Allowing Romans 9 to speak for itself

bible06As the Apostle Paul transitions into what we now call Romans 9 we should recall that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original text. He is not starting a new theme but answering the question … if (or rather, since) God has an elect people who can never be separated from the love of God (which is what Romans 8 has just stated), what happened with the Jews? Weren’t they God’s elect people too?

History records that most of the Jews failed to recognize their own Messiah when He came… How can what Paul has written be true if God’s own people failed to receive Messiah when He came (and therefore are unsaved – Romans 10:1)? Hasn’t God’s promise failed to materialize for these people? What about the Jews Paul?

Paul was no ivory tower academician who had merely great intellectual acumen but no heart felt concern for people. Paul had a very real sympathy and compassion for his fellow countrymen and if it were possible (which of course it was not) he would have forfeited his own salvation if it would mean that his own people would be redeemed. He felt the issue very deeply.

Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

The Jews had unique privileges which were enjoyed by no other people on earth. Paul lists eight distinct and unique benefits:

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Much time could be spent outlining all the things the people of Israel had going for them. So why is it that we observe such a great many Jews rejecting Messiah? Paul wants to answer that question and does so by stating in very categorical terms that God has not in any way failed to keep His promise.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

Notice what Paul is doing here in this verse. He tells us that God’s word has not in any way failed and now explains WHY this is the case. The word “for” is used to show the reason why the word of God has not failed.

Why has the word of God not failed?

The answer: because “not all Israel is Israel” or “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”

That is quite a statement and one we must understand because Paul is about to take the next many verses to illustrate and prove this exact point.

He is about to show us that it in biblical history, it has always been this way.

7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

BOTH Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham but Isaac was chosen and Ishmael was not.

8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Not every child born of natural human descent is a child of the promise.

9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

10 And not only so,

“not only so” – Paul is continuing his argument and draws on a second illustration to make his point.

This concept of “Not every child born of natural human descent is a child of the promise” was not just the case for Isaac and Ishmael but also for the next generation too – Jacob and Esau

but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Here Paul could NOT have provided a better biblical example to illustrate his argument (that “Not every child born of natural human descent is a child of the promise.”

How so?

These were twins (womb mates) – BOTH OF THEM…

1) had the same exact parents
2) were Hebrew of Hebrews
3) Esau was the elder brother (born before Jacob)
4) Yet God did not adhere to the normal standards of prime geniture and chose the younger brother instead of the elder.


We are told that God’s choice was made BEFORE either had done either good or evil.

The very popular view of election in our day (though historically speaking, not the case) is called the Prescient View – which says that God chooses people based on what he FORSEES them doing – if He looks down the corridors of time and sees them choosing Him, then on that basis, he chooses them.

First of all, this concept is never once mentioned in Scripture.

Secondly, if Paul was teaching the Prescient view, this would be the place to present it. Instead, not only is it not mentioned, Paul teaches the exact opposite, stating that the works (actions) of the two brothers was NOT A FACTOR in determining God’s choice (future actions or otherwise).

Those who hold to the Prescient view would say that although God’s choice was made before either had done anything good or bad, it was made WITH A VIEW to what they would do and their choices in time.

If that is the case, then why does the text not say this?

And then why would the conclusion be that election is “not because of works but because of him who calls.” The actions of men are excluded from the picture in terms of a reason for God’s choice.

Election is NOT OF WORKS and therefore UNCONDITIONAL.

However we understand the phrase “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” in Romans 9, I think we would all have to agree that God’s love for Jacob was certainly different or of a different kind than His love for Esau. I think we all have to say this or else the text is meaningless. But if this is indeed the case, then just this one verse would refute the idea that God loves everyone in the exact same way. There must be different dimensions of the love of God.

What should be absolutely amazing to us is not that God hated Esau, but that He loved Jacob. God had every right to deal justly with Esau because of his sin, but what should be breathtaking to us is that He Sovereignly decided to set His love on Jacob. What mercy! What grace!

Some seek to avoid this conclusion by saying that Jacob and Esau refer to nations rather than individuals. Certainly it is true that Jacob and Esau became mighty nations. However, the text itself refers to individual people (Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother) and not nations, and even nations are made up of individuals. For God to set His love on a nation and reject another nation certainly has ramifications for the individuals within those nations – so the conclusion many are wanting to avoid (that God elects some but not all – and that He loves some in a special way that He does not love all) remains inescapable.

Again Paul is a good teacher and understands the objections people will have to this idea of God choosing people unconditionally… Yet again, if Paul were teaching the Prescient view, there would not be any objection raised at all. Who could object to the idea that God chooses people based on what He knows they will do? That seems perfectly fair to everyone…

But it is because He is teaching that election is unconditional (and determined by God Himself rather than the actions of men) that He anticipates the objection that will be raised….

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.”

God reserves the right to dispense mercy as He pleases. That is the biblical answer to the charge of injustice.

Illustration: A wealthy business man wanting to give a million dollars away decides to give 10 organizations $100,000 each. Can an 11th organization sue this man because they were not given anything?

Of course not! The man is under no obligation to give to ANOTHER ORGANIZATION something He is NOT required to give to anyone.

Mercy, by its very definition, cannot be required or demanded. If we think that God is obligated to show mercy, we are not talking about mercy anymore, but justice.

