“But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,” Romans 9:6
From Part 1, we determined that Paul was anticipating the question:
How can we trust God’s promises to us, when Israel seems to be rejecting the gospel? Did God’s promise to them fail?
Let’s now step through these chapters with this question in mind.
Has the Word of God Failed?
(All scripture is from the New King James Version, unless otherwise stated.)
9:1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
9:2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
After concluding the great treatise on the gospel in chapter 8, with that magnificent chapter’s promise to every believer -that nothing in reality can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ- Paul is immediately reminded of his countrymen who are not in Christ. The key question comes to mind. Before he begins to answer it, Paul is compelled to profess his complete love for Israel. He is about to reveal some difficult and damning truths about them, and needs to preface it all with loving loyalty. Paul is no traitor (despite the accusations of the Jews throughout his apostleship).
Is Paul really willing to be accursed? Is this just hyperbole? Or is this a true hypothetical desire of his? Regardless of which way we take it, this statement is an amazing glimpse into the heart of God. While it was impossible for Paul to be accursed for their sake, this is exactly what Jesus endured. Jesus has the same love for Israel that Paul expresses, yet it’s neither hyperbole nor hypothetical, but a fact of history. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” And of course, for Jesus it was not just the lost among Israel, but the whole world (John 3:16).
9:4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
9:5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
Paul lists characteristics that make Israel a unique people. They were the only nation adopted by God. They had the Shekinah glory, the very presence of God in their midst. The covenants were made with them and with no other nation. The law was given to them and no other nation. They were uniquely chosen to be used by God for service. One major service was to be a witness to the Gentiles (this is an important point to keep in mind for these chapters). The Jews come from the patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The promises belong to them.
Notice that Paul says “promises” here in verse 4, but there is one particular promise that stands out. God said to Abraham, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3). The very gospel is wrapped up in this promise (see Galatians 3:8). While this is certainly not the only one, this is the first and primary promise to Israel. This is the promise that called out Abraham, that was confirmed to both Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4), and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-14); the promise that elected Israel, created Israel. This is The Promise (singular) that Paul will focus on in the verses to follow.
9:6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
9:7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
9:8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9:9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
9:10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
9:11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
9:12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
The word of God has not been ineffective, for not all who are descended from Israel [Jacob] are [true] Israel1 . If there is a most important verse to understand in these three chapters, this is it. Let’s look at it again:
God’s promise has not failed, because not every natural Israelite is a true Israelite. This is true in the same way that not all of Abraham’s descendants are children of Abraham. In other words, there is a true Israel within ethnic Israel, and they are the recipients of God’s promise to Israel. This is why God’s word has not failed, even though the vast majority of Jews are rejecting Jesus. Verse 8 continues the thought, saying that those who are the children of the flesh only, these are not the children of God, but just like Abraham’s children, the children of the promise are the true seed of Abraham. Ishmael and Isaac were both sons of Abraham, but Isaac was counted as Abraham’s seed because he was the son of promise. So, Ishmael could not presume upon Abraham’s inheritance and God’s promise of a great nation. In the same way, not every ethnic Jew can presume upon God’s promise to Israel. A child of Israel (Jacob) cannot presume to be in the people of God. After all, Abraham’s children could not presume to be sons of the promise.
These verses have nothing to do with Gentiles. From the start, the category is limited to ethnic Israel by the phrase “they… who are descended from Israel” (NASB). While Galatians 3:29 calls everyone who has faith a child of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile, that is not the subject here. This is about children of Jacob.
While an objector might say, “Of course Ishmael could not presume to be a child of the promise, he was the son of a slave woman!” But, as Paul points out, even in the case of twins, Esau could not presume! Esau may have been Isaac’s (and Rebecca’s) son, but he was not the son God chose.
