God’s dealing with the nation of Israel in the past – Romans 9:1-33


One of the major themes of the book of Romans has to do with the righteousness of God. In chapters 1-5 we see the righteousness of God in justification. At the moment that one puts his or her faith in the Lord Jesus, they are justified, declared as righteous. The righteousness of Jesus is imputed upon those who come to Jesus by faith. In chapters 6-8 we see how the believer can become righteous through sanctification. This is the process that believers go through in this present time, in which God is working through the various circumstances of life to conform the believer into the image of Christ. In other words, God not only declares us as righteous, but He is also working in us to make us righteous.

As we come to a new section in the book of Romans in chapters 9-11, we see Paul defending the righteousness of God. The question is raised as to how secure the believer really is. After all, God set aside His chosen people Israel; can He not set aside a believer? It must be understood that in these chapters, Paul is speaking of God’s dealings with Israel as a nation as an example in His defense of God’s righteousness. “Throughout this whole section, Paul was speaking of ‘Israel’ as the Jews only, not all the people of God in general throughout history, as most covenant theologians interpret ‘Israel.’[1]

In chapter 9 we see God’s dealings with the nation of Israel in the past. In chapter 10 we see God’s dealings with the nation of Israel in the present. In chapter 11 we see God’s dealings with the nation of Israel in the future. When it comes to God’s dealings with Israel as a nation in the past, there are five basic facts that we see in chapter 9.

God’s blessing on Israel. Notice what Paul says in verses 1-5. I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 Who are Israelites; 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.”[2]  Paul is very concerned for the welfare of His countrymen. He longs to see Israel saved. He is saddened by their rejection of Jesus and it brings him great sorrow.  He then goes on to explain how blessed the nation of Israel was. He describes all the things that God gave to them. “Paul listed seven historic prerogatives that God had given to Israel. The privileges of sonship belonged to them. God commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh that Israel was his “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22; cf. Hos 11:1). The splendor of the divine presence (the “shekinah of God”) accompanied them throughout their desert journeys (Exod 13:21; 16:7, 10). God had established covenants with them (Gen 15:18; Exod 19:5) and given them the law (Ps 147:19). The regulations for worship in the temple had been entrusted to them (Heb 9:1). Their sacred literature was rich with the promises of God (e.g., Gen 12:7; Isa 9:6–7). They were descendants of the great patriarchs whose moral authority and influence provided leadership for the Jewish tribes before they became a nation (Rom 9:5). And what’s more, it is from them that the human ancestry of Christ is traced (1:3).[3] Even though the nation of Israel received much from God, they still rejected Christ; this is why Paul is full of sorrow. It reminds of the sorrow of a Christian mom or dad, whose child refuses to come to Jesus. They have prayed for their child. They have taught their child the Word of God. They gave them the privilege of growing up in a loving Christian home. Yet, they still refuse to believe on the Lord Jesus. Just as Paul, the loving parent may wish that they could be eternally separated from God in order that their children may be saved. It is a very sad thing to see someone who has been given so much, yet, they continue to resist the grace of God.

God’s election of Israel. Paul addresses God’s election of Israel in verses 6-13. “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” [4] The word ‘election’ refers to God’s divine choosing. God chose the nation of Israel. It is important here to note that this is a national election not an individual election. God has elected for Himself a people. He elected the nation of Israel as His chosen people through which God carried out His purposes in the world. He has also elected the church to be the vehicle through which the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world. The only time God elected an individual is in His election of Jesus to be the Savior of the world. As we think of God’s election of Israel, there are two truths concerning election that we see here. (1) It was not of natural descent.  “As we saw in Romans 2:25–29, there is a difference between the natural seed of Abraham and the spiritual children of Abraham. Abraham actually had two sons, Ishmael (by Hagar) and Isaac (by Sarah). Since Ishmael was the firstborn, he should have been chosen, but it was Isaac that God chose. Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. As the firstborn, Esau should have been chosen, but it was Jacob that God chose. And Esau and Jacob had the same father and mother, unlike Ishmael and Isaac who had the same father but different mothers. God did not base His election on the physical. Therefore, if the nation of Israel—Abraham’s physical descendants—has rejected God’s Word, this does not nullify God’s elective purposes at all.”[5] (2) It is not of human merit. “God chose Jacob before the babies were born. The two boys had done neither good nor evil, so God’s choice was not based on their character or conduct. Romans 9:13 is a reference to Malachi 1:2–3 and refers to nations (Israel and Edom) and not individual sinners. God does not hate sinners. John 3:16 makes it clear that He loves sinners. The statement here has to do with national election, not individual. Since God’s election of Israel does not depend on human merit, their disobedience cannot nullify the elective purposes of God. God is faithful even though His people are unfaithful.”[6] It should be noted that the term ‘hate’ that is used in verse 13 refers to ‘rejection.’ God chose the nation of Israel but he rejected Edom. Israel was chosen as God’s special nation through which He would carry out His work, not because they deserved it, but simply because of God’s divine choosing. There was nothing that they did to deserve this special favor from God. It was all by His grace.

