Romans 9:1-29 – Week Twelve
Last week, we discussed several things. One was trusting God in His silence and the other focus was experiencing an easy life vs. a purposeful life.
If a person desires to have an easy life, then they most likely do not have a relationship with God. They aren’t concerned with pleasing Him or glorifying Him. They view God as a source to call on when they want something. And when He doesn’t jump at the opportunity to serve them, those periods of silence can result in bitterness, hurt, or worse, disbelief in God Himself.
However, if a person positions themselves before God to have a purposeful life, that’s a clear indicator that there is a real relationship with Him. Self-centeredness is cast aside in order to be willing to have God’s will orchestrate the steps of their lives. Silence from God isn’t the absence of answers, but rather it is the calming assurance that He is still there and He will speak when the time is right.
It seems that we just can’t emphasize that very familiar verse in chapter 8 enough. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV A verse that most of us know by heart and stake claim to when things aren’t going so great. We’ve referenced it the past two weeks and I just can’t help but use it as the foundation for today’s discussion on Romans 9; especially that phrase “according to His purpose”.
First of all, I want to remind you of something you already know. The book of Romans was an actual letter penned by Paul to Jews and Gentiles. We call it a book with chapters and verses, but these words were written in a letter format to real people for the sole purpose of communicating with them on important matters. In chapter 8, Paul has just finished with such encouraging thoughts. If God is for us, who can be against us!? You are His child. He has redeemed us; made us righteous. He’s shown His love for you and me through Jesus and we can never lose that. We have victory in Christ Jesus! And he points out at the very end that nothing can separate us from God’s love. That seems like such a good place to end the letter, doesn’t it? Leave ‘em on a high note! But that’s not how it goes.
Romans 9:1-2 NRSV “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”
Wait – what? If you’re like me, I was reading from chapter 8 to chapter 9 and I thought maybe some pages got stuck together. How did Paul go from being so jubilant at the end of chapter 8 to experiencing “great sorrow” and “unceasing anguish” in the first words of chapter 9? There didn’t seem to be any transition from one emotion to the other. And then he goes even deeper with the sorrow. Romans 9:3 NRSV “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
The Hebrew word for accursed that is used here is anathema; it basically means “excommunicated”. What Paul is saying is that he would choose to be excommunicated from the body of Christ if it would mean that his people, the Jews, would be saved. Can you imagine? Is that something you’ve ever considered on behalf of someone you loved? To be willing to relinquish your eternity in Heaven so that someone else could experience it. That’s an unfathomable sacrifice!
Paul’s passion is very much like that of Moses after the incident with the golden calf. If you recall, in Exodus 30, Moses asks God to forgive the Israelites and he says to God, “If you won’t forgive them, then just erase my name from Your book.” Moses, like Paul, is so grieved that his own people are disappointing God and rejecting God so much so that he is willing to sacrifice his own “blessed assurance” of being God’s own. Paul goes on to say that the Israelites had many advantages – “adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah “ Romans 9:3-4
Despite the advantages given to them, many of the Israelites did not choose God and did not consider themselves to be God’s people. Paul, knowing that there may be some questions or misunderstandings about what he’s writing, goes on to clarify. In Romans 9:6 ERV “I don’t mean that God failed to keep his promise to the Jewish people. But only some of the people of Israel are really God’s people. 7 And only some of Abraham’s descendants are true children of Abraham.”
Paul is referring back to a conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 21 when God tells Abraham that “Your true descendants will be those who come through Isaac.”
What is significant to us is that God doesn’t use our ethnicity, our background, our DNA, our upbringing, skin color, hair color, or anything else to determine whether we are His child. We know that Abraham’s first biological child was Ishmael. After Sarah died, Abraham went on to have other children. But Isaac was the only child that was promised by God. In fact, God had spoken of Isaac even before his conception and He had promised Abraham as well as Sarah that a son would be born to them.
In Genesis 22:2 AMP God is very specific when He says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son [of [a]promise], whom you love, Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
It’s not that God has forgotten about Ishmael, but rather God sees Isaac as the only son that was the result of a promise or a covenant between Him and Abraham. God had a particular purpose for Isaac and his life. As a result, the only true descendants will come through Isaac.
Paul continues in Romans 9 with another example. This time he goes to the next generation and uses Isaac’s offspring. Romans 9: 10 GNT “And this is not all. For Rebecca’s two sons had the same father, our ancestor Isaac. 11-12 But in order that the choice of one son might be completely the result of God’s own purpose, God said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” He said this before they were born, before they had done anything either good or bad; so God’s choice was based on his call, and not on anything they had done. 13 As the scripture says, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.”
