Romans 9:1-29
A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds
June 3, 2010


I have mentioned on several occasions that the theme of Romans is “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Paul develops this theme under four broad categories.

  • The beginning point of the gospel is a clear recognition of our need for salvation. That’s why, after the introduction in Romans 1:1-17, Paul launches into a detailed discussion of human sin and guilt – the sin of Gentiles, of Jews, of all people (Chapters 1b-3a). The key verse in this section is Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
  • The heart of the gospel is salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. God’s response to our sin and guilt was to offer us a way out through His Son (Chapters 3b-8). This section is the most complete explanation in the Bible of what is means to be justified (made right with God) by faith in Jesus Christ. The key verse is Romans 5:1 – “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • The scope of the gospel is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. In this section Paul gives particular emphasis to the place of Israel in God’s redemptive plan (Chapters 9-11). The key verse in this section is Romans 10:13 – “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  • The gospel calls us to a life of sacrificial service (Chapters 12-16). The key verse in this section is Romans 12:1 – “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”


In this session we are going to begin exploring the third major section of Romans. While this section emphasizes that the gospel is for all people, it gives special attention to the place of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan. There are several reasons that Paul would focus on the place if Israel in God’s plan for the world’s salvation.

    1. At the beginning of this letter Paul emphasized that the gospel was “…promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born a descendant of David…” (Romans 1:2-3). If the Israelites were the people chosen through whom the gospel came to the world, then some explanation was necessary concernng why more Jews had not responded to the gospel.
    2. Paul, who was Jewish, had been accused of being a traitor to his nation because he preached that salvation was for all people – Jew and Gentile. In this section Paul affirms his love for his fellow Jews and his deep desire for their salvation.
    3. Paul argued in chapter 8 that nothing would be able to separate followers of Jesus “…from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) Someone might ask, “Had not God made a similar promise to the nation Israel? But know you say they are outside the promise unless they become followers of Jesus? Does that mean God broke His promise to Israel? And if He broke His promise to Israel, does that mean He will break His promise to Christians?”


To avoid distortion, it would be best to deal with these three chapters as a single unit. In a single sentence Romans 9, 10, & 11 teach the following: While God, in His sovereignty, selected the Israelites to be His chosen people and while the Israelites, as a whole, chose to reject God, God has not rejected Israelites. If you can keep that sentence in mind during our journey through these three chapters, that will keep you from losing sight of the main thought.


We are going to explore these chapters using the following outline:

9:1-5 – Paul’s lament for Israel

9:6-29 – The mystery of God’s sovereignty

9:30-10:21 – Israel’s rejection of God

11:1-36 – Israel’s hope


Paul’s Lament for Israel (Romans 9:1-5)

Notice the radical change in tone from the end of chapter 8 to the beginning of chapter 9. Paul moves from a great crescendo of victory to a gut wrenching feeling of sorrow.


Verses 1-2 – Paul is describing here what we would call “a heavy heart.” You know experience what that is. It is that physical feeling you get when something happens that's so disturbing to us that we can actually feel weight in our chest as if our heart is physically heavier. That’s the sensation Paul is describing here. He is saying, "I have a heavy heart and it never goes away. It is unceasing. It is there because my kinsmen have rejected the gospel.”


Verses 3-5 list some of the many spiritual advantages enjoyed by the Jews. These advantages made their rejection of Jesus all that more tragic. Eight specific spiritual privileges are listed in these verses and they are all quite impressive. But the point is, in spite of all these privileges, the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah!


There are two obvious points of application of these verses to our lives today:

1.      Do we have the kind of compassion Paul expressed in these verses for those who have yet to respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation? Is there any real burden in our hearts for those who are lost? If so, how do we express it?

2.      Are we like the Jews described in verses 4-5? Do we squander the great spiritual privileges we have in Christ? After all, we are even more privileged than they were! We have seen the impact of Christ on the world for nearly 2000 years. We have the Holy Scripture and the full revelation of God in Christ. Do we respond to Him as we should?


The Mystery of God’s Sovereignty (Romans 9:6-29)

In this lengthy, difficult passage Paul grapples with the question, "Why God allow so many of his kinsmen, fellow Jews reject Gospel? Does this mean God or the gospel has failed?" Even though the word is not used in these verses, this is one of the key biblical statements about the sovereignty of God. Most of us have heard all of our lives the statement, “God is sovereign.” And while few of us would disagree with that, most of us have not really thought through what that statement means. The word sovereign means to have supreme, absolute authority. Based on these verses, I want us to explore two thoughts about the sovereignty of God.


