Monday, May 13, 2013

Romans 9 - God's Justice, Sovereignty, and Mercy

LINK: Romans 9

BACKGROUND 

"Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation.
We do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us to render
The deeds of mercy. . . . "
William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1
No one says it like the Bard!

Paul has just closed the "sanctification" section of Romans (chapters 6-8) by cementing the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:39). What a high note! Romans 12 flows out of this, but Paul goes on a little detour in Romans 9-11, lamenting over the fact that so many of his fellow Jews did not embrace Christ. He had great concern for his people. So much concern that he would be willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if they could be saved (sounds like Moses in Exodus 32:30-35). 

The Jews were the first to be chosen as children of God. He glorified them above all other nations, and He gave them His Law, His covenants, His temple, and His promises in abundance. God's original plan was for them to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6), but their "chief priests and elders . . . put Jesus [one of their own] to death" (Matthew 27:1). Most rejected Jesus. Paul had even been one of them, but we have already read about his miraculous transformation in Acts 9 (in God's providence, I am also writing posts for that chapter this week).


Paul asserts that God's promises did not fail ("taken no effect") to Israel, but Israel failed (9:6). The Greek word pictures a ship that has gone off course. 


In Romans 9:6-13, Paul uses Old Testament history to explain God's basis for Israel's election: 

1) Not based on physical descent  - If this were the case, the first born sons Ishmael (Genesis 21:12; 18:10; Hebrews 11:18) and Esau (Genesis 25:23) would have been chosen over Isaac and Jacob. They were God's sovereign choice.
2) Not based on merit - These babies were chosen before they were born, so God's sovereign choice was not based on any good or evil they had done. It has nothing to do with works but His sovereign calling. By the way, Esau did not serve Jacob, but his descendants, the Edomites did serve the Israelites (1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 22:47; 2 Kings 14:7). 
Malachi 1:2-3 is quoted and often misunderstood. Hate and love are very strong words. According to the Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans:
The language used by God is poetically comparative; not absolute . . . the focus . . . is not on the "not chosen". . . Rather the focus is on the chosen . . . God chose Jacob (for his own reasons) . . . The "not chosen" are not chosen according to purpose, not according to hate. (p.282)
Romans 9:14-18 covers possible objections to God's sovereign choice. God's sovereign work of election has always been about His choice. He has that right because He is God, and He has a purpose that our tiny minds cannot explain.  He also has the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses. In fact, no one deserves mercy! 

Conversely, He hardens ("makes stubborn") the heart of whomever He wants to harden and uses Pharaoh and the Egyptians as an example of this (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:27; 14:4,8; 14:17). Pharaoh also made a personal choice to harden his own heart (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:34-35) implying that there is also free will and choice on the part of the individual involved.  For greater understanding of this section it might be helpful to brush up on your "Egyptology" by reading through Exodus 7-11 and 14!

Romans 9:19-29 is Paul's defense of God's justice and sovereignty. Paul creates an imaginary accuser who asks questions about this idea of God's election. It can be confusing at this point in Romans 9, but Warren Wiersbe paraphrases it well:


"If God is sovereign, then who can resist Him? And if one does resist Him, what right does He have to judge?"It is the age-old question of the justice of God as He works in human history.  
(The Bible Exposition Commentary, Romans 9:19)
Paul answers this question by using an illustration from Isaiah 45:9. God is the Potter, and we are all clay. His wisdom, will, and ways are much higher than ours. Who are we to question a sovereign God or resist His will in our life?  Jeremiah also drives home this point:
“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.”  
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.  
Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel."
(Jeremiah 18:2-6)
God is sovereign in His choosing. He can use some lumps of clay for noble purposes and some for common purposes. If some are used for common purposes, it does not dismiss them from being responsible to respond to Him. Pharaoh's heart was hardened for God's purposes, but he still had the responsibility to respond to God, Pharaoh chose rebellion.

Romans 9:22 is a hard verse for me to understand (and it is best understood in the New American Standard Bible that I have in the link). If you understand Greek construction, it can make perfect sense, but most of us do not understand Greek. So here is an explanation of this difficult verse:

The thought is that they have been and are in a state of readiness or ripeness to receive God’s wrath. The objects of God’s wrath are the unsaved (1:18), who will suffer eternal judgment (John 3:36). God has patiently endured their antagonism to Him (cf. Acts 14:16; Rom. 3:25), but their judgment is coming. Those who oppose Him and refuse to turn to Him (Matt. 23:37) are then “prepared” by Him for condemnation. They are “storing up [God’s] wrath” against themselves (Rom. 2:5). In hell they will experience His wrath, and His power will be made known (cf. 9:17). God does not delight in wrath, and He did not choose some people to go to hell. Choosing (v. 22) should be rendered “willing.” Some are prepared by God for eternal judgment not because He delights to do so, but because of their sin. In view of their sin, which makes them “ripe” for destruction, God is willing to exhibit His wrath, and He will do so at the proper time. 
 (The Bible Knowledge Commentary:2:478)
God revealed His mercy through Moses and Israel, and His wrath through Pharaoh and Egypt, but neither of them deserved mercy. Therefore, He cannot be unjust.  

As I have said all along in our studies in the Old Testament, God's purpose was for the church to be made up of both Jews and Gentiles. And all who are in the church are "vessels of mercy"! Paul asserts that this has been prophesied all along and God is just to fulfill His promises both for mercy and for wrath, quoting Hosea 2:23; 1:10, and Isaiah 10:22-23.


Paul ends the chapter by asserting that salvation is not by works but by belief in the cornerstone of salvation, Jesus (Romans 9:33; Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:22), whether Jew or Gentile. 


REFLECTION 


This is a tough chapter for me. I know it is a controversial one. It has taken me a week to write just the background. The whole mystery of predestination and freewill is at the forefront of this chapter, but I choose to respond as Charles Spurgeon did when asked how he reconciled God's sovereign predestined plan and man's free will to choose responsibly: 



"I never try to reconcile friends."

Warren Wiersbe writes: 
He offers us His salvation by faith. The offer is made to “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17). After we have trusted Christ, then we have the witness and evidence that we are among His elect (Eph. 1:4–141 Thes. 1:1–10). But first we must trust Him and receive by faith His righteousness which alone can guarantee heaven.
(The Bible Exposition Commentary, Ro 9:30) 
God does not ask us to choose between these two mysterious truths. He is the author of both truths, and that is that. I know many have a hard time with it, but maybe a thorough study on God's sovereignty, justice, and mercy followed by a study of what Scripture says about God's calling, foreknowledge, predestination, and election will be in order!

APPLICATION 

First, worship and praise God through His attributes, specifically His sovereignty, justice, and mercy. 

Secondly, take some time to do some Greek Word studies. These documents will help you:


Here are some words and some cross-references to get you started: 
Called - 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Matthew 22:1-14 
Foreknowledge - Acts 2:23; 15:16-18; 26:5; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 20; Romans 8:29; 11:2  
Predestination - Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-6; Acts 4:27-28 
Election - Matthew 22:1-14; 24:22, 24, 31; Luke 23:35; John 15:16; Romans 8:33; 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:4, 9; 2 Peter 1:10; Revelation 17:14
I biblical view of God and an understanding of these basic doctrines are ESSENTIAL to your faith. Take some extra time this week to study them. 

PRAYER

Lord, we are painfully aware that our sins make none of our righteous deeds acceptable. So, we fall on Your mercy and the way that You have provided for us through Jesus. Thank You! Amen. 
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