We now come to a part of the epistle where Paul stops, as it were, to address a profound subject which cannot be by-passed. Chapters 9,10 and 11 of Romans stand together, and in them the apostle lays bare his heart about his fellow Jews in words and thoughts which reveal sorrow bordering on anguish. He could quite logically have passed from the glorious ending of chapter 8 – nothing in all human experience can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – and passed straight on to the opening words of chapter 12, ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices’. But no, he simply must unburden himself of a terrible heart-ache about the tragedy which had resulted for the Jewish nation in the rejection of their Messiah.
It is not possible for us to go into the detail of these three profound chapters in these articles; rather to try to extract from them the main issues Paul is so deeply concerned to make. For in dealing with the tragedy of Israel’s blindness and unbelief, Paul must extend his discourse into those most profound of Bible truths, namely divine sovereignty and election. We are confronted with a powerful and sanctified intellect grappling with some of the deepest things of God. And it is a humbling experience for anyone who is concerned to know more of God’s purposes of grace. The apostle’s words silence any thought of glib responses to his agonizing questions; they compel worship and awe before the eternal counsels of God.
First, Paul declares most emphatically that, ‘I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying’ (9:1). About what are these commanding, determined words spoken? About the fact that he felt ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ in his heart about his fellow Jews, to the extent that he would even be willing to be cut off from Christ, were that possible, for their sake. They had everything; adoption to sonship nationally; the glory of God; the covenants; the law of Moses; the service of God; the promises of God; the ancestry of the patriarchs; and, above all, the coming of Christ, a Jew, the supreme goal of their national destiny ‘who is God over all, for ever praised.’
How was it possible that all this could be rejected in unbelief? The words which follow in this passage of Romans are liberally overspread by the apostle’s tears. No, God’s word has not failed, says verse 6 of chapter 9. ‘Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel … it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.’ God’s promise of a son to Sarah is mentioned, and His pronouncement to Rebecca about the precedence Jacob would have over Esau. ‘Is God unjust?’ Paul asks. And again, his now familiar answer to such questions rings out, ‘Not at all!’
Next comes a deeply significant statement. ‘It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.’ We are now entering the very deep waters of election truth. The Pharaoh of the exodus is adduced as an example among men concerning God’s sovereign will in action. ‘God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.’ Anticipating the objection that all of this implied injustice on God’s part, Paul takes up the parable which Jeremiah had learned, that of the potter and the clay. ‘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? What,’ Paul asks, ‘if [God] did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy?’ He refers back to Hosea’s prophecy about God calling ‘my people’ some who had no right to this name.
In chapter 9, verse 30 we have another of Paul’s ‘What then shall we say?’ expressions. This time asking why Israel failed to attain to righteousness, while Gentiles did. The answer, because Israel pursued their objective by works and not by faith; an answer we have had already in other earlier passages of Romans. Paul calls up Isaiah again in one of his lovely foreshadowings of Christ. “I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble.” But, he goes on, “the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Chapter 10 also opens with a cry from Paul’s heart, ‘My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.’ Sadly, they had failed to grasp the righteousness by faith that God provides in Christ. ‘Christ is the [goal] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.’