This sermon is number 10 in our current series
The Gospel Explained - Part 9
"Israel and the Sovereign Justice of God"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2010 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, good morning to you all. I usually start by saying it's a pleasure to be at Scrabo, but the subject matter today and next week and the week after - well, let's just say it's been challenging for me, but as I said to someone at the cup of tea earlier: it's all behind me, it's all ahead of you! You've got to listen to it - but no, I do count it a pleasure and privilege to be with you, and to minister God's word to you. It has been rewarding for myself to dig into it, and I hope that something that I share will be a help to you.
We're turning in the scriptures, please, to Romans chapter 9 - as has been announced - and we're looking at verses 1 through 29, and we're going to leave it there this morning and then take up from verse 30 into chapter 10 next week. Romans chapter 9, and we're beginning to read at verse 1, and I'm reading from the New King James Version. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, and he says: "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen. But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called'. That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: 'At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son'. And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger'. As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated'. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion'. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth'. Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'. But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?'. Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: 'I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved'. 'And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people', There they shall be called sons of the living God'. Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth'. And as Isaiah said before: 'Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah'. What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame'".
Let us pray please: Abba Father, You have taught us to come as children with our needs. We come now to the Throne of Grace at this time of need, for grace and mercy to help. Lord, we need Your help, for we are finite creatures, and our minds, Lord, can only take in certain things. These issues that we are dealing with this morning are mysterious, they are eternal, and if truth be told they are beyond us in many respects. Yet the things that are revealed are for us and for our children, and we pray that You will help us by the Holy Spirit, who has inspired these pages, to understand what You're saying to us through the scriptures. Lord, help us to have the humility to stop where the Scripture stops, and help us also to have the humility to bow in things that we do not understand and yet believe, for faith is the evidence of things not seen. Lord, I need Your help today. I pray for power to be demonstrated in weakness, I pray for the treasure in earthen vessel to shine forth, and for Your grace to be sufficient for every need. For each here Lord we pray, whatever their needs might be, that the entrance of Your word and the explanation of it might bring light, and that all Your people would be helped. Lord, we pray these things alone for Jesus' glory, and alone pleading His name, Amen.
Now, if you were looking a title for the message this morning, it would be: 'Israel and the Sovereign Justice of God', that's really what chapter 9 is all about. But chapters 9, 10 and 11 of the book of Romans are among the most disputed scriptures in the whole of the Bible. Two areas in particular around which controversy rages are the issue of Israel, and the issue of sovereignty. Specifically related to Israel: has God finished dealing with the nation of Israel as His special covenant people? Though it has been a heavy load for me - and I'm sure for you - to deal with Romans 9, 10 and 11 and all the covenants in six sessions over three weeks; it is, in a sense, good, because both of the themes are intertwined - and we will see that self-evidently. But, has God finished dealing with Israel as His covenant people of old? Then related to sovereignty, the question hangs: how are we to understand the sovereignty of God? This chapter, Romans 9, and indeed Romans 10 and 11, have something to say about both of those controversial subjects. Let me say: it's impossible to do justice to these chapters whilst attempting to avoid these great issues. The two are here mingled together. The theme is: God's sovereign dealings with Israel in the plan of world redemption - so we can't avoid the hot potatoes, and I will not be avoiding the questions, though you may differ with my conclusions (and I already know that some of you will), I just ask that you don't fall out with me over it!
I have to say that I do welcome the opportunity to address this subject particularly this morning, because I believe that Romans chapter 9, the verses are among some of the most misunderstood and abused verses in the whole of Holy Scripture. Now, before we delve into them, let me lay somewhat of a foundation - and I want to give you two principles of interpretation, biblical interpretation, to keep at the forefront of your mind as we proceed, not just now, but any time that you're studying Scripture these must be kept in mind. First of all: context is king, context is king. The old adage remains true: 'A text taken out of context becomes a pretext'. Let me explain that: 'context' is simply the circumstances and the settings of an event or a statement in the word of God. In other words, 'context' is the background, or even the surrounding passage of a particular verse. A 'pretext' is an excuse to do something or to teach something. Sometimes you hear people say: 'You can make the Bible say whatever you like', and there's a sense in which that is true - if you take scriptures out of context and use them as pretexts, excuses to say or to do something.
