HAS GOD FAILED? Romans 9–10
“It is not as though God’s Word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6).God’s choice leaves room for man to decide.
Two things are involved in this concept, His freedom to act and the fulfillment of His purposes. Freedom to act means that God is able to do as He chooses, without His choices being limited in any way by the actions of other beings, or by circumstances. Nothing can thwart God’s will. The fulfillment of God’s purposes means that what God decrees will come to pass. Again, no actions by other beings, and no circumstances, can thwart God’s will. The problem is, the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people seems to do the unthinkable, and to actually thwart God’s will, so that His purpose for Israel has not been achieved! It is this vast issue, not the question of individual predestination, that Paul took up in Romans 9–11. He argued that the Jewish rejection of Jesus had not thwarted God at all. Instead, that rejection fitted patterns found in the Old Testament, and revealed a purpose more complex than believers often suppose. It’s important to remember as we read these chapters that the issue is not one of individual predestination to salvation. Anyone tempted to read this issue into the text can find some comfort in Paul’s observation that “not all the Israelites accepted the Good News.” The absolute freedom of God to act need not limit man’s freedom to accept or to reject the Good News about Jesus. Our freedom to choose does in no way limit God’s sovereignty, for God has freely decided to extend the Gospel invitation to all—and to permit each to respond as he or she will.
Had God failed because His promises to Israel had not produced faith in Christ? (9:1–6) No, for sacred history shows only some in the family line had been chosen (vv. 7–13), though all are within the framework of God’s purpose (vv. 14–23). As for Gentiles, God has always intended to show grace to them as well as to the Jews (vv. 24–29). Israel misunderstood God’s righteousness (v. 30–10:4), which is gained by faith rather than by Law (vv. 5–13). The failure of Israel to believe is not God’s failure, but Israel’s own (vv. 14–21).
Understanding the Text
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish” Rom. 9:1–5. Paul, despite the view of some, was certainly not anti-Semitic. He identified strongly with his race, and he loved his Jewish people intensely. Paul was fully aware that God had poured out many blessings on Israel, and that these were evidence of God’s committed love (vv. 4–5). While “Christian anti-Semitism” has often cropped up in history, and raises an ugly head in our own country today, to place “Christian” and “anti-Semitism” together is a contradiction in terms! How can a person who loves God not love the people loved by the Lord? “It is not as though God’s Word had failed” Rom. 9:6. This verse is the key to unlock the argument of Romans 9–11. It is also a key to our own peace of mind. All too often we pray and witness to folks who simply don’t seem to understand. Or who refuse to respond. That may make us feel like failures. What did we do wrong? Why didn’t they hear? Paul reminds us that God’s Word does not fail. Ever. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Even if a person willfully refuses to respond, the failure is not in the Word, but in him or her. So share Christ with a sense of confidence. God’s Word does, and will, succeed. “Through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” Rom. 9:6–13. One of several basic mistakes made by first-century Jews was to assume that physical descent from Abraham guaranteed a person God’s favor. How does history show this was a mistake? It records the fact that Isaac inherited the covenant promises, while Ishmael did not. Both were physical descendants of Abraham. If one wanted to argue that Ishmael had a slave as a mother, Paul pointed to Jacob and Esau. They had the same mother and father. But only Jacob inherited the promise. Physical descent is no guarantee of divine favor. Thus the failure of first-century Israelites to believe in Jesus did not indicate that God’s Word had failed. One of my professors at the University of Michigan was a Christian who had an atheist son. He kept reminding the son that it didn’t matter. God, my professor thought, was obligated to save the children of believers, so his son would believe in Christ one day, no matter what. The view may have brought my professor comfort. But it was wrong, nevertheless. God was not under obligation to all physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and no child of believers is guaranteed salvation today. That fact shouldn’t discourage us, however. It should encourage us—to pray for our children, to share with them, to teach and love them while they’re with us in the home. Through our love God’s love can be made real. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” Rom. 9:13. Don’t misunderstand Paul’s point. He used the language of inheritance to drive home his lesson, that Jacob was chosen to inherit the covenant promise and any claim of Esau was decisively rejected. Here “love” and “hate” are legal terms, not expressions of emotion. Why did Paul emphasize God’s choice of Jacob even before the twins were born? To show those who relied on works that they have no basis to argue, “Well, Esau was rejected because he despised his birthright.” God’s choice was announced before either son did anything, either good or bad. We’re not to extend this principle, as if Paul were teaching the predestination of individuals to salvation. That’s not what he was writing about. He was simply making the point that God was not obligated in any way when He chose Jacob to inherit the