I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.
Chapters 9-11 of the Book of Romans is arguably the most important section concerning the Jewish people as it relates to their covenantal and eschatological relationship with God.
In these chapters, God promises that “all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26).” The Apostle Paul addresses that Gentiles, who were adopted into the family—should show mercy to the Jews (Rom 11:31).
Finally, Paul reiterates throughout the epistle how the gospel was brought “to the Jews first” and here in chapter 9 how Sha’ul (Paul) was willing to be under God’s curse to help his fellow brethren.
Paul expresses in the Greek, ἀδιάλειπτος, this notion of having unceasing, permanent anguish in his heart for the people of Israel. He imitates that of Moses. Remember when Israel apostatized and built the golden calf? Moses prayed, “The people have sinned a great sin and have made themselves gods of gold. Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray, out of your book which you have written (Ex. 32:32).”
The fact that Paul was willing to be cut off from Christ for the sake of the people of Israel shows the magnitude of our role to share the gospel with the Jews. Did you know that in the synagogues today, the Jews pray that their sins would be forgiven and their names written in the book of life? This is a testimony to how ripe they are to hear the gospel and be saved. Let’s show them their Messiah from the Scriptures!
Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
In this passage, Paul is expressing in the Greek, υἱοθεσία, that they inherited the divine sonship. God chose Israel by establishing the covenants, giving them the law, temple worship, and the human ancestry of the Messiah.
Not only were these covenants promised in Genesis 17 and Exodus 19-24, but also the New Covenant (Jer. 31:30) that was created by Jesus. In fact, the New covenant was given to the Jews first, although its term extended to include the Gentiles.
6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
In verse 6, Paul makes it clear that God’s word did not fail. While God is sovereign, the one who promised never to leave or forsake Israel, the Lord also gives humans the freedom to accept or reject His plan. Therefore, those who rejected His decrees are to blame—for not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
Furthermore, Paul states that it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. This promise is not physical, but spiritual. Just because someone came from the same lineage as the Messiah or is a Jew by birth doesn’t grant them inheritance. They must be circumcised in the heart and be born-again by the Spirit.
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac.11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
This passage articulates divine election. It’s hard to fathom, but God did not choose Jacob by his works of obedience. He did not reject Esau because of his unrighteous lifestyle. Rather, before the twins were born or did anything “good or bad,” God had already ordered their steps. His providence was already established: “The older will serve the younger.” For God loved Jacob but hated Esau.
The Greek word for “hate” here is ἐμίσησα. It means to love less (Gen. 29:31; Deut. 21:15; Matt. 6:24; Lk. 14:26). In today’s vernacular, the words love and hate would be rendered accepted and rejected. Therefore, God doesn’t actually hate Esau. Instead, he was rejected to become the object of His mercy. Paul will discuss this seemingly contradictory idea between God’s sovereignty and man’s human responsibility in the next several verses.
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
God has the divine right to do whatever he wishes. He can display mercy to whomever he pleases or harden whomever he desires. This is a difficult concept to accept. As humans, we are accustomed to being the center of the universe. Pride and self-esteem have turned our thinking into humanism and idolatry of self rather than adoration of God.
This paragraph is an important reminder that God is the central character of the story. He is in charge of who participates in His divine will. Therefore, it would behoove us to humble ourselves and seek the mercy of God. For all of us have sinned and deserve God’s wrath. No one truly deserve His compassion and mercy.
Also, there is comfort in knowing it does not depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. If it was up to human effort, we would fail miserably. Just ask yourself the following questions: Have you ever lied? Been angry? Lusted? Coveted something that was not yours? Disobeyed parents? Created an idol in your heart? In all honesty, our condemnation is just.
Once we change our viewpoint to God’s perspective, this verse doesn’t become as difficult. It’s still hard to accept, but this is God’s world. He can raise men like Pharaoh up to display His glory, and then cast them away from his mercy (Ex 7:13; 8:19). Therefore, pray and hope that God will spare your life with his mercy and grace.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Paul anticipates the rebuttal from this theology. One might say: If God hardens us, how can he blame us? If God predestines us, then how are his ways just? This idea of resisting God’s will comes from the Greek word ἀνθέστηκεν, which expresses opposition or standing against God’s will.
The Apostle Paul responds with a metaphor. He describes God as the potter and humans as the clay. Next, he asks this simple question: “Doesn’t the potter have the right to do what he wants with the clay?” The answer, of course, is yes. The potter is in complete control. Without the potter, the clay is useless. It can’t function on it’s own. Therefore, we have no right to tell the potter how to use the clay.
22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea: I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one, and “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.”
While God is completely sovereign, in this passage He demonstrates human volition. For it says God bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction. Therefore, while the Lord does harden sinners, keep in mind that they hardened their own hearts too. Exodus 8:32 states: “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.”
God gave Pharaoh multiple opportunities to repent. For instance, the plagues God sent were actually done in mercy. God was pleading with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go or things would get much worse. Pharaoh’s hardened heart continued to rebel, despite God’s patience—and this led to more suffering.
Moreover, God not only made a covenant with Israel, but a new covenant to both the Jews and Gentiles. God has called every tribe, tongue, and nation to repent and believe in the gospel. 2 Peter 3:9 articulates God’s desire: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality. It is just as Isaiah said previously: Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”
Paul uses the Greek word ὑπόλειμμα to convey remnant as those who are left surviving at the end. This passage was quoted from Isaiah 10:23 and refers to God’s work in saving a remnant from the previous Assyrian destruction.
The overwhelming power of the Assyrian army would make the readers remember how the Israelites felt being defeated. But that’s why God has promised a remnant that will survive through even the fiercest battle at the end of the age.
Additionally, Paul uses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of being completely destroyed in judgment. But this was not due to a human army but rather the power of God. Therefore, even in the midst of judgment, God showed his mercy to Judah. He spared Lot. The Lord always has a remnant, and this is the hope Paul is conveying throughout his letter.
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Previously, Paul made it clear that the only way to be saved was through faith. It is not by the works of the law–and that this salvation only comes through the work of a crucified Savior (1 Cor. 1:22-23).
Unfortunately, this idea of salvation by “faith” became a stumbling block to the Jews. They attempted to earn their righteousness by keeping the law. However, we know that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law (Rom. 3:20).
Furthermore, Paul shows that Israel is responsible for their present condition. They stumbled over their own stumbling block by trying to attain justification through the law. But Galatians 3:24 states that the law was meant to be a guardian until Christ came so that we might be justified by faith.
In other words, the law is still good. The law points us to Christ. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” He also told the disciples that the law has not become obsolete; it is not abolished. We are still to obey God’s righteous decrees.
Nevertheless, the difference is that the law never had the power to save us. This is where the Israelites made a misstep. Only the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is sufficient to do that. The Apostle Paul will clarify these concepts in chapter 10.
Commentary by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)