So let me repeat the adage: 'A text taken out of context becomes a pretext'. We are not interested in pretexts, we want to find out what the context of these scriptures is, and therefore find out what God is saying to us. So context is king. A second principle of interpretation that I want you to remember is that we must engage in exegesis. Now don't get perturbed with terminology, it is easily explained. Exegesis is simply the science of drawing out of Scripture what God has put in the text, drawing out what is there, breaking up the words and finding out the meaning. The opposite of exegesis is isogesis, and isogesis is reading back into the text some theological or spiritual preconceived idea. In other words, you're transposing on the text something that's not really there, but that you understand - maybe even from other scriptures legitimately - but you're reading it into the text and it's not actually there.
So context is king, we don't want to make pretexts for pet doctrines, we want to find out what the context actually says. Equally so we must engage in exegesis, drawing out what God has put in; rather than isogesis, bringing our preconceived ideas to the text.
Well, let's look at the context. The context of the book of Romans - and I think I shared this with you the last time I was here, and you were in Romans at the beginning, I think, then - it is commonly thought that the book of Romans is a treatise on salvation, how to understand God's great salvation. Well, that's partly what the book of Romans is, but I want to give you what I feel is a better definition of what the book of Romans is all about: the book of Romans is specifically an apologetic, that means a defence, of why Christian believers should take the gospel message to the four corners of the world. Right from the start, as you read Romans, you will see that Paul is arguing like a lawyer: why we should take this message to the masses, why the gospel should be preached to the whole world.
Now that's important, because initially when you read chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Romans, you might pause and say: 'What on earth was Paul thinking?'. He's been talking about an explanation of salvation that applies to us all, and then all of a sudden he takes a diversion and he starts talking about the nation of Israel, and goes into all these details about covenants and so on. Why does he do this? Well, it seems to be a digression if you understand Romans merely as an exercise in teaching us about salvation, but when you understand that God's sovereign dealing with the nation of Israel is central to the plan of salvation being taken to the four corners of the globe, then you understand the context of the book.
Now, hold that thought and I'll explain it later on. Israel as a nation, as God's chosen covenant people, are central to the means whereby God sovereignly is going to bring the gospel to the whole globe. So Israel is at the heart of the matter. Now, let's look specifically at the context of chapter 9, and 10 and 11 for that matter. Now we believe that, in the church of Rome, there was a Jew-Gentile issue raging. It surfaces right throughout the book, and I could give you examples of that - I'm not going to, time doesn't permit - but if you read right through, you will note how many times Jew and Gentile are mentioned. It is probable that the original core of the church of Rome consisted mainly of Jews and proselytes, those who had turned from being Gentile to Judaism, and most of those were probably converted on the day of Pentecost. They may well have been added to from Paul's two missionary journeys, and people who migrated to Rome, but largely the church in Rome originally was Jewish, or proselyte.
However, Claudius Caesar, the Emperor, expelled Jews from Rome - and we read about that in Acts chapter 18. Because all Jews were expelled from Rome, the church in Rome went from being predominantly Jewish to being totally Gentile. Now stay with me: eventually the Jews drifted back to Rome under the reign of the new emperor, Nero. We know that Priscilla and Aquila, as Romans 16 tells us, returned to Rome during that period. As these Jews returned to what was their original church, the Hebrew Christians found themselves no longer running the church, and probably felt marginalised and as second-class citizens. So, do you understand the process now? The church in Rome, the core originally Jewish. All Jews are deported from Rome, then under Nero they eventually come back - but the church has been taken over, if you like, by Gentile believers.
Now, this gives us an idea into the psyche of the Jews, particularly those who came to Christ. There was this feeling of inferiority as God starts to move in His sovereign dealings away from the nation of Israel, and starts raising up a New Testament Church made up of Jews and Gentiles. Jews who were God's people, and saw themselves as superior in that sense to other Gentile nations, now they have to come behind, as it were, Gentile believers - and they feel denigrated. You can imagine the thoughts that were coursing through many of their minds: 'Are we not God's chosen people any more, as He said to us in the Old Testament? Are we not God's choice people?'. Then they may have heard Paul calling himself 'The Apostle to the Gentiles', and they must have felt like Paul had in some way abandoned his own people Israel. These people who, for thousands of years, had had the promises of God to them - and they are asking themselves: 'Has God's Word been nullified? Has God abandoned, has He finally rejected His ancient people, Israel?'.
