Isaiah (Part 27): Remnant Rejoice – Is 27 = Ro 11 – Continue Romans review
We have to keep in mind, in chapter 9 of Romans, that Paul is speaking particularly to the Jews in this portion of his argument. It is the Jews’ contention that because of their ancestry through the patriarchs that they belong in everlasting relationship with God. They are counting on that connection as circumcised Jews to keep them in right standing before God. But Paul is arguing that they do not have that kind of special privilege, although they, as a nation, have been entrusted with the stream of revelation from God. The Jew may object here, citing the promises that, if the Jews were to be rejected, would come to nothing. But Paul argues back in verse 6 that just because the Jews reject the Messiah Jesus, “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” He goes on to tell them, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” This has significance that the Jews will readily see and agree to. Paul is wanting them to understand that God, by his own will, chooses those with whom he will have relationship. Paul shows them that even with Abraham’s offspring, God chose some and rejected others. He introduces that idea by saying, “Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (9:7) Here Paul emphasizes that God’s choice was Isaac even though Abraham had another son—Ishmael. God had made clear that his choice would be through Sarah's child.
Anticipating an objection by the Jews that Ishmael was illegitimate, Paul immediately provides another example. He reminds the Jews that Isaac and Rebekah also received God’s directed promise that the line of choice for revelation would go through Jacob and not his twin, Esau. And it wasn’t a choice based on the good or bad conduct either committed. The choice was made prior to any works. Paul closes the example by quoting a passage in Malachi 1 that states: “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (9:13). The context of Malachi 1 lets us know that God is speaking to the descendants from Jacob and Esau and not just to the two men themselves. The idea of hating Esau is much the same as what Christ meant in Luke 14:26. Christ’s idea was not that we pursue an active hatred against mother and father, but rather that in giving ourselves completely over to Christ, we are not at cross purposes. We will seek the will of God first and foremost. The same idea relates to God’s love of Jacob and hatred of Esau. God purposed (chose) to establish his line of blessing and revelation through Jacob. Deuteronomy 2:4-6 informs us that God still cared for the Edomites, ensuring the land he had given them. But his blessing on Esau did not interfere with the greater purpose that he chose for Jacob.
Again Paul anticipates the Jews’ response. If God ignores the Jews’ good works in attempting to follow the law, isn’t that rather unjust? Paul responds, “Absolutely not!” He then gives the example of Moses. In Exodus, God had threatened Moses with not accompanying him and the Israelites to the Promised Land. Moses pleads with God to relent, which he does. Moses asks to see God’s glory. Now, Moses was not perfect, and even in the action immediately before this scene, Moses had failed, and he would fail again. Yet God says (as Paul quotes), “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And Paul comments, “So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy” (9:14-16). The point is that even though Moses fails, God doesn’t decide his mercy based on human success or failure. He decides based on his own will. That is the contrast we should see in 9:14-16—God’s will versus human will. It is not a contrast between God’s will and no condition. It is a contrast of wills, and God’s will is sovereign. That God chooses based on faith has already been established by Paul earlier. So a condition exists, but it is a mere condition of God’s choice. That condition—faith—is not human effort or will (as clearly distinguished in Romans 4:5).
Next, Paul turns to the example of Pharaoh. Paul quotes God telling Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” From Exodus 9:15-16 (where we first find the quote), we learn that the “I raised you up” portion of the quote actually means that God “let you live.” In other words, based on his deeds, God could have struck Pharaoh and the Egyptians and obliterated them. But by his mercy he let them live in order to accomplish his purpose. So Paul is bringing up this quote as another example of God showing his mercy in order for his own will to be accomplished.
Pharaoh, however, is also an example of God hardening people. In chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Exodus, we learn that Pharaoh hardened his own heart or it states passively that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” In Exodus 9, 10, 11, and 14, we learn that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. There is therefore a pattern set in which Pharaoh chose to rebel against God’s revelation, hardening his own heart. And then God chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart based on Pharaoh’s lack of faith in order to accomplish God’s will.
The Jews would have reacted negatively to Paul’s claims. Remember that this whole discussion is about why the Jews still needed salvation. The Jews reason that if Paul is telling them that God is hardening their hearts, why would he still find fault with them when he is the one who hardened their hearts? But Paul rebukes them for talking back against God. He doesn’t ignore their question, however. Paul brings up the potter-clay metaphor, an image that Isaiah uses several times and Jeremiah does as well. In all cases of the potter-clay metaphor, God, the potter, forms the clay for honor or dishonor based on the response of faith or rebellion to his revelation. To treat Scripture consistently, we cannot understand Paul’s usage of the metaphor in any other way. Paul says that God has the right as potter to harden (dishonor) the rebelling clay. And he does so in order to bring honor to the believing clay. Although Paul is most likely quoting from Isaiah 29:13-16, that lesson is probably most clearly seen in Jeremiah 18:1-10.
Paul concludes in verse 32 that therefore God gives salvation to both Jews and Gentiles who have faith in his revelation—the revelation of the Messiah in Jesus (9:24).
Paul’s conclusion continues in verses 27 and 30-32. Israel will not all be accepted. Only a remnant will be saved, because only a remnant will believe in God’s revelation. Not only that, but Gentiles who were not even trying to pursue righteousness, were given righteousness by God when they believed. Israel, who pursued righteousness but apart from God’s revelation, lost out. They did not believe.
Romans 10 continues developing this conclusion. The Jews had a zeal for God, but because they disregarded the righteousness of God (God’s revelation in Jesus) they were not accepted by God (10:1-3).