I'm teaching Romans in our Bible Study and I kind of hit a wall when it came time to go through Chapter Nine.
Romans 9 has some imagery in it that has been used for centuries to defend "Predestination", the thought that God chooses who goes to heaven or hell (if those are terms you can relate to) almost on a whim.
That God shows favor on some individuals and others he damns for no other reason than He wants to.
I guarantee you that I am no scholar on this subject.
There are people (perhaps you are one) who can rattle off a defense of Predestination or one of Free Will.
There seem to be some terms for these two positions based on their most notable defenders, Calvin and Arminius. I've saved you some trouble by providing that link.
My point here is not to defend one position or the other and I don't care to argue them.
I am probably an Arminian in some people's eyes because I believe in Free Will.
I also believe that there are some people who just won't respond to the Gospel and will suffer the consequences.
I also believe that you do not have the ability to look at any person and guess whether they will/can or not respond to the Bible. So you treat them all the same.
Paul the Apostle was a murdering scumbag killing and torturing Christians as much as any ISIS dude today.
Here is the thrust of my blog post today.
When you read Romans 9, you come to some verses that are used to defend the notion that some people, if not all, have no choice in whether they will respond to God's offer of Grace and Forgiveness.
These verses in particular (NIV which is not my preference but is easier to read and the full chapter is here):
13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
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.”
16 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.
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?
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?
Now, at first blush, it looks like God is describing whether someone has a choice in their salvation, right?
But in reading this chapter, over and over, asking God for some understanding (which is a pretty good idea to keep in mind when reading His Word), I noticed something.
This chapter opens and closes speaking of a certain group of people, the Jews.
Why would Paul interrupt his train of thought about the Jewish People to begin talking about personal salvation?
Let's say that these verses then refer to the Jews as does the rest of the chapter.
What does that do for our understanding?
It occurred to me, while discussing this with my class, that the question on the lips of most religious Jews at the time of the writing of this chapter is "What happened?"
I read someone say that this was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The destruction was about 72 AD and this was written about 20 years earlier.
So What Happened? Or better yet, "What didn't happen?".
The answer might be that they were wondering where the Messiah was.
Daniel had set a timetable (the 70 Weeks of Daniel) that predicted roughly when the Messiah would show up. There was great expectation of his arrival.
This prophecy may have had an influence on the Wise Men of the East and their decision to follow the star.
Remember the question of John the Baptist, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?".
So at the time of the writing of Romans, the time for the Messiah to appear had come and gone.
The Romans were still governing Israel, and Jesus (who had been widely acclaimed as the Messiah) had been crucified and buried.
What happened? Where was the deliverance of Israel?
To a believing Jew (a Christian of Jewish descent) the question was very important.
If Israel was God's Chosen People, then why do they appear to be unchosen?
This would explain Chapter 9.
We are not talking about personal salvation, we are talking about Israel and God's purpose for it.
It had such promise and now it appears to be cut off.
But Paul, in Chapter 11 assures us that that is not the case.
"I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself,"
So What Happened?
Romans Chapter 9 describes a process by which the path to The Promise is narrowed down.
The path to Christ.
First Abraham, then one of his two sons, Isaac, not Ishmael.
Then Jacob (Israel), not Esau (God didn't hate Esau, that verse refers to Esau's descendants, the Edomites who were not Israel).
So the promise was now fulfilled in Christ.
The delivery had been made.
What would happen to the people who had made the delivery of whom Paul says (in verse 4):
... to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Were the Jews cut off? No!
They had the promise of Christ (and could have joined the Body of Christ) but because of their unbelief they were rejected.
What complaint might they have?
Well, Pharoah (the bogeyman of Jewish history) was raised up to exhibit God's glory (as an example) just as the Jews were. And both fell due to unbelief.
Pharoah's heart was hardened by repeated exposure to the Word of God, through Moses (what we call the Law), just as the Jews in Jesus time were. The hammering on an unyielding surface only made it harder (like hammering steel does).
So who are they to complain?
God made them as a people to have a place of honor (producing Christ) and, due to their unbelief (in rejecting HIm), a place of dishonor (the clay analogy).
So in closing (I've spent hours on this and you may have stopped reading at the Post Title), let me say that if you read Chapters 9-11, you see that God's intent is to point out his relationship to Israel and the purpose of the Law, something Paul started discussing in the first chapter.
The purpose of the Law was to bring us to Christ (we need a Savior) and I believe Paul starts equating the Law with the Jews in subsequent chapters.
The Law, the Jewish purpose, was to deliver to us Christ "the end of the Law" not the death of the Law but the final point, the endpoint, the fulfillment of the Law.
So, the Jews, the delivery service of Christ, have served their purpose as a "Chosen People".
They brought the vehicle to us.
Now they can either get in and ride with us or wave to us as we leave them behind.