Now, this was not just a narrow application to Jewish people, but there is a broader relevance of this to Gentiles - because you will have recently, I imagine, been in chapter 8 of Romans, where Paul is telling us of the believer's security in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some might have questioned what Paul has just taught by saying: 'Well the Jews, we thought we were secure in our God and in His promises of covenant - God chose us. Yet, Paul, you're saying, and the New Testament Church is portraying, that God has set aside Israel periodically and is now building a church from both Jews and Gentiles combined. So how can we believe, as you say in chapter 8, that all believers are secure in Christ if Israel is not secure in its original election as God intended?'.
So we see Paul addressing these issues in Romans 9, 10 and 11. Chiefly what he is doing is, he is giving us a vindication of God's righteous dealings in setting Israel aside momentarily in favour of the New Testament Church. Now, we're only going to look at verses 1 to 29 of chapter 9 this morning, where he talks about God's sovereign justice in His dealings with the nation. Then we will look, God willing, next Lord's day morning at verse 30 of chapter 9 through to verse 15 of chapter 10, where Paul focuses on the proclamation of the righteousness of God by faith to all mankind. Then, in the last week, we will look at verse 16 of chapter 10 through to the end of chapter 11, where Paul shows how God foreknew and used Israel's fall for world salvation and, in a day that is yet to be, He will restore them again.
Now let's look at verses 1 to 3, then, of chapter 9. Remember: it is probable that some Jewish believers felt Paul had abandoned them and his Judaism. So Paul is at pains now, in verses 1 to 3, to share his burden for the salvation of the Jews. Very graphic language: 'I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh'. I could say a lot on that, and I won't, except to say this: our burden for souls, or our lack of a burden for souls, speaks volumes about us - and that's why Paul was at pains to say that his heart broke for his kinsmen in Judaism.
His statement in verse 3 is reminiscent of the patriarch Moses when he said in Exodus 32: 'Yet now, if You will forgive their sin', that is, the sin of the Israelites concerning the golden calf, 'but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written'. He was willing, and you see the thought is to exchange places - Moses was willing to take the judgement upon the Israelites upon himself for their idolatry, and Paul here likewise is willing to take the place of his unconverted Jewish kinsmen in order that they should be saved. Now that idea of trading places is very important, and we're going to return in a moment or two to Exodus 32. But in the context here Paul is wanting to communicate: 'I do love the Jews, I have not forsaken the Jews'.
Then in verses 4 and 5 he assures us of the Jews' privileged position. They are elected by God: 'who are Israelites', verse 4, 'to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen'. What Paul is saying is that the Israelites were elected by God as the vehicle to bring Messiah to the world, to bring world redemption. But the great tragedy, of course, as we know from the Gospels, is that when Messiah came, the Jewish Messiah came, they did not recognise Him and they rejected Him and ultimately crucified Him.
Now, this is the great question, the white elephant that is there before this group of Roman believers: does this mean, now that Israel has rejected Messiah, does this mean that all these promises take no effect? That's what verse 6 is basically asking: 'But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect'. The inference is that some were thinking that now that the Jews had rejected Messiah, these promises, these covenants had taken none effect. The Greek word there for 'take no effect' pictures a ship going off course. Has God's elected, sovereign purpose for Israel gone off course by the Jews rejecting the Messiah? The answer that all this chapter, indeed these three chapters, says is a categorical 'No!'. God's sovereign and eternal plan has not gone off course, and therefore Paul in verses 6 through to 13 shows this, starting by proving that physical descent, being a fleshly Jew, never guaranteed being in the chosen line of God. That's what verse 6 means at the end: 'For they are not all Israel who are of Israel'.
Now, that may confuse you a little bit, but what Paul is saying is simply that there are many who can trace their lineage back to father Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are not true Jews. As he says in verse 7 and verse 8: 'They are not the children of promise'. Now maybe you're struggling with that: how can you be related to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not be a child of promise? Well, he gives us two examples to explain this. The first is, he speaks how the lineage of the promise would be through Isaac and not Ishmael. Verse 7: 'Nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called'. That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed'. The lineage would be through Isaac, not Ishmael.