Before Esau and Jacob were born, God had already determined their roles. God told Rebecca that the twins represented two nations (Israel and Edom) and that they would be separated. One would be stronger than the other and the younger would rule over the older. And then Paul brings up a reference from Malachi in which God states He loved Jacob but hated Esau. God showed favor towards Jacob even in the womb. Before they were even born, God knew that Jacob would be His child and Esau would not. Esau, scripture tells us, despised his birthright. This was symbolic of rejecting God.
Much of my research this week had two words continuously creeping up. Sovereign election or divine election. The idea is that God, being omniscient, knows who is going to do what with circumstances and He selects the person whom He knows will carry out His will. Out of this very idea are different theologies that are Protestant-based but have opposing thoughts on the sovereignty of God. Some people believe that God orchestrates our every move, including our salvation and that He has chosen certain ones to be His children; it’s referred to as “predestination”. Because they believe that when God chooses someone, their salvation can never be lost. This is referred to as Calvinism. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that God has knowledge of what our choices will be, including salvation, but it is only our free will which enables us to choose God or not. They also believe that God has limited His control over our choices to allow for our free will. This is known as Armianism. (This is a very, very basic description of these two beliefs and there is certainly a lot more to the ideology of both of them. It is not my intention to oversimplify or disparage either of these theologies.)
Others settle in the middle of these two theologies and incorporate a little bit of both to make up the doctrine we hold onto. Generally speaking, most people feel that God is sovereign AND has given us free will to make our own choices. One of which is to either choose God or not to choose Him. Personally, I believe 100% that God knows what our choice will be and if we do choose Him, I believe He knows when that will occur. I don’t think that God is surprised by any of our choices. Along this way of thinking then, you could say that we are predestined to be His or not only because God knows before we are conceived whether or not we choose to be His child. But I don’t think that it’s God’s intention, desire, or predestination that some people do not choose Him; rather, He just simply knows who will choose Him. I base that on a few things, but most particularly 1 Timothy 2: 3-4 NET “Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Warren W. Wiersbe says, “If everybody is saved, it would deny His holiness, but if everybody is lost, it would deny His love. The solution to the problem is God’s sovereign election.” He goes on to share what a seminary professor once said. “Try to explain election and you may lose your mind; but explain it away and you will lose your soul!”[i]
I believe that this is one of those areas in which we have to see this as one of the mysteries that we will never understand until we get to Heaven. Frankly, once we are there in His presence, I’m not sure that it will really matter to us anymore.
As Paul is writing this letter, I love how he anticipates any questions or concerns that his readers may have. He’s giving them (and us!) some heavy stuff here to consider. After he uses the examples of the partiality shown to Isaac and then later to Jacob, Paul throws out a question that I’m sure some of the readers had.
Romans 9: 14 GNT “Shall we say, then, that God is unjust? Not at all. (Other translations read: “Are we saying that God is unfair?”) 15 For he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on anyone I wish; I will take pity on anyone I wish.” 16 So then, everything depends, not on what we humans want or do, but only on God’s mercy. 17 For the scripture says to the king of Egypt, “I made you king in order to use you to show my power and to spread my fame over the whole world.” 18 So then, God has mercy on anyone he wishes, and he makes stubborn anyone he wishes.“
Paul uses the example of Pharoah in this. As you recall, over and over in Exodus as Moses is sent to Pharaoh, on God’s behalf, by the way, scripture tells us that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. The main goal was to rescue the Israelites from Pharoah’s captivity, but God purposefully made Pharoah stubborn so that it didn’t happen. It seems as if God put up a roadblock in His own path. But Exodus 9:15-16 gives us insight. “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 (emphasis mine) I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” ESV
If Pharoah had let the Israelites go with Moses the first time he made the request, the story wouldn’t be nearly as significant, would it? It would have been more of a man-to-man transaction and there wouldn’t be a lot of focus on God’s involvement. That would have been the easy way. Moses makes a request and Pharoah complies. End of story. No plagues. No favoritism shown to the Israelites during the plagues. No Passover. No Red Sea. No real sense of power and victory for God’s people. Because of the ongoing conflicts and the sufferings, the escape, the exodus was much more than a simple transaction between two men. As a result, the story is rich in showing God’s power, His providence, and His purpose.
So then that begs the question that if God is in control and He does what He wills such as He did with Pharoah’s heart, are we to be blamed for our choices? Paul continues in Romans.
Romans 9: 19 GNT But one of you will say to me, “If this is so, how can God find fault with anyone? Who can resist God’s will?” 20 But who are you, my friend, to talk back to God? A clay pot does not ask the man who made it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 After all, the man who makes the pots has the right to use the clay as he wishes, and to make two pots from the same lump of clay, one for special occasions and the other for ordinary use.”
