Romans 9:1 – 33 – We must let God be God



Romans 9:1 – 33.




A common argument that people use for not believing in God [or often Jesus in particular] is that “If God does this or doesn’t do that then how can he be God” or  “I can’t believe in a God who does such-and-such!”

Of course the problem with such a view is that when we do that we are guilty of idolatry – in other words creating in our own thinking the kind of God we will worship. But we don’t have the right to dictate to God what he should be like and how he should act. This is Paul’s point about the potter and the clay.


Romans 9:21 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (NIV)


This issue of God choosing some and not others has and still does cause people great difficulty. Our problem, of course, is that we are the creatures trying to understand the creator – that which is finite and small trying to understand that which it infinite and very great.


These are issues that arise in this passage – along with the issue that Paul is dealing with, viz. the place of the Jews and the Gentiles in the plan of God.


One of the difficulties with understanding a passage like Rom.9 is that it is very intricately argued – if we look at the detail in great depth we can loose the overall thrust  BUT if we look at the gist of the argument only we can misunderstand the reasoning behind it.


In 9 – 11 Paul is dealing with the issue of God’s plans for Israel – Why have the Jews for the most part reject their Messiah, Jesus? Are they not God’s chosen people? How is it that the Gentiles have believed in Jesus and not the majority of the Israelites? This was an issue of great concern in the early Church and indeed it is a concern today. What about Israel as a nation?


This was a great concern to the Apostle Paul – indeed this is probably one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why he wrote this letter to the Romans in the first place.


Up to this point in the letter Paul has been explaining that we come into a right relationship with God, NOT by good works, or by obeying the Jewish law BUT by faith in what Christ has done.


1:18 – 3:20 – God’s anger against sin – Jew and Gentile – God has no favourites

3:21 – 8:39 – God’s grace to all who believe – justification (Salvation) is by faith


What of the Jews – the majority of whom have rejected the Messiah?

This is the subject of  9-11.

In Chapter 9 Paul will argue that God is sovereign but that Israel were by no means innocent but stubborn and unbelieving (Chapter 10) However God has not rejected Israel because unlike them, He is faithful (ch.11) and in the end he will have mercy on them ALL  [not universalism with everyone being saved] – but all meaning both Jews and Gentiles

“God will have mercy on them all (11:32), meaning not everyone without exception, but both Jews and Gentiles without distinction.” [Stott]


Overview of Chapter 9.

1 – 5            Paul’s anguish over Israel and his love for her

6 – 13          Has God abandoned Israel?

14 – 18        Isn’t God unfair in his distribution of mercy? Who can resist..

15 – 29        How can God blame us when he is in control?

30 – 33        Where does all this lead to? The Church comprises Jews and                              Gentiles – Gentiles in the majority, are there because of God’s                            mercy and the Jews are few because of their rebellion.

Christ – the foundation stone  and the stumbling stone.



Romans 9:1-5

1 I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ [Messiah], who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen. (NIV)


Paul’s heart is breaking because of the Jews rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. He is even prepared, if it were at all possible, [which it is not 8:28ff]  to forfeit his own salvation for the sake of he fellow countrymen.

There is much support of the State of  Israel today by Christians BUT if it is not driven by a passion, like Paul’s, to see Jews come to know and love Christ then it is not biblical but misguided nationalism.


In a broader context, if every British Christian displayed the same passion for their fellow countrymen as Paul did for his imagine the impact for the gospel!


What deepens Paul’s distress is the fact that Israel were the beneficiaries of God’s blessings in the OT – Adoption as God’s people, The glory of God was in their midst, the covenants God made with them, the law was given to them, Israel was the centre of God’s Temple worship, through them God promised and fulfilled his purposes, the patriarchs [the men of faith – e.g. Abraham is the father of all who are justified by faith] came from Israel –   BUT the most painful thing of all for Paul is the fact that all this in the OT points to Jesus – his human ancestry is rooted in everything Jewish.


Paul’s anguish is that everything in the OT points to the Coming Messiah and yet when he comes the Jews reject the VERY ONE they have been waiting for.



          [NO! he has kept his promises to Abraham and his seed – offspring]

 Romans 9:6-13

BUT 6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.

[1]ABRAHAM –On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring [SEED] will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.[SEED] 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

[2] ISAAC — 10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (NIV)


At first sight it may appear that God’s promises have failed –

v.6 should begin with ‘BUT’ – No says Paul Israel’s failure to believe is not attributable to God’s failure but to Israel’s unbelief.