Now, let me pause for a moment - and this is important that you note this. Paul says nothing about Ishmael's salvation. Indeed, if you read the book of Genesis, chapter 16 and chapter 21, you will see that God blessed Ishmael, and it says that: 'He was with the lad'. Now the focus here, and the focus indeed right throughout Romans 9, is upon the lineage of the nation of Israel, not the salvation of individuals. Now, probably some of you will disagree with that, but I want you to keep that in mind as we exegete the passage. The covenant that God made with Abraham that we will look at tonight in detail, and reaffirmed to Isaac and to Jacob, did not include Ishmael - but it did not exclude Ishmael, and Ishmael's descendants, concerning personal salvation. Rather, the covenant and the promises were of the chosen lineage through whom Messiah would come to bless the world.
Now the reason why I'm emphasising that - and that might mean nothing to any of you, but I know it will mean something to some of you - it's because some people use this text, and indeed this chapter, to teach that God sovereignly elected Isaac to salvation and Ishmael was elected to hell. Now that is not what this portion of Scripture teaches. The choice of Isaac over Ishmael had nothing to do with their personal salvation. It is significant that there are probably more Arab descendants of Ishmael today who are believers in Christ in the New Testament Church than there are Hebrew Christians. If that doesn't prove it, I don't know what does. What Paul is proving is that just because you're a son of Abraham, as Ishmael was, it doesn't mean that you're in the line of promise - because the line of promise was not through Ishmael, it was through Isaac. But the line of promise had not to do with Isaac nor Ishmael's personal salvation, but had to do with Israel as being the elected nation through whom Messiah would come and salvation to the world.
The second example of this he gives is the choice of Jacob over Esau for the promised lineage of the nation. He quotes part of what God said to Rebekah before the birth of these twins. Now, it's important to note the whole quote, the quote here, verse 9: ''At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son'. And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived', verse 10, 'by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her', this is God's statement to Rebekah, ''The older shall serve the younger''. Now that's important, but what is equally important is the context of that quotation that Paul gives, and I want you to go to Genesis 25 please and read the whole quote.
Genesis 25 and verse 23: 'The LORD said to her', to Rebekah, ''Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, and', here's the quotation that Paul uses, 'the older shall serve the younger'. Now note the whole of the quotation, the context is: two nations, two peoples, one people. Now it is obvious that when Paul takes this in its context and uses it in Romans 9 that he's not talking about individuals, he's talking about the separation of national Israel from the sons of Esau - that is, the Edomites - that Israel would be the vehicle to bring Messiah to the world, and not the Edomites, the sons of Esau.
Now that is evident when you consider that, though God said the older shall serve the younger, Esau as an individual never served Jacob. Esau as the older never served the younger Jacob, indeed the opposite is true: Jacob served Esau. You remember he served him pottage in exchange for his birthright, and later we read in the story that Jacob paid obeisance to Esau when they met on his return from Paddan-aram. So that's not what this is teaching concerning individuals, it's talking about the nations. Paul then confirms this in emphasis by quoting another Old Testament prophet, the prophet Malachi in verse 13 of Romans 9: 'As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated''. Now that quotation was made originally by Malachi about 1500 years later, after what was said to Rebekah. It's about God's judgement upon the descendants of Esau, that is the Edomites, and God's continuing love for Israel. It's expanded in the Old Testament prophet of Obadiah - but is it not obvious, by Paul's two quotations here, that Jacob and Esau are being used as euphemisms for the nations? That Israel was God's chosen nation and vehicle, they were chosen but Edom was rejected.
Now it is true what verse 11 says, that this choice, Jacob's election over Esau, was not because of his works past or future, it is all of grace. We say Amen to that, but it is equally true to say that the election of one nation, Israel, over another here was to bring Messiah to the world - it has got nothing to do in this context with the individual salvation of souls. Now look at verse 14 please, because Paul begins to answer a hypothetical accusation. It may have been literal, we don't know, but in the light of what he has just said he perceives that this question might be raised: 'What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness', or injustice, 'with God? Certainly not!'. The context is: God has moved away from Israel, this people who He chose as elect to bring Messiah, who did give birth to Messiah - but now in Romans He is turning away from them, and He's turning to the world, and He's turning to Gentiles - is there injustice, unrighteousness with God, that God could leave them and now turn to the rest of the world?
Paul gives four examples of God's sovereign justice in dealing with the nation of Israel. We're going to look at them in the time we have left. The first example he gives is Moses' intercession when Israel worshipped the golden calf. We've already looked at that. The second example is God's hardening of the heart of Pharaoh for judgement. The third example is Jeremiah's account of the potter's wheel, and the fourth are prophetic passages that he quotes at the end of chapter 9 from Hosea and Isaiah.