Though Paul was speaking here concerning God’s election of Israel as a nation, there is a spiritual parallel that we see here. When it comes to salvation we must understand that it is not of natural descent.  In other words, it does not matter if you were raised in a Christian home or born in America. You are not saved because of who you are or where you come from. You are saved by the grace of God through faith. Salvation is also not of human merit. There is nothing that you or I can do to earn the grace of God. Salvation is not of works. You do not have to do a work in order to earn God’s favor. The only thing you must do is believe on the Lord Jesus by faith. Faith is a verb. It is an action. It is something that you do. However, it is not a work in that you are doing a deed in order to earn a wage or favor. Faith is surrendering to Jesus. It is the act of repenting and believing. When you repent and believe, you will receive the grace of God and He will justify you. You do not deserve salvation. You never will deserve salvation. It is a free gift given to all those who simply repent and believe.

God’s freedom to elect Israel. In verses 14-18, Paul defends the fact that God was certainly just in His election of Israel. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” [7] The question is raised as to whether or not God is just in choosing one nation over another. Paul simply explains that God is just because He is God. The Bible Knowledge Commentary points out, “The issue in such matters is not justice but sovereign decision, as God’s word to Moses (Ex. 33:19) quoted by Paul indicates. As the sovereign God, He has the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses. In fact, He is not under obligation to extend mercy to anyone. Therefore experiencing His mercy does not … depend on man’sdesire (lit., “the one willing”) or effort (lit., “the one running”). No one deserves or can earn His mercy.”[8] In verse 17, Paul gives an illustration concerning the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In God’s divine sovereignty, He gave Pharaoh over to his heart of sin. This does not mean that Pharaoh was beyond God’s mercy. It does not mean that God did not love Pharaoh or that Pharaoh could not have been saved. Pharaoh was a sinner just like all of us. There was nothing he could do to deserve God’s grace and mercy. Pharaoh was a wicked man who was given ample opportunity to turn to God. Yet, he hardened his own heart. As Pharaoh continued to reject the one true God, God gave him over to his sin and no longer dealt with him, thus hardening his heart. Because of Pharaoh’s own choice to follow evil, God stepped aside and let evil take its course. As the Holeman New Testament Commentary says, “In reality, God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was much like the future man of lawlessness—simply stepping aside and letting evil and arrogance run its course. As Leon Morris has pointed out, “Neither [in Pharaoh’s case] nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself” (cited by Stott, p. 269). This same action on God’s part is pictured by Paul in Romans 1 as “giving them over.” Those who persisted in exchanging the glory of God for idols were ultimately given over to their sexual impurity, shameful lusts, and depraved minds “to do what ought not to be done” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).”[9] “By declaring His Word and revealing His power, God gave Pharaoh opportunity to repent; but instead, Pharaoh resisted God and hardened his heart. The fault lay not with God but Pharaoh. The same sunlight that melts the ice also hardens the clay. God was not unrighteous in His dealings with Pharaoh because He gave him many opportunities to repent and believe.”[10] This brings another good point that applies to us as well. I believe that God will only give individuals so many opportunities to turn to Him. The more someone rejects the Gospel, the less likely they will ever accept it. The Holy Spirit of God will only strive with man for so long. There comes a time when God simply says enough is enough and he gives them over to the consequences of their sin. Is God just in this? Was God just in electing Israel? He certainly is. No one deserves God’s mercy and grace.

