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Overview of Romans 9: ‘Israel’s Past’


TableTalk Extra: Israel Past

Romans Chapter 9 Overview.

Romans chapter 9-11 all begin with a passionate identification, on Paul’s part, with the Jewish People, as an ethnicity.  In chapter nine, Paul expresses the sorrow he feels for Israel, in chapter 10, he longs for their salvation, and in chapter 11 he expresses a hope for their future.  

In chapter 9, Paul admits that Jewish unbelief, resulting in the crucifixion of their Messiah, has caused him great grief and even bewilderment.  Of all men, the Jews should have known and recognised their Messiah, so Paul explains their lack of faith in the light of two great parallel concepts; the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  He also makes two very important assertions about the Jews:-

  1. There is no doubt in Paul’s mind that the Jews were God’s chosen vessel, who had a special place in God’s redemptive purpose, to bring Messiah into the world and to be a people in whom all other people would be blessed.
  2. Paul is equally certain that the faith group known as the Jews were not representative of the true Israel, and this is the message underlying this chapter.  There was always in the ‘outward’ Israel a large group of apostate Jews, and small remnant of true believers.  See V25-27ff.  Now the gentile believers, having been ingrafted into the true Israel, have joined that remnant.  

There are three sections to this chapter, and they deal with Israel’s past rejection, but studying them will help us to understand why the present day Jews are in a continual state of rebellion against God…


1 Paul’s Truthful Witness.  V1-5

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit- 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

  • The Truth of Paul’s anguish over Israel.  V1 Paul’s sincerity is without question.  He is deeply concerned about Israel.
  • The Torment of Paul’s anguish over Israel. V2 He has sorrow and continual grief.  His despair over the Jews is of great death and of long duration.
  • The Totality of Paul’s anguish over Israel. V3 See how deeply Paul cares for these people.  Paul would even surrender his own eternal salvation in exchange for the salvation of his own people.  Surely an indication of the sheer depth of his prayers for Israel.
  • The Target of Paul’s anguish over Israel. V4-5 Count Israel’s blessings: Adoption, Glory, Covenants, The Law, the System of Worship, the Promises, the Patriarchs, and from their race, the Messiah.

The point of this part of the chapter is that we should have a deep love for the lost, especially for those who are close to us, our kinsfolk, and a sense of urgency in reaching out to them.  Our friends and our neighbours are rushing out into a lost eternity, while we are at ease in Zion!

2 God’s Sovereignty Defended.

Favoured with so many blessings, how can we understand the actions of the Jews in crucifying their Messiah?  How can we explain their hardness of heart and blindness to God’s grace?  Romans 11:25.  Paul tackles this problem by asking a series of searching questions:-

  • Has God’s promise failed?  V6-13.  This is Paul’s classic argument regarding Israel.  If God has promised blessing to Israel, and Israel has rejected tat blessing, does that mean that God’s promise is void and God’s word is untrue?  NO!  God’s promises were made to God’s PEOPLE.  Look carefully at verse 8.  Paul makes a distinction between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise.  These are two distinct, separate groups.  There has always been two Israels, – the physical descendants of Jacob and God’s spiritual people, those who are the inheritors of the promise to Abraham.  Galatians 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  Not one word of God’s promise to Israel has failed.  1 Kings 8:56 Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.
  • Is God unjust?  V14-18.  As soon as ‘Unconditional Election’ is mentioned, someone will cry out, “That’s not fair, God is unjust in electing some to eternal life and not others.  So Paul asks, ’14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!’  Paul gives two reasons why God is not being unfair:
    • The Word of God to Moses.  V15-16.  God is always righteous, in all his ways.  
    • The Experience of Pharaoh.  V17-18.  We are told in the Bible that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  But why?  So that he would not let the people go?  Yes, and so that God’s own glory would be demonstrated.  If God had simply softened Pharoah’s heart, and predisposed him to releasing the Hebrew slaves, we would never have know about God’s gracious act of deliverance at the Exodus, or about the sacrificial lamb, or the Passover.  So God hardened the heart of the king, and Paul argues,   “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.
  • Why does God still blame us?   V19-29.  Why does he still find fault?  If God’s promise never fails, and God is never unjust, and that promise has not been extended to some, and that justice determined who will be the recipients of His grace, how then can God blame us or punish us for our sins.  Surely then we had no choice but to be what we are.  Paul does not deign to debate with such an argument,  his reply is legendary: V20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its moulder, “Why have you made me like this?

We are but clay, the dust of the earth, We have no right to argue with our creator.  He was in his heavens long before we were created, and our tiny lives are nothing compared with him.  We are sinners who only deserve his wrath and condemnation, yet in his mercy, some of us, worthless creatures are recipients of his grace.  That is what he has told us, and that is all we need to know.

3 Israel’s Responsibility Questioned.

In a sense this is a fourth question, but I’m treating it separately, because Paul takes a different approach to answering it.  He asks, V30 “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith?”  These gentile Christians have grasped something that the Jews have missed.  They have obtained by faith what Israel missed, because of their lack of faith and dependence upon works.  Salvation is not through works, it is by grace, through faith alone.  V32 “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.”  There is an important principle here which we must not miss, for it is the counter-balance to what we have seen in the preceding verses, and Paul has been careful to insert it here.  THE SINNER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OWN SIN.  There are parallel tracks here, God is sovereign in election, and man is responsible for his sin.  The soul that sins, it shall die.  So, there are tow profound reasons why the Jews have rejected their Messiah, it is because of God’s sovereignty in election, and because of their own lack of faith their blindness and unbelief.

Martin Lloyd Jones said, “In verse 6-29, Paul explains why anybody is saved; it is the sovereign election of God.  In verses 30-33, he explains why anybody is lost; and the explanation of that is their own responsibility.”


So Paul begins the chapter with an account of Israel’s privilege and her unbelief.  He explains this unbelief by arguing that it is not because God has not kept his word, for he has fulfilled his promises to the remnant of Israel.  Nor is it because God is unjust, for his hardening of the hearts of some is not incompatible with his justice, nor is it because God is acting unfairly, in holding Israel to account for her sins, for all sinners deserve his wrath.  In closing the chapter he argues that it is because Israel is proud, pursuing her own righteousness, by works rather than by faith, and so they have stumbled when faced with the cross of Christ, and the need for all men to be saved.

© Bob McEvoy, 2017.

From → Romans

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