Now let's look at them one by one as quickly as we can, and I grant you that there's an awful lot to take in this morning, so it might be good if you got the recording and followed it in your leisure. Verses 15 and 16 are where the example of Moses is given. The children of Israel, as Moses comes down from Sinai after receiving the covenant of God in the Commandments, he finds the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf. Now in Exodus chapter 32 we read that God said He was going to, there and then, destroy Israel and make a new nation now of Moses. Moses, we read, interceded for Israel, and God heard Him - and that's where we get the quote where Moses said: 'Blot me out of Your book if you will save this people'. He cries to God to forgive them, and God forgives them.
But even in Exodus 33, God still expresses reluctance to continue His presence in the midst of Israel, and again Moses prays and intercedes, praying to God to show him His ways. Then God does a wonderful thing for Moses: He allows Moses to view His presence in a remarkable way. Now the portion Paul quotes is connected with this, it's connected with Exodus 33 and verse 19 - turn back to it please. Exodus 33 and verse 19, and this is the context of the quotation Paul uses, Exodus 33 verse 19: 'Then He said', God says to Moses, ''I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion''. Now remember, what is the context here originally in Exodus? It is God is going to wipe out the people of Israel as His chosen vessel to bring Messiah, He's going to bring a new people out of Moses - but Moses intercedes for Israel. God says again: 'I will bless them, and I will forgive them, and I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion'. The issue here is the continuance of God's gracious favour upon the nation of Israel as His elect vehicle to bring Messiah to the world. It is in that connection, if you go back to Romans 9 and verse 16, it is in that connection that Paul then says, having quoted that very verse in verse 15, he then says: 'So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy'. In other words, the Israelites did not deserve to still be God's people, His elect chosen vessel - but it's not about him who wills, nor him who runs, but God who shows mercy!
He still had compassion on them. So it is in connection with this in Exodus, it has nothing to do with an individual's election to personal salvation, and neither for that matter does Romans. Rather it is about - and this is the crux - it is about God's right to show compassion upon Israel if He will, irrespective of what they do, that's the context. It never ceases to amaze me that this is a positive passage of Scripture that Paul is quoting, and yet so many expositors of Scripture take it and use it in a negative way. Here's one, and you cannot prove it from the scriptures, and it's the doctrine of reprobation - and if you don't know what that is, bless your heart that you don't! It is this false belief that God, from eternity past, has elected certain individuals to go to hell. Now you can believe that if you like, you're free to, but you can't prove it from this passage of Scripture.
The first example was Moses and the issue of the golden calf. The second is in verses 17 and 18 of Romans 9: 'For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth'. Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens'. Now, what's the context of this quotation? Well, Pharaoh, the King of Egypt was the god-king, he was respected as a god, and therefore he was the head of an idolatrous religious nation - and God decides, as is His prerogative, to harden him for judgement. The ten judgements that you're familiar with, I'm sure, were ten judgements specifically upon the gods of this Egyptian religion. So what you're having here is a judgement upon an idolatrous nation, a judgement upon their religion and the head of their religion, who was also a god to them.
What you're having here is an example of a principle that Paul has already enshrined at the very beginning of Romans. Turn with me to Romans 1 verse 24: 'Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves', God is giving a nation up, verse 24, verse 26, 'For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature', verse 28, God again, 'And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting'. What Paul is stating there in chapter 1 of Romans - and it applies to the Roman Empire that Paul is writing to and from - is that God judgementally gives the most hardened hearts of sinners over to a depraved mind. God does this, and He's still doing it.
The sequence of events that we have in Exodus concerning this issue is first of all in Exodus 7, if you care to turn to it. Exodus 7 - do you no harm! - Exodus 7, God does state in verse 1: 'So the LORD said to Moses: 'See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet'. He begins to state in verse 3: 'I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt'. So God states His sovereign intention to Moses, but then we have seven clear references to Pharaoh's heart as being characteristically hard. He was a hardened sinner in his own rebellion, and we read of that in Exodus 7 - we don't have time to look at them - in Exodus 8, and in Exodus 9, seven times. Even in Exodus 8 we read of Pharaoh 'hardening his own heart', twice we read of that in Exodus chapter 8. So that is the progression: his heart was characteristically hard, he hardened it himself, and all of that is stated before God steps in and then hardens his heart even further judgementally. We start reading of that in Exodus 9 verse 12, then it's repeated in Exodus 10, in Exodus 11, in Exodus 14. Now that is the background to the words God spoke to Pharaoh in Exodus 9 verse 16, which Paul quotes in Romans 9 and verse 17. Let me read it to you: 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth'.