To say that God is sovereign is to acknowledge that God is free to do whatever He desires to do without having to explain His actions to His creation.


When Paul began ponder question, "Why doesn't God cause more Jews respond to gospel?" that opened up a larger question Paul's mind. That larger question was, "Why does God do anything in the way He does?"  One way Paul answered that question was to affirm that God is free to do anything He desires to do.  Being an historian and theologian, Paul looked back through Hebrew history and found some examples of God exercising that freedom.

·        In verses 6-8 Paul talked about God's choice of Isaac.  Abraham had two sons -- Ishmeal by Hagar and Issac by Sarah.  Ishmeal, being firstborn, should have been one to whom birthright passed, but God chose Isaac.  Paul saw this as expression God's freedom do as pleased. 

·        In verses 10-13 Paul points out that Isaac and Rebekah had two sons -- Esau and Jacob.  Esau was first born and should have had birthright, but God chose Jacob.      Paul saw this as expression God's freedom do as. 

·        In verses 14-18 Paul points to the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh at critical that critical time in Hebrew history.  To Moses, a godly man who asked God to reveal self to him, God said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  To Pharaoh, an ungodly tyrant, God said, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you."  Paul saw these statements as expressions God's freedom do as pleased.

The point of all that is that if the sovereignty God means anything, it means God free to do whatever desires do.  If He is really God, it can be no other way.


Having conceded that, Paul recognized the tremendous implications involved in such thinking.  If God is free do whatever He wants to do, our relationship with Him must be characterized by submission rather than resistance.  That is the point of the illustration in verses 19-21 about the potter and the clay.  The point of the illustration is not that we are like clay in the sense that we are not responsible for our actions.  We can choose to respond or not respond in faith and obedience to God.  (See Romans 10:21 where God pleads with “the clay” to respond to Him.)  But the point is that our role is to cooperate with what the sovereign God desires to do in our lives.  Just as the clay has no right to resist the potter, we have no right to resist God. 


God has chosen to exercise His sovereign freedom in a redemptive way toward us.


This statement gets at heart of question concerning why God does what He does.  Why does God do some things but not do other things?  Why does He sometimes do things  that do not make much sense from our perspective?  For example—

·        Why did God choose Isaac over Ishmael?

·        Why did God choose Jacob over Esau?

·        Why raise up an ungodly Pharoah and then demonstrate His power to such a man?

The answer is that all of those decisions were part of God’s redemptive plan for His creation.  Just as the answer to the question, “Why did God send His Son to a hostile world where He would be rejected and killed on a cross?” is because that was part of God’s redemptive plan for His creation. 


When we read statements such like "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (verse 13) or "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (verse 15) we are likely to miss the point. The question is not, “Why would God hate (or not prefer) Esau and why would God not have mercy and compassion on some.”  The question is, “How could God show love or mercy or compassion toward anyone since all people have sinned and rejected God as Paul so clearly documented earlier in this letter?”


And the answer is that God has chosen in His sovereignty to be redemptive toward us.  From the moment His creation rebelled against Him and lost that special relationship we were created to enjoy, everything God has done in relation to humanity has been for the purpose of healing that brokenness and bringing us back into fellowship with Him.  That’s the point of verses 22-24 where Paul speaks of God withholding His wrath from those rejecting Him and continuing to call His rebellious creation – both Jews and Gentiles – to relationship with Him.  The quotes from Hosea and Isaiah in verses 25-29 remind us that it was never God’s intention to give up on His creation. 


There is a galaxy in our universe that scientist have named Abell 2029.  This galaxy is more than 80 times the size of our Milky Way.  It is 6 million light years across.  Light travels 5.89 trillion miles in a year.  So this galaxy is 6 million times 5.89 trillion miles across, a number much too large for us to come near comprehending.  And this is only one of a seemingly infinite number of galaxies in our universe!  We are incapable of understanding a God who could create a universe so big that we can’t grasp it.  And we are certainly incapable of grasping how such a God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to care about us.  But the biblical message is that He does!


This passage in Romans 9 is an affirmation of that great truth stated in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”