Men receive either justice or mercy but absolutely no one receives injustice.

The next two words are words used to make the necessary conclusion to his argument: SO THEN… (in other words, to sum up what I am saying, having made my case)

16 So then it (election) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Dr. James White has commented, “After introducing the freedom of God to act outside of man’s merits or deserts in regard to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), Paul allows the “imaginary objector,” who sounds oh so much like your average “free will is the answer to all things” evangelical, to speak: “What then shall we say? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Whenever God’s freedom is asserted men cry out “Unjust! Unfair!” Paul’s response must be understood within the context of the passage itself. 9:15 is explaining why there is no unrighteousness in God when He exercises the kind of sovereign freedom He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. He draws from Exodus 33:19 as a second example of His freedom drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be remembered that 9:16 provides us with the apostolic interpretation of 9:15; interpretations ignoring this will, by so doing, convict themselves of their eisegetical nature.”

I don’t know how Paul could have been more clear here. This is, perhaps, the chief passage on the subject of election in the New Testament and Paul’s conclusion should end all arguments on the subject, don’t you think?

Election is NOT dependent on
(1) HUMAN WILL (human choice)
(2) HUMAN EFFORT OR ACTION (human works)

Both are excluded entirely.

Instead it (election) depends instead on God’s choice to show mercy as He so pleases.

Dr. James White adds a further commentary at this point: “Paul is ready with an Old Testament example to buttress his arguments: Exodus 33. This tremendous passage contains themes which find their full expression only in the New Testaments full revelation of the doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace. God showed mercy and compassion to Moses, choosing to reveal His glory as an act of grace. We must understand, in light of the prevailing attitude of the world around us, that God’s mercy, if it is to be mercy at all, must be free. Literally the text speaks of mercying and compassioning, again verbs of action which find their subject in God and their object in those chosen by His decision.

It does not say, “I will have mercy on those who fulfill the conditions I have laid down as the prerequisite of my plan of salvation!”

Both the source of compassion and mercy and the individual application find their ultimate ground only in the free choice of God, not of man. This divine truth, so offensive to the natural man, could not find a clearer proclamation than Romans 9:16.

We truly must ask, if this passage does not deny to the will of man the all-powerful position of final say in whether the entire work of the Triune God in salvation will succeed or fail, what passage possibly could? What stronger terms could be employed?

The verse begins, “so then,” drawing from the assertion of God that mercy and compassion are His to freely give. Next comes the negative particle, “not,” which negates everything that follows in the clause.

Two human activities are listed: willing and literally “running,” or striving. Human choice and human action. Paul puts it bluntly: it is not “of the one willing” nor is it “of the one running.” Paul uses two singular present active participles. The fact that they are singular shows us again the personal nature of the passage. The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to “nations” cannot begin to explain how nations “will” or “run.” In contrast to these Paul uses a present active participle to describe Gods act of “mercying,” showing mercy. Man may strive through his will and his endeavors, but God must show mercy.” (The Potter’s Freedom)

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Do not miss the impact of this verse: God did not merely tolerate Pharoah being raised up and worshipped as a god in Egypt. Pharoah’s rise to power was orchestrated by God Himself with a Sovereign purpose in mind. That purpose was that Pharoah would experience the power of God (in the mighty plagues that devastated the Egyptians) and that the name of Yahweh (not Pharoah) would be heralded all over the world. That is quite a breathtaking thought isn’t it?

Then we come to another “so then”…

18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

There are potentially two ways God could harden the heart:
(1) To inject hardness into the human heart
(2) To withhold from some the exact same measure of grace He bestows on the elect, leaving man to his own rebellious hostile will. (This is the more biblical understanding)

God doesn’t need to actively put evil in a human heart, to harden it – He can just withold electing mercy and leave us to our own evil desires. The worst thing God can do for us while we are in a state of spiritual deadness is to leave us in the hands of our boasted free will.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

Here the objection is that if God determines the destinies of people, why does He find fault with us, when all man is doing is what God has determined?

God does not back down for a moment in His response. With a series of questions that sound very familiar in both style and substance with the book of Job, God asks:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?

It is immediately apparent that God is not at all impressed that any man would ever question His authority here.

Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The obvious answer to this question is “no” the thing molded has no right to question the molder.

21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Once again this is a rhetorical question and yet the answer is very obvious. Yes, indeed, God does have the right to make what He wishes from the clay.

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

It looks like God has no intention to get off the throne anytime soon! He has the right to reveal His justice to some and His mercy to others.

Jesus Himself used an illustration that is very helpful to us along this line. In His Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), He talks about the workers coming at different times of the day and at the end of the day, when each worker receives his wages, all who worked received the same amount. The owner says, “I can do what I want. It’s my money.”

The point being then that the owner has every right to dispense his money as he will, and also God has every right to have mercy on whom he will.

We must always keep in mind that Grace can never be earned and Mercy can never be deserved.

If we really want what is fair all of us will be sent to hell. If we ever think that everyone, or even one person, deserves mercy, then by definition, we’re not talking about mercy anymore, but of justice.

Mercy is always at the gracious will of the one showing it. God is not obliged to give equally that which He is not obliged to give at all. In Divine Election, a person either receives justice, or they receive mercy, but absolutely no one receives injustice!