Now it helps to read the rest of the statement in Exodus to understand the original context. It's in Exodus 9:17, the rest of the statement, in verse 17 God says: 'As yet you exalt yourself against My people in that you will not let them go' - there is the context again. It is clearly God's sovereign purpose to bring Israel out of Egypt, so that He might bring Messiah to the world. Again it's got to do with God's ordination, God's election of Israel to be a missionary nation to the world and deliver Messiah to them.
So let's recap: God chose to make an example of Pharaoh. He chose to make an example of his false prophets, and that was in order to deliver Israel as His elected vehicle for Messiah out of Egypt, and also to set a precedent for what will happen if men and women reject the truth and harden themselves wilfully against God - God judgementally may harden them further. Let me tell you this, in 2 Timothy chapter 3 Paul actually takes two of the magicians of Pharaoh, Jannes and Jambres, as examples of false teachers and false prophets, and he speaks there of how God made their folly manifest to all - and He will do so with any false teacher! Do you see what God is doing here? This as an example of how God is rightfully entitled to do what He wills in this area, but please be clear - look at the end of verse 18: 'Therefore', and this is his comment on this whole issue, 'God has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens' - and that's been a great chestnut for many years, and I'm sure I'll not solve it for many of you here this morning. But let me say this: that is not referring to some arbitrary reprobation in eternity past, of people yet unborn, God choosing hell for them - it is definitely not. It is speaking of one of the archenemies of God, who was the head of an idolatrous nation and religion, and it's speaking in the context of both Exodus and Romans of how God judicially and righteously gave him over to a depraved mind that He might judge him as an example.
You can't go any further than that, and you ought not to. The third example is found in verses 19 through to 24, and it comes in answer to a question Paul poses in verse 19: 'You will say to me then, 'Why does God still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'. What this is is a fatalistic objector, it could be literal or hypothetical. Someone is asking: 'Come on now, if everything you say is true, how can Israel be blamed if it was God who set them aside to make way for the church and Gentiles to be saved? How can Jews resist God's will then? It's not their fault if they're in unbelief, if this is God's sovereign will'. Now Paul didn't quote Jeremiah directly, but his answer is taken from Jeremiah 18. Paul really is alluding to the story of the potter and the clay. Quickly, Jeremiah saw a vessel being formed on the potter's wheel from clay, but it got marred in the potter's hand, and then the potter remade, remoulded the clay.
Now, if you turn to Jeremiah 18 please, Jeremiah 18 verse 6, here is God's conclusion on the matter - what the analogy is all about. Jeremiah 18 verse 6: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?' says the LORD. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand', then down to verse 11, 'Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good'''. Now Paul will show later in Romans 9 at the end, and Romans 10 and 11, that God judged Israel because of their unbelief, and that brought swift judgement upon them. But the emphasis here in Jeremiah is their need for repentance and their need of faithfulness to God, and so in chapter 9 of Romans verse 22 Paul speaks of God's patience toward Israel in their unbelief. Look at the verse: 'What if God', and it's in connection with this potter's wheel and the marred clay, 'What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction'.
What if God should be patient with an unbelieving Israel in order that He should declare His wrath? But more than that, he goes into verse 23 and says that He's patient with Israel so that, 'He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory'. It's talking about God's patience with Israel, even though they had been so disobedient. Now this is a problem phrase at the end of verse 22, he describes Israel as 'the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction', fitted, or prepared, or created for destruction. Now all I can say to you on that verse is that Greek experts of grammar suggest that that statement is in the middle voice, that simply means it could be translated like this: 'these vessels of wrath, having prepared themselves for destruction'. Now that squares with the onus of Jeremiah, the potter and the vessel. They were exhorted to repent, the onus was on them, or God would bring a devastating judgement on them.
What Paul is saying here in that context in verse 22 is that they have prepared themselves for destruction, but God has allowed all this and been patient with them that He may reveal the mystery that He has planned from before the ages, that He was going to birth a church, a vessel for His mercy. Later Paul explains this in Romans, that the falling away of Israel and their judgement and blindness and unbelief for a season, was to bring Gentiles to the faith in Christ.