Covenant. God’s word of salvation in Christ has not failed, simply because first-century Israel rejected Jesus. God didn’t have to save Israel, any more than He had to bring Ishmael and Esau into the covenant line. How great a need we have to remember God’s freedom. He doesn’t have to act as we expect, or even want Him to. God is God, and we are creatures. The awesome wonder is that God has freely chosen in Christ to offer us salvation. When we choose Jesus, God welcomes us into His family. Then, whatever God chooses to do will be for our good. “Does not the potter have the right?” Rom. 9:14–23 The image of God the potter molding human clay seems to some a harsh one. Yet we shouldn’t soften it too much. The fact is that even Pharaoh, who was raised up and “hardened” to display God’s glory, was not mistreated. Paul knew the Old Testament, and the Exodus passage makes it clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, as well as it being hardened by God. Exodus also makes it clear how Pharaoh was hardened: not by God, forcing Pharaoh against his will to resist God, but simply by revealing more and more of His divine power. The same heat which melts wax hardens clay. The same revelation which creates love for God in the heart of the believer intensifies the resistance of the person who has chosen not to believe. But this was not Paul’s point. Paul’s point was that even those who reject God’s grace, bring God glory. One of God’s purposes in creating the universe as it is was to display His wrath against sin, even as another is to display His love for sinners. Israel’s failure to turn to Jesus was not a failure of God. God’s purposes will be accomplished in those who reject as well as those who accept Jesus as Lord. Thank God, you and I will display the riches of His grace, rather than the majesty of His wrath. “I will call them ’My people’ who are not My people” Rom. 9:24–30. Had the Gentile response to Jesus surprised God? Not at all. The Old Testament makes it clear that God had always intended salvation to come to the Gentiles. And that always a remnant—a few rather than all—Israelites have maintained their trust in God. Again, God’s purposes have not failed. Salvation history is on course. What is happening now is what God intended all along. “A righteousness that is by faith” Rom. 9:30–10:4. How do we explain Israel’s failure to respond to Jesus? The Jews took the Old Testament as a rule book, and expected to gain merit with God by trying to keep His Law. They were so busy trying to establish their own righteousness, that they completely missed the message of Scripture, that God gives man a righteousness based on faith. In making this statement, Paul summed up all he had taught in Romans 1–8. There are only two ways to seek a relationship with God: man’s way or God’s. Man’s way assumes God is satisfied with merely human righteousness. God’s way abandons self-reliance, and trusts God’s word of promise. Today those two choices still loom before us. We must trust ourselves. Or trust God. And only trust in God can save. “Their voice has gone out into all the earth” Rom. 10:16–21. Is it possible that Israel hadn’t heard the Good News of God’s grace? “Of course they did,” Paul said. We can say the same thing today. Is it possible that someone hasn’t heard God’s voice? No, all have heard. All the earth has heard God speak in the creation, if not in the Gospel (cf. Ps. 19; Rom. 1:18–20). The failure of any man or group to respond to God is not the fault of the Lord. It is because of man’s obstinate disobedience when God’s voice is heard.
Inside and Out(Rom. 10:1–15)
“Henry! Henry Aldrich!” When I was a kid, that call introduced one of my favorite radio programs. And always Henry’s quavering voice replied, “Coming, Mother!” Henry wasn’t the greatest of sons. But you could still count on him to respond when Mom called. As the Apostle Paul went through his explanation of Israel’s failure to heed the Gospel, he made something perfectly clear. We need a righteousness that God is eager to give. We must claim it by faith. And faith is an “inside and out” response to God’s promise. What’s the inside? “Believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead.” And the out? “Confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord” (v. 9). Why are both inside and out stressed here? When I ask nine-year-old Sarah to do something, I expect her to at least let me know she’s heard. I admit I sometimes get irritated when Sarah, engrossed in play or in some TV show, never even looks up or in my direction when I speak to her. Somehow words addressed to another person not only have to be heard, but also need to be acknowledged. It’s the same with God’s Word to us. Yes, God knows our hearts, and He knows when we’ve believed with our hearts. Yet God’s Word is dynamic, and in a sense demanding. If we truly hear, we will, and must, respond. And so Paul said that salvation comes to those who believe in their hearts, and confess with their mouths. The Word has found a home in our hearts, and is acknowledged in our lives. I have a hard time imagining that old radio show, opening with Mother crying out, “Henry! Henry Aldrich!” And not hearing Henry respond. It’s almost as hard as it is to imagine a human being hearing and truly believing God’s voice in his heart, and giving no evidence by his life that he has heard. As the old chorus says, “If you’re saved and you know it, shout ’Amen.’ If you’re saved and you know it, shout ’Amen.’ If you’re saved and you know it, then your life ought to show it. If you’re saved and you know it, shout ’Amen!’ ”
God knows your heart. Let the world hear your “Amen.”
“He that believes in the heart will not be ashamed to confess with the mouth.”—Matthew Henry