God’s mercy toward Israel. Verses 19-29 describe God’s mercy toward the nation of Israel. “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. 26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. 27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. 29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.”[11] When we think of the sovereign will of God and how He chose one nation and not another, it appears as if God is unjust. It appears as if God gives more mercy to some and very little mercy to others. How can this be just? “We know that God by nature is perfectly just. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) It is unthinkable that God would will an unjust purpose or perform an unjust act. But at times it seems that He does just that. He had mercy on Moses but condemned Pharaoh. Is this just? He elected Israel and rejected the other nations. Is this just? Paul gives three answers to this charge.”[12] (1) Who are we to argue with God? Read again verses 19-21. Warren Wiersbe says, “This is a logical argument. God is the Potter and we are the clay. God is wiser than we are and we are foolish to question His will or to resist it. (The reference here is to Isa. 45:9.) To be sure, the clay has no life and is passive in the potter’s hand. We have feelings, intellect, and willpower, and we can resist Him if we choose. (See Jer. 18 where this thought is developed.) But it is God who determines whether a man will be a Moses or a Pharaoh. Neither Moses, nor Pharaoh, nor anyone else, could choose his parents, his genetic structure, or his time and place of birth. We have to believe that these matters are in the hands of God. However, this does not excuse us from responsibility. Pharaoh had great opportunities to learn about the true God and trust Him, and yet he chose to rebel. Paul did not develop this aspect of truth because his theme was divine sovereignty, not human responsibility. The one does not deny the other, even though our finite minds may not fully grasp them both.”[13] As I have mentioned before, there are some things that are beyond our understanding. We must learn to accept the scriptures for what they say. We must learn to let God be God. (2) God has His purposes. This argument is seen in verses 22-24. God has a purpose for what He does and the way that He is. God was not pleased with how Pharaoh treated the people of Israel. In  Exodus 3:7 God said that He saw the afflictions of His people and He wanted to deliver them. God is also a long-suffering God. He does not want anyone to perish, He desires that all should come to repentance. Because of this, Pharaoh was given ample opportunity to repent. “The word “fitted” in Romans 9:22 does not suggest that God made Pharaoh a “vessel of wrath.” The verb is in what the Greek grammarians call the middle voice, making it a reflexive action verb. So, it should read: “fitted himself for destruction.” God prepares men for glory (Rom. 9:23), but sinners prepare themselves for judgment.”[14]  Thomas Griffith writes, “Men fit themselves for hell; but it is God that fits men for heaven.”[15] “In Moses and Israel God revealed the riches of His mercy; in Pharaoh and Egypt He revealed His power and wrath. Since neither deserved any mercy, God cannot be charged with injustice. Ultimately, of course, God’s purpose was to form His church from both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 9:24). Believers today are, by God’s grace, “vessels of mercy” which He is preparing for glory, a truth that reminds us of Romans 8:29–30.”[16] (3) It was prophesied to be. In verses 25-29, Paul quotes Old Testament scripture to validate his defense of God’s justice. “First Paul quoted Hosea 2:23, a statement declaring that God would turn from the Jews and call the Gentiles. Then he cited Hosea 1:10 to prove that this new people being called would be God’s people and “children of the living God.” He then quoted Isaiah 10:22–23 to show that only a remnant of Israel would be saved, while the greater part of the nation would suffer judgment.”[17] A final quotation is made from Isaiah 1:9 which emphasize the grace of God in sparing those who believe on Him. All of this shows that God was indeed just in electing Israel as a special nation through which He would perform His purposes in the world. God’s election of Israel shows His great love for the whole world. Through His choosing of Israel all the world can be saved by believing in Christ who came from God’s elect nation. “These prophecies show that God’s election has made possible the salvation of the Gentiles. This is the grace of God. At the Exodus, God rejected the Gentiles and chose the Jews, so that, through the Jews, He might save the Gentiles. The nation of Israel rejected His will, but this did not defeat His purposes. A remnant of Jews does believe and God’s Word has been fulfilled.”[18] “Israel’s rejection had not canceled God’s election; it had only proved that He was true to His character and His purposes.”[19]

God’s mercy toward the Gentiles. In the final verses of Romans 9, Paul mentions how God’s mercy is extended to the Gentiles. “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”[20] In verses 30-31, Paul concludes this chapter with a transition from God’s dealings with Israel in the past to God’s dealings with Israel in the present, which we will see in chapter 10. Because of Israel’s rejection of Christ, they follow behind the Gentiles in obtaining righteousness. “Israel struggled hard to obtain the prize of righteousness, the righteousness God requires for acceptance by Him, but crossed the finish line behind the Gentiles who were not running that hard. Israel as a whole hoped to gain righteousness by doing good works, but believing Gentiles obtained the prize by believing the Gospel.”[21] In verses 32-33, we learn that the nation of Israel failed to be in right standing before God because they tried to win favor with God by works. Trying to win on their own effort, the nation of Israel failed. “Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ did not make God unfaithful or unrighteous in His dealings with the nation. What it did was make it possible for Gentiles to surpass the Jews as the main recipients of salvation.”[22]

In conclusion we see that God elected the nation of Israel to be His chosen people through which He would fulfill His purposes in the world. God was certainly just in choosing Israel over any other nation, because He is God and He is sovereign. Israel as a nation rejected the Messiah, though there is always a remnant of believing Jews. Because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, Gentiles now have greater access to the Gospel. The lessons learned here is that God is just and is sovereign. He is a righteous God who has provided a way for all to be saved through His Son, Jesus Christ.

[1] Dr. Constable. Notes on Romans

[2] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 9:1–5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 196). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 9:6–13). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 543). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 543–544). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 9:14–18). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] Witmer, J. A. (1985). Romans. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 477). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Romans (Vol. 6, p. 285). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 544). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[11] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 9:19–29). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[12] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 544). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[13] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 544–545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[14] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 544–545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[15] Griffith, Thomas. St. Paul’s Epistle p. 261

[16] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[17] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[18] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[19] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 545). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[20] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 9:30–33). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[21] Dr. Constable. Notes on Romans

[22] Dr. Constable. Notes on Romans

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