Not all those who were Jews physically were also Jews spiritually. There have always been two Israels – the physical ones and the spiritual ones.

God’s promises are addressed to the ones who had received his promises.

I 2:28 Paul has already made the distinction between those who were Jews outwardly, circumcision in the body, and those who are Jews inwardly, circumcision of the heart! A Jewish birth-certificate was insufficient, the individual had to, like Abraham, believe God to be reckoned righteous.


So tragic as it may be that may Jews have failed to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, that does not mean that God’s word has failed.

There has always been this distinction between the physical and spiritual –

Paul now turns to Abraham’s Children to show this.

Abraham – had two sons – Ishmael born to Hagar, who was born by normal conception and Isaac the son of Sarah who was conceived by God’s supernatural intervention in fulfilment of God’s earlier promise.

Using this as an illustration Paul said “It is not the natural Children i.e. children of the flesh but the children of promise who are born as a result of God’s promise.”


God is still distinguishing between the purely physical descendants and the spiritual.


Ishmael was born to Hagar – a slave girl and Isaac to Sarah his wife it is therefore natural for God’s promises to be fulfilled through Isaac.

SO Paul adds another point to show God’s sovereignty.

Rebekah – Isaac’s wife had twins [Esau and Jacob] – here there is no distinction – same mother and father, same birthday – yet God chooses the one born second even before they are born. [Yet we must not forget that Esau forfeited his birthright because of his own sinfulness and lost his rightful blessing because of Jacob’s deceit – human responsibility is interwoven with God’s sovereignty!]


Romans 9:13 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (NIV)

This verse is a problem to many – it is not easy.

In what sense ‘hate’ – a quote for Malachi – Jesus use of this word in ref. to his disciples ‘hating’ family in order to follow him [ is another gospel ‘love less’] may shed light.

Israel descended from Jacob and the Edomites from Esau – representative of the nations that came form them. Does Paul therefore mean that Esau and the Edomites [who are Gentiles] will remain forever outside the possibility of God’s salvation. This cannot be so as it would destroy Paul’s entire mission to the Gentiles –

So says Paul God chooses so that his purposes in election do not fail but are fulfilled only in the Israel within Israel.


This issue of God’s electing is difficult and in many ways a mystery – but unavoidable if we are to be true to scripture. It was taught by Jesus himself

John 15:16 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you ….. (NIV)


Also election is foundational to Christian Worship.

If we are responsible for our own salvation, even in a small part, we would be able to blow our own trumpets. BUT that is not possible because ‘salvation belongs to God.”

Some of you are thinking – if God elects in this way then he is unfair!!

Paul preempt your objection.



[NO! he shows mercy to the undeserving & delays his judgement on the hard-hearted]


Granted – God’s purpose in election has been fulfilled –  he has chosen this line – but isn’t that unjust?

Romans 9:14-18

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 man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the 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. (NIV)


To defend God [as if he needs defending] Paul highlights his mercy – [quotes from Ex.33] occasion of the golden calf – Israel has just committed the grossest idolatry and yet God has mercy and doesn’t destroy them all! They deserved destruction – that would have been just – Do you want God to act like that . Mercy is ‘unjust’ but who in their right mind would complain about injustice like that.


Having talked about Moses and the Israelites Paul now moves on to talk of Pharaoh, King of Egypt {the Exodus – explain!!}

The accusation against God is that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart –

We need to remember that Pharaoh had subjugated God’s people to slavery and for that deserved God’s judgement BUT God delayed that judgement in order to display his power and make his name great [v.17].


Early to the Romans Paul says

Romans 2:4-5 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?     5 But because of your stubbornness [Lit. hardness] and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath….

All human beings are sinful, all deserve God’s judgement and none deserve to be saved!

Here Paul applies to the whole world the principle he applies in ch.9 to pharaoh. He treats us with patience in the face of our hardness [stubbornness] while appealing for repentance and delaying the coming day of Judgment.

Far from being unjust this is a sign of God’s mercy!


If today you are not a Christian – be warned – God’s delay doesn’t mean his judgement will not come!!


You see! not only is mercy always undeserved — BUT judgement is only executed long after it is deserved and then only as part of God’s overall plan of salvation. Pharaoh was part of God’s plan to save Israel and to demonstrate by this his salvation to the whole world!


BUT PAUL – surely the basic reason we are still sinners is because God has decided not to show us mercy!!


This is precisely the question Paul tackles in v,19.




In other words – God holds all the cards so how can it be our fault?