“(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)” – This parenthetical statement explains the general principle at work here. In other words, in choosing Israel, God has operated on the same principle as all of His electing purposes: “not of works, but of Him who calls.” It is based on no merit in the object being chosen, whether that object is a nation or an individual, whether for service (Romans 1:1) or salvation (Romans 8:29), or for all that is listed in 9:4-5, as is the case in this context. Their election as a people was always by God’s sovereign choice, so it should not be a surprise that they are not automatically in God’s people, just because they were born Jews.
“Everyone agrees that those who are physical descendants of Abraham are not assured individual salvation or spiritual blessing. Not all of Abraham’s physical descendants inherit the promises given to Jacob. Likewise neither can all the descendants of Jacob presume on their natural lineage.”2
9:13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” 3
Both verse 12 and verse 13 refer to Jacob being chosen over Esau. Notice that verse 12’s prophecy never came true in their lifetime: Esau never served Jacob. In fact, the last time they met, Jacob submitted in fear to Esau’s more powerful clan (Genesis 33). So, the prophecy concerned the descendant nations, Israel and Edom. This becomes obvious if we read the rest of what Paul is quoting. “…The LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) This, and even more so, the context we have examined, shows that Paul is making a point about nations.
Verse 13, quoting Malachi, is not the choice, but a proof that there was a choice made. It shows the real benefit of being an elect nation. God chose Jacob, and as God could say through Malachi, while looking back at centuries of history between the two nations, Edom was a wasteland. Edom had become a godless nation, the legacy of their godless father Esau, who despised the promise of God; considering it worthless, and trading it for a bowl of soup. If God had not chosen Jacob (disciplining and blessing with the law and prophets), Israel would have ended up no better off than Edom. The only difference between Israel and Edom is the sovereign mercy of God.
9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
Does God’s choice of Jacob, rather than Esau, to be the physical seed of promise mean that He is unrighteous? Is it right for God to choose Jacob without regard for merit? Is it right for God to bless Israel and not Edom? Of course God has that right! As displayed in what he says to Moses, He has a right to show mercy on whom He will. As Paul explained earlier in the book, God is righteous in his dealings towards individual Jews and Gentiles, both the self-righteous and the lawless; He is righteous in His forgiveness of anyone in Jesus, and He is righteous here on a national scale.
9:15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
No one can demand anything from God. As Paul showed in chapter 3 of Romans, there is no one who does good, no one is worthy. God gives mercy and compassion out of His own goodness. Those He loves (John 3:16), He does not love because of anything in them. He remains righteous while not respecting lineage or works. The context of the quote is in Exodus 33. God would have been justified in wiping them all out, but mercifully, He spared all but 3000 Israelites. (It is worth remembering that this is physical death, and there is no reason to think His choice of whom to slay and whom to spare was arbitrary.)
9:16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy
Their privileged lineage was of God who shows mercy, just as salvation is of God who shows mercy. Abraham willed that Ishmael would be the son of promise (Genesis 17:18). Esau ran to hunt and be blessed by Isaac (Genesis 27:3). Self-righteous Israel was willing and running, but the way God elects, in any sense, is never of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
So Paul has shown that an Israelite cannot trust in his national election to be a child of promise. But is God just in how He is using Israel, and is He just in showing mercy to Gentiles? And why is this happening? Check out Part 3 as Paul makes a shocking comparison to a villain from Israel’s past, and uses a familiar illustration from the prophets, before partly answering the question of why Israel is in this condition.
1This idea of a true Israel, or spiritual Israel, can be found elsewhere in the New Testament. See Galatians 6:16 when it refers to, “the Israel of God,” in contrast with the Judaizers. Or see Philippians 3:2-3 when Paul refers to the “concision” or “mutilation,” in contrast to the “circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” BACK
2Walvoord, John. “Does the Church Fulfill Israel’s Program? – Part 3.” John F. Walvoord. Web. 1 Jan. 2016. BACK
3 “Hated,” in scripture, can also mean, “loved less.” It’s a comparative term, not always an absolute term. Remember Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” BACK