In part 1 of our survey of Paul’s argument in Romans 9, we explained Paul’s teaching in verses 1-13, presenting an interpretation that makes better sense of the flow of the passage that traditional Calvinistic interpretations. Part 2 will cover the rest of the chapter.
Verses 14-18 discuss God’s hardening of Pharaoh and mercy toward Moses. The important thing to note is that the discussion of the individuals, Moses and Pharaoh are as representatives of their respective nations. But Moses does not represent contemporary Israel, but the church as the recipients of God’s mercy, while Pharaoh represents contemporary Israel, who has been hardened so that God’s glory may be revealed and his purposes performed in the earth. Paul plainly states this in Rom 11:7-10 and 11:25. Paul’s point in 9:14-18 is that Israel is hardened. It is not about Pharaoh or even Moses. That Moses willed to see God’s mercy is not the reason God showed him mercy. That is why Israel cannot claim that their desire to obtain righteousness requires God to grant them righteousness. Paul admits that Israel has such desire (9:31; 10:2), but desire or will does not come into the picture. it is God’s sovereign decision whether any generation of Israel will be an object of mercy or of judgment. This generation is the latter.
Seeing things this way, it is obvious that Paul’s argument will not be readily accepted unless he answers the logical question that ensues from declaring that God hardened Israel despite her will to pursue God (vv. 19-23). The why does God find fault? Israel is only doing what God willed for her. The terminology Paul uses in asking this rhetorical question suggests obstinacy on the part of the questioner. Paul’s response is to the attitude behind, not the substance of, the question. In rebuking the questioner for having an arrogant attitude, Paul refers to two texts in Isaiah that contain divine rebukes against Israel or her leadership for having the same kind of attitude reflected in Rom 9:19. In fact, one of the Isaiah passages refers to a pagan king as God’s anointed one (lit. “messiah”). Isaiah objected to God’s anointed one, Cyrus, sent to return the Israelites to her homeland, and God used the imagery of the potter and the clay to demonstrate that he has the right to do things this way if he wants to. In the context of Romans, Israel objects to God’s anointed one, Jesus, and Paul brilliantly uses the Isaiah text to present a near exact parallel between unbelieving Israel in Isaiah’s day and unbelieving Israel in Paul’s day. Both groups are ripe for judgment as vessels of destruction, and if God is not just to judge Paul’s contemporary Israelites, then he was not just to send Israel into exile in the 6th century B.C.
Now Paul turns to the vessels of mercy, a reference to the church, which consists of people “not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles” (v. 24). In verses 24-29 Paul uses Hosea to show the predetermined plan of God in preserving a remnant and including the Gentiles. Some object to Paul’s use of Scripture here, because when God said, “I will call them my people who were not my people,” he was referring to Israel, not Gentiles. But Paul is also referring to Israel, but a reconstituted one that includes Gentiles. If the church had replaced Israel, as supercessionism teaches, then Paul has badly misused Scripture here. But Paul believes that believing Gentiles are grafted into the tree that is Israel (see Rom 11:16-19). But Hosea’s prophecy presents a problem for Paul. Paul combines a quotation Isa 10:22-23 and Hosea 2:1 to say, “thought the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved” (Rom 9:27). But the Hosea passage is an allusion to Genesis 22:7, which says the “seed” of Abraham will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. This refers to the true children of promise, not national Israel. How can the children of promise be as numerous as the sand on the seashore if only a remnant of Israel will be saved? Paul’s answer is that the children of promise must include more than Israelites. Thus he brilliantly finds a prophecy of the inclusion of the Gentiles within the very promise made to Abraham and his seed that formed the introduction to Paul’s exegesis in Rom 9:6-7.
The predominant theme that makes Paul’s argument hold together is the consistency with which he refers to Israel as a group, whether the nation in apostasy or the remnant of believers. This chapter is about corporate calling and, if you will, corporate hardening. But it also includes the corporate salvation of the remnant, which, combined with Gentile believers, becomes the corporate salvation of the church.
Verses 30-33 ask the pertinent question, Why? why did Israel fail to obtain righteousness, when it earnestly sought it? The answer is a blow to Calvinists: “because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works” (v. 32). The final determiner of Israel’s destiny lies not in the hands of a sovereign God, but in the unbelief of an apostate people. Paul proves earlier in the chapter (vv. 6-18) that neither works nor will can produce righteousness. That only comes by faith. Israel had works and she had the will, but she lacked faith. That is why she is lost, hardened in unbelief. That is also why it is so out of place for Piper (Justification, 53) to say, “The predestination and call of God precede justification (Rom 8:29f) and have no ground in any human act, not even faith. That is why Paul explicitly says in Rom 9:16 that God’s bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is based neither on human willing (which includes faith) nor on human running (which would include all activity).” (emphasis in original). To connect Paul’s use of “will” in 9:16 with faith as something that is not a factor in the determination of the destiny of people reflects not only a misunderstanding of Paul’s argument in Romans 9, but a gross misunderstanding of Paul’s gospel.
Thus Paul demonstrates that the corporate calling of the nation of Israel is the direct result of God’s sovereign will. This is reflected in God’s unconditional promises to Abraham and his seed that they will be blessed and will bless the rest of the world, as well as possess the land God gave them. As an unconditional promise, it cannot be thwarted. God’s word cannot fail: “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom 3:4). That is why Paul concludes in Rom 11:26 that all Israel will be saved, adding the punctuation mark in verse 29: ” the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” These are some of the same gifts and calling that Paul enumerated in 9:3-5. There is a distinction, however, between how God deals with his called nation and how he deals with the individuals who make constitute the people of God. The nation is called to be God’s vehicle of salvation for the world. all who are truly within that called nation are themselves saved.
But not all who are children of Abraham though Isaac and Jacob are in that nation: “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom 9:6). The individuals who constitute the remnant are not chosen unconditionally. They become part of the people of God by faith. This is as true of the descendants of Jacob as it is for the Gentiles. So there is a conditional promise within the unconditional promise. God provides a vehicle of salvation: Abraham and his seed. This vehicle is Israel, but is fulfilled finally in Christ. Christ is the embodiment of Israel and the vehicle of salvation for all who believe. God unconditionally provided the vehicle, but being included in the vehicle is conditional upon faith. All who believe are in Christ and all who are in Christ are saved. Whether any individual believes or not, there will always be a remnant; there will always be a church. That is how God unconditionally guarantees his promise without having to unconditionally guarantee the salvation of any individual. How wonderful are the promises of God! Let us thank him for his grace in drawing us to the cross so that we could be included in Christ and receive the promises and the inheritance of the saints. To him be the glory.