Romans 9:20-21 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? – [Job]    ——-    “Shall what is formed say to him 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 noble purposes and some for common use? [Isaiah]


Paul quotes Isaiah – who is accusing Israel of trying to assert their autonomy over God

Isaiah 29:16

16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!

Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”?

Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (NIV)


-they thought they could fashion a God to suit themselves –

No says Paul you can’t say that God isn’t the Potter – he determines what kind of pots he will make. To want anything else is to want God not to be God.


Paul is also quoting from the Book of Job  But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? – [Job]  — Job was overwhelmed with the sheer greatness of God and what can a mere mortal do when God by definition has all the answers and controls everything??


Paul’s objectors have the same problem  Romans 9:19 ……For who resists his will?” (NIV)

As far as Job was concerned God hadn’t governed very wisely – maybe you feel the same!!



But the end of the Book of Job God parades before him the power and wisdom and majesty with which he made and now governs the world. And Job is silenced not because he is crushed by God’s greatness as he feared BUT he realises that if we submit to this God, a God who manages creation with such wisdom, THEN our rights are absolutely safe with Him!! God will not violate our rights!!


So says Job —

Job 42:5-6

5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (NIV)

He regrets talking back to God Because it came from ignorance of the true dimensions of God’s greatness.


Paul goes on in the next verses to show how God in delaying his judgement on the one hand and revealing his mercy on the other is demonstrating his great plan of Salvation.


He quotes from Hosea a prophecy about restoration and Love.

He quotes from Isaiah – a prophecy about judgement and hope.


Yes! the majority of the Israelites have rejected the Messiah BUT the Remnant will be saved [v.27 remove ‘only’]


If the Lord had been rigidly just he would have destroyed Israel like he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah BUT the fact that Israel survived and a remnant believed show the immense kindness and mercy of God.




Romans 9:30-33

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling-stone”. 33 As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble

and a rock that makes them fall,

and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (NIV)


Right from the beginning no-one was ever saved by keeping the law [given to Moses – the moral law] – in fact Abraham was saved by faith long before the Law was given – the Law was given to those who were already God’s covenant people


The same is true in the NT – first salvation by faith – then good works in response!


Israel missed the boat because they thought they could gain acceptance with God by keeping the law! NO!

The law pointed to Christ – the foundation stone of God’s salvation – Christ is the end of the law – its terminus.


ILLUS. railway line to Waterloo – the law – Christ the terminus – the line and train are not the end – Waterloo is the goal!

So the law is to take us to Christ – it is not an end in itself. Christ is the destination towards which the Law has always been leading/pointing!


The Jews, instead of accepting Christ- fell at that point > We can sympathize with the Jewish Christians who felt that if Jesus were the Messiah of Israel then logically Gentiles should join Israel if the wanted Him. BUT Paul rejects this — and asserts that the only way to fulfill the law is to believe in Jesus, for both Jews and Gentiles.


And so it has been all through History – For Anyone with a closed/religious mindset Jesus is the stumbling block! No religious practices or system of beliefs is of any value unless there is first faith is Christ.


We can argue about and discuss the matter of God’s election until the cows come home – and we will never fully understand it – BUT unless and until we accept God’s offer of mercy in the person of Jesus Christ we will remain the objects of God’s anger – whether Jews or Gentiles – if you are not a Christian you need to realise that you can’t merit God’s mercy – you can only accept it – And God is extending his mercy to you>


For the Christian who struggles with the issue of election – and that’s all of us – don’t give up trying to understand the biblical teaching but realise, like Job the greatness and majesty and power and wisdom of God, and that your life and  destiny are safe in his hands.




so far ….


1v18 – 3v20 


           – Jew and Gentile

           – no favourites



3v21 – 8v39 


           – salvation is by faith in Christ



9v1 – 11v36


           Ch.9     – God’s sovereignty in election

            Ch.10   – Israel’s stubbornness & unbelief

            Ch.11   – God is faithful –

                              he will have mercy on all (Jews                           & Gentiles) with out distinction



Romans 9v1-33



      Paul’s anguish over and love for Israel



      Has God abandoned Israel?

            No! his election of and promises to                    Abraham and his offspring stand



      Isn’t God being unfair?

            No! he shows mercy to the undeserving                   & delays judgement on the hard-hearted



      How can God blame us?

            He is in control

            Who can resist him?

                  But he offers restoration & love …

                  … and hope in the midst of judgement


v.30 – 33

      Where does all this lead to?

            Righteousness is by in Christ!

                  to some a ‘stumbling-stone’

                  to some a ‘foundation-stone’


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