s aid twice, first citing Isaiah 10:22-23 to prove that God will rescue only a remnant from future destruction (vv. 27-28).

His second reference to the prophet reveals that only through the mercy of the LORD of hosts will Israel’s remnant survive judgment (v. 29; cf. Is. 1:9).

Again, the apostle prefaces the next branch to his argument with his standard query, “What shall we say then?” (v. 30a; cf. 9:14, et al).

On the one hand, those who once cared nothing about being right with God—namely, the goyim—have attained this status by faith (v. 30b).

On the other hand, those who diligently sought righteousness (that is, the Jews) have not achieved it, because they tried to earn it by doing good works and trying to keep the Law (vv. 31-32a).

Having rejected Christ, their stumblingblock in Zion, Israel will experience only shame (vv. 32b-33; cf. 1 Pet. 2:8).

© 2013 glynch1


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