Now, I know that's all complicated - but whatever Paul's point was, this is definitely his point: God has a sovereign right as the Potter to use Israel for 2000 years, and then set them aside momentarily in favour of the church. Later in Romans 11 he will show His justice in that decision, and how a remnant of Jews are still believing, and how blessing is going to come to the whole world through the unbelief of Israel. I could go on and on, but I know you can't take much more. Let me just say this: these verses - and it is my opinion, but I believe it is founded on the context and exegesis of this passage - these verses have got to do with God's choice of Israel as His ambassador and vehicle to bring Messiah to bless the world. It has nothing to do with the individual choice of people for either heaven or hell before the world began. I haven't got time to tell you what I believe - I do believe in a sovereign God, I believe in a God who is instrumental in our salvation by the Holy Spirit, I do believe in those things - but I don't believe this passage teaches it, and it certainly doesn't teach what many teach regarding it.
Now, I haven't got time to go into the two quotations at the end of chapter 9, we must leave that - except to say: Paul is proving that a people who have not been called a people of God, can be called the people of God. From Hosea he proves that, and from Isaiah he also equally proves that God will preserve a remnant.
Let me bring you some conclusions from all of this, and these will be simple. Though God has elected Israel and made specific promises and covenants with them which He will honour, this portion is teaching that He has a right to show mercy on the Gentile world if He wills. Now what is the application of Romans 9? It's the same as the application of the whole of the book of Romans: therefore we have a right, and we ought to preach the gospel to the world! That is Paul's argument! The tragedy is: some have misinterpreted this Scripture, this passage in particular, in a way that actually dampens or even deadens evangelistic zeal! Nothing could be further from the intention of the apostle and, I believe, the Holy Ghost who inspired it. I know they do it unintentionally, but nevertheless that is the result of certain expositions of this portion.
A second conclusion: this Scripture broadens God's mercy, it does not narrow it. It is surely not in the spirit of this Scripture to use it to limit God's mercy, which so many have done. Thirdly and finally, and most wonderfully of all is what Romans 9 reveals about the heart of God. Now listen to this: the heart of God is to use His sovereignty to save men, not damn them. So sovereignty is rescued from the theologs who would only use it to drive a wedge between God and the sinner, and rather we see afresh that even His fearful sovereignty is used by His heart of grace to show - as F.W. Faber put it:
'There's a wideness in God's mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in His blood'.
As he says in the last verse of that great hymn:
'For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
We would take Him at His word;
And our life would be thanksgiving
For the goodness' - that's what this portion is about - 'the goodness of the Lord'.
Let us pray, and as you bow your head, I trust you will bow your heart too before the Lord. I know that you may well disagree with what I have said and, as you know, it has not been my intention to come here and annoy you - I was given this portion of Scripture by you. All I would say to you is, I do not have a monopoly of knowledge, and I'm not going to settle the raging battles with theologians through the ages, but I will say this - don't fall out with me, and make sure of this much: that whatever your theology is, that it comes directly from the text, and that it does not warp the character of the Living God.
Father, we just ask for grace, and we ask for Your favour, that if we have said anything from prejudice or error, that You will forgive us and enlighten us. Lord, we ask that all of us will have the charity to accept one another - but most of all that we will have the industry and the devotion to seek after our God until we know Him. Lord, we want to see into Your heart, we want to understand You in all Your greatness, Your sovereignty, Your majesty, Your mercy, Your long-suffering and Your grace. Lord, let us not be lopsided Christians, and let us not be lopsided in our knowledge of the Eternal One. Certainly, Lord, do not let us misrepresent You or misinterpret Your heart, for we ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "Israel and the Sovereign Justice of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
All material by David Legge is copyrighted. However, these materials may be freely copied and distributed unaltered for the purpose of study and teaching, so long as they are made available to others free of charge, and this copyright is included. This does not include hosting or broadcasting the materials on another website, however linking to the resources on preachtheword.com is permitted. These materials may not, in any manner, be sold or used to solicit 'donations' from others, nor may they be included in anything you intend to copyright, sell, or offer for a fee. This copyright is exercised to keep these materials freely available to all. Any exceptions to these conditions must be explicitly approved by Preach The Word. [Read guidelines...]