God’s Mercy and Israel.
Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” – Romans 9:14-15 NLT
In spite of being the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was an Israelite and proud of it. He referred to himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” Prior to his conversion, he had been a Pharisee and an expert in the law of Moses. He knew his Old Testament Scriptures well and loved the people of Israel greatly. In fact, his “heart was filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief” (Romans 9:2 NLT) for his people, his Jewish brothers and sisters. He even expressed a willingness to be cut off from Christ – if it meant that some of them would be saved. Virtually every time Paul went into a Gentile city to share the Gospel, he made it a point to go to the local synagogue first, in order to share the Good News regarding Jesus Christ with his own people. He knew that God was not done with them yet. He knew that they were still the chosen people of God, to whom God had revealed His glory, entered into covenants, and received His promises. Even Jesus Christ had been born an Israelite. So what was God’s intentions for the people of Israel? And speaking of His promises to them, had God failed to keep them? Paul answers with a resounding, “No!”
God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason, and we find that reason recorded in Exodus 19:5-6: “‘Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” But they had failed. Their history is a record of disobedience and rebellion against God. They had not kept their end of the Mosaic covenant. Even when they got into the Promised Land, they had failed to obey God and remove the occupants of the land. As a result, they intermarried with them, and worshiped their gods. Paul’s whole point in all of this is to remind his readers that even among God’s chosen people, the Israelites, not all would be saved. Just as God had chosen the Israelites as His own, from among all the peoples of the earth, He would choose some from among the Israelites to be saved. In order to be made right with God, the people of Israel were going to have to accept the same free gift that had been offered to the Gentiles – the gift of Jesus Christ. “Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!” (Romans 9:6 NLT). That’s a bold statement, and a controversial one, as much today as it was in Paul’s day. For generations, the people of Israel had counted on the fact that they were God’s chosen people. They even allowed themselves to believe that this special distinction was like having a “get-out-of-jail-free card” that allowed them to sin with impunity. They somehow believed God was obligated to bless them because they were descendants of Abraham. Interestingly enough, John the Baptist, when confronted by the Pharisees and religious leaders who had come to watch him baptize in the wilderness, spoke these harsh words: “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:8-9 NLT). And here in Romans 9, Paul says, “Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children” (Romans 9:7 NLT). Just being a descendant of Abraham didn’t make someone an heir to the promise. It was through Isaac that the promise was to come. It would be through Jacob and not Esau that the promise would flow. Paul is trying to show that God chose to bring the fulfillment of the promise that He made to Abraham through a specific line of his descendants. God’s focus was not just on a particular people, but on one who would be born through a branch of Abraham’s family tree – all according to God’s foreordained plan. Paul clarifies this point in his letter to the Galatians. “God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say ‘to his children,’ as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says ‘to his child’ – and that, of course, means Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NLT). Christ was the key. God was going to bless all the nations through Jesus Christ. And He would come through the line of Isaac. He would be a descendant of Jacob, not Esau.
Paul’s point? Just being born an Israelite was not enough. Being one of Abraham’s physical descendants did not necessarily make one a child of God. And Paul knows what some would conclude from this statement. “Then doesn’t that make God unfair?” But he replies, “Of course not!” All the way back to the days of Moses, God had made it clear, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose” (Romans 9:14 NLT). God had chosen Abraham. God had chosen Isaac. God had chosen Jacob. God had chosen Moses. God had chosen David. All along the way, God had made clear choices when it came to whom He would reveal Himself. He even chose Mary to bear His Son. God had also chosen to have His Son be born as an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God’s choice in all these things had nothing to do with merit or worth. He chose Abraham, not because he was worthy, but simply because it was His divine will. He chose Isaac and Jacob, not because they were somehow more deserving, but because that was part of His plan. God chooses whom He will. He shows mercy on whomever He wills. This whole section has to do with the divine will and sovereign control of God in the lives of men. Salvation is God’s doing. He shows mercy and compassion on whomever He chooses, never as a result of their worth or merit, but simply because He chooses to do so. Paul will continue to unpack this topic in the verses to come. His goal seems to be to get us to understand that God’s incredible grace and mercy is unearned and undeserved. Like salvation, it is a gift, provided by a loving, gracious and merciful God – in spite of us, not because of us.
Father, something in our wiring makes us believe that we somehow deserve to be chosen by You. We want to believe that we are somehow good enough to be considered as recipients of Your grace and love. But if we deserve it, it ceases to be grace. You have chosen to extend the gift of Your Son to us – in spite of us. You have divinely ordained that we receive Your mercy, not because we deserve it, but because You have graciously chosen to extend it to us. Never let us lose sight of that reality. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men