Thanks to the behavior of Adam and Eve, we all suffer from a sense of self-entitlement. “A sense of entitlement is a personality trait that is based on a person’s belief that they deserve privileges or recognition for things that they did not earn. In simple terms, people experiencing this believe that the world owes them something in exchange for nothing.”[ii]
Adam and Eve felt entitled to eat from the one tree that was forbidden to them. David felt entitled to send for Bathsheba. Lot’s wife felt entitled to look back. Judas felt entitled to betray Jesus for a few coins. Our claims of entitlement may vary, but we all have them. We forget Who God is and that we are owed nothing! Our salvation from eternal damnation is a gift that can never be matched. That alone should be enough, but we rarely think it is.
We make comparisons to others and want what they have. We whine during the uncomfortable times in our life and fail to recognize the good that God creates from it. We plead with Him over and over to give us what we desire instead of asking Him to give us the desires He wants us to crave. We beg Him for specific things then fail to thank Him when He answers. We get angry and hurt when He doesn’t answer. All the while forgetting that He is God, we are not. He is the potter and we are the clay. He is the Creator and we are His creation. He had a purpose in mind when He formed us and it’s up to us to fulfill that purpose.
Romans 9: 22 ERV “He wanted to show his anger and to let people see his power. But he patiently endured those he was angry with—people who were ready to be destroyed. 23 He waited with patience so that he could make known the riches of his glory to the people he has chosen to receive his mercy. God has already prepared them to share his glory. 24 We are those people, the ones God chose not only from the Jews but also from those who are not Jews.”
Twice in that passage, Paul writes that God was patient and he gives us the reason for God’s patience: “so that He could make know the riches of His glory”. That’s His purpose. God exercises patience with us so that His mercy is evident. He has patience with us because He has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us. He didn’t create you just because He was bored and had some extra clay laying around. Some people go through life feeling like that; as if they have no purpose. Scripture tells us that He knew us before we were created in our mother’s womb. He knows when we sit and when we stand. He has numbered our steps. He knows our thoughts. He not only knows the number of hairs on your head, He knows your natural color. Why would He invest so much in you if He didn’t create you for a purpose?
Do you like to declutter your closets or home on a regular basis? I’ve been in the process of doing that little by little since I retired. I went through my kitchen gadget drawer a few weeks ago when it became difficult to open and close. As I pulled each item out of the drawer, I made the decision to keep it or donate it based on its purpose and my need for it. I discovered items I had forgotten I owned. A meat thermometer, a can strainer, even a melon baller. As I looked at this drawer full of tools, I realized these were all things I had bought; they weren’t gifts. I had intentionally bought them for a specific purpose. But how often these items were used and how purposeful they were for me was in my control.
I don’t know that I’ve ever used the meat thermometer or the melon baller. The can strainer was a nice surprise, though. But as I was examining each item I used the criteria of its value to me. If I’ve had these items for a few years and had never used them, then it was clear I didn’t need to keep them. They were of no use to me and so, into the donation box they all went. It’s not that the items didn’t work; it was more of the fact that they were of no use to me. Their sole function or purpose was not beneficial to me at all.
Makes me wonder if God looks at us like that drawer of kitchen gadgets. He knows what we were created for because He created us. He also knows that in order for us to fulfill our purpose in life, we have to be used. We have to be taken out of the drawer or our comfortable resting spot and put to work. I have a citrus squeezer and I use it to squeeze really hard to get the juice from lemons or limes. Sometimes we feel under such pressure from life that we can imagine how that citrus fruit feels; being squeezed so hard that we feel as if we have nothing left to give. I have a vegetable peeler that gets rid of the dirty outside layer of carrots and potatoes and reveals the tender root underneath. There are times that God allows circumstances to peel away our tough exterior so that our hearts are softened for others. That can strainer that I was so excited to find fits over the top of a canned item and allows me to drain off the excess liquid so that I’m left with just what I need. The Holy Spirit helps us to get rid of the excess distractions in our life so that we are left with just what we need. And that grater that I do use on a frequent basis. You know the one that takes a potato and turns it into hashbrowns or retrieves the zest of a lime or lemon? How often do we experience discomfort as God takes a circumstance or situation in our life, shreds it, breaks it down, and recreates it into something better?
If you find yourself going in and out of comfortable and uncomfortable zones, peaceful and restless times, look for God’s hand that’s doing the reaching in the drawer to use you. God created you for a purpose. Choose to be used by Him. Paul certainly made that choice – all for the salvation of others and for the glory of God!
[i] Be Right, Warren W. Wiersbe