The Epistle to the Romans

Romans 9  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 6
In chapters 9, 10, and 11 the Apostle handles a difficulty serious to any mind, especially to the Jew, who might readily feel that all this display of grace in Christ to the Gentile as much as to the Jew by the gospel seems to make very cheap the distinctive place of Israel as given of God. If the good news of God goes out to man, entirely blotting, out the difference between a Jew and a Gentile, what becomes of His special promises to Abraham and to his seed? What about His word passed and sworn to the fathers? The Apostle shows them with astonishing force at the starting point that 'he was far from slighting their privileges. He lays down such a summary as no Jew ever gave since they were a nation. He brings out the peculiar glories of Israel according to the depth of the gospel as he knew and preached it; at least, of, His Person who is the object of faith now revealed. Far from denying or obscuring what they boasted of, he goes beyond them-"Who are Israelites," says he, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the _ service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed forever." Here was the very truth that every Jew, as such, denied. What blindness! Their crowning glory was precisely what they would not hear of. What glory so rich as that of the Christ Himself duly appreciated? He was God over all blessed forever, as well as their Messiah. Him who came in humiliation, according to their prophets, they might despise; but it was vain to deny that the same prophets bore witness to His divine glory. He was Emmanuel; yes, the Jehovah, God of Israel. Thus then, if Paul gave his own sense of Jewish privileges, there was no -unbelieving Jew that rose up to his estimate of them.
But now, to meet the question that was raised, they pleaded the distinguishing promises to Israel. Upon what ground? Because they were sons of Abraham. But how, argues he, could this stand, seeing that Abraham had another son, just as much his child as Isaac? What did they say to Ishmaelites as joint heirs? They would not hear of it. No, they cry, it is in Isaac's seed that the Jew was called. Yes, but this is another principle. If in Isaac only, it is a question of the seed, not that was born, but that was called. Consequently the call of God, and not the birth simply, makes the real difference.
Did they venture to plead that it must be not only the same father, but the same mother? The answer is that this will not do one whit better; for when we come down to the next generation, it is apparent that the two sons of Isaac were sons of the same mother; yes, they were twins. What could be conceived closer or more even than this? Surely if equal birth tie could ensure community of blessing—if a charter from God depended on being sprung from the same father and mother, there was no case so strong, no claim so evident, as that of Esau to take the same rights as Jacob. Why would they not allow such a pretension? Was it not sure and evident that Israel could not take the promise on the ground of mere connection after the flesh? Birthright from the same father would let in Ishmael on the one hand, as from both parents it would secure the title of Esau on the other. Clearly then, such ground is untenable. In point of fact, as he had hinted before, their true tenure was the call of God, who was free, if He pleased, to bring in other people. It became simply a question whether in fact God did call the Gentiles, or whether He had revealed such intentions.
But he meets their proud exclusiveness in another way. He shows that on the responsible ground of being God's nation, they were wholly ruined. If the first book in the Bible showed that it was only the call of God that made Israel what they were, its second book as clearly proved that all was over with the called people, had it not been for the mercy of God. They set up the golden calf, and thus cast off the true God, their God, even in the desert. Did the call of God then go out to Gentiles?
Has He mercy only for guilty Israel? Is there no call, no mercy, of God for any besides?
Hereupon he enters upon the direct proofs, and first cites Hosea as a witness. That early prophet tells Israel that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi were of awful import for Israel; but in presence of circumstances so disastrous, there should not be merely a people, but sons of the living God, and then should Judah and Israel be gathered as one people under one head. The application of this was more evident to the Gentile than to the Jew. Compare Peter's use in his first epistle, chapter 2:10. Finally he brings in Isaiah, showing that far from retaining their blessing as an unbroken people, a remnant alone would be saved. Thus one could not fail to see these two weighty inferences: the bringing in to be God's sons of those that had not born His people, and the judgment and destruction of the great mass of His undoubted people. Of these only a remnant would be saved. On both sides therefore the Apostle is meeting the grand points he had at heart to demonstrate from their own Scriptures.
For all this, as he presses further, there was the weightiest reason possible. God is gracious, but holy; He is faithful, but righteous. The Apostle refers to Israel to show that God would "lay in Zion a stumbling-stone." It is in Zion that He lays it. It is not among the Gentiles, but in the honored center of the polity of Israel. There would be found a stumbling-stone there. What was to be the stumbling-stone? Of course, it could hardly be the law; that was the boast of Israel. What was it? There could be but one satisfactory answer. The stumbling-stone was their despised and rejected Messiah. This was the key to their difficulties-this alone- and fully explains their coming ruin as well as God's solemn warnings.